Monday, April 23, 2012

A tribute to Henry Hobson Richardson

April 27, 2012 will mark the 126th anniversary of the death of Henry Hobson Richardson, architect of Glessner House Museum.  Generally regarded as the first important American architect, Richardson was also the first to earn the recognition and respect of architects in Europe. 

John Glessner wrote extensively about his interactions with Richardson, including their visits to his home and office in Brookline, Massachusetts.  To honor the anniversary of Richardson’s passing, we present a few excerpts from an unpublished manuscript about Richardson that John Glessner wrote in 1914.

“His career was brief.  In his time, he was the greatest architect America had produced and keeping in mind the other great men since then, I doubt if there has been any his equal.  However comparisons are invidious, and it is the last thing that Richardson would have done or have wished any one else to do to draw such or cry down any contemporary.  He was not even critical of a fellow artist, and never would point a defect in another’s work, though ready always to help with suggestions when asked.

“He had supreme confidence in his own powers and that sort of man never is envious or critical of others.  Laughingly he said both of (Charles) McKim and of (Daniel) Burnham that they had the hardest problems that ever confronted men in their profession – they had designed buildings for their prospective fathers-in-law and then married the daughters with the possibilities of continuing criticism ever after.

“Mr. Richardson was watchful of criticism of his work, especially newspaper criticism, but unconcerned if that criticism didn’t find some really weak point.  If it did, that was a totally different matter.  ‘Oh, I know the weak points in my work’ he said.  Well, Mr. R. what is the weak point in my house?  ‘I don’t know that now; if I did I would correct it.’

“We went together to Phillips Brooks house on Clarendon and Newberry Sts. (in Boston) and justified going in during Mr. Brooks’s absence.  You know an architect may go into any house he has built at any time until it is finished, and there is one closet in the attic of this house that has been left unfinished purposely.

“We went to Trinity church together one weekday morning and sat there practically alone.  There is always a reverent feeling comes over one at such a time, but it was especially marked in this case, in that large lonely room, except for the sun shining through the windows.  Richardson talked of these windows – this one by LaFarge that one by Burne-Jones – all powdered with angels.  He talked of the building as a whole and how pleased the Trustees were, etc.  ‘But they ought to have waited,’ he said.  ‘If they only had waited.  See what I can do now.’”

(The image accompanying this article is the portrait of Richardson by Hubert Herkomer completed shortly before his death.  The Glessners obtained a photographic (heliotype) copy of the portrait from his widow and it has hung in the house continuously since the late 1880s.  On November 10, 2012 during the Glessner symposium, keynote speaker and author James F. O’Gorman will discuss the significance of the portrait to the Glessners and to the ways in which Richardson is remembered today).

Monday, April 16, 2012

Glessner House Museum - the Titanic connection

Yesterday, April 15, 2012, marked the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic.  In the Glessner journal for the following week, John Glessner noted that two of their friends – Arthur Ryerson and Lizzie Isham – were among the 1,500 victims of the disaster. 

The story of Arthur Ryerson is among the most tragic of all the victims on the Titanic.  Ryerson, who was 61 at the time of his death, was a son of Joseph T. Ryerson, founder of J. T. Ryerson & Company, iron and steel merchants.  He was an attorney in the firm of Isham, Lincoln and Beale (see information on Isham below) but in 1905 had moved his family to the East Coast, maintaining close social ties to Chicago.  Ryerson, his wife, and three of their five children had traveled to Europe earlier in 1912 for an extended stay.  Shortly after taking a house at Versailles for two months, Ryerson learned that his eldest son, Arthur Jr., age 20, had been killed in an automobile accident.  The family immediately started for the United States, embarking on the first steamship available – the Titanic - which they boarded at Cherbourg on April 10.   As they were in mourning, the family remained in their cabin virtually the entire time they were aboard.  On April 18, when Mrs. Ryerson arrived in New York aboard the RMS Carpathia with her three daughters, she now planned a memorial service for her husband (whose body was never recovered) in addition to a funeral for her son. 

Ann Elizabeth Isham, known as Elizabeth or Lizzie, was born in 1862, and was 50 years old at the time she perished.  Ann’s father, Edward Swift Isham was a prominent Chicago attorney and was a partner with Robert Todd Lincoln in the firm of Isham, Lincoln and Beale.  Fellow passenger Arthur Ryerson (see above) was a partner in the firm.  Ann was a member of Second Presbyterian Church, as were her mother and sister.  In 1903, Ann Isham moved to Europe and spent most of her time living with her sister Frances (Mrs. Harry Shelton) in Paris.  On April 10, 1912 she boarded the Titanic at Cherbourg, traveling to the U.S. to spend the summer with her brother Edward in New York City.  Tragically, Ann Isham was one of four first class women who died in the disaster.  Her body, if recovered, was never identified.  The family erected a memorial to her in Manchester, Vermont, where they maintained their summer estate, Ormsby Hill.  The exact reason why Ann Isham did not survive has never conclusively been determined.  It has long been speculated however, that she refused to leave her Great Dane behind, one account even stating that she was safely on a lifeboat and jumped back onto the Titanic to be with her beloved pet.  A woman was observed to have her arms frozen around her dog in the water following the sinking, but it is not known if the woman was Ann Isham.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Benjamin Kilburn and his stereoviews

Benjamin West Kilburn was a well-known American photographer, best remembered today for the thousands of stereoscopic views he created in the late 19th century.  Based in Littleton New Hampshire, the small town immediately west of the Glessners’ summer estate, The Rocks, he was commissioned to take numerous views of the estate for the family, and they also purchased hundreds of his stereoview cards. 

Benjamin West Kilburn was born on December 10, 1827 in Littleton, and was the son of Josiah Kilburn, an iron founder who manufactured Franconia stoves.  Following service in the Civil War, Kilburn began producing stereographs with his brother Edward (born 1830). 

Stereoscopic views, also known as stereoviews, or stereographs, consist of a pair of nearly identical images, placed side-by-side, which produce a 3-D image when seen through a special viewer.  Such views were extremely popular during the late 19th century and most homes of the time, including the Glessner home, had a stereoviewer, also known as a stereopticon. 

The Kilburn Brothers business grew rapidly and by 1872 a large factory was built one block from the Littleton railroad station.  Young salesmen carried the stereoviews onto the trains, quickly expanding the business and within a few years, they became the world’s most extensive manufacturer of stereoscopic views.  Edward retired from the business in the late 1870s, and eventually the company was renamed B. W. Kilburn Co. 

In 1883, the Glessners completed a home at their new summer estate The Rocks, near Littleton.  They commissioned Benjamin Kilburn to take numerous views of the buildings and landscape.  Most of these images are traditional photographs, but a few, such as the image of George and Fanny with their pet lamb, and the image of the library of the house (seen at the top of the article), were made into stereoviews. 

The World’s Columbian Exposition, held in Chicago in 1893 was an important event for the company, which acquired the exclusive rights to sell stereoscopic views of the fair.  It remained the most extensive manufacturer of stereoscopic views in the world until Benjamin Kilburn’s death January 15, 1909. 

(A collection of nearly 300 stereoviews by Kilburn belonging to the Glessner family is currently being accessioned, and will be placed in the schoolroom later this spring).
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