Eero Saarinen Was In Fort Wayne!

To some, spending a couple of days in Fort Wayne, Indiana after two weeks in England would be akin to the sentiment of the popular World War I song, “How Ya Gonna Keep ‘em Down on the Farm (After They’ve Seen Paree)?” But to those of us who make the most of our travel opportunities, it was a chance to visit an important landmark of the place that Look magazine called “America’s Happiest Town” in 1949.

Nestled in a tranquil 15-acre patch off North Clinton Street, the campus of Concordia Theological Seminary is the creation of Eero Saarinen, the brilliant Finnish-American architect who designed notable structures like the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, the main terminal of Dulles International Airport, and the TWA Flight Center at John F. Kennedy International Airport.Concordia Theological Seminary

Founded in 1846, the seminary was the first of its kind in preparing American men to be Lutheran ministers. A senior college providing pre-theological training was established in 1957, and Saarinen was chosen to design its campus.

To create a contemplative environment that would be appropriate to the intellectual and spiritual nature of a seminary, Saarinen patterned his design after a typical medieval Scandinavian village, with dozens of buildings clustered around a chapel that stands on the highest elevation. A man-made lake provides the perfect complement to the towering structure and its more modest neighbors.

Some of the whitewashed Modernist campus buildings curve along the lakeshore, while others line a plaza on the hilltop. Diamond-shaped bricks, patented as “Concordia bricks,” run horizontally on the majority of the main buildings. These represent members of the community’s relationship to one another.  This pattern is even repeated in window screens throughout the campus.Concordia Theological Seminary

Kramer Chapel is the architectural and spiritual focal point of the campus. Many American suburban churches followed this trendsetting A-frame structure’s standard of design.  

A modern glass entrance opens into a low-ceilinged vestibule…

Concordia Theological Seminary

 then leads to a soaring sanctuary filled with orderly rows of pews.

Concordia Theological SeminaryThe chapel’s interior rises to 97 feet under its high-pitched roof, creating a space noted for its acoustics. Saarinen also designed the chapel’s organ and bell tower.

Concordia Theological Seminary

Low interior lighting creates a restful space, while daylight from a skylight and side windows dramatically spotlight the altar, which was created from one six-ton piece of Vermont marble.  Over 160 Concordia bricks comprise the wall behind the minimalist cross. Here, the bricks run vertically, rather than horizontally, symbolizing God’s relationship with his people.Concordia Theological Seminary

Other talented designers contributed to the seminary’s show-stopping campus.

The Katherine Luther Dining Hall, named after the wife of Martin Luther, features a relief of incised whitewashed bricks on the south wall that was designed by sculptor William C. Severson. Inspired by a phrase in the Christian hymn of praise, Te Deum, “All the earth doth worship Thee, the Father everlasting,” the work illustrates praise and thanksgiving offered at harvest time.Concordia Theological Seminary

Colored plastic, enameled copper and stained glass chips of harvest-themed colors take the shape of loaves of bread.

Concordia Theological Seminary

Named after Lutheran theologian Carl Ferdinand Wilhelm Walther, the library is a great example of how well Saarinen incorporated mezzanines into his work. Saarinen used the free-standing floor to remind students to work together toward the same goal. Two towers of whitewashed brick stand next to a connecting staircase.

Concordia Theological Seminary

Severson’s dining hall mosaic relief inspired Fort Wayne artist William Lupkin to create another expressive mosaic relief that ascends one of the library’s staircases as it depicts how God’s word has been shared throughout the ages. A figure of Christ stands at the bottom of the staircase; then the mosaic ascends to an image of Martin Luther nailing his 95 theses to the doors of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg, Germany, the historic action that began the Protestant Reformation. Concordia Theological Seminary

Further up the staircase, Martin Chemnitz holds the Book of Concord. Chemnitz compiled this doctrinal standard of the Lutheran Church, and it was printed in Dresden, Germany in 1580. Lupkin painted this image of the title page of the first edition of this volume, which is owned by the seminary.Concordia Theological Seminary

The library is also home to another Te Deum mosaic.

Concordia Theological SeminaryThe foyer of Wyneken Hall is home to the largest mosaic on campus, Siegfried Reinhardt’s “Christ in Judgment.”Concordia Theological Seminary

Classrooms and faculty office hallways in this building are adorned by symbols of Old Testament prophets and New Testament Evangelist shields.

Concordia Theological Seminary

A 12-feet-high statue of Martin Luther is the work of Friederich Adolph Soetebier. The German sculptor relied on Lucas Cranach the Elder’s portraits of Luther to capture the reformer’s facial features, while the hands on the sculpture were molded from casts that were taken of Luther’s hands after his death.

Concordia Theological Seminary

Benches situated around the campus invite people to sit down and take in the magnificent views.Concordia Theological Seminary

Dan Kiley, a landscape architect whose work includes the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, designed a setting shaded by thousands of trees. A 2001 tornado downed hundreds of them, but they are gradually being replanted.Concordia Theological Seminary

A Biblically themed play area was added in 2009. Children can swing, slide and climb through themed areas like Noah’s Ark, Daniel and the Lion’s Den, and Jacob’s Ladder.Concordia Theological Seminary

For more information, see Eero Saarinen, edited by David G. De Long and C. Ford Peatross, and the Concordia Theological Seminary Campus Guide.

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A Pink Rose Quilt Was The Start of Something Big For Marie Webster And Marion, Indiana

Marie Webster wanted a new quilt for her bedroom, so she dusted off her quilt-making skills, turned to her garden for inspiration, and created an appliqué quilt with pastel pink roses, a pale green lattice, and a swag border. She was an expert sewer and needleworker, but she hadn’t made a quilt since the crazy quilt that she had worked on during her engagement. It turned out to be the perfect complement to her home at 926 S. Washington St. in Marion, Indiana.

Little did she know that her new quilt would be the start of something big.

Marie Daugherty was born in Wabash, Indiana in 1859. She married George Webster on Valentine’s Day 1884; pursued her interests in reading, amateur dramatics, and traveling; and lived in Chicago until the Websters and their only son, Lawrence, moved to Marion in 1902. Their home was just a few blocks from the first well that had been drilled after natural gas had been discovered in Marion in 1887, transforming the quiet seat of Grant County into a prosperous town.The Quilters Hall of Fame

The Websters’ Colonial Revival home was the epitome of style. Its bay windows and carved wooden staircase were elegant features. Fireplace mantles featured stylized Tuscan columns, geometric leaf designs, classical torch and festoon motifs. Flanking what-not shelves were perfect places to display decorative items. And its new quilt was all the rage among devotees of the Colonial Revival aesthetic movement, which elevated everyday items like handmade bedcoverings to works of art.

Popular magazines followed the Colonial Revival trend, providing content on quilting and needlework and publishing patterns so that readers could bring the Arts and Crafts style into their homes. One of those magazines was the Ladies’ Home Journal. Editor Edward Bok commissioned Jessie Wilcox Smith and Maxfield Parrish, well-known artists of the day, to create quilt patterns to be published in the magazine.

From Quilts: Their Story And How To Make Them

From Quilts: Their Story And How To Make Them

Marie’s friends convinced her to send her “Pink Rose” quilt to the Ladies’ Home Journal. Bok was hooked. He asked her to create three more designs for a color feature on quilts. The four designs — “Pink Rose,” “Iris,” “Snowflake” and “Wind Blown Tulip” — ran in the January 1911 issue. Four more of Marie’s designs — “Poppy,” “Morning Glory,” “White Dogwood” and “Sunflower” — were featured in the January 1912 issue. Six designs for baby quilts — “Pansies and Butterflies,” “Sunbonnet Lassies,” “Daisies,” “Wild Rose,” “Morning Glory Wreath” and “Bedtime” were published in the August 1912 issue. More quilting articles followed.

Marie enhanced the three-dimensionality of her pastel floral designs by quilting around the outside of each flower and leaf. Other innovative techniques included stitching details like leaf veins and flower centers, and ghost-quilting spiderwebs, wreaths, birds and blossoms in the center of the quilt.

Marie’s quilts were a hit with Ladies’ Home Journal readers, and requests for the patterns poured in. To keep up with the demand, Lawrence, now a mechanical engMarie Webster quilt pattern blueprintineer, made blueprints of the patterns. Marie added instructions, together with fabric swatches and full-size tissue-paper placement guides to show how to arrange the appliqué pieces, and sold each pattern for 50 cents. Later, Marie began providing pre-cut fabric kits, and partially completed and finished quilts.

Marie’s mail-order quilt business took off, and her sister and two friends helped fulfill orders. The Practical Patchwork Company was an entrepreneurial success, but it never left Marie’s Marion home.

Quilts: Their Story and How to Make Them, by Marie WebsterSoon after Marie’s Ladies’ Home Journal success, Doubleday, Page & Co. hired her to write the first book of quilting history. Marie researched how quiltmaking had originated in ancient Egypt, how it developed in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, and how important it was to the American experience. She also described the techniques of making quilts, prepared a list of over 400 pattern names, and provided over 50 photographs of quilts as illustrations.

Quilts: Their Story and How to Make Them was published in 1915. It received an overwhelming response. Marie received numerous letters from quilt collectors, antique dealers, interior designers and home quilters.Marie Webster

The book also led Marie to don a Colonial-style gown and lecture on quilt history throughout the country, showing quilts from her own collection. Several of her friends went with her, also wearing period costumes as they demonstrated quilting techniques.

After Marie’s husband died in 1938, she closed her business, sold her home in 1942 and moved to Princeton, New Jersey to be closer to Lawrence and his family. The house was converted into apartments. Later, it was remodeled and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1992. It has also been designated a Landmark of Women’s History and declared a National Historic Landmark.

Today, the house is the home of The Quilters Hall of Fame, which was founded in 1979 to celebrate quiltinMarie Webster's studiog as an art form. Three days a week, visitors are welcome to tour galleries on the first and second floors that show rotating quilt displays.

Marie’s quilting studio is furnished with some of her furniture, perfume bottles, clothing, accessories, sewing tools, and photographs.

A gift shop carries books, patterns and annual collectible pins with designs inspired by Marie’s quilts; Quiltsmart fusible appliqués of her “American Beauty Rose” and “May Tulips” designs; fabric based on Marie’s quilts; and items hand-made by members of the local Marie Webster Quilt Guild.Marie Webster fabric

For more on Marie Webster, see A Joy Forever: Marie Webster’s Quilt Patterns, by Rosalind Webster Perry and Marty Frolli; “Marie Webster: Early-Twentieth-Century Quilt Designer,” an article by Susan Wildemuth in the September/October 2007 issue of PieceWork; and “Marie Webster, Marion’s Master Quilter,” by Rosalind Webster Perry (Marie’s granddaughter), in the Spring 1991 issue of Traces of Indiana and Midwestern History. Perry also founded Practical Patchwork, a business that offers Webster’s quilt designs.  The house’s National Register nomination is another good source of information about Marie and her home.  Quilts: Their Story and How to Make Them is still available, after seven reprints.

Marie Webster's first quilt, made in 1880

Marie Webster’s first quilt, made in 1880

Museums recognize Marie Webster’s legacy by collecting quilts that she either designed or made. The Ohio History Connection’s collection includes a “French Baskets with Scroll Block” quilt designed by Marie Webster and made by Doris Edith Allen circa 1945 (H 90314). A Joy Forever: Marie Webster Quilts is an exhibition that will be on view from March 4, 2016 through January 8, 2017 at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, which holds the largest collection of Marie’s quilts in the United States. It will display 25 appliquéd quilts that Marie designed and made between 1909 and 1930; quilt patterns; several pages from Ladies Home Journal; and one of Marie’s scrapbooks.

While in Marion, stop by 410 S. McClure St., the site where movie star James Dean was born. Have a weekday lunch and browse through a resale consignment shop and boutique at the Hostess House, located at 723 W. Fourth St. This elegant home was designed in 1912 by Samuel Plato, an African-American architect and contractor, and is a place Marion women have used to entertain outside their homes since the 1940s.

Hostess House, Marion, Indiana

Take a walk at Matter Park, located on the north side of Marion on 110 acres along the Mississinewa River. Rabbit topiaries, a butterfly garden, a quilt garden and numerous sculptures are among the park’s main features. Its extensive and effective use of Proven Winners plants led it to be designated as one of seven Proven Winners Signature Gardens in the United States. A quilt garden replicates the design of the Quilters Hall of Fame’s annual honoree.Matter Park, Marion, Indiana

And drive part of the “Garfield Trail,” honoring Grant County, Indiana native Jim Davis, creator of the Garfield comic strip. Unique five-foot-tall statues depict the famous cat “pawsing” for thought in a massive pawprint behind the Community Foundation of Grant County, and posing as a doctor in front of Marion General Hospital and as a “duffer” at Arbor Trace Golf Club."Doctor Garfield," Marion, Indiana

Posted in Books, Indiana, Needlework, Travel | Leave a comment

Pick Up A Penchant For Pudding Stones At Gene Stratton-Porter’s Wildflower Woods

“This moment was worth the trip,” I thought to myself as I sat under a canopy of golden leaves, watched swans glide past and tucked into my ham salad sandwich.

TWildflower Woodshe setting for my picnic lunch was the Gene Stratton-Porter State Historic Site in Rome City, Indiana, a place I’ve been looking forward to visiting.

Around the turn of the 20th century, a nature-loving lady named Gene Stratton-Porter waded through mucky water, climbed trees and tramped through thickets to observe the natural habitat of the Limberlost Swamp near her Geneva, Indiana home. The self-taught photographer captured what she saw on film, then went home to develop her pictures and incorporate her experiences into best-selling books.

But then lumbermen cleared the swamp, removing trees, burning brush, and destroying the habitat that was so appealing to the birds and their intrepid female observer. Gene had to find a new place to observe and photograph wildlife. She chose the shoreline of Sylvan Lake, a retreat near Rome City, Indiana, where she had vacationed as a young woman.

In 1912, Gene purchased 120 acres on one mile of the lake’s shoreline and began developing a sanctuary not only for herself, but also for her beloved birds. She christened it Wildflower Woods. By the spring of 1913, she started designing a cabin that would be her home there.Wildflower Woods

Modeled after Limberlost, her home in Geneva, the cabin was constructed of Wisconsin white cedar and Indiana fieldstone and limestone. It features two long, two-story porches that face the lake on two sides and have sleeping rooms overhead, so Gene could watch and study wildlife as conveniently as if she had been in the trees themselves.

Gene placed an old English knocker on the front door, installed a telephone with a private line, hung lace curtains at the windows that served as a backdrop for her photographs of moths…Wildflower Woods

and commissioned hand-crafted electrified chandeliers – one adorned with her monogram.Wildflower Woods

She placed an “Indian Torch” light at the base of the stair railing, just inside the front door.

Wildflower Woods

The entrance hall and dining room are paneled in local wild cherry wood, while the cabin’s seven bedrooms are trimmed in maple and pine. The floors are made of oak boards, cut at an angle. Curtain rods hang in front of pocket doors to help with added insulation for the cabin, with its forced-air heating system. Built-in cabinets house souvenirs that Gene’s husband, Charles, brought home from his travels.

Wildflower Woods

Since Gene envisioned staying at the cabin for long periods of time, she installed a gas generator in the basement and designed floor-to-ceiling kitchen cabinets equipped with ample flour bins. Her kitchen also featured a six-burner gas stove and an island on wheels with a spice rack, a cutting board and a zinc-covered countertop.

Wildflower Woods

Gene and a stonemason scoured the countryside for pudding stone, a glacier conglomerate stone composed of sand, red and blue jasper, and white quartzite pebbles. They used the pudding stones they found in a pair of gateposts at the road entrance to the cabin, both crowned by statues of owls made from Indiana limestone…

Wildflower Woods

as well as in the fireplace of the cabin’s library.

Wildflower Woods

They also added pudding stones to the living room fireplace, placing them alongside several Toltec stone heads that Charles had collected in Mexico.  They fashioned 64 other types of stones collected from 48 states into the shape of a moth above the center of the fireplace. They also formed a shape resembling a Revolutionary War soldier on the right-hand side of the fireplace. Can you make him out? 

Wildflower Woods

At her Geneva home, Gene used her bathroom for a darkroom, washing her negatives and prints in the sink and drying them on turkey platters. At Wildflower Woods, there’s a real darkroom with a window made of red-tinted glass from Kokomo, Indiana.

Wildflower Woods

There’s also a conservatory, where Gene enticed birds to visit by placing birdseed on the window ledges. Wildflower Woods

When Gene spent time at the cabin, she wrote her books at a desk with a lakeside view.

Wildflower Woods

To create an attractive habitat where birds and wildlife could make themselves at home, Gene found or bought more than 14,000 trees, vines, bushes and wildflowers, planting 90 percent of them herself. She claimed to have every variety of oak tree known to that region, many of them ranging from 20 to 50 feet tall and producing bushels of acorns in the autumn.

Gene created flower beds, each devoted to one color like red, white, pink, blue, mauve and yellow. Many of the wildflowers that Gene transplanted were rare species that she saved from extinction. Wildflower WoodsHer garden became so famous that people from around the country sent her plants. A Colorado doctor provided pasque flowers, a Maine schoolgirl contributed a bunch of partridge berries for Thanksgiving decorations, a boy in western New York sent a cigar box filled with roots of Monarda didyma, and a Georgia girl offered jasmine. Golden wattle came from South Africa, while wild white strawberries came from the Crawfordsville, Indiana home of General Lew Wallace, the author of Ben-Hur. Gene and her secretary kept a record of everything that had been planted at Wildflower Woods, as well as a record of every bird and animal that made themselves at home there.

Wildflower WoodsIn 1919, poor health, a need for privacy, and an interest in producing movies inspired by her books prompted Gene to move to California. After she was killed in an automobile accident in 1924, she was buried in Hollywood. Gene’s descendants brought the remains of her and her daughter, Jeannette, back to Wildflower Woods in 1999 and buried them in a wooded area of the grounds, beside Gene’s favorite Chinkapin oak tree.

To mark Gene’s 150th birthday in 2013, Annie Oakley Perfumery in nearby Ligonier, Indiana created a fragrance called Wisteria. The light floral scent honors Gene’s love of wisteria, which is a prominent feature of the gardens at Wildflower Woods. Bottles of perfume, portable travel sprays and containers of hand cream in the fragrance are available for sale only at the Gene Stratton-Porter State Historic Site. If your travels take you to Ligonier, you can tour Annie Oakley Perfumery and learn how fragrances are created, blended, bottled and prepared for distribution.

Wildflower WoodsThe shop also sells hand-thrown, hand-painted pieces of Strawtown Pottery, made on the banks of the White River in historic Strawtown, Indiana.

To discover more about Gene Stratton-Porter, read Gene Stratton-Porter: Novelist and Naturalist, by Judith Reick Long; Life and Letters of Gene Stratton-Porter, by Jeannette Porter-Meehan; Coming Through the Swamp: The Nature Writing of Gene Stratton-Porter, edited by Sydney Landon Plum; and “A Writer’s Crusade to Portray Spirit of the Limberlost,” by Deborah Dahlke-Scott and Michael Prewitt, on pages 64 through 69 of the April 1976 issue of Smithsonian.  Heroine of the Limberlost: A Paper Doll Biography of Gene Stratton-Porter, by Norma Lu Meehan, is a collection of over 20 costumes replicated from photographs of Gene and her family.

Posted in Birds, Books, History, Indiana, Nature/Outdoors | Leave a comment

Four Things That Make Me Want To Go To “Da Cape And Da Eye-lants”

What comes to mind when you think of Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket?

Hand-woven Nantucket lightship baskets? ScriBlack Dog Tavern mshaw pie crimping wheels carved from whale teeth?  Or sailors’ Valentines, the octagonal boxes with intricate patterns of seashells that 19th-century sailors would make during their voyages to give to their loved ones?

Maybe it’s the saltbox houses and cozy Cape Cod-style cottages designed to withstand the stormy weather of the Massachusetts coast. Perhaps it’s the fried clams, chowder, lobster, cranberries and other regional specialties that foodies indulge in there. It just might be one of those sought-after tee shirts from the Black Dog Tavern on Martha’s Vineyard. Or it could be the way the “Year-ROUN-dahs” of “Da Cape,” “Da Vin-yahd” and “Da Eye-lants” talk.

Thanks to some vicarious traveling I did recently, I added four new vocabulary words to my lexicon about this iconic region.

First are the Carpenter Gothic campground cottages at the Martha’s Vineyard Camp Meeting Association in Oak Bluffs. FormerlCampground cottage, Martha's Vineyard Camp Meeting Associationy known as Wesleyan Grove, this was one of many Methodist camp-meeting grounds resulting from the religious “camp meeting” movement of the 19th century. At first, those who attended the week-long revivals slept in straw-floored tents, but the camp meetings’ growing popularity called for a new form of housing.

In the 1840s, the tents evolved into wood-sided, canvas-topped cottages with a wide double door reminiscent of the rolled-back flaps of tent openings, a small narrow window on each side of the door, and a second-floor double door that opened onto a balcony over the entrance. The tent-inspired cottages usually had two or three rooms on the ground floor with sleeping rooms above.

During the late 1850s and early 1860s, the “Martha’s Vineyard” cottage became more ornate, with distinctive filigrees that carpenters created with the recently invented bandsaw, attention-getting color combinations, and front porches that served as outdoor living rooms. In their heyday, there were over 500 Martha’s Vineyard cottages; today, about 300 remain.

Second is Sandwich glass, produced in Sandwich, the town that was founded in 1637, making it the oldest town on Cape Cod. In 1825, Boston glass merchant Deming Jarves decided to open a glassmaking factory in Sandwich. Sandwich glassWith its abundance of sand and sea salt needed to create the glass, salt-marsh hay used to package the fragile goods, and pine trees to run the furnaces, Sandwich was an ideal place for glassmaking. For the next 63 years, the Boston & Sandwich Glass Company made blown glassware, lacy glassware, threaded and striped glass, paperweights, and pressed glassware like cup plates, coasters used for the saucers from which it was customary to drink tea at the time.

Third are the shimmering sand dunes of the Cape Cod National Seashore, a 40-mile stretch of beaches, marshes, ponds and wild cranberry bogs. Today, you can take a unique look at the National Park Service-protected seashore by driving through its sand dunes in specially authorized four-wheel-drive Jeeps. In earlier days, however, solitary seashore sojourns inspired two authors to produce two classics of American nature writing.

Henry David Thoreau first went to Cape Cod in Cape Cod National SeashoreOctober 1849 to get a better look at the ocean, and returned several times. His powers of observation led him to write unforgettable descriptions of the landscape and its features in his classic Cape Cod, first published in 1865. Talking about soil, he writes in the book, “The plowed fields of the Cape look white and yellow, like a mixture of salt and Indian meal.” Windmills, those “gray-looking, octagonal towers, with long timbers slanting to the ground in the rear,” looked to him “like huge wounded birds, trailing a wing or a leg.” The area north of Provincetown, the spot all the way at the tip of the Cape where the Pilgrims first landed before settling in Plymouth, “was like the richest rug imaginable spread over an uneven surface…There was the incredibly bright red of the huckleberry, and the reddish brown of the bayberry, mingled with the bright and living green of small pitch pines, and also the duller green of the bayberry, boxberry and plum, the yellowish green of the shrub oaks, and the various golden and yellow and fawn-colored tints of birch and maple and aspen, each making its own figure, and, in the midst, the few yellow sand-slides on the sides of the hills looked like the white floor seen through rents in the rug.”

In September 1926, 38-year-old Henry Beston turned a two-week vacation at the Fo’castle, a small frame cottage he had built on the Great Beach of Cape Cod, into a year-long sojourn that transformed him from a thwarted author into a best-selling nature writer. Laboring in longhand at the kitchen table overlooking the Atlantic Ocean and the sand dunes, Beston painstakingly produced a chronicle of nature’s seasons, revising his work so carefully that sometimes he took an entire morning to finish one sentence.

I’ll show you what I mean.Cape Cod National Seashore

On these lovely, cool September nights the level and quiescent dust of light which fills the sky is as autumnal in its colouring as the earth below,” Beston wrote. “There is autumn on the earth and autumn overhead. The great isles of tawny orange smouldering into darkness, the paths of the channels stilled to twilight bronze, the scarlet meadows deepening to levels of purple and advancing night – all these mount, in exhalation of colour, to the heavens.”

Before Beston arrived on Cape Cod, he had proposed marriage to Elizabeth Coatsworth, an accomplished poet and children’s author, but she had replied, “No book, no marriage.” Beston’s Cape Cod chronicle was published as The Outermost House: A Year of Life on the Great Beach of Cape Cod in the fall of 1928, and Beston and Coatsworth were married in June 1929.

Beston’s book became a classic of American nature writing, one of the motivators behind the creation of the Cape Cod National Seashore in 1960. Coatsworth was awarded the Newbery Medal for excellence in American children’s literature in 1931 for her book, The Cat Who Went to Heaven. And the Fo’castle was a National Literary Landmark until it was swept away by high tides during a February 1978 blizzard.

Maria MitchellAnd fourth is Maria Mitchell, the first librarian of the Nantucket Atheneum, who discovered a comet through a telescope from the roof of Nantucket’s Pacific National Bank on October 1, 1847. Most nineteenth-century Nantucketers owned a telescope to spot sails in the distant ocean and read names of ships coming into the harbor, but Maria enjoyed spending an evening “of subdued quiet and grateful seriousness” looking the stars from her housetop, as she wrote in her diaries.

Maria’s fame led her to resign from the Atheneum in 1856 to travel extensively. In 1865, she became professor of astronomy at the newly founded Vassar College, teaching there until her retirement in 1888. She died in 1889, and is buried next to her parents in Nantucket’s Prospect Hill Cemetery.

You can take in the view of the Nantucket harbor from the rooftop observation deck of the Nantucket Whaling Museum, housed in a restored 1847 candle factory. The museum honors the accomplishments of sailors like Rowland Hussey Macy, who worked on a Nantucket whaling ship, the Emily Morgan, as a teenager and later founded Macy’s, the department store with the red star logo that comes from a tattoo that Macy got during his sailing days.

For more on Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, see An Explorer’s Guide: Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard & Nantucket, by Kim Grant; The Salt House: A Summer on the Dunes of Cape Cod, by Cynthia Huntington; The Enduring Shore: A History of Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, by Paul Schneider; The House on Nauset Marsh, by Wyman Richardson, a classic collection of essays about Cape Cod that was first published in 1947; Time and Tide: A Walk Through Nantucket, by Frank Conroy; and Cape Cod Pilot, written by Jeremiah Digges as part of the American Guides Series for the Federal Writers’ Project, Works Progress Administration, for the State of Massachusetts in 1937.

The Lighthouse Santa, by Sara Hoagland Hunter, is based on the real Christmas flights of Edward Rowe Snow, who dropped presents from his airplane for children of the keepers of lighthouses like Nantucket’s Great Point Lighthouse for almost 50 years. Fans of cozy mysteries might like to check out Death in the Off-Season and the other books in the Nantucket Island mystery series by Francine Mathews.

The painted stairsteps of Edgartown Books, an independent bookstore in Martha’s Vineyard

The painted stairsteps of Edgartown Books, an independent bookstore in Martha’s Vineyard

Read The Outermost House, then track down other Henry Beston books like Northern Farm, about life in Maine; The Saint Lawrence, a geographical and historical look at the great river; The Best of Beston, an anthology of his writing; Especially Maine: The Natural World of Henry Beston from Cape Cod to the St. Lawrence, selected and with introductions by Elizabeth Coatsworth; and Herbs and the Earth (I recommend the 2001 edition with an introduction written by Roger Swain, the red-suspendered, bearded man who hosted The Victory Garden on PBS from the mid-1980s until 2001). You might also like an edition of Henry David Thoreau’s Cape Cod that is illustrated with photographs by Scot Miller.

If you’d like to know more about Maria Mitchell, read Sweeper in the Sky: The Life of Maria Mitchell, by Helen Wright; Maria Mitchell and the Sexing of Science: An Astronomer Among the American Romantics, by Renée Bergland; and Maria’s Comet, by Deborah Hopkinson.

The Martha’s Vineyard Table, by Jessica B. Harris, includes recipes for standard island fare like codfish fritters and stuffed Quahogs. Berries in the Scoop: A Cape Cod Cranberry Story is Lois Lenski’s tale of a family who earns their living in the cranberry bogs of Cape Cod. Thornton Burgess, a naturalist and conservationist from Sandwich, wrote more than 170 books as well as 15,000 articles for “Bedtime Stories,” a syndicated newspaper column that ran from 1912 to 1960.

In November 1820, a mad whale wrecked the whaleship Essex in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, stranding 20 Nantucket sailors in three small boats, 1,200 miles from the nearest land. Three months later, passing ships picked up five survivors. Three others were stranded on an island, while 12 more were dead – seven of them eaten by their starving shipmates. In the Heart of the Sea, a movie recounting the story of the Essex and its crew, is scheduled to be released this December.

Posted in Architecture, Books, Nature/Outdoors, Travel | Leave a comment

“Who’s Lois Lenski?”

Lois LenskiOne of my most treasured childhood keepsakes measures just over five inches square, with a photo my mother took in 1965 of a lady wearing a grey dress, white hat and a corsage pasted inside. Another cost $1.45.

Debbie and Her Grandma, a 1973 birthday gift from my parents, and the Crowell Crocodile paperback edition of Maud Hart Lovelace’s Betsy-Tacy and Tib that my grandpa bought for me as an after-school treat a few years later are special not just because of their givers. I vividly remember these stories because of Lois Lenski’s illustrations.

How could I forget the pretty string of red beads that Debbie brings her grandma as a present for staying overnight at her house? Or the triangle-shaped dips of ice cream that Betsy, Tacy and Tib eat in the window of Heinz’s Restaurant?

That’s what I thought recently, when more than a few people who asked what I did last Saturday responded, “Who’s Lois Lenski?” Allow me to introduce you to the acclaimed writer and artist from Ohio who published more than 90 books for children.

Lois LenskiLois Lenski was born on October 14, 1893 in Springfield. She was the fourth of five children born to Richard Lenski, a Lutheran minister, and his wife, Marietta, a former schoolteacher. A Little Girl of 1900, a book which Lenski wrote in 1928, is a fictionalized account of the six years she spent in Springfield.

In October 1899, the Lenskis moved to the small, rural community of Anna. For the next 12 years, Lenski flourished here, living in the parsonage for the St. Jacob Evangelical Lutheran Church.

What a wonderful house it was, and what a perfect place for children!,” Lenski wrote in her autobiography, Journey Into Childhood. “It had steep gables and peaks and small porches, long narrow windows and a winding stairway. The porches and gables were ornamented with gingerbread trim, jigsaw scrolls, fancy pilasters and balustrades…. It was wonderful, a perfect house made just for us. It was full of mystery and magic, inside and out, and we never ran out of ideas. There were places to climb, places to hide, and all kinds of places to play.”

Lois Lenski's original drawing for the Skipping Village map Lenski’s first book, Skipping Village, published in 1927, is based on her childhood in Anna. The Lenskis’ home, the church, the town hall and several other buildings mentioned in Skipping Village are still standing. I used the book’s endpaper map to find them when I finally made the pilgrimage to Anna.

As a third-grader, Lenski started tracing pictures of flowers in seed catalogs and painting them with watercolors. Soon, she was winning prizes for her paintings in the Shelby County Fair. Her interest in art was off and running.

In 1911, the Lenskis left Anna for Columbus, after her father had been invited to join the faculty of Capital University. Lenski enrolled in the College of Education at The Ohio State University. She also took classes in art, design and lettering, which came in handy later as she hand-lettered all her own book jackets and title pages. She drew illustrations for several campus publications, served as the art editor for the 1915 Makio yearbook, and taught sewing and crafts for the Columbus Department of Recreation.

Columbus always epitomized Ohio for me,” Lenski wrote in her autobiography. “There is something about the looks of the streets and the stores, the landscape and the freshness of the air, the look on the faces, the flatness of the voices, the intonation of the words, and above all, in the taste of the food – fried chicken, cole slaw, and apple pie – that is unlike any other part of the country and definitely spells OHIO.”

After graduating from Ohio State in 1915, Lenski moved to New York City to study art. She worked composing verses and painting watercolors for greeting cards, and she took an illustration class at the School of Industrial Art from Arthur Covey, whom she would marry in 1921.

During the 1920s, Lenski developed her talents for drawing people and landscapes by illustrating children’s books written by other authors, such as Kenneth Grahame’s Dream Days. Finding it hard to be sympathetic to a story written by another person, she determined to try her hand at writing her own stories to accompany her drawings.

After the success of Skipping Village and A Little Girl of 1900, Lenski started producing a prolific amount of books for children. She was driven by not only the strong work ethic that her parents instilled in her, but also because she wanted to create books that children would love, enjoy, and help shape their lives. Keeping the text simple, she relied on illustrations to tell the rest of the story.

Original Mr. Small drawing by Lois LenskiLenski’s young son, Stephen, inspired her Mr. Small books, in which young readers lived vicariously through the cheerful character who finds himself as an engineer, a pilot, a farmer, a fireman and a cowboy, among other vocations. The “Davy” series of books were inspired by David Chisholm, Lenski’s step-grandson, who stayed with her during the summers of 1943, 1944 and 1945. The 1940s were also when Lenski started researching and writing her series of regional books, for which she earned a reputation as a pioneering writer who immersed herself in people’s lives to write her stories.

Since 1922, the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, presents the Newbery Medal to an author for the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children. Two of Lenski’s meticulously researched historical novels were named as Newbery Honor Books: Phebe Fairchild: Her Book in 1937…Original Lois Lenski drawing for Phebe Fairchild: Her Book

and Indian Captive: The Story of Mary Jemison in 1942.

Original Lois Lenski drawing for Indian Captive: The Story of Mary Jemison

In 1946, Lenski received the John Newbery Medal for Strawberry Girl, a regional novel she was inspired to write after seeing children and adults picking strawberries in a Plant City, Florida field. For weeks, Lenski went to roadside stands and talked to farmers and their families, sketching them as they worked.

Lenski died September 11, 1974 and is buried in Clearwater, Florida, where her gravestone reads, “Lois Lenski Covey, Friend of Children.”

The Anna Community Branch of the Shelby County Libraries has a sizeable collection of Lenski memorabilia, including original drawings and early manuscripts which Lenski gave to the Amos Library in Sidney when it was dedicated in 1958. The library is located at 304 N. Second St. in Anna; a historical marker recognizing Lenski’s accomplishments was placed outside in 2003.

Lois LenskiFor more on Lois Lenski, see her autobiography, Journey Into Childhood, and “My Ohioana Beginnings,” an article she wrote for the Spring 1970 issue of the Ohioana Quarterly

The Lois Lenski Collection at Capital University’s Blackmore Library includes many first editions of Lenski’s books, as well as 75 boxes of manuscript and autobiographical material, including original illustrations and book dummies, notebooks, sketchbooks, and diaries. An appointment is necessary to look at items in this non-circulating collection.

Posted in Art, Books, Libraries, Ohio | 3 Comments

Oh, To Have Spun Silk, Made Wool Carpets And Pressed Cider With Abigail and John James

John James' cider pressThis circa-1850 cider press on display at the Johnny Appleseed Educational Center and Museum in Urbana isn’t just any old cider press. It’s what a friend of mine named John James used to process apples from trees that Johnny Appleseed planted around James’s Urbana home.

John Hough James (1800-1881) was a real Renaissance man. Before he graduated from Cincinnati College in 1821, he began to write for newspapers and literary magazines published in the Queen City. He worked on his father’s steamboat after college, traveling down the Mississippi River from Louisville, Kentucky to New Orleans, Louisiana. When he returned to his native Urbana in 1826, he became a lawyer and created the Urbana Banking Company. Later, he became an Ohio State Senator and was involved in the development of the Mad River and Lake Erie Railroad, one of the earliest railroads in the country. He also was a gentleman farmer and stockbreeder. Henry Clay and William Henry Harrison were among his friends.

In 1821, when he was a senior in college, James began to keep a diary, which he continued until his death in 1881. He also was a prolific letter-writer. In 1863, he classified his own correspondence, as well as the letters that his family wrote, dating back to 1814. He arranged the letters in chronological order and bound them in 114 volumes with cardboard covers. Although many of these diaries and letters were scorched in a fire a year before James’s death, they are now safely housed at the Walter Havighurst Special Collections at Miami University Libraries. And that’s how I met Mr. James.

As I transcribed and cataloged some of these diaries and letters, I discovered much about the lives of James, his wife Abigail and their four children.  I was especially interested in reading about their home at 300 S. High St. in Urbana.

John Hough James, as pictured on the cover of A Buckeye Titan

John Hough James, as pictured on the cover of A Buckeye Titan

In 1836, James hired Sampson Hubbell to plan a Greek Revival home situated on what his contemporaries would have called a “tasty” tract of land. Its sturdy brick walls had quoined corners made of beveled poplar boards that were painted white to resemble stone. The walls were studded with hand-split hickory laths, plastered on the inside and stuccoed on the outside, a new and popular building practice of the day.

The 22-room house had paneled doors, wide baseboards and ash floors, wainscoting in the parlor, and white-painted woodwork. An unsupported spiral stairway with ash steps and a tiger maple balustrade wound up three floors, past landings made from wide maple boards. A captain’s walk with a balustrade topped the roof, while a vine-covered portico sheltered the front door, whose sidelights were framed by hand-carved egg-and-dart moldings. An L-shaped wing behind the main block of the home contained guest rooms, servants’ quarters, a room for smoking meat, a second kitchen, rooms for wood storage, and two rooms where Abigail and her sisters kept busy spinning wool for the home’s carpets and manufacturing silk. The James family was one of several Champaign County families who cultivated, made and sold sewing silk at least through 1842. Their home was surrounded by over 100 mulberry trees, whose leaves are the only ones that silkworms will eat.300 S. High St., Urbana, Ohio

While James was known for his collection of manuscripts, books, pamphlets, periodicals and newspapers — his library was considered one of the finest private libraries in the West — Abigail was admired for her garden, which included formal beds of hyacinths, daffodils and tulips; asparagus plants; walnut trees; rare ornamental trees and shrubs; and bushes of raspberries and currants, the fruits of which she made into wine, vinegar and jelly.

James experimented with seedling fruit trees on his property, producing the fine “Abby Bailey” apple which he named for his wife. There was also a row of apple trees near the house which John Chapman, better known as Johnny Appleseed, planted for James.

Chapman and James became good friends. In fact, Chapman encouraged James to donate the land on which to build the first college that would be based on the ideals that Emanuel Swedenborg promoted through his writings. The site of Urbana University was chosen in October 1849, the institution was incorporated by the Ohio legislature on March 7, 1850, and the cornerstone was laid in 1851. Abigail supervised the planting of ornamental trees on the campus, planting many of them herself. Besides giving the land for the campus and founding the college, James served as one of its trustees for the rest of his life.

300 S. High St., Urbana, OhioTo learn more about John Hough James, read A Buckeye Titan, by William E. and Ophia D. Smith. Click here to access the finding aids for the John Hough James Collection at the Walter Havighurst Special Collections at Miami University Libraries. 

While there’s another lovely house at 300 S. High St. now, you can still get an idea of how grand the grounds were. You can also see what the original James home looked like here, in several historic photographs from the Champaign County Historical Museum.

Posted in Architecture, Books, Gardens, History, Special Collections | Leave a comment

The Time Is Ripe For Visiting Urbana’s Johnny Appleseed Museum

For days now, “The Lord Is Good To Me,” the well-known song sung by tenor Dennis Day in the 1948 animated Walt Disney film, The Legend of Johnny Appleseed, has been on Johnny Appleseed Museuman automatic repeat in my head. It might happen to you, too, if you visit the Johnny Appleseed Educational Center and Museum on Urbana University’s campus.

I entered the red door to two former classrooms in Barclay & Bailey Halls and was instantly absorbed in the bumper crop of text panels, artifacts and educational materials about John Chapman, the American frontiersman better known as Johnny Appleseed. I left realizing that his achievements were based on much more than “the sun and rain and an apple seed.”

The museum has the largest known collection of memorabilia and printed information about the life of John Chapman, who left his native New England as an 18-year-old in 1792 and traveled west through New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and finally Indiana, planting apple trees, stocking up on apple seeds, starting nurseries, and selling seedlings to settlers until his death in 1845.

From “Johnny Appleseed: A Pioneer Hero,” W.D. Haley’s 1871 article in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine

From “Johnny Appleseed: A Pioneer Hero,” W.D. Haley’s 1871 article in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine

Chapman arrived in Ohio around 1801, traveling down the Ohio River to Marietta and then up the Muskingum River and its tributaries. He spent about 20 years in north central Ohio, then began moving westward across the state, starting a nursery in Logan County and planting apple trees in Urbana and Champaign County.

Chapman saved the day for Revolutionary War veterans who had been given free land in Ohio, but were only allowed to keep it by planting 50 fruit trees within three years. Apple trees were the best to for settlers to plant because the fruit was important to a healthy diet, stored well through the winter, could be pressed into cider and could be made into vinegar to preserve vegetables. By purchasing and planting Chapman’s seedlings, settlers could harvest crops of apples much sooner than if they had planted seeds.

The itinerant entrepreneur traded the benefits of having a permanent home for sleeping outdoors or in barns, earning his keep by helping frontier families clear land and plant and harvest crops. Chapman’s fairness, generosity, honesty and extraordinary storytelling ability outshone the fact that he wore tattered clothing, went barefoot and occasionally wore his cooking pot as a hat.

Chapman was devoted to his faiJohnny Appleseed Museumth. He always carried a Bible, like this one that was in his possession when he died. He also shared the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg, a Swedish theologian who believed that heaven could be experienced on earth through a life of useful service.

Chapman also taught settlers about the healing powers of herbs. He used catnip, dandelion, dog fennel, horehound, mullein, pennyroyal, rattleroot and wintergreen to relieve headaches and bronchitis, help with insomnia and digestion, and treat skin disorders and fever.

The museum displays historical artifacts like wood and bark from original trees that Chapman planted in Ohio and Indiana; an examJohnny Appleseed Museumple of his handwriting, seen in a reproduction of an order for trees that he wrote in 1818; and the 1966 Johnny Appleseed commemorative postage stamp. It also illustrates the place Chapman holds in American folklore, with a recording of Bing Crosby singing “An Axe, An Apple and a Buckskin Jacket” and the “Johnny Appleseed” mascot for the Tin Caps, Fort Wayne’s minor league baseball team.Johnny Appleseed Museum

A small gift shop sells a Johnny Appleseed nutcracker; a limited-edition gavel made from the wood of an apple tree that Chapman planted in Apple Creek (Wayne County), Ohio; apple-themed merchandise; and several Johnny Appleseed biographies, such as Johnny Appleseed: Man and Myth, by Robert Price, Johnny Appleseed: The Man, The Myth, The American Story, by Howard Means, and Johnny Appleseed, by Reeve Lindbergh, the youngest child of Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh.

Johnny Appleseed MuseumIn 1837, Chapman planted a “Rambo” apple tree on John Harvey’s farm near Savannah, Ohio. Today, it is thought to be the last-known surviving apple tree that Chapman planted. Richard Harvey Algeo, the fifth generation of the Harvey family, is the current owner of the farm. In 1994, American Forests Historic Tree Nursery took softwood cuttings from the tree and propagated thousands of seedlings from it. Seven seedlings from the tree were planted in the courtyard around the museum in 1999.

Posted in Food, History, Ohio | 1 Comment