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…



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!).


Map of Europe, 1830.

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Just what is on those tapes?

On  Saturday, volunteer VivianLea Solek and I launched a project that will take years to complete, but which I think is very exciting. Continue reading

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?


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.

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

John Trumbull, artist

John Trumbull, self portrait.

John Trumbull (1756-1843) was the son of Connecticut governor Jonathan Trumbull and first cousin of M’Fingall poet John Trumbull. John the artist graduated from Harvard in 1773 and served as an aide to General Washington during the Revolution. In 1784 he went to London to study with the painter Benjamin West. Continue reading

Who Was Hartford Louise?


John A. Pilgard driving Hartford Louise at Sage Park, Windsor, 1934. The Connecticut Historical Society, 1982.80.36

The gentleman driving the sulky is John A. Pilgard. The horse is Hartford Louise. Pilgard had come to Hartford as a poor immigrant boy and became a successful merchant, banker, and civic leader. A butcher and grocer by trade, Pilgard greatest love was fast horses, especially those that he bred and raced himself. He was a member of both the Road Drivers Club and the Hartford Driving Club, and drove his horses in races at Charter Oak Park and at tracks in Riverside Park and on Albany Avenue. In the winter he took part in races on the ice-covered Connecticut River. He dreamed of winning the Hambletonian, the most prestigious trotting race in Americat , the “Kentucky Derby” of harness racing. In 1934, when this photograph was taken, he had three horses in training, all named for his children: Hartford Peter, Hartford Bertha, and Hartford Louise. Hartford Bertha had run the Hambletonian in 1934; Hartford Louise was entered for 1936. In 1935, Pilgard was elected Mayor of Hartford, fulfilling another lifelong dream, but his health failed, and he died nine days after the election without ever taking office. He left no will, so his estate was divided between his wife and children. I don’t know what became of Hartford Louise and Pilgard’s other horses. For many years, this photograph of Pilgard driving Hartford Louise hung in Honiss’s Oyster House on State Street in Hartford.

The Connecticut Landscape…in our entrance hall

As some of you may already know, this year we are teaming up with FoxCT and the Hartford Courant to celebrate the Courant’s 250th anniversary.  Part of that partnership is a segment on FoxCT every first Thursday of the month called From the Vault where we bring a few items out of storage and give you all a peek.

View of Norwich. About 1840. 1945.2.0.

View of Norwich. About 1840. 1945.2.0.

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Blue cloth coats with red facings and white lining

fireworksAs we prepare for the July 4th holiday and enjoy the fireworks celebrating American independence from Great Britain, it is hard to realize that our country faced a rather treacherous beginning. I thought about that when reading a series of militia brigade orders from the 1790s.

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