Photographs with a View of Her Own

For those of us with an interest in Boston’s Gilded Age, the Women’s Suffrage Movement or 19th century female photographers, the name Clover Adams rings a bell. Marian “Clover” Hooper Adams—Gilded Age socialite and portrait photographer, is currently the subject of a small but delightful exhibition at the Massachusetts Historical Society.  

A Gilded and Heartbreaking Life: The Photographs of Clover Adams 1883-1885—traces the privileged life of “a fiercely intelligent Boston Brahmin.” Clover began experimenting with photography in the summer of 1883 while her husband Henry Adams—prominent historian, Harvard professor and novelist—was writing Esther, a novel loosely based on the making of Trinity Church in the City of Boston. Adams modeled the heroine of the novel after his wife Clover, whom he characterized in it as a “second rate amateur” painter.

“I’ve gone in for photography and find it very absorbing” wrote Clover on September 7 1883. “My wife does nothing except take photographs…” wrote Henry to Elizabeth Sherman Cameron on July 26 1883. Artistically dismissed by Henry, Clover continued to make compelling photographs that allowed for an intimate look at America’s Gilded Age. 

Clover’s photographs are marked by quotes or any information she recorded of the individual or place she photographed—often providing a glimpse into the personalities of highly respected figures. When photographed, Senator and future Supreme Court Justice Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar of Mississippi refused to have his photo taken until “he had rumpled [his hair] all up,” wrote Clover alongside his photograph on February 23 1884.

(Left) Henry Adams seated at desk in dark coat, writing, Photograph by Marian Hooper Adams, 1883 (Right)Umbrella tree at Smith's Point, Photograph by Marian Hooper Adams. Both Photographs courtesy Massachusetts Historical Society.

Clover’s ability to communicate the personality of her sitters is evident in the arrangement of her albums.  She paired a photograph of Henry Adams in his study room alongside a photograph of a lonely tree perched on a mountain top. One can arrive at numerous conclusions, but we can all assume that this arrangement speaks to the lonely life that Henry led.

Organized by the seasons of the year, the exhibition highlights Clover’s three albums and displays them in the context of letters, loose photographs and ephemera—including her personal sketchbook with a watercolor by John La Farge.

Having lived in the immediate surroundings of Trinity Church before moving to Washington, DC, Henry Adams became close friends with Phillips Brooks, Trinity’s then charismatic preacher; America’s premier architect Henry Hobson Richardson and artist John La Farge. Clover photographed Trinity Church and the people behind one of America’s greatest architectural treasures. These photographs, many of them iconic—also form part of this exhibition.

The photographs of Clover Adams are as heartbreaking as the life she led. On the morning of Sunday December 6, 1885 she wrote “if I had a single point of character, I would stand on that and grow back to life.” That same Sunday morning, Clover committed suicide by drinking potassium cyanide, the chemical she used to develop her own photographs. She was 42.

Henry Adams never spoke of her or mentions her in his masterpiece “The Education of Henry Adams,” but he honored Clover’s memory with the bronze seated statue by Augustus Saint-Gaudens–placed over her grave at Rock Creek Cemetery in Washington, DC.  

 A Gilded and Heartbreaking Life: The Photographs of Clover Adams 1883-1885 is accompanied by a biography of the same title by exhibition curator Natalie Dystra. The exhibition is on view until June 02, 2012.

The Cheney Building Stands Like a Tree in Downtown Hartford

Here’s a wonderful building in Hartford, CT by Henry Hobson Richardson, the genius behind masterpieces like Trinity Church on Copley Square and the Woburn Public Library among others. The Cheney Building (1875-76) stands like a tree in downtown Hartford, setting itself apart from its neighbors through the polychromatic stonework, rustication, and the floral motifs carved throughout its exterior. Richardson’s influence is felt throughout the United States, Canada and Northern European countries where local and nationally known architects admired his works, often incorporating many of Richardson’s signature elements into their architecture. If you visit Hartford, don’t miss the Cheney Building on Main Street, it’s a gem worth staring at for hour and hours.

All photos credit of The Evolving Critic.

In Pursuit of Urban Nature: Hiking Olmsted’s Emerald Necklace

I’m lucky to live in Boston. With its small town feel and international appeal, Boston is an amazing place to take in the arts, culture and architecture. This spring I posted a blog listing the things every Bostonian must add to their bucket list and although I had experienced everything on the list, there was one exception:  hiking the Emerald Necklace in an entire day.

Earlier this summer, my friend Cristy and I went on an expedition to explore the beauty of Boston’s Emerald Necklace, a string of interconnected parks stretching through many of the city’s neighborhoods and cultural institutions.  As any urban planner, architect, or city enthusiast would tell you, the best way to get to know and experience a city is by walking its streets. This is exactly what Cristy and I did. We started our hike across Park Street Church on Boston Common at around 11:15AM on a Sunday and finished around 5:00PM at the entrance of Franklin Park Zoo in Dorchester.

In the nineteenth century, nature and parks were idealized and venerated, an idea reflected in the landscapes of many cities across the country.  Parks provided city dwellers and factory workers with leisure activities that involved fishing, swimming and many other past times. They provided a relief from the long work day hours and living conditions.

 The power of parks and green open spaces in bringing people from all walks of life together has always fascinated me. I love walking through a park and listening to the many different languages spoken by users. No one understood this better than Frederick Law Olmsted, the genius behind this incredible cultural resource in Boston.

The father of the modern landscape architecture movement, Frederick Law Olmsted’s story is as inspiring and moving as was his vision in transforming the landscapes of America. Along with his son Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., his adopted stepson John C. Olmsted and the rest of the partners in the firm, Olmsted dominated the landscape architecture profession in America for nearly a century. Transforming people’s lives through the beauty of nature was at the core of his pursuit in improving and “civilizing American society.”

Boston Common, 1634, National Historic Landmark; Boston Landmark

Considered the most historic park in Boston, Boston Common was mentioned in town records as early as 1634. The Common was not designed by Olmsted, but it played a pivotal role in the planning of his Emerald Necklace. It was only logical we start our hike at Boston Common, after all, every visitor strolls down the Common on the way to the Freedom Trail.

The Public Garden, 1839. George Meachum, 1859, National Historic Landmark; Boston Landmark

The Public Garden was born out of the filling of the Back Bay in the nineteenth century. It is a botanical garden with formal flower beds laid out in the French Manner and artificial pond which provides for pleasant Swan Boat rides during the warmer months of the year. On its Arlington Street corner stands Arthur Gilman’s Arlington Street Church, a building worthy of looking at. It has sixteen Tiffany stained glass windows which date from 1898 to 1933.

The Esplanade, 1931, National Register of Historic Places

Once part of the smelly Back Bay, this chunk of land was transformed into a spacious park offering many activities including picnicking, kayaking, sailing, outdoor concerts and movies at the Hatch Shell. The Esplanade Association is in charge of restoring, maintaining and preserving this wonderful park.

Commonwealth Avenue Mall, begun in 1858 and continued as the Back Bay was filled in, Boston Landmark

Commonwealth Avenue Mall was America’s answer to the grand boulevards of Paris. The Mall is lined with American and English elms as well as magnolias and dotted with sculptures of noted public figures including Alexander Hamilton, William Lloyd Garrison, Phyllis Wheatley and others.

Charlesgate, Frederick Law Olmsted, 1870’s

Olmsted had intended for a grand picturesque landscape here, but as Michael and Susan Southworth of the AIA Guide to Boston write “Charlesgate is the tragedy of the Emerald Necklace.” I hope to see this landscape restore to Olmsted’s original vision in my lifetime.

Apologies for the lack of images of Charlesgate, I will take some the next time I am at the Museum of Fine Arts, but the landscape does not reflect what Olmsted intended.

Back Bay Fens, Frederick Law Olmsted, 1879, National Register of Historic Places; Boston Landmark

A fine example of the English nineteenth century romantic landscape movement.  To some extent, Olmsted original vision has been altered and rose gardens were added along with a baseball field and a war memorial, but the Emerald Necklace Conservancy has been diligently working to restore the plantings and conserve this magical park for centuries to come. Among the architectural and cultural gems along the Back Bay Fens are H.H. Richardson’s “muscular” bridge, Holy Trinity Orthodox Church, the Forsyth Dental Infirmary for Children, the Museum of Fine Arts, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and galleries at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts and the Massachusetts College of Art and Design.

The Riverway and Olmsted Park, Frederick Law Olmsted, 1881, National Register of Historic Places; Boston Landmark

This park is currently undergoing major restoration by the Conservancy. The Riverway originally linked Olmsted Park to Jamaica Pond, but a segment was destroyed for commercial purposes thereby interrupting the “flow” of Olmsted’s interconnecting system of parks.

Jamaica Park, Frederick Law Olmsted, 1892, National Register of Historic Places, National Historic Landmark, Boston Landmark

Jamaica Park will always hold a special place in my heart because on our hike along the Emerald Necklace, my friend Cristy and I stopped to catch our breath, admire the beauty of the lake and watch people fish and jog. We were so taken aback by the park’s beauty that I left my camera on a bench only to realize that I had done so 45 minutes later. In short, I did not find my camera but frantically asked everyone I came across at the park if they had seen it. I left my business card with a few people and continued our hike as if nothing had ever happened. Later that night, I received an email from the Jamaica Pond Boat House letting me know that my camera had been found! Joy!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Stickney and Austin’s Boathouse is a National Historic Landmark and you may read more about these two architects by following these links: here and here (sorry, I don’t remember if I corrected the posts after getting my paper back from the professor). I had the pleasure of conducting extensive research on these two architects for a seminar on Boston Architecture and Planning at Boston University with the wonderful Professor Keith Morgan.

Arnold Arboretum, Charles Sprague Sargent and Frederick Law Olmsted, 1872, National Historic Landmark

One of the most beautiful parks in the city, the Arnold Arboretum is also one of the country’s oldest and most prestigious arboreta. Its collection includes more than 15,000 trees, shrubs, and vines collected from around the world and is one of the best preserved of Olmsted’s landscapes. Every Spring the Arboretum hosts Lilac Sunday, andevent that celebrates the more than 377 lilac bushes in its collection. THE FOLLOWING IMAGES HAVE NOT BEEN PHOTOSHOPPED! YES IT GETS THIS BRIGHT IN THE FALL.

Franklin Park, Frederick Law Olmsted, 1885, National Register of Historic Places, Boston Landmark

The crowning jewel of the Emerald Necklace, Franklin Park is a 520-acre masterpiece that combined “vast rustic scenery with H. H. Richardson’s architecture, Daniel Chester French sculpture, sheep to trim the grass, and a dairy for healthful refreshments.” Its design was influenced by Joseph Paxton’s “People’s Park” at Birkenhead in England. Today, most of the architecture at Franklin Park is now ruins and parts of it have been altered and replaced with a golf course, tennis courts, baseball fields and Franklin Park Zoo. I love the micro environments that Olmsted created at Franklin Park. They make me feel as if I’ve stepped from one landscape into a completely different one. I love going for jogs in and around Franklin Park, it feels as if the city is hundreds of miles away.

Walking the Emerald Necklace, I learned that the best way to continue preserving this inspiring landscape is to nominate it as a World Heritage Site. Why isn’t this system of parks already a World Heritage Site? I’m not sure of an answer, but I believe it should be!

Happy Birthday to H.H. Richardson

H.H. Richardson was born on September 29, 1838 – April 27, 1886 in Lousiana. He lived a short life, but he managed to change the face of American architecture for a major part of the 20th century. 

Happy birthday H.H. Richardson!

You can learn more about H.H. Richardson here and here and here .

Books on H.H. Richardson include Living Architecture by James F. O’Gorman and Henry Hobson Richardson: A Genius for Architecture by Margaret Henderson Floyd. Both excellent books to enjoy and learn more about this American genius.

Here is a building by H.H. Richardson with landscape by Frederick Law Olmsted, this one is the “State Lunatic Asylum” in Buffalo, NY. The building is also known as the New York State Hospital.

Photo: Historic American Buildings Survey

In Harmony with the Architecture: The Furniture of H.H. Richardson

H. H. Richardson (1838-1886), by Sir Hubert von Herkomer (1849-1914. Oil on canvas, 1886. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution. On extended loan from Mrs. Henry H. Richardson III. L/NPG.1.99

Henry Hobson Richardson, one of the most influential architects of the 19th century changed the course of American architecture with the introduction of an architectural vocabulary known today as the Richardsonian Romanesque. This new vocabulary was rapidly copied and imitated during the latter part of the Nineteenth and well into the first part of the Twentieth Century in America, Canada and Northern European countries. H.H Richardson as a designer did not limit his genius to creating architectural masterpieces, indeed “no feature was too small, no object too simple to engage his thought[i]” as his contemporary and biographer Mariana Griswold Van Rensselaer notes.

Side chair for the Woburn Public Library, 1878, Designed by: Henry Hobson Richardson, American, 1838–1886 Manufactured by: A. H. Davenport & Company, active 1841–1973, Boston, Massachusetts, United States, Oak, leather. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Gift of Woburn Public Library, 1961. Accession number: 61.237

Richardson as an architect became intimately involved in every aspect of his buildings, from the interior detailing of the woodwork, to the built-in and free standing furniture. H.H. Richardson once said “I’ll plan anything a man wants from a cathedral to a chicken coop[ii].” Richardson was influenced by a variety of sources including medieval furniture, 17th and 18th century American furniture, the Queen Anne, William and Mary and Chippendale Style, also Eastlake Style furniture and the English Arts and Crafts Movement. Richardson owned a copy of Talbert’s Gothic Forms Applied to Furniture, one of the many pattern books highly popular with architects, designers, and craftsmen of his time[iii]. As an architect, Richardson had a collection of photographs which represented a wide range of styles, from the Gothic to the Renaissance, Baroque, Islamic, Asian, Egyptian, Mexican and Pre-Historic structures[iv].

The furniture of H.H. Richardson was “integral with the interior woodwork of the buildings.[v]” As an architect and furniture designer, H.H. Richardson collaborated with the best designers and craftsmen of his times including Francis H. Bacon, Charles Coolidge, and Stanford White, a partner in the firm of McKim, Mead and White, architects of the Boston Public Library. The prestigious furniture makers and carvers at A.H. Davenport and Company[vi] who later in 1916 merged with Irving and Casson executed most of Richardson’s furniture commissions including the Court of Appeals in Albany, New York, the Crane Library in Quincy, the Billings Library in Burlington, Vermont and the Converse Libraries in Malden[vii].

The Woburn Public Library, taken by John Michael Garcia.

Armchair for the Woburn Pubilc Library, 1878 Designed by: Henry Hobson Richardson, American, 1838–1886, Possibly manufactured by: A. H. Davenport & Company, active 1841–1973. Boston, Massachusetts, United States Overall: 85.4 x 74.9 x 71.1 cm (33 5/8 x 29 1/2 x 28 in.) Oak, leather. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Gift of Woburn Public Library, 1961. Accession number: 61.236

Richardson’s furniture designs follow the individualistic character of his buildings and at the Woburn Public Library, one of his most ornate, the furniture emphasizes the “simplicity and unity of design, structural integrity and honesty expressed in the use of materials.”  The furniture is as massive and robust as the buildings. The structural integrity of both the chair and the building is emphasized in the chair through the joinery and in the building through the vertical and horizontal lines.  John Ruskin in his book Seven Lamps of Architecture[viii] advocated for a simplicity and unity of design which is expressed in both the architecture and furniture of the Woburn Library. With a desire to bring back the “craftsmanship of a bygone era,[ix]” the furniture of the Woburn Library is medieval in inspiration in the sense that their scale is massive like medieval furniture which was made out of stone. The spindles recall the turned furniture of seventeenth century New England and shows characteristics of William Morris earlier furniture designs as well anticipate the furniture designed in the American Arts and Crafts Movement[x].

Detail of Woburn Public Library Table

Most of the furniture of the Woburn Library was put together without the use of nails or screws, mortise and tenon joints are not only used to construct the furniture, but also to serve as the ornaments themselves. The same could be said for other Richardson designed furniture.

H.H. Richardson sought inspiration in the past in order to design timeless pieces of furniture which took on the characteristics of his buildings. His chairs and benches are as massive as the architecture, and as inviting and comfortable as his interiors are. By the time of his premature death at the age of 48 (died in 1886) Richardson had fully developed a complete vocabulary in furniture which anticipated the Modern movement. In the words of Richard Randall, Jr. who organized the first and only exhibition of Richardson’s furniture at the Museum of Fine Arts in 1962, “the variety seen in the existing examples, the drawings and photographs reveal the sanity, power and urbanity of the designs, and place Richardson among the masters of 19th century furniture design.[xi]

*** If you’d like to see the sources of the citations, please send me an email.  While conducting research in 2008-2009, I came to the realization that most of the furniture Richardson designed remains with us today and in great condition. The same cannot be said of his contemporary, the Philadelphia architect Frank Furness who also designed furniture for his buildings, but very little of it remains (shame! shame! shame!).  For the sake of clarity and length, I’ve decided to limit this post to just a certain pieces at the Woburn Public Library.

Guest Blog Entry – A New and Native Architecture: Charles and Henry Greene and their Years in Boston

Robert Pitcairn house, 1906, Pasadena, CA. Charles & Henry Greene. Photo taken by David Mathias.

Modernism, specifically the International School, divorced architecture from regional identity.  Buildings should, proponents argued, be universal and primarily functional.  The movement was, and is, hugely successful, in theory and in practice.  And with modernism in its tenth decade, it can be easy to forget that not so long ago regional styles were vitally important.  The shingled homes of the New England coast.  The Spanish missions of California.  The agricultural manors of the South.

The Greene Brothers - Charles Sumner Greene (top) & Henry Mather Greene (bottom). Image source: The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens. Click on this image for an online version of the exhibition "A New and Native Beauty" which traveled to Boston (July 14 - October 19, 2009).

At the dawn of the 20th century, Pasadena architects Charles & Henry Greene developed a new regional style based on the climate and environment of their adopted home.  “A wooden style built woodenly,” that blurs the distinction between indoors and out, the California bungalow is certainly of that place.  A synthesis of Arts & Crafts and Asian influences with a casual California sensibility, it could not have developed anywhere else.

Thus, it may be surprising that Greene & Greene were not Californians.  Nor were they from a warm climate.  They were born in Cincinnati, raised in St. Louis and educated in Boston.  Yes, Boston.  America’s answer to Old World civilization.  The birthplace of the Revolution.  Home of the Brahmins.  It was in this world that Charles & Henry Greene acquired the skills that would enable them to develop the quintessential west-coast style.

In September 1888, Charles Greene, aged 19, and his brother Henry, aged 18, left their comfortable home in St. Louis for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where they enrolled in the Partial Course in architecture.  The Partial Course, a two-year program, was significantly more popular, at that time, than the four-year course of study.  Both boys were well prepared due to their education at the Manual Training School of Washington University, a high school program offering traditional academic subjects in addition to shop training in wood and metal.

Trinity Church in Copley Square, 1872-1877, H.H. Richardson's first architectural masterpiece

Boston’s Copley Square was an imposing place in 1888.  In addition to the academic building in which Charles and Henry spent considerable time, the square boasted the Museum of Fine Arts, Trinity Church and the embryonic Boston Public Library.  Thus, the young Greenes had front row seats to observe a classic by H. H. Richardson and to witness the birth of a significant project by McKim, Mead and White.  That is quite an education exclusive of the classroom.

Henry Hobson Richardson was, prior to his death in 1886 at age 47, a prominent American architect.  He studied at L’Ecole des Beaux-Arts though his own preferences tended toward the English Arts & Crafts and the Richardson Romanesque he created.  Due to the makeup of the faculty, MIT offered, at that time, a very traditional Beaux-Arts curriculum.  Charles Greene bristled at the highly formal, traditional coursework.  By contrast, the exquisite Arts & Crafts interior of Trinity Church must have seemed very refreshing.

MIT students had easy and free access to another Copley Square institution, the Museum of Fine Arts.  Significant among the museum’s collections was a substantial assortment of Japanese art and artifacts.  Additionally, Charles and Henry visited the East India Marine Society Museum in Salem, home to an impressive collection of Japanese objects.  Though the Greenes would subsequently be exposed to Japanese architecture at the 1893 and 1904 World’s Fairs, this early encounter no doubt opened their eyes to a new aesthetic, one that would be pivotal in their careers.

An excellent example of the Shingle Style is the Mary Fiske Stoughton House, 90 Brattle Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA. Built 1883; architect H. H. Richardson. Expanded in 1900 by John Fiske. Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS), Library of Congress, Prints and Photograph Division, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA. Survey number HABS MA-1033.

Even wooden shingles and shakes, an element heavily identified with Greene & Greene houses, can be traced to the brothers’ time in Boston.  Charles and Henry frequented Nantucket during Summers, where surely they would have encountered the ubiquitous shingle style.  Later, during internships, both Greenes gained further experience with the style.  Charles worked at Andrews, Jaques and Rantoul while Roughwood, a large residential commission clad in shingles, was being constructed in Brookline.  Charles later worked for Herbert Langford Warren who sometimes employed the shingle style.  Henry worked for a time for Frederick W. Stickney, a master in the use of shingles, who is responsible for the Kennebunk River Club.

It is worth noting that in addition to direct influence, H. H. Richardson had a significant indirect impact on Greene & Greene.  Virtually every architect with whom they worked during their post-MIT time in and around Boston, had significant ties to Richardson.  Not surprising since his legacy figured large in the Boston architectural scene for quite some time.

In 1893, Charles and Henry Greene moved to Pasadena, California to be with their parents who had relocated there with the hope of improving Mrs. Greene’s health and the family’s financial prospects.  Greene & Greene, Architects was established in 1894.  Despite the fact that most of the groundwork had already been laid for the firm’s signature style, that style didn’t begin to emerge for nearly a decade.  During the interim, their designs were eclectic as they learned about the alien environment and searched for their own voice.  They, of course, had other exposure to the Arts & Crafts, Asian forms and the use of wooden shingles but their five years in Boston, when they were quite young, established the foundation for the “new and native architecture” that constitutes their legacy today.


David Mathias is an author and photographer with a background in computer science. He was educated at the University of Delaware (B.S.) and Washington University in St. Louis (M.S., D.Sc.). He was a college instructor for fourteen years before abandoning computer science, academia and a paycheck for the full-time pursuit of writing. David has published articles in Popular Woodworking, Woodwork, Style 1900 and American Bungalow.  His first book, Greene & Greene Furniture – Poems of Wood & Light is an examination of the houses and furniture of Charles and Henry Greene. You can learn more about David and his research on the furniture and houses of the Greene Brothers by visiting his website and blog. David’s book can be purchased through his website or through any bookstore or online dealers.

H.H. Richardson and the Arts and Crafts Connection in New Hampshire

Ever since taking my first architectural history survey at the University of New Hampshire, I became fascinated with the Arts and Crafts Movement and the architecture of Henry Hobson Richardson.  I wrote my first paper ever, in any architectural history class on the libraries of H.H. Richardson and I am a docent at Trinity Church, one of Richardson’s masterpieces.  What’s the connection between the Arts and Crafts Movement, H.H. Richardson and New Hampshire, you might be wondering?

See, every summer I’ve made it a goal of mine to explore a historic house in the New England region and learn as much as I can from my visit. The past few summers, I’ve gone to Salem, MA, Newport, RI and most recently, New Canaan, CT to visit the Philip Johnson Glass House. This summer, I traveled to New Hampshire and visited Lucknow or “Castle in the Clouds,” a 16 room Arts and Crafts Mansion situated atop one of New Hampshire’s mountains overlooking Lake Winnipesaukee.

Located a short driving distance from Wolfeboro, one of America’s oldest resort towns, to experience the architecture of “Castle in the Clouds” visitors must take a trolley from the Carriage House to the peak of the mountain.  At the sight of the Carriage House, I immediately started recalling certain characteristics of Richardson’s architecture and began drawing connections between the architecture of the Carriage House and Richardson’s buildings, most notably the estate for Robert Treat Paine in Waltham, MA.

Lucknow, completed in 1913-14 was the home of Thomas Plant (1859-1941), a businessman with very strong connections to Boston.  There is no doubt in my mind that Plant was exposed to the architecture of Richardson, not only those buildings in Boston, but in the suburbs as well. Thomas Plant made his fortune in the shoe manufacturing industry in Massachusetts and retired a millionaire at age fifty-one. Mr. Plant was allegedly the architect of Lucknow (one of the tour guides mentioned that his brother was the architect and that Thomas Plant himself had control over the drawings, but Thomas took the title of architect. Oh the gossip!) and the Richardsonian influences could not have any less visible. From the bold massing and the harmonious integration of  the building with its surrounding landscape to the “eyelid or eyebrow” windows made famous by Richardson and later architects, Mr. Thomas Plant was without a doubt influenced by Richardson as well as the ideas behind the American Arts and Crafts Movement.

The Arts and Crafts Movement (1830-1870) springs out of the Gothic Revival in England by emphasizing a strict design morality(1) and rebelling against the often uninspiring machine made objects by placing emphasis on hand crafted ornamentation and details. Spearheaded by artists and theorists like William Morris and John Ruskin, who collectively with their art and writings became the driving force that integrated social and moral ideologies into the art and architecture that was produced in America beginning in Richardson’s  time. To decorate his mansion, Mr. Thomas Plant commissioned the best artists and craftsmen working in the Arts and Crafts Movement in America. The glasswork found in the mansion was commissioned to Louis Comfort Tiffany, lighting by the Edward F. Caldwell Company of New York and custom woodwork and furnishings by A.H Davenport/Irving and Casson of Boston, Richardson’s furniture maker.

The prestigious furniture makers and carvers at A.H. Davenport and Company(2) who later in 1916 merged with Irving and Casson executed most of Richardson’s furniture commissions including the Court of Appeals in Albany, New York, the Crane Library in Quincy, Massachusetts, the Billings Library in Burlington, Vermont and the Converse Library in Malden (3).  A.H Davenport became one of the largest and most prosperous furniture makers of the time after purchasing The Boston Furniture Company in 1880. Albert Henry Davenport himself had been the bookkeeper at Boston Furniture Company until 1866 (4). Known for their exquisite craftsmanship and attention to the most inconspicuous details, Davenport and Company went on to make furniture for the mansions of the wealthy residents of the Back Bay, the White House under President Roosevelt and Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City (5). The woodwork and furnishings at Lucknow are impressive and harmonize beautifully with the exposed joints  of the architecture.

Richardson died prematurely at the age of 48 (died in 1886) and did not live to see the tremendous influence his architecture had in America, Canada and Northern European countries.  The breathtaking mansion of Lucknow or “Castle in the Clouds” is a testament to the power of Richardson’s architecture and the exquisite craftmanship of A.H. Davenport/Irving and Casson masters of the Arts and Crafts Movement in America.

H.H. Richardson's Stonehurst; The Robert Treat Paine Estate in Waltham, MA

I’ve conducted an extensive research on Richardson’s furniture which culminated in a talk at one of his most ornate buildings. Perhaps, I can write a small post on the furniture of H.H. Richardson for all of you to enjoy. As long as you all want me of course!

1 Elizabeth Cumming and Wendy Kaplan, The Arts and Crafts Movement (New York: Thames and Hudson, 1991) 14
2 Marian Page, Furniture Designed by Architects (New York: Whitney Library of Design, 1984) 68
3  Anne Farnam, “A.H. Davenport and Company, Boston Furniture Makers” Antiques 1055
4 Anne Farnam.  Antiques
5 Anne Farnam, “A.H. Davenport and Company, Boston Furniture Makers” Antiques 1048

Reflections on Water

I can’t swim to save my life. As a matter of fact, I can’t even doggy paddle. I thought I’d tell you now before you read any further. I must also tell you that I’ve never experienced any life altering incidents involving water (in case you wanted to know). In fact, some of the fondest memories I have as a child have dealt with water has playing a prominent role. I’m just not a water type of person I guess.

The sight of water alone re-energizes my senses and brings back memories of places and people I’ve encountered along my path in life. Up until recently, I lived about a 10 minute walk from the ocean. Whenever I needed to clear my mind or fill my lungs with the cool sea breeze, I would engage in a conversation with the waves crashing upon the shore. I no longer have that “luxury.” Ever since my move to another neighborhood in Boston, it requires more planning than I thought it originally would using public transportation.

Lucky for me, Boston is home to Frederick Law Olmsted’s Emerald Necklace – a series of picturesque parks linked as the name suggests, like a necklace by parkways and waterways.  In a spur of the moment decision, I ventured out to Jamaica Pond in Jamaica Plain earlier this week to connect with the pond and its beautiful surroundings.

Bounded by the town of Brookline and located within walking distance from the home and studio of both Frederick Law Olmsted and the architect Henry Hobson Richardson, Jamaica Pond is a popular destination for city dwellers looking to go sailing, fishing, jogging or walking. Both Olmsted and Richardson were friends and collaborated on many outstanding projects in Massachusetts which integrated the architecture with its surrounding landscapes.  

The architecture at Jamaica Pond consists of a boat house and bandstand designed by the firm of Stickney and Austin and the now demolished Pinebank Mansion; the Queen Anne style house designed by John Hubbard Sturgis, of Sturgis and Brigham; designers of the Museum of Fine Arts that once stood on Copley Square.

I hadn’t been to Jamaica Pond since I was about 11 years old. As I approached the pond from Pond Street, memories of family picnics and bike rides started to flow. I briskly walked along the pond’s edges, calmly awaiting the sunset.  As the sun began to set and colors emerged from behind the clouds, the architecture of Stickney and Austin became so much more intense contrasting with the soft glow of the sun. This moment reminded me of how much we all intrinsically benefit from the natural and designed landscapes that surround us.  And although I cannot swim, I try to engage and interact as often as I can with landscapes and architecture where water plays a prominent role like Jamaica Pond.

To learn more about the Emerald Necklace and the work being done to preserve and restore this magnificent cultural resource, click here.

Learn more about the Olmstead Historic Site in Brookline and the Olmsted Center for Landscape Preservation.

To read about Stickney and Austin, see posts here and here.


Venustas: vĕnustas , ātis, f. 1. Venus, I. loveliness, comeliness, charm, grace, beauty, elegance, attractiveness, etc. (syn.: pulchritudo, formositas).

In defining the qualities of good architecture, the Roman architect Vitruvius believed that  firmitas (strength), utilitas (functionality), and venustas (beauty) in a building were its most important qualities. It comes as no secret that the name for this blog was in part inspired by venustas, the quality of beauty, charm, elegance and attractiveness.

Exploring the beauty of Boston and its surrounding communities continues to be the focus of this blog. I hope you enjoy the following images of some buildings in Boston and its surrounding communities which I find to be inspiring and beautiful (another building which takes my breath away every single time is Trinity Church, I hope everyone knows what this building looks like).

The Woburn Public Library, taken by John Michael Garcia.

The Woburn Public Library, Woburn, MA. Taken by John Michael Garcia.

Saarinen's Kresge Chapel, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

The Boston Public Library by McKim, Mead and White

Buildings Tell a Story

In Boston, there are two buildings that tell the greatest success story of all: The Achmuty “Dainty Dot” Building in Chinatown/Leather District and the former Shreve, Crump and Low Building in the Back Bay. The stories, aspirations, goals and dreams of those who commissioned, designed and built these structures, as well as the workers who experienced their interiors, are all reflected in the exquisite details of these buildings.

The Achmuty "Dainty Dot" Building

The Achmuty "Dainty Dot" Building (1889-1890)

The “Dainty Dot” Building takes it name from its last occupant, the Dainty Dot Hosiery Company, however throughout its history, it has been the home to several of Boston’s textile companies. The physical scars of the Achmuty “Dainty Dot” Building tell the story of Boston in the 1960’s and the construction of the Central Artery Tunnel, a massive urban infrastructure project which demolished two of its façades.  This handsome Romanesque Revival building tells the story of the rebuilding of Boston after the devastating fire of 1872, which destroyed a large section of downtown Boston. The “Dainty Dot” also tells the story of Winslow and Wetherell, one of the largest architectural firms of the time whose works reflected the influence of Henry Hobson Richardson, in particular the bold Romanesque arches and nature inspired architectural decoration. Last but not least, the building also tells the story those immigrants who worked long arduous hours in hopes of claiming a piece of the “American Dream”.

The "Dainty Dot" Building

The "Dainty Dot" Building

The “American Dream” also plays a role in the development of architecture in Boston, especially in the former Shreve, Crump and Low building in the Back Bay. The story of one of Boston’s most celebrated Art Deco buildings is told through its highly ornate façade, designed in 1929-1930 by William T. Aldrich, a classically trained architect at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology[1]. An outstanding example of Art Deco in Boston, its façade incorporates Art Deco and Neoclassical motifs in the form of half shells, flowers, leaves and knot designs. These details allude to the history of America’s oldest jewelry company. The building also tells the story of countless men and women who have created memories and special moments with the purchase of a piece of jewelry from this prestigious firm.

Shreve Crump & Low Building

Shreve Crump & Low Building


Another common thread  that these two buildings share is the threat of demolition, which will silence and erase their stories and rich contribution to Boston’s urban fabric. The Achmuty “Dainty Dot” Building and the former Shreve, Crump and Low Building are both slated for demolition in spite of the efforts of preservationists and citizens who fought a tireless battle to designate these two structures as Boston Landmarks. The petitions to designate such buildings as landmarks were denied but thanks to the worsening economy, further plans for demolition have been put on hold, allowing their stories to continue to be told.

Shreve Crump & Low Building - Detail of ornamentation

Shreve Crump & Low Building - Detail of ornamentation

Shreve Crump & Low - Iron work

Shreve Crump & Low - Iron work


[1] Robert B. MacKay, Long Island Country Houses and their Architects, 1860-1940 (New York: W.W. Norton and Company 1997) 48