Thursday, 5 May 2016

Curious Curator: Glimpsing into the hearts of Sam and Adelaide

One of the privileges of working at Parkwood allows staff and volunteers to interact with some of the personal items of the family.  We know the McLaughlin public side, that is something that is well documented and some would argue that Sam McLaughlin excelled at promoting himself, however there are private items and moments that we get to discover, research and explore, and from time to time, share with you.

When you have toured of the estate, you have seen the formal portraits of the family. These stunning examples of early 20th century portraiture capture an auto-baron and his family and have adorned the Dining Room, a very public location for nearly 90 years and are interpreted for our guests. What the public do not get to see, as frequently, are the photographs that were cherished and lovingly preserved and kept in private keepsakes.
Today, I am going to share and explore two of these private items with you.

Locked away among some of Adelaide's items is a black leather bound folio that folds into a neat 8" x 7" transportable package.  When fully opened the folio extends to approx. 3ft in length, exposing photographs. 
As we approach Mother's Day one would argue that this album of what we may perceive as Adelaide's favoured photographs of her daughters; (top left to right: Eileen, Mildred, Isabel, Hilda and Eleanor) is not an unusual piece to be found among ones personal items, capturing the poignant emotions of familial love, however, among these photographs are images that are not often publicly shared of the family, ponderous studio shots, private moments captured, and although professionally photographed, glimpses of moments in her daughter's lives, backstories we may never know. Did these photos capture a significant birthday?
Perhaps an accomplishment in scholastic pursuits? This is unknown, but what we do know is that these five images were selected, and treasured.

Not to be ignored, lets explore this gem in the collection, a photograph item that belonged to Colonel Sam.

Among Samuel's items, is this rather unique gold- coloured cameo/charm, measuring 1" by 1", engraved with his initials, RSM.  Currently, exhibited in the Drawing Room, in the gilt bombe display cabinet, this tiny photograph memento, is just one artefact among many lost on a glass shelf, but when opened, hides five treasures.

No bigger than a thumb nail as one opens the small book shaped charm, each page, front and back, is adorned with a tiny photograph of each daughter, inscribed with birth month and day above, and full given name, below the photograph.

From left to right: Eileen, Mildred, Isabel, Hilda, and Eleanor)  Very different images then the ones carried in Adelaide's folio, these photos capture the girls, and their personalities in a very different light, perhaps at different stages in their life stories.

Enjoy these intimate glimpses into the hearts of Sam and Adelaide McLaughlin.

Thursday, 17 March 2016

Curious Curator: Chinese Chops

One of my volunteers brought this artefact to my full attention one Wednesday afternoon in the Library. For years, these Asian marble pieces have sat on the book shelves, propping up sets of books, becoming makeshift book stops. Parkwood staff have often marvelled at how heavy they are and their
intricate detailing and calligraphy, but that is where my inquisitiveness ended. I had always wondered if these pieces were part of the 1920s Caucasian love affair of everything "Asian" and "exotically eastern" and were picked up to add to the decorative flavour that many of the rooms boast.  However, it was a visitor on tour, who lives in Hong Kong who asked volunteer Karen, "is that Mr. McLaughlin's Chinese Chop?"
After the tour, Karen asked me, and I had no idea what a Chinese chop was, learning it to be a colloquial term for seal, and according to Wikipedia; " seal, in an East Asian context, is a general name for printing stamps and impressions thereof which are used in lieu of signatures in personal documents, office paperwork, contracts, art, or any item requiring acknowledgement or authorship."  Of course, reading this, we went into the Library, grabbed the chops, there is a pair, and looked at the bottom of them. 

The first thing I did was turn to social media and asked our Facebook audience about the characters on the seals. That resource failed in this quest, so I turned to the East Asian studies departments at Toronto area universities. That resource also didn't work, but then again, it is all about who you know. Parkwood has a member in our extended family who studied in Asia and who teaches at York University, Jeff. It also turns out that Jeff is a former classmate of mine from a History of Southeast Asia class, and we shared professor contacts. Jeff was able to look at the chops, and decipher quite a bit of the info before, referring to a colleague,  Ms. Sarah Zhuo at the University of Macau. Ms. Zhao confirmed the details of the chop
with Professor Xuechao Chen, retired professor from Shanxi Normal University in Xi'an. Professor Chen was able to confirm with Jeff that the translation was correct.

The translation and information about the Chinese chops:
Inscription on the two seals is 金文后期 or Late Jin dynasty Bronzeware script, using an Imperial seal style 印璽體.
 (Bronze script is a style of inscription used on ancient bronze ding tripods in the Shang, Xia and Zhou Dynasties, c. 1600-256 BCE.) 
The carved inscription is done very skillfully using a smooth and even, yet powerful stroke, and seems to be done by a master of the antique style. The characters are laid out symmetrically, evenly spaced and without any obvious gaps between them. This all makes the inscription one of very high grade and the seal one of very high quality. The third character of the first inscription has a variation, using the (cattie) radical instead of the (knife).
The bottom of the first seal references the Confucian Analects Book VII Part 1 (孔夫子論語: 述而第七 第一部份): “To serve when called, to withdraw when not.”
This inscription references the retirement of an official from public life. “Acceptance of retirement from office, absolute acquiescence in it, even warm welcome of it and refusal to accept even the most exalted official station were warmly commended” (Dawson, 2013). This could be an allusion to great men knowing when to lead and also knowing when to retire—not hungering after power, but being content after serving.
The bottom of the second seal is inscribed with two characters meaning ‘peace’ or being ‘safe and sound’ (平安). The other two characters mean official seal (印信). This would be a wish of peace at the end of a letter, something similar to saying ‘best regards’ or less formally, ‘take care’. It’s a common closing to a letter.
From what I observed of the terminals, they are Chinese stone lions, also known as Foo Dogs. They are both female and surrounded with cubs. (The male lion often has his paw on a ball.) The lion is a seal of a Chinese scholar-official and similar to the symbolic stone statues that were commonly found outside the homes of government officials during the dynastic period.

Together the seals might be considered a gift of “best wishes” or “happy retirement” to someone. The scholar-official terminals would be meant for someone to display in an office, similar to the way a cigar box or pens might be given in the west. The side inscriptions are not legible at this point, but may contain a poem or dedication and are worth further research.
I still do not know how the Chinese chops arrived at Parkwood and why, but we are able to understand a little more about this artefact that sits on a shelf among the Library books.
Dawson, Miles Menander. (2013). pp. 240-1. The Conduct of Life: The Ethics of Confucius. London: Forgotten Books. (Original work published pre-1945, year unknown)
Legge, J. (1861). The Chinese Classics: Vol. 1: Confucian analects, the Great learning, and the doctrine of the mean (Vol. 1).
 Lyall, L. A. (1910). The Sayings of Confucius.

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Curious Curator: The Rainbow IV (Speedboat Identified in the Billiard Room mural)

Many will recognise that the Frederick Challener murals in the Billiard Room depict the hobbies and pursuits of the McLaughlin Family. A favoured among our guests is the painting above the snooker score board, an image of Lake Ontario by the Scarborough Bluffs with one of the McLaughlin family yachts, the Eleanor, out for a sail. Rarely have I spent much time musing on the other crafts depicted, which is my oversight, because knowing RS McLaughlin and his commission of Challener to capture family interests and the like, I should not have been surprised when I happened to stumble upon an interesting find the other day, the identity of the lapstrake motorboat, otherwise known as a gentleman's runabout in front of the Eleanor.

According to a 1926 Globe article, "Some Unique Painting for McLaughlin Home", which provided the epiphany of identity, we are viewing the Rainbow IV,   "Built in 1924, she had a most distinguished, if controversial, racing career, having won the 1924 Gold Cup race, only to be disqualified by the APBA" (Mark Howard, Early Lakes Region Boating).  I should also state that the Rainbow IV was designed by George Crouch, identified in my research, as one of the greatest authorities on speedboat design in the world circa 1924.

The Rainbow IV was built by Ditchburn Boats a manufacturer of wooden pleasure craft launches and racing boats located in Gravenhurst. At one time the company was the largest boat manufacturer in the Great Lakes region.  Ditchburn is particularly known for producing high quality mahogany launches which have become highly prized by collectors in recent years. Ditchburn was in operation from 1871 to the 1930s, becoming victims of the Great Depression.  It surfaced after and contributed to the war effort, but the days of the mahogany 'get- abouts' was over.

The Rainbow series of motorboats was commissioned by Hamilton native, and industrialist, known ashis originality resulted in the development of a hydroplane, which made boating history. As his enthusiasm for the sport grew, his true talent began to shine. He rocked the power boat word in the Roaring Twenties, shattering world records for speed and endurance. His active racing career dated from 1904 to 1929, but his contribution to the sport through various associations and governing bodies continued for many years."
the father of Canadian Powerboat Racing, Harry B Greening. According to the Canadian Motorsport Hall of Fame, "
Greening liked to compete powerboats in the APBA Gold Cup Races, part of the mecca for power boat racing, the Detroit Gold Cup Regatta. The Gold Cup being the oldest active trophy in motor sports, hydroplane racing. In fact, the first major race to be run on the Detroit River was the 1916 APBA Gold Cup, which saw both American and Canadian crafts in the mix.

The 1924 Gold Cup Controversy 
Greening's Rainbow IV had apparently won the race but was seen by some as being a hydroplane rather than a displacement hull. And so, a protest was filed.
The craft's bottom was of lapstrake construction, which was technically permitted by the rules. The APBA decided, however, that the strakes had been installed for the express purpose of achieving a hydroplane effect. In other words, Greening had followed the letter of the rules but not the spirit of them.
As a result, Rainbow IV was disqualified and Caleb Bragg's Baby Bootlegger was moved from an overall second to first position. This action effectively ended the Gold Cup career of Harry Greening. He never raced for the cup again.

However, Greening did not shrink away, and from all the articles that I have subsequently read about the Commodore, which is what he is called in "polite circles" ( Robert H Combs, Breaking World's Record, 1925), Greening was a tenacious fellow. He set out to beat a world record which he already held, the following references Greening breaking the world record from The Canadian Magazine, May 1926;
               "At the long distance speed test of Rainbow IV I
                was present, and shortly after noon hour Rainbow 
                IV  completed her 1064th mile and with more hours to go was on
               every lap creating a new world's record. A brisk breeze was blowing along the
               Muskoka Lakes, and Rainbow IV was tearing off additional mile after mile towards
               a new international record, which may stand for a long time unless Greening
               himself decides to better it.
               The last I saw of Rainbow IV on that day, Herbert Ditchburn, her builder
               was at the wheel and the little boat was touching only the high spots as she reeled
               off miles almost while we were thinking about it. At the end of the 24 hours
               Rainbow had established a new world's record of 1218 miles, and Greening was 
               again vindicated."
The following is a summary of the 24-hour run of Rainbow IV, Muskoka Lakes, Oct. 2nd, 1925: Length of lap, 19.5 miles; number of laps, 62; total time, 24 hours; total miles, 1218.88; average speed, 50.78; average running speed, 53.1; fastest lap speed, 54.0; length of boat, 27 feet; beam of boat 6 feet 10 inches; horse power, 400; gasoline used, 600 gallons of Shell; lubricating oil used, 18 gallons; total running time, 22 hours, 56 minutes; total time stopped, 1 hour, 3 minutes.
Having been newsworthy for several years in the early twenties, along with being an industrialist, a Canadian breaking ground in sport, and frequenting Muskoka, it is not a surprise that the Rainbow IV makes an appearance in the mural at Parkwood.  I haven't yet made a definitive chummy relationship between RS McLaughlin and HB Greening, but they certainly would have crossed paths, even if it was just being among the names to own a Ditchburn Boat.
To read more: has a wonderful history, including chapters of a book on its history.