Tag Archives: Furniture

A quick stop in Cameron

A heavily ornamented chest of drawers made in Norway and brought to Barron County by 19th century Norwegian immigrants.

In July, I spent two of the hottest days of the summer in the northwest part of the state.  My ultimate destination was the Stone Lake Area Historical Society, where I trained volunteers in scanning, photography, and cataloging to get them started on building a digital collection for Wisconsin Heritage Online. On the way to Stone Lake, I made a detour to the New Richmond Heritage Center to look at their decorative arts collection (items from that visit will be online soon). Between New Richmond and Stone Lake I stopped at the Pioneer Village Museum, operated by the Barron County Historical Society in Cameron.

An exhibition case of beadwork and other crafts made by Susie Cadotte, Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe.

It was late in the afternoon by the time I got to Cameron, but museum director Caroline Olson met me at the gate and gave me a whirlwind tour of the museum complex–37 buildings including exhibit halls, a church, and several log dwellings and commercial buildings that have been moved to the site. Unfortunately I didn’t have the time to do my usual full object documentation, but I took lots of snapshots of interesting artifacts, both Wisconsin-made and not.

Andrew Peterson of Poskin, Wisconsin built the Ebenezer Lutheran Church in 1908 as well as the pulpit, altar, altar rail and pews. The church and most of its interior fittings were moved to the museum in 1972.

This chair, in the style of a traditional Norwegian kubbestol, is considered the literal county seat of Barron County. The museum label tells the story of the chair's role in the establishment of the community of Barron as the seat of county government: "This chair is known as the County Seat because it was within its seat that in 1874, County Clerk Woodbury S. Grover packed the meager records of this young county and on a cold winter night walked from Rice Lake to Barron, depositing them with John Quaderer, who owned the Quaderer House Hotel."

–Posted by Emily Pfotenhauer

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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: highlights from Ten Chimneys

One of a pair of three-legged chairs painted by Per Lysne for the Cottage at Ten Chimneys, ca. 1933.

Per Lysne rosemaling a smorgasbord platter, ca. 1941. Photo by Arthur Vinje. Wisconsin Historical Society WHi-38105

Earlier this year, I spent a day at Ten Chimneys, an historic site just outside the small south-central Wisconsin community of Genesee Depot, along with Keith MacKay, Director of Historic Preservation for the Ten Chimneys Foundation and Rebecca Wangard, research assistant for the Wisconsin Decorative Arts Database (Rebecca’s impressions of her first fieldwork experience are posted here). Nine catalog entries for a variety of works from the Ten Chimneys collections are now online.

Ten Chimneys was the summer home of famed acting duo Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, who appeared together in over 40 acclaimed theatrical performances from 1928 until their retirement in 1960. Lunt and Fontanne spent decades creating an idyllic summer retreat in rural Wisconsin that embodied their eclectic tastes and witty sense of style. Their contribution to the decorative arts in Wisconsin is notable for the number of talented local craftspeople they commissioned to complete their vision of a charming rural estate.

The Cottage at Ten Chimneys reflects Alfred Lunt’s fondness for Scandinavian design and culture. The Lunts furnished the Cottage with many of the orignal works of art and artifacts they collected during several trips to Sweden and Finland. They also asked local craftspeople to create new works in traditional Scandinavian styles, including carpenter and contractor Alfred Grutzmacher of Mukwonago and noted folk artist Per Lysne of Stoughton, who is credited with leading the twentieth-century revival of rosemaling (Norwegian decorative flower painting) in the Midwest. Works from the Cottage cataloged for the Wisconsin Decorative Arts Database include a pair of three-legged chairs and a cupboard decorated by Lysne and a sofa and clock case built by Grutzmacher and painted by Milwaukee artist Schomer Lichtner.

In 1938, the Lunts recruited artist and Broadway set designer Claggett Wilson to paint fanciful wall murals throughout the Main House at Ten Chimneys. Some of the Biblical scenes Wilson created for the Main House Drawing Room are now featured in the Wisconsin Decorative Arts Database. In an oral history interview conducted in 1998 (transcript on file with the Ten Chimneys Foundation), local resident John Hale recalled working as Wilson’s assistant. Hale painted decorative borders, cut out stencils and wallpaper patterns, and otherwise supported Wilson during the course of the two-year project.

Claggett Wilson at work on the Drawing Room murals, 1939. Photo by Warren O'Brien. Wisconsin Historical Society WHi-39588, courtesy Ten Chimneys Foundation.

Claggett Wilson, Jacob's Ladder mural, 1939 (detail).

Posted by Emily Pfotenhauer.

Springtime in Portage

The Historic Indian Agency house was built by the United States government in 1832 for John Kinzie, the Indian Agent to the Ho Chunk Nation in Wisconsin. The house was restored by the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America in 1932.

This chest of drawers in the late neoclassical (Empire) style is said to have been made in Green Bay ca. 1825.

In late April, I headed up to Portage on a beautiful spring morning to visit the Historic Indian Agency House and meet with the site’s Executive Director, Destinee Udelhoven. I was there to photograph a single compelling artifact–a chest of drawers that, according to early Agency House records, was made in Green Bay around 1825. Although a more specific history is unknown, the use of an unusual wood type (tamarack) and the rough construction methods that lie behind the chest’s  fashionable facade certainly suggest that it could have been made in an early 19th-century settlement in the Great Lakes region. A full catalog entry with several photos will be online in the Wisconsin Decorative Arts Database later this spring.

During my visit, I couldn’t resist snapping some photos of the site in its springtime glory–including a cat from the caretaker’s house who was patrolling the grounds.

Cat in front of the Agency House's split-rail fence.

The tri-lingual welcome sign on the front door of the Visitors Center.

Now Online: Koskela House Finnish Museum

Side-by-side secretary-bookcase, Vale Jokela, Brantwood, Price County, ca. 1900.

Catalog entries for eight artifacts from the Koskela House Finnish Museum in Brantwood are now online. One of the highlights of this group of objects is the side-by-side desk and bookcase made by Valentin (Vale) Jokela, a Finnish immigrant who settled in Price County, Wisconsin around 1900.   

This piece first caught my eye when I saw a snapshot on the museum’s website. It was clear that the form was modeled on a popular style of furniture manufactured throughout the United States in the early 20th century (the desk shown below, from an online catalog for Garth’s Auctions of Delaware, Ohio, is a typical example). Vale Jokela created a unique handmade version of this common form, using scrap wood from shipping crates for some of the structure and embellishing the front of the desk with a distinctive sunburst shape. 

Another one of my favorite objects at the Koskela House is a large food mill used to make potato starch flour, a common ingredient in Finnish cooking. But not all of the items added to the database have Finnish connections–a dining table and sewing stand were made by Max Otto Scheller, the German-American grandfather of the museum’s founder. Scheller came to Wisconsin from Saxony in 1882. 

The Koskela House Finnish Museum maintains a blog at http://koskelahouse.com/museumblog/ 

Posted by Emily Pfotenhauer. 

Side-by-side secretary bookcase sold by Garth's Auctions, Inc., August 7, 2009 (lot 1267).

Visit to Ten Chimneys (and introducing…Rebecca!)

Research assistant Rebecca Wangard measures a chair painted by rosemaling artist Per Lysne of Stoughton in the main room of the cottage at Ten Chimneys.

Howdy. As Emily Pfotenhauer introduced me in the previous entry, I’m her new part-time research assistant, supported by the Chipstone Foundation. I am recent graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a degree in human geography and material culture studies. I also just finished applying to graduate schools for in the fall of 2010. With a background in human geography I am sure most of you are surprised by my interest in the decorative arts. Traditionally most people do not connect the decorative arts with geography, but in fact, the database project is very geographic in nature–as many of you know, there is a strong connection between an object and its geographical location.

In late January, Emily and I had the pleasure of photographing artifacts and collecting data at Ten Chimneys Foundation for the Wisconsin Decorative Arts Database. Ten Chimneys is a National Historical Landmark in Genesee Depot, Wisconsin, about 30 miles from Milwaukee and 60 miles from Madison. It’s a large estate including multiple buildings, decorative objects, and yes chimneys! It is traditionally praised for its theater programming and direct connection to its original and famous owners, Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne. It also notable for its beautifully preserved rooms in the main house as well the additional outbuildings with romanticized and nostalgic visions of Scandinavian themes and ideals.

The craftsmen whose work we documented at Ten Chimneys were Schomer Lichtner, who created almost prop-like pieces of painted furniture (a sofa and clock); Per Lysne, famous for his gorgeous Norwegian-style decorative painting (a kitchen cupboard and two three-legged chairs); and set designer Claggett Wilson (Biblical and Scandinavian inspired wall murals in the main house).

Photographing the Per Lysne chair in the Ten Chimneys cottage.

A major question I asked myself as we photographed and recorded the objects was: “What makes an object Wisconsin?”—is it made in Wisconsin; from a famous person from Wisconsin; materials from Wisconsin; or captures a Wisconsin idea or sentiment? These questions pose many puzzles about how objects are classified and viewed but nevertheless, I look forward to further research on Wisconsin focused objects.

As previously mentioned, I am a recent young graduate and have had elementary experience with the field of furniture and decorative objects, and this was my first “field” experience in direct contact with decorative objects within a formal museum setting. My first impressions were scattered–with joy of actually handling the objects to puzzlement as I learned that objects are often held down with “museum wax”!?!

I look forward to helping Emily push further with this project! Thank you to Keith D. MacKay, Director of Historic Preservation at Ten Chimneys, for graciously giving of his time and energy, and to the Chipstone Foundation for taking a “risk” on me.

–Posted by Rebecca Wangard.

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.