Category Archives: Textiles

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.

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: 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.

Object Photography at the Grant County Historical Society

Needlework picture attributed to Susan Schnee, Platteville, ca. 1840.

Needlework picture attributed to Susan Schnee, Platteville, ca. 1840.

I’ve been on the road quite a bit lately and am starting to get caught up on blogging about some of my latest site visits. Last week I spent a day in Lancaster photographing artifacts at the Grant County Historical Society. One of my favorite items in their collection is a needlework picture depicting Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. The work descended in the family of Susan Schnee and is said to have been made by her in about 1840, after she arrived in Wisconsin from Lebanon, Pennsylvania with her parents in the 1830s. 

I also photographed a set of doll furniture crafted from bird’s-eye-maple by Allen Cartwright, a British-born cabinetmaker who worked for the Morgan Company, a woodwork manufactory in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. According to family tradition, Cartwright made the set as a Christmas present for his great-granddaughter in 1893.  

Doll-sized chest of drawers, Allen Cartwright, Oshkosh, 1893.

Doll-sized chest of drawers, Allen Cartwright, Oshkosh, 1893.

Posted by Emily Pfotenhauer.

Favorite Finds #1: A young girl’s handiwork in Michigan Territory

Cross-stitch sampler, Elizabeth Fisher, Mackinac Island, Michigan Territory, 1820. Villa Louis State Historic Site, Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin.

Cross-stitch sampler, Elizabeth Fisher, Mackinac Island, Michigan Territory, 1820. Villa Louis State Historic Site, Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin.

I’m starting a semi-regular “Favorite Finds” series to look more closely at some of the most intriguing, unusual and historically rich objects I’ve turned up during the course of my fieldwork. This needlework sampler from the collection of the Villa Louis is one of the earliest objects in the Wisconsin Decorative Arts Database. The inscription at the center, framed by a garland supported by two angels, reads “E T Fisher / Mackinac April 24/ 1820.” That information, combined with a note that the maker, Elizabeth Therese Fisher, was the half-sister of Jane Fisher Rolette Dousman, led me on a “Google safari” to discover the fascinating story of this important artifact.

Ten-year-old Elizabeth Fisher made this sampler in 1820 while living on Mackinac Island, one of the major fur trade posts in the Michigan Territory. While Elizabeth’s delicate, intricate stitchery would probably be beyond the patience of any modern ten-year-old, this kind of handiwork was a significant part of a young girl’s education in the early 1800s. In the eastern United States, middle- and upper-class families sent their daughters to formal schools where they learned appropriately feminine skills including sewing, music and comportment. Elizabeth probably stitched her sampler under the supervision of her mother, Marianne Schindler Fisher, who started a school where the daughters of fur traders in Mackinac could learn the same ladylike accomplishments as their counterparts in the east.  

While some samplers featured only alphabets, numbers,  and simple decorative motifs, more elaborate examples like Elizabeth’s work included landscapes, figures, and inscriptions. Quotations from the Bible were typical, but a common secular source was the eighteenth-century British poet Alexander Pope. The verse on Fisher’s sampler is Epistle I, Verse X from Pope’s “An Essay on Man” (1732-34).

Fisher’s family history typifies the intermarriage and cultural blending among American Indian, Anglo and European peoples that took place in the Great Lakes region during the fur trade era. Fisher was born in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin in 1810 and came to Mackinac Island with her mother Marianne Schindler Fisher in 1812. Fisher’s grandmother Therese Lasalier Schindler was a woman of French Canadian and Odawa (Ottawa) descent who worked as a fur trader at Mackinac. Fisher’s father was Henry Monroe Fisher, a Scottish fur trader. His marriage to Marianne Schindler in 1809 was his second–his first wife was Madeline Gauthier, another woman of French Canadian and American Indian heritage. His only daughter from his first marriage was Jane Fisher, who was raised in Prairie du Chien and went on to marry two prominent Wisconsin fur traders–Joseph Rolette and Hercules Dousman. Jane Fisher Dousman lived at the “House on the Mound” and its later reincarnation, the Villa Louis, until her death in 1882.

Four years after completing her sampler, Elizabeth Fisher married Henry Baird, a Scots-Irish immigrant working as a teacher in Mackinac. In 1824, the young couple moved to Green Bay, then a sparsely settled trading post and United States military outpost in Michigan Territory. Henry Baird became the first practicing attorney in Wisconsin, and Elizabeth Baird’s multicultural background and knowledge of French, Ojibwe and Odawa made her an invaluable translator and negotiator for her husband’s law practice. Elizabeth Therese Fisher Baird remained in Green Bay until her death in 1890.

A feature article from the Wisconsin Historical Society nicely summarizes the Bairds’ role in Wisconsin’s transition from frontier territory to settled state:
“Connected to the key leaders of the territorial period by family ties, marriage, business interests and politics, the Bairds helped create nearly all the social institutions that gave Wisconsin its identity before the Civil War. They helped shift millions of acres of land from Indian to government ownership. They watched its towns grow from frontier backwaters to major cities teeming with new immigrants. They saw its landscape transformed from unbroken miles of prairie to thousands of bustling farms.”

Portrait photograph of Elizabeth Baird ca. 1879. Wisconsin Historical Society image archives WHi-5210.

Portrait photograph of Elizabeth Baird ca. 1879. Wisconsin Historical Society image archives WHi-5210.

Baird’s writings on her childhood on Mackinac Island and her early life in Green Bay are both available online from the Wisconsin Historical Society. See Elizabeth Therese Baird, “Reminiscences of Early Days on Mackinac Island,” Wisconsin Historical Collections 14 (1898) and  “Reminiscences of Life in Territorial Wisconsin,” Wisconsin Historical Collections 15 (1900). For more on the Bairds, see “Elizabeth and Henry Baird,” Topics in Wisconsin History, Wisconsin Historical Society. For more on cultural blending in the fur trade era, see John E. McDowell, “Therese Schindler of Mackinac: Upward Mobility in the Great Lakes Fur Trade,” Wisconsin Magazine of History 61:2 (1977-78) and Susan Sleeper-Smith, “‘A[n] Unpleasant Transaction on this Frontier’: Challenging Female Autonomy and Authority at Michilmackinac,” Journal of the Early Republic 25:3 (2005).

More examples of needlework samplers in Wisconsin collections can be found in the Wisconsin Decorative Arts Database and in the online collections of the Wisconsin Historical Museum. For more information on the importance of sampler-making for young girls in the 18th and early 19th centuries, see Amelia Peck, “American Needlework in the Eighteenth Century,” Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2003 and Jennifer Van Horn, “Samplers, Gentility, and the Middling Sort,” Winterthur Portfolio 40:4 (2006).

Posted by Emily Pfotenhauer.

Now Online: Mayville Historical Society

Pair of turned wooden candlesticks attributed to Frank Fell, Mayville, 1905-1935
Pair of turned wooden candlesticks attributed to Frank Fell, Mayville, 1905-1935.

I’ve just added 29 artifacts from the collections of the Mayville Historical Society to the Wisconsin Decorative Arts Database. It’s quite a wide range of objects, including embroidery by a local man named Rudolph Sauerhering; a splint basket made by Elmer Kelm, who learned basketry from his German immigrant father; and a lace collar crocheted in 1912 by 18-year-old Alvina Lindemann, framed with a photograph of Lindemann wearing her handiwork.

The candlesticks shown above were made by Frank Fell, a woodworker born in Mayville in 1865 who worked for the Mayville Furniture Company. When the manufactory closed in 1904, Fell purchased its lathe and opened his own woodturning shop. He was best known for his German-style spinning wheels, which are discussed by Victor Hilts and Patricia Hilts in their article “Not For Pioneers Only: The Story of Wisconsin’s Spinning Wheels,” Wisconsin Magazine of History 66:1 (1982), available online. Fell also made what a 1907 receipt (on file at the Mayville Historical Society) describes as “artistic turned work”: tilt-top tables, side tables, footstools, lamp bases, and candlesticks like the examples shown here.

When I write the catalog entries for the database, I try to find out as much information as I can about each object’s maker. In this round of research and writing, I was excited to uncover genealogical information about a local family that helped me to date a quilt (detail below) in the Mayville Historical Society’s collection. This white quilt is covered with the signatures of members of the Hinkes family of Dodge County embroidered in red, a popular trend in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. MHS documented the names and locations on the quilt, but was uncertain of the date when it was made. I was able to apply the concepts of terminus post quem and terminus ante quem to pin down a possible date range. These are terms archaeologists (and some historians) use to mean “no earlier than” and “no later than.” In the case of the Hinkes family quilt, the terminus post quem is 1892–according to Dodge County, Wisconsin: Past and Present (1913), Joseph Hinkes married Clara Heimerl in 1892; Joseph and Clara Hinkes’ names appear together on the quilt, so it must have been made after they were married. The terminus ante quem is probably 1897–according to the Wisconsin Genealogy Index, Celia Hinkes married Joseph Weix in 1897; Celia Hinkes’ maiden name appears on the quilt, so it was most likely made before her marriage and subsequent name change.

A side note–a striking Gothic Revival parlor stove cast from iron ore mined in Mayville in 1846 is the Wisconsin Historical Society’s current Museum Object of the Week.

Signature quilt, Hinkes family, possibly LeRoy, Dodge County, 1892-1897

Posted by Emily Pfotenhauer.