The Grapes of Wrath?

Grapes 2014

At moments, I have a small choice word or two as I drag yet another squished grape into the cottage on the bottom of my foot. And then I think to myself, “It’s September at the Mitchell House!”

Peleg Mitchell Junior, Maria Mitchell’s uncle and the owner of 1 Vestal Street from 1836 until 1882 (his wife, Mary, continued to own the House until 1902 when she passed away) planted a grape arbor at the rear of Mitchell House. The grape plant continues to thrive to this day; in fact it is protected in the preservation easement on the Mitchell House. The original supports are long gone, but Peleg’s grapes continue on a new arbor. This year we have a bumper crop with no mold or any issues with the fruit it seems. Concord grapes, they start off sweet and then turn sour – an acquired taste. Some people like to eat the little tendrils that allow the grapes to climb, claiming they have a lemony flavor though I don’t taste that. The birds, in particular the catbirds, are made happy, especially with this year’s crop. When Peleg lived here they also had Isabella grapes climbing over the woodshed but unfortunately that structure and Neighbor North (the outhouse) are long gone.

In Two Steps Down, Alice Albertson Shurrocks’s book about the Mitchell House, her grandfather was Peleg, she writes that the Concord grape arbor, “stood opposite to the cookroom at the edge of the sunny slope, leading from the upper grass plot to the lower . . . and I could look down on the vine from my bedroom.” She would spend her summers at 1 Vestal. The slope is long gone, replaced by a small retaining wall in the 1930s when the Curator’s Cottage was added at the rear of the House but it is still sunny.

Mrs. Shurrocks was married to Alfred Shurrocks, a well-respected architect who designed the Wing of the MMA Science Library. Mrs. Shurrocks was one of the curators of the MMA. They lived at 16 Vestal Street. In the next few weeks, I will give you an update on the conservation work there. The mason is just beginning!


Treasure Trove!

Well, we have made it into the basement of the Wing to clean out the journal stacks. I would like to give a HUGE thank you to our Education interns who pulled and boxed and moved the journals from the outside walls of the Wing basement over the course of several afternoons this summer. I now have six interior shelves to complete (and I think the liquor stores are tired of seeing me!). These journals will all be carefully combed through (for ephemera, notes, and MMA related articles), assessed, and we will decide how to process them further – hopefully all this winter.

Nantucket Wildflower Box

But, as I was working near the stairs yesterday, I cleaned off the rest of a wooden shelf. Obviously, there is a little space behind this shelf under the stairs so I moved the shelf to check behind it for any things stashed away and lo and behold! I found what you are seeing in these images. When I saw the “Hinchman Nantucket Wildflowers” stamped on these small wooden boxes, my first thought was “First edition leftovers of the book!” (Published in 1921.) Then I thought, “No silly, too small a box for that.” I opened one and saw all these small, what I at first thought were glass slides. So I thought, glass slides or negatives of the flower drawings from the book! Then I saw how many boxes – it’s a deep dark space in there – and knowing the book has not that many images, I investigated further. What I uncovered was ALL of the original printing plates for the book! That means there are 400 plus steel plates for the printing press. Very exciting!

Open Nantucket Wildflower Box

Nantucket Wildflowers was written by (then) Alice O. Albertson and illustrated by Anne Hinchman. MMA saw to its publishing and the Knickerbocker Press, a part of G.P Putnam’s Sons printed it. Albertson was the MMA curator – back when all the departments were in the Mitchell House – from 1914 – 1931. She would marry Alfred Shurrocks (in 1929), a well-respected architect, who designed the fireproof Wing of the MMA Science Library in the 1930s. Mrs. Shurrocks was the granddaughter of Peleg Mitchell, uncle of Maria Mitchell. Mrs. Albertson also wrote Two Steps Down about her recollections of spending summers with her grandmother, Mary Mitchell (Peleg’s wife), at 1 Vestal Street. Anne, a talented artist, was her cousin and also a granddaughter of Mary and Peleg. All in the family, eh?

Nantucket Wildflower Boxes Stacked

I hope to, sometime soon, create a small exhibit in which something like these plates can be featured so stay tuned!