Monday, June 10, 2013

Kristen: Gordon Hall Reenactment

This is the first time I was able to attend the Gordon Hall event in Dexter. It was wonderful! I'm told that it has been growing over the years, and I can understand why!

I was enthralled by the history of the house. Here are a few remarks I pulled from the historical society's website:

It was built for Samuel W. Dexter who came to Michigan as a land speculator in the 1820s. He founded the village of Dexter, served as chief justice of the Washtenaw County Court, and was an elected U-M Regent. The estate, named for Dexter's mother, Catherine Gordon Dexter, is said to have served as a refuge for slaves on the Underground Railroad.
The home's Greek Revival architecture with Doric portico is considered one of the best examples of this style in the state, likened by some to Monticello. It is architecturally significant because the open space around it has been preserved, thereby retaining the panoramic context in which such a grand home was intended to be presented. The huge house, designed and built by Calvin T. Fillmore (brother of President Millard Fillmore) and Sylvester Newkirk, contained 22 rooms, nine fireplaces, and 55 windows.

What beauty! The University of Michigan, my alma matter, received the estate as a donation. In my shock and horror, they comprised the historical integrity of the building by tearing everything out to make it a housing unit for visiting professors. For shame! The Dexter historical society purchased the building (because Michigan legally didn't want to pay for conservation ) and has been paying back the $1.5 million debt. They only have $247,000 left to go; if you'd like to show support, you can mail it here.

First I attended a tea with Lorna as host, displaying numerous original clothing pieces by Glenna Jo. So many things I love in just one sentence! I do like hearing Lorna speak on clothing, as she is very knowledgeable, and so passionate about helping Gordon Hall!


Next I walked around the inside of the building, which was set up with Civil War displays honoring members who fought with Michigan units. I am so proud of my state!


I noticed a bit of commotion out in front of the Hall; upon investigating, I discovered a tintype studio! After watching Ken Giorlando and his daughter Rosalia participate, I knew that I needed one to give my beau! I've found a little about the process at http://www.edinphoto.org.uk.
Tintype photos, as the name implies, were photos with the image on a metal surface, rather than on glass or paper. The tintype process or ferrotype process evolved from the ambrotype. It was invented by Prof. Hamilton Smith of Ohio in 1856.
Ambrotype images were collodion negatives on glass, viewed against a black surface.  Tintypes were negatives on on iron, coated with black paint, lacquer or enamel. Both processes relied on the fact that a collodion negative appeared as a positive image when viewed against a dark surface.  A tintype was much cheaper to produce than an ambrotype, and was more durable.
Tintypes would be exposed while the sensitised collodion on the metal was still wet, and would be processed immediately after being exposed - so producing an early version of the 'instant photo'.
When mounted in cases, ambrotypes and tintypes can appear similar.  However the two types can be distinguished by testing them with a strong magnet applied to the centre of the glass. The tintype process was patented by the  American, Hamilton L Smith. The tintype process was a cheap process, used mainly by beach photographers and other itinerant photographers.
The results were often low quality, so studios tended not to use tintypes, except occasionally when a small 'gem' tintype images (about 1 ins x 1 ins) were mounted into a carte-de-visite size of card. The image of an ambrotype would be either reversed (left to right) or 'normal' depending on how the glass was mounted. However, the image of a tintype would always be reversed.
Nevertheless, the tintype process was widely used for portraiture, being the cheapest form of portrait available.  It was often used by travelling photographers, including seaside photographs.
Some attractive tintypes in cases have been found, but typically, a tintype photo was of poor quality, with a limited range of tones, the lighter tones lacking life.
Mercury chloride was sometimes used to whiten the image.  This is about the most deadly poison we know today. 
Thank you Mr. Gillett for capturing my personality!

Finally, I had the chance to relax with my fellow reenactors until shuffling home. Thanks Ken Giorlando for the pictures! He always seems to catch the right moment...


Another successful reenactment! I am so lucky to have such inspiring reenactors around me, and their enthusiasm pushes my own research. It's very sad to put away my things (except the corset-I laced too tight today...) but now that my summer vacation has begun, I must hurry and sew!

~Kristen

1 comment:

  1. You are welcome.
    And I also enjoyed your photos as well of Gordon Hall.
    I'm glad you took the time to explain the process of the tintype.

    ReplyDelete

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