Published: April 2, 2002
The Art of Family:
By Lynn Betlock
BOSTON, MASS. – “Roughly at the time of the American Revolution … a taste for genealogy had been working its way into the population at large,” writes Peter Benes in a new multi-author book, The Art of Family: .
Published in March by the New England Historic Genealogical Society in conjunction with Northeastern University Press, The Art of Family: features 15 chapters by leading authorities in the fields of history, antiques and genealogy.
Among its contributors are Pulitzer-prize winning author Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, most recently the author of The Age of Homespun; historian John Demos, the award-winning author of The Unredeemed Captive: A Family Story from Early America; editor-at-large of The Magazine Antiques Wendell Garrett; Jane C. Nylander, president of the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities and author of Our Own Snug Fireside: Images of the New England Home, 1760-1860; American needlework authority Betty Ring, architectural historian and antiquarian Abbott Lowell Cummings; and silver expert Gerald W.R. Ward of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
“Families wanted a cheaper and more visual remembrance of their ancestors,” continues Benes on the rise of decorated family registers in New England, “than the old decorated arms and family portraits that hung in the homes of wealthy Boston residents in the mid-Eighteenth Century.”
The Art of Family examines not just decorated family registers as surveyed by Benes but a host of artifact genres in the Seventeenth through Nineteenth Centuries, such as printed and handwritten family records, lithographed family trees, family silver, gravestones, portraits, and miniatures and mourning jewelry.
“Handwritten or painted family records were often framed and displayed in homes — a parallel to the more formal New England genealogical studies that began in the 1830s and 1840s,” adds the book’s co-editor and originator, D. Brenton Simons, who began work on The Art of Family in 1996.
Simons undertook the project when he realized that many genealogists were overlooking artifacts in the their family history research. “Likewise, antiques collectors and curators are not always as engaged in genealogical sources as they might be,” Simons states. “This book is meant to bridge the gap between different disciplines and be a visually exciting reference source for collectors.”
Illustrated with more than 200 black-and-white illustrations and 16 color plates, The Art of Family features many rare or never-before-published images of family record art from the collections of the American Antiquarian Society, the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, the Dublin Seminar for New England Folklife, the New England Historic Genealogical Society, and museums and private collections throughout the United States.
“What’s in an object?” asks historian John Demos in his insightful introduction to the volume. “[The Art of Family] is, quite literally, an object-lesson for all who have sought to grasp the history of family life.”
Francis James Dallett, a noted genealogist and former director of the archives at the University of Pennsylvania, states, “There is a suggestion in several of the essays that in numerous families there are often one or two ancestors who are particularly remembered, for their character or achievements, a ‘name,’ and the survival rate of all sorts of heirlooms, rdf_Descriptions which belonged to, or relate to, the family favorite, is high.”
Essays featured in The Art of Family include: Jeremy Dupertuis Bangs on “Commemorating Colonial New England’s First Families: The Triumph of the Pilgrims”; Georgia Brady Barnhill on “Keep Sacred the Memory of Your Ancestors: Family Registers and Memorial Prints”; Peter Benes on “Decorated New England Family Registers, 1770 to 1850”; Abbott Lowell Cummings on “The Abigail Ball Box: The History of an Initialed Object”; Laurel K. Gabel on “By this you see we are but dust: The Gravestone Art and Epitaphs of Our Ancestors”; Wendell Garrett on “Families and the Decorative Arts”; Lauren B. Hewes on “The Family in Portraiture”; Arthur B. and Sybil B. Kern on “On the Importance of Genealogical Methodology in Researching Early New England Folk Portraits”; Jane Cayford Nylander on “Preserving a Legacy”; Betty Ring on “One Moment in Time: The Family Portrait Mourning Piece, a Unique American Form”; Elle Shushan on “Tokens of Sorrow: New England Portrait Miniatures and Mourning Jewelry”; D. Brenton Simons on “New England Family Record Broadsides and Portraiture, and the Letterpress Artist of Connecticut”; Maureen A. Taylor on “Tall Oaks from Little Acorns Grow: The Family Tree Lithograph in America”; Laurel Thatcher Ulrich on “Creating Lineages”; Barbara McLean Ward and Gerald W.R. Ward on “Sterling Memories: Family and Silver in Early New England.”
The Art of Family: sells for $75 plus $4 shipping and handling (book rate) or $6.50 (UPS). Orders may be placed online at www.NewEnglandAncestors.org or by calling 888-296-3447, Monday through Friday, 9 am to 5pm EST, or by mail at NEHGS Sales Department, PO Box 5089, Framingham, MA 01701. The New England Historic Genealogical Society has been a tradition in American family history research since 1845.
Because NEHGS has a special focus on regions that New Englanders have migrated to or have immigrated from, the collections contain many international holdings as well as research materials for every region of the United States, including the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, South, Midwest, Atlantic and Maritime Canada, Great Britain, Ireland and western Europe. More than a dozen noted genealogical experts are on the NEHGS staff and are prepared to guide interested individuals in their family history research.
The NEHGS is at 101 Newbury Street in Boston’s historic Back Bay. The society’s library has the largest American collection of vital data for the six New England states, including most pre-1900 vital records and US federal census records through 1920, as well as one of the most important genealogical manuscript collections in the world. For information, www.NewEnglandAncestors.org or 888-296-3447.
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