Thanks for the note! Those woods were a lovely place of refuge for many of us during our student days! Thanks for taking care of them.
Yes, Toshiko was an eager and expert mushroom hunter. I am sure that Toshiko would have gladly taken up an offer to hunt mushroom in the Institute Woods. So I have no reason to doubt the story at all.
Where she got her clay depended on the year. The clay recipe we used when I was taking classes (69-74) was heavily made up of Jordan Stoneware Clay which was (if memory serves…) mined in New Jersey. That source was exhausted by 1980 or so and she shifted to other recipes. In the 80s she also experimented with adding red clay dug from her property in Quakertown, NJ. This clay was high in iron and melted at a low temperature so it could only be a minor addition to give the clay body a richer color.
We still use her “post-Jordan” recipe at the studio, by the way.
Toward the end of her life she had helpers up at Skidmore College mixing her clay at loading her station wagon, when she would give her frequent workshops there. I have no idea whether that recipe was the same or a different one.
Tuesday, November 30, 2021
Thursday, November 11, 2021
A long lingering mystery has been solved in the most surprising way at Veblen House. That mystery was 2'x3'--the dimensions of what for two decades has been a blank space above the mantel in the living room. The story was told that, soon after the house was boarded up by the county in 1998, someone entered the house and tore the painting off from above the mantle, in search of hidden treasure.
In a previous post about paintings that once hung in the living room, I told how Bob Wells, who rented the house with his family from 1975 to 1998, described the painting as a desert, with scrub rather than cacti, with a view from a rise out across a broad valley, with mountains in the distance. Bob would sit there in the evening and gaze at that painting and let his imagination go.
Enthralled by the light and life of the West, Kate stayed with the Hopi for seven years photographing, painting and writing about Hopi daily life. She took more than 500 photographs of the Hopi people. She was a schoolteacher at the Polacca Day School near the Hopi village of Walpi on First Mesa for many years. During this time, she compiled a dictionary titled, Hopi Alphabet, containing over 900 Hopi words and phrases. In addition to chronicling the Hopi people on canvas and film, she also wrote down her experiences of living with the Hopi in her unpublished journal, “Of Living with the Hopis.” The Hopi called her “Paina Wurta” meaning “Painter Woman.”
During the 1920s and ‘30s, Cory was a consultant for Western films in Hollywood. And in 1930, the Bureau of Reclamation hired Cory to paint the site where the Boulder Dam would soon after be built. She completed several works from the trip, each one residing in the Arizona Capitol Museum, the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC, and the Sharlot Hall Museum in Prescott.
Though Cory is described as having lived a very frugal life in Prescott, there are multiple points in her life where the world of business influenced her trajectory. Her family moved east from Waukegan, IL to Newark so that her father, an abolitionist and newspaper editor, could better manage his Wall Street interests. She was convinced to go to Arizona by a painter who had been employed by the Sante Fe railroad to do paintings out there to promote the rail line. In Prescott, she advised businessmen who were seeking to preserve the Hopi ceremonies.
Life among the Hopi had caused her to reject materialism. An entry in Wikipedia tells of her combination of frugality and generosity:
In her earnest intention to avoid living a wasteful life, she became known in Prescott for being eccentric. Fellow church members offered to replace her torn and tattered clothes. She was frugal, but gave away two cabins she owned to renters. She removed debris from rain water and used it to develop photographs. Rather than sell her paintings, she bartered them.
She died in Prescott on June 12, 1958 at the Arizona Pioneers' Home and was buried at the Pioneers' Home Cemetery near her friend Sharlot Hall. The inscription at her gravesite names her "Artist of Arizona" below which is: "Hers Was The Joy of Giving".
Though we now know the name of the painter, we still don't know what happened to the painting. It was not torn out, but in fact carefully cut out of the frame, so may well still exist.
Thus far, I've reached out to the Sharlot Hall Museum, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Museum of Northern Arizona, the Prescott Public Library, and also the Museum of Indigenous People, seeking someone who can help us better understand the frame and lost painting that for 90 years had been embedded in the custom paneling at the Veblen House.Rare Views and Maps of Old New York" was sold at auction by Anderson Galleries in 1918.
The discovery of the source of the painting--a unique and courageous woman who left behind a remarkable legacy--and the painting's setting above the family hearth, speak to Whiton-Stuart's taste. Having grown up on Park Avenue in New York, in the center of a vibrant city, he later sought out people and places on the periphery. Before he and his family moved to Prescott, he had traveled widely, "crossed over- land through Persia, visiting missionaries and hermits who had not seen a traveller for twenty-five years." His interest in mathematics ("Between these travels I attended Williams College, Massachusetts, and Cambridge University, England, principally for the courses in mathematics") also turned at times to those on the periphery, like Charles Sanders Peirce, the philosopher and mathematician who was rejected by academia yet credited with being the "father of pragmatism."
Veblen House continues to serve as a window into the early 20th century, connecting to worlds otherwise unknown or forgotten.
Saturday, October 9, 2021
There are many times, in the restoration of Herrontown Woods, when the right person showed up at the right time. The story of the gazebo in particular has instances of uncanny arrivals. As the summer of 2021 wore on, we were starting to wonder, in this pandemic era when so many people are remodeling their homes, how we'd ever find a professional carpenter with time and inclination to work on the Veblen House. It came to mind, though, that builders of theater sets might still be in a lull, and so I reached out to our past board member Perry Jones, who has contacts at McCarter Theater. Word was passed along, ultimately leading to a fortuitous email arriving in my inbox.
Robb has been working on Veblen House for a month now, and he is proving to have a remarkable eye for detail. In the process of rebuilding the east wall, he has been finding lots of clues to how, and how well, the house was constructed.
Googling "Bottum" led to a history of the name's origins in the York area of England, where coincidentally Veblen's future wife, Elizabeth Richardson, had lived before moving to Princeton.
"Bottom", of course, is a memorable character in Midsummer Night's Dream, which we'd love to stage on the Veblen House grounds.
The eye of man hath not heard, the ear of man hath not seen, man's hand is not able to taste, his tongue to conceive, nor his heart to report what my dream was. I will get Peter Quince to write a ballad of this dream. It shall be called 'Bottom's Dream', because it hath no bottom.
And when Peter Quince is done writing that ballad, maybe he'll help us replant quince trees in front of the Veblen House, where they were still growing when I first encountered the house back in 2008.
Another interesting potential clue to the house's history came while Robb was waiting for the traffic light to change, up at the intersection of Snowden and Nassau Street.
Sunday, September 26, 2021
One role the Veblen House could play in a town so filled with vaunted institutions of higher learning is to make scientists better known as people. They tend to be presented in the media as remote figures stripped of personality, speaking about weighty subjects from their domain of rationality. It was a mix of curiosity and serendipity that led me to one of the finest examples of writing that reveals the humanity behind the austere academic facade of scientific inquiry.Emilio Segrè, who along with having won the Nobel Prize for physics was also a gifted writer and avid historian. His photos of people and events over the course of his scientific career, donated posthumously to the American Institute of Physics, were apparently so substantial that the AIP named its visual archives in his honor. The AIP calls its Emilio Segrè Visual Archives "the human face of science," with "more than 30,000 photos of scientists and their work."
While the Institute for Advanced Study was rapidly evolving in Princeton in the 1930s, Segrè during that time was one of the "Via Panisperna boys" in Rome--young Italian physicists led by Enrico Fermi during an exciting period of discovery in atomic physics.
Two recent events, related to Oswald Veblen and also my own history, led me to be interested in Enrico Fermi. One was the donation of a book from Oswald Veblen's original library by Jean Rosenbluth, daughter of Marshall and Arianna Rosenbluth, both of whom were distinguished physicists. Marshall Rosenbluth, known in his time as the "dean of plasma physics," would be particularly well known in Princeton, home of the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory. Enrico Fermi was on Rosenbluth's dissertation committee at U. of Chicago, and there's a memorable story told in the NY Times obituary for Rosenbluth that involves Fermi:
(Marshall Rosenbluth) liked to tell friends how Enrico Fermi and Edward Teller -- two stars of 20th-century physics -- got into an argument in 1949 while listening to him defend his doctoral thesis.
''It went on and on,'' recalled Harold Agnew, then a graduate student at Chicago, who eventually directed the weapons laboratory at Los Alamos, N.M. ''Finally, Fermi turned to Edward and said, 'O.K., you pass.' And then he turned to Marshall, who was just 22, and said 'O.K., you pass, too.'''
The other recent reference to Fermi came when I began researching the original owner of a house that became our family home soon after we moved to Ann Arbor, MI, in 1970. My parents bought it from the estate of Walter Colby. It took fifty years, and the opportunity to meet the goddaughter of Colby, to finally prompt me to do some research. Colby, it turns out, was an atomic physicist and contemporary of Oswald Veblen.
The NY Times obituary for Colby states:
During more than 30 years at the university, Dr. Colby made the institution a major center of physics research by recruiting to the faculty from abroad such figures as Enrico Fermi, Werner Heisenberg and Sam Goudsmit.
This sounded very impressive, and suggested that Colby, like Veblen, was involved in finding positions for displaced scholars from Europe in the 1930s. And yet, the NY Times obituary and the wikipedia page for Fermi make no mention of the University of Michigan. Instead, Fermi is described as having gone first to Columbia University, then to the University of Chicago. Was Colby's role in bringing Fermi to the U.S. apocryphal?
It was Segrè's book on Fermi that revealed the answer. In the years leading up to his move from Europe to New York and Columbia University in 1939, Fermi had spent three summers in Ann Arbor, drawn in part by "two old friends, Uhlenbeck and Goudsmit, the discoverers of the electron spin, who had moved from their native Holland to Ann Arbor at the instigation of Professor Walter Colby." From Segrè's book:
As Segrè describes, it was the positive experiences Fermi had in Ann Arbor that helped set the stage for his eventual emigration to America. That decision, and a similar decision by other great European physicists and mathematicians, helped insure that the United States would be the one to develop the atomic bomb, rather than the Nazis or Mussolini.
These passages begin to show how Emilio Segrè a prominent physicist in his own right, was also gifted with a talent for close observation and an ability to give us a dispassionate but engaging, three-dimensional account of other scientists' inner and outer world. Below are some passages from the book that provide insight into how Fermi thought, worked, and influenced those around him. Click on "read more" below to continue reading.
Thursday, September 16, 2021
One role the Veblen House could play in a town so filled with vaunted institutions of higher learning is to make scientists better known as people. They tend to be presented in the media as remote figures stripped of personality, speaking about weighty subjects from their domain of rationality. As civilization has increasingly veered towards self-destruction, first with the nuclear arms race and now with a headlong radicalizing of the climate, scientists are primarily seen in the role of sounding the alarm. Caring people in a careless world, they are cast in the predictable, sober role of expressing concern while the rest of humanity goes its merry, scary way. Having grown up among scientists, I was able to see them as people who brought incredible perseverance, creativity, joy and humor to their study of the nature of things.
Entitled "The Godmother of the Digital Image," the article gives a portrait of Daubechies as optimistic, generous, creative, and fun-loving.
The optimism perhaps comes from being able to solve problems others cannot:
"She revels in finding meaningful and practical problems — and solutions — where other mathematicians assume there are none."
And there's generosity in the way she uses this capacity to help her students:
“I called her the deus ex machina adviser,” says Cynthia Rudin, a Duke computer scientist who is one of her former Ph.D. students. “When you’re in the depths of despair, your project has crashed and burned and you have almost proven that what you’re trying to do is impossible, Ingrid comes along and pulls you out of the pit of doom, and you can keep going.”
A mathematician can more easily think, and act, outside the box. How many people do you know who would throw a big shindig on their 64th birthday rather than their 65th, because 64 is a more compelling number, being a power of 2?
"Daubechies booked a venue, a caterer, a troupe of majorette dancers known for farce — and then at the party made a surprise appearance in the baton-twirling cancan line, disguised in makeup and a tutu."
Along with her periodic "cathartic weeding in her garden," one of Daubechies' mottos, “Math can help! As always!”, reminds me of a letter about Oswald Veblen from 1992 in Princeton's Town Topics newspaper:
He and his friends spent Sunday afternoons clearing the poison ivy from the bank of the canal. He advocated washing vigorously with yellow soap after this. "You bet! "as he was prone to say. - ELIZABETH G MENZIES 926 Kingston Road
The letter writer, Elizabeth G. Menzies, turns out to have been the first female official photographer for Princeton University, who made a name for herself with a photo of Albert Einstein that appeared in a 1939 issue of Scientific American.
Roberts' article also delves into Daubechies' efforts to help other women overcome institutional bias and gain deserved prominence in the field of mathematics. Veblen took on this role in the 1930s, helping the great mathematician Emmy Noether get positions at Bryn Mawr College and the Institute for Advanced Study.
While it's easy to see mathematics as intimidatingly complex, it is not uncommon among mathematicians of Daubechies' caliber to find in their work an underlying elegance and beauty. Describing how she found a practical application for wavelets without sacrificing the beauty of the original concept, she said,
“It is something that mathematicians often take for granted, that a mathematical framework can be really elegant and beautiful, but that in order to use it in a true application, you have to mutilate it: Well, they shrug, That’s life — applied mathematics is always a bit dirty. I didn’t agree with this point of view.”
Thanks to a gifted writer like Siobhan Roberts, people can begin to see how much humanity and passion a scientist can bring to her work.
Other posts about great women in math and science:
Tuesday, July 27, 2021
The Angel Wing Begonia, named for the shape of its leaves, was created by Eva Kenworthy Gray in 1926 when she hybridized a begonia from Lucerne, Switzerland and one from Brazil. Born in Missouri in 1863, Eva received a university education in an era when that was rare. It's not clear whether she went to University of Missouri, which began admitting women on a very limited basis in 1868, or perhaps the University of Iowa, Oswald Veblen's alma mater, which was coeducational from the get go in 1848. In any case, her considerable contributions to horticulture and begonias in particular happened after she became an immigrant of sorts, moving from the midwest to California, where she became hooked on begonias in 1920, after being given a couple cuttings.
- They love sun. Mine bloom pretty much all summer when I have them outside on the south-facing side of the house.
- They also bloom in the winter when I have them in our downstairs bathroom tub with a west-facing window.
- I feed them occasionally, and outdoors they get watered when it rains. Indoors I water once a week or so.
- I think mine took a year or two to settle in before blooming. Keep caring
Friday, July 9, 2021
By chance, we have learned who built the gazebo that we moved to the Herrontown Woods Barden from 145 Ewing Street in Princeton last year. Though the gazebo, unlike Veblen House and Cottage, is a new addition to Herrontown Woods, it brings along with it some history that turns out to have some connections to the Veblens, the genesis of the preserve, great writers, the founding of Princeton University, and some prize-winning giant tomatoes.
I was pulling out of my driveway to head to Herrontown Woods earlier this month when I happened to see a man and his son standing next to the 145 Ewing Street house across the street, photographing the Bicentennial plaque affixed to the building. The house dates back to 1755, preceding Nassau Hall by a year, so existed when the country was born.Prize Princeton Tomato Contest", with a tomato weighing in at two pounds, eight ounces and a circumference of 18 inches.
"her Ewing Street home is one of the oldest in Princeton, a house built in 1755 for Job Stockton... Sitting In her living room, a cavernous fireplace original to the house on one wall, Mrs. Field notes that this was Job Stockton's first house."He had a tannery, which needs water, and there are brooks nearby." Mr. Stockton went on to build Bainbrldge House, now the home of the Historical Society. The floor of the living room is the original wide-plank, honey-colored pine. In a corner is a Revolutionary War cannonball which Mrs. Field found under a pear tree in her yard. A part of the original front door was replaced in the 18th century after Job Stockton applied to a reparations commission for funds to repair two door panels destroyed during the Revolutionary War."
Another feature of this old map will interest Princetonians used to driving up Harrison Street to the shopping center. At the bottom of the map is Nassau Street. Harrison Street heads up and then takes a sharp left, turning into Ewing Street just before that little tributary. 145 Ewing is at that corner, and the tributary blocked Harrison Street from going further until the early 1950s when the Princeton Shopping Center was built. Since I live across Harrison Street from 145 Ewing, part of that tributary once flowed through my backyard. In heavy rains, it still does, though most of the tributary is now underground, keeping the neighbors' sump pumps busy.
It's not entirely coincidence that the creation of Herrontown Woods in 1957 followed closely the building of the Princeton Shopping Center. The Veblens' donation of Princeton's first nature preserve was their response to the rapid conversion of farms on the east side of Princeton into suburban development. The loss of the rural landscape made clear to them the need for people to have a place to get away from cars and take a walk.
I got some help from several sources in town about the history of 145 Ewing. Thanks in particular goes to the Historical Society of Princeton, and the Mudd Library had some useful information as well. Job Stockton bought the land from the Hornor family, for which a nearby street is named. In 1756, a year after the Ewing Street house was built, John Hornor along with Richard Stockton and two others contributed the land and funds to make possible the move of the college from Newark to Princeton. Nassau Hall was completed that year.Some internet sources claim that Thomas Jefferson slept in the 145 Ewing St house the night of November 4, 1783, during a meeting of the Continental Congress, but no evidence of this could be found in the historical records.
"It was called a truck farm. My dad ran that truck farm and sold vegetables. We even went over in the town and peddled vegetables. There were several English walnut trees, and anything you could lay your hands on to make money there in that place.”
Though Thomas Jefferson apparently did not stay overnight, there is evidence that the poet Robert Lowell and other famous writers visited the house. Novelist Caroline Gordon owned the house from 1956 to 1978. During her marriage to another well-known author, Allen Tate, from 1925 to 1959, their guests according to wikipedia
"included some of the best-known writers of their time, including Robert Lowell, who famously camped on their lawn in a tent one summer, absorbing everything he could from his mentor, Allen Tate, while enjoying the southern cooking and constant social life provided by Caroline Gordon. Other visitors were F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Flannery O'Connor, T. S. Eliot, Robert Penn Warren, and Ford Madox Ford, the author whom Gordon considered her mentor."
Though wikipedia states that Gordon had a house on Nassau Street called "Benbrackets," it more usefully and hopefully accurately states that
Gordon maintained her home at Princeton until 1973, teaching and writing; works of this time include The Glory of Hera (1972).Gordon and her husband had moved to Princeton--after living most of their lives in the southeast--in order to be closer to their daughter, Nancy Tate, who married a NJ psychiatrist, Percy Wood.
Gordon's correspondence with Flannery O'Connor included reference to two giant willow trees in her backyard. The house next to mine, built directly in the path of where the little tributary once flowed, is said to have had a massive willow tree in the front yard. It was gone by the time we arrived, but the hole is still there.
Saturday, June 19, 2021
Just two days ago, President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act. The title suggests that we can all feel more free because of Juneteenth. Though it primarily commemorates the emancipation of enslaved African Americans, it's also been described as serving "as a moment to honor and celebrate black excellence." I can relate to that, as a jazz musician, having spent long and pleasurable hours listening to and transcribing the solos of many of the greats: Lester Young, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Don Byas, Dexter Gordon, Wardell Gray, Sonny Rollins.
Now, immersed in the history and the restorational logistics of Veblen House, what connection can be found between African American excellence and the Veblens, whose ancestry is Norwegian and English?
The question sends us back to the VeblenHouse.org archives for a 2017 post entitled "Math Writ Large in Hidden Figures." It's a story of surprising connections that begins like this:
"A friend likes to say that "all roads lead to Veblen House". On a hunch, I traced the mathematical road leading back from Katherine G. Johnson, one of three extraordinary black women mathematicians in the movie Hidden Figures, and sure enough, it led back in multiple ways to Oswald Veblen."
Friday, June 11, 2021
In this collage of Princeton Alumni magazines, Oswald Veblen finds himself framed by two miraculous companions: Albert Einstein and the Miracicada that currently has Princeton all abuzz. What do they have in common other than being miraculous? They have both spent time at Herrontown Woods. Veblen and Einstein were the first two professors at the Institute for Advanced Study, and remained good friends. The Miracicadas were singing in 1936 when Veblen bought what we now call the Veblen Cottage--an 1875 farmstead that became Veblen's study, often visited by Einstein and other friends. That purchase, which later became the core of Herrontown Woods, can be considered a starting point for the Princeton open space movement. By that measure, the movement to preserve open space reached five cicada generations old this year. Though the cicadas only come out of the ground once every 17 years, Veblen may have considered them friends as well, and as a mathematician surely took an interest in the primeness of their periodicity.
Update: In a letter to the Princeton Alumni Magazine about this, I noted that the author of the PAW's article on cicadas, Elyse Graham, was also the author of the PAW's past articles about Veblen, Adventures in Fine Hall and The Power of Small Numbers.
Wednesday, May 26, 2021
MRS. WHINFREY HONORED
By Dogwood Club. Mrs. Charles G. Whinfrey of Mt. Lucas Road, one of the 14 original members of the Dogwood Garden Club, has been made an honorary lifetime member this month. Mrs. Whinfrey has been an active member of the club since its founding in November 1957. The first president, Mrs. Allen Norris is also an honorary member, as is Mrs. Oswald Veblen who with her late husband, Professor Veblen, gave the tract now known as Herrontown Woods to Mercer County. The Dogwood Garden Club is small, limited to 30 active members and 10 associates “so that we can meet in each other's living rooms," according to Mrs. Wesley H. Owens, president.
“The project we are proudest of is the landscaping of the Princeton First Aid and Rescue Squad building on North Harrison Street,” she adds. The work won a $lOO prize in the Conservation and Investment for the Future section of the Civic Beautification Project cosponsored by the Garden Club of New Jersey and Sears. The money was promptly spent to expand the original planting.
Although not all garden clubs have junior groups, the Dogwood Club has sponsored the Princeton Tiger Lilies for a number of years. Limited to 10 girls of junior high school age, the young members "cover just about everything in horticulture and flower arranging," Mrs. Owens says.
The club maintains "Brookside Trail*' in Herrontown Woods, and has identified and labeled the trees and shrubs along the way. "Professor I Veblen was particularly interested in saving the trees on this tract. It is a beautiful area. I wish more people knew about it." Two club members are on the County Park Commission’s citizens’ committee that oversees the Woods.
Last year the club planted a red oak on Arbor Day in the open triangle of land between Route 206 and Mt. Lucas Road, beyond the Princeton Township Garage. This was part of the federated clubs "Project Heart,*’ and was dedicated as a living tribute to all sons and daughters from this community serving in the armed forces.
Members have the same varied interests to be found in all of the clubs. There are specialists in day lilies, iris, roses, bulbs and flowers suitable for drying. A number, Mrs. Owens among them, are interested in the cultivation of wild flowers. Twice a year members hold a plant exchange, and they have sponsored flower shows in 1958, 1960, 1961 and 1963.
Officers this year include Mrs. John H. Houghton, first vice-president; Mrs. Robert Engeiorecht. second vice president; Mrs. Gerald Lockyer, recording secretary; Mrs. I William H. Aiken, corresponding secretary, and Mrs. Donald Thiel, treasurer.
"I believe that a lot of people think that garden club ladies just sit around and drink tea." Mrs. Owens comments. “This isn’t so. There’s a great deal of garden therapy work done at the Army Hospitals and state institutions under the New Jersey Garden Club’s state chairman. The purpose of the therapy program is to achieve human conservation through the common bond of flowers--from seed to flower show.
"We have found it so rewarding, even the little bouquets we do for Walson Army Hospital at Ft. Dix. The boys are so delighted. It is a very touching thing how much they appreciate your time."
Mrs. Charles G. Whinfrey
With a mission “to stimulate an interest in gardening, encourage the conservation of plant and wildlife, and take part in community gardening projects,” the Dogwood Garden Club of Princeton has chosen to nurture Horticulture students at Mercer County Community College for decades.
The group has been less active in recent years, and according to a past president, it's not clear if they will regroup after the pandemic. If not, they will have had a good run of 64 years after their inception back in Elizabeth's day.
|Elizabeth with a book of flowers.|
Saturday, May 22, 2021
We've been fortunate to track down photos of the interior of the Veblen House from when the Veblens were living there. Oswald took an interest in photography later in his life. Considering that the Veblens' will called for their pictures to become part of a museum at the house, this appears to have been a conscious effort on his part to document their life, the house, and garden.
While in Italy Oppenheimer painted the architecture of Florence, Verona and Venice, capturing the atmosphere of these old Italian cities.
One internet source describes Oppenheimer's trip to northern Italy in 1912, which may have been when this painting was made.