Proust Bite: Teatime at My Grandparent’s.

My grandparents, a convivial couple, were of an era that would be at home to friends who might drop by in the late afternoon.  It was a rare day that there was not a visitor, or two, or three, who had wandered by at tea time for gossip and conversation.  Simple treats were always at the ready for these unannounced visitors.  One of the best were these wafer thin lace cookies, kept in an old fashioned tin to keep them dry and crisp

The bottoms of these cookies are very shiny from the caramelization of butter and sugar, and my grandfather loved to remind novice visitors to be sure to ‘peel off the wax paper’ before taking a bite, and derived almost sadistic enjoyment from watching the hapless souls try.

I’ve compared this recipe with others, and most lace cookies recipes seem to involve corn syrup.  These do not, and I think they’re better for it, sugary and crisp.  They can also be tarted up with chopped nuts, dipped in chocolate (Pepperidge Farm Brussels cookies anyone?)

Lace Cookies:

Melt 1 Stick butter in saucepan
Add 1 Cup Sugar
        1 Cup rolled oats
        1/4 tsp. salt
        2 heaping tbs. flour
        1/4 tsp. baking powder
        1 tsp. vanilla or other flavoring
Mix well, and beat in:
        1 egg

Line cookie sheet with foil
Drop 1/2 tsp. of batter for each cookie
Bake 350 degrees for 7-10 minutes, watching carefully
Cool thoroughly on foil.  When cool, peel off foil.

Makes 3 dozen.

Advertisements

Nina Fletcher Little, Decorative Arts Detective

It is snowing fiercely today, so I’m housebound, and torn between cleaning up a gigantic desk mess, or browsing through picture books, I’ve chosen the books, fully aware that I’ll pay later, when the piles on the desk fall over on the floor, or they spontaneously combust.

The book that has most caught my attention this afternoon is an old favorite,  American Decorative Wall Painting, 1700-1850, by Nina Fletcher Little.  You may wonder how the Dilettante acquired his fascination for design sources.  Well, it was as a little lad, sitting inside on rainy days, alternately reading Nina Fletcher Little or the Hardy Boys—-when my nose wasn’t poked deep into the chic, lush photos of House & Gardens Second Book of Interior Decoration, but that’s another post.

This groundbreaking study of early American interior decorative motifs, sometimes beautiful, sometimes weird,  brought the naive, sometimes ambitious,  early American attempts at European style decoration to the fore. She was a prodigious researcher and detective, and for 65 years was constantly scooping herself, discovering another obscure folk artist, finding the design source for an American building. tracing the allegorical history of a piece of a printed textile.  I cannot say it better than this bit of promotional copy for her posthumous collecting autobiography Little by Little :

NINA FLETCHER LITTLE spent over sixty years collecting and writing about New England antiques until her death in 1993. Her “special contribution was to bridge the worlds of American antiques and folk art, bringing the antiquarian’s passion for the past to the study of folk art. She combined a keen appreciation of the aesthetic qualities of an object with a determination to discover everything possible about the historical and social context in which it was created — who made it, when and where, how it was used and by whom. For her there was no contest between object and context: she honored both.”
I always looked forward to her many magazine articles, amazed by her resourcefulness and intellect, her new discoveries, and her excellent narrative style, which kept the subject from being dry.  One shared her enthusiasm and sense of discovery, and from her writings, I learned a new way of considering objects and their place in the world, and developed my own curiosity about design sources.
With her husband, Bertram K. Little, for many years the Director of Historic New England , the organization formerly known as SPNEA, she formed an extraordinary and pioneering collection of New England Folk art.  The Littles displayed the collection at their summer home, Cogswell’s Grantan impossibly romantic 18th c.

 Cogswell’s Grant

New England farm hidden away at the edge of the marshes in Essex Massachusetts.  Although ‘country’ and ‘folk art’ are two words that can make my blood freeze when spoken of as interior decoration (all those painted goose cutouts, those herbal wreathes, those homespun checks…ugh), the Little’s collection was something else, almost spiritual, as displayed in the timeworn old farmhouse.  At their deaths, both in 1990, The Littles left house, farm, and collection  to Historic New England.  Historic New England is also the steward of famous Beauport, a few miles down the road in Gloucester.  The two are well worth a summer road trip, to experience two highly personal presentation of the decorative arts of New England.
A bedroom in the Little’s country house, Cogswell’s Grant, with the 18th century grained and marbleized woodwork that sparked her interest in early wall decoration.

FOOTNOTE:  Here is one of my own ‘eureka’ moments.   This is a little painting that I can’t live without.  It is a small primitive oil on canvas, very shabby, of a shipwreck, by some anonymous 1850’s painter.  I  bought it at the age of 14, at a country auction I attended with my father at a run down Charles Addams-ish Victorian mansion in Hampden, Maine.   The auction was mostly the usual banal carved mahogany furniture and gold bordered china one would expect in railroad president’s house.  Sitting outside on the unshaded lawn, getting the worst sunburn of my life on my knees, I watched the usual buffets and gilt mirrors go up, when suddenly, a very dirty stack of small paintings came down from the attic. They were mostly ho-hum Hudson River style landscapes.  This one was on the bottom, and it was love at first sight—the almost abstract composition, combined with sure brushstrokes, skillfully rendered dawn on the horizon, and vividly real storm colors.  For $11.00 the stack was mine.


I’d lived with the painting for 25 years, when, in the course of removing antiques I’d purchased from a house a mile from me, this tattered Currier & Ives appeared folded in a pile of papers in the attic.  Imagine my surprise.  I’d found the source of my painting.

Palladian Perfection, New England Style, Part 2: The Lady Pepperell House at Kittery Point Maine

 19th century photograph of the Lady Pepperell House, Kittery, Maine 
(NYPL / Stephen A. Schwarzman Building / Photography Collection, Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs)

 General Sir William Pepperell (1696-1759), the hero of Louisburg, was the first American born baronet, and the richest man in what was then the Province of Maine.  He lived comfortably but unpretentiously in his family’s commodious old house, built in 1682 near the shipyards and fish houses that helped fuel his fortune.

After his death, his widow, the former Mary Hirst, built a dower house a mile from the old mansion. This small, forthright mansion with its bold ionic pilasters on under a central pediment, is one of the loveliest houses in Maine.  The bracketed doorway features two intertwined dolphins.  On this basis, the house has often been attributed to Peter Harrison, the English architect of King’s Chapel in Boston, and the Redwood Library in Newport, as have the Apthorp and Longfellow houses in Cambridge, which share similar compositions and details with the Pepperell House.
Elevation Drawing and Floor Plan of Lady Pepperell House (from Great Georgian Houses of America, published by the Architects’s Emergency Committee, 1933)

The floor plan is a classic simple 18th century plan, center hall, front and back stairs, 2 rooms on each side.  The importance of the rooms is indicated by their relative size. The windows are large, and flood the house with light.  While some could quibble with individual details of the design—-windows crowd the central pavilion, for example—the overall effect of the house, with its bold details casting high relief shadows, is stunning. 

Inside, the house features handsome simple rooms, beautiful cornices, deep windows with folding shutters and window seats. a staircase with twisted balusters, and simple paneled chimney breasts projecting into the rooms between windows to handsome effect.

Drawing Room, Lady Pepperell House, 1940’s view.  Photograph by Ezra Stoller for Ladies Home Journal
After Lady Pepperell’s death, the house went through various owners.  In the 1920’s, noted architect John Mead Howells*, son of William Dean Howells, who summered down the road, undertook a restoration for the new owners, who were to use it as a summer residence.  He added a matching pair of ionic porches to the sides, a bit  fussy for the strong lines of the house.  The house was left to the Society for The Preservation of New England Antiquities (SPNEA, now unfortunately renamed Historic New England in an attempt to be more relevant), who operated it as a house museum.  Under visited, and it’s endowment fund too small, the house was sold to private buyers in the 1970’s, with substantial deed protections.  A restoration of the interior was undertaken by the new owners, including reproduction of original wallpapers from surviving fragments.
Stoller photograph, LHJ

As for Lady Pepperell, her name lives on in a famous line of bed linens.

*Interesting side note:  Howells was a Beaux Arts trained architect.  In the early 20th century, he was a major figure in the revival of interest in early American architecture, publishing several influential books, including The Architectural Heritage of the Piscataqua, and Lost Examples of Colonial Architecture .  Howells must have felt some ambiguity about the porches he added to the Lady Pepperell House, as he included an early shot of the house in Lost Examples, with the caption noting that it showed the appearance of the house before porches were added.  In his professional career, Howells worked not in the colonial styles he did so much to popularize, but instead was a major figure in the modernist skyscraper movement.

Post Stotesbury Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

A Novice blogger has many things to learn, and my lesson this morning is not to dive into large subjects too soon.  I’m exhausted from the three post tour of the Stotesbury’s Down East hideaway and hope you all haven’t run away in fear of my next house tour.  I’m about to re-read Strunk & White’s Elements of Style, and will practice concision, concision, concision.  I promise, for your sake and mine, the next house tour is a five room gem way down east, and we’ll get it neatly under our belts in one post
In the meanwhile, in case you haven’t entirely tired of Mrs. Stotesbury, variously the mother-in-law of General MacArthur and Doris Duke, here she is skewered as Mrs. Dukesbury by the incomparable Margaret Dumont in the Marx Brothers 1938 romp At the Circus.

Thank-you, JCB

My thanks to JCB  for asking me to submit a ‘five favorites’ list to her book week posts .  It was quite a mental exercise to narrow the broad field of regional Maine books down to a list of five.  I am still swooning at the company I found myself in during book week — giants of the blogosphere.

And, thank you also, Janet for the kind announcement of my new blog to your readers.  I feel as giddy as a debutante.

Summer Delirium, ‘Colonial’ Style, Part 3: Inside Wingwood House


Mrs. Stotesbury and her emeralds in 1926, the year Wingwood was completed. Pastel portrait by Douglas Chandor

A sense of the Stotesbury’s simple summers by the sea can be gleaned from the 1946 Wingwood auction catalog, where table linens are listed by the mile, and silver flatware, dinner china, and crystal were listed by the hundreds and thousands of pieces.

Inside Wingwood House, the merry aesthetic confusion  of the exterior continued. The architects, Magziner, Eberhard, & Harris, were primarily theater architects, and the complex floorplan suffered from being the remodel of a very large house to an enormous house.
In an interview with James Maher, Mrs. Stotesbury’s son, serial heiress marrying James Cromwell (Delphine Dodge,  Doris Duke ), remembered that while Lord Duveen had supplied much of the art and furnishings, the interiors were the work Philadelphia decorator Gustav Ketterer, who had also worked on a restoration of Independence Hall. Interestingly, Lord Duveen did supply an eighteenth century French drawing room for Hauterive,  the neighboring Miles Carpenter estate just north of Wingwood.
 Mrs. Stotesbury, emeralds, playboy son
 Despite the building’s strict symmetry, the main entrance was not in the center, where a false door was located, but in the North arcade that shielded the large service wing from the public areas.
(All interior photos by Mattie Edwards Hewitt, from Samuel Freeman Company auction catalog.)
 
One entered under the Porte Cochere with its roof copied from Mulberry Plantation, and from there  down  a long arcade, floored with Zenitherm, a material much beloved by designers in the jazz age.  There was a room in the service wing overlooking the driveway, staffed by the switchboard operator.  One of her tasks was to alert the butler when cars entered the gate, so he could already be opening the door as a chauffeur discharged  passengers under the porte cochere.  The four 18th century painted Gothick benches, redolent of Strawberry Hill, are enviable.
 
One would then turn right into the entrance hall (not pictured), then turn left into another long hall.  One would pass the North stairhall, with its scenic wallpaper and curving staircase.
One passed handsome 18th century landscapes, with an 18th century Georgian marble fireplace ahead, surmounted by a self portrait by Vigee LeBrun
Another right past the fireplace, and one went through the Cross Hall, past a small reception room (neither pictured), and into the Red Hall, with its 18th century English mantel and trumeau., and another gracefully curved staircase, in front of the false Nickels-Sortwell doorway centering the Garden facade
Why Red Hall, I don’t know.  I once owned a pair of the columns salvaged from the demolition, as well as the sofa seen here.  The columns were painted a traditional Georgian green, and the sofa was upholstered in emerald green damask.
 

To the right was a large dining room, with English portraits purchased from Duveen.  The scale is deceptive.  Although the rooms look low, the ceiling heights were about 12 feet.

 
 
Across the Hall from the Dining Room was the Chippendale Drawing Room, with the finest of the house’s English chimney pieces, and some very dated lampshades.
 
 Wingwood, the Green Drawing Room
 
 Four Acres/Wingwood House, the Cassatt’s den, prior to its incarnation as the Green Drawing Room
(American Architect & Building News)
Turning back into the Red Hall, one could then head south through the Green Drawing Room, in the 18th century French style, with painted chinoiserie panels set into the boiserie, and the ubiquitous bust of Marie Antoinette on the 18th century marble mantel.  In the Cassatt era, this room had been the den, and it is amusing to compare the Cassatt’s arts and crafts sensibilities to the Stotesbury’s evocation of royalty past.
From the Green Drawing Room, one continued to the Garden Room, 60 feet long.  Borrowing design details from the dining room at Syon House in London, designed by Robert Adam, the version at Wingwood house was specially designed for the set of Adam furniture that furnished it.  The room was equipped with hidden speakers and a motion picture screen and projection booth, great luxuries for that pre blu-ray era.
 
From the garden room, one proceeded into the south arcade, which in turn led to the domed tearoom   By the time a guest arrived here for tea with Mrs. Stotesbury, one had traveled an indoor distance of over two hundred feet  from the front door in the opposite wing.
The tearoom opened to an enclosed ‘colonial’ garden designed by landscape architect Beatrix Farrand, designer of Dumbarton Oaks, who also had an estate at Bar Harbor. (UC Berkeley, Documents Department, Farrand Collection)
 
North Hall, second floor
 
Game Room, with Mr. Stotesbury’s racing trophies

Two Views of Mrs. Stotesbury’s Bedroom.  Her suite included a boudoir, dressing room, bath, and ‘hideaway’, with massage table.

The Apricot Guest Room
 
The second floor sitting room, opening to the curved portico on the ocean front.
The Colonial guestroom on the third floor.
The depression took its toll on even the Stotesbury fortune.  Mr. Stotesbury died in 1938, leaving a mere ten million—over a hundred million in today’s inflated dollars—barely enough to run three palatial households.  Whitemarsh, the palace in Philadelphia, was shuttered and sold to a chemical company, Mrs. Stotesbury moved to Washington, and lived relatively quietly there and at Wingwood and El Mirasol, until her death in 1946. The forest fire of 1947 spared Wingwood, but burned its ten car garage across the street.  The contents of Wingwood were auctioned, the house was eventually sold to a Carolyn Trippe, who could not afford it. Abandoned and overgrown by 1952, it was purchased by the Canadian National Railroad, who intended to use the site for a terminal for their ferry service to Nova Scotia.  To appease the concerns of the town, the Canadian National originally said they intended to use Wingwood as the terminal and a hotel, but in 1953 changed their mind, issuing a statement that “no one is interested in maintaining these old palaces anymore” and Wingwood was demolished.  It was followed a few years later by it neighbor to the north, Hauterive, with its Duveen drawing room, and lacquered dining room by Baron DeMeyer; replaced by a motel.  A couple years later, the estate to the south, Sir Harry Oakes’s The Willows, was converted to a motel, its sweeping lawns covered with lodging units.  The old Bar Harbor was gone.
The elaborate 80-room Wingwood produced a great deal of architectural salvage.  Several of its decorative components can be seen on houses around Mt. Desert Island.  A mantel showed up in a Christie’s sale.  .  Over the years the trumeau from the red hall, a pair of columns and a sofa, the mantel from the Apricot guestroom have all passed through my hands, and other pieces keep turning up in the marketplace, even 50 years later.
Pilaster capitals from exterior of Wingwood
 As for Wingwood, this is  the site  today
Finis

And Now, For Something Completely Different: Whoopie!

Did I say I wasn’t going to talk much about myself in this blog?  Well, as it turns out, I lied.  You’re about to discover one of Maine’s darkest secrets.  This post goes out to all those tourists who truly believe that Maine’s favorite foods are blueberry pies and lobsters.
A disclaimer:  When no dinner invitations are forthcoming, and I’m forced to dust off the stove,  I’m more likely to seek inspiration from Patricia Wells and Marcella Hazan than Maine favorite Fanny Farmer, or I open the New York Times and see what Mark Bittman is up to.  Or, hey, I order a pizza.  But, I grew up in Maine, and have a sweet tooth, and  lately I’ve been thinking a lot about Whoopie pies, a treat from my childhood, otherwise definitely an acquired taste, that has gone mainstream (see article from New York Times).
What’s a Whoopie Pie, you ask?  Basically, it is two large chocolate cookies with cream filling between them…or maybe they’re more like small cakes, or muffin tops, but you get the basic idea.  Or at least that’s what Whoopie Pies were until Martha Stewart got involved.— but I’m getting ahead of myself.
On my way home, I stopped at the local grocery store to pick up some skim milk and fruit (honest!  I mean, the fruit looks so pretty in the glass bowl on the kitchen table).  On the store counter were some Whoopie Pies.  Huge whoopie pies.  Whoopie pies as big as my head, which is very big, containing as it does, all my massive brains.   I didn’t buy one (told you I was smart!), but even  without taking a bite, the whoopie pie got me all Proust-ed up, unleashing a flood of memory.  You’ve been warned, so if you like, you can stop here.  But if you do, you’ll miss the recipe at the end of the post.
When I was a little boy, there were no 7-11’s, no Big Apples.  I had no idea I’d become a middle age man who started sentences with ‘when I was your age…’.   Anyway, there was a little store up the road—I’d go with my father when he went to pick up the newspaper  Tyler’s store, couple of gas pumps under leaning porte cochere, Nestle’s sign in the window, and a big red chest cooler filled with glass bottles of soda pop chilling in ice water (yes, children, we called it soda pop), NeHi Orange was my drink—sweet rehearsal for the ice cold gin martini that has supplanted it—and I can remember the thrill of accomplishment, getting the crimped metal cap off by hooking it under the bottle opener built into the cooler (is anyone under forty reading this?).   Most of all, I remember the whoopie pies on the counter.    I’d beg, I’d stomp my little foot, I’d be generally embarrassing, but I’d usually get my father to spring for the whoopie.  And I’d be happy.
Less often, my mother, a superb baker, would make a batch.   Two dozen whoopie pies in the house, and only my surprisingly strong little sister to fight for them.  My mother would try rationing them, but I’d sneak into the covered container where they were stored, and poor deluded youth, I’d really convince myself that she’d forget that there were 12 and not 10.   Um, yeah, and did you see that pig fly?   My mother’s, whoopies, like her perfect pie crusts, and delicate jam filled cookies with their perfect edges, were beautiful to look at.  And just the slightest, barest hint of crispness at the very edges of the cloud light cookie, just the right sweetness to the filling.  
Time passed.  I grew up.  I saw France.  I forsook whoopie pies for dacquoise and apple pie for tarte aux pommes (are we all insufferable snobs in our 20’s, or was it just me?).  Whoopie pies were pretty much off the radar, except when city friends visited and would  be amazed by the sight of whoopies at the local stores (as in What The Hell is That? ) And so things remained, until Martha Stewart bought a house in the area.  For those first couple of summers, she couldn’t get enough Maine.  She was everywhere.  For awhile it looked as if she’d have to change the magazine’s name to Martha Stewart Maine Living, so full it was with articles about Maine craft, Maine boats, Maine blueberries and Maine picnics.   And then, one day, there it was:  she’d discovered Whoopie Pies.  I’ve never understood how the nice author of the New York Times article (have you read it yet?  You’re going to be quizzed) could possibly have wondered in print how the whoopie pie got out of Maine and into the nation.  The New York Times is supposed to know these things, for Pete’s sake.  It was Martha Stewart’s fault.  She unleashed the Whoopie on an unsuspecting public.
 Martha Stewart, got all designer with the whoopie pies.  Suddenly, it wasn’t just chocolate whoopies, and their quite delicious off spring, the pumpkin whoopie, It was Ginger whoopies with maple cream, it was whoopies with peanut butter cream, oh hell, it was maple whoopies with ginger cream., lemon cream, you  name it.   Seems to me that somewhere  along the line, there was even a blueberry whoopie. Then some nice artisanal bakers (whatever did food writers do before artisanal entered the vocabulary????) got hold of them, made them in cute seashell shapes, packaged them in cute lobster roll container looking packages, with impossible to open (um, I hear…) plastic wrap, elegantly packaged and shipped all over the world.  I make fun, but in fact the whoopies made by the nice bakers are out of this world.  Click here for their website:
And that brings us to this morning.  Whoopie pies on my mind.  I emailed my mother to ask for her recipe for this post.  Before I got a chance to say why, she was immediately offering to make me a batch.   This is more diabolical than it sounds:   My mother’s favorite pastime in old age is telling me how much weight I’ve gained since I was 20.  Her second favorite pastime is trying to feed me baked goods so she can continue to enjoy her first favorite pastime.   But enough, I can take that up with my analyst.   Herewith is the recipe I promised. I was stunned when my mother emailed it  (‘what are you going to do with it?’), because it turns out that a major ingredient is…..Crisco!  It was Maine, it was the fifties….go ahead, make fun, use butter instead.  They won’t be any better.  Or at least not as authentic…….

Whoopie Pies
    5 tbs. Crisco
    1 cup sugar
    5 ++ tbs. good cocoa
    1 Cup Milk
    1 Egg
    2 Cups Flour
    1 1/4 tsp. baking soda]
    1 tsp. salt
    Mix together.  Drop by tablespoons full, bake about 12 minutes at 350 degrees.  Makes 1 dozen.
Filling:
    3/4 cup Crisco
    3/4 cup confectioner’s sugar
    6 tbs. marshmallow fluff  (hmmm, it really was the 50’s)
    1 tsp. vanilla extract.
    Mix together, spread on two cookies, make sandwich.
   
Be nice, and maybe someday I’ll post the recipe for old fashioned thin, crisp, brown sugar cookies, a treat recipe from our elderly neighbor when I was a child.  I’ve never had them anywhere else, and they are astonishing, and they don’t use Crisco. Unless you want to.

Summer Delirium, ‘Colonial Style’, Part 2: Identifying the Sources of Wingwood House

One of the intriguing aspects of the E.T. Stotesbury summer cottage in Bar Harbor,  also discussed in a previous post, is the giddy borrowing by Mrs. Stotesbury and her architects of details from famous New England houses of the Federal era.  Although the house was not itself a masterpiece, it was beautifully crafted, and individual details were often lovely, despite the awkwardness of scale and proportion between many elements.

Wingwood, detail of Garden  Room Wing, southeast corner
We know that Mrs. Stotesbury admired the Nickels-Sortwell House in Wiscassett, and a photograph of that house exists with notes by Mrs. Stotesbury about how much she admired its entrance, which would be cribbed for Wingwood. It is not a great leap to wonder if she ever consulted Fiske Kimball for ideas about great New England buildings for inspiration at Wingwood.  Well known to her as the director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Kimball was an expert about early American architecture, and would eventually publish the definitive book about Samuel McIntire, the Salem architect-carver whose buildings would be heavily mined for details for Wingwood.

The overall massing of Wingwood’s garden front, with its wings forming a forecourt owes a great deal to Samuel McIntire’s design for the Elias Hasket Derby mansin of 1795 in Salem, one of the grandest houses of Federalist America.

 Wingwood, west front facing Eden Street. (Mattie Edwards Hewitt, from Freeman Auction Company Catalog)

Samuel McIntire.  Design for Elias Hasket Derby Mansion, (Cousins, ‘Woodcarver of Salem’)

The main block featured a two story colonnade, with balustrade copied from a house in  Lost behind the portico, was another, a copy of the Nickels-Sortwell portico and Palladian Window.
Something was lost in the translation–the composition was fussed up with two poorly scaled arched  windows on either side of the door, and two oval bathroom windows flanking the upper Palladian window.  Further, the door was false,  fronting the circular staircase in the Red Hall beyond, and the small arched windows were actually the doors to the hall.
Wingwood, false door on garden facade (R), and prototype at Nickels-Sortwell House (L)
The two flanking wings, awkwardly scaled in relation to the main block, were blown up versions of McIntire’s famous summer house for Elias Hasket Derby’s country estate.  Much wider than their prototype, the wings lost in the translation, with pasted on facades that did not ‘return’ on the sides.
(L) Wingwood, Garden Wing; (R) Derby Summerhouse, 1797
Spreading out from the McIntire wings were two arcaded galleries, one an entrance corridor, the other a long passage to a tea room.  These also were based on a similar feature at the Derby mansion.
Finally, many leagues away from the Sortwell doorway, the arcade wings ended in two pavilions, one a porte cochére, the other a tea room opening into a ‘colonial’ formal garden designed by noted landscape architect Beatrix Farrand, a Bar Harbor neighbor.  The rusticated facades of these pavilions, inspired by pavilions in Sweden,  left the American neoclassical behind,  but in their roof design takes us on an unexpected detour to the early 18th century south, and the famous roofs on the flankers at Mulberry Plantation outside Charleston SC, a long way from Wiscassett, Maine.
Wingwood, detail drawing of porte cochére
Mulberry House, b. 1714, showing ogee roofs that inspired Wingwood (HABS)
Turning to the ocean front, one finds the window entablatures, and the side door from the Chippendale room are copies of details from houses near the Nickels House in Wiscassett, and of a pure Maine federal sensibility.  The McIntire summerhouse facades re-appear on  the wings.  A giant Palladian window in the ballroom wing has no early American precedent, but is borrowed from a London design of Robert Adam.
Finally, in the center of the main block, the giant curved portico, two recessed stories above a rusticated ovoid base, is directly based on both a similar feature in McIntire’s Derby Mansion, and Charles Bulfinch’s Joseph Barrell House in Charlestown, Massachusetts, later remodeled as the McLean asylum. Deterring from the composition is a wide fourth floor level dormer giving access to the portico roof.

Wingwood, Portico on ocean front
Charles Bulfinch.  Design for Joseph Barrell House, Charlestown, Massachusetts, showing semi-circular portico.

No doubt the decision to remodel the Cassatt cottage rather than build anew, combined with the mid-design change in architects and program, and Mrs. Stotesbury’s general preference for grandeur, did not help the project.  It would probably have been better if the design had started from scratch. Nevertheless, Wingwood is an interesting footnote to an era and to it’s owner’s sensibilities.

Wingwood.  Vintage postcard view, 1930’s.
I’ll give you a couple of days to recover from this post, and finish up with a less talkative  tour of the interior, where the pictures speak for themselves, and we get to count the Stotesbury’s silver flatware.

Asher Benjamin in Maine: A Note About the Blog Header

The picture at the head of this blog is a section of plate 25 from Asher Benjamin’s Country Builder’s Assistant, the first American builder’s manual, published in 1797.  This volume, as well as Benjamin’s subsequent books, was to have a great influence on the design of buildings in the early years of the United States, helping to popularize the neoclassical style we now call Federal, followed by the Greek Revival.  Borrowing shamelessly from English builder’s manuals, Benjamin’s practical adaptations nevertheless gave his designs a uniquely American twist.  As architectural historian James O’Gorman has noted, Asher Benjamin was not so much a proponent of the neoclassical as he was an admirer of Neatness & Newness.

 Virtually every town in New England can boast at least one beautiful, sparely proportioned building that some talented, now often anonymous, house wright built before the industrial age, using one of Benjamin’s books as inspiration.  Using the rules for proportions and detail set forth in these books, it was practically impossible to design an ugly building, and many were in fact sublime, spare of line, elegant in detail, and defined the architectural style of New England for years to come.  For more about Asher Benjamin, click here

Changing tastes and the last decade of affluence have not always been kind to Benjamin’s designs.  In rural Maine, hardly a day goes by that a lovely Benjamin-inspired doorway doesn’t disappear, replaced with good intentions by something from Home Depot.  This is a horrible loss to the built landscape, the handwork and art of craftsmen past, to mass production and cheap materials