Building on the Past

In the midst of producing this issue, my husband and I took what likely will become a once-in-a-lifetime vacation to Italy, home of my paternal great-grandparents, who immigrated to America in the 1880s.

Although our itinerary didn’t take us near the small villages they left behind, I felt a strong connection to their heritage as we toured Rome, Florence, Venice, and the lush agricultural region of Tuscany.

We were awed by the magnificent architecture of the Colosseum, the many cathedrals and basilicas that serve as focal points in the government seats of previously independent nation-states, and the fortress walls that enclose many of the hilltop towns of Tuscany. (Until 1861, when the states united as a single country, many had been at war with each other, often for centuries.)

We were inspired by the artifacts in the archaeological and art museums we visited, which hold magnificent examples of our ancestors’ ongoing quest to beautify the spaces in which they lived, worked, and worshipped. Although America’s history spans barely a blip in time compared to Italy’s roots in ancient Rome, those who populated what became the United States brought a similar desire for beauty with them, informed and inspired by their native cultures.

For 37 years, our August issue has celebrated today’s traditional artisans, whose work pays homage to the handcraftsmanship of settlers who brought their artistic sensibilities here and made them uniquely American.

Basket makers, carpenters, metal workers, painters, weavers, and countless others likely would be astounded to learn that so much of what they created to ease daily chores or brighten interior spaces has been preserved and treasured as relics of a noble past.

We expect that much of the new work this issue highlights— photographed at the museums of Conner Prairie in Indiana—will endure as the cherished antiques of future generations.

On Cape Cod, the Cahoon Museum of American Art takes a fresh look at scrimshaw, made by sailors from the waste products of whaling during long voyages. Left alone with only their imagination and rudimentary tools, sailors created beautifully carved and ingeniously assembled household objects the museum rightfully defines as an art form.

Rhode Island homeowners Jonathan and Erin Chapman built on the past in deciding to restore—rather than demolish—an 1892 mill building as their new home. They kept original posts, beams, and pulleys intact as they maximized the small space and expanded views of its idyllic setting along Mint Water Brook on Aquidneck Island.

Similarly, ardent preservationists in Dartmouth, Massachusetts, restored the 1762 Cape built by the Akin family as a museum that tells of the family’s role in the area’s history through 241 years of ownership. The restoration purposely exposed much of the home’s original fabric, including fireplaces, posts and beams, and early wallpaper.

Turning to the outdoors, Camilla Wilcox examines how 19th-Century homeowners looked to their gardens as sites of pleasure. In creating pathways to connect planted beds, they combined the formality of European gardens with the beauty of America’s natural landscape.

We invite you to recognize the beauty, creativity, and ingenuity of the past that inform the objects and spaces that surround us—and to appreciate that all of us possess a gift for artistic expression..

Jeanmarie Andrews

Executive Editor

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