Monday, August 21, 2017

A Visit To Boscobel

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A view of Boscobel House's sublime façade
Photo: Chronica Domus


It was hot and humid the afternoon my family and I arrived in Garrison, New York last month. The mercury hovered around the 85 degree Fahrenheit mark.  None of this really mattered, mind you, for the sublime beauty of both Boscobel House and its environs far eclipsed any discomfort we might have felt under the collar.

Boscobel, which was built for States and Elizabeth Dyckman between 1804 - 1808, is an extraordinarily scrumptious house done up to a fare-thee-well.  It is furnished with a staggeringly extensive and jaw-droppingly gorgeous collection of American Federal furniture and decorative arts. I was left swooning at every turn. Gazing upon Boscobel's delightfully airy and delicate façade, I could not help but be reminded of the prettiest opera houses and theaters with their balconies, billowing curtains, and swags. I don't think there's another house quite like it anywhere. 

Meandering through Boscobel's herb garden to reach the main house, I am stopped in my tracks by the most picture-perfect orangery imaginable.  Oh, how my inner-gentlewoman gardener would so adore having one of these beauties in her own modest garden.  Alas, there is little room to accommodate such a horticultural fantasy but what a pleasure it was to be visiting this one.

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The clapboard and brick orangery is surrounded by plantings of culinary and 
medicinal herbs and flowers 
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Hollyhocks appear like towering giants against the orangery's pint-sized dimensions
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The rose garden, located just behind the house, is adorned with
several metal benches - this one resembled the one in my own garden
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This is the view from the rose garden, where the verdant Hudson River Valley can be admired
(West Point Military Academy is just visible to the right)
Photo: Chronica Domus 


Before our guided tour began,
 we had time to view the special exhibition in the gallery. Make-Do's: Curiously Repaired Antiques features a sizable portion of Andrew Baseman's intriguing collection of inventively repaired ceramic and glass articles. Each piece has been restored using either bits of tin, metal staples, or molded silver deeming the object useful, once again, to its owner.  What a refreshing concept to ponder in our modern throw-away age.  If you too are interested in viewing this marvelous assemblage of oddities, you have ample time ahead of you to plan your visit.  The exhibition runs until October 1.

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Long before Super Glue and two-part epoxy were invented, items such as those in the
photograph above were repaired using metal staples, pieces of tin, or molded silver
Photo: Chronica Domus


At 1 p.m. our little group gathered at the foot of Boscobel's front steps where we listened attentively to our guide as she explained how Boscobel came to be a house museum.

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Photo: Chronica Domus


I was fascinated to discover that the building had been saved from demolition in 1955 by the efforts of a group called Friends of Boscobel and Lila Acheson Wallace, co-founder of Reader's Digest. Mrs. Wallace provided much of the funding required to save Boscobel and move it from its original location in Montrose, New York. She was also an influential force behind its decoration.  Many years later, Berry Tracy, the curator of the American Wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, reinterpreted the decorative scheme to reflect a more authentic Federal interior.  And, what a stupendous interior that is! Let's go inside.

Stepping into the cool, front entry hall, one is immediately struck by the scale and detail of the airy space.

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The large entry hall not only welcomed guests of the Dyckman family but was also used 
for dances and musical recitals, and on occasion for dinner parties
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Painted oilcloth was often used as a protective water-resistant floor covering in the
eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries especially in high traffic areas
Photo: Chronica Domus

Berry Tracy was responsible for acquiring much of the Federal period furniture in the house.  Outside of a major decorative arts museum, I don't believe I've seen a collection quite so extensive.  Pieces by noted cabinetmakers Charles Honore Lannuier, Michael Allison, and Duncan Phyfe grace every room.

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Boscobel's rooms are sumptuously decorated and furnished with Federal
period furniture and decorative arts
(note more of Andrew Baseman's repaired ceramics displayed upon the mantelshelf)
Photo: Chronica Domus


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Can you imagine the fun of dining by candlelight in such an exquisitely decorated room?
Photo: Chronica Domus


It is not only the public rooms of the house that are outfitted so well.  The photographs below show a more domestic-oriented space which was used by the household staff to store the family's glassware and ceramics.  This room was also where hot and cold beverages were prepared, and where the paraphernalia involved in the preparation of such drinks was kept.  I must admit, as much as I adore poking around the more formal rooms of such house museums, it is often the domestic spaces which most intrigue me.

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All the best households utilized plate warmers which were positioned in front of
a roaring fire until their contents were warm to the touch
Photo: Chronica Domus


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Silver serving dishes, candlesticks, and Argand lamps sit atop a mahogany tray
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More of Andrew Baseman's repaired antiques are seen on the mantelshelf and table
Photo: Chronica Domus


Heading upstairs, I discover that the wooden handrail is elegantly supported by several iron balusters.

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The view from the second floor
Photo: Chronica Domus


The bedchambers, all three of them, are kitted out with more period furniture and accessories.  A refreshing slumber could be had by anyone so fortunate as to spend a night in one of these comfortable rooms.

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Photo: Chronica Domus


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The bedchamber's fireplace kept the chill at bay as did the brass bed warmer
which was slipped between the sheets in advance of the occupant
Photo: Chronica Domus


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No detail has been overlooked in the decoration of the bedchambers including 
the linen press, chock-full of crisp white linens to dress the bed
Photo: Chronica Domus


My favorite formal room in the house was States Dyckman's magnificent library.  It took my breath away.  I really should have packed the smelling salts.

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The perfect storm of wall color, rush matting, and furniture had me 
panting for breath as I stepped into this sublime room
Photo: Chronica Domus 


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Would you believe the body of this incredible chandelier is made from a single piece of 
carved and gilded wood?
Photo: Chronica Domus


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Had I the resources and space, this is a room I would gladly replicate in my 
own house
Photo: Chronica Domus


The upstairs library holds a fraction of States Dyckman's book collection which is housed in an impressive and handsome mahogany secretary bookcase believed to have been made by Duncan Phyfe, circa 1810 - 1820.

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Photo: Chronica Domus


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This is son Peter Dyckman's bedchamber which features a bed built in Duncan Phyfe's workshop
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If I were Peter, I'd have a difficult time leaving the comfort of my fireside chair
(Oh look, there's more of Mr. Bateman's repaired ceramics parading along the mantelshelf)
Photo: Chronica Domus


Our tour was rapidly drawing to a close but not before our guide showed us into one final room, the kitchen.   

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Photo: Chronica Domus


It is here that we are treated to some of Boscobel's warm hospitality in the form of refreshing lemonade and delicious cookies.

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Thirst quenching cups of lemonade and sweet treats are offered to Boscobel's
appreciative visitors
Photo: Chronica Domus


What a hospitable and welcoming gesture, and a delightful way to wrap up a most enjoyable tour.  So much more civilized than exiting through a gift shop, would you not agree?

Now that I've had the good fortune to visit this fine house, I fully understand Mrs. Lila Acheson Wallace's philanthropic urge to save it.  Boscobel is nothing short of a jewel.


Boscobel House and Gardens
1601 Route 9D (Bear Mountain Highway)
Garrison 
New York 10524


Monday, August 14, 2017

More Pink Flamingo Than Prince of Orange

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Hooray for Prince of Orange the first sweet pea bloom of the season,
but wait ...it's not orange!
Photo: Chronica Domus 


It's that glorious time of year in my garden, a time to rejoice and celebrate the first of the season's sweet pea blooms.  As has become my habit in the last few years, I was again enticed into growing my sweet peas purely from the delicious descriptions printed on the attractively illustrated seed packets. Well, that and the fact that I rather fancied delving into the world of orange sweet peas, a color I had not previously attempted to grow.  Two varieties fit the bill, Prince of Orange and Henry Eckford. The Prince promised "pure, clear orange flowers of excellent substance", while Mr. Eckford assured "spectacular bright orange flowers".  I could not wait to get planting!

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Heirloom varieties of sweet peas in zesty shades of orange beckoned 
to be taken home and planted in my garden
Photo: Chronica Domus


I sowed half a dozen of each variety on April 29 and patiently awaited their germination.  Sweet peas, as you may know, can take an age to get started so I make it a point to soak the seeds overnight in hopes of softening their rock-hard shells.  Right before I sow them into the moist, compost rich soil, I chip away a little of their coating in an effort to aid them along.  Even with this additional step, the seeds can take up to two excruciatingly long weeks to germinate. As William Langland reminds us in his poem, "Piers Plowman" patience is, indeed, a virtue.  I do try though.

Three months have now passed and I'm not exactly sure what happened to Mr. Eckford.  All I have to show for my efforts is a lone plant.  Perhaps the gentleman is a little shy?

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Lathyrus odoratus Henry Eckford was first bred by the man himself in 1906
Photo: Chronica Domus


The few blooms I have been able to gather thus far possess such peculiarly stunted stems that arranging them in a vase is next to impossible.  Ah well, as I'm not one to give up easily I will try planting Henry Eckford again either later in the autumn or early next spring.

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What in the world has happened to Henry Eckford's stems?
Photo: Chronica Domus


And, as for the Prince, imagine my surprise upon seeing his true colors come to light.

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Looks more pink flamingo than Prince of Orange to me!
Photo: Chronica Domus


With barely a scintilla of orange to behold, my dream of gathering orange-hued sweet peas this summer has, alas, been dashed.  Admittedly, despite the unanticipated color, I am really quite chuffed to have pink flamingos taking flight in my vase.  The blooms are exceptionally pretty, no matter their rosy hue.

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Might the Prince's orange reveal itself if I squint I wonder?
Photo: Chronica Domus


As a gardener, albeit an amateur one at best, I am constantly humbled by the act of nurturing the tiniest seed.  Regardless of how meticulously one plots and plans ahead, and despite the coddling and cosseting, Mother Nature always has the last word.  Either that or, as I suspect might be the case here, there was a mix-up at the packet-filling end of things.

Have you ever grown anything from seed with unexpected results?


Nota bene: I am neither paid nor do I receive recompense in exchange for applauding products or services within my blog.  I do so because I enjoy them.  If you are a kindred spirit, you too enjoy recommending nice things to fellow good eggs.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Part II of II: In Pursuit of Beauty and Culture In Boston

Our first day in Boston might have fed my husband's love of revolutionary war history, but our second revolved around some of my favorite indulgences. A treasure trove of fine art and architecture to be oohed and aahed over lay ahead, and I could not wait to get started.

Legging it across Boston's tranquil Public Garden on the way to our first port of call, we happened upon the city's famed fleet of pleasure boats.

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The Swan Boats have been a delightful fixture on the Public Garden's pond since 1877
Photo: Chronica Domus


After sauntering past several wonderfully preserved picturesque streets on Beacon Hill, lined with handsome eighteenth and early-nineteenth century brick houses, and crossing into the West End neighborhood, we finally arrive at our destination.

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Otis House
Photo: Chronica Domus


Built in 1796 for Harrison Gray Otis, the Otis House is a grand Federal-era house that has been on my 'Must See' list for a number of years. The house, by the way, did not always look so grand.

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Almost unrecognizable, Otis House has endured a number of calamitous alterations throughout its history including the removal of its marvelous fanlight and Palladian window, and the addition of  shopfronts lining its facade


Here I was, at last, standing in a most impressively scaled hallway, absorbing the fine detail of architect Charles Bulfinch's work.  It is hard to imagine that this house almost met with the wrecker's ball when everything else around it was being demolished to make way for "improvements" to the neighborhood.

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The grand scale of the hallway - which can only be realized when standing within it - is no
accident having been designed to impress all who cross its threshold
Photo: Chronica Domus


In 1916, William Sumner Appleton purchased the house and began work to raise the funds to meticulously restore it. Part of that restoration work included moving the house off its foundation and setting it back from Cambridge Street which was slated to be widened by the city in 1920.  

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There's much to be admired in the gentle color scheme and restrained furnishings of the hallway which stand in stark contrast to the vivid colors and sumptuous decoration of the principal rooms
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I was rather taken by the elegant simplicity of the glass hall lantern which hangs from a 
hook and is illuminated by a lone wax candle
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The view from the landing
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The shutters of the restored Palladian window
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The dining room, seen below, perfectly illustrates the Federal-era's love of vibrant color.  This room has been accurately restored using research garnered from chemical paint analysis.  Is anyone, I wonder, as bold today in their choice of paint colors?

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The Otis' dining room has been decorated as it looked when the family lived there - note 
the green crumb cloth, placed beneath the dining table to protect the costly carpet from errant 
morsels which might stray from the mouths of sloppy diners
Photo: Chronica Domus


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Obviously I need to get with the program and add a similarly useful and beautiful 
tole bottle cooler to my own humble dining room
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A cozy spot for taking tea in the drawing room
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This Federal-era brass curtain tie back, employed in the bedchamber, looks particularly
fetching against yellow silk and soft green paint
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With all the sumptuous distractions of the interior of Otis House, it would be easy to miss the views from any one of the handsome sash windows.  When I took a peek, the nearby Old West Church, built in 1806, was revealed.  

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A most agreeable view
Photo: Chronica Domus


The room below may not be the most opulently decorated room in the house, but it was my favorite. The restful colors and spare decoration are a pleasing juxtaposition to the high drama created by the color and pattern choices within the principal rooms.  The graphic wallpaper pattern, authentic to the period, would not look so out of place in a modern setting.

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No wonder this room housed Harrison Gray Otis' office; the soothing colors are 
certainly conducive to study
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I loved this ceramic bough pot which rests upon the room's mantelshelf and was 
designed to sit flush against the wall
Photo: Chronica Domus


Visitors to Boston who have an interest in historic houses should certainly take the time to view this one.  I would, however, strongly advise you check the Otis House website when planning your visit as the house is not open daily.  One would hate to be met by a locked door and forfeit an opportunity of viewing the splendors of this fine Federal-era house.

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Otis House's handsome front door lock
Photo: Chronica Domus


Well, that was all so enjoyable but it was barely lunchtime.  We were only half way through our day exploring Boston's first-rate cultural treasures.  Hopping into a nearby taxi, we were soon deposited alongside the towering USS Constitution, the world's oldest commissioned warship still afloat (HMS Victory, which I visited several years ago, is technically older but is now permanently in dry dock preserved as a museum).

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We had a rare glimpse of 'Old Ironsides' in its entirety as it sat in dry dock 
undergoing restoration work to its hull (remember to bring your official photo I.D. with 
you if you too wish to hop aboard for a tour given by active duty U.S. Navy sailors)
Photo: Chronica Domus 


The related museum across the way was filled to overflowing with interesting artifacts and information related to the ship. While my husband brushed up on his naval history, I distracted myself with this pair of covet-worthy porcelain urns.

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Commodore Isaac Hull who served aboard the USS Constitution during 
the war of 1812 graces this rather striking porcelain urn
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Dashing Naval Commander. Oliver Hazard Perry, appears 
upon a second dreamy urn
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Another taxi ride soon had us at the doors of our final destination, the Museum of Fine Arts.

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I could barely contain my excitement at the prospect of spending a pleasurable afternoon visiting one of the world's most comprehensive fine arts museums.  Aside from the phenomenal works on display - which I'll return to shortly - the museum building itself manages to successfully combine traditional Beaux-Arts architecture with modern additions.  

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My photograph of the museum's dome, decorated with John Singer Sargent murals, does 
this stunning space little justice
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The modern glass atrium is home to Dale Chihuly's 42 foot Lime Green Icicle Tower
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As predicted, it did not take long before the oohing and aahing began.  Barely stepping foot into the corridor headed in the direction of the Americas Wing, I was stopped in my tracks by this elegant musician...

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Joseph Dominique Fabry Garat Playing a Lyre Guitar by Adèle Romany, circa 1808
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and his lady companion...

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Portrait of a Lady at a Pianoforte by Adèle Romany, circa 1808
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Once in the Americas Wing the oohing and aahing intensified as we walked by such jewels as this: 

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Watson and the Shark by John Singleton Copley
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and, this:

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John Singleton Copley's portrait of John Quincy Adams, painted in London in 1796
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John Singleton Copley (1738 - 1815) was Boston's most prolific and talented artist.  We viewed close to forty of his works which were nothing short of magnificent.  Displayed alongside the paintings are silver, ceramics, and furniture of the period.  Other galleries showcased works by Gilbert Stuart (1755 - 1828) whose unfinished George Washington portrait is recognizable to anyone looking at a one dollar note, and Thomas Sully (1783 - 1872) whose monumental work 'The Passage of The Delaware' dominates the gallery in which it hangs.  What a remarkable treasure trove of jewels!

A respite from the dizzying array of art was soon in order so we headed upstairs to the marvelous Bravo restaurant to refuel on delicious seasonal fare.

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The sophisticated and soothing environment of Bravo restaurant was just the ticket for 
exhausted and hungry art enthusiasts
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After dinner, we made our way back downstairs to the Americas Wing to finish viewing the satellite rooms off the main galleries.  These were filled with fine furniture and decorations of the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries.

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The dining room, parlor, and bedchamber - complete with contents - of Oak Hill, a house built by renowned carver and builder Samuel McIntire, is set up much like it was when it was built in 1801
Photo: Chronica Domus


After a trek through the Art of The Ancient World wing where Patience's fascination with Egyptology was satiated, and a quick gander at the Greek and Roman treasures, we called it a day.  It was, after all 10 p.m., time for the museum to close its doors.  

Walking back to our hotel, thoroughly exhausted but buoyed from our jam-packed day of cultural pursuits, we all agreed that Boston is indeed an exemplary city full of extraordinary treasures.  How very fortunate are its fair citizens and visitors alike.  

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