Thursday, June 15, 2017

From Lyman Beecher's High Pulpit

"We boast of our liberties.... But our foundations rest on the heaving sides of a burning mountain, through which, in thousands of places, the fire has burst out, and is blazing around us. If they cannot be extinguished, we are undone. Our sun is fast setting, and darkness of an endless night is closing in upon us.”
-Lyman Beecher

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Lyman Beecher forecast doom from a high pulpit similar to this one in a similar building just across the street on the Litchfield Green. It was the 1820s, the church had been disestablished, and the Second Great Awakening was peaking in Litchfield and elsewhere. The cause of impending peril in Beecher’s sermon was intemperance; the abstinence he preached was absolute.  

Beecher’s sermons were popular, Litchfield was a cultural center, and by the time he left Litchfield in 1826, the flock of the Church had swelled so much that they needed a new building. Lyman Beecher went to Boston where his "Six Sermons against Intemperance" were published and brought him fame, and the current church was built with a pulpit similar to and as high as Lyman Beecher’s. 

Beecher’s first three sermons describe “The Nature and Occasions of...” “The Signs of…” and finally “The Evils of Intemperance.” He concludes with three sermons of remedy. In summing up the evils Beecher blamed “an aristocracy of bad influence,” but the doom he feared was:

“The great body of the laboring classes of the community, the bones and sinews of the nation will be contaminated; and when this is accomplished the right of suffrage becomes the engine of self-destruction. For the laboring classes constitute and immense majority, and when these are perverted by intemperence, ambition needs no better implement with which to dig the grave of our liberties, and entomb our glory.”

The restored high altar which exists today is named in his honor. Throughout his life Lyman Beecher also preached against Catholics, Unitarians, and slavery, and he promoted missionary activities throughout the world. He raised a large family of important children, loved fishing and played the violin.

Friday, June 9, 2017

In the Cake

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: The climb to the bell of Litchfield's Congregational Church began with a tall ladder from a room above the vestibule. April led the way, I followed, and Ray went last. We squeezed sideways through an opening in the main pediment behind the portico, grabbing hold of a structural bar to pull ourselves up into a large room in the base of the tower and somewhere in front of the sanctuary dome. My backpack only fit through the opening after it was off my back. I slid it backward and Ray passed it up to me, and I decided to continue the climb with just camera and tripod. 

As we came through the opening, the Seth Thomas tower-clock mechanism was directly over us, but as I try now to figure where we were, I have to guess the clock face was higher up. The old, wooden columns and beams of the box tower were above - below - around us, but the tower had been reinforced by a framework of steel beams in a manner that left the old structure unscarred. We continued up a steep, wooden stair around the tower’s perimeter to a second aluminum ladder which slid as we climbed through a trap door above to the railed space at the top of the square tower and stood in a wedding cake homage to Christopher Wren and English style. 

As much as I was eager to see the bell, I was immediately distracted in discovering that the floor was not level, as I expected, but pitched to throw off rain, and the railing was neither as high nor as strong as I had imagined. However, I was struck by how dark the bell was and, apparently, weatherbeaten. As Ray was still climbing out of the hatch, I turned to the view from the tower, mostly tree-tops now, and began taking pictures and forgot all the questions I had wanted to ask.

April invited me to ring the bell which I did too cautiously, but it chimed once, solidly. As the picture shows, there is no headstock to set the bell swinging, no clapper to swing and strike it, no swing at all - a pivot hammer. My ears are no longer reliable, but after my moderate strike I heard a clear note; a baritone knell prolonged and bounded with an edge as crisp as the most finely focused photograph. The bell, though not original, is venerable. It was cast by Paul Revere and came from a church in Goshen that was demolished.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Toward the High Altar, Litchfield Congregational Church

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: From 1873 until 1930 the building treasured today as the Litchfield Congregational Church was moved away from the green to a spot on the Torrington Road where its uses and name changed with the times. It was a place of recreation where young people danced and played basketball, put on plays and, in later years, watched silent movies. The steeple was gone and a floor was built between side galleries to provide space for more functions. Imagine how fine old carpentry must have been butchered in a half-century of adaptation and patching. The building that the people of Litchfield moved back by the Green in 1929 was far from the building people remembered from the decade after the Civil War.

Richard Dana was hired to make plans and elevations based on the surviving hall and whatever might be learned from surviving drawings and good memories. An old door from one of the pews allowed Dana to conjecture the size and shape and treatment of the rest. Four of the columns supporting the gallery had to be remade to match existing originals. paint colors were carefully matched to existing samples. A steeple was constructed to match the old pictures and a search party was formed to find the old weathervane, but it was the curator of the historical society who eventually found it in the museum basement.

The greatest challenge was the reconstruction of the high pulpit. Parts of the original existed and drawings were made from memory. The carpenters who finally recreated its grandeur were instructed to use whatever parts and fragments remained from the original. The lamps on either side of the pulpit, also found in the basement of the historical society, are the originals.

Is there a difference between spirit that builds in a style because it is fresh and vibrant and expresses truths felt deeply from the shelter of belief, and spirit which seeks to revive something mourned as almost lost? 

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

View from the Steeple, Litchfield Congregational Church

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: A friend, who takes pride in his name being, “Artie,” told me, “Style is the outer form of spirit.”  It’s a notion with which I’ve always been sympathetic, but I had never heard it put so succinctly. The Congregational Church on the green in Litchfield, CT, is often cited as one of the supreme examples of Congregational Church architecture in early America. However, few works of art have suffered as much amid the turbulent winds of taste and style. Of course, the church was important for far more than its artistic expression. It had been one of the foremost pulpits in New England; from 1810 to 1826 it was the church of Lyman Beecher whose words were spread around the world, and Lichfield was where he would raise his famous children whose words would spread the cause of abolition. 

The current church was built in 1829 when the congregation had outgrown their 1761 building. It was built in a style so prevalent, that there are five other Congregationalist churches in Connecticut of almost identical design. It reflects a spirit as balanced and ordered as the words and mechanisms of the Constitution and rooted in two thousand years of culture. It expresses divinity while being also human-scaled. It’s free of the artistic influence of an individual artist. It is the work of craftspeople and expresses the consensus of an entire community as to what a church should be. 

After the Civil War, more and more taste sought shadowy places, looming gables, fantastic asymmetries, lone towers where one might be unique. Henry Ward Beecher said, “not a single line or feature,” of the old building was beautiful. Whatever the ups and downs of the economy, the nation was feeling expansive. Rail travel and commerce had opened new possibilities, life-changing engineering innovation was everywhere, and the homely Federal Style was looking old-fashioned and quaint. 

In 1873 the revival of Gothic Style led the Litchfield congregation to abandon the church we know. They built a large Gothic church, and unceremoniously decapitated the old church and slid it down the street to make room for the new. The new church featured a corner tower and steeple with lancet windows and tracery, and over the tripartite portal of the new church was a stained-glass rose window that lit the way of churchgoers, organ sounding behind them, as they left services. 

Much of the world turned in 1912. Duchamp's nude famously descended a staircase into a world already reacting to Picasso's Damoiselle de Avigonon. The musical world was trying to make sense of Pierrot Lunaire and The Rite of Spring was a year away. Futurists were calling for global conflagration. How the sudden shift to the movements and manifestos of Modernism was echoing in Litchfield is unclear, but that year they began a movement to restore the old church and to remodel the fronts on the business block to give them a more Colonial appearance. A war intervened, and they never got that far, but local action and money did prevent the construction of a movie theater on the site where the 1782 John Collins House and Old Curiosity Shop still stand as shown in this picture.

In Bostwick’s, 1920, History of the Town of Litchfield, CT, he complains that they tore down beautiful Federalist buildings and replaced them with “the ugliest structures the eye of man has yet rested upon…. We are clearing them away now; scroll-saw decoration and pseudo-Gothic construction are going to the scrap heap.” He laments that the one beautiful building, the former Congregational Church of Litchfield, has been “tucked off in a corner, where it shelters a movie show.” 

In 1930, as the world entered into the depths of the Depression, Litchfield tore down their perfectly good 1873 Gothic church and meticulously restored to the same site the 1829 church an earlier generation had decapitated. Style is the outer form of spirit. John Ruskin claimed that of the three manuscripts a nation creates: the books of deeds, words and art, “The only trustworthy one is the last.” What do our buildings say about us?

Monday, May 22, 2017

Beaux Arts Congregationalists

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Even as a generation of American architects was seeking to solve the layout, structural and aesthetic issues of tall buildings, Stanford White was designing Beaux Arts temples and palaces to serve as libraries, train stations, banks, clubs, arenas, theaters, and mansions. They set the taste for the wealthiest people in the country. 

One of the treasured “City Beautiful” buildings of Naugatuck, CT, once “Rubber City,” is Stanford White’s Congregational Church on the green, designed in 1903. It was the year the Flatiron Building scraped the sky in New York City. 

What an interesting architectural juncture is represented here! It is the evolving tradition of white clapboard community meeting houses, re-imagined in White’s stylish classicism. It is lavish simplicity. If style is the outer form of spirit, what is the journey from those hill temples to this vaulted space in the valley?

Friday, May 19, 2017

Naugatuck Station

Slide-Talk this Sunday, May 21 @ 1 PM
sponsored by the Naugatuck Historical Society

Finding Brass Valley

A Place in Time that Has Almost Vanished

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: Naugatuck’s city center is one of the jewels inspired by the City Beautiful movement which promised an orderly architecture would promote the moral rectitude needed for civil society. It became popular with the Columbian Exposition of 1893, called “White City” for its gleaming, white Beaux Arts pavilions, plazas, and fountains. Designed by the greatest architects of the age, it was a model of what a city should be and a reaction to what cities were becoming in the rush to build tenements and housing for waves of new immigrant labor. 

In Naugatuck, they remember John H. Whittemore as the leading force in creating the elegant McKim, Mead & White town center. Because Naugatuck is so small, the force of the City Beautiful movement is concentrated there achieving gracious grandeur as it organizes city life, and it survives intact today.

John Whittemore was still at it up to the end of his life. In 1907, the year before he died, Whittemore commissioned Henry Bacon, who would go on to design the Lincoln Memorial, to replace the old station with something worthy that might elevate those who rode the railroad. Today it’s quaint and empty, awaiting new life as a restaurant, replaced by a platform down the track with an awning and low maintenance.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Baltic Mill

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Manufacturing built Connecticut. In the west half of the state it was metals and machine tools; in the east it was textiles. Authorities tell me the Baltic Mill was at one time the largest textile mill in the United States. Baltic was built as a company town, and its vitality was always tied to the fortunes of the companies that owned the water rights and the mill site on the Shetucket River.

Baltic was founded by, brothers, Amasa and William Sprague. William was a banker and leading promoter of the Hartford, Providence, and Fishkill Railroad. Amasa was an innovator and expert in textile dying and printing. They sought a site along the new railroad for a textile mill, and in 1856 they purchased land and water rights on the Shetucket River at the village known as Lord’s Bridge. Workers would live in company housing, and the town would be run for the benefit of the business.

The town and the mill thrived and was expanded by Amasa's and William’s sons, Amasa, Jr. and Byron, and by 1870 the company had a work force approaching 1400 men, women and children making cotton yarn that was shipped to the company’s weaving mill in Cranston, RI. The workers were predominantly French-Canadian, and this ethnic unity permitted factory workers to advance to positions of leadership and to establish businesses in town. However, the depression of 1873 found the company over-extended. Bankers kept operations intact until the interior of the buildings were destroyed by fire in 1887, and Baltic became nearly a ghost town. 

A residual pool of talent remained, and in the 1892 Michael Donahue opened Shetucket Worsted and employed 100 men. In 1900 Frederick Sayles bought the ruins of the old Sprague mill and associated property and rights, rebuilt the mill within the old walls, restored the workers’ housing, and opened the Baltic Mill Company which kept expanding through the 1920s and continued manufacturing textiles until 1960. 

Among the remains of old, granite and brick walls one can still make out the elaborate systems that turned river power into textiles. Nothing remains of the main building but its foundation. It’s been that way since 1997 when an accidental fire sent asbestos dust over the region and gutted everything. Since then wind, rain and ice have been consuming what’s left. 

Manufacturing buildings in the west half of the state betray the scrappy roots of their machine and metals heritage. Those in the east wear their textile pedigree like palaces. However, it’s hard to discern a palace in the remains of the Baltic Mill.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Gone with the Wind

Gone with the Wind

Shop friends, grazing memories,
roads traveled, stompers gone.
The stain of the world is upon us.
All numbering, numbered,
All torquing, wrenched.
We are out of gas and gone with the wind.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Metro Van

The Metro Van

Metro van, the happy van, 
all steel and streamlined
brought bread to the Valley,
cake to the hills,
milk, meat, and mail
to driveways and doorsteps,
filled neighborhoods with music
and ice cream and cotton candy.

A multi-stop, walk-thru  cabin, 
designed for democracy, 
with the cab high up 
over the engine and 
a smiling driver free 
to sit or stand as he 
rounded the corner,
or lurched along Main Street.

The Metro body was designed in 1937 
by the  the Metropolitan Body Co., of Bridgeport, CT.
It remained little changed into the 1960s.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

The Vehicle

The Vehicle

Cheap heap
Cracked heads
Valves leak
Pistons rattle
Stops dead

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The Blacksmith's Heart

next slide talks:
Finding Brass Valley: A Place in Time that has almost Vanished

Mar. 20 @ 7 PM - Milford Public Library, Milford, CT (Come also to see the exhibition)
Mar 27 @ 6 PM - Cheshire Public Library, Cheshire, CT

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: The Lenswork podcast below has gotten me thinking about the place of metaphor in art photography and the role of culture in determining the photographs we make. In the podcast Brooks Jensen points out, I think correctly, that what distinguishes documentary photography from art photography is that documentary photography is about the subject; art photography is always about something else - he says that's metaphor. He then talks a bit about how metaphor is culture-bound. I especially recommend this link to other photographers.

Because I strive to make “art photographs,"  in places that need to be documented, I must ask of every picture I choose to process: Why? And for whom? My publisher describes Brass Valley: The Fall of an American Industry as an ode, not a history, and I hope it is about something more than Brass Valley. What does “The Blacksmith’s Heart," mean outside the culture of smiths and smithing? 

Brooks Jensen’s discussion makes references to one of the great photographs of all time, Dorothea Lange’s, "Migrant Mother.” I hesitate to mention it on a screen with my own photograph in view. What is it that catapults that picture to being a metaphor of an era, over the other images Lange took that day?

I had always thought that music was at an opposite pole from metaphor; that, “All art constantly aspires towards the condition of music.” And the “condition,” as Walter Pater termed it, was that music touches us directly through the raw force of silence and sound arranged in harmonic, rhythmic, and timbrel patterns, without the use of metaphor. But how is it that raw forces such as intensity, timbre, harmony, and rhythm combine to touch the deepest levels of our spirit making us laugh, grieve, yearn, or find solace and balm? What part of our reaction is metaphoric and culture-bound, though primal and species deep? Where do those harmonies and dissonances lie?

I think it’s correct to see these musical forces as analogous to the photographer’s ability to communicate directly through composition and tonality. What distinguishes “Migrant Mother” from other photos of the series is not simply the inscrutable expression of the migrant mother but the powerful chord struck by the tonalities of garments, bunting, ringlets, necks that swirl around an axis and upon a compositional scaffolding of crumbling stability? What part of this picture is culture-bound? How deep in the heart does metaphor lie?


Half way down the “nave” of the Farrel Foundry is the transept. That is where the metal was poured into molds made of sand. Workers associated in any way with the Farrel foundry usually have stories to tell. Grime, danger, and heroism seem to be widely remembered, and there is a special regard given those who poured the metal. Founders, casters and molders are the priesthood of the metals and machine industries. Once theywere alchemists whose coveted secrets imparted the spirit to the metal and on whose crystal magic all future success depended. 

In 1731 quality iron ore was discovered in Salisbury, CT, and by the mid-1740s they were producing pig iron in East Canaan, Salisbury, Sharon and Kent, and the Northwest HIlls had become the center of America's iron industry. By the time of the Revolution there was hardly a community in the region that had the power of a good stream that did not also have a puddling furnace for refining the impurities from the pig iron produced in blast furnaces. Local farmers forged the purified wrought iron into the tools they needed, and the region developed an expertise in metal working. But forging and founding were different arts, and the most precious secrets belonged to those who poured the metal.

With ores and metals of uncertain purity and the fluctuating heat of charcoal, coke or, later, coal, they learned to make fires that would sustain the high heat required and relied on their senses, knew by the sound or smell, when it was time to add ingredients or mix or pour. The region developed an experimental curiosity about making and working metal that grew to expertise and drew the metals industries to the Naugatuck Valley and to Connecticut.

I’ve been told that existing journals of Barnum & Richardson, with furnaces in East Canaan and Salisbury show deliveries of iron to the Farrel foundry right up through WWI and deliveries still being made as late as 1925, two years after the smelting operations had shut down. The last delivery of Connecticut iron came in 1941, exclusively made up of old pieces of salamanders probably for a widening Second World War. The superintendent who kept those journals was reportedly, "proud that ‘Salisbury' iron had served the country from the Revolution through WWII. 

The people of the Lower Valley are also quick to talk about Farrel’s past importance to the nation’s defenses, and I’ve been told the foundry was hidden in camouflage during WWII. Pigs of iron, whatever the source, were delivered here, to the transept, where the metal was poured.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Cathedral Space

4 slide-talks in March

“Finding Brass Valley, a Place in Time that Has Almost Vanished”

exhibits also in Millbrook, NY and Milford, CT
Brazen Grit: Images of Brass Valley

photographs by Emery Roth

Mar. 4 @ 2 PM Merritt Bookstore, Millbrook, NY (Come also to see the exhibition)

Mar. 12 @ 4 PM - Wilton Public Library (part of series: "Finding our Place: Evolving American Identity")

Mar. 20 @ 7 PM - Milford Public Library, Milford, CT (Come also to see the exhibition)

Mar 27 @ 6 PM - Cheshire Public Library

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: Foundry Collapse! The news of the building collapse at Farrel Foundry came with the city's commitment to demolish it. The story seemed to pass through the news cycle causing barely a blip, even among those of us who care about such places. By the next day it was gone. 

Demolition is probably long overdue, but it seems irreverent to let it pass without memorialization of some sort. Farrel Foundry was recognized as “the archetypal foundry building of its day,” and it was probably the largest machine tool foundry in New England. It was surely the Valley’s grandest industrial cathedral.

The foundry was built in the early 1890s by the Berlin Iron & Bridge Co. The enormous basilica was the culmination of the family company that Franklin Farrel inherited from his father in the town whose dam and canal they had built together in the employ of Anson Phelps almost a half century earlier. Almon Farrel was a millwright who had been building millworks and mill dams for new industry up the river in Waterbury, when he was asked by Anson Phelps to build the millworks for an industrial village that would be named Ansonia. 

In 1847, two years before there was a railroad, Almon Farrel acquired a tract of land from Anson Phelps, plus “one half square foot of permanent water,” from the canal the Farrels had built. Farrel began by making brass and iron castings, wooden mortise gears and parts for water-powered plants.

Essential to industrial growth in America was the ability to cast the metal parts needed for the machines of manufacturing. Soon Farrel was manufacturing the rolling mill equipment for the rapidly expanding copper and brass industries up and down the valley, and as the river valley became famous as Brass Valley, industries that used brass parts wanted to be near the companies that made them, and some of them would need machines that Farrel made. 

The central aisle of Farrel's foundry is 55 feet across with wide side aisles. From the start, an important feature was an immense traveling crane that spanned the central aisle and traveled the full 300 foot length (soon extended) of the shed. By the 1890s, this was the key to moving the heavy rolls that Farrel was making and assembling in calenders for rolling paper, rubber, and metal, and for crushing stone, ore, sugar and grain; anywhere large, hard, metal rolls were needed in giant sizes. 

The crane girders were carried on unusual, round, iron columns, three feet in diameter and tapering gracefully. But for their color, one might expect to find them on the portico of a Congregational church. One of these columns can be seen clearly on the right. The crane at the back of the picture, one of two that were there when this picture was made, is rated at 60 tons.

At the midpoint of foundry nave is a transept, just behind where the duct is broken off on the right. That is where the heating and pouring of the metal happened in three great casting pits. The art of heating, mixing, pouring and, especially, cooling the metal required secrets coveted by the alchemists who ran the casting furnaces. From the beginning, the men who cast the metal and the places where they cast it were regarded with a special reverence. What should be said at its passing? What token of its existence should be passed to future generations?