Sunday, July 31, 2011

High Summer

It is now high summer here at Darlington House.  The gardens have peaked, and we must now water the lawns between rainfalls in order to maintain their greenness.  Fortunately, we do not suffer from drought or water shortages here in the Hudson River Valley.  Our lakes are full, our water tables are high, and the well on our property flows abundantly.

Nothing quite says "high summer" to me like sunflowers do.  This was the first Saturday when there was an abundance of them at the farmers' market in the nearby town.  Boy bought every bunch of sunflowers from one of the vendors there and brought his bounty home with him.

He arranged the sunflowers in a large blue-and-white ginger jar that I bought in New York's Chinatown many years ago.  It is one of pair.  I think I paid all of twenty dollars apiece for them.  I bought the jars to place on top of a Georgian secretary-bookcase that I had at the time, along with a grouping of other large blue-and-white Chinese vessels.  I had seen such an arrangement in an English country house and admired it.  I am confident that the vessels arranged in the house that inspired me were far finer and more valuable than mine, but my attempt at recreating the "look for less" was a success, and I was quite pleased with it.  While I no longer have the secretary-bookcase—a victim of changing tastes and circumstances—I have kept the ginger jars because they are useful for displaying large bunches of flowers, such as Boy has done here.  When the jars are not being used to hold flowers or branches we store them on a shelf in our flower arranging room, the luxurious presence of which is this flora lover's dream come true.

The arrangement of sunflowers Boy made is a substantial one, standing just shy of two feet tall.  It is shown sitting on top of an antique tole tray on our screened porch, where it has quite a lot of impact.  The cast-iron frog, also seen on the tray and one of a collection we own, appears to be quite interested in the gorgeous sunflowers, don't you think?

Happy summer, Dear Reader.

Photograph by Boy Fenwick

Monday, July 25, 2011

Saucer of the Week: English Stand

I am somewhat chagrined that it has been more than a week since I last published one of my saucer scribbles, and—for that matter—more than a week since I last posted anything.  That's because I have been rather over-scheduled and over-committed these past several weeks.  Fortunately it has all been good stuff, but I'm afraid that even a good thing, if delivered in too great quantities, can be, well, too much.  I'm not complaining, mind you, I'm explaining.

Back to the subject at hand: Saucer of the Week.  Well, not a saucer this week, actually, but rather a stand.  Today's featured plate is an exceptionally pretty and unusually decorated oval rimmed stand that was originally made to hold another vessel, such as a teapot or a small sauce tureen.  Whatever it once held has long since parted ways.

But what remains is lovely indeed.  The stand is English, circa 1820.  It is decorated with magenta bell flowers and frothy seaweed-like vegetation.  I haven't a clue what type of plant the decoration is supposed to suggest.  I would appreciate your thoughts, Dear Reader, if you know what it might be.  The plate measures 6 ¾ inches by 5 ³⁄₈ inches and is unmarked.

The stand was a birthday gift to me earlier this month from Boy, who found it at Bardith, Ltd.'s tiny jewel of a shop on upper Madison Avenue.  When he was there Boy mentioned to the ladies who run the place that the plate he was buying would quite possibly be the subject of a post in my continuing series on saucers.  Apparently the good ladies of Bardith weren't interested in that bit of news in the slightest.

Reggie who?

photograph by Boy Fenwick

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Winning Bid: Directoire Bouillotte Lamp

Several weekends ago, in pursuit of yet more silver for the entertaining household, I attended a weekend auction in the neighboring town that included several pieces of silver I fancied.  The auction featured the contents of a number of what once must have been rather sumptuously decorated Fifth Avenue apartments of days gone by, along with the contents of several country estates (quite possibly belonging to the same city dwellers also featured in the sale) spread across northwestern Connecticut and along the Hudson River Valley.  I came to the sale to bid on a large silver punch bowl and a silver cigarette box (a weakness of mine, even though I gave up smoking years ago), both of which I am pleased to have won.  I won't be posting on either of those winning bids, however, as each prominently (and beautifully) displays the engraved names of the fortunate couple who received them as wedding gifts more than fifty years ago, and who—I have since learned from a mutual acquaintance—are still alive, but no longer have much use for such possessions.  I respect their privacy.

My recently acquired Bouillotte lamp,
lit with candles, and reproduction

18th-century playing cards at the ready

While at the sale I found myself bidding on, and winning, a silver-plated Bouillotte lamp of the Directoire period.  Just as I have a weakness for silver cigarette boxes, so have I weakness for Bouillotte lamps, which I consider to be the perfect occasional lamp for one's household.  Well, at least our household.  With the addition of this latest acquisition to our collection, we now have six Bouillotte lamps scattered about Darlington House.

So, what is a Bouillotte lamp, you might ask?

The Bouillotte lamp, with unlighted candles

A Bouillotte lamp is a type of lamp that was used to provide light during night-time games of Bouillotte, a card and counter gambling game popular in France from the late eighteenth century well into the nineteenth century, supposedly similar to the modern game of poker.  The lamps feature a dish-shaped base, designed to hold counters (chips), a central shaft with a movable candelabra attached to the shaft with a key, a movable metal or tole shade, also attached to the shaft with a key, and a ring at the top of the shaft that can be used to pick up the lamp or hang it from a hook.  Because both the candelabra and the shade are movable, and slide up and down the lamp's central shaft, Bouillotte lamps are a highly versatile form of lighting, and can be adjusted to shield the game players' eyes from the candles' flames as they are burned.  Bouillotte lamps provide a most pleasing, directed form of light to one's table.

A detail of the key that is used to fasten
the candelabra to the shaft of the lamp

Most Bouillotte lamps are electrified today.  Old ones made before the days of electricity, such as the one I found at auction, have in many cases been subsequently electrified.  Newer ones are routinely made as electricified lamps (and oftentimes as a result do not have as many movable features as the original ones do).  Half of the Bouillotte lamps that we have at Darlington House are old and were originally made to hold candles.  The other half are of a more recent vintage and were electrified when made.

Here the lamp is shown with the candelabra
and shade at the low end of the lamp's shaft

Most of the Bouillotte lamps we own are electrified, but a few of them are not.  We like to use a candle-burning Bouillotte lamp on our dining table at night when it is just the two of us for dinner.  When lit with candles a Bouillotte lamp casts a most lovely and intimate light.

Although one wouldn't normally slide the
candelabra and shade to the top, I am showing
it here to demonstrate the lamp's versatility

Bouillotte lamps have been popular forms of lighting since they were first made, and they are frequently seen in photographs of chic, classic interiors of upper class tastemakers of the latter half of the twentieth century, such as those of Brooke Astor, Jacqueline Onassis, Bill Blass, and Cy and Alessandra Twombly.  Bouillotte lamps work well in both traditional and modern interiors.

A detail of the key used to fasten the tole
lampshade to the shaft of the lamp,
and the ring used to carry or hang the lamp

When I attended the auction on the day it was held, my sole purpose for doing so was to bid on the silver bowl and cigarette box.  I did not go expecting to buy a Bouillotte lamp.  Not only did we not "need" another, but lamp buying was simply not on my radar screen that day.

The discarded candle-form electric sockets

I arrived at the sale well before the silver bowl or cigarette box lots were up, in the middle of the auction's household furnishings section.  I noticed that there were probably five or so Bouillotte lamps of varying quality in the sale, some first (pre-electrification) period and others later.  The first two lamps were hammered down at remarkably good prices (Bouillotte lamps tend to be rather expensive), which perked up my interest (Reggie being one who appreciates a bargain), and I found myself bidding on the sole Bouillotte lamp that I had admired at the preview, a diminutive silver one with an old tole shade.

Residual evidence of the lamp's later electrification

Within a minute or two I found myself to be the owner of the lamp.  I was relieved when I picked it up to bring it home with me that it appeared to be first period, made in the late eighteenth century.  While it was catalogued as Directoire style, I am convinced it is of the Directoire period, dating from 1795-1799.  This was confirmed to me by Isaiah Cornini, the architectural historian we work with at Darlington House, who is an expert on early period lighting and whose opinion I trust in such matters.

The Bouillotte lamp, restored to its
original functionality

Since we didn't "need" another Bouillotte lamp, Boy decided to de-electrify my purchase so that we could use it with candles.  He pulled out the lamp sockets and wiring, and in so doing restored the lamp to its original functionality.  Although the lamp was unfortunately (but discretely) drilled in a number of places when electrified, it is easy to have such holes plugged by knowledgeable silversmiths, which I shall do at some point.  Or not.

Tell me, do you have any Bouillotte lamps in your house?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

My Name Is White Rainbow

Several months ago, while rooting around in a box filled with old papers and photographs, I came across a brochure for a summer camp that I attended as a boy, in the latter 1960s.  Given that it is now high summer camp season here in America, I figured that writing about my experience at this particular camp—one of the four that I attended as a lad—would be an appropriately timely subject.  Not just timely, though, but an interesting subject, too, since the camp whose brochure I came across was not of a type typically favored in those days for the children of the nation's Eastern establishment, among whose ranks my family dwelled . . .

The brochure I found was for a boy's camp named Camp Flying Cloud, located high up in the remote hills of rural central Vermont.  One of the (then) five summer camps owned and operated by the Farm and Wilderness group of camps, Flying Cloud is still operating today, albeit with a different mission than it had when I went there, more than forty years ago.

According to the brochure, when I attended Flying Cloud it was "the first camp—as far as we know—based largely on the culture of the Northeast forest Indians," where boys between eleven and fifteen had the "exciting experience of true wilderness living, using all the skills the Indians developed," and "live like Indians."

So what, exactly, did that mean?  According to the brochure it meant that the campers at Flying Cloud would:
  • Play Indian games
  • Learn Indian dancing
  • Explore wilderness areas
  • Live in tipis
  • Engage in work projects "for the good of the tribe," such as "constructing an authentic long-house, putting up a larger sweat lodge, improving the council ring, working on a forest conservation area which includes spots where 'visiting braves from other camps' may find lodging for the night"
  • Learn Indian crafts, such as "making your own bow and arrows, Indian breech cloths, and moccasins"
  • "Cook your own meals without pots!"
  • Engage in feats of strength and skill, including "Indian wrestling"
  • Have time just to sit and think
Why an Indian camp?  Because (and again I quote the brochure), "The [Farm and Wilderness] Camps have been increasingly convinced that the culture of the Redmen, sensitively handled, offers much of deep value to boys brot up in the city."  In other words, the founders of Flying Cloud believed that affluent little caucasian boys, such as the citified Reggie Darling, would benefit from spending their summer living "like an Indian"—or at least a highly fantasized version of one, circa 1967.

And I did.  I loved it.

All these years later, though, when reading through the brochure and reflecting on my experience at Camp Flying Cloud, I'm somewhat amazed that I wound up going there, that it even happened.  That's because Camp Flying Cloud was a most decidedly "alternative" summer camp when I went there, and of a type that Mame Dennis would have gotten into all sorts of trouble with her nephew's horrified trustees for sending him to, had she done so, before they yanked him out of it and placed him in a more respectable, conventional camp for boys.

Fortunately that wasn't my fate.

Setting aside the absence of Political Correctness of the camp's (then) mission—at least as articulated in its brochure—when I attended Flying Cloud wearing clothing there was largely dispensed with, except for warmth, and we spent most of our days either wearing skimpy leather loin cloths or buck naked.  I'm not joking.  While not exactly a nudist camp, Flying Cloud encouraged its campers and counselors to cast off conventional clothing much of the time.  The brochure may have featured photographs of lads in loincloths, but the reality was we were, more often than not, running around naked!

And Flying Cloud wasn't the only one of the Farm and Wilderness camps that encouraged nudity among its campers and counselors.  In those days all of the other camps in the F&W group encouraged their campers to at least swim without wearing bathing suits.  But I believe that Camp Flying Cloud was the most extreme of the group's camps when it came to encouraging au natural living.

I'm not exactly sure if my parents fully realized the extent of the nudity that prevailed at Camp Flying Cloud when I first went there, but they came to experience it vividly on a first hand basis when they stopped by the camp, unannounced, one afternoon during my second summer there.  What they found when they arrived at the camp were approximately forty boys and perhaps ten or so counselors running about the campground wearing little more than loincloths, if not naked.  Well, not entirely naked—most were probably wearing something on their feet.

At least that is all that the head counselor of the camp was wearing that afternoon when he met my parents.  I recall that his name was Rick, and that he was an extremely handsome fellow in his mid twenties with piercing blue eyes and a head of thick, curly brown hair.  I admit that I had a bit of a little boy crush on him.  

As readers of this blog well know, my mother, known as MD, was not one to blanch or blush, but even she was rather taken aback by what greeted her at Camp Flying Cloud.  I recall her as being uncharacteristically tongue-tied when Rick was standing in front of her and my father, naked as a jaybird, speaking with them about the camp and clearly enjoying showing himself off to them as a veritable nature boy!

Afterwards, when walking with my parents back to their car, they asked me if I was having a good time at Camp Flying Cloud, and was I happy there?  I responded that I was, indeed, having a terrific time (which I most decidedly was), and that I loved the camp.  With evident relief at this news, they then gave me a quick hug and a kiss and climbed into their car and drove away.

Years later, I had a conversation with MD in which I asked her about her visit to the camp, and what she thought of it?

"Well," she said, "all that I can clearly recall is the experience of meeting that handsome young man who ran the camp.  But I can't remember anything of what we spoke of because I couldn't concentrate on a word of what he was saying, since I was—uh—rather distracted by the fact that he was as naked as a newborn baby!  And he was very well formed, and rather lovely to look at.  I do remember that."

"But why did you send me there, to that camp, instead of a more mainstream one, such as a tennis camp?" I asked.

"Because, dear, we thought it would be a good experience for you.  We figured that you would be able to play tennis for the rest of your life, but that you would most likely not have all that many opportunities to run around naked in the woods, playing Indian, when you grew up."

She had a point there.

So, what do I mean when I write in the title of this essay that "My Name is White Rainbow"?  Well, when I went to Camp Flying Cloud all of the campers were given an "Indian name" in a night-time ceremony that involved supposed Indian dancing around a big bonfire amidst much drumming of tom-toms and the singing of supposed Indian songs.  "White Rainbow" was the name I was given, and was the name by which I became known thereafter at the camp.  All of the names given to the campers were supposed to signify something unique about the camper's personality, ideally with a spiritual element thrown in, too.  I recall that my "Indian name" of White Rainbow supposedly reflected what the counselors considered to be my general good nature, along with my propensity to joke around most of the time.  It is not exactly what I would consider to be a particularly manly name for a lad of eleven, but it is the name I was given, and I liked it.

While Camp Flying Cloud continues to operate today, it has long-since dispensed with its mission to be a place where boys learn to "live like Indians" and its campers are no longer encouraged to engage in au natural living.

Flying Cloud is now a more culturally sensitive and conventional camp focused on developing wilderness skills among its campers, and the "Redmen" orientation of the camp's identity was dropped years ago.  The Farm and Wilderness camps have also long since stopped allowing nudity at their camps, even for swimming.  I would imagine in today's litigious world that such activity is simply too great a liability risk for them.

Looking back on my experience at Camp Flying Cloud, back in the days when it was still a place where little boys like Reggie could engage in the fantasy of "living like an Indian," unencumbered by conventional clothing or today's more jaundiced world view, I am glad that I went there when I did, in more innocent times.  And, to MD's point, even though I gave up playing tennis for good more than a decade ago, I can't recall having had the opportunity since I attended Flying Cloud to run around in the woods, naked as a jaybird, "playing Indian."  Not that I lose any sleep over it, mind you.

Tell me, what was your summer camp experience like?

Saturday, July 9, 2011

A Reggie Road Trip: Chicago

Boy and I spent the Independence Day weekend in Chicago.  Our primary purpose for going there was to attend the lavish wedding of his assistant, Clarissa Montgomery, in Lake Forest.  But we scheduled enough time before and afterwards to poke around Chicago, too, a city that neither of us had visited for some time.

It was jaw-dropping.

Living in New York it is rather easy to fall prey to the generally accepted view there that everywhere else is "out of town."  In other words, that when compared to the Big Apple any other city comes up short.

Well, Chicago put that idea to rest.

A view of Chicago's lakeside skyline from the John Hancock Tower
Image courtesy of the Frequent Buyer

Chicago is a gorgeous, beautifully maintained city full of handsome architecture, broad boulevards, beautiful parks, marvelous restaurants, top-notch shopping, and a stunning lakeside situation.  It is, in a word, magnificent!

The recently opened new Modern Wing at the Art Institute of Chicago
designed by Renzo Piano, architect
Image courtesy of

First things first, though: Chicago is really clean.  The city is exceptionally well maintained, with none of the grit and dirtiness of New York.  The area we spent most of our time in, downtown, is beautifully landscaped and full of parks and street planters gorgeously bedded out with flowers, ornamental grasses and shrubs.  Even though the city's sidewalks and parks were mobbed with people when we were there, I didn't see anyone littering or disturbing the plantings, in contrast to what one would expect to see on a busy weekend in New York.

One of the Art Institute's most famous paintings: Paris Street; Rainy Day
by Gustave Caillebotte, 1877

Collection of the Chicago Art Institute

We were (mostly) impressed by the restaurants we ate in, including Seasons at the Four Seasons Hotel (where we stayed), Pelago Ristorante, Henri, RL, and Terzo Piano at the Art Institute (where we spent a glorious day reveling in the museum's collections).  We did a bit of shopping on Michigan Avenue, a retail thoroughfare populated with all the stores you'd expect to see in a city of international standing.  But most of our time was spent walking around, delightedly taking in the sights, the architecture, the views, and the parks—including several well-spent hours visiting Millenium Park, a stunning testament to modern-day civic design.  We were highly impressed.

Terzo Piano's light and airy main dining room
Image courtesy of Terzo Piano

The only downside of our visit was how crowded the city was with hordes of people wearing the depressing uniform increasingly seen everywhere you go today in America of tee shirts, cargo shorts, and flip flops.  The only major difference between the sexes we saw on our visit was that most of the males wore baseball caps.  Everywhere you turned in Chicago that's the uniform you saw on people, with only the most minor of variations, such as substituting cheap nylon basketball shorts for cargo shorts, or team jerseys for tee shirts.  It didn't matter where you were, either, it could be on the street, at the Art Institute, in the lobby of the Four Seasons, or in restaurants—everyone was wearing the same thing.  All ages, sizes, socio-economic groups, races, shapes, sexes.  Everyone!  It was mind-numbing.

The wildly popular Crown Fountain at Chicago's Millenium Park
Image courtesy of GreenSpace

Needless to say, we felt like complete fishes out of water wearing the summer sport jackets, collared shirts, trousers, and leather-soled shoes that we had on while walking about the city during the day, and we noticed people staring at us and checking us out as if we were somehow strange or exotic looking.  At one point early on in our visit Boy bought a summery cotton bow tie and put it on and wore it out of the store.  He liked the way it looked so much that he wore it for much of the rest of our visit to Chicago.  People on the street there gawped at him as if he were some kind of alien (a very good-looking and smartly attired alien, I might add), and we heard one little girl exclaim, "Look at that man, he's wearing a real bow tie!"

The lovely interior of Henri Restaurant
Image courtesy of same

It got us wondering—where were the people like us in Chicago?  Where were the ones who actually took some care with the way they dressed and presented themselves to the world?  Were we complete anomalies?  Had it come to that?

A vintage postcard of Chicago from the 1940s
Image courtesy of

It took us a while before we realized that just as we had left New York for the Independence Day weekend, so had the people like us who live in Chicago also left town.  Either that, or they were holed up in their houses or apartments, visiting friends, or at their clubs—anywhere else that they could go to get away from the hordes of ill-dressed tourists mobbing the streets, stores, parks, and sites of the city.

Of course that was it—we were visiting Chicago on the one weekend of the year when its residents did everything in their power to get out of town!  Once we realized that we roared with laughter.

A view down Chicago's Michigan Avenue today
Image courtesy of

We then were able to relax and enjoyed the show.  We really did have a lovely time visiting Chicago, and even though we were frequently appalled by what we saw people wearing (or in some cases not wearing), it really was all remarkably entertaining.  And, for the most part, everyone that we saw out and about in Chicago was having an absolutely lovely time, walking around with broad, happy smiles upon their faces, visibly taking pleasure in visiting one of the most marvelous cities in America, if not the world.

And in that respect they were just like us.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Saucer of the Week: Chinese Export Porcelain for the American Market

This week's saucer post takes the series in a different direction, far from the shores of England . . .

. . . to China, where this pretty saucer was made in (around) 1800 for the American market.  It is decorated with an urn, similar to the English saucer I posted several weeks ago, that Parnassas so cleverly photoshopped.  The decoration is also related to that found on the Thomas Willing Chinese export porcelain service that I saw in the collection at Bayou Bend, three plates of which I acquired for our collection at Darlington House at the New York Ceramics Fair this past January.

But in this case, the urn is surmounted by a bird.  I'm not exactly sure what type of bird it is, but I think it could well be a stylized eagle.  I am confident that this saucer was made in China for the American market, given its decoration, the asperity of which the citizenry of the New Republic preferred to the more elaborate decorations favored elsewhere at the time.

I found this saucer in a pile of dusty plates in a junk shop in rural Connecticut thirty or so years ago, along with three other dishes from the same service, identically decorated.  I think I paid a dollar a plate for them.  After I had completed my purchase, and with the plates safely in hand, I explained to the fellow working behind the counter what he had just sold me, and that they were actually worth far more than what I had paid for them.  He didn't seem to care all that much, since he was an hourly employee of the shop, and not one of its owners.  He responded, "You're the second person who said that to me.  Just yesterday some other guy came in here and bought up the rest of them.  Must've been twenty or thirty of 'em he got.  He probably didn't see these ones that you found just now."

"Well, well," I thought, "that was some lucky guy."  If only I had been there the day before, imagine what a haul I would have found!

As it is, I didn't do all that badly . . .
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