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.

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.