Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Chinese Antique Thread Winders with Bats

Detail of carved bat.
Congratulations to Rosemary and to Mariette for correctly identifying the Mystery Object as a thread winder or spool. These wooden winders are two to four inches long, while smaller ones, beautifully worked from mother of pearl, often resemble game counters. Winders are often adorned with flowers, butterflies, fish, or geometric shapes, although readers here can readily imagine that I was pleased to find the bat motif.

This winder has a pattern of two bats on each end, facing a peach, the symbol of longevity. As the Hattatts reminded us, bats are a Chinese symbol of good fortune, so although I know of no special connection to thread or sewing, it is not surprising to see this figure turn up. 

The reverse of the winder shows a repeat of the same pattern.
I was lucky enough to acquire an additional example of these bat-carved thread winders. This other one is somewhat different. The spool section is deeper, and the carving is open or pierced. There are only two bats on each side, facing the center, and their auspicious symbolism is augmented by that of the coin placed in the middle.

As before, the carving on the back duplicates that on the front. Note that the coin has changed into a longevity symbol.

It is difficult to decide which one I like better—the second example is quite graceful with its openwork filigree, but the solid first one, with eight bats in total, has to have one of the highest bats-per-square-inch ratios for an object its size. They both show signs of considerable use, and the gilding on each is almost gone. They must have been quite dazzling when new, although possibly I prefer their current worn and patinated condition.

Reader Dianne in the original post mentioned Bat Conservation International, and I had a fascinating time perusing their site. I strongly recommend taking a look at their website to learn more about actual bats and about the various problems, natural and human, that currently threaten them.

(All photos and original objects property of the author.)

Friday, April 11, 2014

Chinese Mystery Object with Bats

It has been a while since I posted a Mystery object.  I have tried to select one a little less obscure than before; these household objects are still in use, and have a practical function.

This is made out of wood, and is about three inches long. Other forms are common, but many still look like this, although perhaps without the decorative carving.

If you know or can guess what this is, please let me know in the comments. Comment Moderation will be turned on for this post. If your solution is correct, I will withhold it until the end, to allow others a chance to guess.

The answer will be revealed in a few days. Good luck!

Friday, February 14, 2014

Before Calhoun College: The Old Yale Divinity School

1: Postcard of newly-built Calhoun

At the corner of Elm and College streets, and diagonal to the Green in New Haven, Connecticut is Calhoun College, one of the twelve undergraduate divisions of Yale College.  The Gothic, weathered stones and leaded glass of Calhoun seem so solid and permanent that one might imagine it has stood there for ages.

Yet Calhoun was only constructed in 1931-2. Its site has been integral with New Haven history since the Seventeenth century, and part of Yale since shortly after the Civil War. Fortunately, many early maps and photographs exist that allow us to peel back the layers of time, and reveal the early appearance of the Yale campus.

2: John C. Calhoun
John C. Calhoun (1782-1850) was the seventh Vice President of the U.S., under Presidents John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson. He at various times served as Secretary of State, Secretary of War, and also Senator and Congressman from South Carolina. Since he was an 1804 graduate, Yale desired to honor his distinguished career by naming one of the colleges after him. Unfortunately, Calhoun was virulently pro-slavery, so in recent decades especially there has been considerably controversy of the propriety of using his name.

 3: Detail from 1748 map, Calhoun Site buildings shaded in red.
(Click on any image to enlarge.)

Early Days:
New Haven was settled in 1638, and by 1641 the land on what is now College and Elm was the farm of John Brockton. By 1748, the Wadsworth Map (above) shows Innkeeper Mix established on the site, which remained an inn until the mid-Nineteenth century. Note that on the Wadsworth map, Yale College was still a single building.

Yale Divinity School, 1869-1931:
The Calhoun land was initially obtained by Yale to provide a new home for its Divinity School. In its earliest days, Yale College was confined to the Old Campus block, bounded by College, Chapel, Elm and (later) High Streets. The famous Brick Row was started in the Eighteenth century, culminating with the construction of Divinity College at the Elm street end of the Row in 1835. 

 4: This c.1869 photo shows only East Divinity
After the Civil War,  a new growth plan meant the demolition of Divinity College in 1869 to make way for Durfee Hall (1870), and the Establishment of a new Divinity School across Elm Street. The first phase was the construction of East Divinity in 1869, designed by the acclaimed architect Richard Morris Hunt.

5: Hallway in East Divinity

6: Library in East Divinity

7: East Divinity + Marquand Chapel to the left.
1871 saw the addition of Marquand Chapel, also designed by Hunt. In this photo we can still see the early small white houses, so characteristic of New Haven, flanking the new Divinity School on both the College and Elm Street sides.
8: Stereoviews like this, which appeared 3-D when viewed in a special holder, were popular in the 1800's

9: A special kind of luck favors collectors, one result of which was this obtaining this original admission ticket to the 1871 dedication of Marquand Chapel.

10: This is actually a palimpsest photograph, pasted on another; notice the faint elm branches in the background. Luckily, I have a copy of the underlying photo, which fittingly is a close-up of the Divinity School.
The above picture from 1873 helps make sense of the new Divinity School as seen from the Old Campus, taken in front of Farnam Hall looking across Elm to the new Divinity School and the future site of Calhoun. At the extreme left is North College dormitory (built 1820, razed 1901), part of the old Brick Row. Just beyond it is the brand-new Durfee Hall (1870), looking just as it does today. Across Elm Street, we get the best view of that early wooden house, reminding us that Elm Street was known as New Haven’s Quality Row. Marquand Chapel and East Divinity come next, then at the extreme right is a very recognizable and still-standing Farman Hall (built 1869).

Because of Yale’s intensive building program, photographs of this period are often easy to date. This photograph marked 1873 is readily confirmed, because it had to be taken after the construction of Marquand in 1871, yet the view across Elm Street is unimpeded by Battell Chapel, not built until 1874.

11: Looking past the future site of Battell Chapel
This similar view taken at a different angle allows us to see, across College Street, two buildings which are still there: the First Methodist Church, and the Colonial house that is the current home of the Elihu Club, although not when the picture was taken, as Elihu was founded in 1903. Durfee and East Divinity are to the left, and a tiny sliver of Farnam on the right.

12: From a Bird's Eye View of New Haven, published by Bailey & J.C. Hazen in 1879.
In addition to Battell Chapel, 1874 saw the construction of the West building of the Divinity School. This 1879 Birds-eye view, with the Divinity School is in the center, provides some context. On the left across Elm Street (unlabeled) is the edge of the old campus, showing Farnam, Battell, and Durfee. In the foreground is the New Haven Green, showing the Center Church (1812) and United Church (1814), both still standing. Notice the two particularly fine houses at High and Wall, and at College and Wall, both long gone.

13: By 1874, West Divinity had been added on the left, but there is still an available gap between West Divinity and Marquand.
14: Colored postcard shows addition of Trowbridge Library
Nature abhors a vacuum, and in 1881 the gap between Marquand and West Divinity was filled with Trowbridge Library. Old postcards, although often colored imaginatively, can give a good idea of what strolling by the site must have been like. The photo below shows the interior of Trowbridge Library:

15: Interior of Trowbridge Library--those windows face Elm street.

16: Blount Avenue separating Berkeley Oval and West Divinity
Blount Avenue:
In the 1890’s the Divinity School received some new neighbors. The houses on Elm Street to the west were replaced by the buildings of Berkeley Oval, the precursor of Berkeley College. In the above photo, West Divinity is on the right, and on the left is Fayerweather Hall of Berkeley Oval. Between them, the mall-like space was known as Blount Avenue, which still separates Calhoun and Berkeley. In the distance can be seen the University Dining Hall, built in 1901.

17:  In 1911, the Noah Porter Gate was installed, which still serves as the entrance to the current Cross Campus.

18: What you would see taking a stroll on the Green in 1900.
The above postcard seems to show the final development of the Divinity School on the site of the future Calhoun. Fayerweather is briefly seen to the left, and the colonial houses on the right have not yet relinquished their hold.

Sic Transit Gloria Mundi…
All was soon to change when the College Plan for Yale went into effect in the early Twentieth century.  A new Divinity School was built on Prospect Street past Science Hill, on the site of the former Winchester mansion. The old Divinity School was razed to make way for Calhoun College. In the 1931 photograph below, looking towards College Street, all elements of the Divinity School are gone. Across College Street we can see Battell and Durfee, and a bit of Harkness Tower in the background. On the right are Blount Avenue, the Porter Gate, and finally Fayerweather Hall in its final days, as it would be torn down in 1933 to make room for Berkeley College.

19: The End of an Era:  This dramatic photo shows the demolition site of the Divinity School, and the future site of Calhoun. Notice the one legacy--the Calhoun Elm carefully protected by boards!
As a student in Calhoun, I was completely unaware that it occupied the site of the Divinity School that had stood there not that long ago—even within my grandparents’ lifetime. It is a shame that such a large part of Yale's history has been virtually forgotten. Other than in these old photographs, no vestige seems to be left of the building that inhabited the corner of Elm and College for six decades. I will take a good look at Calhoun itself the next time I am in New Haven. Perhaps in the stone carvings that adorn Calhoun are hidden some reminders of its historic predecessors.

Coming Soon: The Construction of Calhoun

A note on the images:  It is my hobby to collect photographs and other ephemera that document the Nineteenth-century history of Yale University and the city of New Haven. These have been augmented with images from the treasure-trove at Yale Manuscripts and Archives, and from the Leventhal Map Center at the Boston Public Library.

Photo Credits:
Photos 3 and 12 from Leventhal Map Center of the Boston Public Library.
Photos 5,6,15,16,17 Credit: Yale University buildings and grounds photographs, 1716-2004 (inclusive). Manuscripts & Archives, Yale University
Photo 19 Credit: Photographs of Calhoun College, Yale University, 1931-1932 (inclusive). Manuscripts & Archives, Yale University
All other photographs and objects are from the collection of the author.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Chinese New Year 2014—Year of the Horse

It seems that Chinese New Year comes around more quickly each year. This Friday, January 31st will mark the start of Horse Year. Thinking about horses in Chinese culture, images of the Terracotta Army Horses at Xi’an and of the famous Tang dynasty pottery horses immediately spring to mind.

With associations going back to antiquity, horses are firmly entrenched in Chinese art. Looking though my objects for images of horses, I notice two main types: horses mounted by people or gods, and those in more natural settings.

Click on any image to enlarge.
For all its apparent simplicity, this small wooden statue is a well-planned composition. The black horse, red face, and metallic garments all contrast nicely with each other. There is a constant sense of balance—the horse’s head with the rider’s ‘apron’, the fall of the tail with the fall of the ‘skirt’, and the rider’s bent arm with the horse’s bent leg. Even the gilt scrollwork on the front of the base ties it in with the statue and also echoes the rider’s headdress.

As opposed to the martial air of the first mounted example, this friendlier rider is holding up a toy and playing a game of catch. The above detail comes from a very colorful set of carved furniture panels.

At first I thought this finial represented a horse, based on the head and overall shape, but on closer inspection, the legs (with paws!) and under-carriage look more like those of a lion. Perhaps this is some sort of horse-lion chimera, or perhaps an idiosyncrasy of the carver—I’ll have to be on the lookout for similar examples.

The creature in this finial is definitely all horse. The way it is mounted on an iron pole reminds me of a carousel animal, especially the way it is posed prancing.

Horses are associated with warfare, and this detail from an intricately-carved battle scene shows the horse at full gallop while its rider brandishes spears and weapons.

This battle scene, from a painted furniture panel, features the female warrior Deng Chanyu on horseback.

Here is a scene from the end of a wooden offering box, showing a horse that is saddled but without any rider. This makes a good transition to the second type of horse in Chinese art, those depicted as plain animals in more natural settings.

This carved pierced panel with its gilded, grazing horse has great appeal. The curlicue fretwork is very well done, and the red-gold-black color scheme is used to great effect, although very different from the mounted horse statue above.

The scene carved in shallow relief on this inkstone has a charming folk-art quality. The horse is once again in a grazing posture, and the monkey in the tree seems about to jump on his back, and looks very pleased with his plan.

Finally, here is the top of a small medicine container, embossed with a horse. The still-sealed tin contains Triangle Brand ‘genuine horse bezoar’, a kind of stone formed in the horse’s digestive tract, and which is used in traditional medicine. 

These few examples barely scratch the surface of horse imagery. If you have a favorite among those depicted, let me know in the comments. Horses in Chinese culture, similar to those in the West, can symbolize battle-readiness, importance, power and speed, as well as nature and freedom. Embodying all these qualities, this Horse Year is bound to be an auspicious one. 

Happy Year of the Horse!

(All photographs and original articles property of the author.)