Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Nella Fontaine Binckley: "Odds and Ends from an Artist's Life," Chapter III, Part 1

Union Block, 1870, Mt. Pleasant, Iowa (Wiki Commons)
[Nella Fontaine Binckley, "Odds and Ends from an Artist's Life," Chapter III, part 1. From a transcription annotated by Patricia D'Arcy Binckley of typewritten original, February 25, 2005. Original "written some time after 1941 by Nellie F. Binckley, 1860-1950 or 51." Notes in brackets are mine, unless followed by the initials "P.D.B." Occasionally, additional paragraph breaks inserted for easier reading. 

Many thanks to William Myers, Mary Davy, Sally Young and Sue Davis for their ongoing research collaboration; specifically to William for providing a scan of the original document, and in turn many thanks to Peter Binckley and Patricia D'Arcy "Trish" Binckley (1951-2007), at the source.]


When I was eight years old, we went to Norfolk. Lovely seagirt Norfolk, with its magnolia-lined streets! In the Spring the great white blossoms filled the air with their intoxicating fragrance. They are very sensitive flowers, and will not brook a touch. When friends send magnolias to one another, there is but one way to assure their arriving unspoiled. The big glossy dark green leaves with their brown undersides are gathered completely around the blossom, completely covering it, and tied with a ribbon. It doesn't mind its own leaves, but a touch from anything else makes a brown mark on the creamy whiteness of its petals.

We lived on Freemason Street, not very far from the sea wall at the end of the street. We children used to get down from the sea wall to the beach below and play there. We loved it. I don't seem to [remember] much about our life there. One thing I've always remembered. A neighbor, Miss Krutsch, [used] to play an exquisite thing on her piano. She was a musician. I was too young to think to ask her its name. Years after, I heard it played, and found it was a Mazurka by Chopin. 

The other thing that I remember was something that happened when we moved into a different house. Grandmother was with us at that time. She had had a first floor room before, but in the new house she was on the second floor at the back. She never cared for cats[,] and in the afternoon of the day we moved in, when the maid had got the beds made up in the bedrooms, Grandmother went to her room and to her disgust, saw a cat curled up in the middle of her bed. Forgetting that she was now upstairs, she caught up the cat and pitched it out of the open window. Then she remembered and was overwhelmed with horror and remorse. She crawled downstairs to giv orders for the mangled remains to be removed. Sitting placidly at the back door was the cat, putting her fur in order, all her nine lives evidently unimpaired.

Then later, [about 1872 -- M.J.B.] we went to the Northwest to live in Mount Pleasant, Iowa. It was all very different there. In the South, everyone had servants, but in Iowa there were none. All the ladies did their own work. I remember Mother saying how wonderful those Northwestern women were. There was a co-educational University there [Iowa Wesleyan University] and boys and girls came in from the country to study. The girls did all the cleaning, cooking, mending, washing and ironing for themselves and their brothers, and kept up with their studies besides. Some were so poor that brothers and sisters had to live in the same room, with a curtain across. The professor of Mathematics at the University was a young woman, but her chief claim to distinction in the town seemed to be the fact that she got her family wash out on the line on Mondays earlier than anybody else.

Mia and I had been very sorry to part, but we promised to write to each other. The Suverkrops went abroad a year or two after, and never came back to the United States. But Mia and I kept up our correspondence for many years, till she died in England in November, 1939. In her last letter she said, "Well, we're at war." Much as I grieved for the loss of a lifelong friend, I was thankful she was spared the horrors that followed. She had a house in London and a charming cottage in Herefordshire, on the river Wye. She sent me photographs of it. The cottage had been brought fro Norway. She died there. She had written me that the authorities would not allow her to return to her London house, on account of the war.

In the Northwest, Mother found it very difficult to get a ham she liked -- they were all so big and fat and porky. In Virginia, life is incomplete without a ham in the house. It's a standby. No Virginian housewife is every without one. But the hams there are always small and lean and thoroughly cured, often in the family's own smokehouse. It was awfully cold and snowy in Iowa, so later we went to Chicago.

But it was just as cold there. We didn't like Chicago. A pall of smoke hung over the city practically all the time. And a more than occasional hideous whiff from the Stockyards, when the wind happened to serve.

So Father rented a furnished house in the suburbs owned by the artist cousin who had made the sketch of The Cottage long before, and who lived in Chicago. His studio was the first one I had ever seen and I was fascinated. 

In our suburb, the streets were laid out with wooden sidewalks, but it was sparsely built up as yet -- only about one house to a block. It was right on the prairie, so the wind had a free sweep. (The wind was always blowing.)  And the mercury habitually sank down to the bottom of the thermometer. 

I remember Father and my two brothers went rabbit hunting one day when it was 32 degrees below zero. One evening I was sent out to mail some letters in the letter box at the corner. I put on a heavy cape with a hood, but did not bother to put on my mittens. The wiond blew my cape open and I put out my hand and pulled it back around me. When I got home I found blisters on my fingers as if I had touched a hot stove.  

[Ellen/Nellie/Nella Fontaine Binckley (September 1, 1860-April 27, 1951). Family names and dates were whimsically tweaked by their owners during their lifetime, adding mystery and sometimes causing confusion. For Binckley's "Artist's Life," I'm opting for the full artist's signature name, Nella Fontaine Binckley. 

Grandmother = Jane Johnston Mitchell/Michel (1811-1892).
Mother = Mary Louisa/Louise Mitchell/Michel Binckley (1838-1930).
Father = John Milton Binckley (circa 1831-1878).

Two brothers = Harvey Mitchell Binckley (1864-1928) and George Sydney Binckley (1870-1941). 

Euphemia/Mia Alberta Suverkrop (circa 1859-1939). Astonishingly, see "The Suverkrop Letters, 1842-1887," link here.

See also The London Gazette, page 629 (January 30, 1940): EUPHEMIA ALBERTA SUVERKROP, Deceased. Pursuant to the Trustee Act, 1925. ALL persons having claims against the estate of Euphemia Alberta Suverkrop late of "Braeside" Whitchurch [Symonds Yat, Ross] in the county of Hereford, and of 89, Sunderland Road, Forest Hill in the county of London, Spinster, who died on the 22nd day of October 1939 and whose Will was proved in the Principal Probate Registry on the 15th day of January 1940 by National Provincial Bank Limited, the executors named therein, are required to send written particulars of their claims to us, the undersigned, on or before the 31st day of March 1940, after which date the executors will distribute the assets of the deceased among the persons entitled thereto, having regard only to the claims of which the executors shall then have had notice —Dated this 26th day of January, 1940. STURTON and STURTON, 74, Great Tower Street, London, E.G. 3, Solicitors for the (004) Executors. Link here.]

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Nella Fontaine Binckley: "Odds and Ends from an Artist's Life," Chapter II, Part 4

Avenel, Bedford, Virginia (Wiki Commons)
[Nella Fontaine Binckley, "Odds and Ends from an Artist's Life," Chapter II, part 4. From a transcription annotated by Patricia D'Arcy Binckley of typewritten original, February 25, 2005. Original "written some time after 1941 by Nellie F. Binckley, 1860-1950 or 51." Notes in brackets are mine, unless followed by the initials "P.D.B." Occasionally, additional paragraph breaks inserted for easier reading. 

Many thanks to William Myers, Mary Davy, Sally Young and Sue Davis for their ongoing research collaboration; specifically to William for providing a scan of the original document (and of the photograph of Harvey Mitchell/Harvey Michel), and in turn many thanks to Peter Binckley and Patricia D'Arcy "Trish" Binckley (1951-2007), at the source.]


Each room had a big fireplace. And every morning the maid would bring a big pitcher of hot water to each bedroom, and the lady would take a sponge bath in the china washbasin and the foot tub -- in the winter before the blazing wood fire. Once a week a washtub was brought in and filled with warm water, and the lady got in. It was primitive. But it was adequate. One could keep clean.

Cousin Fanny Burwell's place, called Avenel, was within the town and so had a lovely bathroom. But Bellevue was nearly a mile beyond all plumbing and had to keep on as it had always been. 

Nobody ever dreamed of window screens then. So there were flies. But in the mornings the servants would drive out the flies from the large and lofty rooms and draw the wooden shutters together, just touching -- it was called bowing them -- and the rooms were kept dark and cool 

The big cool dining room was kept darkened except when in use. During meals a colored boy stood beside the table holding a long handled brush made of peacock feathers, a whole tail, which he swayed over the table, keeping away the flies. I suppose the rythmic motion was soporific and I've seen him go to sleep on his feet. But the brush never stopped swaying.

And the good things on that table! At breakfast and supper always several kinds of hot bread. Southerners love hot bread. At breakfast always beaten biscuits.  If one happened to wake at five o'clock in the morning, one could hear the cook beating the biscuits; it takes some hours to get them light. The air is beaten into them, I understand. They have a fineness of texture no other biscuits have. There were also griddle cakes, soda biscuits, and hoecake, the latter of either flour or corn meal.

At dinner, served about 3 p.m., always corn pone. I don't remember that they ever had any other kind of bread at dinner. A corn pone is the hottest thing on the face of the earth. Grandmother could always break them when nobody else could, though. Sort of asbestos fingers. Corn pone has no shortening, no leavening, no eggs. Just plain corn meal, salt and water. Made into a stiff batter, molded into a sort of oblong cake, and baked in the oven. The mark of the fingers is always [plainly] to be seen on each pone. At supper, various kinds of hot bread, egg bread, Sally Lunn, etc. Egg bread is of soft corn meal batter, plenty of eggs, served in its own baking dish, and spooned out with a big spoon. Sally Lunn, made of flour, also comes to the table in its own baking dish. They had loaf breads, too of course, "salt rising," etc. But I never took much interest in them.

All the other good things to eat, meat, vegetables, desserts, and so on, were much the same, I imagine, as anywhere in the United States. There is one distinctively Southern dish, however, served at dinner, which I think belongs to Virginia. That is corn pudding. Not a dessert, mind you. In the South it is considered wicked to put sugar with corn meal -- something unspeakably awful. To be sure, Yankees do it. But everyone to his taste, as the old woman said when she kissed the cow. Corn pudding is a vegetable dish. The cook takes a fresh ear of corn and, with a sharp knife, cuts down the middle of each row of kernels and then scrapes the inside out. A bowl of this -- the heart of the corn -- is then seasoned with butter, eggs, milk, salt and pepper of course, and baked till browned lightly on top. A dish for the gods!

Grandfather's brother, Uncle Robert Mitchell, had an estate named Wheatley [aka Wheatly] about six miles from town. Uncle Robert had changed the spelling of his name and a put a "t" and a double "l" for the sake of convenience, as people so often mispronounced Michel. But Grandfather and Grandmother never did. Why turn a French name into an English one? They always kept it Michel and pronounced it so. We used to visit at Wheatley, too, of course. In the early days, each estate had its own private burying ground. Wheatley had, and Grandfather is buried there. After his death, hos old body servant, Uncle Harrison, lived the rest of his life at Wheatley.

Much as I loved visiting out dear kinfolk, we were always glad to get home to Washington [and] Dad. I was said to be very much like him, though I had Mother's blonde coloring. His hair was dark and his eyes gray. His friends used to say that I looked like John Milton Binckley running around in little dresses. 

[Ellen/Nellie/Nella Fontaine Binckley (September 1, 1860-April 27, 1951). Family names and dates were whimsically tweaked by their owners during their lifetime, adding mystery and sometimes causing confusion. For Binckley's "Artist's Life," I'm opting for the full artist's signature name, Nella Fontaine Binckley. 

Grandfather = Harvey Mitchell/Michel (1799-1866).
Grandmother = Jane Johnston Mitchell/Michel (1811-1892).
Mother = Mary Louisa/Louise Mitchell/Michel Binckley (1838-1930).
Father = John Milton Binckley (circa 1831-1878).


Cousin Fanny Burwell (Avenel)  = Frances "Fanny" Callaway Steptoe (1810-1898), daughter of James Callaway Steptoe (1781-1827) and Catherine "Kitty" Mitchell (1780-1858), husband of William McCreary Burwell (1809-1888). 

Robert Mitchell (Wheatly) = Robert Crump Mitchell (1807-1872).

Uncle Harrison = former slave, freed by Harvey Mitchell/Michel before the American Civil War. In the 1870 Federal Census, there is a Harrison Mitchell (aka Coles) residing in Liberty, born circa 1790, listed as "black."]

Monday, February 19, 2018

Nella Fontaine Binckley: "Odds and Ends from an Artist's Life," Chapter II, Part 3

[Nella Fontaine Binckley, "Odds and Ends from an Artist's Life," Chapter II, part 3. From a transcription annotated by Patricia D'Arcy Binckley of typewritten original, February 25, 2005. Original "written some time after 1941 by Nellie F. Binckley, 1860-1950 or 51." Notes in brackets are mine, unless followed by the initials "P.D.B." Occasionally, additional paragraph breaks inserted for easier reading. 

Many thanks to William Myers, Mary Davy, Sally Young and Sue Davis for their ongoing research collaboration; specifically to William for providing a scan of the original document (and of the photograph of Harvey Mitchell/Harvey Michel), and in turn many thanks to Peter Binckley and Patricia D'Arcy "Trish" Binckley (1951-2007), at the source.]


We spent a month in Tazewell County one summer and Mother made sketches of the quaint sunbonneted women with their slimpsey (calico) dresses. Mother liked the mountain people, but found them shy with city folk, till they got acquainted. One day, we saw a woman hiding behind some bushes near the house. Mother invited her over to the porch, but she wouldn't come. When Mother urged her, she bashfully faltered, "I'm too timorsome to be venturesome." Mother picked up a queer old folksong they sung around there, and after we went home amused the family by singing mountain fashion, through her nose, her lovely contralto voice changed into a twang.

Uncle Willie had become engaged to Miss Maynard of Virginia. [Old family tree says "Lucy Dennis." Maybe she was a widow, Lucy Maynard Dennis since their son was named William Maynard Michel per the family tree -- M.J.B.]* When black Henry in the galley of the Mississippi River steamboat got word of the approaching marriage, he vowed that nobody [should] cook "Marse Willie's" wedding breakfast but himself. So back he came to Virginia and cooked it, to the eminent satisfaction of everyone concerned. Uncle Willie and his bride went to California to live. [Died 1908 in Ferndale near Eureka -- per M.J.B.]

Then Aunt Sue married Major William Taliaferro, a very handsome man who had fought gallantly and been wounded in the Confederate army. He belonged to an old and distinguished Virginia family, which had originally come from Italy. The name had been spelled Tagliaferro.

Every summer we spent much time with Grandmother and Aunt Charlotte, Mother's half sister. Grandfather had been married twice. His first wife had been Miss Griffin of Salem, Virginia. She died when Aunt Charlotte was born. Her sister took the baby. She [Charlotte Griffin, born circa 1808-1810] married Judge Wingfield [Gustavus Adolphus Wingfield (1808-1888) in 1831]. (I don't suppose he was a judge then). So Aunt Charlotte was brought up in their home. Seven children were born and then Mrs. Wingfield died. Aunt Charlotte brought up the Wingfield children. 

About six [three] years after he lost his [first] wife, Grandfather married my grandmother. Aunt Charlotte was devoted to her stepmother and visited her father now and then. But her home was always with the Wingfields. She was independent, having inherited a small fortune from her mother. We were much attached to the Wingfields and called them cousin, though of course they were not blood kin of ours, in spite of being first cousins of Aunt Charlotte.

The old Wingfield mansion was in a Bedford County [town] called Liberty. The name was changed some years later to Bedford. It faces the famous Peaks of Otter, those beautiful twin mountains which form the western edge of  the Blue Ridge range. 

The Wingfield house stood on a hill about three quarters of a mile from town. It was surrounded by magnificent trees, with a glorious view of the Peaks, and was appropriately named Bellevue.

Virginia was settled by the British mostly, so Virginians named their estates after the English fashion. I always loved the Peaks. They were a part of my life in my childhood and early youth. In later years I have seen some of the great mountains of our country: Pike's Peak, the Rockies, Mount Shasta, and the High Sierra. But for sheer loveliness I have never seen any mountains to surpass the Peaks of Otter. The big mountains are magnificent, epic. The Peaks are lyric.

When I knew it, Bellevue was much the same, I fancy, as it had been in earlier years. In the huge bedrooms upstairs, the great [bedsteads] were all four posters and some even still had their curtains -- are relic of bygone days. It is [an] art to make up a feather bed. But the darkie maids were experts, and their resulting roundness and smoothness were a joy to behold. Each bed had a tiny set of steps beside it, so small folk could mount to its towering height and sink into its downy depths. It's many a long year since I slept in a feather bed, but I still remember its luxurious softness -- like sleeping on a cloud. I wonder if any feather beds still survive anywhere?

[Ellen/Nellie/Nella Fontaine Binckley (September 1, 1860-April 27, 1951). Family names and dates were whimsically tweaked by their owners during their lifetime, adding mystery and sometimes causing confusion. For Binckley's "Artist's Life," I'm opting for the full artist's signature name, Nella Fontaine Binckley. 

Grandfather = Harvey Mitchell/Michel (1799-1866).
Grandmother = Jane Johnston Mitchell/Michel (1811-1892).

Mother = Mary Louisa/Louise Mitchell/Michel Binckley (1838-1930).

Father = John Milton Binckley (circa 1831-1878).


*I moved this internal note to its proper position, based on context.
Uncle Willie = William Manning Mitchell/Michel (1839-1908).
Miss Maynard = conflated with an aunt of Lucy's, apparently. See this 1869 letter written by Mary Louisa mentioning the Maynard name. Lucy A. "Lulie" Dennis (1845-1923) married Willie on August 23, 1867.
Harvey/Harry Maynard Michel (1869-1959).

Black Henry = formerly enslaved, emancipated by Harvey Mitchell/Michel before the American Civil War. 

Aunt Sue = Sue Henry Mitchell/Michel (1845-1940).
William Taliaferro = William Meade Taliaferro (1840-1913); married Sue on October 16, 1867.

Aunt Charlotte = Charlotte Elizabeth Griffin Mitchell/Michel (1829-1921).
Aunt Charlotte's mother = Elizabeth Hook Griffin Mitchell (1801-1829), who married Harvey in 1828.]