Friday, September 26, 2014

Receipts, Letters, and the News: How Archival Documents Crafted the Restored Old Senate Chamber

When most people think of an archives, the first thing to come to mind is often how the documents can be used as genealogical and legal resources. People rarely consider how these centuries of valuable documents can all be applied to restorations. While research within the Maryland State Archives, such as the Legacy of Slavery in Maryland, Maryland 400, and Brookeville projects, all use resources in the institution’s holdings to attempt to piece together the histories of people, the Old Senate Chamber restoration has similarly been using the same documents for years to piece together the history of a single room.

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1825 header depicting the State House on the Maryland Gazette, one of the first published American newspapers. Many original editions of the paper are in the collection of the Maryland State Archives. Maryland Gazette, 21 April 1825, MSA SC 378-42.

With a room as old and historic as the Old Senate Chamber, shadows of architectural remains and photographs of the room in later periods do not suffice to explain all aspects of the room's original appearance. Instead, more unusual resources need to be used to flesh out the narrative. In the past, we have used probate and watermark analysis on documents to verify information and craft the lives of the key players in the Old Senate Chamber’s history.

Friday, September 12, 2014

228 Years Ago: The Annapolis Convention of 1786

Many visitors to Maryland's capital city don’t realize that Washington’s resignation and the ratification of the Treaty of Paris were not the only significant national events to take place in eighteenth-century Annapolis. On September 11 through September 14, 1786, delegates from Congress who were elected as commissioners descended upon the city once again in the hopes of meeting to determine the course of American government. While poor attendance prevented much progress at the Annapolis Convention of 1786, its impact on the Philadelphia Convention of 1787 and the resulting United States Constitution cannot be ignored.

A famous depiction of the Philadelphia Convention of 1787, where the Constitution was signed. This gathering is considered by many to be a direct result of the Annapolis Convention of 1786. Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States, by Howard Chandler Christy, 1940, courtesy of the Architect of the Capitol.

After the Revolutionary War, the United States government found itself without money, unable to even offer soldiers’ their pay, and in the midst of an economic depression. Furthermore, Congress found that it could take few measures to resolve this problem as the lack of a unified currency, among other things prevented ease in interstate state trading. Public unrest became a constant problem and though many rebellions were quickly squashed, Shays’ Rebellion in particular threatened the new government from August 1786 until February 1787. It was clear to delegates that something would need to be done.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Charles Willson Peale and the Seven Governors

Edwin White’s Washington Resigning His Commission and Charles Willson Peale’s Washington, Lafayette, and Tilghman at Yorktown are not the only valuable paintings under conservation for this restoration! In fact, a slew of portraits in the state art collection, dating from Peale’s 1774 portrait of William Pitt all the way to the 1970s campaign of crafting copies of portraits of many of Maryland’s founders have become candidates for conservation. Among the slew of fascinating stories attached to the art of the Maryland State House, there is one with a particularly long history. Between 1823 and 1825, Charles Willson Peale painted the portraits of seven of Maryland’s first governors, several of whom played prominent roles in Maryland’s Revolutionary War past and some even in Washington’s resignation!

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Detail of Charles Willson Peale's portrait of John Hoskins Stone, 1824, while under conservation as part of the Old Senate Chamber restoration. Maryland State Archives, MSA SC 1545-1057.

Friday, August 22, 2014

The Restoration That Didn't Happen

Despite several restoration campaigns to get the Old Senate Chamber back to its original eighteenth-century appearance, the room remains a reflection of its several centuries of history. With the excitement of the room’s earliest days, it is sometimes hard to remember that fascinating stories happened after Washington’s resignation. From the 1876-1878 desecration, to remaining evidence of some of the earliest restoration efforts in 1904-1906, the room continues to hold scars and additions from its entire life.

Most people know that the most recent major restoration of the room occurred in 1940 under architect, Laurence Hall Fowler. However, few people realize that a decade beforehand, efforts were already being made to begin restoring the room. Though the economic depression made funding the restoration unfeasible, the efforts in part resulted in the 1940 restoration, which provided some of our most valuable resources on Old Senate Chamber furnishings to this day.

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Sketched floor plan for the Old Senate Chamber, 1930-1940. Image courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Old Senate Chamber Refurbishment Collection, MS 574, copied from the Johns Hopkins Archives.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Furnished with Mahogany: Shaw in the Old Senate Chamber

Several months ago, we covered the humble beginnings of John Shaw’s life in Annapolis. Upon his death at 83, the Maryland Gazette had called him one of the most respected inhabitants of Annapolis, and declared, “He was gifted by nature with strength, as well as fortitude of mind….his whole conduct remained free from reproach, and he descended into the grave, survived by a fair and unblemished reputation, and in peace with the human family. He was not afraid to die!”[1] But what was it that Shaw had done during his life that had changed his status from a Glasgow cabinetmaker to one of Annapolis’ most famous citizens?

Senate President's Desk, made in John Shaw's shop for the Old Senate Chamber, 1797. The desk is inscribed with "W 1797 T," and was made by one of Shaw's most famous apprentices, William Tuck. Maryland State Archives, MSA SC 1545-0749.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Lighting the State House: Charles Kaflinski and the OSC’s Chandelier

In June 1837, the Niles’ Weekly Register reported on a new addition to the Old Senate Chamber. “A splendid chandelier” had been provided by Cornelius & Son of Philadelphia and was described to be “one of the most beautiful things of the kind that we have ever seen.”[1] Only a few months later, however, the chandelier fell down while being lit, breaking several of the branches and the glass shades.[2] Surely, when mass efforts were made under the contractor Lind & Murdoch in 1858-1860 to refit the entire State House with gas light, a chandelier that had required repair after only a few months would not have survived the renovation.

However, research shows that the 1830s chandelier in the Old Senate Chamber survived much longer than originally thought, and even makes an appearance in one of the earliest images of the room, a c.1868 stereoview taken by William M. Chase. But who would have refitted the chandelier?

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The OSC chandelier c.1868, refitted for gas lighting by Charles Kaflinski, taken by William M. Chase. Maryland State Archives, MSA SC 5907-1-1.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Get a Sneak Peek of Washington Resigning!

At this point in the Old Senate Chamber restoration project, many of the state’s paintings that will be on display as part of the Old Senate Chamber exhibit are now in the midst of conservation. Recently, MSA staff were able to visit conservators working on the canvas of Edwin White’s Washington Resigning His Commission, which was removed last November from the grand staircase of the State House to undergo its first major conservation since 1981. During the visit, we were able to capture some of the cleaning on camera to give blog readers a special look at what it takes to clean a masterpiece.

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Washington Resigning's canvas is currently under conservation at Artex Fine Art Services. To understand the scope of the surface cleaning process, take note that the videos included for this week's blog post all focus on a small part of the table cloth near the attendees. Maryland State Archives, 24 July 2014.