Connected \\ September 16, 2020
Telling Salem’s stories
Shortly after his appointment last year as the new Rose-Marie and Eijk van Otterloo Director and CEO of PEM, Brian Kennedy expressed a desire to know more about the city in which he was making his home. “Wouldn’t it be great if people could learn more about Salem’s and PEM’s history within our own galleries?,” he asked. And the seed of Salem Stories was planted.
Our new director set an ambitious goal — open this exhibition (and a sister show focused more specifically on the 1692 Salem witch trials) in advance of the 500,000 people who typically visit Salem each October.
In February, we assembled a core team to explore how we could tell stories of the city, highlighting works in the collection with direct ties to the city that hadn’t been on view lately (or ever). A journalist friend of mine, who is constantly on deadline for The Boston Globe, often asks, “What are you working on?” When I’d say over the course of five years, “I’m still working on that Asia in Amsterdam exhibition project with the Rijksmuseum,” he’d shrug his head and wonder why these projects took so long. Curators typically like to dig deeply into a project and that kind of research takes time — time we didn’t have for this project. So we settled on a basic principle for the show. We’d organize the exhibition around the architecture of the alphabet: 26 distinct stories about Salem’s past and present.
Any exhibition’s project launch is when planning for a show officially begins. The curatorial staff have typically done preliminary thinking about an exhibition (for weeks or even years), but this kickoff meeting brings the entire team together — curators, exhibition designers, object preparators, registrars, editors and the critical exhibition planner — to discuss the project schedule and agree on dates for key deliverables.
Artist in the United States, Naumkeag Steam Cotton Mill, Salem, about 1850. Oil on canvas. Gift of American History Textile Museum Collection, gift of Charles van Ravenswaay. 2017.9.1.
Salem Stories’ project launch was on March 11. And then the world stopped.
As the spread of COVID-19 shut down the museum, and nearly every other entity in our lives, we scrambled to redefine how we would work together. Through Zoom calls and Google Chats, we harnessed our collective memory of PEM’s collection and the city’s past to try to decide which works we wanted to get out from storage to include. The five lead curators on the project have a lot of experience with the collection to draw upon. One of us recently celebrated his 42nd anniversary as a curator, and collectively, we’ve served PEM for over 150 years. Most of us have also called Salem home throughout that time. So finding stories wasn’t the problem, it was trying to narrow down which works to include and which stories to tell.
Perhaps the only letter we didn’t debate about was “E.” The East India Marine Society, PEM’s founding institution, is where most stories about PEM begin, in 1799. George Schwartz, one of the lead curators, wrote his dissertation on the Society and recently published a book on its history titled Collecting the Globe. Our friends in collections management, when they were ultimately allowed to return to campus, identified the best preserved of the original cases from East India Marine Hall in which we could house a diverse array of some of PEM’s first collections.
Mollie Denhard and George Schwartz laying out the East India Marine Hall case in the Salem Stories exhibition. Photo by Kathy Tarantola/PEM.
The East India Marine Society’s founding coincides with the height of Salem’s international stature. Many profited from Salem’s global trade, but no one more so than Elias Hasket Derby, America’s first millionaire. Derby commissioned Salem architect and woodcarver Samuel McIntire to design several of his houses, including an elegant two-story summer house, which survives today on the grounds of Glen Magna Farms in nearby Danvers.
Samuel McIntire, Drawing of the side and front of the Elias Hasket Derby Summer House, 1793. Pen and ink on paper. Phillips Library, gift of Richard H. Derby, before 1900, MSS 264 flat file, #23.
McIntire’s design for the summer house, a large carved portrait medallion of George Washington that was once displayed on an arch on Salem Common, and Samuel Blyth’s pastel portrait of McIntire represent him for the letter “M.”
Samuel McIntire, Portrait medallion of George Washington, once displayed on an arch on Salem Common, 1805. Painted pine. Gift of the City of Salem Committee of Public Property, 1891, 110728. Photo by Dennis Helmar.
Attributed to Samuel Blyth, Portrait of Samuel McIntire, about 1782. Pastel on paper. Gift of the Estate of Mr. George W. Low, 1938, 123420. Photo by Jeffrey Dykes.
Most museum collections — PEM’s included — are exhibited inside buildings. But Salem’s Punto Urban Art Museum’s collection is exhibited on them. Founded by the North Shore Community Development Coalition in 2017, this open-air museum features more than 75 large-scale, multistory murals by locally and internationally renowned artists on multiple buildings within a three-block radius in the predominantly Latino-influenced barrio of Salem known as “El Punto,” or the Point.
The museum creates a dynamic, uplifting environment for residents and aims to break down divisions between Salem’s neighborhoods by inviting art-loving visitors into the Point. Walking tours of the museum highlight the contemporary artistic interventions as well as the longstanding immigrant experience in the National Historic District.
The program commissions new murals yearly for this ever-changing urban landscape and PEM was honored to collaborate with the museum on a vibrant mural by artist Maria Molteni in 2018. Visit the basketball court on Ward Street for yourself.
Guest artist Maria Molteni shoots a jump shot on the finished court, a celebration of color, creativity and the rewards of collaboration. Photo by Bob Packert/PEM.
You can learn more about the Punto Urban Art Museum from this Connected blog post and download a map of all the mural locations.
This year, as COVID-19 spread through the city, the North Shore Community Development Coalition opted not to commission a single mural, but instead issued a call to local artists to develop public service announcements for primarily immigrant, non-English speaking, and low-income communities of color. One of the commissions, Valeria Cardenas Martinez’ poster Tu Responsabilidad, advocates mask-wearing to protect ourselves and others.
Valeria Cardenas Martinez, Tu Responsabilidad, 2020. Printed poster. Courtesy of the artist and the North Shore Community Development Coalition.
We’re featuring Cardenas Martinez’ poster as part of the works exhibited for the letter C, “Caring for Our Community.” Salem’s community responded to the challenge of the pandemic with resilience. The dedication and bravery of first responders and essential workers — healthcare workers, grocery store employees, public servants, teachers and utility workers — have been central to making our lives possible during the crisis. But each of us has played a role in caring for others during these challenging times. I was particularly grateful that in the early days of lockdown, fellow PEM curator Sarah Chasse managed to sew masks for my family even while struggling with a broken arm.
Karina Corrigan and her daughter, Anneke, out for a walk during lockdown, wearing masks made by PEM colleague Sarah Chasse.
In this letter, we also explore the many ways that compassionate individuals, civic entities and charitable organizations have cared for our community, sustaining the people of Salem throughout our city’s long history. Several charitable organizations have endured across centuries, including Plummer Youth Promise, the Salem Female Charitable Society and the Boys & Girls Club, which continue to thrive and care for the members of our city. Today, newer nonprofits like Root, the Salem Education Foundation and Voices Against Injustice also provide vital support by helping young adults develop essential life and work skills and by celebrating today’s champions of human rights.
In the early 20th century, Caroline Emmerton used a fortune inherited from her grandfather to uplift her community. Many of the organizations she and her family founded and sustained continue today — the Salem Public Library, Salem Hospital (now North Shore Medical Center) and the House of the Seven Gables. A portrait of Emmerton and her sister, Annie Shattuck, is one of the many works highlighted in “W is for Wonder Women.” We are grateful to George and Isabel Shattuck for recently supporting the conservation of this painting, a gift in 1942 by George Shattuck’s grandmother, one of the sitters.
Charles Auguste Émile Durand, Portrait of Annie Bertram Emmerton Shattuck and Caroline Osgood Emmerton, 1883 or 1888. Oil on canvas. Gift of Mrs. George H. Shattuck, 1942, 125122. Photo by Kathy Tarantola/PEM.
Women have shaped Salem for centuries as activists, artists, educators, entrepreneurs, laborers and philanthropists. Here are just two of their inspiring stories from history.
Educator and activist Clarissa Lawrence was a leader of Black women in Salem in the early 19th century. From 1807 to 1823, she taught at the first school in town for Black children. One of the many works from the Phillips Library’s collections that we’ve included In the exhibition is a roster list of Lawrence’s students, likely in her own hand. A founding member of Salem’s Female Anti-Slavery Society, Lawrence spoke in 1838 at the national convention of abolitionist women in Philadelphia noting, "We meet the monster prejudice everywhere … We want light; we ask it, and it is denied us. Why are we thus treated? Prejudice is the cause." The core team of exhibition curators was privileged to partner with two Phillips Library librarians as well as nearly every other member of the curatorial department on this exhibition. Each of them brought their own vital perspectives to this collaborative narrative.
Entrepreneurial artist Sarah Symonds, a descendant of the 17th-century Salem cabinetmaker John Symonds, created casts of Salem architectural landmarks, and marketed and sold them from the John Ward House, now part of PEM’s historic house collection.
Photographer in Salem, Massachusetts, Sarah W. Symonds in her studio in the John Ward House, 1912–21, Phillips Library, Anonymous gift, 1985, MSS 0.202.
Sarah W. Symonds, The Pingree House in Salem, bookend, 1930. Plaster and paint, Gift of Henry Rybicki, 1982, 135498. Photo by Kathy Tarantola/PEM.
Remarkable Salem women continue to make this a dynamic city. A media piece within the exhibition highlights more than 30 contemporary women who are making Salem a better city through their many contributions and accomplishments.
This current global crisis is not the first time Salem’s citizens have had to come together. Our community has confronted and overcome calamity multiple times in its history. One particularly devastating moment occurred on June 25, 1914, when a catastrophic fire in Salem displaced nearly 20,000 people and destroyed 1,376 buildings.
Artist in the United States, Naumkeag Steam Cotton Company (on fire at about 2 am on June 26, 1914), 1914. Gelatin silver print. Gift of Ruth Robinson, 1986, M22520. Photo by Kathy Tarantola/PEM.
Photographer in Salem, Massachusetts, French District, destroyed apartments in the aftermath of the Great Salem Fire of 1914, June 26, 1914, Phillips Library, Salem Streets Collection, Negative #32851.
Firefighters from 21 cities and towns came to help, finally containing the fire after 13 hours battling the flames. The Salem Armory, part of PEM’s campus, became headquarters for the relief effort with families congregating in open spaces including the Salem Common, the Salem Willows, Forest River Park and Broad Street Cemetery. Even before the fire was out, National Guard troops handed out cookies and milk to comfort residents. The relief program was massive, with tent cities springing up across the city to house the homeless. Within a year, more than 350 new buildings were under construction, but the city’s manufacturing industries were never fully rebuilt.
Malcolm E. Robb, Mess hall in Forest River Park encampment following the Great Salem Fire of 1914, 1914. Phillips Library, Salem Streets Collection, Negative #16789.
Organizing a show almost entirely during COVID-19 wasn't ideal, but I think the team will all remember how crafting these stories of our city and PEM and sharing these works with the public brought us together in surprising and meaningful ways during these dark months. I keep wishing I'd kept a diary of all the new recipes I'd cooked during lockdown. I suppose one of the reasons I didn't track my cooking was because we were too busy with this project. But perhaps Salem Stories can be our diary, not only of our city, but also of these strange and challenging times.
TOP IMAGE: Daniel Kacyvenski, James Hull and Dave O’Ryan work to install the skeleton of a long-finned pilot whale, collected in Beverly Harbor in 1873 and donated by Captain Charles C. Osgood. Photo by Kathy Tarantola/PEM.