Friday, May 27, 2011

The Covered Bridge Circus Saga: Part II

...I hope you haven't forgotten where I left off...

...because it's about time I finish the story of the covered bridge circus! I think you can tell why I was so fascinated by this photograph in the first place; it's a unique view that highlights two important areas of our collection--covered bridges and circus posters. As I analyzed this photo last month, I began to look more closely at the posters pasted on the inner left-hand side of the bridge. Thanks to a little careful zooming and cleaning, here's what I was able to extract:

Can you read what the posters say?

I studied these for awhile, and finally I was able to make out what they advertise! The poster on the left, closest to the viewer, advertises the Walter L. Main Circus. The one on the right announces a specific occurrence of the Walter L. Main Circus in Bellows Falls, Vermont on Wednesday, July 20th. Bellows Falls is just one of the many communities where the Walter L. Main circus performed--their route extensively covered much of New England and the mid-Atlantic.

As I continued to think about this discovery, I decided to look farther into our circus poster collection to see what I could find about Walter L. Main. Turns out, we have some Walter L. Main circus posters here at the museum! (Of course, not the ones you see in the photo but still...) Here are some examples:

3-Ring shows of "Beauty and the Beasts"

The "Main" man himself!

High-Wire artists and trained animal shows!

Speaking of circus posters, however, we've also got a lot of other great examples on display this season. The circus building is just one of our 39 exhibition buildings and it houses posters, figurines, sculptures and even a special exhibit on the circus photography of Elliot Fenander. Come check it out!

I'll leave you with one last perk about the circus building: the working Herschell-Spillman carousel!

During installation week, Monica and I were able to catch Randy, Paul and Greg setting up the carousel one morning. It's certainly a popular attraction! Maybe one of these days I'll have to take a spin...

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Welcome to the 2011 Season!

Shelburne Museum welcomes you to come visit during the 2011 season! Fran and I thought we would share with you some of the museum's most hospitable objects --those featuring pineapples. Pineapples have long been a symbol of hospitality and friendship in the Western hemisphere. To welcome you to the 2011 season, here are just a few of the pineapples in our collection!

This Amasa Parker target rifle is featured in Lock, Stock and Barrel: The Terry Tyler Collection of Vermont Firearms. Pay special attention to the patch box of this rifle --there's a pineapple detail on top!

This folk art sculpture features grapes, leaves, pears, apples, cherries, plums, peaches, a melon, and a PINEAPPLE!

Before the museum acquired this pineapple decoration, it welcomed visitors to a private home. Set on a wooden post at the corner of the home's exterior, this pineapple served as a warm welcome to all of the guests.

Created in New England during the late 19th century, this quilt displays 25 red pineapples with green leaves arranged on a diagonal pattern.

We encourage you to visit during the 2011 season. All are welcome!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Bazzoni Doll Goes to the Hospital

It must have been a beautiful doll once, with lifelike translucent skin of wax on a molded papier mâché core and realistic glass eyes with brown threaded irises rimmed in purple.

Due to light exposure and variations in temperature and humidity, the paint and wax coatings on the doll's face have faded, split, and chipped. A wig, once held by straight pins was not present when the doll entered museum founder Electra Webb's collection. This doll, looking something like spawn of Pinhead from the Hellraiser movies, is a poor representation of what it once was.

So why is it in Shelburne Museum's collection, you ask?

This doll, made sometime around 1850, is the only known remaining example of the work of London wax and composition doll maker Anthony Bazzoni. His printed mark is found above the doll's hips. Rarely did wax doll makers from this period sign their work. While this doll has no internal mechanisms, Bazzoni is celebrated as one of the first makers to create a talking doll. The eyes were not made by Bazzoni, but by another specialist craftsman. According to Henry Mayhew's book London Labour and the London Poor (1851), there were two dolls-eyes makers working in London when this doll was produced. These craftsmen made artificial eyes for humans, too. As the only known example of Bazzoni's work, this doll could be considered a type specimen, a term coined in biology for a physical example, usually held in a museum, that defines a species.

Fletcher Allen Health Care, Vermont's university hospital and medical center, lent a hand in our efforts to document how this doll was made by taking x-ray images and computerized tomography (CT) scans.

The radiograph shows that a fairly coarse paper pulp was used in the mold. The outlines of the pulp wads are evident through the cheeks and temples in the image. The apparent texture of the paper is consistent with Mayhew's description of the re-purposing of the coarse blue paper bags used to package sugar during that period. The pins that once held the wig are inserted behind the eyes, not into them, as it appears here. You get a sense of the globe-shaped eyes.

The images from the CT scan show us the doll in cross section and a whole lot of features that we couldn't see in the radiographs: how thin the papier mâché core is and the shape of the eyes. We see that the eyes were free-blown given the slight variations in shape and the presence of the flanges where the blow tube had been attached at the back.

Among the things the CT images from the body show is that the stitching that holds the cloth body closed under the head is in good condition, but the seam appears to be a bit open, explaining why some sawdust is loose in the doll's storage box.

So in addition to learning more about how this doll was made, I learned a bit more about its condition without having to take it apart. We really appreciate the time the radiological techs took to produce these images. I hope they enjoyed looking at something that wasn't human. (The tech did try to input the doll's date of birth in the system, but the computer wouldn't take it.)

After almost 10 years in storage, we're bringing this doll back on view, along with the x-ray, in the Conservation exhibition in one end of the Circus Building. If you'd like a closer look at any of these images, take a look at the Bazzoni doll's set on Flickr.