jeudi 30 décembre 2010

Henry Seth Taylor, photographer

This man is widely known as the inventor of the first self-propelled car in Canada. His famous "steam buggy", a horseless carriage developed in his home town of Stanstead around 1865, is recognized as an important landmark of Canadian technology, and is now preserved at the Canadian Museum of Science and Technology in Ottawa. Displayed two years ago at the "Art and the Automobile" exhibition in Ogden, it was the subject of a stamp issued by Canada Post a few years back.

Henry Seth Taylor’s adventures with steam engines extended later on with the "Gracie", a steamboat he operated on Lake Memphremagog in the 1870’s. Both his steam buggy and the steamer Gracie were immortalized in tintype photographs of the period – which themselves were very likely the handiwork of the inventor, whose ventures into photography are not quite as known as his automotive invention.

Henry Seth Taylor's "steam buggy", ca 1865-1875.
Tintype, possibly by H. S. Taylor, ca 1865. Stanstead Historical Society Archives.

Born on April 9th, 1831 in Stanstead Plain, son of Silas Taylor and his wife Sarah, Henry Seth Taylor was apprenticed at the age of 11 to a Boston clockmaker. He apparently returned to Stanstead only years later in 1856, aged 25, at which time he was initiated as a Freemason into the Golden Rule Lodge. Though little is known about his professional activities, Taylor made a living from various sources. He operated a jewellery shop in Derby Line, right upon the border, which he advertized repeatedly in the years 1869 to 1871, when he sold the business to a Mr. Parsons, himself a jeweller and clocksmith. But he seems to have generated most of his life income through profits on his properties and other investments, leaving confortable means to his wife and family upon his death, on January 9th, 1887.

Stanstead Journal
, February 17, 1859

In his early years in Stanstead, following his return from Boston, Henry Seth Taylor operated a saloon in Stanstead Plain – although he was reputed a good Christian citizen, and a man who did not drink. We don’t know much about this saloon, apart from an advertisement in the Stanstead Journal (starting September 1858), as being the place to visit "if you want the best Ambrotype, Photograph, or Melaineotype, Ever made in this country". This ad ran for some months well into 1859, and possibly later. However, by the end of January 1863, the saloon business appears to be over for Taylor, as another photographic "artist" by the name of O. C. Bolton advertises in the Stanstead Journal for ambrotypes and photographs, stating that he will be available for a short stay "at the Saloon formerly occupied by H.S. Taylor" at Stanstead Plain.

Stanstead Journal, January 29, 1863

Apart from hosting travelling photographers such as this Bolton, there is solid evidence that Henry Seth Taylor himself actually practised as an "ambrotypist" – that is, a photographer using the technique of the ambrotype, a method initiated in 1851 by Frederick Scott Archer and developed afterwards into a variety of improvements and applications, up to the "tintype" which dominated the market until late in the 19th century. (We will discuss the ambrotype and tintype in a later blog posting). Some ambrotypes by Henry Seth Taylor have been preserved, including an ambrotype portrait of William Benton Colby (brother of Charles Carroll Colby), bearing the signature "H. S. Taylor / Stanstead C. E.". 

William Benton Colby (1833-1884), ambrotype portrait by Henry Seth Taylor.
Signed H. S. Taylor lower left, marked Stanstead C. E. lower right.
Stanstead Historical Society Archives.

Dye-stamped on the brass frame that holds the ambrotype within its case, the inscription is likely to be found on other pictures of this type in the area; and according to our evidence, this photograph would have been processed between 1856 and 1863, which is consistent with the ambrotype’s period of utmost popularity.

There is no telling if Taylor experimented at all with the earlier daguerreotype technique (see our blog posting of December 5, 2010), which appears to have been practised in Stanstead from 1846 until 1860, but it remains likely that he was familiar with it. However, Taylor was among the very first to advertise the ambrotype technique in Stanstead and possibly, the one who actually introduced the new photographic process in the area by making it available at his saloon. Henry Seth Taylor also clearly moved early on to the so-called tintype – or "melaineotype" as it was first called (from the Greek word "melainos" for metal), and as Taylor named it in his 1858 advertisenent. The fact that tintypes have been preserved, of both his steam buggy (ca 1865) and his steamboat (ca 1876), suggests the possibility that Taylor himself may have made those photographs.

Further evidence points to Taylor as the author of the tintype taken of his steam buggy. A paper based photograph of the same machine, likely taken around the same time as the tintype – and bearing the printed inscription "H. S. Taylor, Photographer, Stanstead C. E." on its reverse side – indicates that Taylor advertised himself as a photographer circa 1865; or at the very least, produced this photograph in several copies, possibly to advertise his machine.

Henry Seth Taylor's "steam buggy", circa 1865.
Calotype on salted paper, mounted on card. Inscribed on the reverse side with Taylor's imprint.
Stanstead Historical Society Archives.

In this case, the technique used to process this paper photograph (which portrays Taylor himself behind his invention), belongs to yet another early photographic technique – that of the "calotype", or "talbotype" following the name of its inventor, Henry Fox Talbot, who perfected the process around 1840, at about the same time that Daguerre brought out the daguerreotype. The calotype process involves making a first negative (reversed) image with a camera onto a sensitized sheet of thin paper, and using that negative by contact to expose another sheet of sensitized paper to obtain a positive image : this method obviously allowed making as many copies of the positive as you wished. The image of Henry Seth Taylor with his steam buggy belongs clearly to this technique, showing the typical grain of the paper-processed calotype, which retains the texture of the initial paper negative.

Henry Seth Taylor's "steam buggy", circa 1865.
Enhanced copy of the above calotype, showing the graininess of the initial paper negative.

This negative-positive process led the way to many improvements, and would eventually become the norm in photography for more than a century. One of these improvements was precisely the invention of the ambrotype (as practised by Taylor), which is in fact a negative on glass based on a "collodion" (cotton cellulose) emulsion : shortly after its invention, the collodion glass negative was perfected to allow printing more detailed positives on paper from the original.

Henry Seth Taylor (1831-1887), aged 52 in 1882, by an unknown Boston photographer.
Stanstead Historical Society Archives.

In short, it appears that Henry Seth Taylor experimented as a photographer with a wide variety of techniques, keeping abreast of recent developments and inventions in the new-born field of photography. As a self-made inventor who has experimented with steam engines – not to speak of other things such  as "talking machines", music boxes, "hide-a-beds" and sophisticated clockworks –, Henry Seth Taylor embodied the innovative spirit of his era : as such, it comes as no surprise that he should have dwelved in one of the foremost technological breakthroughs of the 19th century – photography.

jeudi 9 décembre 2010

Courtepointes d’exception I : Pointes folles / Quilting Masterpieces I : Crazy Quilts

(English follows)

La collection du Musée Colby-Curtis comprend une exceptionnelle variété de courtepointes traditionnelles, plusieurs très anciennes, provenant de la région de Stanstead ou d’autres secteurs des Cantons-de-l’Est. La collection, qui se compose de près de 50 pièces, comprend notamment des œuvres textiles de qualité supérieure, dont plusieurs peuvent à juste titre être qualifiées de « chefs-d’œuvre » du genre. Au fil des semaines à venir, notre blogue en présentera quelques-unes, parmi les plus remarquables : aujourd’hui, deux magnifiques exemples de « pointes folles », un type de courtepointes très en vogue au cours des années 1880. Avec leurs assemblages de formes irrégulières, leurs tissus de soie et de velours, et leurs somptueux décors brodés en une étonnante variété de motifs, les pointes folles présentées ici comptent parmi les plus beaux spécimens de cette discipline textile. Réalisées entre 1880 et 1887 par Winnie Buckland (Channell) de Barnston, et par Caroline Dickerson de Stanstead, ces deux œuvres montrent une influence manifeste de l’art décoratif du Japon, récemment découvert à l’époque en Europe et en Amérique.

Winnie Buckland Channell (1870-1940), 
Courtepointe folle à motifs brodés et peints / Crazy Crazy Quilt with embroidered and painted designs
datée en broderie / dated in the cloth 1886 et 1887. 
Soie, velours et autres tissus / Silk, velvet and other fabrics, 58,5" x 54" (1,49 m x 1,37 m).

Née à Barnston, fille de Charles S. Buckland et Emily Benton-Pomroy, 

Winnie Buckland épousa en 1891 Leonard Stewart Channell, fondateur du Sherbrooke Daily Record
elle vécut presque toute sa vie dans les Cantons-de-l'Est. 
/ Born in Barnston, daughter of Charles S. Buckland and Emily Benton-Pomroy, 
Winnie Buckland married in 1891 to Leonard Stewart Channell, founder of the Sherbrooke Daily Record
she  lived most of her life in the Eastern Townships.

Collection Musée Colby-Curtis /  Colby-Curtis Museum Collection,
don de / donated by Mrs. Muriel Channell, Daytona Beach, Florida.

The Colby-Curtis Museum collection comprises an exceptional variety of traditional quilts, some of these very old, all from the Stanstead area and close-by in the Eastern Townships. Our collection, totalling some 50 different pieces, holds several textiles works of superior quality, and many of these quilts may reasonably be labelled as masterpieces. Over the coming weeks, our blog will highlight a few of these quilts, among the most remarkable : today, two magnificent examples of "crazy quilts", a type that was quite fashionable in the 1880’s. Assembled with irrregular shapes of cloth, mostly silk and velvet, with intricate embroidered designs in a wide variety of decorative stitches, the crazy quilts shown here are among the most beautiful samples of this quilting technique. Hand stitched, embroidered and hand painted between 1880 and 1887 by Winnie Buckland (Channell) from Barnston, and Caroline Dickerson from Stanstead, these two works show clear influence from Japanese decorative arts and design, which at the time had recently been discovered in Europe and America.

Caroline Dickerson (1830-1896), Courtepointe folleCrazy Quilt with embroidered designs, ca 1880. 
Soie, velours et autres tissus / Silk, velvet and other fabrics, 64" x 65" (1,63 m x 1,65 m).

e à Stanstead, fille de Mary Price et Silas H. Dickerson, premier imprimeur et premier maire de Stanstead.
Born in Stanstead, daughter of Marie Price and Silas H. Dickerson, first printer and first mayor of Stanstead.

Collection Musée Colby-Curtis / Colby-Curtis Museum Collection,
don de / donated by Mrs. Helen Crook Hanson, Silver Spring, Maryland.

mardi 7 décembre 2010

The Blackberry Girl : an 1834 "toy book" from Stanstead

Around 1832-1833, Joseph Soper Walton and Asa Gaylord came to Stanstead from Montpelier, Vermont, and set up a publishing business. Walton, a printer and journalist, and Gaylord, a bookbinder, had previous experience in printing and publishing, as they had quite likely met years before while apprenticing to Ezekiel P. Walton, Joseph’s elder brother and a major printer in Montpelier.

They were not quite the first to publish books and newspapers in the Eastern Townships, as Silas Horton Dickerson had settled here as a printer in 1823, issuing his weekly paper The British Colonist, as well as a few books. Over the years, however, Dickerson got into trouble with judicial authorities, Tory opponents and unpaid merchants – who together, brought the printer to bankruptcy, and forced him to sell out his equipment by 1834.

Not so surprisingly, the newcomer Joseph S. Walton happened to be the one who bought back the used printing wares in 1834, quite possibly after working with Dickerson at his shop for a few months upon arriving in Stanstead. In any case, apparently without any equipment of their own, Walton & Gaylord managed to print a few titles in Stanstead before Dickerson went out of business : among those, The Child’s Book of Natural History (by an anonymous teacher, 1833) and The Blackberry Girl, A Pretty Story in Verse for Good Children, by Mrs. Lovechild, 1834. (This author, Mrs. Lovechild, obviously used a pseudonym – as a children’s book writer cannot possibly bear such a name for real…)

The Blackberry Girl, paper wraps, front and back covers

Both these titles show clear similarities in their crude letterpress typesetting and printing, their use of repetitive ornaments and the inclusion of woodblock prints of animals – and as such, are very different from later publications Walton & Gaylord would issue, leading us to think they might be the handiwork of binder Asa Gaylord rather than Walton’s. Both are charming little publications, probably the first two in a long series of "Reward Books", or "Toy Books" as Gaylord describes them in his account book (1838-1845, now preserved in the SHS Archives). Indeed, in 1835, on the back cover of their Geography and History of Lower Canada, the publishers boast "over 25 titles" in this category of reward books, besides listing several school books and other publications. All in all, some 11 different titles appear to have been published by Walton & Gaylord before 1834 (not counting the reward books), and at least as many more afterwards – not to speak of their newspapers and their series of Farmers’ Almanac. As was sometimes the case with Walton & Gaylord books, the toy books above may be reprints from earlier American editions, yet we have no evidence this was the case here.

Unfortunately, the two titles above are among the only three from this series we know of – most likely the only preserved titles, since today, very few public libraries (apart from the SHS Archives, which hold these two) list these or other titles from the series. Another known title is The Little Book, from an anonymous author, also issued in 1834. Thanks to the Taylor family of Massawippi, who donated an original copy of The Blackberry Girl to the SHS in 1962, we can offer our readers and members a scan of this delightful little booklet (8 cm x 11,5 cm in size).

dimanche 5 décembre 2010

Le daguerréotype à Stanstead

La première photographie conservée date des années 1826-1827. Réalisée par le Français Nicéphore Niepce (1765-1833), l’image fut exécutée sur une plaque d’étain, sensibilisée à l’aide de vapeurs de sels d’argent; baptisée « héliographe », elle avait réclamé près de 8 heures d’exposition. Niepce allait continuer d’expérimenter avec son nouveau procédé, s’associant en 1832 avec Louis-Jacques Mandé Daguerre (1785-1851),  un artiste-peintre et scénographe qui recherchait le moyen de produire des images pour son célèbre « Diorama » parisien. Mais l’association des deux hommes fut de courte durée, car Niepce mourut en 1833, laissant Daguerre poursuivre seul ses recherches.

Ce n’est qu’en 1839 que Daguerre fit enfin connaître au public son invention, qui fut bientôt connue sous le nom de daguerréotype. De façon magnanime, le gouvernement français acheta le brevet d’invention de Daguerre, pour en faire ensuite don au monde entier au nom de la France. Le daguerréotype connut alors une énorme popularité, tant en Europe qu’en Amérique.

Journal Le Canadien, Québec, janvier 1855
Dès l’année de son invention, un amateur québécois, Edmond Joly de Lotbinière, utilisa le procédé de Daguerre pour exécuter des images de monuments en Grèce et en Égypte.  En 1840, on faisait connaître le daguerréotype à New-York et par la suite, dans de nombreuses villes américaines. À Montréal, un nommé Doane produisait des images de ce type en 1852, et à Québec, Jules-Isaïe Benoît dit Livervois annonçait déjà ce service, dès l’ouverture de son studio sur la rue Buade en 1855 : bientôt on allait offrir le daguerréotype dans une vingtaine de villes au Québec, notamment chez William Notman à Montréal. 

Stanstead allait connaître très vite le nouveau procédé, ce premier ancêtre de la photographie. Lors des premières années de publication du Stanstead Journal, lancé en 1845, on annonce le passage de daguerréotypistes ambulants, venus dans la région à partir des villes de Nouvelle-Angleterre. En octobre 1846, Thomas W. Hugues arrive de New York pour s'installer à l'hôtel Bangs de Stanstead, où il offre ses services de portraitiste dans la méthode d
, y compris pour reproduire par ce procédé des peintures. 

Stanstead Journal, 13 octobre 1846
Nombre de photographes ambulants allaient ainsi parcourir les routes des campagnes, travaillant parfois à même leurs ateliers installés dans des voitures à cheval. En septembre 1852, par exemple, les propriétaires du Travelling Daguerrian Car s’arrêtent à Stanstead Plain pour pratiquer leur « art daguerrien », ainsi qu’ils l’avaient fait plusieurs fois auparavant dans les Cantons-de-l’Est. On offrait même à cette occasion de procurer un apprentissage de la technique, de même que toutes les fournitures et équipements requis.

Stanstead Journal, 14 septembre 1852
Au plan technique, le daguerréotype était produit à l’aide d’une variante de l’antique camera obscura, connue depuis des siècles par les artistes-peintres. Au moyen de la caméra modifiée par l’ajout d’une lentille, on exposait le sujet à une plaque de cuivre enduite d’argent, sensibilisée préalablement à l’aide de vapeurs de brome et d’iode, qui réagissaient à l’argent en se transformant en iodure d’argent photosensible

Au terme d’une exposition de 15 à 30 minutes (alors que le sujet devait rester immobile !), on retirait la plaque argentée de la caméra pour ensuite l’exposer à des vapeurs de mercure, qui produisaient à la surface de la plaque une image d’allure fantômatique. La plaque ainsi « développée », qui présentait la surface polie d’un miroir, permettait de visionner l’image produite en l’observant sous un certain angle.

Daguerréotype anonyme, Groupe de femmes, Stanstead vers 1850.
Collection Musée Colby-Curtis.

Pour le photographe, exposé à respirer tant de vapeurs toxiques, il s’agissait d’un procédé capricieux, et fort dangereux. Quant au client, il disposait au terme d’une longue session de pose, d’un exemplaire unique d’une image parfois décevante, qu’on ne pouvait visionner qu’avec quelque difficulté. Malgré tout, le procédé du daguerréotype n’offrait aucun précédent comparable, permettant d’acquérir à relativent peu de frais une image durable, miniature et portative, qu’on pouvait faire exécuter à répétition par le photographe. Mieux encore, l’image du daguerréotype pouvant traverser le temps et l’espace, offrant à chacun la possibilité de voir des êtres chers, ou des paysages, par-delà la distance ou la disparition d’un proche.

Attirail pour le traitement d'un daguerréotype. (Source: Alan Buckingham, Histoire de la photographie,
Coll. Les yeux de la découverte, Éditions Gallimard Jeunesse, Paris 2005)

  De nombreux daguerréotypes furent produits, partout dans le monde, entre 1839 et 1860 environ, à quelle époque le procédé fut définitivement supplanté par celui du collodion humide, inventé en 1851 – une technique beaucoup plus performante, qui contribua en outre à perfectionner le processus photographique de l’internégatif (procédé négatif-positif). Dans la région de Stanstead, le daguerréotype fut en usage jusqu’en 1860, alors qu’un photographe du nom de L. Ellis annonçait encore dans le Stanstead Journal qu’il offrait des images de ce genre à son studio de Derby Line.

Daguerréotype anonyme, Dr. Moses French Colby, Stanstead vers 1850.
Collection Musée Colby-Curtis

Les collections du Musée Colby-Curtis et de la Société historique de Stanstead comprennent plusieurs beaux exemples de daguerréotypes, ainsi que d’autres techniques « primitives » de photographie. Malheureusement, les photographies de cet âge (plus de 150 ans) ont souvent perdu la mémoire, l’identité des personnes représentées ayant souvent été oubliée. Littéralement devenues des images fantômes – à l’instar de celles que présentent les « miroirs » daguerriens –, ces images conservent tout de même un très grand intérêt, pour leur technique, bien sûr, mais aussi pour les costumes, coiffures, bijoux et accessoires représentés.

À l’heure actuelle, et jusqu’au 31 mars 2011, le Musée présente une exposition temporaire intitulée « Visages en mémoire » qui comprend, en plus d’une sélection de portraits anciens en peinture, un assortiment de portraits photographiques du 19e siècle, dont un bel ensemble de daguerréotypes tirés de nos collections. Le musée est ouvert sur semaine, tous les jours de 13h à 17h, ou sur rendez-vous.