Monday, August 3, 2015

Victorian Parlor

After checking out the exterior of the Mather House let us now venture in. One would enter the front door, turn left in the foyer and enter the parlor. This is the formal room of the house where guests would be received and entertained. Some houses had two parlors: one for  acquaintances and lesser known persons while the other parlor was for close friends and relatives. The parlor would be where the family would showcase their tastes and social status. It would  be cluttered with novelties, statues, tea pots, dried flowers, you name it. If it reflected the families taste and status then it would be displayed. The tone and scope of the room was determined by the woman of the house. The parlor was also where the family would meet during the evenings and play games, talk or listen to music and that is what we have tried to recreate here in the Mather family parlor. We do not have any of the original Mather pieces in the parlor. However, we did recreate a parlor of the time with mid to late Victorian furniture and art. The windows and floors are all original to the house. This part of the house was built in 1860 but the back part of the house, exhibit room and kitchen, was built in 1840 so the parlor is the "new" part of the house.

The above two pictures gives one an overall idea of the Mather parlor. I will be posting additional photos starting with what I call the entertainment center which is just out of shot on the left in the top picture and I will go around the room ending just out of shot to the right of the bottom picture where there is the door which leads to the library which I will discuss in the next post. One thing one has to know if one is planning on visiting the Mather House: there is a lot to take in. Do not expect to just pop in and take a few minutes. After the parlor we have the library, the exhibit room, the kitchen, and then the main hallway and that is not even the tip of the iceberg with all of the outer buildings. In each room and building there are a lot of artifacts. In this format and for this price one would find it hard to find another museum on Long Island like this. Another thing that I would like to point out is the table in the second picture. It is NOT a dining room table, people were not dramatically shorter back in 1840 as opposed to today. This is a great misconception and people look at the size of houses and beds as proof. This is not the best proof. Houses were built to a certain size for two reasons: cost and heating. Beds were also a certain size for cost, space and because a lot of people slept sitting up not because they were substantially shorter. Depending on which study one reads the average height for a man in 1840 was roughly 5'8" and today is roughly 5'10". Not a huge difference. The table that we see in the picture above is similar to a tea table or a pedestal table (1840) - a table for having a tea or maybe playing cards or any other light activity.

So as one walks into the parlor one would find the entertainment center to the left. To the right, and I will post the picture after this description, of the doorway one would find the Empire sideboard. The sideboard is also to the right of the doorway leading to the library to help give one an idea of the layout of the room. In the above picture we have a Mechanical Orguinette from the Mechanical Orguinette Co. This is an improved model probably dating around 1880. Earlier models had the paper feed into the orguinette and would create a loop around the orguinette as one cranked it. The improved models had the paper contained on rollers within the orguinette. The premise was simple: crank the handle and music will play. It was known as "the most wonderful music-producing instrument in the world!  It plays everything sacred, secular and popular! It is a marvel of cheapness, and the king of musical instruments!" The price ranged anywhere from $8 to $2000. To the right of this musical wonder is the stereoscope. This is the item that a lot of us knew as a View-Master - same idea in a lot of ways - but in 1861 it was known as the Holmes stereoscope. One views two identical images side-by-side, the left-eye and right-eye views of the same scene creates it as a single three dimensional image. An evening would be spent viewing a stack of cards (the images) of various locations. 
The Empire sideboard is to the right of the entrance as one walks into the parlor. In this picture that entrance is to the right of the sideboard and to the right of that is the stereoscope and Orguinette. This sideboard is circa 1860. The Empire style of sideboards was initially of a smaller size due to cost and space requirements in 1820. The one we are lucky enough to exhibit here is of a grander design - an amazing piece with clawed feet. Sitting atop the sideboard is a wonderful model of the ship St.Paul. Book-ending the sideboard are His and Hers chairs. The "his" chair is larger, has arm rests and is exquisitely carved. The "her" chair is small, plain and demure - well as much as a chair can be demure - but still an excessively elegant piece. It is a great reflection on the differences between the sexes at the time.                                                                                                    
Above the Empire sofa, which is shown in the first photo, is this beautiful oil painting of the east end of Port Jefferson Harbor simply titled "Port Jefferson Harbor" by local artist W. M. Davis. While I may not be an expert on paintings I do know what I like. I may not be able to speak intelligently about brush strokes or styles but I know how a piece makes me feel and that, after all, is what art is all about. To each viewer it can convey a different emotion or evoke nostalgia. I love this piece because while it is a great "snapshot" of the past there is so much familiar of today in it. Almost as if one can flip over the years as one does an onion skin and on each layer view Port Jefferson as it was until one reaches present day. Davis was an exceptional artist who was able to capture the heart and soul of Port Jefferson. And of course, art is always best viewed in person.                                                            

Moving to the corner of the room one finds a basic Victorian spindle back rocker. To the right of the rocker is an item that has found its way back to the house: The sea chest of John R. Mather which has been donated to us for display. Above the sea chest are items of curiosity under glass that ships captains have brought back from a long voyage: a tropical stuffed bird, stuffed ducklings and a wedding basket of shells. This was an era of great curiosity and scientific discoveries from Darwin to Lamarck. Many ships went on a cruise with a naturalist on board. These treasures would have supplied many a story in a similar front parlor after a captains glorious return.                                                                                            

This beautiful piece is the medicine cabinet from the schooner Palestine. I apologize for the picture but due to the placement of the piece I was not able to get a good, non-sun picture. Again, it is best viewed in person. We have a larger display of the schooner in the library. Since this cabinet could not fit in that display we have it as a stand-alone. We also have another ships cabinet in the sail loft. The schooner sunk in 1956 and yet the cabinet is wonderfully preserved. It is made of oak with leaded glass panes displaying the ships logo: shield and cross emblem.                                                                                                    

As we move around the room we come to the display case that houses Davis's paint supplies. The tools of the trade of a Victorian artist. Atop this case we have a copy of the book of his artwork put together by the Historical Society. To the right of the display case is a chair and table - better viewed in the first picture of this blog - which Davis himself had made. This was his painting chair that he used when he was hard at work at his easel. In that same first picture one can see an R. S. Williams parlor organ with Davis paintings book-ending it on the wall.
Again I apologize for the quality, or lack thereof, of the photos, camera phone, but as I have stated before if one does not like them then one can always come on down and see for oneself! The painting on the top is of a schooner - a typical sight in the harbor. The painting below is titled "Harbor Light, Bridgeport, Conn." A familiar sight to Davis and Port Jeffersonian's at the time as much as it is today as well as a familiar sight for all our wonderful visitors from Connecticut.                                                                                                          

Moving to the paintings to the right of the organ we find one titled "Sharpie Race on Port Jefferson Harbor," by Davis. Port Jefferson was a racing town. Yacht races became popular in Port in the 1880's and these light craft sharpies provided residents with many exciting afternoons. Below this is a painting of the "Liars Club." There is no solid information on this club in Port aside from this unique painting. There were other clubs at the time in other locations in the United States. What the club would do is plug a watermelon with vodka or another festive spirit and the gather around and take turns telling the most believable lie. This is in the spirit of the great Mark Twain. We are, after all, the land of Paul Bunyan, Mike Fink and Johnny Appleseed. Americans were born with a tall-tale on their lips. Some clubs would have prizes but the most coveted prize would be the prestige and honor of being the King of the Liars. All in all a very American club. After all, would we lie?                                                                                 

Next we come to the beautiful, and original, fireplace. If the kitchen is the heart of the house then the fireplace is the soul where we stoke the passionate fires within. As with all of the fireplaces in the house it is a shared chimney. On the other side of this is the library with its fireplace. The fireplace is black marble with an elaborate iron fire screen. On the mantle are the photos of the master and mistress of the house. I will have a more detailed history of the Mather's in the future so for now an introduction will have to suffice. On the left if John R. Mather and on the right his lovely bride Sarah Jane (Wells) Mather. Together they had three children: Sarah Jane - not at all confusing - known as Sadie, Irene Willse - all we know is that she was an invalid, and John Titus. 
Whetting ones appetite for the Spinney clock collection, which I will explore in detail after all of the posts of the house, is this beautiful Tall Case Clock or grandfather clock. A beautiful piece by A. Miller of Easton Pa, with a walnut veneer. Abraham Miller was an active clock maker in Easton from ca. 1810 - ca. 1830. To the right of the clock are antique canes that we have. What is not shown is my favorite cane. An elaborate cane which belonged to John Titus, one of the few Mather items that we are lucky enough to possess. 
Finally, to the right of the door that brings us to the library are my two favorite Davis paintings. The images seem to shimmer, almost a chromatic feel. One can see the sun glistening off the water. The painting brings the viewer into the scene. I have spent many a down time gazing into these brilliant works of art. 
And this is just the parlor! Next stop the library!

No comments:

Post a Comment