Category Archives: Database

Lots of updates

In the past few months, I’ve taken the time to revisit some earlier database entries and update them with expanded historical information, including links to historic photos and biographical sketches found in other digital collections from Wisconsin libraries and historical societies. This list is a recap of recent updates.

The Blair and Persons building at 534 N. Water Street in Milwaukee. From Milwaukee Public Library.

Ironstone transferware pottery produced in Staffordshire and imported to Milwaukee and Madison (from a private collection). The majority of these examples were manufactured by Joseph Clementson of Stoke-on-Trent and imported to Milwaukee by crockery and glassware dealer Franklin J. Blair. Born in Massachusetts in 1815, Blair headed west, first to Cleveland, Ohio and then in 1843 to Milwaukee. In 1856, he entered a business partnership with his shop clerk, Edmond Reed Persons.

Coin silver spoons made and/or marked by silversmiths and jewelers throughout southern Wisconsin in the 1840s-1860s (also from a private collection). It is difficult to determine whether these spoons were actually produced in Wisconsin or whether the sellers acquired blanks created elsewhere and then added engravings and their marks to sell to local customers. Silversmiths and jewelers who now have biographical information added to the database include Newell Matson, Joseph R. Treat, and Abner Kirby of Milwaukee, A. B. Van Cott of Milwaukee and Racine, Erastus Cook of Madison, Stephen C. Spaulding of Janesville, and Henry N. Sherman of Beloit. I have yet to turn up any information about R. P. Hicks of Platteville or the Milwaukee partnership of Rood, Goodrich, and Vosburg.

Jeweler and businessman Abner Kirby was elected mayor of Milwaukee in 1864. From "Biographical sketches of the mayors of the City of Milwaukee" via Milwaukee Public Library.

–Tom Wilson, a connoisseur of the work of Milwaukee blacksmith Cyril Colnik, contacted me to share some information about the Colnik collection at the Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum, including a story from Colnik’s daughter Gretchen that her father made an unusual coconut shell box as a gift for her 12th birthday in 1906.

–While researching the collections from the Langlade County Historical Society in Antigo, I stumbled across an article from the local newspaper, dated 1933, that described a loan to the society of an “historic crucifix” attributed to Paul Ducharme, a French Canadian trader who came to the Green Bay area in 1794. The crucifix remains in the society’s collections, hanging on the wall of the DeLeglise cabin. Langlade County Historical Society president Joe Hermolin photographed it for me so I could add this important artifact to the database without making the long return trip north to Antigo.

Crazy quilt detail: possibly First Lady Catherine Harrison. Chippewa Valley Museum object #1514-0003-1997.

–The Handmade Meaning exhibit necessitated some in-depth research to find out more about the women behind the crafts we exhibited. Students from last spring’s exhibitions seminar at UW-Madison were a great help, particularly Susan Bostian Young and Breanna Norton, who both rolled up their sleeves and dug into census records and other genealogy resources. Susan contributed a great blog post examining the story behind a redwork quilt from the History Museum at the Castle in Appleton, which we were unable to include in the exhibit due to condition issues. I also recruited Lucy Traverse, a PhD candidate in the Department of Art History at UW-Madison specializing in 19th century visual culture, to help identify the figures embroidered on a crazy quilt from the Chippewa Valley Museum in Eau Claire. Lucy suggested that the blue-eyed young woman in the bottom right corner block resembled the popular singer and entertainer Lillian Russell, while the middle-aged woman depicted in profile near the lower left was likely Caroline Harrison, who, as wife of President Benjamin Harrison, would have been the First Lady around the time this quilt was made.

–Posted by Emily Pfotenhauer.


Now online: Lace from Oneida Nation Museum

Oneida lace maker, possibly Josephine Hill Webster (1883-1978). When the teachers from the Sybil Carter Indian Lace Association left Wisconsin in 1909, Webster, a Wisconsin Oneida who had attended the Hampton Institute boarding school in Virginia, became the lace-makers' leader. Courtesy of the Oneida Nation Museum.

When I started my research for the recent Handmade Meaning exhibition at the James Watrous Gallery, I ran across a fascinating Wisconsin craft tradition I’d never known about before: lace made by Oneida women in the early 20th century. Sybil Carter, an Episcopalian missionary, introduced the art of bobbin lace to the women of the Oneida Indian Reservation near De Pere in 1898. Carter developed a piecework system in which teachers, materials, and patterns were sent to the Oneida as well as to reservations in Minnesota, New Mexico, and California. The finished products, including trim and decorative inserts as well as tablecloths and other large items, were sent to New York, where they commanded high prices and won awards at international expositions.

Bobbin lace insert. Oneida Nation Museum.

The Oneida Nation Museum has collected and preserved many examples of lace passed down in local families, although many of the largest and most intricate pieces seen in period photos have not been located. For the exhibition, we highlighted just a few examples from the Museum collection along with several original patterns, all of which are now online in the Wisconsin Decorative Arts Database. The stereotypically Indian motifs in some of these works–the figures with a bow and arrow, a canoe, and a papoose–were probably not selected by the lace-makers themselves. Instead, they were likely provided by the Sybil Carter Indian Lace Association to provide an element of exotic but generic “Indianness” appealing to non-native audiences.

Pattern for bobbin lace. Oneida Nation Museum.

At the closing events for the Handmade Meaning exhibit, Nicolas Reynolds, historical researcher for the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin, offered an in-depth look at the significance of other patterns and motifs found in Oneida lace. While they may appear at first glance to be typical examples of European-style bobbin lace, many of these works contain arching and branching shapes–traditional Oneida symbols of the sky dome and the tree of life.

Nic also provided an important historic context for Oneida lace-making, along with his co-presenter Nancy Marie Mithlo of the Departments of Art History and American Indian Studies at UW-Madison. In an aggressive effort by the federal government to assimilate Native people in the late 19th and early 20th century, Indian children were sent to boarding schools like the Hampton Institute in Virginia, which was attended by lace-maker Josephine Hill Webster and many other Wisconsin Oneidas.  When young people came back from boarding school, fitting in again with their families and communities was an immense challenge. Lace-making, a skill Webster and presumably others learned at boarding school, was a means for many women to earn a living without having to leave home again to seek employment elsewhere.

–Posted by Emily Pfotenhauer.

“Indian women rival Europe in Lace Making,” Milwaukee Sentinel, October 27, 1901 (via Wisconsin Historical Society, Local History and Biography Articles).

“Vanderbilt home opened for charity; hundreds pay $2 admission to mansion and to buy lace made by Indians,” New York Times, March 22, 1912.

Kate C. Duncan, “American Indian Lace Making,” American Indian Art Magazine vol. 5, no. 3 (1980): 28-35

Nicolas Reynolds, “Oneida Lace Makers,” Cultural Heritage Department, Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin. See this article for more great sources.

Visit to Marshfield and Pittsville

I’ve worked on this project for more than four years and added over 1,000 artifacts to the Wisconsin Decorative Arts Database, but it seems like I’ve still only scratched the surface of Wisconsin’s material past. I’m always happily surprised when I discover artifacts from a maker or manufacturer I haven’t documented before.

One of these happy occurrences came in Lake Geneva last fall at the annual statewide Local History and Historic Preservation Conference. Kim Krueger of the North Wood County Historical Society in Marshfield approached me after my presentation about Wisconsin Heritage Online. She was looking for a conservator who could help preserve a catalog from a local manufacturer. I couldn’t help much with the conservation question, but my ears perked up when I heard more about the catalog–it was from the Upham Manufacturing Company, a furniture producer in Marshfield around the turn of the 20th century. But the catalog wasn’t the only artifact from the company in the Society’s collections, Kim said. Their house museum, the Upham Mansion, still contains many of its original furnishings, including a large number of pieces made in the factory established by William Henry Upham.

I made plans to visit the Upham Mansion as soon as I could. At some point during the back-and-forth of planning emails, another serendipitous connection came up. A volunteer at the Upham Mansion, Chris Buchanan, is also the president of the Pittsville Area Historical Society, less than 20 miles south of Marshfield. Pittsville was once home to the Wisconsin Ceramics Corporation, better known as Pittsville Pottery, and the local historical society had recently received a donation of more than 100 works from the pottery assembled by a local collector. Did I want to add the pottery to the database too? Of course I did!

After spending two days in central Wisconsin last week, I now have lots of photos to process and should have the Upham furniture and Pittsville pottery–plus several other interesting artifacts–added to the database in the next several weeks.

–Posted by Emily Pfotenhauer

Now online: Langlade County Historical Society

Pillow sham made for Edward Drab, who served in the CCC at Elcho, Wisconsin in 1933. Embroidered slogan reads: "When we finish our part a new day will dawn." Property of Langlade County Historical Society.

The twelve artifacts I recently added to the Wisconsin Decorative Arts Database from the Langlade County Historical Society in Antigo are an eclectic bunch that reveals the broad and deep histories we can discover from objects.

A group of beaded bandolier bags recently donated to the Society by a local collector does not have a specific Wisconsin provenance, but the bags’ designs and motifs show that they were made by Menominee, Ojibwe, and Ho-Chunk tribes in the Great Lakes region in the late 19th or early 20th centuries. Crafting these highly-prized elements of formal dress regalia required a substantial investment of time, materials, and skill. An exhibition of Great Lakes bandolier bags is on view at the Wisconsin Historical Museum in Madison through February 26.

A hand-knit vest and an embroidered pillow sham (above) an Antigo woman made for her brother when he joined the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1933 illustrates the pride many Americans felt when they had the opportunity to go back to work with New Deal programs like the CCC. Company 657, also known as Camp Elcho, was one of 76 CCC camps organized in Wisconsin in the 1930s. Camp workers undertook a number of public works projects including constructing roads and fire breaks, installating telephone lines, planting trees, and fighting forest fires.

Chest of drawers attributed to Francois Bernard, Appleton, 1853-1865. Property of Langlade County Historical Society.

The furniture in the Society’s collections reflects the two primary streams of furniture production in 19th- and early 20th-century Wisconsin: factory production and small-shop handcraft. A veneered chest of drawers attributed to the Antigo Furniture Co. and a rocking chair from the Crocker Chair Co. represent the maunfactured furniture turned out by numerous Wisconsin producers. Falling on the handcrafted side is a chest of drawers said to have been made by Francois Bernard, a cabinetmaker who left France for Appleton, Wisconsin in 1853.

Postcard depicting Deleglise cabin, Antigo, ca. 1930. Wisconsin Historical Society WHi-28359

This chest also tells an interesting story of the movement of people and objects over time. Its original owners were Francis Deleglise and his wife Mary Bor, who likely acquired the chest when they married and moved to Appleton in 1856. In 1877, Francis Deleglise surveyed and planned the city of Antigo, bringing his family there from Appleton in 1878. Family history states that the chest served as the altar for the first Catholic mass celebrated in Antigo, which was conducted in the Deleglise cabin in 1880. The chest still furnishes the cabin, which was moved from its original site to the grounds of what is now the Langlade County Historical Society in 1913.

I first got to know Langlade County Historical Society president Joe Hermolin more than a year ago when he partnered with Wisconsin Heritage Online (WHO) to digitize photographs in the Society’s archives produced by A. J. Kingsbury, a professional photographer who worked in the Antigo area in the 1910s and 20s. Some of Kingsbury’s most compelling photos depict Menominee and Ojibwe people in northeast Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Last winter, Joe and I worked with the Tribal Libraries, Archives, and Museums class at UW-Madison’s School of Library and Information Studies (SLIS) to research and catalog these images, some of which are now available online. We’re planning to work with the class again this semester to continue to investigate this important collection.

–Posted by Emily Pfotenhauer.

Now online: Vilas Historical Museum

Chest of drawers, Carl Eliason, Sayner, 1920. Vilas Historical Museum.

This summer I spent some time in Wisconsin’s northwoods, including a visit to the Vilas Historical Museum in Sayner. Instantly recognizable by the huge figures of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox out in front, the museum houses a vast and impressive collection of local artifacts. Eight examples of local handicrafts from the museum’s collections are now online in the Wisconsin Decorative Arts Database.

Sayner was home to Carl Eliason,  credited with inventing the world’s first snowmobile, the “Eliason Motor Toboggan,” patented in 1927.  In addition to his early snowmobile prototypes, the museum’s collections include a group of rustic furniture made by Eliason at the age of 21.

Other artifacts reflect the importance of the lumber and tourism industries in the northwoods, including folk art carvings made by men in local logging camps and summer camps in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Sign welcoming visitors to the Vilas Historical Museum.

–Posted by Emily Pfotenhauer

Database featured in new book on digitization

I contributed a chapter about the Wisconsin Decorative Arts Database project to the new book Digitization in the Real World: Lessons Learned from Small and Medium-Sized Digitization Projects, just released by the Metropolitan New York Library Council (METRO). My contribution, titled “Local People, Local Objects, Local History” describes the genesis of the project as a collaboration between the Chipstone Foundation and the Wisconsin Historical Society. I focus on the specifics of how the digital collection was created–photography standards, metadata fields, etc.–and examine the challenges of bringing together digitally a wide range of collections from across Wisconsin.

My chapter is one of 34 case studies of successful efforts to digitize cultural heritage materials throughout the country. Other contributions come from Columbia, Yale, the American Museum of Natural History, and other leading libraries, museums and archives. The book was edited by Jason Kucsma, emerging technologies manager at METRO and Kwong Bor Ng, associate professor in the Graduate School of Library and Information Studies at Queens College, CUNY.

The book is available here as an e-book download or a print version. It will also be available from Amazon beginning in September. In addition, METRO will post chapter excerpts and pdf downloads over the next year on the DITRW blog.

UPDATE: My chapter is now available as a free pdf download via the Digitization in the Real World blog.

–Posted by Emily Pfotenhauer.

Now Online: Old World Wisconsin

Decorative carving, Amund O. Jorde, Town of York, Green County, ca. 1900.

Side chair collected from a Czech family in the Manitowoc area, probably second half of the 19th century. On view on the bedroom of the Sisel House.

48 artifacts from Wisconsin’s largest historic site are now online in the Wisconsin Decorative Arts Database. First opened to the public in 1976, Old World Wisconsin is the world’s largest museum dedicated to the history of rural life. The development of Old World Wisconsin was one of the major undertakings of the Wisconsin Historical Society in the 1970s. Researchers traveled the state in search of buildings and artifacts to represent the groups of settlers that established farms and villages throughout Wisconsin in the 1830s up through the early 20th century, including Yankees, Germans, Norwegians and Finns. Bringing together Wisconsin’s architectural and material history into a vast outdoor park was the state’s central contribution to the United States Bicentennial celebrations in 1976, a time of great popular interest in American history–particularly the histories of local communities and individual families.

Wardrobe or schrank used by the Lange family, Dodge County, ca. 1848-1880. On view in the children's bedroom of the Koepsell House.

The artifacts that furnish the homes at Old World Wisconsin came from a variety of sources. Some were heirlooms donated by the descendants of early Wisconsin families, such as an unusual carving (above) by Amund O. Jorde of Green County, one of several examples of woodworking gifted to Old World Wisconsin by his great-granddaughter. Other furnishings came from Wisconsin antiques dealers who sought out handmade furniture, such as an unusual “Bohemian” chair (above) acquired by Jim Babcock. According to Babcock, who is currently the curator at the Hawks Inn Historical Society (another Wisconsin Decorative Arts Database participant), the chair was initially collected by another dealer directly from a Czech family in the Manitowoc area and passed through several hands before it came to Old World Wisconsin.

Only a few objects in the collections are original to the buildings in which they are now displayed. One standout example is a settee (below) from the Zirbel family, whose home in the Town of Herman (Dodge County) is now part of Old World’s Schulz Farm.

The chance to get up close and personal with the site’s artifacts led to a few exciting surprises. For example, when I pulled out a drawer in a wardrobe to look at how it was constructed, I discovered a whimsical handwritten inscription on the underside: Whoever gets me he will be good off. Henry F.–Dodge County, Wisconsin (and so forth). This was an exciting clue to the original owners of this massive piece of furniture (read the details here).

Adding selections from Old World Wisconsin’s collections to the Wisconsin Decorative Arts Database happened in several stages. Last summer, I made several trips out to Eagle to dig through accession records and tour the site in order to choose the objects with the closest ties to Wisconsin craftspeople and Wisconsin families. Curator of Collections Ellen Penwell was an invaluable resource, allowing me up-close access to the collections on site and in storage. Laura Houston, an undergraduate intern in the UW-Madison Material Culture Program, was a patient photography assistant and note-taker. After collecting the data and images, I delved into primary sources–census records, marriage records, county histories, and more–to learn as much as possible about the people who made and used these objects. Chipsone Foundation research intern Rebecca Wangard conducted some important genealogical research and also did the photo editing and data entry necessary to prepare the catalog entries for posting online.

Settee used in the Schulz-Zirbel house, Town of Herman, Dodge County, second half of the 19th century.

As many of you may know, Old World Wisconsin has been in the news a lot lately. On June 21, the area was severely affected by a tornado and thousands of trees were downed or damaged (fortunately, the historic buildings were mostly unscathed and no people or animals were harmed). The site was closed to the public until July 24. A video about the site’s ongoing recovery is available here and the Old World Wisconsin Foundation has established a tornado relief fund to support the continued repair work.

Posted by Emily Pfotenhauer.