Laura Fecych Sprague, Portland, ME
This lecture is sponsored by Martha Steen in loving memory of Bill Steen, founder of the American Decorative Arts Forum.
Harriet Cutter (1800-1863), Lily and Rose, silk and watercolor on silk, ca. 1814, Portland, Me. Photo courtesy, Maine Historical Society
The Bowdoin College Air Pump, Boston, Massachusetts, 1782-1783. Instrument designed and made by the Reverend John Prince of Salem, Massachusetts with carved finial attributed to Simeon Skillin, Jr., of Boston, Massachusetts.
Some of us may be disposed to think of Maine as a fishing, lumbering and quarrying state, but Maine — even in the early 19th century — was at the geographic and cultural crossroads of east coast cultures.
Federal Maine was remarkably adaptable: English and French, Loyalists and Colonials mixed with Native American populations to use the wealth of their state to wield huge political and economic clout in the young nation.
Extensive social and commercial networks linked Mainers to family, craftsmen, and business associates throughout the Atlantic basin. Portland, one of New England’s major ports, fostered an appreciation of the arts and education; young ambitious architects and craftsman found patrons in town. “Indeed,” a young gentleman assured his new bride in 1817, the cultural society and household furnishings were “as elegant as you expect to find elsewhere.”
Shipping and commercial ports brought wealth and culture to Maine. Prominent architects designed great houses; homeowners furnished with the latest fashions in decorative arts and furniture; Mainers were well connected, sophisticated, and cultured.
Notable figures, including Henry Knox, George Washington’s general and first Secretary of War; Benjamin Vaughn, the British loyalist who negotiated peace between the United States and Britain after the War of Independence; and William Bingham, the Philadelphia financier made Maine their home. James Bowdoin established Bowdoin College in 1794 and created America’s earliest public art collection when he bequeathed his art to the college.
Laura Fecych Sprague’s lecture will vividly illustrate the preferences of Maine’s sophisticated residents and will broaden our understanding of how these residents helped shape the state’s cultural heritage and Maine’s role in the making of the nation.
Ms. Sprague earned a bachelor’s degree in art history from Trinity College. She has studied Maine’s material culture for thirty years, contributing to research, exhibitions, and publications for the Bowdoin College Museum of Art, Maine Historical Society, Portland Museum of Art, and Tate House, among others. She served as editor for Agreeable Situations: Society, Commerce, and Art in Southern Maine, 1780–1830, a landmark catalogue funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.