Category Archives: Campbell House

Taxidermy

In looking at an empty exhibit room, one of the biggest challenges is deciding which story to tell and how to tell it. Most of the Campbell story has been shared countless times since the Campbell House opened as a museum in 1943. Being the brand new graduate assistant at the start of this process, the majority of the Campbell story was new to me. What facet of the Campbell story could I possibly help tell?

Taxidermy.

Now I know what you’re thinking-taxidermy is creepy. I would be lying if I said I never made that comment before. However, after spending months doing researching for Curated Curiosities: Taxidermy and Other Objects Under Glass, I gained a new appreciation for the craft.

The Campbell’s bird “Beauty”, preserved as a taxidermy specimen since 1902.

You might also be asking yourself, “did Robert really hunt?” Did Virginia create objects under glass? The answer is no, not that we know of. Robert might have hunted for food during his fur trading days in the Rockies, but never mounted anything as a trophy. And while we do not have evidence that Virginia herself made some objects under glass, the variety of examples in the house suggest she purchased some to decorate her home. However, the Campbells did stuff their pet bird, Beauty, who can be seen on the mantel of the morning room, alongside other birds that served as parlor decorations. Additionally, they have a variety of exotic birds under glass domes, perhaps purchased as souvenirs from their travels. These specimens give us a glimpse into the Victorian taxidermy fad not often told outside of hunting trophies.

Detail of a flower arrangement made from shells. Courtesy of the St. Louis Science Center.

Originally, taxidermy served as a way to preserve the pets of the aristocracy, but also grew with the interest in the natural world and cabinets of curiosities trend. Many aristocrats during the 17th and 18th centuries collected fossils, gems, bird skulls, feathers, and other items in their cabinet of curiosities. Some of these cabinets were purely for the entertainment and gratification of the owner, having no rhyme or reason for the collection. Others sought to make their collections as scientifically accurate as possible, utilizing scientists, academics, and explorers to collect new and rare specimens from “exotic” lands. A byproduct of this was the formation of museums, which used the collection of these specimens to further study in the field of natural history.

One problem that both collectors, scientists, and museums faced was the preservation of specimens. Often, “stuffed” animals would be destroyed by pests or deteriorate naturally. Artificial eyes and noses were not yet on the market, so many early Victorian taxidermy pieces had preserved bodies with deteriorating “soft” body parts. A variety of preservation methods were introduced, but nothing served as both an insecticide and preservative as well as Bécoeur’s arsenical soap, which served as   go-to preservative for taxidermists from the end of the 18th century until the 1970s.

Becoeur’s recipe for arsenical soap, a revolution in preparing taxidermy.

Taxidermy also served as a learning tool. Today, people might view taxidermy displays or dioramas in natural history museums as “dead zoos,” but before the Central Park Zoo and the Philadelphia Zoo, the first zoos in America, were established in 1850 and 1874, or the St. Louis Zoo which opened its doors in 1910, the average person did not have the opportunity to learn or see many different animals. Perhaps they were just familiar with those on the farm or the birds at the park. Even then, zoological parks did not spring up overnight across the country. Before this, how did one learn about animals? In the early 19th century, books or documents depicting animals included sketches based off of someone’s description of the beast. How does one describe a lion or elephant to someone who has never seen one before? Naturally, these were not accurate sources. Due to a growing fascination and curiosity with the natural world, explorers, collectors, and scientists sought to preserve specimens and display them in a museum, or showcase them at a zoo.

Much like people today, Victorians might have taken an interest in nature due to environmental issues. The Victorian Era in America saw an exponential growth of cities and the birth of the Industrial Revolution, both of which favored progress over preserving the natural world.This led to the growth of displaying nature in the home. Not only did this mean small animals under glass domes such as those in the morning room of the Campbell House, but other examples or recreations of nature as well. These included flowers, plants, fruit, or figurines made from materials such as wax, seashells, hair, wool, or glass.  Additionally, these “crafts” showcased the maker’s wealth. Similar to visiting Hobby Lobby to purchase project materials today,  the person making these crafts needed time and money to create these pieces-a luxury not afforded to the lower class.

The Taxidermy exhibit, on display through January 2018.

Once seen as curious, cute, or ferocious, taxidermy is now deemed outdated, creepy, and unsettling by most audiences. While this craft and other nature-inspired objects under glass, such as shell art or hair art, are no longer in fashion, they gives us a glimpse into the material culture of the Victorian Era and perspectives on the natural world.

Taxidermy and other nature-inspired crafts were used as a way to preserve nature for scientific study, to display hunting trophies, to preserve pets, as souvenirs from travels, and as decorations. Through January 2018 , you can see all different examples in our exhibit, Curated Curiosities: Taxidermy and Other Objects Under Glass.

-Jenna, Graduate Assistant

 

Advertisements
Tagged , , , ,

Perpetual Petals: A Brief History of Roses

A rose by any other name…might still be a rose! With thousands of varieties and hybrid varieties boasting a spectrum of colors and scents, it is no wonder roses have captivated gardeners and inspired artists for centuries.

According to fossil evidence, roses date back 70 million years in Asia and 35 million years in North America. Garden cultivation of roses began some 5,000 years ago, most likely in China. Native to the Northern Hemisphere, the genus Rosa has species spread from Alaska to Mexico and including northern Africa, Europe, and Asia. During the Roman period, roses were grown extensively in the Middle East and Mediterranean, where it was traded for celebration confetti, medicinal purposes, food, and perfume. Roses have arguably always been the most famous of all plants, but it was not until the Victorian era that rose cultivation and gardening reached an all-time peak.

Partially inspired by Empress Josephine Bonaparte’s extensive collection of 250 species, rose gardens grew in popularity throughout the 19th century, reaching its zenith in Victorian England and the United States in the latter half of the nineteenth century. The oldest single plant horticultural society in America, the American Rose Society was founded during this time in 1892. Out of the nearly 3,000 varieties hybridized during this golden age, we have only about 100 left, and only about 50 varieties are commercially available today.

Rose variety “King’s Ransom”

The term, “rose,” however, is simply an umbrella term describing wild roses, original species of roses, hybrids, and all the other crosses that have occurred in the last few hundred years. Before deliberate hybridization by man, roses grown in cultivation were of two main types: selections of plants either from among natural species grown wild or from natural hybrids occurring due to the pollinating activities of a bee. By the late eighteenth century, artificial hybridization had became possible and only few of the really ancient wild roses were still grown. However, characteristics of these roses can be found in new cultivations. The most important groupings among the ancient roses were the Centifolias and Moss roses, Damasks, Gallicas, Portlands, Albas, Chinas, and the species.

One of the first hybridizations was the hybrid perpetual, which was introduced in France as ‘hybrid remontant’ in 1837and then later referred to as hybrid perpetual. Perpetual was a real misnomer since they bloom twice seasonally, which was still more produced by their genetic ancestors, the damasks, hybrid chinas and bourbons. Another sought after characteristic was their hardiness, which still exceeds the modern hybrid tea roses. Many of our modern roses trace their color and/or form to their hybrid perpetual ancestors.

Rose variety “Octoberfest”

In 1867, Guillot Fils, one of the many gardeners at Guillotière since its opening in 1690, introduced the first hybrid tea, “La France,” which can still be found today. The hybrid tea supplied the abundant, recurrent bloom that had been awaited for so many years in addition to a broader color range, although many petals and fragrance were sacrificed in the process.

The Rose Society considers this the dividing line between old garden roses, which are hybrids developed by cross pollinating, such as the alba, damasks and chinas which are known for their abundant aroma, and modern which include hybrid tea roses, floribundas and grandifloras, which produce many flowers. Today, hybrid teas make up most garden roses. These two groups differ from the oldest- the species roses that developed in nature without any human intervention and basis of all cultivated roses.

Even the Victorians had difficulty remembering all the rose varieties. Books such as The Flower Garden, or Break’s Book of Flowers, published in 1851 by Joseph Breck, simplify roses for the common reader. And excerpt from the book is below:

Rose variety “Neil Diamond”

“It may often be difficult to ascertain whether a Rose is a Damask, a Provence, or a Hybrid China; but there can be no difficult in ascertaining whether it is dwarf or climbing, whether it blooms once or more in the year and whether the leaves are rough as in the Remontants, (perpetual) or smooth as in the Bengals. We have, therefore, endeavored to simplify the old classification, and have placed all Roses under three principal heads:

  1. Those that make distinct and separated periods of bloom through the season, as the Remontant Roses
  2. Those that bloom continually, without any temporary cessation, as the Bourbon, China, etc
  3. Those that bloom only once in the season, as the French and others

Bird’s Eye view of the rose garden.

The first of these includes only the present Damask and Hybrid Perpetuals. Perpetual does not express their true character. The second general head we call Everblooming. This is divided into five classes:

  1. The Bourbon, which are easily known by their luxuriant growth, and think, large leathery leaves. These are, moreover, perfectly hardy.
  2. The China, which includes the present China, Tea, and Noisette Roses, which are now much confused, as there are many among the Teas which are not tea-scented, and among the Noisettes which do not bloom in clusters. There are, moreover, so much alike in their growth and habit, that it is better each should stand upon its own merits, and not on the characteristics of an imaginary class.
  3. Musk, known by its rather rough foliage.
  4. Macartney, known by its very rich, glossy foliage, almost evergreen
  5. Microphylla, easily distinguished by its peculiar foliage and straggling habit.

The third general head we divided into five classes:

  1. Garden roses. This includes all the present French, Provenance, Hybrid Provenance, Hybrid China, Hybrid Bourbon, White, and Damask Roses, many of which, under the old arrangement, differ more from others in their own class than from many in another class.
  2. Moss roses, all of which are easily distinguished.
  3. Brier Roses, which will include the Sweet Brier, Hybrid Sweet Brier, and Austrian Brier.
  4. The Scotch Rose
  5. Climbing Roses; which are again divided into all the distinctive subdivisions.”

A map indicating the location and varieties of roses at Campbell House (prepared by volunteers from the Greater St. Louis Rose Society)

For decades the jewel of the Museum’s gardens has been the rose bed. For almost 50 years the roses were carefully tended by former Campbell House curator Theron Ware and later by Leo and Katie Krobath, members of the Greater St. Louis Rose Society. This summer the Rose Society re-established its commitment to the Campbell House rose garden under the direction of volunteer Bruce Davis. The Rose Society replaced more than 25 damaged or dead plants with a collection of floribundas, grandifloras, and hybrid teas. There are now 50 roses thriving in the garden with evocative names like King’s Ransom, Yellow Brick Road and Sugar Moon.

Next time you visit, don’t forget to stop and smell the roses.

-Jenna, Graduate Research Assistant

Tagged , ,

Calling all servants…

bells

 

 

If you’ve visited the Campbell House before, or have watched any of Downton Abbey, you know that one of the most important features of a large house with servants are the call bells.

At Campbell House, the original bells still line the top of the kitchen wall, waiting to ring. Eleven of the house’s rooms had a pull on the wall, and each bell made a different noise, allowing servants to go directly to the room required. If you’ve taken a tour, you know all of this. But what you don’t know is what is in the basement.

For the Campbell bell system to work, it needed a long series of cords and pulleys. For instance, a bell pull in parlor would require around 80 to 90 feet of cord to reach the kitchen! And this cord would have to be protected in some way to prevent it from snagging on loose nails or becoming tangled with other cords and wires.

The covered passage on the basement ceiling

The covered box on the basement ceiling, showing part of the cover cut away.

At the Campbell House, the cords were installed on the ceiling of the basement inside a covered box. This covered box still sits on the ceiling of the basement.

Using the covered box created a problem, however. To travel from the wall to the box cords now had to pivot 90 degrees three times: from the parlor wall to the basement ceiling, from that spot to the covered box, and from the covered box up to kitchen wall. To facilitate this process, the workmen installed metal pivots. Two of these pivots are still nailed to the basement ceiling near the front of the house. One of them has two separate pivots, perhaps with one for the front door and the other for the front of the parlor. The Campbells undoubtedly made use of several more of these pivots.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This system was probably used thousands of times, whether to call for tea in the parlor, to give instructions for dinner, or to inform of the arrival of a guest. Although the cords themselves are long since gone, the remnants of the system are still there, waiting to call the servants into action once more.

Tagged , , , , , ,