Monday, July 30, 2012

A Goodly Godly Vase

Several weekends ago, while driving into the nearby town, I noticed a yard sale was being held at one of the grand houses in our village.  Even though I was a man on a mission and time was of the essence, I immediately pulled over and jumped out of the car, as this was a sale that was not to be missed!

The house in question has changed hands several times in the years since we've owned Darlington.  It currently belongs to a celebrated New York architect who uses it as a weekend house.  The yard sale was a group sale, organized by the architect and his partner, a former editor at a well-known lifestyle magazine, and their friends.  This was not your typical old-plastic-toy-and-useless-junk yard sale that one sees on weekends in the country these days.  No, it was full of marvelous stuff, all of which was priced to move!

While examining the wares laid out at the sale, I found this Paris Porcelain trumpet-shaped vase on one of the tables.  The vase is from the mid-nineteenth century and is in perfect condition.

In gilt letters it is decorated with the name "JESUS" on one side.  I learned from the sellers that many people had picked up the vase and admired it but couldn't bring themselves to buy it, given their various reactions to its meaning.  Being a fancier and collector of Paris Porcelain, and recognizing that the decoration on the vase was in the spirit of the "Prepare to Meet Thy Maker" Staffordshire plaques from the same era, I scooped up the Jesus vase without a second's thought, paid a mere fifteen dollars for it, and brought it home to Darlington House.  It is a happy, albeit rather unusual, addition to our collection of vases and is an ideal shape for a pretty summer's posey, such as the one in it that I bought at our local farmers market on Saturday from the ladies of Cedar Farm.

Tell me, Dear Reader, do you have any bits of china or porcelain that have sayings or inscriptions upon them?

Photograph by Boy Fenwick

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Pompey: Daddy's Little Helper

Pompey, like many (if not most) dogs (and humans, too), enjoys gamboling about outdoors when the weather is pleasant.  This past weekend at Darlington House, one of the loveliest weekends of this summer so far, Pompey was determined to slip out the door and into the sunshine at every opportunity.

As I've written before, we've had a dry summer in the Hudson River Valley.  So we've needed to do a lot of watering of our lawns and potted plants.

I spend much of each weekend pulling around a hose, delivering water from our well to thirsty plants and grass.

Pompey is a curious little fellow, and he likes to be in the thick of things.  He was determined to be helpful in my watering efforts.

What he really did was mostly get in the way.  But in a very cute way.

After a while Pompey lost interest in my watering activities, as pugs do in these sort of things.  They really don't have very long attention spans.

It is much more interesting to sniff around the base of one of the urns.

"Pompey, what are you doing?"

As can be seen by the pools of liquid on the bluestone at the base of the urn, Pompey did exactly what most dogs do after sniffing around.  Oh, that's not right!  That's the overflow from when I just watered the urn!

Afterwards, Boy asked, "Now, what do you plan to do, Pompey?"

Our little darling turned, then headed back up towards the house.

But first a stop was in order, on the way to the door, to examine the hose again.

"Pompey, do you know what time it is?" I asked.  "It's DINNER time!"

With that, he promptly turned and trotted toward the door.

Do you see that marble step Pompey is standing on?  We had it made for the house.  It weighs over three thousand pounds, and extends well below the bricks.

Eagerly anticipating his dinner, Pompey waits by the door, with visions of kibble dancing in his little head.

Hooray!  Dinner at last!

Photographs by Boy Fenwick

Saturday, July 21, 2012

A Reggie Roadtrip: Baltimore and Washington

Part I: Baltimore

Several weeks ago, Boy and I (along with our most beloved Pompey) took a road trip to visit friends and family in Baltimore and Washington.  We had a delightful time.

Before leaving on our trip I was asked by a neighbor here in the Hudson River Valley, "Why would you want to go there?"  To which I responded (rather snappishly, I must admit), "Because the last time I checked there's rather a lot to see and do in Baltimore and Washington, that's why!"

And there was, and we did, Dear Reader, in the all-too-short time we had in these two illustrious American cities.

Our first stop in Baltimore was the new Four Seasons Hotel, where we checked in for a three-night stay.  Located in the trendy Harbor East area of the city on the water's edge, with stunning views of Baltimore's inner harbor, the hotel is a gleaming glass tower, lavishly appointed with every imaginable luxury.

A rendering of the Baltimore Four Seasons Hotel
Image courtesy of same

Our supremely comfortable room had splendid views of the inner harbor.

A view from our room, looking over
a marina and Baltimore's inner harbor
Photograph by Reggie Darling

One of the reasons that we like to stay in Four Seasons Hotels, Dear Reader, is that—other than that they are lovely, beautifully appointed, and have superb service—they welcome one's furry, four-legged friends, too—so long as one's such companions weigh under twenty pounds.  That means we can take our darling pug Pompey, who weighs just shy of fifteen pounds, with us on such trips.  Not only do the Four Seasons' welcome man's best friend, but they thoughtfully equip rooms of guests accompanied by such faithful companions with a dog bed and bowls, and also toys and treats!

Pompey, happy as a clam—I mean pug—in our room at the Four Seasons
Photograph by Reggie Darling

We had dinner the night we arrived in the hotel's very handsome restaurant, Wit and Wisdom, where I would most definitely recommend ordering the restaurant's signature lobster pot pie entrée.  It was divine.

The stylish Wit and Wisdom restaurant at the Baltimore Four Seasons Hotel
Image courtesy of same

Oh, and do not fail to request the restaurant's blue-cheese-stuffed olives when ordering Reggie's preferred cocktail—an ice-cold Beefeater Gin martini—as the olives are delicious enough to make this grown man cry with joy.  And I don't even like cheese stuffed olives!

The next morning we headed straight to the Baltimore Museum of Art, where we spent the better part of the day reveling in the BMA's marvelous collections.

The stately Baltimore Museum of Art
Photograph by Reggie Darling

Although the BMA is justifiably famous for its breathtaking Cone Collection of Impressionist and post-Impressionist art, it is also very strong in its holdings of American decorative arts.  It is these that drew us to the BMA, like bees to honey, given our interest in American antiques.

One of the BMA's rooms displaying but a fraction of its collection
of American furniture and decorative arts
Photograph by Reggie Darling

As readers of this blog well know, Reggie has a "thing" for early-nineteenth-century French gilt bronze clocks depicting George Washington.  I lusted after this one, attributed to Jean-Baptiste Dubuc (1743-1819),  in the museum's collection:

"Yes, please, I'll take it!"
Photograph by Reggie Darling

One of the reasons we visited the BMA was to photograph an American classical secretary bookcase, circa 1825-1835, in the museum's collection that is attributed to the cabinetmakers John Meads (1777-1859) and William Alvord (1766-1853).

The Vanderpoel secretary bookcase in the BMA's collection
Photograph by Reggie Darling

Made in Albany, New York, the BMA's secretary bookcase is nearly identical to one in our own collection at Darlington House, also attributed to Meads and Alvord.  We bought ours from the dealers Charles and Rebekah Clarke ten or so years ago and were inspired to do so by our familiarity with the one in the BMA's collection, as shown in the preceding photograph.  We had come to know the desk from studying it in Wendy Cooper's Classical Taste in America, a book that has been a meaningful influence on our collecting.  Other examples of furniture made by Meads and Alvord can be found in the collections of Hyde Hall, in Cooperstown, NY, and the Minneapolis Institute of Art, among other institutions.

The descriptive label for the secretary bookcase
Photograph by Reggie Darling

The secretary bookcase in the BMA's collection was commissioned by James Vanderpoel (1787-1843), a prominent lawyer and statesman who lived in Kinderhook, New York, in the house shown in the following photograph.  The desk remained in the house until only twenty-five years ago.  The Vanderpoel house has for many years belonged to the Columbia County Historical Society, which for some unfathomable reason de-accessioned the secretary bookcase from its collection in the late nineteen-eighties, when it was acquired by the Baltimore Museum of Art.

The James Vanderpoel House, circa 1816-1820
Kinderhook, New York
Image courtesy of Dr. Olver Bronson House Daybook

The Vanderpoel House is attributed to the architect/builder Barnabas Waterman (1776-1839) and is a lovely and beautifully maintained Federal house that is open to the public.  I encourage a visit to see the house, Dear Reader, should you ever find yourself in Kinderhook, New York.  Although not proved definitively, we believe that our own nearby Darlington House was also designed and built by Waterman, as it shares many of the Vanderpoel house's architectural details and stylistic flourishes, albeit on a slightly reduced scale.

The fashionably attired diners at the BMA's Gertrude's Restaurant
Photograph by Reggie Darling

We took a break from touring the BMA's collections by stopping for a tasty and most reasonably priced luncheon in the museum's Gertrude's Restaurant.  We assumed that the restaurant was named after Gertrude Stein, a native Baltimorean who gave a number of paintings in the museum's collection.  However, we learned that the restaurant was named after the restaurant's chef's grandmother Gertrude.

The Oval Room from Willow Brook House
in the BMA's collection
Photograph by Reggie Darling

Afterwards we spent a breathtaking half-hour examining one of the museum's marvelous period-room installations, the Oval Room from Willow Brook House, a long-since-torn-down Palladian-style villa built in Baltimore in 1799 by Thorowgood Smith, a wealthy merchant-shipper who was the city's second mayor, from 1804 to 1808.

These photographs do little justice to the Oval Room's loveliness.  It is beautifully scaled, with tall ceilings and handsome proportions.  The plasterwork, gorgeously picked out with paint, is original.

One of two painted "fancy" settees in the Oval Room
made in Baltimore by the Finlay Brothers, circa 1800-1810
Photograph by Reggie Darling

Within the Oval Room one finds one of the BMA's greatest treasures: an intact, thirteen-piece set of painted Baltimore furniture made in the first decade of the nineteenth century by the brothers and business partners John Finlay (1771-1851) and Hugh Finlay (1781-1831).  The Finlay Brothers advertised themselves as "fancy furniture manufacturers" and specialized in producing the painted furniture that Baltimore is justifiably famous for amongst those of us who appreciate antique American furniture of the highest quality.  What makes the set in the museum's collection particularly noteworthy is that the pieces are decorated with painted images of seventeen of Baltimore's most noteworthy Federal-era houses, only two of which survive today.  The images of the houses on the chairs are attributed to Francis Guy (1760-1820), an English-born landscape artist working in Baltimore at the time.

A detail of one of the Finlay settees, showing Homewood House
Photograph by Reggie Darling

One of the (two) settees in the set includes a rendition of the still-standing Homewood House, one of the true monuments of Baltimore and one of Reggie's favorite destinations in the city.  The house, which is owned by Johns Hopkins University and is open to the public as a house museum, is beautifully restored and furnished and contains one of Reggie's favorite rooms in America, its reception hall, which I posted about previously in my series Reggie's Rooms.

Homewood House, with its portico under restoration
Photograph by Reggie Darling

After visiting the BMA, we stopped by Homewood House to take in the structure's current restoration program, as seen in the preceding photograph.  It is so pleasing that Johns Hopkins takes such good care of Homewood House.

The banner image from Meg Fairfax Fielding's blog, Pigtown Design
Image courtesy of same

One of our primary reasons for visiting Baltimore was to meet Meg Fairfax Fielding, of the marvelous blog Pigtown Design.  If you aren't already familiar with Ms. Fielding's blog, Dear Reader, I highly encourage you to visit it often (she posts every other day or so), as I know you will find it as amusing, interesting, and eclectic as I find it and its charming author.  We were thrilled when Meg suggested throwing a cocktail party in our honor during our visit, followed by dinner afterwards with a few of her closest friends at a new favorite restaurant of hers in the city, the oh-so-of-the-moment Food Market, opened only one or two weeks previously.

The facade of Food Market
Image courtesy of same

We had an absolutely delightful time meeting Meg and her friends, and we found her to be charming, funny, and an all-around good egg (one of Reggie's highest accolades).  Meg's friends clearly (and rightly) adore her, and they were as charming and amusing as our hostess.  Such fun!

The interior of Food Market during the day.
It was a lot busier at night when we had dinner there!
Image courtesy of Meg Fairfax Fielding of Pigtown Design

The Food Market was positively popping when we arrived after cocktails and was filled with hipsters and locals out for a festive evening.  The joint was jumping!  We were immediately shown to our table (it is obvious that Ms. Fielding has sway in this town), and we had a delicious, zesty dinner fueled with libations and hilarious conversation.  What an evening we had!

An aerial view of the glorious Orioles Park at Camden Yards
Image courtesy of AP Photo/Files

I must admit that we were moving slowly the next morning, what with all the excitement and imbibulation of the night before.  Fortunately, the day I planned for us was fairly low-impact and largely devoted to easygoing entertainment and mindless relaxing.  When plotting out our trip to Baltimore, I made sure we could take in an Orioles ballgame at the city's splendid Camden Yards baseball park.  I had wanted to see a game at the marvelously retro ballpark ever since it was built twenty years ago, and I made sure my wish came true during our visit.  We attended a day game with Boy's sister Kitty and her husband, Bart, where we sat in killer seats close to the field, just to the left of home plate.  We all had a lovely time.  The Orioles hosted the Washington Nationals that day, which was great fun, as both Boy and I grew up in Washington, home to the old Senators.  The day's game was referred to as the "Beltway Series."  The game was most enjoyable, and the home team was enthusiastically supported by its adoring fans.  The whole experience brought home just why it is that baseball is—at least in some circles these days—still considered to be the Great American Pastime.

The splendid view of the field from our seats during the game
Photograph by Boy Fenwick

After the game we bid Kitty and Bart adieu, and then made a beeline back to the Four Seasons, where Boy and I spent the rest of the afternoon lolling about the hotel's sybaritic outdoor infinity pool.  I'm not usually a fan of infinity pools, Dear Reader, but this one was gorgeous.

The pool at the Baltimore Four Seasons Hotel
Image courtesy of

The pool is perfectly situated to take full advantage of the hotel's expansive views over the harbor.  Lounging by it I felt more as if we were staying at an island resort than at an urban hotel.

A glorious summer's afternoon spent by the Four Seasons' pool
Image courtesy of

It was difficult to tear ourselves away from the chaise longues at the pool, but we did so knowing that a delicious seed-to-plate dinner awaited us at the nearby Waterfront Kitchen restaurant, where we had a delightful, simply prepared meal.  I highly recommend it.

The interior of Waterfront Kitchen, with a view of Baltimore Harbor
Image courtesy of the Baltimore Sun

Boy and Pompey and I made an early night of it and were in bed with the lights out by 10 p.m. so that we would be well-rested for the next stop on our journey, Washington, DC, which is the subject of the next post in this series . . .

Monday, July 16, 2012

We're Havin' a Heat Wave

It's hot here in the Hudson River Valley.  And dry, too.  We have had very little rain.  Most of the lawns in our village look more like straw than grass.  No matter how much watering one does, it's never enough.

This past weekend saw the return of sunflowers to the farmers market in the nearby town.  To celebrate a visit to Darlington House by Boy's assistant designer, Nancie Peterson, and their summer intern, Lilly Danforth, Boy filled the house with flowers.  I was particularly taken with this arrangement of sunflowers he made in a salt-glazed earthenware crock on our kitchen table.

Happy summer, Dear Reader.

photograph by Boy Fenwick

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Shell Mania at Darlington House

Reggie, like many people, adores seashells and has collected them for as long as he can remember, Dear Reader.

A detail of the Shell Mania arrangement on our
dining room mantel at Darlington House

When Boy and I are on vacation at the shore we often stop in at stores that stock and sell seashells and related curiosities, and we buy a few specimen to add to our collection at Darlington House, as a souvenir of our trip.

This is how our dining room mantel looks most of the year,
decorated with basalt vessels and a gilt Paris porcelain
reticulated basket on stand

Since we acquired Darlington in the late 1990s, we've displayed our collection of seashells on the fire-surround in our dining room, arranged by Boy in a most artistic fashion, reminiscent of how such collections were displayed in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, here and abroad.

The mantel denuded of the basalt and basket, awaiting its shell decoration

We only display our seashells on the dining room mantel during the summer, when the weather is hot.

Boy began the mantel's decoration with pieces of coral, for height

Most of the rest of the year, with the exception of Christmas, we have a somber and severe arrangement of basalt vessels on the mantel.

He then started adding shells, starfish, and more coral

I used to arrange our seashells on the mantel, but I surrendered that role to Boy years ago (along with arranging flowers and decorating Christmas trees) because, well, he is so much better at these sort of things than I am.

It is a careful, and carefully considered process of layering . . .

The practice of collecting and displaying shells as we do became fashionable in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in Europe when a mania swept the cultivated Western world for exotic seashells.

. . . to create the desired effect of volume and intricacy

Known as Shell Mania, or Shell Fever, or Conchylomania, it rivaled the earlier and more infamous Tulipomania.

After a near-disastrous collapse, Boy rebuilds his arrangement

Shell Mania was fueled (and made possible) by the colonial trade that was then exploding among European nations and the Far East and the West Indies.

Additional layering creates a sumptuous arrangement

Shell Mania became popular here in the United States after the Revolution, once our new nation entered into independent trade with the Far East.

The finished arrangement, how beauteous to behold!

In America, the fashion for collecting and displaying seashells was more usually referred to as "Shell Fever."  According to Elizabeth Donaghy Garrett's At Home, the American Family 1750-1870 (a favorite and frequently consulted resource of ours), Shell Fever reached its height of popularity in America during the 1830s and 1840s, when "many a mantel was thus arrayed," as is seen in the following image taken from the book:

South Parlor of Abraham Russell, New Bedford, Massachusetts
Waltercolor by Joseph Shoemaker Russell, 1848
Old Dartmouth Historical Society, New Bedford, MA

More information about the history of Shell Mania can be found in a fascinating and scholarly post titled Conchylomania, written by James Grout, that appears on his fascinating blog, Encyclopædia Romana.

Another excellent source of information regarding this esoteric subject—the history of the collection and display of seashells—is an article written by Richard Conniff, "Mad About Seashells," that appeared in Smithsonian magazine in August, 2009.

Arranging seashells, as Boy did on our dining room mantel at Darlington House, is not without challenges.  The shells are, in some cases, delicate, and when arranged in layers, as he does, can come tumbling down if the display is not oh-so-carefully assembled.

Isn't Boy's Shell Mania arrangement pretty, and summery, and enchanting, Dear Reader?

Tell me, do you also collect and display seashells at your house?

Photographs (and shell arrangement) by Boy Fenwick

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