the itinerant artisans who roamed the New England highways
and byways in the early 1800s, I also had my journeys. My travels
were in search of the walls that these itinerants so skillfully
stenciled with their bright and cheerful folk art motifs and
designs…the walls that brought joy to the men and women
who lived and toiled on the farms and in the small towns of
rural New England.
so many kind people in my travels…folks who graciously
opened their homes and inns to me so that I might see first
hand the historic folk art therein. Their kindness not only
furthered my education and understanding of early stenciled
walls, but also gave me the opportunity to gain a deep appreciation
for the incredible talent and artistic skill possessed by these
of the original walls that I saw were timeworn and faded. Other
walls were pristine and bright, with the red and green motifs
still vibrant and bold. But regardless of the condition, all
of these walls with their simple decoration spoke to the talent,
creativity, and Yankee ingenuity possessed by the “common
man” artisans who painted them.
of my first stops was to the Shelburne Museum of American
Folk Art, located in Shelburne, VT. This museum is the perfect
venue to experience the beauty of the two styles of early
American stenciling; folk and classical. The walls in the
Stencil House are alive with an eclectic mix of folk
art designs and motifs, presenting a wonderful example of
the folk art style of early American stenciling. In the Stencil
House, the seemingly limitless variation of designs and motifs
are all arranged pleasantly within panels formed by vertical
streams of roses and dainty little flowers. The myriad of
patterns have harmony. Beautiful roses in full bloom, graceful
grapevines, proud eagles, clusters of flowers, and simple
trees with birds perched in them, all skip across the walls
in a symphony of color.
located on the grounds of the Shelburne Museum is the Dutton
house. In contrast to the folksy and somewhat whimsical style
found in the Stencil house, the stenciling in the Dutton
House demonstrates formal country elegance. The graceful
swags and festoons that drape across the walls in the Dutton
House illustrate the neoclassical influence in decorating
that was pervasive in federal period America, and exemplify
the classical genre of early American stenciling. Strolling
through each room in the Dutton House, I marveled at the
intricate borders outlining each wall, and I pondered the
life and times of the prolific ‘Borderman’ who
stenciled these walls, and so many others across New England,
with such a classic style.
artistic legacy of Moses Eaton, Jr. and his father, reaches
far and wide across New England. You may be acquainted with
their wonderful folk art style of wall stenciling. The weeping
willow (colonial symbol of long life) and the pineapple (colonial
symbol of hospitality) are a couple of their well known motifs.
However, these familiar motifs are but two of the many designs
that we know to have been painted by the Eatons. The beauty
of nature was surely their inspiration. Walls attributed
to Moses Eaton Jr. are stenciled with colorful sprays of
flowers, pine boughs, flowing vines, oak leaf clusters, flower
baskets and more. He added hearts to certain designs to honor
the love of a new bride and groom. His designs and motifs
were big, bold, and bright. They were lively and daring.
At the same time, they were lighthearted, imbuing a certain
sweetness and charm. His red and green motifs made a unique
statement on walls of buff or those washed with raspberry,
yellow or soft gray. This simple farmer with a flair for
design and color left a lasting impression not only on the
lives of the families whose homes he stenciled, but also
on the history of decorative arts in New England.
the summer of 2003, the Heritage New England (SPNEA) traveling
exhibit, known as “Cherished Possessions” made
a stop at Colby College in Waterville, Maine. I learned that
Moses Eaton Jr.’s stencil kit was one of the items in
this exhibit, and I was curious to see the tools belonging
to the man I had come to greatly admire. So, my husband and
I, along with our canine companion, Lucy, made the trip to
central Maine. Arriving at Colby, I was eager to get to the
exhibit and find that one special item. After strolling through
the entire exhibit, perhaps it was fitting to find that this
simple, unobtrusive box was the very last item. It certainly
was not a beautiful item like so many of the others that I
saw on this day. And perhaps, only an enthusiast of early American
stenciling would understand the sheer beauty and joy that sprang
from this little pine box so many years ago, in so many homes,
in so many places. I quickly crossed the room, and resting
before me, in a protective Plexiglas enclosure, was Moses Eaton,
Jr.’s stencil kit. It contained several large round brushes
and several worn stencils cut from thick, sturdy paper.
had read so much about this famous stencil kit, and how its
discovery shed a bright light on the identity of the individual
who stenciled so many walls in New Hampshire, Maine, and Massachusetts.
I love the story of how it came into Janet Waring’s possession…thoughtfully
given to her by the descendents of Eaton’s daughter,
Mary Richardson. Standing there, alone in the room, gazing
at the old wooden box, something struck me. Imagine how talented
this simple farmer and itinerant stenciler, Moses Eaton, Jr.,
must have been. Imagine the beautiful results he achieved using
only the crude tools laying in the old wooden box before me.
Imagine creating the charming all-over wall designs and patterns
without the benefit of one registration mark! It was truly
something to ponder. When I turned away from that old, worn
stencil kit, and started my journey home, I had a new appreciation
for the talent and skill of the man who owned it almost two
hundred years ago.
read about the abundance of early American stenciling found
along the coast of Maine...from Portland to Blue Hill and
points in between, I decided to seek out some of these walls.
Many of the walls are attributed to Moses Eaton, Jr. as many
of the designs and motifs can be matched to the patterns
found in Moses Eaton’s stencil kit. However, how odd
is it that not one piece of documentation has ever been found
that would, without a doubt, confirm the true identity of
this down east artisan who was so skilled with stencil and
brush. Thirty years ago, Margaret
and Edward Fabian studied
over 400 early stenciled walls in homes, inns and taverns
throughout New England. It turns out that the research done
by the Fabians, over a span of seven years, is one of the
most comprehensive studies ever done on early American stenciling
in New England. Their work is a treasure. Many of the walls
that they photographed and studied were located in Maine.
When they wrapped up their visits to Maine, Margaret put
an interesting footnote on her years of research. Apparently,
the more research she did in Maine, the more doubts she had
that all of the walls commonly attributed to Moses Eaton,
Jr., were in fact stenciled by him. We know that it was common
for stencilers to copy each others designs and patterns.
Did a nameless artisan copy some of Eaton’s patterns,
and then trudge the rural Maine coastline beautifying homes
with his pigments, brush, and stencil? One thing we can be
sure of is that in many coastal Maine towns, a gifted stenciler,
perhaps Moses Eaton, Jr., left a trail of wonderfully decorated
walls, still admired today for their beauty, and for the
insight they provide into the history of decorative arts
in New England.
of our trips to Maine afforded us the opportunity to visit
a wonderful museum in Kennebunk, Maine called the Brick
Store Museum. Here
we saw a section of a wall saved from the c1750 David Thompson
House of West Kennebunk. On one of his trips Down East, sometime
between the years of 1820-1840, Moses Eaton, Jr. traveled
along West Kennebunk Road and arrived at the c1750 David
Thompson House. Here, he offered to stencil the walls in
the home with his colorful repertoire of folk art designs.
The designs and patterns Eaton chose for this home are, in
my opinion, some of his most beautiful offerings. He covered
the walls with cheery folk art designs that spoke to the
beauty of nature, and the coming of spring. The pineapples,
maple leafs, flower sprays and sunflowers that graced the
walls in the David Thompson house surely brought joy to the
families who lived there…reminding them of warmer days in the midst of
the long Maine winters. Unfortunately, the home was destroyed
in the early 20th century, but not before some of the early
researchers had the opportunity to photograph, document and
save a portion of the stenciling.
1978, Margaret and Edward Fabian visited an 18th century
home in Waldoboro, Maine. The home had original stenciling,
likely done by Moses Eaton, Jr. A search on the web, led
me to an article in Down East Magazine about the Blue Skye
Farm, formerly the Abijah Waterman House (c.1775) located
in Waldoboro, Maine. My
heart skipped a beat when I first visited the Blue Skye Farm’s website. There, I saw
a lovely picture of the living room, resplendent with beautiful
antiques, an oriental rug, and huge fireplace. Just barely
visible in the background of this picture, I could see cheery
red and green pineapples and oak leaf clusters, on a wall
leading up a flight of stairs. This indeed was the same home
where the Fabians had documented the charming red and green
stenciling in the front hall and stairway.
sent an e-mail of introduction to the owners of the Blue
Skye Farm, which is now operated as a country bed and breakfast,
and it was not long before I had a date to see my first Moses
Eaton wall in the state of Maine!
1980, the Fabians also visited an establishment known as
the Old Falmouth Tavern, in Falmouth, Maine. Here again,
they documented extant stenciling in the tradition of Moses
Eaton, Jr. I dropped a note to the Falmouth Library, seeking
information on this tavern. A kind librarian replied to me,
indicating that she thought the tavern I was referring to
was now called the Quaker Tavern Inn. Imagine my delight,
when I went to the Quaker Tavern Inn website, and was immediately
greeted with a picture of one of the inn rooms, whose gray
plastered walls were covered with wonderful red and green
pineapples! I contacted the innkeeper, and in no time, had
myself another date with history!
a cold and blustery October day in the year 2003, my husband
and I headed for Maine in search of Moses Eaton! Our first
stop was the Blue
Skye Farm, located in Waldoboro, Maine.
Waldoboro was delightful…a quintessential New England
coastal town. Its quaint streets were lined with 18th and
19th century homes, and stately trees that glowed with the
bounty of autumn. Wending our way towards the outskirts of
town on a hilly country road, we arrived at our destination
in short order. The Blue Skye Farm was a big white federal,
perched atop a windy hill and surrounded by rolling fields
and woods. What an idyllic setting for my first glimpse of
a Moses Eaton wall!
Jan Davis, kindly welcomed my husband and me inside the home,
whereupon we found ourselves in the same hallway once photographed
and documented by the Fabians in the late 1970s. The walls
complete with Moses Eaton Jr.’s Maine-style pineapples
and oak leaf clusters greeted us just as they had greeted so
many other visitors over the last 180 years.
frieze design of “three big oak leaves” was one
of Eaton’s favorites. The oak leaves were stenciled with
bright red and green, and the design circled the entrance-way
and continued up the stairs to the second floor landing.
walls were divided into panels by red “turned bud” verticals.
The baseboard design was the same as a design found at the
Richardson House (now the Parsonage) at Old Sturbridge Village.
It was comprised of scalloped edged leaves and berries. Within
the panels created by the turned bud verticals, were “Maine” pineapples
(smooth leaves at the crown instead of pointed, serrated foliage),
oak leaf clusters, and interesting red medallions comprised
of four “fan” flowers. Many of the motifs were
quite a bit brighter than some of the others. The innkeeper
stated that around 1900, some of the patterns had been “touched
was certainly a joy to see these well preserved walls, almost
200 years old. We lingered for quite some time, taking pictures
and admiring the beautiful handiwork. After receiving an interesting
tour of the old house and stretching our legs with a leisurely
walk around the farm, we jumped back into our car and continued
our wayfaring journeys through Maine, in the footsteps of Moses
no time, we arrived at our final destination of the day, the
Inn, located in Falmouth, Maine. The inn was
a pleasantly weathered colonial, forever framed in my mind
by giant maple trees with brilliant yellow autumn foliage.
The owner of the Quaker Tavern, Donna Little, greeted us warmly
with a hammer in hand! Always a project to be attending to
when you live in a 200 year old home!
Quaker Tavern Inn (formerly the Old Falmouth Tavern) was built
in 1780 by a family of Quakers and it is registered as a National
Historic Landmark. Donna has been the faithful keeper and protector
of this wonderful home and the cherished stenciling, for over
30 years. Here she raised a family, and now runs the home as
a bed and breakfast. Donna Little welcomed the Fabians into
her home over 26 years ago, when they too arrived to see the
stenciled walls. She explained that several rooms in this home
had originally been stenciled, but that only the stenciling
in one small bedchamber remains intact and original. We eventually
made our way upstairs to the room I had been very eager to
see. Upon entering the small bedchamber, we were greeted by
the simple beauty of the stenciling on plain plastered walls.
stenciling on three of the walls was very traditional Moses
Eaton. Like the Blue Skye Farm, here we found some of Moses
Eaton Jr.’s favorite patterns arranged on the walls with
red and green symmetry. The designs and motifs in the little
inn room at the Quaker Tavern included the “three big
oak leaves” frieze, a chair rail stencil of small green
marching leaves, diamond and petal verticals, Maine pineapples
and oak leaf clusters. However, the stenciling found on the
overmantle was quite unusual. Although the “three big
oak leaves” frieze was carried completely around the
room, and the stencil of small leaves marched along the top
of the mantle, the design found over the mantelpiece included
hand-drawn trees with sponge-work foliage, small stenciled
birds, and prancing horses. These horses are similar, to the
horses seen in the Hall Tavern Ballroom, Historic Deerfield,
and at the Mather house in Marlboro, VT. So, who is responsible
for this unique overmantle with prancing horses and free-hand
trees, so unlike the traditional stenciling done by Moses Eaton,
we wrapped up our visit at the Quaker Tavern Inn, and drove
away towards home, I thought about how the passage of time
had been kind to the stenciling in the little bedchamber;
the red and green patterns still so alive and bright. I thought
about the little room and its peaceful spirit. Today, it
is fitting that this room with its symbolic pineapples is
still welcoming the tired and the weary who seek no more
than a restful night of sleep.
had always read that Moses Eaton, Jr. stenciled walls in
Massachusetts; however I searched for years for some evidence.
Recently, I had the good fortune of finding several homes
that were most likely visited by Moses Eaton, Jr.
the lovely coastal town of West Newbury, Massachusetts a
circa 1823 Greek revival home has beautiful stenciling in
one of the upstairs bedchambers. Red and green motifs and
designs are striking against canary yellow walls. Eaton
stenciled around the top of the walls with his interesting “acanthus
leaf” frieze, and he chose the pretty “rose and
leaf” border for the baseboard and overmantle. The
room was divided into panels by an unusual vertical stencil
called “lighted candle”. The panels were
filled with flower sprays and oak leaf clusters. The overmantle
included primitive flower baskets, and Eaton stenciled two
lone weeping willow trees in the space between the front
windows. Years ago, the stenciling was authenticated by Historic
New England/SPNEA as the work of Moses Eaton, Jr. I had the
opportunity to see the stenciling while the home was up for
sale. It is my hope that the new owners enjoy the historic
stenciling found in the little bedchamber, and that the timeless
tradition brought to this home by Moses Eaton, Jr. endures.
the spring of 1815, newlyweds Dolly and Caleb Wheeler, Jr.
became the proud owners of a home located in the heart of Bolton,
Massachusetts. Shortly thereafter, it is believed that the
Wheelers hired itinerant stenciler, Moses Eaton, Jr. to brighten
their plain plastered walls. He filled several rooms with gay
patterns and designs that spoke of the hope and promise of
spring. Like the home in West Newbury, Moses Eaton, Jr. chose
the “acanthus leaf” frieze for one of the rooms.
Stenciled hearts, cheery and red, along with sweet flower sprays,
dance beneath the wonderful “pine tree and crossed boughs” frieze
in the front hallway, greeting all who enter the big colonial
home with homespun warmth. The front parlor sports a seldom
seen frieze of small star-like flowers with delicate leaves.
Surely, the hearts that Eaton incorporated into two of his
well-known designs, and stenciled in the hallway and parlor,
were symbolic of the love and devotion of the recently wedded
historic walls in the Caleb Wheeler, Jr. home were found
by the present owners, after removing multiple layers of
wallpaper. They carefully researched the faint designs and
patterns that they found on the walls. They contacted Historic
New England/SPNEA, and it was determined that the folk art
found on the walls in the Caleb Wheeler, Jr. home exactly
matched some of the patterns found in Moses Eaton, Jr.’s
stencil kit. With the assistance of a neighbor who possessed
an artistic flair for the art and craft of stenciling, the
owners were able to lovingly recreate the stenciling, thereby
restoring each room to their previous splendor.
Great Road in Acton, Massachusetts, a stately hip-roofed
colonial home, known as the John Robbins House, was also
visited by Moses Eaton, Jr. It is believed that Eaton traveled
along Great Road sometime around 1830, and at the John Robbins
house he left in his trail several walls full of cheery folk
art design. This home has a very interesting history, as
it was one of the four “Lottery Houses” built
in Acton around 1800. In 1794, Harvard sponsored a lottery
in order to raise funds for a new dormitory. Four neighbors
from Acton purchased the winning ticket, and some of the
winnings were used to build this home. Originally, the stenciling
filled the center hallway and continued up the stairs and
around the second floor landing.
due to the poor condition of the walls, most of the stenciling
has been painted over. At the top of the stairs, two panels
of the extant stenciling remain. Closely inspecting the wall,
it appeared to me that Eaton washed the walls in raspberry
or salmon-pink before stenciling his signature red and green
motifs. Like the homes in West Newbury and Bolton, Eaton
chose the interesting “acanthus
leaf” frieze to top the walls in the John Robbins House,
and he placed bold red medallions amongst the leaves. Eaton
stenciled a baseboard of large green leaves, and divided
the walls into panels with his “diamond and petal” vertical.
Filling the panels, we find a circular “four fan flowers” motif
and oak leaf clusters. Eaton incorporated hearts into the
oak leaf clusters, perhaps in celebration of a new bride
beginning her new life in the John Robbins House.
art gallery makes its home at the John Robbins House, continuing
the artistic spirit of this great old home. The cheery Moses
Eaton stenciling at the top of the stairs provides a charming
historic backdrop for the 21st century art that surrounds it.
the 1969 fall edition of the Decorator, Bernice Perry of
HSEAD wrote an article about the stenciled bridal chamber
in Temple, NH. It is believed that Moses Eaton, Jr. passed
through Temple sometime around 1825, and stenciled the room.
At the New Hampshire Historical Society’s Tuck Library,
while poring through Margaret and Edward Fabian’s research,
I came across a copy of this article, along with all of the
Fabian’s research regarding the bridal chamber. Margaret
and Edward Fabian visited this home in April of 1978. The
pictures they took at that time showed me a bright room with
beautiful red and green motifs, quintessential Moses Eaton,
Jr. I decided to find out what had become of this home and
the “museum quality” walls in the upstairs bridal
letter of inquiry to the Temple, NH Historical society was
kindly passed along to the owner of the rambling farmhouse
that was built in 1781 by Elias Colburn, and where the bridal
chamber is found. Soon, I had an invitation to view these historic
a clear and cool day in March of 2005, my husband and I made
the trip to New Hampshire. Bumping our way over the winding
frost-heaved roads in Temple, we finally arrived at our destination.
Beyond the snowy fields and an old stonewall, we could see
the venerable farmhouse. This pastoral setting, with the farmhouse
in the distance, looked exactly the same as the picture published
in the Decorator, 36 years ago!
pulled down the long driveway, with snow piled high on either
side. When we reached the rambling farmhouse, the owner beckoned
us to enter through a side door, as the normal entrance was
blocked by several feet of snow! A recent snowstorm had made
quite a delivery of the white stuff to this quaint little town
in the Monadnock region of New Hampshire.
the farmhouse it was warm and cozy. Sun poured through the
living room windows, illuminating the lovely room that had
such a nice aura of yesteryear. Immediately, my eyes fell upon
the attic door with the two heart cutouts, just as Bernice
Perry and Margaret Fabian described it so many years ago. Our
hostess ushered us through the attic door with the hearts,
and we climbed the dark stairs. Upon reaching the bridal chamber,
my expectations were clearly exceeded. The walls were stunning.
The Moses Eaton green and red motifs and patterns on natural
gray plastered walls were still so lively and bright. The gay
all-over pattern seemed as if it could have been stenciled
yesterday! I just love the motifs and patterns that Moses Eaton,
Jr. chose for this tiny attic room. I think that some of his
most enchanting designs are found here. Eaton Jr. stenciled
the baseboard with a pattern of large leaves, and topped the
walls with his festive “arch and candle” frieze.
The pretty “rose and leaf” pattern was also used
as a border along one edge of the wall. The walls were divided
into panels by his diamond and petal verticals. Primitive flower
baskets graced the over-mantle, and green wreaths, oak leaf
clusters, and darling little flower sprays with heart accents
filled the panels in a lively display. Years ago, another research
pioneer working in the field of early American stenciling,
had the opportunity to visit the stenciled bridal chamber.
After seeing the stenciling, Ken Jewett of Peterborough, New
Hampshire, stated that these walls were in the best state of
preservation of any original work he had ever seen.
is believed that the bridal chamber was stenciled for Jane
Parker, the young bride of Nathan Colburn, who was the son
of Elias Colburn. A picture of Jane Parker now hangs in the
bridal chamber. The flower spray design, stenciled with a heart
accent, surely was symbolic of the love and devotion of the
newly wedded couple. Although it was chilly, we lingered for
quite some time in this little attic room. I took a number
of pictures, which will help me to reproduce the historic patterns
and motifs found in the bridal chamber, sometime in the future.
This room was just a delight, and decidedly “museum quality”,
as noted by Ken Jewett in 1969.
am grateful to the present owner of this home for taking
the time to show me the treasured walls in the bridal chamber.
I have seen quite a few more walls attributed to Moses Eaton,
Jr. over the years since my visit. However, none could surpass
the beauty and timeless quality of the walls found in the
bridal chamber. In a day and age when things move way too
fast, it is good to see that time has virtually stood still
in the little attic room of the house built by Elias Colburn
the winter of 2008, on a clear and sunny day, I find myself
pulling into the January-thawed driveway of the Moses Eaton,
Jr. House. This delightful cape, located in the rural New Hampshire
town of Harrisville, was purchased by Eaton, Jr. in 1835 when
he was 39 years old. It was located just down the road from
his childhood home in Hancock. He married Rebecca Plant of
Dublin, New Hampshire, and they had two daughters and a son.
He stenciled the soft salmon-pink walls in the front parlor
of his home with beautiful red and green folk art patterns
and motifs. In his later years, he farmed his land, and on
occasion, continued his stenciling journeys around New England.
In 1886, at the age of 90, Eaton died at his home in Harrisville.
The descendents of Moses Eaton Jr.’s
daughter, Mary Richardson, continued to live in this home until
the year 2002.
circa 1782 Moses Eaton Jr. House is a cape style home, with
an attached barn. An ancient maple tree, 200 years old, stands
proudly in the front yard. Behind the house, I could see
the snow covered fields that used to bloom with the crops
that Eaton, Jr. grew. Ancient stone walls line the property.
What a lovely setting.
into the house onto beautiful antique wide pine floors, so
wonderfully worn and reminiscent of life in 19th century
New England. Entering the dining room, bright orange walls
and an inviting fire warmly greet me. Boarded up since the
early 1900’s, the current owners restored the 18th
century fireplace to its former glory. The dazzling color
for the walls in the dining room was chosen from SPNEA’s
palette of historic colors. Peeking beyond the dining room,
I could see the front parlor…the only room Moses Eaton,
Jr. stenciled in his home. The soft salmon walls with red
and green folk art motifs were calling me! When I finally
crossed the threshold into the parlor I was awe struck by
the beauty of it. The combination of salmon pink walls with
red and green motifs was striking and altogether charming!
after the current owners moved into the Moses Eaton, Jr. House,
Polly Forcier of MB
Historic Décor recreated the historic stenciling
in the front parlor, restoring the walls to their prior splendor.
Most of the walls in the parlor had been covered with wallpaper
for years. When the paper was removed, the original stenciling
was beyond repair. However, one small section of the wall,
found behind the door that leads out of the parlor, remained
untouched by wallpaper. This single panel of Eaton’s
original stenciling wears the passage of time like a badge
of honor, and it provided the necessary information to enable
the reproduction of the stenciling in the room.
Eaton, Jr. used in the parlor include the “bell and swag” frieze,
a pretty rose and leaf design which tops the chair rail, and
a “diamond and petal” vertical design which divides
the room into “panels.” Eaton then filled the
panels with lively red and green floral motifs. He stenciled
one solitary flower basket in a place of honor, nestled between
the two front windows. Many of the folk art motifs that the
itinerant artisans stenciled in the homes of rural New Englanders
were symbolic of basic virtues and values. The patriotic “bell
and swag” frieze symbolized love of country, as well
as the liberty and freedom recently bestowed on a young America.
The flower basket was the symbol of friendship. During times
of hardship, 19th century New England families often relied
on the generosity, kindness, and friendship of neighbors. The
flower basket motif was symbolic of these remarkable bonds
and lasting friendships, so integral to survival in post–Revolutionary
we left the front parlor, I received a complete tour of the house,
including a brief visit to the attic…the same attic where
Moses Eaton Jr. laid his stencil kit to rest for the last time.
Here, the kit rested for many years before Eaton’s descendents
presented the kit to Janet Waring in the 1920’s. This was
also the same attic where records regarding the family were kept
by Luther Eaton, the “antiquarian” of the family.
Luther was Moses Eaton, Jr.’s only son. After the death
of his father, he continued to live alone at the farm. He never
married, and upon his death, the farm passed to Eaton’s
daughter, Mary Richardson. The story goes, that one day Luther
decided to purge the attic of the years and years worth of papers
and records that he had accumulated throughout his lifetime.
He hired a local paper peddler to cart off the seemingly unimportant
papers. Knowledge about the life and times of Moses Eaton, Jr.
and his travels as an itinerant stenciler might not have been
as elusive, save for the innocent disposal of these papers! Clearly,
Luther had no way of knowing the impact of his father’s
artistic legacy on the history of decorative arts in New England!
the 19th century home of Moses Eaton, Jr. was the high point
of my many journeys in search of his legacy. It was such
a thrill crossing the threshold into the house where Eaton
lived, worked, raised a family, and stenciled his joyful
folk art. Being in the presence of so much history was an
honor I will not soon forget.
the finishing touches on my research into the life and times
of Moses Eaton, Jr., I recently sat down with Megan MacNeil,
curator at Historic New England, and held in my hands the
aged stencils used by Moses Eaton, Jr. and his father. We
went through each stencil one by one. I marveled at the brushstrokes
of red and green still apparent on the stencils, along with
stray bristles from the large round brushes still clinging
tenaciously to the paint. Some of the stencils appeared to
be barely used and Megan and I laughed about some of the
stencils being “new!” We came across at least
two stencils, cut with smooth edges and seasoned with their
coats of shellac, but with no visible signs that they were
ever put to use! Other stencils were thick with paint, resulting
in small flecks of paint dislodging and falling to the table,
even with the most gentle of handling. The stencil of quaint
little flower heads, part of the primitive flower basket
motif that Eaton, Jr. stenciled in his own home, had so many
layers of red paint, that the once smooth and beveled edges
of the openings were no where to be seen! Some of the stencils
had interesting little idiosyncrasies. For example, beautiful,
old-fashioned handwriting was visible on a couple of the
stencils. Was this perhaps the penmanship of Eaton himself!?
It was also fascinating to see that the paper used to cut
two of the stencils in the kit had a previous purpose. The “bell
and swag” stencil was cut right over a previously painted
motif…the pineapple. Perhaps Eaton stenciled the pineapple
on the paper as a “test” of some sort, or to
show a potential client this charming pineapple design! Whatever
the purpose, the paper was later recycled into a working
stencil! An interesting little circular motif with a multitude
of tiny little petals was cut from paper that had been previously
stenciled with the little urn motif… the same motif
that is found stenciled on the lid of the kit. This practice
of “re-purposing” paper was surely an example
of the frugality and thriftiness of the Eatons.
Eaton Jr., a simple farmer with a penchant for decorating,
left a lasting impression on the history of decorative arts
in New England. The lives of rural New Englanders were enhanced
by his simple and quaint decoration, and the dark interiors
and plain plastered walls of their homes were made bright
with the colorful bounty of spring. The folk art legacy of
Moses Eaton, Jr. will always occupy a special place in my
heart, and his enchanting designs and motifs will forever
remind me of the fascinating history and traditions of 19th
century New England.
1820, Lydia Eldredge Williams of Ashfield Massachusetts stenciled
several rooms in her home with a beautiful tulip design.
The tulips she stenciled were not unlike a tulip design found
on the floor of a small room at Howe’s Tavern (now
known as Longfellow’s Wayside Inn) in Sudbury, Massachusetts.
In her book Early American Stencils on Walls and Furniture,
published in 1937, Janet Waring mused, “…what
was the connection between the stenciled tulip she used and
an identical pattern still dimly seen on the floor of a small
bedroom adjoining the Lafayette room at the Wayside Inn,
Sudbury? Over the stenciled pattern in the tavern I placed
a tracing taken directly from the walls done by Lydia Williams,
and in scale and design they were practically alike. Did
she, on some momentous visit to Sudbury, copy it (the distance
was a drive of eighty miles), did she merely spend a night
at the inn on her way to Boston with Abel, or was the drawing
brought to her by some “traveled friend,” who
knew her fondness for ornament? Perhaps the pattern came
to Ashfield by the medium of an itinerant peddler; if this
were the case, the floor at Sudbury and the walls at Ashfield
could easily be contemporary.”
to see this historic tulip stenciling, I contacted the Wayside
Inn. Mr. Leblanc, the head of History and Preservation at
the inn, informed me that the tulip stenciling found today
at the inn is not original. A fire at the inn in 1955 had
all but destroyed the little bedchamber where the tulip stenciling
graced the floor. Luckily, a portion of the stenciled flooring
survived the fire. From that piece of flooring, the tulip
design was copied and reproduced in the same little room.
Mr. Leblanc kindly offered to show me the piece of original
flooring with the tulip design, and I quickly took him up
on his offer.
February 9, 2005 at 10am, I was greeted at the front desk
of the Wayside Inn by Mr. Leblanc. This was my first trip
to the Inn. It was just beautiful. From 1716-1861, it was
operated as a tavern by several generations of the Howe family.
It was renamed the Wayside Inn in 1897. Several of the fictitious
characters in the well known “Tales of a Wayside Inn” by
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow were based on Longfellow’s
real-life interactions with the folks that frequented the
our way to a lovely old room with an ancient fireplace, long wooden
tables, and black Windsor chairs. Winter sunlight, reflecting off
the snow outside, streamed through the old windows. I sat down,
and Mr. Leblanc went to retrieve the historic piece of pine board
flooring, that dated back to the 1790’s. Soon he returned
with the treasure. The ancient board with the tulip stenciling
was an amazing sight, and I was astonished at the timeless beauty
of the stenciling. The delicate and highly-artistic tulips were
a pretty shade of gray, and the design was still well-defined against
the aged board. I can only imagine how pleasant the little inn
room must have originally looked with this design, so graceful
and decorative, circling the perimeter.
told Mr. Leblanc about Lydia Eldredge Williams and how around
1820 she had stenciled several rooms in her Ashfield, Massachusetts
home with a tulip pattern, known to be identical to the pattern
found at the inn. I told him that it has always been a mystery
how it came to be that the tulips she stenciled on her walls…out
on the western frontiers of Massachusetts…were so similar
to the tulips stenciled at his inn, 80 miles away. Alas, we
will probably never know the exact relationship between the
tulips stenciled in Sudbury at Longfellow’s Wayside Inn,
and the tulips stenciled by Lydia Eldredge Williams in her
Ashfield home. However, I had one more stop to make before
putting “The End” on the “Tale of Two Tulips”.
a cold, gray, and windy day in February of 2005, my husband,
and I, along with our canine companion Lucy, sped along snowy
roads in western Massachusetts. Our destination was Ashfield,
the 19th century home of Lydia Eldredge Williams. Ashfield
greeted us like a postcard. It was a classic New England
village. Traditional white-washed homes lined snowy Main
Street. Small churches, with steeples white, dotted the landscape,
and completed the picture of this rural New England town
that is nestled in the shadow of the Berkshires.
a snow squall buffeted our car, we made our way to the outskirts
of town. We drove up a country lane surrounded by rolling hills.
Sprawling farms and snowy fields lie fallow in the midst of
winter. It was not long before we came upon the stately, federal
period home known as the Ephraim Williams house. The house
was just stunning. Built in 1797, the big, white federal had
huge twelve over twelve windows, and an ancient center chimney.
We pulled into the driveway and parked in front of an old barn.
Our host immediately came out into the cold and extended his
hand in greeting. I commented on the beauty of the snowy field
stretching out behind the house, and the owner stated that
on a clear day you can see clear over to Haystack Mountain
roaring fire greeted us as we entered the living room, so
inviting on this bitter cold day. Our host regaled us with
interesting stories about the history of the home and past
occupants, as we started our “tour.” He had
some very colorful and entertaining stories, indeed.
stenciled two rooms in the home with the famed tulip design.
The first room was found on the second floor, adjacent to
the master bedroom. A picture of the tulip stenciling in
this room is shown as the top picture in Figure 26 of Janet
Waring’s Early American Stencils on Walls and Furniture.
At some point, between the time that Janet Waring photographed
the room (in the 1920s) and the 1960s when the present owner
moved in, the walls had been spackled and covered with wallpaper.
The tulip design under the wallpaper eventually revealed
itself to the new owners, and the walls were stripped free
of the paper.
was exciting to finally be able to see the “famous” tulip
stenciling done by Lydia. I marveled at her work, and felt
privileged to be standing there in the presence of so much
history. Along with the wonderful tulip design, I saw the interesting
free hand border design and the mysterious little stacks of
wood with red flames rising from them that Waring documented
in her book. The significance of the little stacks of wood
that dot the walls all around the tulips is unknown. However,
thinking back to the moment we entered the Ephraim Williams
home, and thinking about how great it felt to come in from
the cold and be greeted by a warm fire, perhaps the flaming
logs reveal Lydia’s personal symbol of “welcome” and “hospitality”.
In this room, I spent quite some time taking pictures of the
tulip design. Later, at home I was able to closely inspect
Lydia’s tulip pattern, and the one found at the Wayside
inn. My inspection revealed that the two patterns are indeed
very similar, but yet decidedly different. I was a little surprised.
My expectation was that the patterns would be identical. However,
after carefully re-reading Waring’s description of the
tulip stenciling in Sudbury and that in the Ephraim Williams
house, she does in fact state: “In scale and design
they were practically alike.”
last room on our tour of the Ephraim Williams house was found
in the attic, at the top of a steep set of stairs. This attic
room was the same bedroom as seen in Janet Waring’s Early
American Stencils on Walls and Furniture, Figure 26, bottom
picture. I stood in the middle of the little cold room and
marveled at the well preserved condition of the walls. The
walls appeared not to have changed a bit since Waring photographed
them in the 1920s. Our host explained that this little room
had the good fortune of never seeing wallpaper. Like the room
downstairs, here too we see the graceful black tulips, dividing
the walls into well-spaced panels. In addition to the tulips,
we also find a maypole-like freehand design and the familiar
stacks of firewood, with flames, although much tinier than
those found in the room downstairs.
was really a treat to see first hand the creativity of Lydia
Eldredge Williams, 19th century wall stenciler. It was also
interesting to learn that for the last 40 years, the present
owner has sought to preserve and protect the historical stenciling
in his home. To this day, the walls provide a wonderful reminder
of the talented and industrious artist who made this place
her home almost two hundred years ago. It really was a thrill
researching this “Tale of Two Tulips”. Being
able to compare the two tulips side by side and provide a
small footnote to the research done by Janet Waring 85 years
ago was rewarding. It is also good to know that the historic
contributions made by Lydia in her home, and by an anonymous
stenciler at Longfellow’s Wayside Inn, have not been
erased by the passage of time.
sincere thanks, we bid our host a fond farewell. And after
a stop at the Ashfield Historical Society Museum for a quick
tour, we started our journey home. It was now time to close
the book on this Tale of Two Tulips. As a cold wind swirled
around our car, we were warmed with memories of the little
stacks of firewood that danced across the walls of the Ephraim