Rich Tapestry of People Inspired Boston’s A&C Community
From the Desk of Vonda Givens, Executive Director The Stickley Museum at Craftsman Farms
When ArtsAndCraftsCollector.com asked me to write a travelogue of the Stickley Museum at Craftsman Farms’ Farms Afield trip to Boston over July 27-30, I said yes without hesitation. Now that I’ve returned from our three-day trip exploring Boston’s contributions to the American Arts and Crafts movement, I’m not so confident. This introduction should concisely capture the vital and multi-faceted role Boston played in establishing the American movement, but a little too much information is swirling around inside my head for me to write that. Instead, I’ll settle with sharing my overall impression of Boston’s Arts and Crafts movement and when I think of that, tapestry is the word that keeps coming to mind (I know, given my audience, textile would be better, but bear with me!).
If nothing else, the one thing I’m clear about from our travels is that Boston’s movement encompassed a rich tapestry of people—by which I mean artisans, teachers, writers, designers, architects, and all-around movers and shakers—crafts and buildings and more. During our time in the city, we attempted to explore as many threads of this tapestry as possible, and in doing so, I came to see how they crisscross and overlap in ways that are equal parts exciting and complicated. The threads are so complicated I won’t attempt to unravel them in this short article, but suffice it to say, we spent three days exploring Boston’s Arts and Crafts movement, we could have spent weeks! Here are some highlights and suggestions for your own trip.
With most of our group arriving on Wednesday, we settled into The Boxer Hotel, located in Boston’s 1904 Flatiron Building, and most important for our plans, nestled within walking distance of two key historic neighborhoods—the North End and Beacon Hill—and of our first gathering place, the Union Oyster House.
Quintessentially Boston and located amid a cluster of historic eateries and taverns, the Union Oyster House, is considered America’s oldest restaurant. A National Historic Landmark, housed in a Pre-Revolutionary building, the restaurant provided an ideal backdrop for our group’s first gathering. The twenty-five members of our group, who met up from all over the country, got to know each other and our special guests Marilee Meyer and Ed Gordon, leaders of our upcoming walking tours, over dinner and a game of Arts and Crafts bingo.
A sunny, hot and humid morning greeted us on Thursday as we met up with Marilee and Ed for a walking tour of the North End, the historic immigrant neighborhood once home to many of the craftspeople associated with Boston Arts and Crafts. Donning hats, sunscreen, and plenty of bottled water, the first leg of the tour took us to the nearby West End Museum.
Greeted by museum director, Susan Hanson, we enjoyed some much appreciated refreshment, as Susan set the tone for our tour with a description of the proud immigrant community of the West End. Fortified by our stop, we headed to the narrow streets of the North End for a two-hour walk packed with landmarks, including the original site of the North Bennet Street Industrial School—home of the Saturday Evening Girls, a club established to provide educational opportunities for girls that over time would evolve to launch the Paul Revere Pottery—the Old North Church, the Copp’s Hill Burying Ground, and the Paul Revere House. Our tour came to an end near Faneuil Hall, where Samual Adams, among others, protested taxation without representation, and the historic market complex Quincy Market, which provided a convenient spot for our well-earned lunchtime break and, important to many in our group, a first opportunity to consume a lobster roll.
In the afternoon we boarded a bus for Copley Square, home to Boston Public Library and Trinity Church. Our time in Copley Square began with a tour of Trinity Church, which aside from H. H. Richardon’s magnificent design, features impressive murals and stained glass windows by James La Farge and of particular interest to us, four windows designed by Edward Burne-Jones and executed by William Morris & Company. We then took a free hour for individual exploration of Copley Square, during which our group divided their time between the beautiful interiors of Boston Public Library and the benches of Copley Square, ideal spots for ice cream and people watching!
Thursday evening found us in the home of a Stickley descendant at a special-invitation cocktail party planned just for us. Our weary group revived as we gathered around the Grueby-tiled hearth for a hearty welcome and invitation to explore the home inside and out, with a few words about the extraordinary Arts and Crafts collection surrounding us. As the sun set, we settled into settles, mingled over wine, and enjoyed Boston-themed hors d’oeuvres, including chowder and, yes, more delicious lobster rolls.
On Friday morning, grateful to begin our day with an indoor tour, we gathered around Museum of Fine Arts, Boston curator Nonie Gadsden, who provided us with a one-of-a-kind tour including the historic Forsyth Building and the Arts and Crafts galleries of the museum, with a particular focus on Louis Comfort Tiffany’s remarkable “Parakeets and Gold Fish Bowl,” which was displayed in Tiffany Glass Company’s booth at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893, and on the pottery of Sara Galner and other artists of the Saturday Evening Girls.
In the afternoon, we walked to the nearby Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Founded in 1903, the museum is a manifestation of the passion and vision of founder Isabella Stewart Gardner, who established the museum as a showcase for her stunning collections of fine and decorative art. Our two-hour visit to this “jewel box” museum included a tour and free time to stroll around its perfectly manicured courtyard garden and carefully curated rooms.
Our final stop of the day was at Robert Treat Paine’s country estate Stonehurst, the domestic masterpiece of H. H. Richardson and Frederick Law Olmsted. A social reformer dedicated to the plight of the working poor, Paine, who was chair of the Trinity Church building committee, had previously worked with Richardson when his committee hired the architect to design the church.
Our visit began with a tour led by curator Ann Clifford, who guided us inside and outside the meticulously-designed home and grounds, and as our tour ended, instead of loading back onto the bus, we slowed down for the first time all day and eased into a relaxed evening of food and fun. Specially-arranged by the Stickley Museum at Craftsman Farms, our group enjoyed wine and appetizers and time for individual exploration of Stonehurst before gathering in the home’s summer parlor for camaraderie and a catered dinner that provided a suitable final meal for our customized trip.
Another hot, though happily less humid, morning greeted us on Saturday as we embarked on our final tour in Boston. We welcomed the return of Marilee Meyer and Ed Gordon, who returned to lead us on a walking tour of Beacon Hill. We roamed the picturesque streets of this historic neighborhood, home to prominent Bostonians like Julia Ward Howe and Louisa May Alcott, and took a turn through Boston Common, pausing for a few minutes to gaze at the Massachusetts State House and its dome, now gilded in 23k gold, but once covered in copper by Paul Revere’s Revere Copper Company.
Of particular importance to our group, this tour took us to the site of the first showroom and meeting spaces of The Society of Arts and Crafts, which was founded in Boston in 1897. Beacon Hill was also home to the designer Sara Wyler Whitman, a founder of The Society of Arts and Crafts, and the site of silversmith workshops of such artisans as George Gebelein, Mary Knight, and Karl Leinonen.
The end of our walking tour brought the end of our trip, a bittersweet moment, which spelled relief for our tired feet, but wistful goodbyes as small groups peeled off for lunch, shopping, and travel to all corners of the country.
As I look back now, I’m still absorbing Boston’s contributions to the American Arts and Crafts movement. The movement materialized around the country, in cities and in regions which often became associated with a distinguished person or two, a noteworthy home or building, a marked style or a particular craft, but Boston offers a wealth of all of these—people, places, ideas, objects—in a complex but beautiful tapestry that is incredibly fun to discover.
To discover Boston on your own, check out the following:
A must: the book Victorian Boston Today: Twelve Walking Tours by Mary Melvin Petronella (Author), Edward W. Gordon (contributor), available at http://www.victoriansocietynewengland.org/Publications.htm
And for more information on The Stickley Museum at Craftsman Farms, please visit www.stickleymuseum.org