Author: Taylor Lovrien

Gustav Vichy, French Automaton: “The Waltzing Couple”


Gustav Vichy

French Automaton: “The Waltzing Couple”


Mixed Media

Nicholas and Shelley Schorsch Collection




Essay by Kaitlyn Roberts


Automatons are traditionally viewed as mechanical wonders derived from the minds of engineers. The animation of the human form is considered their most intriguing aspect. During the time of their production, automatons were viewed less for their mechanical ingenuity but rather for the spectacle that was created by the mimetic atmosphere they created. Today, modern toys use electric motors and batteries to function, but the mechanical principles behind the production of such toys has changed little . Two examples of automatons made by Gustave Vichy and Zinner and Sohne are the works in our exhibition.

An atmosphere of wealth often surrounded automatons as they were frequently displayed to charm guests. Culture and location also played a large role in the significance of the automaton. In the late 18th-century and early 19th-century Europe was emerging from both the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution, creating a cross-pollination of modern mechanical and classical philosophical ideas.  Europeans were moved by a desire to understand the meaning of life and representation of the human form.

Late 19th-century France was home to diverse artistic views. The Frenchmen Gustave Vichy, born in 1839, grew up in his father’s store which sold mechanical toys. After his father’s bankruptcy Vichy, at the age of twenty-three, decided to create his own factory creating automatons with an intended focus on the production of musical automatons. His wife Maria, whom he married in 1864, sewed fashionable clothing for his dolls. Vichy was the first automaton manufacturer who, in his small factory, oversaw every step of the production process. Vichy’s automatons were always heavy sources for mixed media. In his 1870 Waltzing Couple he combines glass, silk, metal, bisque porcelain, and mohair. Vichy’s Waltzing Couple was inspired by the 1850 dancing dolls originally made by Theroude. The work features a couple embraced in each other’s arms in preparation for a dance. Once the key under the woman’s skirt is turned they traverse the floor in a large square-rotation while twirling around one another.

In comparison, Germany in the late 19th-century was marked by war and treaties that led to a culmination of diverse influences and the birth of German Realism.  Founded in 1845, Zinner and Sohne, a company based in Schalkau Germany, produced cheap commodified toys but specialized in quality machines. The company created many automatons but little is known about the logistics of the company itself. Zinner and Sohne’s 1890 Clown Drummer and Performing Poodles is a playful piece featuring a young boy in a silk suit and a matching velvet jacket with a drum and drumsticks in hand, accompanied by two poodles off to his right. Upon winding the crank the boy’s hands beat the drum while the larger dog to the far right activates a string that triggers the jumping apparatus attached to the smaller dog in between them. Zinner and Sohne made automatons in many mediums, creating an elaborate scene for the human forms to be placed upon. These German automatons are widely collected because of their playful music and their amusing motions.

The lively nature of automatons could capture the imagination of anyone at any age. The appealingly animated human form led to the current day culture surrounding dolls. With the influx in production of toys came a rise in mechanical ingenuity. Both Gustave Vichy’s and Zinner and Sohne’s automatons are prime examples of wonder.





Carriker, Kitti. Created in Our Image: The Miniature Body of the Doll as Subject and Object. Bethlehem, PA.: Lehigh University Press, 1998.

Kang, Minsoo. Sublime Dreams of Living Machines : The Automaton in the European Imagination. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2011.

Liu, Catherine. Copying Machines: Taking Notes for the Automaton. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000.

Keith Haring, Flying Man



Keith Haring

Flying Man


Offset lithograph

Private collection


Essay by Kaela Kennedy


Keith Haring was an emblematic figure of the New York art scene in the 1980s. His iconography was ubiquitous and his characteristic figures pervaded everything from advertising campaigns to subway graffiti. Two of Haring’s pieces appear in this exhibit.  Both images are connected by subject matter, showing depictions of winged, angel-like men. The first, a print entitled Flying Man, is an offset lithograph work on paper.  It measures sixteen inches by twelve inches. This image shows the graphic black outline of a winged human figure surrounded by bright pink zigzag lines radiating outwards from the body. The print reflects Haring’s stylized treatment of the human figure. The androgynous figure is largely defined by two continuous lines that form the legs, torso, arms, and head. Its wings are suggested by two lines extending from the neck and head of the figure and intercepting the legs. Both the lines of the figure and the pink radiating lines maintain the same weight throughout the piece creating a sense of uniformity.

The second work is a window from a New York City MBA subway car that has been tagged by both Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat around 1980. The window is 24 inches wide by ten inches tall, and about half an inch deep.  This found object is transformed by the two symbols inscribed in black ink that can be attributed to Haring and Basquiat. On the right side of the plane, Basquiat’s tag is inscribed. His typical three-pronged crown is drawn in a single continuous line, creating a unified shape. On the left we see an iteration of Haring’s winged man. Here, the figure’s upper body suggests that the winged man has hands, unlike that of the lithograph. Another variant is a large X-shape on the chest of the winged man and six short black lines emanating from its head.

Haring’s work was likely influenced by his own fervent Christianity, manipulating typical angel iconography into androgynous, genderless winged figures. Haring’s work, though complex in iconographic language, is never arbitrary. By digging into Haring’s symbolism, it is possible to see that these two figures serve as commentary on the corrupt nature of modern culture. The winged figure in the lithograph is distinguished by the pink lines radiating from the body itself.

In other examples of Haring’s work, the same lines serve as symbols of nuclear radiation; the artist had a noted fear of nuclear holocaust, which manifests itself in many of his works. Here, the nuclear energy corrupts the figure. The figure drawn on the subway window is in a different way corrupted; he bears a hollow “x” on his chest, which Haring used as a symbol of damnation. This contradicts the ‘holy’ lines emanating from the angel’s head, which typically refer to purity and holiness in Haring’s work. This dichotomy illustrates a conflict of nature, similar to the fall of the winged Icarus.




“Bio.” The Keith Haring Foundation. Accessed March 23, 2017.!/about-haring/bio.

Haring, Keith, Ralph Melcher, and Götz Adriani. Keith Haring: Heaven and Hell.

Ostifildern, Germany: Hatje Cantz Publishers, 2002.

Haring, Keith, Robert Farris Thompson, and Shepard Fairey. Keith Haring: Journals. London:

Penguin, 2010.

“Keith Haring: The Political Line Symbols.” de Young Museum. February 04, 2015. Accessed

March 23, 2017.

Phillips, Natalie E. “The Radiant (Christ) Child.” American Art 21, no. 3 (2007): 54-73.






Dressel & Kister, German Porcelain Half Doll known as “Eve”

Dressel & Kister

German Porcelain Half Doll known as “Eve”



Nicholas and Shelley Schorsch Collection




Essay by Helen Shiepe


From 1880 to 1940, the Dressel and Kister Company in Passau, Germany was a well-known manufacturer of half-dolls throughout the entire world, and Germany was a European center of porcelain production. A half-doll usually refers to a doll that has the upper half of a human figure without legs so that it could be attached to something useful such as a pin cushion, whisk brooms, tea cozies, and numerous things that can adorn a lady’s dressing table. They range from one inch to nine inches in height.  The two figures in our exhibition were made by the Dressel and Kister Company.  One depicts an Egyptian figure and the other the Biblical Eve.  Such dolls were made of Chinese porcelain, papier-mâché, wood, plaster, celluloid and wax, materials that could create strong but visually delicate objects. Dressel and Kister half-dolls can be identified by an odd upside down blue question mark either on the tapered base or inside the opening. The mark is painted free hand and in bright blue. There is, however, no mark to identify the artist who originally designed the doll. The inspiration for these half-dolls came from portraits. Many of the half-dolls were modeled nude, with a narrow tapered waist that was left unglazed. Their designs are more closely related to the style of the late Rococo period.

The two half dolls in our exhibition are from the 1920s.  The Egyptian Figure is six inches tall and decorated beautifully with a great deal of color. It is very rare to find half-dolls with limbs extended as they are with this figure. Usually half-dolls have their limbs attached to the torso in a “closed” pose. This half-doll has holes on the base of its torso. That is where the doll would be stitched to cloth. Egyptian objects were common in the early 1900s due to the popularity of Egyptian culture at the time.  Our Egyptian figure is exquisite for its excellent condition, another rare feature.  The gold inlaid head piece, necklace and bracelets are well preserved. The Egyptian Figure also represents both the popularization of Egyptian fashion and the empowerment of women as this half-doll represents a female pharaoh. Egyptian half-dolls can also have different skin colors and ornamentation, which helps to determine the Egyptian era the half-doll is meant to portray. The Egyptian Figure is of a lighter more “European-esque” type of complexation—a more peachy or pink type of tone instead of a dark-skinned or olive skin tone.

The half doll of Eve is a more common type of half-doll as she likely reminded people of biblical stories.  What is unique, however, is her unusually long, curved waist.  She is six inches tall and has holes in her torso where cloth could be attached. These objects also provide insight into the cultures that created them and for the significance of half-dolls in everyday households. Eve represents the biblical story of Adam and Eve, which in the early 1900s was an important story.  It is the story from the Book of Genesis in the Hebrew Bible about the creation of man and woman, a story that is also about good and evil. God tells both Adam and Eve not to eat from the tree of knowledge but they become tempted by the devil to eat a golden apple from the tree. The first one to take a bite is Eve. The half-doll figure of Eve is seen as if she is contemplating whether or not to take a bite from the apple.

The half-dolls of the Egyptian Figure and Eve belong to a lost tradition.  Both half-dolls are rarities for surviving in such excellent conditions.  Half-dolls that are this intricately crafted and beautifully preserved today are miracles in themselves, as these dolls truly capture beauty. 





Kirsch, Francine. “The Half-Doll’s Many Guises.” Doll Reader 29, no. 2 (February 2001): 72.

Marion, Frieda, and Norma Werner. The Collector’s Encyclopedia of Half-Dolls. New York:

Crown Publishers, Inc., 1979.

Thornton, Zita. Dressing Table & Half Dolls. Grantsville, MD: Hobby House Press, 2004.

Van Patten, Denise. “Half Dolls – Introduction.” The Spruce. Last modified November 29, 2016.

Accessed March 21, 2017.



Unknown artist, Egyptian Figurines

Unknown artist

Egyptian Figurines

Uncertain date (c.3000-300 B.C.)


Collection of Newport Historical Society




Essay by  Michaela McMahon


The Grand Tour was a coming of age trip for aristocratic Europeans during the fifteenth- through seventeenth-centuries.  After a student finished his studies in Oxford or Cambridge, he would visit different cities, including Paris and Rome, among others.  The primary purpose of the trip was to expose young men to polite society of the Continent and the handiwork of the Renaissance and the Classical periods.  During this time travelers learned as much as they could and would hone skills in areas such as language and dance, but interest would often lie in the collecting of curiosities or works of art.  The three figurines in our exhibition may likely have been souvenirs of such a trip. 

The fragments were originally ancient Egyptian religious objects and later became souvenirs during the Grand Tour.  All three figures have been broken into smaller fragments, leaving only the pieces displayed in the exhibit.  They are made from terracotta ranging from brown to almost orange and are rather worn.  This makes their facial features difficult to see.  One of the figures is hollow, while the other two are solid terracotta.  All of the figures appear to be women and are small in size (each is no more than three inches long).  One figure has a child attached.  Her arm is bent at the elbow across her chest.  The second figure is reaching up to balance a vase on top of her head.  The third piece is merely a head broken off at the sternum.

We do not know the name of the artists who created these objects.  The figurines are from ancient Egypt, which dates them between 3,000 and 30 BCE.  They were votive figures likely used in religious ceremonies.  Sometimes similar figurines would be left by the walls of a temple as dedications or offerings.  The ancient Egyptians believed that objects were imbued with a certain power, and that they could affect outcomes in life and in the afterlife.  One Egyptian interpretation says that the figures were made as fertility symbols for local temples.  The childlike figure next to one of the women would support this hypothesis, because complete figurines portraying children have been found along with fertility and childbearing votives in the Precinct of Mut in the present day city of Luxor.  All of the figurines had been purposely and perhaps ritually broken once they were no longer useful.

Large scale collecting was not new during the Grand Tour.  Upon his ascension to the English throne in 1625, Charles I began to send out agents to Greece and Rome to gather ancient statuary for his private collection.  For those on the Grand Tour, souvenirs would serve as indicators of status.  Souvenirs were an important part of travelling on the Grand Tour–well-to-do travelers would return laden with statuary, paintings, jewels, and other curiosities.  Despite Egypt’s unpopularity as a travel destination, the long standing tradition and popularity of the Grand Tour instilled a desire to travel and collect antiquities among English elite during the following decades.

The late 1800s and early 1900s were full of new and exciting discoveries in the field of Egyptology, including Howard Carter’s discovery of King Tut’s tomb in 1922.  The primary motivation behind the excavation of ancient sites was the chance to discover treasures or oddities that would go into private collections.  The three figurines in our exhibition were possibly brought back during this period as souvenirs, since the height of Gilded Age Newport coincided with the surge in interest with ancient cultures.  Even though they are merely fragments, the three Newport figurines are appropriate symbols of Grand Tour and 20th-century collecting by European and American elites.





Bohls, Elizabeth A. and Ian Duncan. Oxford World Classics: Travel Writing 1700-1830: An

Anthology. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.

Brodsky-Porges, Edward. “The Grand Tour: Travel as an Educational Device 1600-1800.”

Annals of Tourism Research 8, no. 12 (1981): 171-186.

Haskell, Francis, and Nicholas Penny. Taste and the Antique: The Lure of Classical Sculpture,

1500-1900. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998.

Pinch, Geraldine and Waraksa, Elizabeth A. “Votive Practices.” UCLA Encyclopedia of

Egyptology. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2009.

Waraksa, Elizabeth A. Female Figurines from the Mut Precinct: Context and Ritual Function.

Fribourg: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2009.


Unknown artist, Pitcher

Unknown artist




Collection of Newport Historical Society




Essay by Taylor Lovrien


Iconography, utilitarianism, and history play an essential part in the life and use of the pitcher with masonic symbols.  This ceramic pitcher was made in between the years 1785-1820 as determined by the styling of the transfer pattern, type of clay, and barrel-like form. It stands 10.6 inches high, made from stoneware clay coated with a glossy ivory glaze and covered with etched black transfer patterns on its front, right and left sides.  This pitcher has a generous bowl and a gradually smaller neck, ending in a curved spout. It has a sturdy yet elegant unadorned handle that shares the same creamy glaze as the rest of the vessel. Prior to being in the Newport Historical Society’s collection, this piece was owned by a Mrs. Powel of Newport, who donated it to the NHS. Its particular significance to that family’s history is unknown, but one can assume that it was likely used to hold water.

The symbols present on the transfer pattern are of Masonic origin.  They point to the society of the early founding fathers of America and the manufacturer and inventor, Josiah Wedgewood. He developed a type of pottery that mimicked the fine china of the rich, but cost little to nothing to make. The transfers of these pots and pitchers were often patriotically themed, to better sell in the developing American colonies.  The freemasons themselves have no definitive founding date.  But scholars have found reference to the group in a poem written in the year 1390, and it is believed that they have been active since the early Middle Ages. The freemasons themselves trace their lineage back to the temple of King Solomon and take credit for its construction under the master mason named Hiram Abiff, who taught his followers the secrets of masonry. Among these lessons are laws concerning fraternity, secrecy, knowledge, and truth. In the year 1717, the grand lodge of London was formed and masonry moved with the British overseas into the American colonies. This fraternity played an integral role in the Revolutionary War, with notable leaders such as George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, John Hancock, and Paul Revere.

The symbols on this vessel are used to commemorate the culture and practices of the free masons who helped instigate the American Revolution. Some of the most notable symbols are the square and compass with a centralized “G” that appears under the spout of the pitcher, the symbol of the Pythagorean Theorem, and the All-Seeing Eye. The eye represents the absolute truth, God and the ‘revelation’ of the mysteries of freemasonry. Other more subtle symbols include the candle (for illumination), the apron (for craftsmanship), and the Pythagorean Theorem’s symbol (for mathematics and geometry) [see key for details].  These symbols on the creamware ceramic pitcher emphasize truth, wisdom, and the pursuit of knowledge through fraternity and loyalty to the brotherhood.  This pitcher serves as a reminder of the culture and ideals of post-Revolutionary America.


Symbol Key:

Square and compass with central “G”: This is a symbol for the practice of masonry itself, as well as an allusion to masonry’s past with stonemasonry, hence the square and compass for measuring angles. The “G” has not been given a decided meaning, but it fluctuates between God, Geometry, and Good.

Pythagorean Theorem: This symbol emphasizes the use of mathematics as a way to find truth because there is no disputing mathematical results, much unlike matters of philosophy and religion.

The All-Seeing Eye: This eye can be representative of many things, including god, higher knowledge, and observation/watchfulness.






Burton, William. Josiah Wedgwood and His Pottery. London: Cassell and Company, Ltd., 1922.

“Freemasonry.” Freemasons.

Mackey, Albert Gallatin. The Symbolism of Freemasonry: Illustrating and Explaining Its Science and Philosophy, Its Legends, Myths and Symbols. Luton, England: Andrews UK, Ltd., 2010.

Manners, Errol, and Hugo Fletcher Morley. Ceramics Source Book. London: Grange Books, 1997.

Waite, Arthur Edward. A New Encyclopaedia of Freemasonry (Ars Magna Latomorum) and of Cognate Instituted Mysteries: Their Rites, Literature, and History. New York: Wings Books, 1994.


Ken Chaplin, Printing Blocks

Ken Chaplin

Printing Blocks


Wood and rubber

Collection of Newport Historical Society




Essay by Celina Pombo


Ken Chaplin, a resident of Newport, Rhode Island, suffered from polio during his childhood. As a form of therapy he learned to carve woodcut-printing blocks. He enjoyed creating intricate scenes of landscapes, architecture, and everyday life. Seventeen of his woodblocks survive today and are preserved in the Newport Historical Society’s collections. He carved the blocks with the intent of making multiple prints. Growing up in Newport, a wealth of historic and architectural scenery surrounded Chaplin. This inspiration would serve as the basis for a collection of woodblocks he carved from 1940-1950. Each of the six blocks showcased in the “Curious and Collected” exhibition depict a Newport architectural landmark.

Great Friends Meeting House is depicted in the condition of the structure before it was restored to its 1807 façade. The front view highlights a gable that has a triangular pediment and a lunette window in the center.

Chaplin’s carving of the Colony House portrays the Georgian or Wrenian Baroque building in delicate yet precisely carved detail. The roof balustrade and cupola make the brick-building stand out along the Newport skyline.

Deeply carved by Chaplin, the Old Stone Mill is well known because of the tower’s controversial past. Some believe the Vikings built this structure, while others think it was built during the time of Benedict Arnold. Regardless of its origin, it is one of the  oldest structures in Newport.

Chaplin’s depiction of the Redwood Library showcases its Georgian Palladian style architecture, designed by Peter Harrison. Both the building and the history of the Redwood Library are integral components of Newport’s heritage.

Old Prescott House is one of the most difficult buildings to identify in Chaplin’s collection because it is not well known today. His intricate carving of the house highlights its gambrel roof, pedimented dormers, and veranda.

The last carving in Chaplin’s collection is Trinity Church. The church’s three-tiered wedding-cake steeple is unique to Newport. Designed by Richard Munday, the church was built in 1724-1726.

Carved into a wood block with a top layer of rubber, all of the images are approximately 4 inches x 5 inches. These dimensions are comparable to the dimensions of postcards produced during the same period. During the 1940s and 1950s, Newport was working to revitalize the city’s architectural heritage and resort culture. Postcards served as a way of doing so. Visitors to Newport were able to take tours of the city’s most famous buildings, such as the ones depicted in Chaplin’s woodblocks. After learning about their heritage, visitors used postcards to share their experience with their friends and family. Postcards not only captured the architectural history but also acted as souvenirs that contributed to the commodification of Newport’s resort culture. By depicting famous architectural landmarks Chaplin reveals his interest in preserving the architectural heritage and highlighting the rich history of Newport.  The six woodblocks in our exhibition are part of a larger collection of nine famous landmark blocks that Chaplin carved. These landmarks still survive today and can be visited as notable attractions to learn more about Newport’s heritage.





Downing, Antoinette Forrester, and Vincent Scully Jr. The Architectural Heritage of Newport, Rhode Island, 1640-1915. New York: American Legacy Press, 1967.

Goldberger, Paul. “Restored Homes Bring New Look to Old Newport, R.I.” New York Times (New York), August 25, 1976.

“Notes of the Resorts.” New York Times (New York), June 18, 1944.

Stensrud, Rockwell. Newport: A Lively Experiment, 1639-1969. Newport, RI: Redwood Library

and Athenaeum, 2006.

Yarnall, James L. Newport Through its Architecture: A History of Styles from Postmedieval to Postmodern. Hannover, NH: University Press of New England in association with Salve

Regina University, 2005.

Henri Matisse, Fall of Icarus

Henri Matisse

Fall of Icarus



Private collection



Essay by Ryan McKenna


Towards the end of WWII, Henri Matisse crafted The Fall of Icarus. This piece, which measures approximately 13 3/4 inches tall and 10 5/8 inches wide, can be discovered in two forms; the cut-out and the print. The print, completed in 1944, was first displayed in “Couleur de Matisse” a unique issue of Verve magazine that focused on Matisse’s masterful use of color. Matisse supervised the making of this lithograph print, making sure it accurately depicted the original cut out. Matisse used gouache to establish the varying colored papers from which he cut each shape. On a blue background, he affixed glaring flashes of bright yellow, which simultaneously relate to the heights that Icarus himself achieved and the flashes of bombs bursting around those living in or near a war zone.  A white figure with a red form on its chest is prominently displayed in the center of the piece within a diagonal black stripe. The yellow forms and the red form were originally pinned down. The black strip and the white figure were collaged.

The work as a whole reflects France’s involvement in World War II as well as Matisse’s personal struggle. In the tale of Icarus, Daedalus and his son, Icarus, craft wings held together by candle wax in order to escape prison. When Icarus flew too close to the sun, his wings fell apart from the intense heat, causing him to meet his watery death in the Mediterranean. Around the time he created The Fall of Icarus Henri Matisse was trudging through a difficult period of his life. In 1939, at age 70, he divorced from his wife of 41 years. His health began to decline around this time as well, with his eyesight worsening and his ability to move becoming increasingly impaired. At this time Matisse surely identified with Icarus, who soared too high and lost his life.  Not only was Matisse’s personal life in shambles, but his French homeland had plunged into the chaos of WWII. The war profoundly impacted Matisse as the German military made their way through Europe, pillaging and conquering. His physicians speculated that the stress of the war was causing his health to decline. However, Matisse was able to find a way to surmount his struggles through his art. Prior to the cut-outs, Matisse was working with linocuts, an art form where one cuts into a piece of linoleum in order to create a reproducible image. As Hillary Spurling describes, “Linocuts gave him the spontaneity and directness he wanted” (p. 418-19). These linocuts served as inspiration for the cut-out.  Speaking of these well-known pieces, Matisse stated that “the sensation of flight which emanated from me helped me better to adjust my hand when it used the scissors…it’s a kind of linear and graphic equivalence to the sensation of flight” (quoted in Friedman 2014, p. 112-15). The cut-outs allowed him to create images in a way that was not as manually laborious as traditional oil painting. 

Henri Matisse lost his ability to pursue his passion for painting due to his fading health. Yet even through this tumultuous period, Matisse summoned the willpower and inspiration to explore his thoughts and feelings through new mediums. The cut-outs challenged conventional ideas and ways of working. With this new medium, Matisse pioneered an innovative type of painting. The Fall of Icarus epitomizes the cut-outs with its bright, contrasting colors, irregular shapes, and impeccable composition. Not only did it incorporate all the themes of Matisse’s work, but it also was highly symbolic of his own personal struggles and the conflict that was raging throughout the world.





Flam, Jack D. Matisse: A Retrospective. New York: Park Lane, 1990.

Friedman, Samantha. “Game and Endgame,” in Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs, edited by Karl Buchberg et al., . New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2014.

Hanne, Finsen. Matisse: A Second Life. Paris: Hazan, 2005. 

Selz, Jean. Matisse. Milan: Uffici Press, 1964.

Spurling, Hilary. Matisse the Master: A Life of Henri Matisse, the Conquest of Colour, 1909-1954. New York: A.A. Knopf, 2005. 


Max Beckmann, Icarus

Max Beckmann

Icarus  (c.1935)

Offset lithograph

Private collection




Essay by Sarah Beach


       “And the boy

       Thought This is wonderful! and left his father,

       Soared higher, higher, drawn to the vast heaven,

       Nearer the sun, and the wax that held the wings

       Melted in that fierce heat, and the bare arms

       Beat up and down in air, and lacking oarage

       Took hold of nothing. Father! he cried, and Father!

       Until the blue sea hushed him, the dark water

       Men call the Icarian now.”

       Ovid, Metamorphoses, translated by Rolfe Humphries, lines 222-230


With these words the Roman poet Ovid describes the tragic death of Icarus, the climax of the myth.  Daedalus, the first craftsman, and his son Icarus were imprisoned on the island of Crete by King Minos. Discontent with this sentence, Daedalus crafted two pairs of wings from wax and feathers for them to escape, and he warned Icarus of their limitations before taking off.  The wings would fall apart when flown too close to the ocean or the sun. Despite this, Icarus got carried away with the joys of flight and soared too close to the sun, the wax melting, resulting in his drowning in the sea below. This is the best known version of the Icarus myth, and throughout history artists have represented the story in different ways.

Twentieth-century artist Max Beckmann’s offset lithograph entitled Icarus offers a different interpretation of the story from that in Ovid. The figure stretched diagonally across the page is not winged, but instead an ordinary man draped in plain cloth. It is as if he is suspended in air, as the tips of his toes bend under the tension of being the only part of his body grounded. Facing away from the viewer, Beckmann’s Icarus is in a pose that looks like one of prayer, with eyes closed, arms extended, and palms facing inward. The historical context of the print is essential in understanding Beckmann’s artistic choices. By 1935 in Beckmann’s home of Germany, the Third Reich had been established and the Nazi party was oppressing artists and other groups that did not fit German ideals. The figure’s pose of prayer reflects Beckmann’s re-focusing of the Icarus myth from the youth’s untimely death to that of hope for his escape.  A sun, represented by only a few thin lines, shines in the distance, offering optimism and hope for the future. This work reflects Beckmann’s own feelings of imprisonment within Nazi Germany and his inner desire to escape to somewhere better.  But Beckmann only managed to get as far as Amsterdam where there was still a prominent Nazi presence.

Leonard Baskin was a later 20th-century Jewish-American sculptor and printmaker who also portrays Icarus.  The work depicts the right profile of a muscular male figure from head to knee. The figure is a hybrid creature, with the head of a bird sitting directly on the body of a man. Baskin’s depiction of the myth in this wood engraving entitled Icarus moves away from Classical representations of the subject and instead highlights his personal interests and experiences. Birds of prey were a particular interest of Baskin’s, as he admired their form as well as their potential symbolism for death. They fit particularly well with the myth of Icarus, where flight is a salient feature of the story.  The dark tone of this print reminds the viewer of Icarus’ sudden plummet to a watery grave. Such grotesque and dark subjects were a common theme throughout Baskin’s oeuvre, stemming from being raised during the time of the Great Depression and the Holocaust. Baskin was not personally affected by these events, but even witnessing them left an indelible mark on his artistic style.

These two works reveal how artists further develop the mythology of the Icarus story and its allegory of hubris.  Max Beckmann and Leonard Baskin reframe the Classical narrative and meanings of Icarus to reflect new themes.  The results are two dramatically different prints that convey the inner feelings of each artist, creating new versions of the Icarus myth and imbuing them with contemporary significance.




Baskin, Leonard. Baskin: Sculpture, Drawings & Prints. New York: George Braziller, 1970.

Goggin, Mary-Margaret. “‘Decent’ vs. ‘Degenerate’ Art: The National Socialist Case,” Art

Journal 50, no. 4 (Winter 1991): 84-92.

Rainbird, Sean, ed. Max Beckmann. New York:  Museum of Modern Art, 2003.

Ovid. Metamorphoses. Translated by Rolfe Humphries. Indianapolis: Indiana University Press,1983.

Spence, Robert. “Leonard Baskin: The Artist as Counter-Decadent,” Art Journal 22, no. 2

(Winter 1962): 88-91.



Unknown artist, Dollhouse Bearskin Rug

Unknown artist

Dollhouse Bearskin Rug

Uncertain date

Fur and other media

Collection of Newport Historical Society




Essay by Elliott Hoekstra


Imagine that you are sitting in the house of a Victorian era family. There is a father, a mother, and a few children.  One of these children might be a little girl who could have played with a dollhouse.  Some would say that the doll house offers a way for the girl to be able to entertain herself. But in another house the dollhouse sits in a well-lit room centered on a pedestal to show off the material goods the family may own.  The bear skin rug in our exhibition would have once been used as a decoration in such a doll house, probably from the 19th-century. 

The Dollhouse Bear Skin Rug measures half a foot in length from its head to toe and is made of an unknown animal fur.  The hide of the animal rests upon a felt cloth. With its arms and legs outstretched, the animal resembles a taxidermied bear. The fur is various shades of brown and white, and its texture is rough around the edges.  The felt cloth surrounding the animal is purple. Towards the head a white ribbon is attached and extends from the felt cloth.  

Unlike the body, the head of the animal is three-dimensional, which has been flattened with its legs stretched out to the sides. The mouth of the animal, although not intact, is shown to have been open and may once have had teeth. The nose is no longer present.  The lower jaw rests upon the purple felt that surrounds that rest of the body. The eyes of the animal protrude from its head and the fur between the eyes is worn down.  The animal lies flat on the ground, a rug for a doll house like one that may have been used in a Victorian home. 

Rugs in the Victorian era were both decorative and functional, markers of status and class.  The combination of colors on this particular rug were in fashion during this period.  Over time, the doll house has become gendered “feminine”.  Now we again see the little girl of our hypothetical Victorian era family playing with such a toy. The physical object of the dollhouse symbolizes household domesticity and indoctrinates her in expected gender roles.  Little girls may have used dollhouses to imagine their futures, but their futures would likely be predetermined to focus on managing a household.  Doll houses and their decoration offered girls a glimpse of their futures and inscribed contemporary gendered expectations.

Overall, The Dollhouse Bearskin Rug is an object of great importance because it allows us insight into the material world and culture of the Victorian period, both historical reality and the imagined life of girlhood.  The rug brings us back to an age that reminds us about what domesticity was once thought to look like.



Broomhall, Susan. “Imagined Domesticities in Early Modern Dutch Dollhouses.” Parergon 24, no. 2 (2007): 47-67.

 Forman-Brunell, Miriam. Made to Play House: Dolls and the Commercialization of American Girlhood, 1830-1930. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993.

 Greene, Vivien. English Dolls’ Houses of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries. New York: Scribner, 1979.   

Kirkham, Pat. The Gendered Object. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1996. 

 Moseley-Christian, M. “Seventeenth-Century Pronk Poppenhuisen: Domestic Space and the Ritual Function of Dutch Dollhouses for Women.” Home Cultures 7, no. 3 (2010): 341-364.  

Unknown artist, Shellwork Figure of a Woman

Unknown artist

Shellwork Figure of a Woman

Sea shells, stone and glass  (c. 1850-1900)

The Collection of Nicholas and Shelley Schorsch




Essay by Alyssa Portofee


The beauty and allure of the ocean have always attracted people to the coast and the treasures of the sea have been repurposed for home decor.    During the late 1800s, “shell work,” or the creation of decorative objects out of sea shells, became a new craft among Victorian women. “Shell Work Figure of a Woman” is made of sea shells, stone and glass pieces that are arranged to portray a woman with her arms out, palms up. Her head and arms are made of carved and painted stone, but her dress is constructed of shells. A series of small conical brown shells have been arranged to create a crossed shape across the shoulders and chest of the figure, giving the appearance of a shawl that ends at the waist. The shells of her long skirt are attached to a stiff, woven textile and are arranged in vertical columns with alternating colors to create stripes. The upper back of the figure has five pink shells arranged around a central white shell, similar to a five-petaled flower. This figure may have been created for sale as a souvenir or made by a hobbyist practicing the shell work craft.

This style of arranging shells emerged in Victorian England during the latter half of the 19th-century.  Elite of Victorian society aspired to appear cultured and well-traveled—the British highly romanticized exploration—which manifested in collecting, classifying, and recording. Cabinets of Curiosities exemplified this mindset and the display of natural objects showed this sort of scientific attitude. One women’s magazine from this period even gives advice for the display of found seashells in glass cases, by size, shape, and color, much like how they would be arranged in a Cabinet of Curiosity.

The shell work handicraft was mainly popularized among women. Because England had entered a period of financial stability after what was called the “hungry forties,” a middle class emerged. There were now a whole group of people who had the luxury of leisure time as well as a concern with social standing. Most were expected to spend their leisure time in a respectable way, and many chose to craft as a means of beautifying their home and appearing cultured. Periodicals for women such as Godey’s Lady’s Book and books like Casell’s Household Guide were intended for this demographic— middle class women who now had the luxury to concern themselves with what was considered “good taste.”

Shells could be bought from the store for use in these projects, or they could be collected from the seaside. One women’s journal describes the process of cleansing shells first by plunging them into scalding water to kill any living fish that may be inside, extracting fish from univalves with a crochet needle or hooked wire, and using a knife to remove “the animal” from bivalves. They could then be deodorized and sanitized with a weak solution of chloride of lime.

The shell work handicraft reflected the Victorian zeitgeist— the zeal for exploration, collection and classification. And though shell work reached its peak popularity during the late 1800s, similar objects can still be bought today in coastal towns around the world.





Draznin, Yaffa Claire. Victorian London’s Middle-Class Housewife: What She Did all Day. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2000.

Edwards, Clive. “‘Home Is Where the Art Is’: Women, Handicrafts and Home Improvements 1750-1900.” Journal of Design History 19, no. 1 (2006):  11-21.

Henderson, Marjorie, and Elizabeth Wilkinson. Whatnot: A Compendium of Victorian Crafts

& Other Matters, Being a Compilation of Authentic Home & Hand Crafts Popular in the Era of Her Most Excellent Majesty, Victoria, by the Grace of God Queen. New York: Morrow, 1977.

“Instructions for Making Ornaments in Rice and Shell Work.” Godey’s Lady Book 48 (January

1854):  22.

Jones, C.S., and Henry T. Williams. Ladies’ Fancy Work: Hints and Helps to Home Taste and Recreations. New York: Ladies’ Floral Cabinet Co., 1883.