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A Blank Canvas

The decision to move to a larger city after leaving Charleston was one I made a long time ago. I’ve always preferred big cities. I like being able to use public transportation instead of having a car, I love having access to many museums and galleries, and I enjoy hearing many languages spoken as I make my way through the hustle and bustle of downtown. As I searched for a job, I concentrated on NYC, DC, Chicago, and LA. DC won the race and I am glad to be here. Starting over is always scary, but I’m enjoying the challenge.

As I spent a few days in May packing my things, I knew that, regardless of which city I moved to, I would end up affording a smaller apartment than I had in Charleston. With this in mind, I seriously purged my belongings and decided to leave all of my furniture behind in South Carolina. I own a lot of books. Even after my major purge, I still have more than 500 books in my collection. I know this because I assign them each a catalog number that I put on a bookplate in the book. I keep a list of my catalog in a series of spreadsheets, organized by general category (art & architecture, biographies, etc.). I don’t even keep all the books I read, just the ones I would like to re-read, or would like to have available to lend to my friends. As I searched for an apartment in DC, I was looking for a place with enough wall space for me to be able to install enough bookcases for my books (also acknowledging that I will add to my collection). I settled on the Columbia Heights neighborhood, a neighborhood that was mostly Hispanic for most of the second half of the 1900’s and into the early 2000’s. Gentrification is changing the area, but I still find tías selling watermelon and mango slices on the street and families with babies that look like me, brown hair and big brown eyes.

This is the apartment I found. I chose it because it has a great bank of windows facing the street, which lets in a lot of natural light during the day. The window sill is a great spot for my orchids. The kitchen is tiny, it makes me smile it’s so itty bitty. I don’t do much cooking, so it’s fine for me. The main studio space is approximately 250 square feet (there’s a walk-through closet to the bathroom and the tiny kitchen space, so the apartment is a little more than 350 sq feet overall). Other than the full-size bed that I had delivered when I moved in last week, there is no other furniture…yet. I will be bringing a drafting table from my old apartment, otherwise I have a blank slate. I’m excited to hunt for vintage pieces to create a home from this little space, and to build some new shelves to accommodate my books. I love a good challenge!1225161026

Let’s see what this blank canvas becomes!

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Posted by on December 25, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

I’m Back!

Hello world! I made it through graduate school, landed a great job and moved to DC! It’s time to get blogging again. The degree I just completed is a Master of Science in Historic Preservation. Basically, I work to document, save, and reuse historic buildings and sites. This means visitors to Let us be sweethearts will get to see cool pictures of old places. Some will be restored to their glory days and others will be in need of some love. The best part is…I get to share cool pictures with you!

 

First up, the Nathaniel Russell House in Charleston, SC. This house is owned by the Historic Charleston Foundation and you can pay for a docent-led tour. Check out HCF’s website for more information about the house and some lovely overall views of the rooms. It has been mostly restored, although that is an ongoing process. These are some of my favorite details in the house. Enjoy!

Front entrance:

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This is a reproduction floor cloth. It’s canvas that is stretched out over the wood floor and painted. Often these were done in trompe l’oeil style to mimic tiles, marble, or other intricate designs. The floor cloth protected the floors from wear and tear and were less expensive than carpeting.

Doors throughout:

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This beautifully grained door is actually another reproduced trompe l’oiel design. I actually learned how to do this as a undergrad Set Design student. By utilizing layers of glaze and various brushes, an artist could make an inexpensive wood door look like a much more expensive wood.

Inkwell:

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I have a bit of an obsession with inkwells. This one is silver and cut glass. The Russell House has a full compliment of furniture and accessories appropriate to the time period. Some are pieces which belonged to the original family, others are examples of items that are known to have been owned by the family.

Plaster crown molding.

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The intricate plaster molding throughout the house has been restored and paint analysis discovered the original color scheme. For many decades, historic house museums painted walls in muted colors and trim in white, reflecting modern tastes. As the preservation movement has become more scientific, details like this color scheme, unlike anything one would normally imagine, show us what was in style when the house was built.

Exposure:

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This is an exposure done on the back of a door. Layer after layer of paint was gently sanded away to show what the original faux graining looked like. A modern craftsperson then reproduced the original design, leaving this little sample so we can compare it to the original. I think they’ve done a stupendous job.

 
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Posted by on November 18, 2016 in Site Visits

 

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How is Grad School Like Being Dead?

You don’t have time to think, much less post! Check back, I will be posting some of the awesome pictures that I’ve taken on tours of different historic properties. Cross my heart!

 
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Posted by on November 2, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

The Invention of Murder: How the Victorians Revelled in Death and Detection and Created Modern Crime by Judith Flanders

As if I didn’t have enough books of my own, I can’t resist browsing the library books when I’m doing research. Although my current research topic is a Victorian-era Landscape Architect who was a part of the Garden Cemetery movement, this totally unrelated book was just screaming my name…although I did rationalize reading it instead of my research because murdered people are buried in cemeteries. ;-D

Released in 2013, this 400+ page work is impeccably researched and presented in an eminently readable manner. Flanders covers the vast time frame of the Victorian era (most of the 19th century) as pertains to crime in Great Britain. She tells stories of the rich and the poor, along with the newly rising middle-class. Gleaning insights of these male and female killers (or purported killers) from newspaper articles, broadsides, and theatre productions (as found in the official censorship records of the period), Flanders shares stories of murders thematically. She discusses the great hysteria that led to the “poison panic” at mid-century, the rise of murders as entertainment, court trials as grand theatre, and hangings are festive occasions, as well as the rise of the professional police force, especially the detective. Most fascinating of all are the connections Flanders is able to make between a particular crime (or crimes) and great works of fiction, including most, if not all, of Dickens’ catalog.

Some of the transitions between one crime story and the next feel a little forced, and there are times that she references a particular name in a previous or upcoming story in a way that the reader may have difficulty following, yet these are minor issues in an otherwise compelling narrative. It is apparent that Flanders did extensive research for this book but the effort is not a drag on the text. The tiny snippets of information each source provides have been woven together to tell a cohesive narrative that is better than fiction.

bookcaseDid I mention that I own a lot of books? Took some time this winter break to build bookcases. That’s 85′ of bookcase, 65′ devoted solely to books!

 
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Posted by on January 26, 2015 in Book Reviews

 

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Presidio, Mission, and Pueblo: Spanish Architecture and Urbanism in the United States by James Early

There’s something new going on in my life…I’ve gone back to grad school! I am working towards an M.S. in Historic Preservation. It is a lot of work, but I really am loving it. I’ll be posting more things related to the field, especially as I work on my research and thesis. The following review is of a book on my “recommended reading” list. It caught my eye, since I’m Puerto Rican. Read on to see my thoughts:

 The history of the United States has generally taken a British-centered approach. Other inhabitants, have often been simply a foil for the story of the British, and later American, conquest. In Presidio, Mission, and Pueblo, James Early endeavors to fill in the missing history of the Spanish and Hispanic occupants. His account is extremely detailed and provides not just a study of buildings and construction techniques, but is, in fact, a truly anthropological view of the period from 1526 and the first Spanish settlement of San Miguel de Gualdape, through to the occupation by American forces in 1846. As Early points out, this is a length of time greater than that from the American Revolution to the present day.

Early begins with an overview of the development of Spanish settlements on the mainland. Following the instructions laid out for the West Indies in the “Ordinances of Settlement”, water-front development required a town square built at the head of the port, with the central church facing the water. In-land settlements were to be designed around a central square containing the church. Without water to restrict growth, the settlement would radiate out from the square.

The remainder of the book is devoted to the Spanish settlements, organized by modern U.S. State and, within each state, by region. Florida, with early settlements up the coast, is the first state. Early explores the reasons for the development of St. Augustine as the regional capital (not the first choice of the adelantado for the region). He further explicates the process of constructing the city, the Caribbean influences to the stone and shell-concrete construction, and the dangers of attacks that demanded it become a heavily fortified town. He moves on into the area of present-day New Mexico, where native Pueblo construction techniques were preferred, due, in part, to the lack of masons or engineers versed in any other building styles. It is as Early moves into the West that the Spanish Mission system becomes the driving force behind the architecture. Whereas St. Augustine, a cosmopolitan city with ties to the Caribbean, attracted many settlers, few Spaniards were interested in the hinterlands of New Spain. This led to missionaries, intent on the conversion of native peoples, and soldiers (to protect the missionaries), being the primary inhabitants of these regions. The structures in Texas, Arizona, and California best exemplify this history. Possessed of well-trained military engineers and masons from Mexico, the missionaries in these regions guided the construction of large churches made of stone and wood, with vaults and soaring arches. The structures, usually covered in white stucco, look simple and humble from the exterior, but are often filled with wooden and stone sculptures and paintings in a riotous array of colors.

Insightful and expansive, Early’s book should be read by anyone interested in a fuller exploration of architecture and culture in the United States.

 

 
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Posted by on September 2, 2014 in Book Reviews

 

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Russian Summer

Discontent with the Russian system was a fact of life before the revolutions of 1917. In Angel of Vengeance: The “Girl Assassin”, the Governor of St. Petersburg, and Russia’s Revolutionary World*, Ana Siljak tells the story of Vera Zasulich,

a young woman from a noble family who became a devoted anarchist and decided to do more than talk. In 1878, Vera walked into the receiving room of the Governor of St. Petersburg, swathed in an oversized shawl. Under the shawl, she hid a gun. As she approached General Fedor Trepov, she withdrew the gun and, with a cry of “revenge!”, shot him. The revenge she sought was for a friend of hers,  Alexei Bogolyubov, a young man who had been flogged for refusing to remove his hat in the presence of General Trepov.

Unrest was rife in the ranks of the bourgeois at this time. Vera was involved for several years and came to recognize that many of the people in the movement were content to simply talk of a utopian future. With her single act, Vera set in motion the “Age of Assassination” that unsettled Russian society. Her trial for murder (even though Trepov did not die), was attended by the creme de la creme of society dressed in all their finery. Vera, a generally quiet and reserved person, was the picture of composure. Her attorney did a brilliant job of turning the trial into a condemnation of General Trepov and the Russian government in general. Acquitted, Vera left the country and discovered Marxism. She became a passionate supporter of socialism and was aghast at the use of assassination as a political tool of her fellow revolutionaries. She translated the works of Marx into Russian and both her trial and her translations (and further writing) influenced the leaders in the early 20th century who eventually brought about the rise of the Soviet Union.

Siljak does a masterful job presenting the story of Zasulich. The people who populate the book, the members of Vera’s social circle, her friends, her influences, her lovers, are presented in a vibrant manner that allows the reader to feel the energy and flow of life that guided Vera. Vera herself is rendered as a fully three-dimensional person. The reader gains deep insight into her psyche, her thought process, and her feelings. She is a woman to be admired, a woman of action, a woman of thoughts, a woman who functioned in a manner outside the confines of her time. Yet, even Vera regretted some of the effects of her actions and words. This complicated woman makes for a great subject and Siljak has created a lively book that captures her brilliantly.

One of Vera’s biggest regrets was that the “Age of Assassination”set in motion by her own attempted assassination eventually led to the murder of Tsar Alexander II on March 1, 1881. John Curtis Perry and Constantine Pleshakov document the aftermath of this assassination in The Flight of the Romanovs: A Family Saga.

The Flight Of The Romanovs A Family SagaThe story of the family of Tsar Nicolas II and his family, murdered in 1918 is fairly well known. The women with bodices lined with jewels, dying slowly as their bodices prevented assassins bullets from hitting the mark. The story that is not well known is what happened to the rest of the Romanovs. This book presents the tales of many of the vast number of Romanovs. The Uncles, Aunts, Cousins, Nieces and Nephews that supported the monarchy, or the revolution, or their self-interest, or their adopted homes, or the homeland of their non-Romanov parents. Those who buried their heads in the sand, and the ones whose lives seemed touched with tragedy long before the revolution.

Perry and Pleshakov weave the stories of these various family members in a smooth manner that makes for an eminently readable book. Even with the various Nicholas’, Alexander’s, Constantine’s, Alexandra’s, Olga’s, Perry and Pleshakov use family nicknames to help the reader keep all of the stories straight. It’s fascinating to follow this large family at this time in history that saw so many changes, and particularly fascinating how many strong-willed women influenced the course of history. In the Romanov family, the old rejoinder of a strong woman being behind every strong man is particularly true. The Romanovs of the earlier 20th century paid the price for generations of decisions made by their antecedents, as well as their own choices. The ones who left Russia generally survived. Those who thought they could protect themselves in Russia, generally could not.

Tragedy and Triumph, all in my Russian Summer.

*This is the title of the book as I read it. It has also been released under the alternate title shown in the image of the book cover.

 
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Posted by on July 20, 2014 in Book Reviews

 

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Picture Parade

Was looking for a little vintage purse to carry for my sister’s wedding and I found some other goodies as well. I came across this arrangement of violins and thought they would be a beautiful hanging together on a wall in someone’s house:

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Then I hit the boxes of photographs that I love so much. This one caught my eye immediately:

IMAG2061-1-1From the mother’s hairstyle, I would say this is a 1920’s photo. What I thought was so interesting is that it’s a double exposure (probably accidental). There aren’t twins dressed in the little pilgrim style, it’s the same girl after she’s moved. What’s so cute is that the fainter image of the boy shows him rubbing his eye…was someone crying?

I tend to be drawn to photos of babies and small children, beautiful girls (awesome for historic costume research) and handsome men. But, mostly, it’s the babies and tykes:

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The little boy’s hat with the two pom poms on either side, adorable! The babies in prams, so cute…

And this little one, so serious with the ringlets:

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A lot of vintage photos are mounted on these card stock “frames”, usually with the photography studio’s information somewhere on them. They’re often called “cabinet cards“. While they’re not great for the photograph itself (acidity in the card stock), they are helpful in placing the location of the studio (and, thus, the area where the sitter was from) and, with a little research, can narrow down the time period as well. This one is from the E. D. Baily Studio in Tamaqua, PA. From the embossing and card stock, this photo could date as early as 1890. Children’s fashions are a little harder to place, with a general unisex look for much of the Victorian and Edwardian era for babies and toddlers. I do know that this is a little girl as her name, “Lillie”, is written in pencil in a beautiful hand on the back of the card. An advantage of a cabinet card is that it ensures that it’s not a photo reprint. An unscrupulous dealer can create a negative of an original photo by taking a new photo, which would allow unlimited reprints to be sold as “vintage”. On loose images, one should check the paper stock, it should be faded and any creases or damage to the front face should be evident on the back, if you don’t see that, it might be a duplicate. I don’t worry too much about these as I’m only spending 50 cents or a few dollars for them, but I do like to have original prints. Another way to know it’s original is seeing black paper still stuck to the photo, or black tape across the corner(s). This shows it was mounted into a scrapbook at some point. As such, they should be on the surface, you should be able to feel them when you rub your hand over them. This could, of course, be faked, but I don’t know anyone who would bother for such a low cost item. If you were buying a photo of a famous person, one that you’re being asked to spend more money on, you would want to check these things. Celebrities in particular would often have hundreds of prints made, some with a message already scrawled on the front, ostensibly by the star. If the signature is on the surface (move it around in the light, you should see the ink sitting on the surface) then this may well have been done for the star’s convenience. If the whole image, writing and signature included, looks the same under the light, then you know that the whole thing is a copy of an original. It still might have been an original publicity item, but isn’t as special as a signed image, or one dedicated and signed. Then again, some of these celebs hired staff who would sign fan images for them…caveat emptor!

Finally, I came across this tiny treasure. I’m not terribly keen on the image, badly framed snapshot, but the size is great. I have a modern stamp here to show how small it really is:

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So, did I find a purse? Yes, yes I did. I’ll post pictures once I get some of me carrying it in the wedding. 🙂

 

 
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Posted by on May 20, 2014 in Vintage Beauties

 

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