Inside the CHS

About Nancy

Nancy Finlay is Curator of Graphics at the Connecticut Historical Society. She has a B.A. from Smith College and an M.F.A. and a Ph.D. from Princeton University. She is responsible for images and artwork that are flat and on paper (Original Prints, Drawings, Photographs, Postcards, Maps, etc.).


Articles by Nancy:

Deep Roots in Connecticut’s Past

January 6, 2015 · Collections

I don’t know when we first started to visit Connecticut’s historic houses. My earliest memories are probably from the 1960s, but I think it began even earlier than that. I remember marveling at the massive stone walls of the Henry Whitfield House in Guilford, so unlike anything else in the state.

Wish You All a Merry Christmas

December 23, 2014 · Collections

“All are well. Wish you all a Merry Xmas, Mother,” reads the scribbled message on the postcard, which is postmarked “December 24, 1906.” An additional stamped message reads “GREETINGS FROM HARWINTON.”

Everybody Walked to Work

December 9, 2014 · Collections

In the nineteenth century, my father’s grandparents emigrated from Germany to work in the Cheney Brothers Silk Manufactory in Manchester. In many ways, Manchester was a classic mill town.

Home for Thanksgiving

November 25, 2014 · Collections

Like many people, I always used to drive home for Thanksgiving. Home was always Connecticut, even when I lived in Massachusetts or New Jersey or New York.

Autumn in New England

November 11, 2014 · Collections

It’s comforting to think that certain basic things don’t change and to a certain extent it’s even true.

How Did He Do It?

October 28, 2014 · Collections

Richard Welling loved to draw and he loved to share his enthusiasm for art with others.

Everybody Makes Mistakes

October 14, 2014 · Collections

Nobody had anything good to say about the old Hartford Post Office. I thought surely when it was first erected it must have been much admired.

(Re)Building Bridgeport

September 30, 2014 · Collections

Bridgeport was originally a parish of Stratford and only became a separate town in 1821. An 1824 map shows its streets lined with houses—including several sea captains’ houses—and a few small businesses.

The Artist and the Connecticut Landscape

September 16, 2014 · Collections

One of the things I like best about my job at CHS is the opportunity to network with other museum professionals throughout the state….

I Love New York

July 29, 2014 · Collections

Artist Richard Welling loved to drawing buildings, especially very large buildings. He was therefore drawn to cities, and his two favorite cities were Hartford, Connecticut and New York City. His drawings chronicling the construction of the World Trade Center are today at the New-York Historical Society, but some of his other New York drawings came…
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What Does this Photograph of the Farmington River have to do with Downton Abbey?

July 22, 2014 · Collections

Inscriptions on the back of this 1930s photograph of the Farmington River provide quite a bit of information about it. The dam in the foreground is said to be in the same location as the dam for the first gristmill on the river, established in 1701. In the 1930s, there was still an active gristmill…
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Who Were the Harvard Five—And What Do They Have to do with Connecticut?

July 15, 2014 · Collections

When most people think of Connecticut architecture, they most often think of Colonial saltbox houses or white steepled churches nestled in green hills. They usually don’t think of the International Style of modern architecture, and they certainly don’t think of Harvard University. But in the 1940s, five architects from Harvard settled in the green hills…
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Who Was Hartford Louise?

July 8, 2014 · Collections

The gentleman driving the sulky is John A. Pilgard. The horse is Hartford Louise. Pilgard had come to Hartford as a poor immigrant boy and became a successful merchant, banker, and civic leader. A butcher and grocer by trade, Pilgard greatest love was fast horses, especially those that he bred and raced himself. He was…
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A Moment in Time

July 1, 2014 · Collections

It’s the Fourth of July. An American flag is flying from Fort Trumbull, and a stately procession of tall ships is leaving New London harbor. The monument commemorating the Revolutionary War Battle of Groton Heights is visible in the background. It could almost be a snapshot taken during OpSail, but this drawing was made by…
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Hartford Blooms at CHS

June 24, 2014 · Collections

At the end of the nineteenth century, much of the west part of Hartford was still farmland. Cows grazed in the meadows along the Park River, where small boys went swimming in the summertime. But the area was beginning to build up, primarily with great estates, but also with more modest homes in the neighborhood…
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A Day at the Beach

June 17, 2014 · Collections

During the nineteenth century, a trip to the beach was a major expedition, not something to be undertaken lightly. Because of the difficulties of travel, people went to the shore for weeks or months at a time. Only the very well-to-do could afford such extended vacations, and the less-than-affluent primarily frequented those resorts that were…
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The Mountain Laurel is in Bloom Again

June 10, 2014 · Collections

Certain flowers remind me of certain people. Trailing arbutus reminds me of my father, who knew where to find it growing in the woods around Manchester, where I grew up. Hybrid tea roses remind me of my mother, who grew them in her garden. Mountain laurel reminds me of a woman I never knew, who…
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Where in Connecticut?

June 3, 2014 · Collections

The gracious old house has a wide veranda and is surrounded by mature trees. In the photograph, it is autumn, and the ground is littered with leaves, but in spring, the gardens must have been a riot of color. There was a coach house, a barn with one of the first basketball hoops in the…
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Savin Rock Memories

May 27, 2014 · Collections

I didn’t really appreciate postcards until I began reading what was written on the backs of the cards.  Most postcard collectors like their cards in pristine condition, unused, never sent, but I prefer those that have been through the mail, carrying messages between friends and family members.  “Who said we couldn’t find our way?” a…
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What’s Not in This Picture?

May 20, 2014 · Collections

For the past few weeks I’ve been working on a series of photographs taken during the 1880s by an unknown itinerant photographer, probably employed by the Northern Survey Company. The photographer traveled from town to town taking photographs of people’s houses, usually with the members of the family and their prized possessions arrayed on the…
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On the Road with Richard Welling: Along the Maine Coast

May 13, 2014 · Collections

When I was growing up, my family spent two weeks in Maine every summer, and those were probably the best two weeks of my entire year. Later on, when I was grown up and living in the Boston area, I went to Maine frequently, both on weekend day trips and for extended vacations, exploring parts…
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On the Road with Richard Welling: Octagon Houses

May 6, 2014 · Collections

An “Octagon House” is just what it sounds like: an eight-sided dwelling. Octagon houses were something of a fad in 1850s America. They were promoted by a New York phrenologist names Orson Squire Fowler, who believed such houses were cheaper to build, easier to heat, and cooler in summer. Octagon houses are scattered all across…
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The Mapmaker’s Daughter

April 29, 2014 · Collections

  It’s a Cinderella story. Mary Pierson (1874-1949) was the daughter of Stephen C. Pierson, a civil engineer based in Meriden, Connecticut. The CHS has a large map of Meriden surveyed by Pierson in 1891. In 1898, his daughter Mary married Horace Bushnell Cheney, a member of the Cheney silk manufacturing dynasty. The couple traveled…
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A-Tisket, A-Tasket, a Green and Yellow Basket

April 22, 2014 · Collections

In this photograph from the early twentieth century, two little girls in Hartford’s Mazzafera family are holding baskets of flowers. When I was cataloguing the photograph a couple of years ago, I described the baskets as “Easter baskets.” Maybe they are. The first mention I can find of “Easter baskets” in the Hartford Courant, however,…
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A Good Many Chestnut Trees About

April 15, 2014 · Collections

Before the chestnut flight devastated the forests in the early 1900s, American chestnut trees were a prominent feature in the Connecticut landscape. Chestnut trees grew tall and straight and the wood was used in the construction of barns and houses and the making of furniture, telephone poles, and railroad ties. The nuts were used as…
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On the Road with Richard Welling: Discovering Historic Connecticut Houses

April 8, 2014 · Collections

In 1976, in conjunction with the nation’s Bicentennial celebration, Richard Welling produced a slim volume featuring twenty of Connecticut’s most historic houses. From late 1975 through the early spring of 1976, Welling was on the road, crisscrossing the state, sketching buildings that ranged in date from Colonial times through the Victorian era. The book came…
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But What Does it Have to do with Connecticut?

April 1, 2014 · Collections

What’s this eighteenth-century print showing dancers on an island in the South Seas doing at the Connecticut Historical Society?   Actually, there are two good reasons for its presence.  One of the three men seated in the center of front row is probably John Ledyard, a young man from Groton, Connecticut, who sailed with the British…
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The Last Wolf in Connecticut

March 28, 2014 · Collections

I drove into work this morning behind a car with a bumper sticker for the West Hartford Wolves, a youth hockey team. Today we think of wolves and tough and brave, as noble symbols of wildness and of the wilderness. We now view wilderness itself as something rather rare and precious, good for the human…
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Men at Work

March 25, 2014 · Collections

Richard Welling was known as the “Artist in a Hard Hat” because he spent so much time at construction sites. He spent so much time drawing the World Trade Center when it was first going up in Manhattan that the Port Authority issued him a pass to the site—and his own hard hat. Welling was…
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Looking at the Backs of Things

March 18, 2014 · Collections

Curators and catalogers spend quite a bit of time looking at the backs and bottoms of things, trying to glean information about pictures and objects.  Labels on the back of the frame of an oil painting may tell where and when it was exhibited or purchased.  Marks on prints and drawings may prove clues to…
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Seeking Asylum

March 11, 2014 · Collections

What nationally famous Connecticut institution was once located near the junction of Farmington Avenue and Asylum Avenue? How many people notice the statue that stands in the little wedge-shaped green park at this busy intersection, and how many people know what it commemorates? In 1817, one of the first schools for the deaf was erected…
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Here We Go Again

March 4, 2014 · Collections

Winter isn’t over yet. Historically, some of the worst winter storms have happened between the end of February and the end of March. The Blizzard of 1888 took place March 11-14th. The Great Ice Storm of 1898 took place on February 20-22nd.  Looking at pictures of these historic storms reminds us that giant piles of…
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Sledding Down Drive A

February 25, 2014 · Collections

When I found Drive A on a map last summer, when we were in the middle of our map project, “Finding Your Place in Connecticut History,” I knew that I had found my place. There it was on a map of Greater Hartford from the 1950s: Drive A in the housing complex known as Silver…
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Love Tokens

February 18, 2014 · Collections

Last week on Valentine’s Day I was musing about some of the objects in the collections here at the CHS that were given in former times as tokens of affection. Yes, we have Valentine cards–lots of them–but we also have more intimate artifacts that were exchanged by engaged couples or by husbands and wives.  These…
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Black Portraits of White Americans

February 11, 2014 · Collections

This silhouette portrait of Joseph Morgan, the proprietor of Morgan’s Coffee House, an important gathering place for Hartford businessmen in the early 19th century, was cut by Peter Choice, an itinerant silhouette artist who was probably of African descent. Choice also cut portraits of Morgan’s wife and two young daughters.  Choice was a man of…
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On the Road with Richard Welling in Stonington, Connecticut

February 4, 2014 · Collections

As you’ll know if you’ve been following our blogs about Richard Welling, Richard Welling liked planes and trains and automobiles—and he also liked boats and ships. Not surprisingly, he was drawn to Stonington, Connecticut and its famous fishing fleet. Two of his drawings of Stonington, “Stonington Docks” and a view of the Stonington Lighthouse, were…
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Total Eclipse Visible in Connecticut

January 28, 2014 · Collections

A solar eclipse is not an especially rare astronomical event.  A solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes between the earth and the sun and this happens a couple of times each year.  During a total eclipse, the sun is totally hidden behind the moon cutting off its light and turning day to night.  The…
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On the Road with Richard Welling

January 21, 2014 · Collections

I’m inclined to think of Richard Welling inassociation with two cities—New York City and Hartford, Connecticut, but in addition to his iconic drawings of New York and Hartford, Welling produced views of many of other buildings and landscapes throughout the Northeast. The Richard Welling Collection at the Connecticut Historical Society includes views of Washington, D.C.,…
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Sam Colt in Texas

January 14, 2014 · Collections

A month ago I visited Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on the south Texas Coast, the wintering grounds of the last wild flock of whooping cranes. The great white birds can be seen feeding in the vast marshes of the refuge, and also foraging in pastures and agricultural fields in nearby communities such as Lamar. In…
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You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby!

January 7, 2014 · Collections

Does anyone recognize the handsome piece of furniture in this 1920s photograph?  The booklet that the little girl is holding provides a clue:  It reads “Victor Records.”  Perhaps she’s picking out a favorite song to play on the new family phonograph.  “These wonderful instruments” were sold in music stores and department stores all over Connecticut…
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