Thursday, December 31, 2009

Woodcut of the Week: Whale

Parson Fisher labored for several years carving the woodblocks for his 1833 book, Scripture Animals, the culmination of a life long fascination with the depiction of flora and fauna.

Jonathan Fisher's Melons

In his journals, Jonathan Fisher often mentions the seasonal pleasure of eating melons he grew on his farm.
A few years ago, we heard that the late Lawris Closson, a farmer in North Blue Hill, was still growing melons from seed that descended from Fisher's, given to Lawris' father by Fisher's son Willard.  Although Closson had died a couple of years before, with fingers crossed we asked his family if they had any seed.  One day, months later, his grandson, Lawris Perkins, showed up with seed, which he believed had been harvested four years before.  When the next summer came, we crossed our fingers, and planted some of the precious seed.  Ellen Best, hearing of this project, offered to also try, in a heated seed starter that she had.  Melons love hot weather, and grow luxuriantly in heat.   As it happens, last summer was the coldest and wettest in our area in recent memory.  Nevertheless, Ellen Best persevered, and planted the five seedlings that had germinated from her ration of 20 seeds.  Cold and miserable they sat, in the summer that wasn't warm, in the garden that had come to resemble a pond.  In the late summer, one day, she saw:  One of the seedlings had overcome adversity, and borne a tiny fruit.  This infant melon was nurtured and coddled, nursed through cold nights, covered before frost.  Finally the day came:  The melon was harvested. 


Tiny it was, never going to win a blue ribbon at the fair, but it was a melon, it was one of Fisher's prized melons, it has provided us with fresh seed, the Fisher House crew look forward better weather next summer, and to growing a patch of Parson Fisher's melons again on the farm where he grew them 200 years ago.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Update: Photos added to '6th Dining Room Chair' post

We have added two photos to our post about the Jonathan Fisher chairs.  Click here to see them.

The Fisher House Christmas Wish List: 365 days a year

We accomplish much at the Fisher House on a shoestring budget, with the help of grants and dedicated volunteers.  We do, however, still have a few dream projects and and some basic needs, so we publish this list in the hope that Santa might see it.

  1. Capital gifts for our endowment fund, to secure a safe future and adequate funding for the Fisher House.  Current endowment sits at $240,000, providing only $10,000 of our annual operating budget.  The remainder must be raised by annual appeal, grants, and volunteer labor.
  2. Painting and Object conservation.  The work of keeping the 2,000 + irreplaceable paintings, furniture, objects, books, and papers in our collection in good condition is ongoing and conservation to museum standards is expensive.  Current priorities include one of the three Jonathan Fisher self-portraits, and the pair of 18th century satin slippers worn by Fisher's mother, Katherine Avery, at her wedding to Jonathan Fisher, Sr., and the stunning Fisher card table, recently donated in memory of Lucy and William Wardwell.  Estimated costs per painting $3,000-$7,000
  3. A new handicap access ramp and entrance steps.  The existing ramp is aging, crudely constructed, does not meet ADA standards, and is visually and physically intrusive.  As the main visitor access to the house and museum, it should be replaced.  Estimated cost:  $4,500. 
  4. Microscopic paint analysis:  The board of the Fisher house is committed to making a long range work and furnishing plan that will return the house ever closer to its appearance during the Fisher family's occupancy before the house's bicentennial in 2014.  A critical part of this process is to have all surfaces, interior and exterior, analyzed for the composition of original paints to determine colors.  This is now the standard for historic preservation, and has produced stunning and sometimes surprising results in many sites.  With this in hand, future restorations and repairs to return the house to the appearance of old can be made with the help of modern science.  Estimated cost for entire house, interior and exterior, is approximately $8,000.  Per room, or exterior, approximately $1, 600 ea.
  5. Parlor Rug.  In the collection of the Fisher House is a fragment of so-called 'striped', or 'Venetian'  carpeting woven for the house by Fisher's mother.  As part of our ongoing interpretation of the house, we would like to reproduce this carpet for use in the parlor, where Fisher inventory records indicate it was likeliest originally placed.  The rug would be reproduced by a local weaver.  The estimated cost is $3,900.
  6. A new computer for the archives room.  The dedicated computer in the archives room, used for cataloging records, image storage, and word processing, is ten years old, and wheezes away with 2 gigabytes of hard drive.  A new computer would be more flexible, and would support updated cataloging software.  Estimated Cost:  $600-$700
  7. Updated cataloging software.  The current software lacks a photo record component.  For obvious reasons, it is desirable to add image capability to our catalog files.  The software used by the Fisher House is PastPerfect, the standard for museums.  The addition of an image component is $390
  8. Grounds clearance.  The long neglected grounds were found to be overgrown with an invasive species, Chinese bittersweet.  Uncontrolled, this vine completely takes over all other vegetation, and kills trees. Additionally, many trees have required removal.  We have accomplished 3/4 of this project, returning the property to mowed open fields, and exposing the remains of Fisher built stone walls in the process. The back 1/4 of the property remains almost impenetrable, and must be cleared.  Estimated cost:  $4,500.
  9. Archival supplies.  An ongoing need is safe, archival standard storage materials for our collections.  A typical year's supply runs about $350.
  10. Adopt an Apple Tree.  Thanks to a generous gift, the fields for the Fisher orchard have been cleared, enabling us to replant trees to a plan for his orchard drawn by Fisher in 1820.  This is one of the most interesting projects of its kind currently undertaken in Maine.  A tree may adopted for $275, covering the cost of tree and first two years of maintenance.
  11. Grounds maintenance.  One year of bare bones mowing, routine trimming, and snowplowing is about $1, 850.
  12. Stone walls.  The property and field are framed by stone walls, laid by Parson Fisher,  that define the farmyard, vegetable garden site, and orchard boundary.  Some are in fair condition, others completely tumbled.  Cost to repair or rebuild 200 feet of wall, $5,000
  13. Front fence.  Fisher built a picket fence, mentioning the work in his diary, along the street front of the house.  Removing junk tree growth from this area has revealed his iron stakes, and gate stops for this fence, indicating the spacing of spans.  This fence would do much to giving the house and orchard the appearance of Fisher's time.  Estimated cost: $3,500
  14. Exhibits:  We wish to produce a better permanent exhibit about Fisher & his immediate family, with a narrative storyboard and quality object display.  Estimated cost:  $1,200

Monday, December 21, 2009

Woodcut of the Week: Fisher's profile

Parson Fisher labored for several years carving the woodblocks for his 1833 book, Scripture Animals, the culmination of a life long fascination with the depiction of flora and fauna.  This is the title page illustration, in which Parson Fisher, in an unexpected bit of whimsey, has embedded his own profile in the leaves of the trees.
Larissa Vigue Picard, the Community Partnership Coordinator of the Maine Community Heritage Project, has kindly allowed us to republish her blog post about her first visit to Blue Hill after announcement of the grant.  It offers some wonderful insight about Jonathan Fisher, and conveys the exciting effect of the MCHP.

The Long View of Blue Hill
In “A Morning View of Blue Hill Village,” painted in 1824 by the town’s first minister and Renaissance man Jonathan Fisher, there is barely any water visible–just a tiny patch of the bay on the left-hand side.

 The primary focus of the image–which can be viewed on Maine Memory Network (item #19161)–is the hill. The viewer hovers above it, looking south-east down into the valley of the village and then back up the other side where Fisher’s house crests in the distance. While there are three people and a horse standing atop the hill, most of the activity of the painting is clustered in the middle, in the valley. Tiny yellow and white houses trace a rough line up the hill. Here and there, stands of trees punctuate the view.
It is a bucolic, pastoral scene going on two centuries old of a small Maine town that still regularly evokes those adjectives. Of course the ocean is right there, but it’s only an inlet. The town is tucked back away from the open sea. And the coziness of the Main Street–the way you dip into it and back out again–feels as warm and inviting a pocket.
Into such a setting many fascinating people have settled, not the least of which is Fisher himself. I learned just how fascinating he was on Wednesday, the day of the Blue Hill team’s second MCHP meeting. Prior to the meeting, team member Caroline Werth, who volunteers her time at the Fisher House Museum, offered to give me a tour of the building. (Brad Emerson, also on the team, as well as three other volunteers, offered their expertise as well.) In addition to roaming around the charming nooks and crannies of an early 19th-century house, I witnessed endless examples of Fisher’s creativity and skill.
Drawing and painting landscapes and portraits (three of himself at various ages–note the increasing wrinkles) were the tip of the iceberg. Harvard educated, Fisher also carved finely detailed woodblocks of animals to make prints, kept lovingly illustrated journals full of life details and observations of the natural world, made furniture of stunning precision and beauty, built clocks and surveying tools and his own camera obscura, tended a thriving orchard, bound his own books, made buttons and hats, and, not least, read and wrote extensively. Many of his poems, essays, and sermons survive, in addition to the journals. As the town’s first man of the cloth, he even helped found Bangor Theological Seminary.

Part of the Blue Hill Team.  Left to right, Caroline G. Werth, Jonathan Fisher House Trustee, Fred Cole, principal of Blue Hill Consolidated School, Tom Bjorkman, President of Blue HillHistorical Society, Della Martin, teacher at Blue Hill Consolidated, Rich Boulet, Director of Blue Hill Public Library
In the midst of all this, Fisher fathered nine children. That big fact reminds us that beneath the surface of every rich and compelling story, there is a back story aching to be told. Or, in this case, literally an aching back. Who was the wife who took care of the children and house so that her husband could achieve his potential? What were her interests, dreams, and ideas about the world? While not much information survives about Mrs. Fisher–especially not in the writings of Fisher himself–you can bet he was able to do what he did because she was working just as hard at at least as much.
In certain ways, this story of a Renaissance man and how he was able to do what he did in this tiny town represents the larger story of Blue Hill. Today, Blue Hill is known worldwide for its transplanted big city artists and renowned musical assets like Kneisel Hall Chamber Music Festival and the Bagaduce Music Lending Library. But it is also a place that grew on the backs of fisherman, shipbuilders, workers in the tourism industry, and others whose families have lived in the area for generations, long before the rusticators came north. These diverse groups still co-exist in Blue Hill and the town would not be what it is without any one of them.
And so, that’s the vantage point from where the Blue Hill team members stand–up there on the hill looking at the town as it winds its way through history. “Who are we–we who call ourselves residents of Blue Hill?” and “How did we come to where we are today?” are two of their guiding questions. They are eager to unearth the answers–not only for themselves, but for the students at four area schools that will participate in the project.
Together, they are likely to offer up a virtual landscape just as rich and colorful as Reverand Fisher’s painted version–but one that, perhaps, reveals as much behind-the-scenes as it does on the surface.

The Maine Community Heritage Project: Promoting Community Through the Exploration of Local History

Thanks to the instigation of Tom Bjorkman of the Blue Hill Historical Society, three local organizations---The Blue Hill Historical Society, the Blue Hill Public Library, and The Jonathan Fisher Memorial, as partners, with local schools---have received a Maine Community Heritage Grant, one of five awarded in Maine this year.

Funded by a National Leadership grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and in partnership with the Maine State Library, MCHP fosters collaborations between historical societies, public libraries, and schools. Community teams digitize local historical collections and exhibit them with supporting text on custom-designed local history websites housed on Funded by a National Leadership grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and in partnership with the Maine State Library, MCHP fosters collaborations between historical societies, public libraries, and schools. Community teams digitize local historical collections and exhibit them with supporting text on custom-designed local history websites housed on Maine Memory Network

It is an exciting collaboration, and it is gratifying to see the students enthusiastic and imaginative participation.

For more information about the Maine Community Heritage Project, click here

For posts about the Blue Hill Team on the MCHP weblog, click here and here

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Days of His Life--Excerpts from Journals and Other Records #2

(In which we discover the fate of Lydia Clay from the last post.)

Originally published in "A Look Back" in the Friendly Visitor Newsletter of the Congregational Church, compiled by Church Historian Marilyn Whittlesey

Sept 3 this day the following sentence of excommunication was delivered against Mrs. Rachel Woods. At a meeting of the Brethren of the church on the last of the last month, the case of Mrs. Rachel Woods, under a charge of having spoken profanely was renewed & brought forward; when in consequences of an exhibition of unchristian like temper in presence of the church at a former meeting, and for a slighting the fellowship and authority of the church and neglecting to attend when called upon. It was voted that she should be excluded from the communion and fellowship of this church and that the sentence should be this day declared. Mrs. Rachel Woods is therefore for the reasons above named, declared to be excluded from the fellowship and communion of this church; no more at present to be considered as a member that body of which Christ is the head To this painful step we have been led, by a desire that Christ may be honored, the religion ever prosper freed from scandal, and the subject of this sensor led to repentance. She is cast out for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. May it please God to give her unfeigned repentance, to sanctify her by his spirit, and to make her in time to come thro rich grace, an ornament to that religion upon which her conduct has brought a measure of reproach. May we all faithfully watch and pray that we may not enter into temptation or may be secured and delivered when tempted. Amen.

Sept 4 at a meeting of the Brethren of the church at the meeting houses: Voted That Mrs. Lydia Clay in consequence of having lied in an aggravated manner in presence of several members of the church and of having refused to attend with the church, when notified be excluded from the fellowship and communion of the church. Vote That the sentence be declared

Oct 17 Sentence of excommunication this day was declared against Mrs. Lydia Clay.

Oct 15 & Oct 19 Miss Ruth Hinkley & Joshua Horton, Jr. late members of the Baptist church received publicly to the fellowship of this, with one exception to the 13 article of the confession of faith that relates to infant baptism.

Dec 7 voted to assess 12 ½ cents on each resident communicant for the supply of the communion the ensuing year. Voted that Deacon P. Parker prepare a statement of the reasons of his driving horses lately on the Lord’s Day and of his disapprobation of doing it without its being a matter of necessity. J. Fisher, Pastor.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Recent Acquisitions: The Wardwell Card Table.

We received a phone call last year from Sue Campbell, who said that she had a table made by Jonathan Fisher that she would like to give us.--- if we wanted it.  Naturally, we were interested to see what she had.  Not knowing further what to expect, and naturally curious, we were knocked speechless at first sight by the  table that emerged from her station wagon. 


The table was made by Fisher and given as a wedding present to Campbell's ancestors Lucy Stetson and William Wardwell on the occasion of their marriage in the 1830's   It is a Hepplewhite games table, in  untouched original condition,  Of country design, but based on sophisticated forms, it is constructed of humble pine, with an exuberant paint decorated surface that imitates satinwood with inlay.  It is the 3rd example in our collection of Fisher's skill with faux wood surfaces, the others being a cabinet with doors grained by Parson Fisher to look like inlaid mahogany, and a wooden box with fanciful grained surface.  It is interesting to compare the Fisher table with another, urban made mahogany card table that we also own, which descended in the Hinckley family of Blue Hill.  The similarities of design are so similar that one can't help but wonder if Fisher was inspired by the other table, which he undoubtedly saw in the course of visits, and used it as a pattern for his design.  The tops are of identical shape and dimension.  Whatever the story, the table is one of the most exciting pieces in our collection, and we are grateful for the generous gift, which was made in memory of Lucy & William Wardwell, to whom Fisher gave the table 165 years ago.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Days of His Life--Excerpts from Journals and Other Records

From 'A Look Back'
Marilyn Whittlesey, Church Historian, First Congregational Church of Blue Hill

Following are excerpts from the Church Records of 1820

March 23, 1820 At a meeting of the Brethren of the church at the Meeting house Mrs. Sally, wife of Daniel Osgood and Mr. Israel Wood gave a relation of God’s dealings with their souls and were accepted to the fellowship of the Church. Mrs. Patty, wife of Robert Clay gave a relation, but was deferred for the present. With respect to provision for the table there money enough on hand for the ensuing season, Vote not to assess any.
(Provision for the table --items for communion).

March 26 Mrs. Sally Osgood and Mr. Israel Wood made a public profession of religion.

May 2 A few of the Brethren met and adjourned till next preparatory lecture.

June 8 At a meeting of the Brethren of the church at the meeting house. A case referred to the Church by Br. N. Hinkley and Br. R. Dodge. Mr. Dodge as executor of the estate of Esq. Floyd, had inadvertently indorsed a land warrant to Mr. Coates of Boston, thro’ which said Coates appears to have fraudulently become possessed of the land, the loss to the heirs of Esq. Floyd being about $250. In behalf of the widow Floyd and Sophia Floyd, who is of age, Mr. Hinkley on his part and Mr. Dodge on his part agreed to abide by the judgment of the church. Thirteen members of the church marked on paper the sum which in their judgment Esq. Dodge ought to pay to the heirs of Esq. Floyd as compensation in part for the loss. The sums marked amounted to $1512, which divided by 13 quotes an average of $116 to be paid by Br. Dodge to said Heirs. Also as Betsy A. Floyd was not of age. Voted the Br. Dodge be at the risk of her taking advantage of the law to recover her full share. Proceeded to the choice of two persons to the office of Deacons in the church; the votes being examined were as follows,
Reuben Dodge – 16; Simeon Parker 14; Nehemiah Hinkley 6. The two former were declared chosen. Br. Dodge utterly declined. Br. Parker declined at first but finally consented to officiate next Lord’s Day. Vote to adjourn to our next sacramental lecture.

Aug 31 A charge of aggravated lying exhibited against Mrs. Lydia Clay by Br. N. Hinkley. Voted to defer the decision of the case till our next meeting.

Stay tuned for next time to find out what happens to Lydia Clay

Monday, December 14, 2009

Jonathan Fisher's Journals

Extraordinarily disciplined, and always with an eye to posterity, Jonathan Fisher kept a journal for practically every day of his adult life.  This amazing fact, and the even more amazing fact that most of them survive, give us an almost unparalleled look into the life of one remarkable man and the world in which he lived  Adding to the interest is the fact that while still at Harvard, Jonathan Fisher invented his own shorthand for writing the diaries---not to keep entries secret, as one might imagine, but to save paper, then an expensive commodity.  Late in life, Fisher estimated that he had saved many dollars worth of paper, to say nothing of hours of time.

For scholars who have studied Fisher, the coded diaries have sometimes posed a challenge.  When Mary Ellen Chase undertook to write her groundbreaking biography of Fisher, she enlisted her sister, Edith Chase Weren, to translate all the known diaries, a herculean task, given nearly sixty years of 360-some entries a year.  More recently, Prof. Raoul Smith has been taking a crack, and has given new translation to several entries.

Cover of one of Jonathan Fisher's 1822 Journals, with Title in Shorthand

  In addition to the journals, Fisher kept records of his activities at the Congregational Church, and many of his letters survive, along with account books and notebooks about things that interested him.  Through this wealth of primary information, we are lucky to be able to document many things about Fisher and the artifacts and house he left behind far better than most organizations, and it is always a thrill to have 'Eureka!' moments while sifting through the documents.

Fisher House volunteer archivist Marilyn Whittlesey, who is also the official Historian of the Congregational Church, has been mining the Church records, as well as Fisher's journals, for daily nuggets from Fisher's life, and publishing them in the Church Newsletter, 'The Friendly Visitor'.   We will be publishing them here also, for your interest and entertainment.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Woodcut of the Week: Bitterns

Parson Fisher labored for several years carving the woodblocks for his 1833 book, Scripture Animals, the culmination of a life long fascination with the depiction of flora and fauna.  One of the Fisher House crowd favorites is this graceful composition, Bitterns.


The Earliest Photograph of The Fisher House

 This photograph is dated 1888, and is the earliest known photographic image of the Fisher Farm, showing buildings long demolished.  The picture is invaluable to us for the many things it tells us about the Fisher  House and grounds, showing long vanished buildings.  Seated in the foreground, from left to right are Jonathan Fisher's son Willard, Willard's daughter Augusta and her brother Frederick, the last of the family to occupy the homestead, and Sarah Hinckley, daughter of Jonathan Fisher's daughter Mary Stevens, grandmother of Fisher Memorial founder Ethelwynne Hinckley.

Behind them is the 1814 portion of the house, with dark trim, as it probably was in JF's day.  On the doorstep are large exotic seashells, once a common tradition throughout Blue Hill. To the left of the house is the pear tree, identified as a 'St. Germain' pear on Fisher's 1821 orchard plan.  The pear tree still flourishes and bears fruit today, a living link to Parson Fisher.  Growing on the house is a vine, identified as a Hop vine. To the immediate right is a carriage shed, attached to the rear, which was added in the mid 19th century by Willard.  Next to that, in the center of the photograph, is the Wood House/Hog Cote, designed and built by JF.  Attached to its ridge pole can be seen a martin house, which was a miniature copy of the main house. The building on the left was Fisher's lumber house and workshop, housing his massive lathe, and was probably the barn in which the sons slept in summer.  Young cedar hedges replace the picket fence of Parson Fisher's time.

Images of Dolly Fisher

Although we are well familiar with the face of Jonathan Fisher through his four self-portraits, his wife, Dolly, remains a cipher.  In the Fisher House collection there are two small pictures of this kind and forebearing woman,, a silhouette from the early 1820's, and this daguerreotype probably taken near the end of her life in the late 1840's.

Recent Acquistions: "The 6th Dining Room Chair" comes home

 A chair made by Jonathan Fisher and recently donated by his descendants may be seen in the exhibition gallery at the Fisher House. The modern fabic and upholstery are to be removed in order to show the construction of the frame.

 After 160 years away from the Fisher House, a fifth chair from the a set made by Jonathan Fisher in the early 1800's has returned home, thanks to the generosity of Fisher descendants Mark Wanzenberg and his mother Nancy Wanzenberg, in memory of Mrs. Wanzenberg's mother, Marian Kimball Wheelock.  The chair is  constructed of cherry, its design a country version of a type known as 'ribband back'.  It is significant that this chair, unlike the other four in our collection, has never been refinished, retaining the original varnish appled by Jonathan Fisher, making the chair an excellent study document.  After conservation, it will be exhibited as a bare frame, with modern upholstery removed, the better to study Fisher's craftsmanship.  The chairs descended to various family members through Fisher's daughter Mary (Mrs. Benjamin) Stevens, who lived at Orchard Lodge on Main Street, now the Congregational Parsonage.

One of the set of chairs made by Fisher may be seen in the center of this late 19th century photograph of the parlor at Orchard Lodge (now the Congregational Parsonage), during the occupancy of his granddaughter Harriet Morton.

Two others of the set of Fisher chairs in the parlor of the Fisher House

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Jonathan Fisher House Antiques Show

The Fisher House's major summer fundraiser, the Jonathan Fisher Antiques Show, has become one of the most popular summer shows in Maine.  Chaired by Marilyn Whittlesey, it is an old fashioned outdoors show, held at the Blue Hill Fairgrounds.  High quality, yet unpretentious and fun, the show features a wide variety of carefully selected dealers selling something for everyone, from Bakelite Jewelry to 18th century lowboys. The entertaining variety, combined with demonstrations by noted local craftspeople, and delicious locally made food at the catering stand, plus the neighboring farmer's market, make this show a lively event for customer and dealer alike.

Board Member Gary Vencill channels his inner Jonathan Fisher at the Antiques Show

 Held the middle Saturday of August, at the peak of the summer season, the show is limited to forty dealers.  Due to the high volume of returning dealers each year, space is limited.  Applications are open to new dealers after March 15th, at which time contracts will be available on the Fisher House website.  Further information is available by writing us at