Thursday, May 30, 2013

A Secret in the desk - Colonial Williamsburg Dollhouse

Anastasia Stewart Odgen has a secret hidden in her deskNot letters from a illicit lover, not jewelry, but a deed granting her ownership of a thousand acres of her father's estate in Maryland.  Her husband, James, doesn't know about this gift from her father.  

Anastasia keeps the deed locked in the bottom drawer of her desk along with the ownership papers of her three slaves.  Her father, Lee, wanted Anastasia to have something of her own in case her marriage was unhappy. He was land rich, but cash poor. He had not been pleased at Anastasia's choice of a husband especially one who clearly harbored revolutionary views.  However, at the age of 24, his headstrong daughter was running out of options in the marriage department.

Anastasia had frightened off several suitors when she clearly stated her desire to be in charge of her own life.  James Ogden did not seem to think this was odd, perhaps because his own mother had been such an opinionated woman.  And he did so admire Anastasia's beautiful red hair.  So off Anastasia went to Virginia with her three personal slaves traveling with her.  Lydia, the cook, would be sorely missed by Lee Stewart, but she had trained a replacement that seemed to be working out well.  Of course, Lydia refused to go without her sister Sarai, and Sarai would not go without her son, Jed.  Lee Stewart was very fond of Jed and extracted promises from Anastasia that Jed would never be sold out of the family. 

The small party arrived in Virginia, weary and dirty from the four day carriage ride.  Dismayed, they eyed the small town house that was James Ogden's home.  Anastasia Stewart's girlhood home had a ballroom, six bedrooms, a music room and a library.  The grounds were famous all over the Eastern shore.  This house was right in the middle of a busy town across from a tavern and city hall!  

Anastatia could never admit she was wrong (then or now) and there was no question of turning tail and making her way back to Maryland, so she squared her shoulders and bullied the slaves out of the carriage.  On entering, she was relieved to find that at least the furnishings were elegantLydia on the other hand was furious when she found she was expected to sleep in a lean-to off the back of the house.  "Just for tonight, Lydia" Anastasia promised.  "Tomorrow we will see about something else for you." 

Sitting at her desk, Ana (Jame's pet name for one else is allowed to shorten her lovely name) remembers those days with a smile. 

That first night with James gave her hope that this bargain she had made would turn out to be the best of all choices.  James thought she was wonderfula belief that Ana had long held herself and was astounded that so few people seemed to agree!  

The next morning Ana had regained her high spirits.  Exploring the modest house, she found a good sized attic stuffed full of old furniture, chests, broken tools, boxes of cast-off clothing, a printing press and signs that a racoon had been living in it.  Lydia, with a shrug, agreed it might be better than the lean-to and set to work with Sarai and Jed to clean it out.  Jed caught sight of the racoon and disappeared to find materials to make a trap.  

James had been taking his meals at the tavern since his mother had died and had no idea where to purchase provisions for the kitchen.  Sarai was sent to pick up the noon meal from the tavern while Lydia made a list and went in search of a store.  Jed looked with horror at the overgrown garden and realized he was going to have to weed it because James kept no other house slaves.  James, blithely unaware of the inadequacies of his welcome to his new bride went off to his fields to check on his plantation manager.  
Ellen Ogden's household accounts

After the noon meal, Anastasia sat at James' mother desk to discover that she had keep detailed accounts each year of the household and of the income from the plantation.  There had been a great deal of money set aside over the years. 
Feeling better, Anastasia began to plan a kitchen addition to the property.  

Writing a letter to her father, Anastasia asked how much yearly income she might expect from her lands.  Perhaps she could build the kitchen addition right away with a down payment from some of Ellen's savings and a payment the following year from her income.   Thinking hard, she found a new accounts book and began her own figures. 

Lydia had some wonderful ideas for the new kitchen addition and also spent several hours taking a inventory of the tiny kitchen to see what would need to be purchased immediately in order to feed this newly created family.   

Realizing there was another drawer hidden by the drop leaf, Anastasia closed up the top of the desk to see what was inside the top drawer.

 Ellen's tapestry threads form a rainbow of color.  "Humph," thought Anastasia, those will never be used."  "I have much more important things to do."

That evening, after Lydia's wonderful meal, Anastasia showed James the sketches she had made of the kitchen addition, and the ideas she had for paying for it.  Reluctant to take anything from her father, he thought they could finance it themselves over a couple of years.  Anastasia bit her tongue to keep from blurting out that it was her moneyfor James did not know about her land.  Maybe they could make do for two years to save her husband's pride.  In the meantime, she really must soften the front of the house with some plantings because of course Williamsburg society will flock to her door when they realize afternoon tea will be a sumptuous repast in Lydia's creative hands.

My sister Rosalind made the desk.  As a gift for her, I made all the little accessories for it except for the scissors, the wax stamp (which is a chess piece from a miniature chess set in my Hogwarts castle), the compass, the owl beads I used for the bookends and the "feather pen" which is actually a metal charm.  If you want to make needlepoint yarn skeins, you will need to use just two threads wrapped six times around your finger.  Gather the loop together in the middle.  Glue a label cut from scrapbook paper (or in this case, I used a printable book cover that had a nice design.)  The inkwell is made from beads, and the wax stamp is made from Sculpey.

All that is lacking is a candle and candlestick on the desk.... 

Saturday, May 25, 2013

The Road Not Taken

 The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost
TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

My sister is a strong woman and when she makes up her mind to travel a certain path, she doesn't turn back.  In October, she received a devastating diagnosis of stage four esophageal cancer.  Working as a cytologist she knew that there were limited treatment options.  None of them with the hope of a cure.  Radical surgery and great discomfort would accompany the extension of her life by only a little.  So she chose a different path.  No surgery, no chemo, no radiation.  With grace and dignity she has embarked calmly on a journey - one on which we can only accompany her for while.  She has been making the most of the little time she has left in this life by traveling, by spending time with her friends and family, and by putting all of her affairs in order, including expeditions to the grocery store to help reacquaint her husband with provisioning skills. 

She has told everyone in her life how special they are to her.  She has given away many of her things, and she has daily become more beautiful as external things are stripped away and the essence of her spirit becomes more evident.

Together and individually as a family we are all struggling to match her courage in the face of our sadness.  She will be leaving us with a legacy of incredible love.

Me on the left, Rosalind on the right.
I don't remember a time before her nor can imagine a time without her.  I find myself unable to say "goodbye", but perhaps I might be able to say, "Save a pretty spot for me, I will be along before too long."  

I wonder which path you might choose?  Have you made end of life decisions?  And are you living your todays as if each day were precious?

Friday, May 24, 2013

One Annoyed Cook!

As promised, here is another peek into the tiny world of Rosalind's colonial Williamsburg dollhouse.

The cook's nose is out of joint.  She is highly offended that her master thought her cooking would not meet the standards of the visiting Marquis de Lafayette and ordered petit fours, macaroons, and confections from the newly opened French bakery.  Lydia has outdone herself by creating Swan Meringues and her justifiably famous crown roast to prove that "Americans can cook, thank you very much!"

Really wishing to dump the petit fours, confections and macaroons into the privy, Lydia doesn't want to risk a beating, so sets them on the buffet reluctantly.

Guessing from Lydia's glower that she is upset, the mistress sits pondering what might be done to mollify her much appreciated cook.  She promises that Lydia will be rewarded for making a lovely dinner for the Marquis.  Lydia is delighted with the gingham material the mistress gives to her and promptly makes some curtains for her bare window and her sister's as well.

Lydia's Room
Lydia is secretly pleased that the mistress is teaching her to read, although she doesn't tell the other slaves for fear of jealousy.  

Sarai's Room

Her sister Sarai sleeps next door and is a master spinner and weaver.  All of the slaves' clothing is made by Sarai. In the winter Sarai shares her room with several other slaves which mean that Lydia must hide her books in the trunk. Not that there is much time for reading in the winter as no one wastes candles on slave bedrooms.  Both sisters are grateful that their skills afford them the status of well furnished rooms even if they are stifling in the summer and freezing in the winter.  Lydia, however, does not linger long admiring her new curtains, because there are 17 field hands to be fed at noon, and the pantry to be cleaned...

Not to mention chasing down that lazy ten year old Jed, who laid the fire without sweeping up the coals and ashes from yesterday!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

A Cup of Tea - Eliza's first Tea Party

When the world is all at odds
And the mind is all at sea
Then cease the useless tedium
And brew a cup of tea.
There is magic in its fragrance,
There is solace in its taste;
And the laden moments vanish
Somehow into space.
The world becomes a lovely thing!
There’s beauty as you’ll see;
All because you briefly stopped
To brew a cup [...]


I found this poem on one of my favorite blogs. For some lovely images of a fancy tea visit:  Madelief
Image Via

All of the little girls (and the big ones too) in our clan enjoy tea parties, fancy and plain, starting from an early age.  Eliza is no exception.  A few weeks ago, she was introduced to tea parties on the patio of her grand-auntie Rosalind's patio.  Some years ago, Rosalind purchased a brightly colored child sized tea service to have tea parties with her new grand nieces, Caroline and Sara and recently Mina also has enjoyed a tea party at grand-auntie's house

French Macaroons from Trader Joe's and Petit fours from Whole Foods

 We almost always have cucumber sandwiches, but since grand-auntie Rosalind was not having an easy day, we brought in (gasp!) store-bought treats.  So this qualified as a "plain" tea party.  Not like the image at right.

 Eliza loved everything!  Especially the asparagus spears.
 Many of our tea parties include tea sandwiches such as chopped and sauteed mushrooms or spinach egg salad made with cream cheese.  Recipes for both will be shared if anyone asks.  I am still finishing up the photography for the next post on Rosalind's Williamsburg dollhouse..perhaps tomorrow I can take better ones of the exteriors of both buildings.  At one tea party someone counted up the lbs of butter and cream cheese.  Horrified all 20 attendees vowed never to tell!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Kitchens - A Place Apart

Image Via

History nerds run in our family.  My grandmother Minnie was the family archivist on the Heatherly side, keeping all manner of family memorabilia in a cedar chest.  My uncle Ben on the Stewart side loved ancient things, familial or not, and was an encyclopedia of knowledge about English and American antiques.  If you have been reading recent posts, you know that my sister Rosalind extensively researched Colonial America when building her Colonial Williamsburg dollhouse.  Because of that research, she came to the conclusion that the kitchen needed to be a separate building.  Had she chosen to build a house belonging to a tradesman, that would be a very different matter, but this house was based on the elegant gentry homes in Williamsburg and the owners of these estates could afford to keep the heat, odors, and danger of fire away from the main house.  The separate kitchens also provided housing for the servants and slaves they kept to do the work of the house and plantations.

Image Via

Image Via
 Rosalind is a fabulous cook.  From a very early age, she was master of our family's kitchen.  So it is no wonder, she found the Colonial Williamsburg kitchen fun to reproduce.

Following are photos of the main room in the separate kitchen building of Rosalind's dollhouse.

The main room of the kitchen was used for food preparation.  The table would have been sturdy enough to withstand years of kneading, chopping, and pounding, but light enough to be carried outside during the stifling summer heat.  Herbs and meats would be suspended from the ceiling beams to keep them dry and away from vermin.  This kitchen's floor is bricked, but many of them were just dirt dropping food on the floor and picking it up again!

Tucked under the stairs is a typical seat with a high back to keep off the drafts.  It usually would reside right next to fireplace in the winter time for warmth.  There is storage for bedding under the seat cushion.  Most furniture for slaves, servants, farmers, and tradesmen was sturdy and served more than one function.  It is likely that several slaves slept next to the warmth of the fireplace at night when the day's work was done.  

Here you see a corner of the fireplace. with a piece of metal in the back to reflect the heat, and a hanger to suspend a cast iron kettle over the fire. Hung from a hook is a long handled pan to keep the cook's skirts from catching on fire.  A handy axe would be used inside to split larger chunks of wood into kindling.  Outside would be another for the woodpile which would need constant replenishing, usually by a young slave boy.  A breadbox, loose enough to allow airflow and keep moisture from molding the bread, and tight enough to keep out critters stands next to fireplace to receive the loaves of bread baking in the oven.

Still needed for this room is the wood for the fireplace and ashes to spread around in front of the hearthless fireplace.

Behind the bread box is the butter churn and two wooden buckets for hauling water.  The oven is on the top left and would have had a wooden or metal door to set into the opening after the bread was inside.  You can see one little loaf cooling on the shelf below the oven. 
In this photo, you can see all of the pots and pans needed to cook for the big house.
  Some foods ready to be transferred to serving platters.

 In the next post, we will take a look at the rest of the rooms in the kitchen building.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

My Sister's Dollhouse

This is the second post about my sister Rosalind's Colonial Williamsburg dollhouse.  Last time we looked at the master bedroom and the adjacent dressing room.  This time we will examine the living room and the dining Room.

You may remember from your American History class that tea in the American colonies was taxed by the British.  "Colonists objected to the Tea Act because they believed that it violated their rights as Englishmen to "No taxation without representation," that is, be taxed only by their own elected representatives and not by a British parliament in which they were not represented." Wikipedia  This did not mean that the colonists stopped drinking tea.  They were mostly immigrants from Britain, or 1st or second generation descendants of immigrants from Britain.  Almost every household in the colonies had a tea service whether it was silver for the gentry, china for the merchants, copper or pewter for the poor, or pottery or wood for the slaves. "A cuppa" was de rigueur for all classes. However, after the Boston Tea Party, as revolution became more certain and the boycott of tea more common, the colonists began to consume more of other liquids, most notably coffee and herbal teas.  Still, all gracious hostesses served something when afternoon visits took place.  Above, in Rosalind's dollhouse the tea table is central to the living room, and a small musical instrument stands ready to entertain the guests.  

  While we still have frequent tea parties in our family, somehow none of us learned to play an instrument well enough to actually entertain anyone!

Photos by Camille Snyder
The lovely grandfather clock behind the mistress of the house was something of an innovation at this time as the timepieces had only recently become more reliable.

You will note the desk under the staircase.  On a plantation large enough to support such an elegant house, this most likely would have been used by the mistress of the house, and the master would have had a separate office to meet with the plantation manager.  The desk has not yet been "dressed" with accessories, so will show that another time.

 Here you can see one of the candle sconces on either side of the fireplace that helped to light the living room.  (Interesting note: whale oil lamps were beginning to be used in the late 1700's because of their bright and relatively clean light but Rosalind chose to use candles throughout this house.  I forgot to ask her if it was because of esthetics or if it was easier to find miniature candle holders.)  There is a Japanese Imari vase and plate on the mantle (very common in wealthy homes during the 1700's)  and a hand painted oil reproduction by Miniaturist Linda Webster of Claude Monet's The Hoschedes' Garden at Montgeron hanging over the fireplace. Since the original was painted in 1876, I am thinking there might have been a time traveler visiting Williamsburg in the 1700's and peddling his wares.

The Dining Room

Here Rosalind used the same wallpaper from Dollhouse Emporium that she used in the living room.  I think it is very pretty with this rug.  Notice the Jasperware by Wedgewood on the dining table.  Rosalind also has a wonderful collection of Jasperware in a much larger scale.  

In the photo below you can see a corner of the desk where she keeps some of her collection:
Photo via The Vintique Object
 And notice how the camel back sofa in the dollhouse echoes the ones in her living room.
Photo Via The Vintique Object you think Rosalind's taste was influenced by her love of Williamsburg? Or did she love Williamsburg because it matched her taste?   Care to comment, Rosalind?

Friday, May 17, 2013

Miniature Williamsburg Dollhouse

When my sister Rosalind and I were old enough to read to ourselves, we were introduced to a book called "The Borrowers" about tiny little folk who lived in the walls of houses owned by "The Bigs."  Somewhat like gypsies in miniature, they cannily "borrowed" items from the Bigs in order to survive.  Following their adventures began my life-long love of fantasy fiction.  

When years later, as an adult, my sister began to build a Williamsburg dollhouse, I was enchanted.  I could imagine tiny little folks moving into it.  As the next three years passed, she carefully crafted period furniture, did research on colonial times, and decided the kitchen would need to be a separate building.  As the dollhouse neared completion, my sister's life changed dramatically when she met and married her love, Larry.  He had lived in Williamsburg as a child when his father, Jack Cotter was head archaeologist at the Colonial National Historical Park and directed excavations at Jamestown, Virginia.  Living in Rosalind's small house, it became clear that her dollhouse was taking up some valuable space that Larry needed for a study.  We all began house hunting for a larger house for soon to be married couple.  Moving house, meant packing up the dollhouse, which was a big disappointment for my daughters who had been allowed to re-arrange furniture under close supervision from their auntie Roz.  In its new home, the dollhouse was loved for a number of years before my girls moved on to teen age interests and the dollhouse gathered dust and was eventually packed away as my sister settled into married life.

My sister's dollhouse had been stored in her attic for seventeen years when she agreed to my request to haul it down and get it ready for a miniature show we are planning at St. Mark's.  I had remembered it as being amazing but it was in pretty sad shape after alternately freezing and heating over those years, so it has been undergoing renovations for the past six months and is now ready (as they say in TV land) for THE BIG REVEAL.  I am kicking myself for not taking photos of the before.  Rosalind had made it before internet shopping with what she could purchase in Albuquerque shops and through a few catalogs.  She had done an wonderful job, but the wall paper was not quite in period, so down it came with a whole lot of sponging and scraping...which was not easy for her in those tiny spaces!

The new wallpaper is much more elegant and was purchased from Dollhouse Emporium.  Rosalind used this paper for the master bedroom and adjacent dressing room.

Rosalind made the bed, the chair, the side tables and the cradle from kits.  The tiny little tatted edges on the pillow case were made by our great-grandmother and was handed down with her sewing box.  Rosalind made the rest of the bedding.  

At the foot of the bed, the maid has laid out a tiny little pair of knickers and a camisole for the mistress to wear after she had had her bath.  The maid has to haul water from the kitchen fireplace up a flight of stairs, to fill the bath and then haul it back down again.  No wonder people did not bathe as frequently in those days!

Next to it is the bed warmer the colonials used to made icy sheets bearable in the winters.

Here you can glimpse the bathtub hidden discretely behind a Chinese screen.

The Dressing Table

Next door to the Master Bedroom is the Dressing Room which contains a bed for the Master of the plantation.  He would retire to this bed when the Mistress had a new baby, or if he had been out late with his hunting buddies.
  A comfortable reading chair and a bottle of wine, make this space all his own.

In the next post, we will take a look at some of the rest of the rooms in this miniature colonial Williamsburg house.

For now, if you are intrigued by the miniature world, you can visit some of these fabulous site via these links:

The Queen's Dollhouse:


Colleen Moore's Fairy Dollhouse

Tom Robert's Collection