As those who have visited New York's Morris-Jumel Mansion are aware, a wallpaper decorated with morning glory vines hung in the house during Eliza and Stephen Jumel's tenure, and an exact copy adorns the front parlor today. The reproduction was printed from wooden blocks carved specially for the mansion by H. Birge & Sons of Buffalo, New York, in 1916. But here's the kicker: I just discovered that Birge must have printed additional sheets. The same paper can be seen hanging in the William L. Brown House in Providence, Rhode Island—the city where Eliza was born—in a photograph from 1958. Perhaps the choice of paper made by the then-owner of the house stemmed from one of Jumel's early fictions. As a young woman with the maiden name of Bowen, she gave her surname as Brown instead, possibly to suggest an association with a family of wealthy Providence merchants named Brown.
Whether the Madame Jumel paper is still in the Brown House, I do not know. But it may hang on other walls yet to be discovered. Birge printed a fresh edition of the wallpaper for the mansion just in time for the bicentennial in 1976. At the same time, the pattern was made available for sale to the general public as well by Reed Ltd, which had just acquired Birge. Anyone have the wallpaper hanging in their home, perchance?
The visible seam in the paper makes clear that this wallpaper in the Brown House is the twentieth-century reproduction by H. Birge & Sons, rather than an early nineteenth-century original. It was clearly made in long strips rather than smaller rectangles that were pieced together (the latter being a distinguishing characteristic of wallpaper printed and hung in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries).
There is an enchanted weekend to come at the Morris-Jumel Mansion, with the last three performances of Vincent Carbone's adaptation of Alice in Wonderland. In this version of the well-known tale, the grounds of the mansion become Wonderland and the familiar characters take on American Revolutionary alter egos—the sleepy dormouse doubles as John Adams, for example. Visit the Morris-Jumel Mansion website for tickets. Performances are scheduled for tonight, Friday, and Saturday at 8 PM and Sunday, October 2, at 3 PM.
The fragment was found during an archaeological dig at Morrisania, the estate of Roger Morris's contemporary (but not relation) Lewis Morris. Most of Lewis's estate was located in what is now the Bronx—where the glass remnant is located today. It is on exhibit at the Valentine-Varian House (1758), home of the Bronx Historical Society. This set of opaque-twist wineglasses, made about 1760, gives you an idea of what the vessel might have looked like in its prime.
These beautiful last days of summer are the perfect time to admire the garden at the Morris-Jumel Mansion and step inside to view a thought-provoking exhibition of textile art. Titled The Fabric of Emancipation, the juried show was produced by the mansion in partnership with Harlem Needle Arts, an organization that promotes fabric and needle arts made by artists of the African Diaspora. The works on exhibit highlight the historical and contemporary experience of blacks in the United States. In this pointedly topical piece, for example, Laura R. Gadson juxtaposes the divergent treatment of blacks and whites who attract the attention of the police.
Michael Wolf, a member of the stellar Morris-Jumel Mansion docent crew, alerted me recently to a potentially significant episode in the pre-Revolutionary history of the house. I say "potentially significant," because there may be a fly in the ointment: it is not yet clear whether the episode took place in the real world or only in someone's imagination. I hope to be able to answer that question eventually, but for the moment let me give you what information I have found.
The story begins with a calendar page on display this summer at Fraunces Tavern Museum in downtown Manhattan. On the page is a reproduction of a painting by John Ward Dunsmore (1856–1945). Its subject is said to be a reception at the Morris-Jumel Mansion, held on Thursday afternoon, September 1, 1768. The guest of honor was New Jersey governor William Franklin, who was on his way to treaty negotiations with the Six Nations at Fort Stanwix in the Mohawk Valley. (Click "Read More"—just far enough to the right below this paragraph to be difficult to spot—to continue.)
The octagonal drawing room at the Morris-Jumel Mansion is hosting distinguished guests: Greek and Buddhist goddesses and women of the Old Testament, painted by artist Andrea Arroyo. The shaped canvases take the form of panels from medieval altarpieces, honoring a range of women in a way traditionally restricted to saints and other holy figures in Christian iconography. The paintings, on display until August 21, are part of Arroyo's exhibit Boundless—The Women of the Mansion.
Arroyo has crafted outdoor, site-specific pieces as well, but the latter will only be on view until this Sunday, July 31, 2016. All are invited to attend a free closing reception and performance on the 31st at the Morris-Jumel Mansion (1 to 2:30 PM), which will include live art by Arroyo and piano accompaniment by jazz musician Marjorie Eliot.
Today is the 151st anniversary of the death of Madame Eliza B. Jumel (April 2, 1775–July 16, 2016). Her house, the Morris-Jumel Mansion, preserves her memory—as do I. Requiescat in pace, dearest Madame.
The Manhattan end of the High Bridge was built on land purchased from Eliza Jumel. She also owned the land bordering the Harlem River all the way south to what is now 159th Street. These two pictures show what the area looked like in the 1840s and today.
Margaret Oppenheimer, View of High Bridge and the Harlem River, 2016. Dredging and landfill in the late-nineteenth and twentieth centuries altered the irregular contours of the river. Five of the stone piers of the High Bridge were replaced by a steel arch in 1923 to allow larger ships to navigate the waterway.