Sunday, April 10, 2016

Capitol Corn Capitals

Weather: Warm, dry and windy when I went out of town; last snow 4/1.

What’s blooming: Siberian elms, volunteer cherries, sand cherries, plum, different peaches and forsythia than were blooming last week, daffodils, tansy mustard, western stickseed, vinca, moss phlox, donkey spurge, dandelions.

My peaches have abandoned their attempt to bloom after last week’s cold and snow. Bees have buzzed around the few damaged flowers that have opened, but the tree is dropping its buds and opening its leaves.

What’s blooming inside: Zonal geraniums.

Animal sightings: Rabbit, small birds, bees, small red ants.

Weekly update: In the early years of the American republic, artists and politicians sought appropriate symbols to represent their uniqueness.

In 1784, Ben Franklin wrote his daughter that a medal brought to France had been criticized because the eagle had been so badly rendered it resembled a turkey. He said he would have preferred the latter as "a true original Native of America. Eagles have been found in all Countries, but the Turkey was peculiar to ours, the first of the Species seen in Europe being brought to France by the Jesuits from Canada."

Thomas Jefferson wanted a new architecture that drew upon monuments surviving from the earlier republics of Rome and Athens. The designs spread west where they were reproduced in American materials, wood and paint.

This Pennsylvania house had an end that imitated a temple with the short boards in the gable suggesting a pediment. The building corners were protected by straight boards that kept out water and functioned as columns.

The entry was a pediment supported by pairs of columns.

The porch roof posts, instead of having corbels like those used to support vigas in this part of the country, spread the supported weight with broad, flat boards. The top area of the columns reserved for a design borrowed the plainness of the Doric.

Benjamin Henry Latrobe went farther with the American sentiment in the Capitol building. There he used details of corn ears for the upper support section, rather than the acanthus leaves of Corinthian columns.

His corn cob capitals, as they came to be called, "obtained me more applause from the Members of Congress than all the Works of Magnitude, of difficulty & of splendor that surround them."

American values changed in the late nineteenth century. Men with wealth bought European paintings and architectural elements to enhance their personal mansions. While commoners couldn’t hope to own such homes, magazines told them how they could furnish their homes with similar drapes and furniture.

Tableware manufacturers implied women could buy silver plated forks with the same designs as the Vanderbilts. As mentioned in the post for 13 March 2016, the Nobility Club advertised "opportunities to purchase a piece of the ‘better life’."

More English roses than native composites appeared on the pieces owned by my mother. A flower with many petals was used on her set of cake and pie servers.

She also bought a candle snuffer with multi-petaled flowers in both the middle of the handle and the end.

These two utilitarian pieces, plus the slotted spoon described in the post for 13 March 2016, were all she had that would fit Franklin’s desire for a "true original Native of America," and the snuffer came from Sweden.

Alas, the flower in the center of the pie server handle was mounted on a trellis, which meant it could have been a clematis. They came from China and Japan, and were widely bred in Europe some 200 years after they ate the first turkey.

Phillip Durham, "History," website.

Franklin, Benjamin. Unpublished letter to his daughter, Sarah Franklin Bache, Passy, France, 26 January 1784; copy available on the Franklin Papers website sponsored by the American Philosophical Society, Yale University, and the Packard Humanities Institute.

Latrobe, Benjamin Henry. Letter to Thomas Jefferson, Washington, 28 August 1809, reproduced on National Archives website.

1. Remains of peach buds opening after last week’s cold and snow, 4 April 2016.

2. Peach buds rejected by the tree, 4 April 2016.

3-5. House in Buckstown, Somerset County, Pennsylvania, taken in the mid-1970s.

6. Latrobe’s corn capital, from collection of the Architect of the Capital, on US Capital Visitor Center website.

7. Handle of pie server, no markings; handle was made in two parts to accommodate the stainless steel blade.

8. Handle of candle snuffer, Extra Primo NS.ALP Sweden. Nickle silver is the Swedish equivalent to American silver plate. This was lightweight and stamped. It probably was new when it was purchased in the 1960s.

9. Peaches are passing from attempts to bloom to leafing; 4 April 2016.

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