Tag: objects

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 Vichy’s Waltzing Couple was inspired by the 1850 dancing dolls originally made by Theroude.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.

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. https://www.thespruce.com/half-dolls-overview-774708.



Unknown artist, Corinthian Capital (Pilaster) from Newport, Rhode Island

Unknown artist

Corinthian Capital (Pilaster) from Newport, R.I.

Uncertain Date 


Teaching collection of Salve Regina’s Department of Art and Art History 




Essay by Zachary Mafera


John Russell Pope was a leading figure in 20th-century American architecture whose influence is still relevant today.  His most noted works include the Jefferson Memorial and National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.  Yet Whiteholme, a Newport, Rhode Island mansion that no longer exists, remains Pope’s first independent commission.  Its elegant French style clearly shows his early interest in restrained classical design, a concept that earned him high praise.

This Ionic pilaster capital is an architectural remnant that once decorated Whiteholme.  Designed ca. 1901 by John Russell Pope, Whiteholme was built as a summer villa for Mary Frick Garrett (later Mrs. H. Barton Jacobs), widow of Robert Garrett, president of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.  At the turn of the century, Newport, Rhode Island was a summer social capital for the rich and famous, where mansions like Whiteholme were built to impress high society members.  While many of these great Gilded Age mansions survive, Whiteholme marked a significant loss in Newport’s otherwise outstanding portfolio of American architecture.  It stood impressively at the corner of Narragansett Avenue and Ochre Point Avenue, in one of Newport’s most desirable neighborhoods.

Unfortunately, after many years of neglect, Whiteholme was razed in 1963. Today the site is home to Miley Hall and Walgreen Hall, part of Salve Regina University’s campus. This pilaster capital is a surviving remain from the decoration of the mansion.  It once adorned a pilaster next to the main entrance of Whiteholme. It is a small piece of decoration which embellished an otherwise plain square pilaster at the entrance of the mansion. The grand wrought-iron doors to Whiteholme were flanked by a pair of two-story Ionic columns with square pilasters and matching Ionic capitals. The design of the capital clearly demonstrates Pope’s sophisticated use of classical decoration, where overall form is more important than decoration.

Pope’s earliest commissions were heavily influenced by French classicism and an interest in European architecture and culture that he developed during his training at France’s École des Beaux-Arts, considered the best school of architecture in the western world at the time. The exterior design of Whiteholme drew from the Parisian Neo-Baroque architecture of the 1860s, with bulging rounded forms and subdued decoration. This pilaster capital is an important visual representation of John Russell Pope’s unique creativity and experimentation with classical forms in architecture at the very beginning of his long and celebrated career.

This capital shows important cultural connections between America and Europe in the early twentieth century when wealthy Americans looked to Europe for inspiration in art, design, and culture. Americans, at the time, sought to emulate European models because such traditions were associated with knowledge, power, and taste. Whiteholme conveyed a message of wealth and taste to the rest of the world.  This surviving architectural remnant from Whiteholme gives us a better visual understanding of the mansion in its original context, and it allows us to study the beginning of John Russell Pope’s important career.





Bedford, Steven. John Russell Pope: Architect of Empire. New York: Rizzoli, 1998.

Downing, Antoinette Forrester, and Vincent Scully. The Architectural Heritage of Newport,

Rhode Island, 1640-1915.  New York: American Legacy Press, 1982.

Kathrens, Michael C. Newport Villas: The Revival Styles, 1885-1935. New York: W.W. Norton,


Middleton, Robin. The Beaux-Arts and Nineteenth-Century French Architecture. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1982.

Miller, Paul F. Lost Newport: Vanished Cottages of the Resort Era. Bedford, MA: Applewood

Books, 2008.

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.


Unknown artist, Dental Extractor Set

Dental Extractor Set 

c. 1950 

Wood and Metal 

Collection of Newport Historical Society 




Essay by Ming Fen Congdon


Everyone dreads having a tooth pulled, and tool sets dedicated to tooth extraction are not new.  There was a tool set dedicated to solely tooth extraction. In the field of mid-twentieth century dentistry, the extraction set was critical to oral hygiene. The advancements in dental extraction sets can be seen in one such set from 1950 in the collection of the Newport Historical Society. Developments and advancements in design of such dental tools helped the field of dentistry to become more advanced than other medical fields, but it was not until the 19-century that such tools were created. Many of these tools came in a small box that had each tool lined up with their various attachments. 

Tooth extraction was one of the few surgical operations that was known to not affect the rest of the body.  There were still many dangers, however, that came with the procedure. To see how dental tools changed over time, one can examine two of the most popular tools in the Newport Historical Society’s dental extractor set—the lever and the tooth key. Both of these tools were made out of steel with a wooden handle. The lever has a long narrow handle and a metal part that is about three inches long with a 90-degree angle at the flattened end (Figure 1). This tool was used to easily pry stubborn teeth from its socket. The tapered blade was inserted between the root and the adjacent tooth, and a turning movement would elevate the tooth from the gum. As some teeth were more challenging to pull out, the lever needed some improvements, thus creating the more widely used implement in the set:  the tooth key.

The “tooth key,” designed in 1742, made extracting teeth easier and quicker for the patient. Appropriately named, the tool looked like an old fashion key. This instrument is a powerful lever used for extractions by putting the bolster (flat part of the tool) against the root of the tooth and the claws engaged over the crown. The key was then turned in a quick rapid motion until the crown came out.  This tool has a distinct handle that is longer in width than all other tools in the set; the handle is about three and a half inches wide and a half of an inch tall at its thickest part of the handle. It has a long metal curving attachment to the wooden handle and has many bends in the metal part. Three moving parts on top of the tool move back and forth, pivoting around the main frame of the tool. One is curved with a single point at the end; the second is similar to the first but it has an indent at the top of the curve that creates a small “V” shape on it. Lastly, the third moving part is an oval flattened piece of metal that moves up and down slightly above the two curved parts, and has small holes in the flattened part. The tooth key changed in design over time.  Earlier examples show that the handle was changed to increase the amount of pressure possible on the tool. It is clear to see that the tool first was given its name due to its key shape.

Limited access to proper anesthesia in the 1950s made many people afraid to go to the dentist. They preferred to endure the pain of a toothache rather than having a tooth extracted. The lever and the tooth key were only used when a tooth was beyond repair. Both easy and quick to use, these instruments were included together in sets. The tooth key offered a more aggressive tool, but if used improperly could cause gum and jaw damage. Also, it was not used for all extractions. Constant changes in technology required that the tools in such dental sets evolved over time. There will always be a need for dental care, and the individuals performing such procedures will only be as good as the tools to which they have access.





Great Britain, National Health Service (General Dental Services) Regulations 1992. Statutory Instruments, no. 661. London: Her Majesty’s Stationary Office, 1992.

Guerini, Vincenzo. A History of Dentistry: From the Most Ancient Times Until the End of

the Eighteenth Century. Whitefish, MT: Kessinger, 2009.

Hamarneh, Sami. “Dental Exhibition & Reference Collection at the Smithsonian Institution.”

Health Services Reports 87, no. 4 (1972): 291-303.

Leonard, William F. “Handbook of Dental Practice.” American Journal of Public Health

and the Nations Health 39: 677.

Miner, Virginia Scott. “Fun at the Dentist’s.” The English Journal 47, no. 6 (1958): 348.

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. http://www.freemasons-freemasonry.com/.

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.

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.


Unknown artist, Ivory and Horn Mermaid Perfume Bottle

Unknown artist

Ivory and Horn Mermaid Perfume Bottle

Date Unknown

Ivory, horn, and silver

The Collection of Nicholas and Shelley Schorsch




Essay by Tessa Schorsch


This mermaid vessel is an object of unknown origin, purchased from a small antique shop in Newport, Rhode Island that serves both functional and aesthetic purposes.  The object is roughly nine inches long with an ivory body and hollow horn tail that allows liquid to be stored.  The metal screw attached to the mermaid’s head caps the liquid this object could hold.  This vessel’s materials, techniques, and patina suggest that it was made in the mid- to late0- 1800s or early 1900s. The upper half of the sculpture is made out of ivory. The female figure depicted is naked with an hour glass shaped body.  Her back is arched displaying a flat stomach, belly button indent and a horn tail that starts where her pubic hair begins.

The half-woman/half-fish anatomy of this figure seems to portray a mermaid, but the more sexualized representation aligns more closely with the tradition of sirens, a common conflation in art and literature. Sirens were known for luring sailors into shipwrecks with their songs and seductive bodies. Mermaid folklore usually involves taming the mermaid and making her a good wife or possession. Many cultures have interpretations of sirens and mermaids with ties to literature, folklore, and artifacts. Some would argue that sirens and mermaids are actually the same creatures simply referred to differently because of the various cultural backgrounds from which they come. Tales of sirens date back to Greek mythological stories, appearing, for instance, in the Odyssey.  The figure’s exposed pubic hair and breasts along with her arched back and hourglass figure suggesting sexuality and temptation have more in common with siren-based mythology than the mermaid folklore and imagery that we see so commercialized today. 

The mermaid vessel is most likely made by a skilled scrimshaw craftsman who could have even been a sailor.  While research produced no close comparisons, the detailed carving of the mermaid’s body and face resembles the kind of scrimshaw found on canes or walking sticks.  They are carved from the same materials and depict similarly detailed imagery.  The tail of the mermaid is interesting because it looks similar and relates to material in the classic powder horns or flasks that were used to store gun powder. While the mermaid vessel has many similarities to walking sticks and other nautical artifacts, it is not similar enough to make a definitive conclusion regarding its origins.

The Department of Chemistry at Salve Regina University conducted chemical testing of the mermaid vessel to determine the nature of the material it might have stored.  The test results were not able to determine this with more than forty percent accuracy, but the compounds detected point towards a substance of medical or medicinal use like perfume, drugs, alcohol or poison.  The shape and layout of the object suggest that it stored liquid rather than a cream or powder.

We could imagine that this object was owned by the captain of a whaling ship leaving Newport or Nantucket in the late 18th-century.  It could have been left on his writing desk or bedside table as a gift or a souvenir of a particular journey.  It is an alluring object that was probably once used for storing small quantities of vital medicine in case of illness. 





Baddeley, John.  Nautical Antiques and Collectables. London: Sotheby, 1994.

Beck, Horace Palmer.  Folklore and the Sea. Mystic, CT: Mystic Seaport Museum, 1996.

Couper, Alastair.  Sailors and Traders: A Maritime History of the Pacific Peoples. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2009.

Kranz, Jaqueline L.  American Nautical Art and Antiques.  New York:  Crown, 1975.

Lao, Meri. Seduction and the Secret Power of Women: The Lure of Sirens and Mermaids. Rochester, VT: Park Street Press, 2007.

Meschwitz, Susan, and Bernard Munge. Salve Regina University: Gas Chromatography / Mass Spectrometry Data. March 15, 2017. Raw data. RI, Newport.