This past Sunday I had the pleasure of traveling to Illinois for work. When most Americans conjure up an image of the Land of Lincoln, or the Prairie State, it includes one of two things: Chicago or corn. Indeed, I was able to see both of those on my trip. Beginning on Sunday night, a colleague and I flew from Queens, NY to Chicago, IL.
From the international airport, we hopped on a moral rural connecting flight to Peoria, IL. Peoria is actually the oldest European settlement in Illinois, founded in 1691 by a French explorer. There is an ongoing understanding of Peoria as the archetypical example of middle American culture. Indeed, the place becomes referenced in pop culture often as a stand-in for Anywhere, USA. This filler place name is considered the representative of mainstream taste, hence the bromide “Will it play in Peoria?”
“The sound of the engines and the smell of the grain / We go riding on the abolition grain train / Steven A. Douglas was a great debater / But Abraham Lincoln was the great emancipator.” – Sufjan Stevens, Decatur
Finally, from the archetypal town, we rented a car and drove an additional hour to Galesburg, IL. Although small, and certainly rural, Galesburg has some key pieces of American history: the birthplace of esteemed poet and three-time Pulitzer Prize winner, Carl Sandburg; the site of the fifth Lincoln-Douglas debate, on a temporary speaker’s platform attached to Knox College’s Old Main building on October 7, 1858; and a smattering of railroad and baseball history. Quintessential Americana.
My husband and I recently purchased a home in Brooklyn that was built in 1860. It is technically a “pre-pre-war” building, meaning it’s lived through the Civil War, and all of the World Wars. The Brooklyn Historical Society keeps amazing records on the evolution of city blocks, parks, and skylines.
Perusing the digital collection, I was able to see what part of our new neighborhood looked like at almost every decade – the outdoor marketplaces, the children in backyards, the evolution of the subway system. This virtual timewarp essentially showed me that although my new home is almost 154 years old, its bones, original architecture, and facade have not changed so much. There is something fascinating about the fact that in 154 years, New York City and its boroughs can change so swiftly and yet, in many ways remain stagnant.
Seymour Joseph Guy – The Contest for the Bouquet – The Family of Robert Gordon in Their New York Dining Room 1866
The trim in our home is so similar to Guy’s that it is uncanny. We’ve also recently become obsessed with Victorian gilded frames, and the keeping of cloches and terrariums. Everything old is new again! Look at those nail-heads on the mahogany chairs – are those not on trend for 2014? Even the chandelier with its cantilevers and pulleys can be found in stores ranging from Pottery Barn to Arhaus. The retro-futuristic Victorian fixtures are replete with decorative harnesses and pulleys echoing maritime mechanics It seems simple machines will always remain a basic of human existence.
Guy, who was born and trained in England, settled in 1854 in New York. Typical of the time period, this highly-detailed “conversation piece” (a portrait with narrative elements) was commissioned by Robert Gordon in 1866. Three of the Gordon children have finished breakfast and appear to vie for a small corsage before setting off for school. Gordon, a founding trustee of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, collected American paintings, some of which he displayed in the dining room of his home at 7 West 33rd Street, depicted here. The room was decorated in the up-to-date Renaissance Revival style.
“I was never going to get any sleep. I was going to have Alice in Wonderland conversation after Alice in Wonderland conversation until I died of exhaustion. Here, in the restful, idyllic Victorian era.” ― Connie Willis, To Say Nothing of the Dog
It’s spring, and I spent the weekend buying flower seeds, and planting a miniature vegetable garden with my nephews. There is something so exciting about this season of rebirth and planting. The colors are verdant, the mood is hopeful, and winter has finally thawed!
It’s time to celebrate the bounty of the earth by showcasing a colorful array of fruits, carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes, and greenery. Vintage botanical illustrations are always a classic choice evoking an English Cottage. One part shabby, two parts chic.