Collections on Display
Celia Thaxter Vase
Celia Thaxter (1835-1894) was a well-known literary figure in her day. Her poetry was published in the Atlantic Monthly, Scribner's, and Harper's Magazine, among others. She was an accepted member of New England's cultural elite, forming abiding friendships with John Greenleaf Whittier; the publisher James T. Fields and his wife, author Annie Fields; the painters Childe Hassam and William Morris Hunt; and author Sarah Orne Jewett.
First published in 1861, by the early 1870s Thaxter had grown somewhat weary of the writing on which she depended for income. In a letter to Annie Fields in 1872, she noted: "When I have earned enough to keep me through the summer I shall stop this fever of scribbling – foolishness it is, I think, ever to force one's own pen to do anything." In 1874 she found a new creative outlet, painting, and it wasn't long before she was able to turn this new passion to profitable use. Working on ceramic blanks, she painted teacups and saucers, pitchers, and vases, and then sent them to Cooley's, a ceramics supplier on Charles Street in Boston, for firing. One of Thaxter's favorite subjects for painting on ceramics was the olive branch and before long she was decorating all manner of ceramics with olive branches. The olive branch vase pictured here is thought to have been a gift to Sarah Orne Jewett in 1887, about the time Jewett moved into her family's ancestral home in South Berwick, Maine.
Artwork by Sarah Wyman Whitman
Sarah Wyman Whitman (1842-1902) was a remarkable anomaly. A woman of wealth and standing, she carved out a career as an artist, trained with Boston's finest instructor, and became a seminal figure in the history of stained glass and book design. Born in Lowell, Massachusetts, Whitman came from old New England stock. She married dry-goods merchant Henry Whitman in 1866, and two years later moved with him to Boston. Their marriage was childless, and apparently one of convenience rather than affection.
Though an acclaimed painter, Whitman’s success as a book designer is what gained her fame and influence. A member of the literary circle that centered in the Beacon Hill home of Annie Fields, widow of publisher James T. Fields, Whitman was friendly with virtually every major Boston-based author of the late nineteenth century, and eventually designed book covers for most of them. Her first book cover design appeared in 1880, and by 1886 she was the principal designer for Boston publisher Houghton Mifflin. Whitman designed virtually all the covers for the books of her close friend Sarah Orne Jewett. Examples of these covers, as well as books designed for other authors such as Celia Thaxter, are on display at the Sarah Orne Jewett House in South Berwick, Maine.
The wallpaper in the best bedchamber of the Sarah Orne Jewett House is one of only five eighteenth-century flocked papers known to survive on the walls in houses in New England. Flocking is a technique used to apply fine particles of fabric to paper to create a texture. In the eighteenth century, glue was applied to the desired patterned area with a wood block. Before the glue dried, powdered cloth was applied to the paper; the paper was put in a flexible drum which was beaten with sticks to distribute the particles evenly. Few flocked papers survive on walls because the textured nature of the paper made it difficult to paper over. When homeowners opted to redecorate, they usually had to remove flocked paper before applying a new paper.
The flocked paper in the Sarah Orne Jewett House was produced in the 1770s or 1780s and probably hung in the 1780s, when the Haggens family owned and occupied the house.
Sarah Orne Jewett, who often fictionalized her real life surroundings in her writing, described the old wallpaper in her 1877 novel Deephaven with tongue in cheek: "The paper was captured in a French prize somewhere some time in the last century, and part of the figure was shaggy, and therein little spiders found habitation, and went visiting their acquaintances across the shiny places. The color was an unearthly pink and a forbidding maroon, with dim white spots, which gave it the appearance of having moulded."
Reproduction Carpet and Wallpaper
The Sarah Orne Jewett House in South Berwick, Maine, is one of Historic New England’s most evocative houses because of its association with the author. In 1984, Historic New England restored the interior finishes to the period shortly after 1887, when Sarah and her sister Mary redecorated several rooms in the family home. While the sisters retained earlier wallpapers in four rooms, they made a dramatic statement in the aesthetic style in the front hall, choosing a bold pattern of tulips on a reflective ground to complement a William Morris carpet in the "Wreath" pattern. Keen interest in Morris's designs followed the 1883-84 Foreign Fair at Boston's Mechanic's Hall, where Morris and Co. exhibited its carpets, fabrics, and wallpapers. After Sarah's death in 1909, Mary replaced the hall carpet with another Morris design and packed the "Wreath" in a trunk in the barn. Until its discovery a few years ago, the pattern was known to Morris scholars only through a partial point paper in the collection of the William Morris Gallery and an incomplete sample at the Victoria and Albert Museum. The reproduction of the "Wreath" and its companion stair carpet has been made possible through grants from the KBR Foundation.
Absent from the house for many years, this c. 1820 side board returned to the Sarah Orne Jewett House dining room for permanent display in 2009. The sideboard is in the Federal style and made of carved mahogany and mahogany veneer. It is featured prominently in an illustration of the Jewetts' dining room by artist Marcia Oakes Woodbury that appeared in the 1893 edition of Jewett’s novel Deephaven. Woodbury and her husband Charles produced a number of illustrations for the book, several of which feature rooms in the Jewett House complete with furnishings and sometimes friends acting as models.