Friday, December 19, 2014

There At the Resignation: James McHenry

Over the past several months, we have covered many of the key players in the Old Senate Chamber’s history, several of whom will be featured in our exhibit. From Molly Ridout to John Shaw, we have introduced you to famous attendees and artisans alike. Now, with only a short time to go until the opening of the restored room, we bring you one last biography of the man who provided one of the most significant accounts of the resignation - one of Maryland’s delegates in Congress, James McHenry.

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Pastel portrait of James McHenry, by De Nyse W. Turner after James Sharples, 1975. Maryland State Archives, MSA SC 1545-1029.

Friday, December 12, 2014

What's Next for the Maryland State House?

The Old Senate Chamber is only a few weeks away from opening, but we hope you don’t get the wrong idea that that is the end of our work for the Maryland State House! Rather, the Old Senate Chamber fits into a larger plan that seeks to restore the Maryland State House, enhance visitor experience, and maintain the building and its grounds for future generations. While perhaps one of the most famous, the Old Senate Chamber is far from the only structure on the State House grounds with a long and impressive story. From the Old House of Delegates Chamber where the Constitution of 1864 was signed to one of the original cannons that came to Maryland on the Ark and the Dove, Maryland’s State House is a building we must preserve.

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Artistic sketch of the Old Treasury Building from Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, from a sketch by Joseph Becker, 1881. Maryland State Archives, MSA SC 4314-1-3.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Conserving Maryland's Masterpieces

With Washington Resigning His Commission soon to return to its home at the Maryland State House, and the Old Senate Chamber project hurtling towards completion, we thought it was time to give a little insight into the work that went into many of our great pieces conserved over the past year. Edwin White’s Washington Resigning, Charles Willson Peale’s portraits of the six governors, William Pitt, and Washington, Lafayette, & Tilghman at Yorktown have all undergone conservation work as part of the Old Senate Chamber restoration.

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Staff at Olin Conservation, Inc. show areas on Charles Willson Peale's Washington, Lafayette, & Tilghman that will require further investigation. Image by Maryland State Archives, 26 March 2014.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Martha Wasn't There! And Other Common Misconceptions

With the Old Senate Chamber opening in just over a month, no one can ignore the myths that have taken hold over the past several centuries surrounding the room. While the Old Senate Chamber is filled with many fascinating tales, some true and some less so, it’s time to set the record straight on at least a few of these favorite stories.

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The ladies in the gallery during the resignation, including Martha Washington at the center. Crop from General George Washington Resigning His Commission by John Trumbull, 1824. U.S. Capitol Rotunda.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Baltimore’s Frame Maker: Samson Cariss and Washington Resigning

This time last year, we watched Edwin White’s Washington Resigning His Commission leave the State House to undergo conservation as part of the restoration, and marked the occasion with a feature on the nineteenth-century artist. So, what better way to welcome Washington Resigning home in the coming weeks, than with a feature on the frame’s craftsman, Samson Cariss!

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The frame's latest conservation has revealed superb, detailed craftsmanship and generous gilding. Maryland State Archives, 9 June 2014.

At first glance, Cariss may not seem of interest. Compared to White’s popularity in the American artistic expat inner-circle, Cariss appears only in passing in state correspondence, and it was even questioned for a time whether he could have made the elaborate, carefully crafted frame that has miraculously stayed with the painting over the course of nearly a century and a half. Compared to White’s $3,000 payment, Cariss secured only $300 for the generously gilded work. Because of this, it had been previously suggested that he may have been only the procurer of the frame.[1]

Friday, October 24, 2014

Protecting a Historic Shrine

With the opening of the Old Senate Chamber less than two months away, we are thrilled to soon have a historic room that will be filled with important original and recreated fine arts and furnishings. While we are eager to share many of the original artifacts with the public, much of the items on display in the Old Senate Chamber, and many other rooms in the Maryland State House, are irreplaceable, and the possibility of damage to the room or anything it contains is a constant worry. With such risks being taken, what sort of plan is there to protect the Maryland State House’s historic rooms?

The restoration of a room does not solely revolve around research and architectural discoveries, nor does the care of a room stop on opening day. Rather, many meetings are spent discussing preparation plans to protect the room from disaster and care for it on a regular basis. One aspect of preparation planning of particular importance for historic preservationists is how to protect your artifacts in the case of a fire.

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The Old Senate Chamber restoration was prompted by plaster in the room falling off the walls due to nearly twenty layers of several different types of paint applied directly to the historic bricks. By collecting detailed records and working on preventative care of the room and its furnishings, we are taking measures to ensure this does not happen again. Maryland State Archives, April 2004.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Building the State House: Charles Wallace and the Old Senate Chamber

The answer to the question of who built the Maryland State House may be more complicated than you might imagine. While Joseph Horatio Anderson is commonly considered to be the original architect, and provided some of the first floor plans, he did not actually supervise the construction of the building. On June 20, 1771, the Maryland General Assembly contracted a somewhat unexpected individual to undertake the actual construction after Joseph Horatio Anderson had left. Charles Wallace, an Annapolitan, and one-third of the successful eighteenth-century mercantile firm, Wallace, Davidson & Johnson, agreed to take on what would become one of his most famous projects.[1]

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Front elevation of the Maryland State House, by Charles Willson Peale, July 1788. Maryland State Archives, MSA SC 1051-2.