Category Archives: Metalwork

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: 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.

Now Online: St. John Chrysostom Church, Delafield & McFarland Historical Society

St. John Chrysostom, the "Little Red Church on the Hill," Delafield.

Two small but distinctive collections posted to the database…

The first group features furnishings from St. John Chrysostom church in Delafield, an outstanding example of the “Carpenter Gothic” style of church architecture popular in the 1850s. Wisconsin architecture historian Richard Perrin noted the prevalence of this style in rural churches in his article “Richard Upjohn, Architect: Anglican Chapels in the Wilderness” (Wisconsin Magazine of History, 1961).

According to church history, the interior fittings, including a limestone font and altar and a Gothic Revival-style pulpit, were all constructed by local craftspeople. The church and its artifacts were brought to my attention by Jim Babcock, curator at Hawks Inn Historical Museum and a great proponent of the database project. Jim brought me to the church specifically to see the massive wrought iron hinges on the south doors and sacristy door. Local history has it that the ornate door hardware was made by German immigrant blacksmith Jacob Luther, but marks on the hinges reveal another maker–British-born Philip Cutland. Interestingly, Luther and Cutland appear as neighbors in the 1850 federal census for Delafield. The small size of the community and the prestige of the commission to provide work for a significant local building may suggest that the two blacksmiths worked together on the project.

Kubbestol highchair descended in the Skare family, ca. 1860-1900. McFarland Historical Society.

The second group of artifacts, from the McFarland Historical Society, reflects the Norwegian-American heritage of south-central Wisconsin. A significant portion of the McFarland Historical Society’s collection–including a log cabin moved to the site in the 1960s–comes from the collection of Albert Skare, a descendant of a Norwegian family that emigrated to Wisconsin in the 1850s. The Skare Collection includes hundreds of trunks, boxes, spoons, and other wares brought from Norway or collected on visits back to the “Old Country,” as well as some locally-made items used by the family in their pioneer days, such as this unusual highchair (above). The chair’s form is based on a traditional Norwegian form known as a kubbestol.

During my visit to McFarland, a member of the historical society generously shared a small marquetry table passed down in another local Norwegian immigrant family.

–Posted by Emily Pfotenhauer.

Now Online: Private Collections part 2

Ironstone plate manufactured by Joseph Clementson, Stoke-on-Trent, England and imported to Milwaukee by F. J. Blair, ca. 1840-1850.

Two more private collections posted recently…

The first is a large group from a private collector who’s kept an eye out for Wisconsin-related items for decades. A brief list gives a sense of the scope of just the small part of the collection that I photographed: earthenware from a Waukesha County pottery, stoneware from potteries in Wautoma, Portage, and Menasha, and marked coin silver spoons made by silversmiths in Milwaukee, Madison, Beloit, Janesville, and Platteville.

In addition to these important examples of Wisconsin pottery and metalwork, the collection also includes an intriguing group of flow-blue ironstone dishware. Although not made in Wisconsin, they reveal important evidence of life in the early days of settlement and statehood. Ceramics decorated with blue transfer-printed chinoiserie motifs were the height of middle-class fashion in Britain and America in the mid-nineteenth century. Staffordshire potters such as Joseph Clementson, who manufactured the plate shown above, shipped their wares to American distributors like F. J. Blair of Milwaukee.

Three miniature earthenware posnets (three-legged cooking pots) attributed to August Henschel, Colgate, Waukesha County, ca. 1880-1900.

Coin silver spoon, R. P. Hicks, Platteville, Grant County. Engraved with the initials "MDR"

Detail of crochet and beadwork on stockings made by Elizabeth Pauline Ebert, Menomonee Falls, Waukesha County, 1878-1879.

Another small collection was brought to my attention after my presentation at the Delafield Antique Show last spring. A unique group of handknit stockings embellished with delicate crochet and beadwork were gifted to the current owner by the granddaughter of the maker, Elizabeth Ebert. Ebert was born in Germany and came to Wisconsin around 1847, writing in her diary that she made the stockings because she wanted to look beautiful in her new country, America.

Posted by Emily Pfotenhauer.

Now Online: Private Collections part 1

Hand-carved figurine used as a cigarette and match holder, David E. Wachter, Milwaukee, 1904.

I have slowly been making my way through a large backlog of artifacts I’ve photographed in the past few months. Since starting a new job at the Outreach Specialist for Wisconsin Heritage Online (more on that in a future post), I’ve had a limited amount of time to devote to the Wisconsin Decorative Arts Database. But the project continues, and many new entries will be posted online in the coming months!

In addition to objects from historic sites and museums, I have started to document a selection of items held in private collections in Wisconsin. Two groups of objects from private collectors–one built over decades of collecting, the other assembled much more recently–are now online.

The first collection is an eclectic array of furniture and folk art, much of it made by Scandinavian immigrants in Wisconsin, including an inlaid box made in Dunn County and a turned maple bowl probably made in Dane County. One of my favorite works from this collection is a figurine carved and signed by David E. Wachter of Milwaukee (at left). This charming and highly detailed figure of a wolf dressed in Alpine hiking gear is meant to function as a cigarette and match holder–the wolf’s open backpack holds cigarettes and an emery board in a medallion at his feet serves as a match striker.

Cast iron horse head hitching post finial, Charles Silberzahn, West Bend, ca. 1880-1900.

The second private collection consists of cast iron horse-head hitching posts produced by Wisconsin manufacturers including Charles Silberzahn of West Bend, William Bayley of Milwaukee, and the Appleton Novelty Works. A first for the database, the hitching posts are a unique example of the early metals industry in Wisconsin and also offer some impressive visual impact.

Posted by Emily Pfotenhauer.

Upcoming Events

I’ll be offering two free public presentations on Wisconsin decorative arts in the next two weeks. This Wednesday, May 13, I’ll be at the Historic Indian Agency House in Portage for the opening of their new exhibition Functional and Fanciful: Pottery in Early America. I’m presenting an illustrated talk on ceramics made and used in Wisconsin in the 1800s, focusing on three very different stories: fashionable tableware imported from Staffordshire, functional stonewares and earthenwares produced by immigrant craftsmen, and china painting and art pottery created by Wisconsin women artists.

Next week, on Thursday, May 21, I’ll be at the Villa Terrace in Milwaukee to offer a presentation on the Villa’s important collection of work by metal artisan Cyril Colnik. I’ll go beyond Colnik’s own work to consider his influences and some of the other important artisans of turn-of-the-century Milwaukee.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009
7:00 pm
Historic Indian Agency House, Portage
(608) 742-6362

Thursday, May 21, 2009
6:00 pm
Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum
2220 Terrace Avenue, Milwaukee
(414) 271-3656

Posted by Emily Pfotenhauer.

Revisiting the Charles Allis & Villa Terrace Museums

Wrought iron grille, Cyril Colnik, Milwaukee, late nineteenth or early twentieth century.

Wrought iron grille, Cyril Colnik, Milwaukee, late nineteenth or early twentieth century.

On Thursday I headed to Milwaukee to meet with Martha Monroe, the new curator for the Charles Allis and Villa Terrace Museums. An intern from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee will be working with the Villa’s Cyril Colnik collection this summer, so I came out to share some of the research I’d turned up after documenting some of Colnik’s work for the Wisconsin Decorative Arts Database just over a year ago. One of the topics we discussed is the connection between Colnik and Samuel Yellin, a metalworker in Philadelphia in the early twentieth century. Both men were trained in Europe and established successful shops in the United States around the turn of the century, both created ornamental ironwork for public buildings as well as private homes, and both worked in a variety of revival styles.

The Villa’s Colnik collection is extensive and impressively comprehensive–it include dozens of examples of work from Colnik’s shop as well as blueprints, drawing, business records, tools, and replicas of some of his metalworking processes (created by contemporary Wisconsin ironworker Dan Nauman of Bighorn Forge). It’s a true gem that, when carefully cataloged (and perhaps someday made fully available online) will provide an invaluable resource for craftspeople, historians and community members.

I’m heading to the Villa again on May 21st to present a public talk on the Colnik collection and the database project.

View my previous blog posts on Cyril Colnik here and here.

Posted by Emily Pfotenhauer.