Inside the CHS

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Paul Robeson: Baritone, Activist and Renaissance Man

March 24, 2014 · Collections

Although Paul Robeson was born in New Jersey, for twelve years he made Enfield, Connecticut his home. The baritone and radio singer was best known for his title role in “Othello” in the 1930s and 1940s, which he portrayed in various venues between London and New York. Robeson performed in numerous American plays and Hollywood…
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Nooks of CHS

March 21, 2014 · Collections

The Connecticut Historical Society is housed in a unique building. The building is a mansion erected in 1928 by inventor Curtis Veeder. Veeder lived in the house with his family until they sold it to CHS in 1950. The building went over a few renovations and additions, including converting the upstairs bedrooms and bathrooms into…
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A Connecticut “Monuments Man”

March 20, 2014 · Collections

Over the past year there has been any number of news accounts concerning artwork apparently seized by the Nazis during their occupation of Europe in World War II. Adolph Hitler and Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering were particularly rapacious in this regard. Recently a large collection of paintings and other works believed to have been taken during…
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A behind the scenes tour

March 19, 2014 · Collections

On Tuesday a number of CHS staff had a cook’s tour of the archives of The Hartford, one of Connecticut’s premier insurance companies. I never realized that behind the imposing main building that is on Asylum Street, there is an entire campus of buildings and facilities.

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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If only…

March 13, 2014 · Collections

I love when individuals leave a record that is undeniably useful…if only everyone did…

Pesky research questions

March 12, 2014 · Collections

Don’t get me wrong, I love trying to help researchers find the “right” answer. But why do I always find the answer days or even weeks after the question was asked? Several weeks ago now, I had a woman here doing background research for a novel she is writing. Among other things, she asked me…
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What is this?

March 11, 2014 · Collections

Our exhibit, Making Connecticut, showcases over 500 objects, images, and documents from the CHS collection. “What is this?” posts will highlight an object from the exhibit and explore its importance in Connecticut history every other week. What is this object? What is the story behind it?

Seeking Asylum

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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A 19th Century Eye in the Sky

March 6, 2014 · Collections

Privacy issues have come to the fore in recent years as technology has enabled prying on all facets of everyday life. Even Google’s camera-equipped cars that drive slowly through neighborhoods capturing street views have raised some concerns. Aerial photography and surveillance, once primarily the purview of military and intelligence forces, has become an issue as…
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Getting collections online

March 5, 2014 · Collections

Hurray! We just received our official award letter from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, the granting arm of the National Archives. This $35,000 grant is going to fund the digitization of eleven manuscripts collections that have already been microfilmed. Microfilm is still the best option for preserving manuscript collections, but we all know…
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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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Pave Paradise, Put Up a Parking Lot, or, You Don’t Know What You Got ‘Til It’s Gone

February 28, 2014 · Collections

Of the many buildings that Hartford has lost to development since the mid-twentieth century, the one that seems to sting a little bit more than most of the others is the Hartford-Aetna Bank Building. When it was built in 1912, the 11-story building was Hartford’s tallest. In 1990, the building was slated for demolition by…
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Quilts, Costumes, and More!

February 27, 2014 · Collections

Last week I had the kind of day that I simply adore!  They come around rarely, but when they do, I enjoy them so immensely.  It was last Thursday and Lynne Bassett came to research in our collection for a very special presentation / program she is involved with here at CHS.  And that meant…
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Fairly took away my breath

February 26, 2014 · Collections

Valentine’s Day has come and gone, but love goes on forever. A letter recently received with the Keller family archive evokes both the holiday and the lasting power of love.

What is this?

February 25, 2014 · Collections, Exhibits

Our exhibit, Making Connecticut, showcases over 500 objects, images, and documents from the CHS collection. “What is this?” posts will highlight an object from the exhibit and explore its importance in Connecticut history every other week. What is this object? What is the story behind it?

Sledding Down Drive A

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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Dollie McLean: From the West Indies to the Capital City

February 24, 2014 · Collections

Born (Dollie) Clarice Helene Simmons in Antigua, West Indies, Dollie McLean was raised in Manhattan, later lived in the Bronx, and graduated from both the University of Hartford and FIT. Mrs. McLean has been an avid participant in the arts throughout her life, having performed off-Broadway as an actress and dancer with various organizations like…
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What in the “World”?

February 20, 2014 · Collections

Sometimes the genesis of a blog is a current news story that has obvious historical parallels. Then again, a recent acquisition can certainly get my creative juices flowing. But once in a while I just like to slowly walk through collections storage, drawing inspiration from the many fabulous objects that help us connect to our…
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Catherine had her miniature taken

February 19, 2014 · Collections

One of CHS’s great friends recently donated another Charlotte Cowles letter to add to what we already have. Of course, I was pleased as punch! In this letter, again written from Farmington to her brother Samuel in Vermont, she indicates their mother is dictating what to write, but I still hear Charlotte’s voice. She relates…
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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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Meet Annie

February 13, 2014 · Collections

Today is a snow day…and who does not love snow days?!?  Each time we get a snow storm that is nasty enough to close the CHS, I feel like a kid again (albeit a kid who has to shovel out a car and get some semblance of actual work done at home regardless of the…
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To the Honorable the Senate and House of Representatives

February 12, 2014 · Collections

Connecticut residents were heavily involved in the settlement and development of the area of Ohio called the Western Reserve. In fact, there is a Western Reserve Historical Society. They look at the area from the Ohio “side” while we look at it from the Connecticut “side”. One family heavily invested in the Western Reserve was…
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What is this?

February 11, 2014 · Collections, Exhibits

Our exhibit, Making Connecticut, showcases over 500 objects, images, and documents from the CHS collection. “What is this?” posts will highlight an object from the exhibit and explore its importance in Connecticut history every other week. What is this object? What is the story behind it?

Black Portraits of White Americans

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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Trade with China, Nineteenth Century Style

February 6, 2014 · Collections

As China has emerged in the past decade as one of the world’s largest and fastest growing economies, it makes sense to think about how China and the U.S. engaged in commercial activities two centuries ago. By the late 18th century western European powers were cementing commercial relationships with the reclusive Chinese empire. The newly…
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The Real Cinque?

February 5, 2014 · Collections

This portrait is of the freed Amistad captive Cinque. Or at least that is what we are told. How do we know that this is what he actually looked like? Cameras were in their infancy, so we cannot look at another image to compare. And the toga-like garment and the scenery, was that all the…
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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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What is your favorite time period?

January 30, 2014 · Collections

I get asked this question quite frequently.  The truth is that it changes depending on what I am working on at the moment because I don’t have a true favorite period.  I love various aspects from almost every period of costume history, especially between the 1770s and the 1960s.  However, there is a period that…
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A little bit of matchmaking

January 29, 2014 · Collections

I took a brief “field trip” to the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center on Monday to look at their collection of John and Isabella Hooker correspondence, focusing on those that mentioned or were written by Charlotte Cowles Hull and her husband Joseph. Of course, anything related to Charlotte is fun in my book. Three of the…
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What is this?

January 28, 2014 · Collections, Exhibits

Our exhibit, Making Connecticut, showcases over 500 objects, images, and documents from the CHS collection. “What is this?” posts will highlight an object from the exhibit and explore its importance in Connecticut history every other week. What is this object? What is the story behind it? To find out more,

Total Eclipse Visible in Connecticut

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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1914: One Hundred Years of Reflection in the Making

January 27, 2014 · Collections

While searching for images of life captured in 1914, I was amazed by the range of subjects; prison halls, family picnics, and at least three different fires were all immortalized one hundred years ago.

Creating Multisensory Exhibitions

January 24, 2014 · Collections

When I went to the New England Museum Conference in 2011, I attended a presentation about making exhibitions “multisensory”. The presentation defined multisensory as a way of processing information through more than one of our senses. The presenters mentioned that combining senses gives a person a more powerful, overall experience. During the session, we explored…
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More Than One Man’s Story

January 23, 2014 · Collections

As a museum curator I am of course interested in the big picture, the sweep of events that bear on us all to one extent or the other. But the stories of individuals also have an undeniable lure, because sometimes in the story of one person we can better understand some of the larger forces…
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An Anti-Abolition meeting

January 22, 2014 · Collections

What would one do on a January day in 1836? In Farmington, one might have attended an Anti-Abolition rally. We know from Charlotte Cowles that one was indeed held in that town, and although Charlotte could empathize with slaves and indeed help them to freedom in the north, she was prejudiced against those who did…
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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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The Value of Gallery Tours

January 20, 2014 · Collections

I have had, in the past few weeks, the opportunity to lead gallery tours of our temporary exhibition, Through a Different Lens. I spent so much time with the photographs on display when we were preparing the exhibition and I was writing the publication that I’ve sort of forgotten what it’s like to see them…
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Printing Pretty Pictures

January 16, 2014 · Collections

On textiles that is.  Yesterday CHS hosted a teacher development workshop for art teachers.  For my part, I brought out some examples of printed textiles from the 18th and 19th centuries and we discussed the processes involved in printing textiles with brilliant colors and patterns.  Well, since I already spent time brushing up on the…
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Who is Alvin?

January 15, 2014 · Collections, Manuscripts

One of the things I really like about working with manuscripts is trying to identify the people mentioned in a document. For example, we recently received a letter that was written June 12, 1864 from Willimantic, written by D.F. Johnson to his mother and referring to “our Alvin that was reported wounded”. Okay, it is…
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