Today we have a large oil portrait of Berthe Girola Anderson of Rockville, painted by C. Law Watkins and donated by Mrs. Anderson’s sons, Thomas and George.

Berthe Girola AndersonBerthe* Girola was born in 1902 in Neuchatel, Switzerland.  In the early 1920s she came to Rockville to work as companion/governess/French tutor for Mary Parrish Bradley (1911-1993), daughter of Joseph and Ann Bradley.  Rockville society agreed with Berthe, and in 1929 she married Thomas Minor Anderson, Sr.; the reception was held at the Bradley home on Rockville Pike (now owned by Woodmont Country Club), and, the Girolas being unable to travel from Switzerland, the Bradleys gave the bride away.  After marriage, the Andersons lived in Rockville; Berthe died in 1980.

Berthe Girola (at right) and Mary Bradley, 1926. Donated by the Anderson family.

Berthe Girola (at right) and Mary Bradley, 1926. Donated by the Anderson family.

Thanks to donations from the two Anderson sons, we have a number of photos, artifacts, and archival odds and ends related to Berthe’s life – she’s often featured in our exhibits, has been mentioned here before, and likely will be represented in both physical and digital displays again in the near future – but let’s change directions somewhat and talk about the portrait painter, rather than the subject.

Mary Parrish Bradley, Berthe’s former pupil, began studying painting at the Phillips Gallery Art School in the late 1930s.  She had a few exhibitions around DC, and an article in 1941 noted that the Phillips Memorial Gallery (now the Phillips Collection) was “very interested in her work.”  In 1942, she married C. Law Watkins, one of her instructors.  Mr. Watkins (1886-1945) was Phillips Collection founder Duncan Phillips’ college roommate. In the late 1920s Watkins left the coal business, and joined the Phillips as Deputy Director and teacher.  (Here’s a nice summary of his career with both the Phillips Gallery and the art school at American University, where the Watkins Gallery is named in his honor.) He and Mary, his second wife, had one son before Mr. Watkins’ unexpected death in 1945.

Though he was perhaps better known for his work as deputy director of the Phillips – including a large exhibition, which later traveled to the 1939-40 New York World’s Fair, on “Emotional Design in Art” – Watkins was himself an artist, like his wife Mary. A review of a memorial exhibition at the Phillips, published in the Washington Post on May 6, 1945, noted, “[Watkins] never advanced his own work, in fact seldom showed it.  Many of his paintings and drawings he regarded as experimental, for use in his teaching rather than finished products in themselves.”

Our portrait of Berthe Anderson is oil on canvas, in an angular, silver-painted wood frame.  The work is unsigned, but according to the donors it was painted by Mr. Watkins around 1944.  (It’s also possible that the painting is by Mary Watkins herself; a number of paintings by both Mary and her husband are owned by the Phillips, so a future comparison to each artist’s work is not out of the question.) At any rate, not having tried my hand at art criticism since Art History 101, I’ll restrict my commentary to: It’s a charming painting – I particularly like the contrast of Berthe’s floral dress and chic hairdo with the old-fashioned chair in which she’s sitting – and it’s certainly a bright spot of color amongst our other, rather gloomy Victorian portraits.

*Her children spelled it Berthy; friends and neighbors in Rockville called her Betty.

The Beall-Dawson House is an historic house museum, but with a bit of a twist.  The House is furnished to tell the story of the many people – old and young, enslaved and free – who lived and worked there for over 150 years; but we are the County Historical Society, after all, and some of the artifacts on display tell a broader story.

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Take, for example, this fine couple, who can be seen in the Dining Room, above.  Major A. Price* and his wife Mary Ann Harding Price are not related to the House residents** in any appreciable way, but (unlike some of our furnishings) they are not merely period-appropriate decorations.  Mary Ann’s story helps us talk a little bit about Montgomery County in the early 19th century.

Major & Mary Ann

All photos on this post (other than the Dining Room view) by Tom Meeks.

Mary Ann Harding (1805-1825) was born in Montgomery County, Maryland, daughter of Elias and Ellen Harding. (Her parents were distant cousins; both were descended from John Harding, who died in Rockville in 1753.)  In 1810, they and several other branches of the Harding family moved to Logan County, Kentucky.  Mary Ann grew up in Russellville, and married a neighboring gentleman named Major A. Price in September 1823; she died two years later.  It’s thought she died in childbirth, or perhaps due to later complications; in the Hardin-Harding family cemetery in Kentucky, there’s a grave near Mary Ann’s stone inscribed “Mary Ann Price, stillborn dau. of Major & Mary A. Price, Aug. 27, 1824.”

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These two portraits were donated to the Montgomery County Historical Society in 1985 by Mary Hardin Bernard, Mary Ann’s great-great-niece.  (Mary Ann’s sister Margery Harding married a man named Thompson Hardin, hence the missing “g”.) The Hardin family was certain that the young woman was Mary Ann Harding Price; it is believed, though not really proven, that the gentleman was her husband.  Your man Major is something of a conundrum at present; he may or may not have: been born in Virginia in 1800, had three wives, first married Mary Ann’s step-sister . . . several afternoons spent playing “Let’s Find Major’s Wives!” only added to the confusing history, and if I launch into that now this post will devolve into a series of “but wait, then there’s this record. . .” statements, which isn’t really the point.  Suffice it to say that so far as we know, the dapper young man giving our Dining Room windows the side-eye is likely the Major A. Price noted as Mary Ann’s “consort” on her gravestone.  (Marriage records also confirm Major’s name.)

major cropped

Anyway, if these portraits were painted in Kentucky, why are they hanging in the Beall-Dawson House in Rockville, Maryland?  At the time of their donation, MCHS touted it as a matter of the portraits “coming home,” though whether that’s how the donor herself would have phrased it, I’m not sure.  We were very excited about this donation, as the portraits were unique (they’re still our earliest examples), in poor condition (thus offering us a chance to do some fundraising outreach, which was highly successful as you can tell from their current attractive state), and mysterious.  Who was Mary Ann?  Who’s the guy?  Why did they have their portraits painted – and by whom?

In the early decades of the 19th century, many Maryland farmers left the state to find a more prosperous life.  Both wheat and tobacco prices dropped significantly in the late 1810s, and over-farming had depleted our local farmland; to put it briefly, times were tough.  (For a more thorough discussion of this economic depression, and how we got out of it, check out Chapter 7 of MacMaster and Hiebert’s A Grateful Remembrance, 1976.) The Harding family’s decision to move west in 1810 predated the major wave of emigration in the 1820s.  Their reasons may have been related to economic hardship, to general restlessness, or even to the fact that Ellen Harding’s father was forced to leave the state (by his son, no less). A 1937 article by Mary Hardin Bernard says only that the various Harding families “traveled the wilderness road together, moving slowly westward, searching for the most beautiful and most fertile part of Kentucky in which to build their homes. . . bringing with them their personal belongings, their slaves, and their high ideals of Christian living.”  And yes, it’s important to remember that Elias Harding was a slave owner; the 1810 Montgomery County census tells us that Mr. Harding’s property included 12 enslaved people, who most likely also made the trip to Kentucky. The 1820 census for Logan County shows 15 enslaved people under Mr. Harding’s name.  (The censuses do not name the enslaved individuals.) The experience of these people is an entirely different story, one which Mary Ann’s portrait doesn’t quite tell.

Whatever the circumstances of their life in Maryland, the Harding family flourished in Kentucky. The portraits show Mary Ann and Major in fashionable, expensive attire and elaborately styled hair.  (Please note that the top level of Mary Ann’s hairdo is in fact a large, rectangular tortoiseshell comb; see below.)  Presuming the gentleman is Major, these portraits were likely painted to celebrate their marriage or engagement, around 1823 or 1824. Clearly, the Hardings and/or the Prices could afford a certain level of fashion, and wanted that status recorded in oils.

mary anns hairdo

It’s a comb, honest.

An aside: MCHS catalog records include the idea that the sitters’ outfits and hair styles were either imaginary or aspirational – that is, the painter gave them fashionable clothing they didn’t actually own – but that is up for debate.  Since our research in the 1980s, new theories about itinerant portraiture and regionalism have been developed; Mary Ann and Major will benefit from a new round of research.  And after all, who doesn’t dress their best to have their portrait taken, whether painted or photographic?   (Disclaimer: I am not an art historian.)

Soon after the portraits arrived, Historical Society staff and volunteers began searching for possible artists.  The paintings are unsigned, and the Hardin family had little information for us other than a tradition that they were painted by an itinerant painter who boarded with Elias Harding for a short time.  Based on several criteria – including dates, location, and artistic style – my predecessors at MCHS concluded that Alexander Bradford (1791-1827) was our man.  Please take that with a grain or two of salt, as it is a possible, but far from an absolute, attribution.  Again, I feel that our portraits would benefit from another close look; perhaps some day soon I can post a follow-up, with new information.

Continuing to emphasize that I am not an art historian, I need to spend a few sentences talking about how great these portraits are.  Though as art the paintings may lack depth, as likenesses they are very expressive.  Mary Ann is looking right at you, with perhaps a tinge of skepticism in her eyes (or maybe she’s just trying to balance her hairdo); Major’s attention seems to be drawn away, like he’s too cool to be bothered with the whole process.  . . . Which is kind of sad, for an engagement or wedding portrait pair; these paired portraits were meant to be hung side by side, as we have them, and he’s looking away from Mary Ann.  Was he a dreamy*** guy, or simply bored? Maybe that’s why Mary Ann looks just a little dubious.

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Back to less speculative history. Much as I love these portraits (after all, Mary Ann is the blog avatar), there’s a different piece of family memorabilia that better speaks to the consequences of the Harding family’s move, and the Montgomery County connections that were maintained and severed. In an 1820 letter to his mother Mary Harding Sprigg, who was still living in Montgomery County near Barnesville, Elias Harding wrote news of his children, including one Mrs. Sprigg had never met: Elias and his second wife Lucy “have a lovely little daughter Margaret Sheppard [Harding],” while “Mary Ann and Margery is [sic] women grown.”  Poignantly, Elias clearly does not expect to see his mother again.  Although he knows he’s lucky to have found “one of the best of women” for his second wife, and considers Kentucky to be “the land of plenty,” he goes on to lament, “to see you once more this side of eternity would be one of the greatest gratifications . . . I often think of you and wish you was [sic] with us.”  To us today, moving from Maryland to Kentucky might not seem like a big deal; two hundred years ago, it was a major separation, and not one that would be undertaken lightly.

Special thanks are due to photographer Tom Meeks, who so kindly took the fabulous photos of Mary Ann and Major. 

* Yes, his first name was Major.

** In one of those “Montgomery County was a very small place in its way” coincidences, Mary Ann’s father, Elias Harding, was the second cousin of Jane Robb Beall’s sister Catherine’s husband Henry Harding.  (Jane Robb Beall was the wife of Upton Beall, first owner of the Beall-Dawson House.) Got that?

*** I mean that as “daydreamer,” but take it the other way if ruffled cravats are your thing.

We have very few photos – or any sources, really – to help us see the interior of our house museum, the ca. 1815 Beall-Dawson House, as it was “in the past.”  (I put that in quotes because 200 years covers a lot of different “pasts.”)  There are a few estate inventories and other written clues about the 19th century furnishings, but it isn’t until the early 20th century that the sources pick up steam, thanks to the memories of Dawson and Davis family members who lived here, and to the Historic American Buildings Survey photographer John O. Bostrup.

Bostrup visited “Beallmont” – as it was occasionally known – in 1936.  At the time, the House was home to several members of the Dawson family (including Margaret Dawson, 1876-1937, who lived here all her life).  Bostrup’s photos for the HABS project include two of the earliest interior shots: views of the front hall staircase and the parlor mantel. Below, a comparison of the 1936 parlor photo to one taken this morning (click to view the image in more detail):

Some things are the same in both photos, notably the original plaster moldings along the ceiling, the Adam-style mantel decorations, and the charcoal portrait of Amelia Somervell Dawson (which, granted, we’ve hung rather lower on the wall).  The clock and candlesticks shown in the modern picture are similar pieces, but not exact matches, and we’ve set a copy of the small photo (at left in the 1936 image) of the Dawson daughters on the mantel as well. 

When the Davis family moved into the House in 1946 they made many repairs, including some work on the fireplaces.  A comparison of the two photos shows the Davises’ black marble hearth and facing on the right, replacing the brick and plaster of the older picture.  The mantel ornamentation, however, is original, in the then-popular Adam style. The decorative panels – plaster on wood – were most likely purchased by Upton Beall in Washington D.C.  Thanks to the layers of protective paint applied over the years, and to Mrs. Davis’ painstaking care in cleaning the delicate plaster in the 1940s, our mantel is in excellent condition today.  (I’ll probably do a whole post on the mantel one of these days, but here’s our classical Diana, posed demurely in the center.)

And then there’s Amelia.  The portrait of Mrs. Dawson was donated by her great-granddaughter Helen Dawson Reichenbach, in memory of her father Harry A. Dawson.  Unsigned and undated, it is most likely a copy of a painted miniature (in which, no offense to this artist, the subject looks a little less pained.)  Amelia died in 1896; her husband John outlived her by 30 years.  Several Dawson family stories tell us that this portrait hung here in the parlor, where John – an invalid for many years – could see her; as the HABS photos shows, the family left it there after John’s 1926 death.  It’s a little sentimental of me, but I’m glad we were able to hang the portrait here again, where it belongs.

Many of the portraits and paintings in our collections are in what we’ll optimistically call “open storage” – that is, they’re hanging on the walls of our administrative office. One that frequently invites comment is this fellow, the comment usually being “Hey, there’s Teddy Roosevelt!”

Not only is there a strong resemblance, but he is also hanging next to two portraits of George Washington; the presidential association is understandable. However, our man here is in fact Col. Louis Mervin Maus, U.S. Army.

Note that the family pronounced their last name “Moss.”

Col. Maus was born in 1851 in the Colesville/Burnt Mills area, where his parents Isaac and Mary Maus owned “Mount Radnor.” (The senior Mauses moved to Rockville around 1870, so the family is frequently associated with that town rather than Colesville.) He had six siblings, including older brother Brigadier General Marion Perry Maus, whose own Army career rates him a wikipedia page. Col. Maus attended medical school at the University of Maryland and joined the Army as a surgeon in 1874, eventually attaining the rank of Assistant Surgeon General in 1907. He served in many locations, notably in the Dakota Territory in the 1870s and 1880s, in Cuba during the Spanish-American War, and in the Philippines in the early 1900s.

He married Anna Russell of Kentucky in 1876, and they had two daughters, Mary and Louise. In the 1880 census all four Mauses are living at Standing Rock, Dakota Territory; in 1900 Anna and the girls are at Fort Hamilton, Brooklyn, with the Colonel “enumerated in the Philippine Islands.” We can speculate that they moved around frequently, living a life similar to those experienced by military families today.

The portrait was donated, along with many family photos and archival materials, by Col. Maus’s grandson Laurence Halstead, Jr. Among those materials is Mr. Halstead’s somewhat partisan summary of his grandfather’s career:

“Col. Lewis [sic] Maus joined the Army as a contract doctor in 1874. He served at many western army posts, even Ft. Apache, where he lived in a sod house. He was recommended for the Medal of Honor by his Commanding General Nelson Miles of the 7th Calvary, for saving a small hunting party of officers and men from sure death when they were surrounded by a band of Sioux Indians on the war path outnumbered about 30 to one, unarmed he left the party and talked the war party into leaving without harming the soldiers. Later he was given the Distinguished Service Medal (2nd highest award) for this act of bravery. He is given credit for stopping the cholera epidemic and the bubonic plague in the Phillippines during the Spanish American War. He should have been made Surgeon General of the Army when he had the seniority and magnificent record but he was blocked by high ranking officers and I believe because of his strong belief that the use of alcohol was detrimental to the solider (he was one of the first to make studies of the effects of alcohol on the human body). It was he who was responsible for having the whiskey and beer removed from the Post canteens. This naturally made him enemies in the hard drinking army of that day.”

Other non-relatives have echoed these sentiments, including some of Maus’s contemporaries – collected in a small booklet (cover shown below) – and modern historians. Lt. Robert D. Gorodetzer of the Walter Reed Army Medical Center wrote in 1971, “Throughout military history recognition has not always been given men for their achievements, but every so often an oversight is corrected. This should be considered in the case of Louis M. Maus, Colonel, MC, U.S. Army, who served on active duty for 41 years. . . . Maus’ stand on alcohol made him unpopular in many quarters. He was an ardent prohibitionist and favored the removal of beer from all Army facilities. Some believe this stand on alcohol may have been the reason he was never promoted to the grade of general. In an era that saw many advances in medicine, Colonel Maus should be remembered for his accomplishments.”

Col. Maus retired from the Army in 1919, and he and his wife moved to Washington, DC. He died in 1939, and is buried in Arlington Cemetery.  If you’re looking for more information on his life and career, stop by our library, or read his own words; a few works, including “An Army Officer On Leave in Japan” (1911), are available as ebooks.

As for the portrait itself, it measures 20″ x 24″ in a (somewhat banged-up) gilded frame, 27″ x 31″. It was originally cataloged as an “oil painting,” but in fact it is a hand-tinted photograph, or at any rate a hand-tinted print, on a panel. The tinting is skillfully done, but a closer look (above) shows what looks like both paint and pastel over top of the original image. Some cursory research on my part indicates that there were 20″ x 24″ large format cameras available around the turn of the last century. The image is undated, but perhaps an eagle-eyed reader can tell me what rank his uniform indicates? I see the medical insignia on his left sleeve, but I’m not sure if this portrait shows him as Lt. Col., Chief Surgeon (promoted 1898), Lt. Col., Deputy Surgeon General (1902), or Colonel, Assistant Surgeon General (1907).

A gentlemanly calling card, 1902-1907.

As the contents of this blog attest, I have a lot of “favorite” artifacts in our collections. If you really push me to name my most favorite, however, I might have to go with the portrait of Foresta.

Foresta Vinson was born on April 11, 1830, probably in Rockville. She was the daughter of Thomas F. W. Vinson (ca. 1785-1843) and Mary “Polly” Hickman Vinson (ca. 1796-1875), third of their four children. The Vinsons were a prominent Rockville family; her father was the county Sheriff, served as a Judge of the Orphan’s Court, and owned both land and slaves. In 1853, Foresta was 23 years old and engaged to be married. Artist Thomas Cantwell Healy was commissioned to paint the young lady’s wedding portrait.

The large oil painting, in an elaborately carved and gilded frame, shows Foresta in a white dress, with a gold ring on her left ring finger and an open pocket watch in her right hand. She’s standing indoors in front of a nicely finished wall and an expensive chair, with a pastoral landscape visible outdoors behind her. The landscape-out-the-window setting was a common portraiture convention, implying the subject’s wealth and status. Foresta herself has a placid expression on her face, thanks to a faint smile and a slightly off-kilter gaze. The portrait is signed (on the wall above Foresta’s right shoulder) “T.C. Healy Rockville Md AD 1853.”

As the story goes, in December of 1853 Foresta Vinson died of typhoid either the night before, or the morning of, her wedding. The painting descended through the family of her niece, Julia Vinson Anderson, and was donated to us by Julia’s grandsons. The Andersons believed that it was finished after Foresta’s death, and the open pocket watch may have been used by the artist as a symbol of mortality; timepieces stopped at the time of death were sometimes included in postmortem portraits, though the subjects were portrayed as alive. There is also some speculation that her just-a-little-off expression – her eyes aren’t looking in the same direction, to be quite honest – was a deliberate choice made after her death. Any art historians better versed in the symbolism of 19th century portraiture want to weigh in?

Poor Foresta. Almost everything we know about the portrait, short of the artist and date, comes from Anderson family stories, and even that is sparse. Only a few references to her can be found in the family records, and she’s basically dismissed as one of TFW Vinson’s no-genealogy-to-follow children (“Foresta, died on her wedding day”) if not forgotten altogether. The only physical reminders we have – the portrait, and a pair of postmortem daguerreotypes – relate to her death. What was her life like? Unfortunately, she didn’t live in a time or place that exerted much effort recording the lives of young unmarried women; her family’s money is the main reason for the little we do have (portraits aren’t cheap). There are so many unanswered questions; I can’t even find the name of her fiancé. 

So why is she my favorite? The easy answer is that it’s a great portrait hanging just out of sight (the top of her frame is visible over the false walls in our exhibit gallery), and I feel sorry that she seldom gets out and about. But on a deeper level, something about the whole package – artifacts, sketchy records, pitiful story – speaks to me, just as certain events or individuals speak to other historians. There are Civil War buffs and Benjamin Franklin fans; call me a Human Interest Story afficionado, eager to share these stories with others like me.

The Arts & Humanities Council of Montgomery County held its second annual “Magical Montgomery” festival in Silver Spring, on September 29, 2001 – only a few weeks after the terrorist attacks of September 11th of that year.  In response to those events, the AHC asked artist Rosana Azar to organize a Healing Mural, to which visitors could contribute their own images and words.  Last year the AHC donated the mural to the Historical Society.

Physically, this is a canvas banner around 6 feet tall and over 50 feet long.  Emotionally, it is a reminder of those days and weeks after the events of 9-11, when Americans and others were still processing – or trying to process – what had happened, and how it would affect us.  Visitors wrote messages of love and support in English, Spanish and other languages; personalized it with hand- and footprints in paint; and drew and painted images of flags, doves, peace symbols, flowers, trees, hearts, and many others.  Today, ten years later, the memories brought back by the words and images on the mural are (to me, anyway) both immediate and far away.  I remember thinking that nothing would be the same… and yet now, reading some of the thoughts expressed here, I have trouble putting myself back in that place where the whole world had changed.  And that, my friends, is why museums collect artifacts.  Time passes, and memories fade and change despite our best intentions; sometimes we need the physical artifacts to anchor those memories and bring them back to the surface.

Well, that’s a little more philosophical than I meant to get today, before I pulled the banner out to take photos.  See?  Even us seasoned curators – professional rememberers – need the artifacts to bring those memories back.  Feel free to comment, share your own memories, argue with me about forgetting things, whatever you like.  In the meantime, here are some more images from the banner.

This wary young gentleman is John Courts Jones, Jr. (1802-1880) of Clean Drinking Manor, Chevy Chase. In 1815, the 13 year old Jones was sent to attend the United States Military Academy at West Point; he is shown here, in this unsigned portrait, wearing his cadet uniform.

The Jones family, and their home Clean Drinking Manor, have been featured on this blog before, in the person (?) of a large pewter wine measure owned by our boy’s father, John Courts Jones, Sr. The house was built around 1750 for Charles Jones, and it stayed in the family until 1910 (the house was torn down shortly thereafter). Because the Manor was one of the oldest homes in the county, and the family both held onto and was proud of its heirlooms, accounts of the house and its contents can be found in several newspaper and magazine articles. In one of these, ambitiously titled “An Ancient Place – One of the Old Manor Homes in This Vicinity – Two Hundred Years in One Family – A Visit to the Venerable Lady of Clean Drinking Manor – Revolutionary Memories Written Exclusively for the Evening Star,” printed in 1894, the author notes, “One of the most interesting of [the family portraits] represents a handsome boy of fourteen which Mrs. Jones told me was the likeness of her husband, John Coates [sic] Jones taken while a cadet at West Point.” The portrait is supposed to have hung in the Manor until 1910 when the last owner, Jones’s son Nicholas, died. The Historical Society acquired the painting in 2003 as part of a large auction lot of Jones family artifacts and archives.

I like portraits, and this is one of my favorites from our collections. He has such a hip hairstyle, and looks so very, very young. Unfortunately the artist is unknown; the portrait was probably painted in 1816 (in which year the Secretary of War approved the use of gray uniforms for USMA cadets), rather than in 1815 when he first went off to school. My first thought was that his expression showed a freshman’s dismay, but perhaps instead he was going for a 14 year old’s best approximation of an intimidating stare. Although we know a little about his adult life – including the fact that had nine children with wife Elizabeth Parker Jones, and was a slave owner – to me, JCJ Jr will always be a wary teenager and, in my overly familiar way, he is always Jonesy. (There are a lot of Joneses in the county, and most of them have some variation or another on the same first and middle names – nicknames help me remember which one is which!)  (I suspect my personal afterlife will consist of angry Montgomery County residents chiding me for my lack of respect.)

A postcard showing Nicholas Jones on the front porch of Clean Drinking Manor, captioned "A Relic of Colonial Days, Near Washington DC."

Framed, it measures 20.25" x 16.75"

Today we have a fretwork Lord’s Prayer, circa 1890, made by Ernest M. Holland (1852-1927) of Laytonsville and/or Redland. (As always, apologies for my poor photography skills.)

I learned a lot about the various types of saws this morning, which I will not attempt to recreate here. (For a more informed summary, here’s an essay on scrollsawer.com.) In essence, fretwork has been around for centuries; the process was improved by the 16th century invention of the fretsaw; the 19th century saw the introduction of the mechanical fretsaw, or scroll saw, powered first by treadle and later by electricity. Because a fret or scroll saw’s extremely thin blade can be removed, one can be placed directly in a ‘starting hole’ to make interior cuts without having to start from the outside edge. (And yes, that peculiar explanation is why I was not going to try and recreate the history of fretwork.)

The scroll saw became widely used in America around the 1860s, prompting a fretwork boom both large (think Victorian house trim) and small. Professionals, artists and hobbyists have long enjoyed the art of fretwork, making plaques, ornaments, clock faces, box lids, and basically anything else that might benefit from the addition of some lacy cut wood. Our piece is, as far as can be seen, unsigned; the Woodward & Lothrop frame is relatively modern. Our correspondence with the donor, Mrs. Ann Golden Holland Pace, describes this as “the carving of the Lord’s Prayer by your father.” Many people won prizes at the county fair each year for their scroll saw skills, although Mr. Holland does not appear to be one of them (I’m still looking through the lists).

Ernest was born in 1852 to Nathan and Eliza Holland. According to his 1927 obituary, he “taught in the public schools of Montgomery County for years and later was in the mercantile business at Redland.” He appears to have been a true Montgomery Countian – by which I mean, he lived all over the county: born in Hyattstown in 1852; grew up in Barnesville; married Anna Harris in Rockville in 1877. In1880 he and his young family were in the Darnestown district. The 1900 census puts the family in the Laytonsville district, although in 1902 he was principal of the school in Cabin John. Mr. Holland was one of the gentlemen who founded St. Luke’s Evangelist Lutheran Church, Redland, in 1901, and a 1907 newspaper article describes him as a “well-known merchant of Redland.” After his wife’s 1919 death, he lived with his son in Wheaton. Finally, a few years before his 1927 death he left the county, to stay with relatives outside Baltimore.

Mr. Holland’s involvement with St. Luke’s church may or may not reflect his devoutness, so why the Lord’s Prayer in wooden form? Christian Victorian households often included overtly religious images and artifacts, and fretwork plaques were part of this trend. Lord’s Prayer plaques from the late 19th century – many almost identical to ours – are relatively common, as a search through internet auctions proves. A.H. Shipman’s 1881 “Amateur Mechanics Manual and Catalogue of Scroll Saws and Lathes” includes a Lord’s Prayer pattern, which the author proclaims “should be in the house of everyone that has a bracket saw.” I have not yet tracked down a copy to compare his version with ours, but perhaps that is where Mr. Holland got his idea.

Sadly, I couldn’t find any extra photos to add to today’s post.  So instead, here are some extra words! Researching Mr. Holland brought out some totally fun, if totally irrelevant (to this piece), family facts. First, I kept encountering another Ernest Holland from Barnesville, who lost a hand in 1897 by “having it caught in a cutting box.” Despite the potentially interesting connection of scroll saw / cutting box, this wasn’t my guy. Second, Ernest and Anna (the right ones) had one of the best naming conventions I’ve yet come across: their five children were named Egbert Pearl, Ruby, John Diamond, Ann Golden, and Opal. Census records and newspaper references indicate that they all went by their gemstone/mineral names (including Pearl).

Third, the local newspaper contained many of the little snippets that I find so evocative, but which are sometimes sadly lacking. Ruby married school teacher Joseph L. Waters in December 1902, “unbeknownst to her friends” until they made it public in January 1903. (Sadly, Joseph died of typhoid a month later.) Pearl married Laura Hawes of Laytonsville in 1902, but they divorced in 1919. (For some reason I am always surprised by divorces; I even wrote “Oh, Pearl divorced Laura!” in my notes.) Diamond, a medical doctor, died at age 37 in 1918, leaving a wife and two sons.  And Opal married the pastor of St. Luke’s (her father’s church) in 1912.  Anyone need a starting plot point or two for their historical novel? Here you go.

If you’ve ever had occasion to visit our collections storage area, you might have noticed these two gentlemen near the bottom of the stairs:

They are Don Caesar (left) and Don Juan (right), donated in the 1980s by Mary Hardin Bernard. The two Dons were manufactured by the Ansonia Clock Company in the 1880s or ‘90s.  These 22″ tall spelter (bronze-like alloy) figures were made to stand on clocks – singly, or on either side – but were also sold as free-standing garniture, or side-pieces, like our pair here.

These boys are in pretty good shape, although DC is missing the blade of his sword, and DJ’s is a little bent. Their dark patina appears to be original, though in worn and rubbed condition, and showing some mild abuse (DJ, especially, suffers from build-up of polish in some crevices, see below).

For about twenty years, we knew the pair only as “metal statues, 19th century” or, as we described them in our newsletter at the time of donation, “two striking bronze figurines.” There is no maker’s mark anywhere on the statues or their bases, and unlike some examples, there are no nameplates proclaiming their identity. Anonymity seemed to be their fate.

It is a useful thing, in my profession, to have a visual memory. Since these gentlemen are in ‘open’ storage, not in a box, I would glance at them whenever I went into the collections area. A few years ago, while visiting the Laramie Plains Museum (Wyoming), I spotted a large shelf clock adorned with two familiar figures. (I believe I exclaimed, as I usually do, “Hey, I have those guys!”) The LPM curator very kindly supplied information on the clock’s maker, and the identities of its flanking guards. Their Ansonia clock is dated 1881, and features “Don Juan, the dapper gentleman, and Don Caesar, the rough and ready soldier.” Researching “metal statue 19th century” takes up a lot of time; the process is much more straightforward with the addition of a few keywords.  Our gentlemen were anonymous no more.

Why are the two Dons on today’s post? I ran across one of their brethren again recently, this time at an antique store in St. Louis. This one was a shiny brass color and was missing his buddy, but that jaunty pose and feathered hat were unmistakable. I greeted him as an old friend (my actual, human friends know to ignore me when I talk to artifacts) but left him there in the shop as he was, like so much of the stuff I get to play with at work, out of my personal price range.

This fabulous object is a framed hair wreath, from the Holland family of Brookeville. The shadowbox frame measures two feet wide and two and a half feet high. It was donated in 1979 by Mrs. S.E.W. Friel, Jr. (née Margery Holland). Intended to celebrate a wedding or anniversary between the 1830s and 1880s, the wreath was probably made by one or more ladies of the Holland family.

Hair work was a Victorian craft, part of that era’s interest in elaborate fancywork. Women with the patience, time and skill made rings, brooches, bracelets, pendants, and pictures out of the hair of friends and relatives both alive and deceased (or bought from a catalog, when personal supplies ran short). Small pieces might combine locks from the maker’s parents or children; large wreaths, like ours, were usually made up of hair from one’s extended network of friends and relations. These formal pictures and wreaths would have been displayed in the parlor or other public room as an expression of pride in the maker’s skill, not just a memento or memorial. It’s often thought that these pieces (large or small) were made only for mourning, but they were also made to celebrate happy events, or simply compiled over time as a record of family and friends.

Detail photo by David Guiney, 2010.

The family story passed down to Mrs. Friel was that the wreath was made for the 1834 marriage of her great-grandparents, Ellen Claggett (1808-1877) and Grafton Holland (1800-1855). In a letter to MCHS, the donor said, “As I remember it – the center part was made of family hair, and the outer horseshoe part of hair of friends of the family.” Without wishing to cast doubt upon the family’s memories, the 1834 date might be a little too early. Most examples of this size with known provenance date to the 1860s-1880s; Grafton and Ellen’s son, James Claggett Holland (1837-1915), was married in 1866, which is a better fit. Or, perhaps even more likely, the wreath was made for the senior Hollands over a period of many years, or to celebrate an anniversary of that 1834 marriage.

By all accounts, hair work is a delicate, persnickety craft that requires deft fingers and a lot of patience; not just anyone could do it. Who made ours? Mrs. Friel did not have any suggestions, but I have a theory. At the 1880 Rockville Fair, a Miss H. Holland was awarded the prize for “Best Hair Work.” I am absolutely ready to believe that this is Grafton and Ellen’s daughter, Hannah Holland (1849-1883). Mrs. Friel also donated to MCHS a collection of quilts made by Grafton’s sisters and/or his daughter Hannah. Research on the quilts suggests that the Holland sisters, Sarah, Ann and Mercy, passed their quilting knowledge (and fabric stash) on to their niece. Perhaps one or more of them also enjoyed the fashionable craft of hair work, and taught that to Hannah as well. Based on the skill shown in their quilts, and on probably-Hannah’s fair prize, I’m willing to ascribe this work of art to one or more of the Holland ladies, until other evidence arises.

The Holland wreath hangs in the Getty Bedroom in the Beall-Dawson House, if you would like to come examine it yourself. When giving a tour, I always point it out – alas, many adults react in the same way most of the fourth grade students do: “Ewwww.” (It’s just hair, people!) This is yet another one of my favorite pieces in the museum, because like Mr. Poole’s piano stool, it has such a definite and specific story. For not-so-different reasons, the Holland family treasured it as part of their history – Mrs. Friel donated it in part because, she said, it was “much valued by [her] father, W. Grafton Holland, when he was alive.”

Grafton and Ellen Holland's tombstone, St. Mark's Episcopal Cemetery, near Brookeville

Want some more hair work? There are plenty of wreaths to be found on the internet, both for sale and in museum collections. Here are various links to museum examples, as well as some proof that though hair work is a Victorian craft, it’s not a vanished one.

Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection

Wisconsin Decorative Arts Database

The Victorian Hair Work Society, including a page on their headquarters, Leila’s Hair Museum in Missouri.