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.

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?

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.

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.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Are You Sitting Down? Finding a Chair Fit for the Resignation

When Congress first arrived in Annapolis to hold session in the Maryland State House, the state’s General Assembly was faced with a rather embarrassing problem. Maryland’s Intendant of the Revenue, Daniel of St. Thomas Jenifer, had ordered five dozen Windsor chairs from Matthew Ridley and Mark Pringle in November 1783, likely as a means to accommodate the rush of delegates who would be occupying the Old Senate Chamber. However, due to an unusually cold winter, the Baltimore harbor froze and the chairs did not arrive until April 1784.[1]

Annapolis had won the right to become the first peacetime capital of America, yet had suddenly found itself offering a room that would not have enough chairs to actually host the delegates. While some furniture could likely have been pulled from other offices in the State House, an event as crowded and historic as Washington’s resignation meant that chairs for Congress would have to be procured from another source as well.

William Paca's armchair, now in the collection of the Maryland Historical Society and on loan to Historic Annapolis, Inc., MHS 20.39.2. Iverson, Marion Day, The American Chair 1630-1890. New York: Hastings House, p.112.

Friday, July 18, 2014

The Last Royal Governor at Washington's Resignation?

It seems unlikely that one of Maryland’s last living reminders of their days as a colony would attend Washington’s resignation, an event that symbolized the new country’s loyalty to the democratic principles that encouraged the dramatic break with England. Yet, in 1783, the last royal governor, Robert Eden, and the last Lord Baltimore’s illegitimate son, Henry Harford, had returned to Annapolis in the hopes of regaining their property that they had lost as loyalists during the war; and, on December 23, the Englishmen entered the Old Senate Chamber not as intruders, but as honored guests.

Portrait of Sir Robert Eden, by Florence Mackubin after Charles Willson Peale, 1914. Maryland State Archives, MSA SC 1545-1108.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Capital Gazette Features the Old Senate Chamber

Charles Willson Peale's portrait of John Eager Howard, 1823, taken while the portrait is under conservation as part of the Old Senate Chamber restoration. Maryland State Archives, MSA SC 1545-1053.

This past weekend, we were pleased to have the Capital Gazette feature the Old Senate Chamber restoration. The article covers the origins behind the original restoration and especially focuses on many of our paintings currently under conservation as part of the project.