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An oil on canvas painting by Florence Thaw (student of Abbott Thayer), Portrait of Socialite; housed in a rare and important Stanford White frameStanford White (November 9, 1853 – June 25, 1906) was in his day best known for his Beaux-Arts work with the architectural firm of McKim, Mead & White, in which he was a partner, work which typifies what is thought of as the American Renaissance of art and design.

White’s family had no money, but were still well connected in the art world of New York in the 19th century, and through those connections, he began work as an assistant to Henry Hobson Richardson, who was perhaps the best-known architect in America at the time, and after several years with Richardson and an 18-month stint in Europe – and with no formal schooling, let alone training in architecture, White would return to New York and form his partnership with McKim and Mead.

In 1889, White would design what might be his best-known work, the Washington Square arch, but he would also design numerous iconic buildings, both in New York City and throughout the United States. In addition to his public buildings (such as the Boston Public Library), he also designed many of the finest private homes in America at the time, including the Fifth Avenue mansions of the Astors and the Vanderbilts, as well as private clubs throughout the city. Like many prominent architects, McKim, Mead & White also had a hand in the interior furnishings of the homes they designed, and Stanford White’s designs also live on in the frames of Newcomb-Macklin, who would acquire the rights to White’s designs after his death.

Which would inevitably be what White was better known for. While very well-liked and well-connected socially, in fact a central figure in the New York City social scene, White also seduced and on occasion assaulted teenage girls. With New York in the heyday of burlesque, there were plenty of lovely chorus girls and aspiring models as conquests. Rumors of his red velvet swing swirled around the city, and these rumors, among other social incidents, would fuel an obsession with deadly consequences.

Evelyn Nesbit, who could barely be called one of White’s conquests, as he’d sexually assaulted her while she was 16 years old and unconscious to boot, had married Harry Kendall Thaw, a man whose lifelong mental instability was concealed by his Pittsburgh steel family fortune. Thaw’s dislike for White stemmed not only from his wife’s account of her interactions with the architect, but also from a myriad of social slights, mostly imagined or magnified by mental illness. In short, Thaw felt White had defiled Nesbit and thwarted his attempts at social climbing in the city, while White was likely oblivious to it all.

On June 25, 1906, both White and the Nesbit-Thaws were attending a show at the Madison Square Garden rooftop garden theater, when Thaw confronted White, drew a gun and said either “You’ve ruined my life” or “You’ve ruined my wife” before shooting White three times at close range, twice in the head and once in shoulder. Bystanders initially thought it was all a big prank, but White died almost instantly.

The trial, touted as “The Trial of the Century,” would be a media circus for the time, with the papers working every salacious angle to the story. Yellow journalism painted White as debauched and hedonistic, revisiting and questioning the value of his work. The tarnishing of White’s reputation when coupled with Thaw’s questionable mental state resulted in a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity. Ironically, White’s autopsy revealed that he was suffering from three diseases which would have killed him in a relatively short period of time.

Today White’s name is most often associated with the Newcomb-Macklin frames which still fetch big prices at auction and are often more valuable than the art they contain.

Edwin Burrage Child (American, 1868-1937) oil on canvas painting, Amelia Earhart, signed and dated "1930" lower right, in Newcomb-Macklin frame.S.H. McElswain founded a framing company in 1871 in Evanston, Illinois, but the name by which it is known to collectors today comes from a partnership that began twelve years later in 1883, with McElswain’s bookkeepers Charles Macklin and John C. Newcomb, who formed a partnership in order to assume command of the business.

The company, which would have enough success to support showrooms in Chicago and New York as well as a crew of traveling salesmen, owed much of its early success to the relationships it established with schools of artists, like the American Impressionists and the Taos School, as well as with specific artists such as John Singer Sargent, Maxfield Parrish, George Bellows and many others. By working directly with their important artist clients to develop frame styles and finish treatments to complement their paintings, Newcomb-Macklin developed powerful relationships and placed their frames in the finest art collections in the country.

They also worked with only the best in terms of designers and craftsmen, producing some of the most beautiful and original Arts & Crafts frames in America. Some of their most famous frames are based on reproductions of the work of famed architect Stanford White. Newcomb-Macklin acquired the rights to White’s work after his assassination in 1906.

Newcomb-Macklin frames have a distinctive construction that makes them readily identifiable. Their corner splines (spline is basically a fancy word for slat) are unique and are sometimes referred to as perpendicular. Unlike most frames which are joined with a traditional 45-degree miter cut, a butterfly joint or perhaps a dovetail joint, Newcomb-Macklin frame corners are essentially a separate piece, like a chunky V-shaped section, between the side slats of the frame. (It might be a little hard to visualize, but by clicking on the photo above and looking at the enlarged view, one can get a better idea of this distinctive construction.) They are sometimes factory stamped and/or labeled, but generally identification can be done simply on the basis of the corner construction.

In 1979 the Newcomb-Macklin company was purchased by the Thanhardt-Burger Corporation, which had themselves specialized in producing handmade frames since 1927. With the Newcomb-Macklin roots, Thanhardt-Burger is now considered to be the oldest continuously operated frame-making company in the United States.

Clementine Hunter (American/Louisiana, 1886-1988) oil on canvas board painting, "Pecan Pickin'", circa 1955, initialed lower right.Clementine Hunter (pronounced Clementeen) was born to Creole parents in late December of 1886 or early January of 1887 at Hidden Hill Plantation near Cloutierville, Louisiana. With only a handful of days at school, Hunter would never learn to read or write and was in the fields when she was very young. At 15, she left Hidden Hill, considered to have been the inspiration for Uncle Tom’s Cabin, for Melrose Plantation.

At Melrose, she would pick cotton, give birth (on at least one occasion picking more than 70 pounds of cotton the day before and returning to the fields within the week) to seven children, and marry Emmanuel Hunter in 1924. By her mid-30s, Clementine would begin to work as a cook and housekeeper. She would never travel more than 100 miles from home.

Melrose Plantation was something of an artist colony, and when New Orleans artist Alberta Kinsey left behind brushes and tubes of paint in the 1930s, Hunter painted her first picture – on a window shade. With the attention and support of the plantation’s curator, Francois Mignon, Hunter would get her work displayed locally. She and Mignon would also later collaborate on a Melrose Plantation cookbook.

Hunter produced artwork on any scraps she could find, from paper bags to sheetrock, hanging a sign outside her cabin that charged “25 cents to Look.” Her works illustrate the daily life of the early 20th-century plantation – picking cotton or pecans, doing chores, witnessing baptisms or weddings – and she was a prolific painter, creating an estimated 4,000 to 5,000 works, but her work is considered uneven, likely because she had to work hastily and because she continued to live in poverty most of her life, so values for her work can vary widely. Works from the 1940s and 50s are considered her best.

Hunter’s work is naïve and simplistic enough that there have been instances of forgery. This is complicated by the fact that she painted on a wide variety of materials, rarely titled works, and because there is rarely anything resembling a firm provenance. Her work also tends to sell in a price range that makes forgeries easier to pass, selling at a price point where the efforts of forging are worthwhile but where buyers are often less likely to do or demand research and are unlikely to pay for a full authentication.

Hattie Klapp Brunner (American, 1889-1982) watercolor and gouache on paper painting, fall Amish auction scene, signed and dated '62 in lower left.

Gouache {sometimes referred to as body color and pronounced “gwash”) and watercolor paintings are often not clearly distinguished as being different, perhaps because making the distinction just based on a visual examination can be difficult, perhaps because both techniques are often used in the same work, but they are different in fundamental ways. They share the same binding agent but there is far more pigment in relation to water in gouache. Gouache, unlike watercolor paint, is opaque and sometimes to heighten the effect of this opacity, chalk or some other white pigment may be added. All the additional pigment and decreased water makes gouache much heavier – and they mean that gouache covers more quickly, dries more rapidly, and that it has to be used in more direct, less subtle ways than watercolor, as it does not offer the bleeding, shading, and layering abilities watercolor does.

Because of the solid, “flat” appearance of gouache when dried, it is very popular in designs like posters for commercial illustrations. Gouache is also used frequently in connection with watercolor, perhaps most notably in hand-drawn animation where gouache provides the solid, dramatic color needed for characters and watercolor allows for subtler, softer background elements.

While it is by no means a common medium, gouache offers certain advantages (en plein air artists tend to favor it because of the rapid drying) and it also was frequently used for studies for larger works. Matisse, Magritte and Klee are among the well-known artists who have worked in gouache, but it dates back centuries with forms of it documented in ancient Greece, in ancient Egypt and in the illuminated manuscripts of Europe. It has a role in a wide variety of painting styles and historical traditions.

A pencil on paper drawing by Ferdinand A. Brader (American, born 1833), Residence of Peter and Louise Lamielle, Harrisburg, Stark County, Ohio, 1886.With the kids flitting around, I’ve been casting about for something creative and have found some satisfaction with photography. It’s convenient, it’s cheap, and unlike knitting a pattern, I can stop at just about any point if (when…) there’s a household crisis. One of the things that confounds me as a photographer (mostly, I realize, due to the limitations of the equipment I work with) and one of the same reasons we appreciate the photographers we do is the ability to capture what we see. How often have you looked at your beach sunrise pictures and thought, “It just doesn’t do it justice”?

Accurately rendering a panoramic view has, apparently, long challenged, obsessed and inspired artists. The trend seems to have sprung up in the 17th century, with works that served both as slightly more helpful, more detailed maps with various public or important buildings marked, but also as advertisements for towns and cities. Matthaeus Merian, a Swiss engraver who spent most of his career in Frankfurt, where he also ran a publishing house passed to him by his father-in-law, found raging success with the publication of a 21-volume work, Topographia Germaniae, which leaned heavily on his uniquely drawn map views, a work so popular it was reprinted numerous times.

Throughout the late 18th and early 19th century, these works continued, often done in America by travelers, so they began to lose their “Chamber of Commerce” feel in some cases. By the latter half of the 19th century, commissioned paintings of panoramic views versus the earlier print versions were finding favor among the wealthy benefactors of communities, often conveying a sense of “Look what I have built” or “I am ruler of all I survey.” Artists like Ferdinand Brader (pictured above) found success with similar views done as drawings, lower-cost versions for the successful middle class.

Shortly after the dawn of photography, photographers began to experiment with panoramic views as well, with some very early glass stereoview images from high points in European cities like Paris. Throughout the last half of the 19th century and into the first half of the 20th, photographers continued to experiment with various techniques for producing panoramas, initially by seaming individual photographs together and later by working with cameras set on a clockwork mechanism that allowed a photograph, pan, photograph, pan progression (which made it possible for the occasional trickster to dart from one end of a group photograph behind the group to the other end, thus appearing in the same photograph twice).

Clearly, the idea of panoramas continue to fascinate us and the technology continues to evolve, as an iPhone app that allows panoramic photographs was a significant enough feature to warrant space as a selling feature in ad campaigns. Clearly we all just keep trying to do justice to the world we see around us!

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