Friday, 25 July 2014

Curious Curator: Composition of the Bowling Balls

Being our "season", meaning we see increased public visits and larger groups of guests at this time of year, we have a variety of differing questions that come our way. This week has been the query to the composition of the bowling balls along our bowling alley, "what's it made of?" ( x 4 times this week)

To be honest, I have never thought about it or even paid attention. People assume they are wood, due to a visible grain, and the knowledge that in history the bowling ball was wooden, but I have never actually looked into it further than accessioning, watching and documenting their condition, etc. UNTIL today.
Historically, the bowling ball was made of lignum vitae, a very hard, dense wood, until, 1905 when the first rubber bowling ball "Evertrue" was introduced. With the success of Evertrue, the Brunswick Corporation produced their first rubber mineralite ball in 1914, marketing it as a "mysterious rubber compound". The cleverly advertised product was launched through a series of YMCA bowling appearances, taking the new mysterious compound ball across the USA to an inclined audience. According to sources throughout my quick research, in the early part of the 1900s no one was thinking or concerned about the relationship between the composition of the lanes and the balls. For those inclined to learn more about the chemistry of bowling, attached is an interesting article from the May/June 1992 magazine edition of the American Chemical Society, In Chemistry

As a social historian (with anthropology), and those who know where I tend to tread when it comes to history, the above bored me. I am more curious about the bowling alley and the culture that developed around it throughout the 20th century. The fact that many wealthy persons, like the McLaughlin Family, had bowling lanes included in their homes, because i)they could and ii)it was part of the keeping up with the Jones's among society folk is evident, but what about the post- war popularity and boom that everything bowling evokes? Think clothing and shoe styles, bowling as a prevalent past time on the Flintstones and everything else pop culture that developed throughout this time period. Even the White House had two lanes installed in 1947. A 1958 quote from the American Society of Planning Officials sums up the pastime succinctly, "the bowling alley is fast becoming one of the most important, if not, the most important, local centre of participant sport and recreation". The blue collar country club, in post- war prosperity the bowling lane dominated society, especially when the weekly leagues and competitive hierarchies were developed and workplaces embraced it as a means of social outings. Bowling became the social imperative for many Americans throughout this era, an era that American culture dominated the world.
(In my research what was as equally as interesting in terms of the cult of the Bowling Alley is its demise in the 21st century)

The Parkwood Bowling Balls? On close inspection and due to conjecture re: our lane was developed and installed by the Brunswick Corporation,  the bowling balls, both 5 pin and 10 pin in our collection, are rubber mineralite. The grain effect, a popular look in the early days of the rubber mineralite compound, a faux technique that was part of the composition as a throwback to the wooden bowling balls of the past.


Monday, 14 July 2014

Curious Curator: Early Twentieth Century "Orientalism" in Material Culture, example Seated Bedouin Guard Lamp

Some of the d├ęcor at Parkwood, along with the decorative art pieces (material culture) are a wonderful example of the early 20th century love affair the west had with the Middle East, Asia and North Africa in what we can term in the Edward Said "School of Orientalism". Everything from chinoiserie, to the persian carpets throughout the Estate, to the japanning technique on side boards, to the use of pagoda style buildings on the property is evocative of the influences that the "orient" conjured in the minds of the west for hundreds of years and came into vogue, once again ,while Sam and Adelaide McLaughlin were working with the leading designers and decorators in the presenting of their home.

The piece, that has many of our guests commenting, is a cold painted Vienna bronze lamp that sits, dependent on your visit, in a nook at the top of the back stairs, or perhaps in the small private library space. The cold painted bronze entitled, Seated Bedouin Guard c. 1910, Franz Bergman (or Bergmann).  Like every Bergman piece, the lamp evokes the exoticism that was part of the appeal the west found in "the orient".

Our Bedouin guard sits within his tent holding a rifle.
Close view of the rose
The draped tent "fabric" surfaces are hung on three poles with corded "ropes" forming a cut-away tent. The tent has a peaked and tasseled roof in greens and golds with raised flowers and red tasseled trim above a cascading floral back wall decorated with art-nouveau style leaves and large red roses.

The Bedouin man is seated on a dias draped with maroon, ridged fabric surrounded by his cache of weapons and a lute, a coffee pot, an elongated shield and before him, a decorative carpet.  More weapons and a round shield are suspended on the outside of the roof.

Bulb located behind
the shield
Often referenced as boudoir lamps, due to the glow the bulb emits, rather then a full light, the lamp in the Parkwood collection no longer operates as a lamp with the wires being tied off, but the bulb still sits in its original position, just behind the shield, pictured in the upper left corner of the photograph.

'Cold painted bronze' refers to pieces cast in Vienna and then decorated in several layers with so called dust paint; the recipe and technique for the mix of this kind of paint has been lost. The colour was not fired hence "cold painted". The painting was carried out mainly by women working at home, a typical cottage industry of the era, and one that the Franz Bergman, Vienna bronze industry used well during its height of popularity through the early part of the 20th century.  This PBS Antique Roadshow episode features a Franz Bergman cold painted bronze, much larger and elaborate than our Seated Bedouin Guard, but I like to think that RS McLaughlin would enjoy the reference to the pieces by Bergman, as the Cadillac of cold painted bronze.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Curious Curator: The Sirens Call of the Eleventh Edition Encyclopaedia Britannica

In the Parkwood Library, in a section specifically designed for the collection, one will find the 1910/1911, eleventh edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica set. Interpreters may or may not point this set out while on tour, but they lay horizontally in their custom made shelves, since the 29 volumes are printed on onion paper with exterior gilt edging and have flexible suede covers.
My attention was drawn to this set the other day, after the umpteenth call from a member of the general public asking me what they should do with their set of encyclopaedias, because no one wants them anymore. As one is well aware, encyclopaedias date, and not very well, as a reference item, and are finding themselves obsolete since the advent of the internet, and it is true that libraries, schools, etc. are not interested in them.  A quick Google search confirms their demise, with Britannica issuing their final set in 2012.

Although obsolete as a reference item on the latest scientific work, the eleventh edition has proven longevity in the encyclopaedia world and its lasting quality is attributed to what a 2012 Guardian newspaper article references as a mythic quality among collectors, a glimpse into a colonial world before the world changed with WWI.
The volumes were created by Britannica at a time when the company was moving from British to American hands[i], and when one glimpses at the articles will find that the leading scholars of the time, among them T.H. Huxley and William Michael Rossetti, contributed to the research.  The eleventh edition boasted the most female contributors of any edition, thus far, with thirty four women contributing articles to the set and was the first encyclopaedia to publish biographies of people still alive, a new and modern approach to reference materials.
Image used by The Guardian to evoke
bourgeois life captured by 11th edition

What has proven to be the lasting legacy of the set is its value as a cultural artefact. Ironically, Wikipedia has a great sentence that describes its value as an artefact,
the British Empire was at its maximum, imperialism was largely unchallenged, much of the world was still ruled by monarchs, and the tragedy of the modern world wars were still in the future.”  

Even the critiques of the eleventh edition from its contemporaries provide a glimpse into the value of the set from a social history perspective, Virginia Woolf wrote that the edition was bourgeois and had old fashioned opinions on art, literature and social sciences.  Within its very pages, the eleventh edition has no biography of Marie Curie, despite her winning of the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1903 and the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1911, although she is mentioned briefly under the biography of her husband Pierre Curie.

The Guardian, in its review of the eleventh edition, 101 years later, reference the sirens call of the set to collectors, scholars, social historians,
 To open an 11th edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica is to open a worldview lost forever in the staggering slaughter of the First World War. The 11th edition of the Britannica represents the high tide of optimism and belief in human progress that had dominated the Anglo-Saxon vision since the Enlightenment.  Unabashed optimism – and unabashed racism – pervades many entries in the 11th, and provide its defining characteristics. “

The eleventh edition Encyclopaedia Britannica set sits at Parkwood in the corner of the Library and who knew that is was social history magic? Purchased by the McLaughlin’s, likely before Parkwood was built and eventually displayed within its own custom made shelves in their custom built home, the set represents the emergence of North America onto the world stage, the emergence of the auto baron in the 20th century, Sam McLaughlin marking each volume with his own bookplate. It’s a nod to his roots, the British Empire, as well as the new emerging America which will dominate the 20th century as a super power. The encyclopaedia set, both physically and content based, as well as its mythic attributes convincingly illustrates the McLaughlin story and legacy, the one we interpret today at the Estate.
McLaughlin Bookplate

[i] 1920 Sears Roebuck purchased making the Encyclopaedia Britannica 100% American owned and produced.