What Does this Photograph of the Farmington River have to do with Downton Abbey?

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Farmington River Dam Site, about 1930. The Connecticut Historical Society, 1974.50.797

Inscriptions on the back of this 1930s photograph of the Farmington River provide quite a bit of information about it. The dam in the foreground is said to be in the same location as the dam for the first gristmill on the river, established in 1701. In the 1930s, there was still an active gristmill on the site, known as the Winchell Smith Gristmill. Smith, a noted playwright, invited the filmmaker D.W. Griffith to film a scene from the movie “Way Down East” there in 1920. The building was later a popular restaurant and bookstore, both now closed. I used to enjoy sitting outdoors there on a summer evening, sipping a drink and watching the swallows and cedar waxwings catching insects out over the river.

So what does all this have to with Downton Abbey? In an episode last season, the staff of Downton Abbey took the evening off to go to the new American film at a local theater.

Linocuts and an Apology

Last time I wrote a blog post, I wrote it about Richard Welling’s linoleum blocks. I mistakenly wrote that we don’t have prints made from the blocks. I would like to formally apologize for that. We actually do have linocuts of most of the Welling linoleum blocks. I just got through cataloging them, and they are really beautiful. Continue reading

Adventures in Exhibits

I just received a few emails from people congratulating me on LinkedIn for my fifth year work anniversary. That was news to me! I started in the summer of ’09 as the Interpretive Projects Assistant and had a lot of memories working at CHS since. So of my favorite adventures in exhibits…

 

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When I had to ask the deli at Stop N Shop if they can shrink wrap a fake piece of raw steak. Then I felt even weirder when they did it without missing a beat like they’ve done it before. (I have to explain—this “steak” now lives in the refrigerator in our 1980s kitchen in Making Connecticut.)

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A Change of Plans

I was quite literally in the middle of writing up today’s blog post, all nerdily excited to teach you a thing or two about weighted silk, when I was interrupted by some young researchers.  So, instead, I’m going to tell you about one of the reasons I love my job (don’t worry, you’ll hear about silk later!).

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Map of Europe, 1830.

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What is this?

dustpan-thumbOur newest exhibit, Katharine Hepburn: Dressed for Stage and Screen, showcases over 40 costumes form Hepburn’s illustrious film and stage career. “What is this?” posts will highlight an object from the exhibit and explore its background every other week. What is this object? What is the story behind it?
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Who Were the Harvard Five—And What Do They Have to do with Connecticut?

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The Glass House, New Canaan, 1979. The Connecticut Historical Society, 2012.437.0

When most people think of Connecticut architecture, they most often think of Colonial saltbox houses or white steepled churches nestled in green hills. They usually don’t think of the International Style of modern architecture, and they certainly don’t think of Harvard University. But in the 1940s, five architects from Harvard settled in the green hills of New Canaan, Connecticut, attracted by its rural charm and the convenient train transportation to New York. Marcel Breuer, the oldest of the five, was an instructor at Harvard; John M. Johansen, Marcel Breuer, Landis Gores, Philip Johnson and Eliot Noyes were his students. All five built houses in New Canaan, not only for themselves, but for their neighbors. Philip Johnson’s house, known simply as “The Glass House,” has been called the “most famous house in the world.” A simple glass box set on a grassy promontory, it’s a far cry from today’s McMansions. Johnson lived in it from 1949 until his death in 2005. Now administered by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, it’s well worth a visit, even if you don’t like modern architecture. Think of it rather as a pavilion for viewing the landscape, a work of art, an expression of a personality. Other modernist houses still dot New Canaan’s hills, and may be glimpsed through the trees as you drive the narrow back roads.

What made Katharine Hepburn Nervous?

Not many things made Katharine Hepburn nervous, but the prospect of meeting French fashion icon Coco Chanel had her worried. Continue reading

Summer Time= Recharging Teachers

I usually talk about my past teaching experiences in the blog posts; so I thought I would switch it up and talk a little about the work here in the museum. Since I will doing a good deal of editing and writing for our new website this month, I decide to just to a quick top five list. Continue reading

The Colonial Revival in Art

Alfred Wordsworth Thompson’s Advance of the Enemy reflected popular sentiment in the Colonial Revival period. CHS 1930.5.0

Alfred Wordsworth Thompson’s Advance of the Enemy reflected popular sentiment in the Colonial Revival period. CHS 1930.5.0

Over the years that I have worked at CHS I have noticed that some items seem to have a particular appeal as illustrations. Sometimes it is clearly understandable, as with the flag that decorated Lincoln’s box at Ford’s Theater, or Amos Doolittle’s engravings of Lexington and Concord. But in other instances the attraction is less obvious. A case in point is an 1885 oil painting titled Advance of the Enemy, the work of Alfred Wordsworth Thompson (1840-1896). For some reason the painting has resonated with authors and magazine and textbook publishers over the years, based on a quick review of its publication track record. Why? Continue reading