Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Curious Curator: The Bennett School of Liberal and Applied Arts

Not Adelaide's scrapbook
While working on cataloguing Adelaide McLaughlin's scrapbooks, which my readers will know has been an ongoing project, because they do not follow typical scrapbooking methods (right), but rather a mishmash of articles and clippings, envelopes and letters, mementos, etc. stuck in between the pages of a series of hardcover large scrapbooks. This means I must go through the collection and put the pieces together to tell the story of why, what, where and when, and while compiling some items, I found among a bunch of WWII and abdication of Edward VII  newspaper articles, a 1927 program from the Bennett School of Liberal and Applied Arts, Millbrook, New York.

It is the commencement day program, June 6 1927, for youngest daughter Eleanor (Billie) McLaughlin. Complete with the list of graduating young women (see end of this entry), the program for the flow of day is presented, along with the jottings of Adelaide regarding the address, "better to know much, rather than many things" and includes a formula to happiness, "happiness equals what you've got divided by what you want"

Bennett School

According to Wikipedia, in 1907 the college moved to its final home on 22 acres in Millbrook, New York. In 1907 the school had an enrollment of 120 students and a faculty of 29. Originally a girls school, Bennett became a junior college in the nineteen teens operating a two year program until its closure in 1978.  Majors of study included art, fashion design, interior design, music, modern languages, literature, history, dance, drama, child development, equine studies, and domestic science. Activities at Bennett included gymnastics, golf, tennis, horseback riding and skiing. The school was home to a full-time teaching Nursery School for 3 and 4 year olds as well as a riding stable.

The main building of Bennett College, Halcyon Hall, was built in 1893 by HJ Davison Jr., a publisher from New York. The 200-room Queen Anne structure, was originally built as a hotel, and was comprised of 5 stories, a basement and sub-basement.


Your historic images brochure as compiled by Parkwood NHS

Welcome to the Bennett School of Liberal and Applied Arts
Generations of young women from prominent American (and Canadian) families attended Bennett over its 90-year history

Dorm Room

Common Room



Student Life at Bennett

Study Hall

Art Studio



Field Hockey

The Graduating Class of 1927

Back of Program, America the Beautiful lyrics
& the Parkwood NHS accession number

Closed in 1978, as the trend towards co-education increased saw the demise of facilities offering single sex education, Bennett has remained empty.  The following images are from an urban explorer blog in 2015. Bennett was slated for demolishing in 2015, I do not know of the outcome.

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.