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Saturday, April 21, 2007

American Gothic

The Bowen House in Woodstock Connecticut, could be the supreme example of American Gothic Revival Architecture.

I don't know; I'm like a little kid, or a crow, and can easily be distracted by something shiny. If day after tomorrow you discover me writing
Fred McGillicuddy's pigsty in West Treestump Vermont is the supreme example of American Gothic Revival Architecture
just smile and acknowledge it for what it is -- a form of enthusiasm conjoined to a disorderly mind.

But it's awesome, ain't it?
Hey look, there's Patsy's port cochere. Please note that the roof shields only the persons riding in the carriage. The man driving would have to get off his perch and get rained on to walk around the coach and open the door for the swells that were visiting Mr. Bowen. My own relatives were coachman and cook for a similarly wealthy family from Boston in the 1800s. These houses are museums for the amusement of the descendants of the servants now. I love America.

It's awesome inside, too:
Is that a Sippican Cottage Furniture catalog I see on the hall table there? Nice place to look it over. I imagine the internet connection's a little slow. It really was a series of tubes back then, and only went from the bridge to the engine room. The stairwell is handsome too:
The furniture is appropriate for the house, which is rare. Usually the last occupants of any notable house strip the place bare before they turn the place over to some foundation or another to get out of paying taxes and painting these places. You can visit the mansions in Newport, and half of them look like Minnie Pearl was the decorator.

The heavy oak furniture and the densely printed wallpapers are perfect. The white marble tops on some of the tables were very common.


This is one of the best things in the house. That's an oriel window. An oriel window is a window on an upper story that is built into its own projecting bay. What a lovely place to sit. And look on the right there. That dresser is the real item: Cottage Furniture:
In a way, I'm a terrible fraud. I have a business with Cottage Furniture right in the name, and I really technically don't make cottage furniture. The original term referred to a kind of inexpensive furniture, which was painted, or painted to look like a sort of stylized woodgrain. That dresser is the real thing. Real cottage furniture is fairly rare now because it mostly fell all to pieces. I capture the essence of the concept if not the precise details of it, I hope. The falling to pieces part we can all do without.

Don't look at this doorknob:I told you not to look at the doorknob, but you couldn't help yourself, could you? It's interesting, but it's the door that's really interesting. It's fake.

Faux, actually. It's painted to mimic the look of oak. Really well done too. Faux Bois, it's called. I used to do that for a living, and it's hard to do convincingly. It's not really considered ersatz. The interior millwork was made of pine (they'd call it deal, back then) or poplar or some other inexpensive, easily worked wood. They'd prime it, (sugar of lead, anyone?) then paint it a sort of dull, yellow color. A slow-drying glaze would be applied, and a series of unusual brushes and combs would be dragged through the glaze to give the appearance of the desired wood. Those silvering grains were probably done with a finger wrapped in a rag, nothing more. The whole thing would get a sort of varnish stain to get the right color overall. Intact, such painted millwork is often more valuable than if it was real. Hollywood set painters are about the last place on earth where anyone's any good at this. Everybody I've seen try it out in the general population makes a dog's breakfast of it.

And of course, as promised, ladies and gentlemen, your typical Gothic Revival bowling alley. Don't laugh, Playstations were hard to come by back then.

The place is open to the public, and you can rent it out if you're feeling like feeling like a Gatsby for an afternoon. They don't call it the Bowen House though, it's called Roseland Cottage.

And by the way, it isn't in black and white, either:

4 comments:

Patsy said...

Wonderful! When I was first married, my artist husband worked for an amusement park which was supposed to look like an 1880's mining town. (I bed you've heard of it.) His job? Besides building mechanical fiberglass men, mainly he would spend days aging new buildings. The faux wood grain reminds me of that.
They would throw up a brand new building, and he would antique it--complete with fake rust stains on fake tin roofs and fake water damage on the walls.
Thanks for showing the port cochere!

Ruth Anne Adams said...

I half expected to see Grant Woods and his models.

SippicanCottage said...

Ruth anne- I've seen everything, and I've never seen that. That's awesome.

By the way, the house that they stand in front of for the painting isn't really a gothic revival house; its a related subtype called carpenter gothic. I'll get to that.

patsy- Your husband's job sounds like fun. I got offered a job like that 25 years ago at Universal Studios. I turned it down. I often wondered if I shoulda taken it. But I never would have met mrs.cottage, so the discussion is over.

I beat things up all day long. It's fun, once you get over the idea you're beating a perfectly good piece of furniture with a chain.

Internet Ronin said...

What a treasure! As you say, most strip out the furniture when selling or giving away one like this and Liberace's cousin steps in to "decorate." Love the bowling alley but wouldn't want to be the one who had to set the pins!

Patsy: That sounds like Knott's Berry Farm to me. I grew up not far from there and remember well when Ghost Town was all there was (although to be fair to Walter & Cordelia, most of Ghost Town back then was original - he bought one lock, stock and barrel and moved it there, next to his berry fields and Cordelia's restaurant).