The Norwich Galleries

From its earliest human habitation 10,000 years ago to the present, people have been drawn to Norwich by its geography. Its three rivers, the Yantic, Shetucket and Thames, have been essential to agricultural, commercial and industrial development of Norwich and the surrounding region for centuries.
 
Native Americans were attracted to the area by the rich hunting and fishing grounds. The Pequots were the primary presence in the area until the English began to acquire land and settle. A split within the Pequot tribe occurred over the tribal policy toward the English. Uncas advocated alliance while Sassacus favored resistance. Uncas named his new tribe the Mohegans then laid claim to a large tract of land in eastern Connecticut including the area now called Norwich.  A fierce battle between the Mohegans and the Narragansetts took place here in 1643, giving the area of the battle the name Indian Leap or Uncas Leap. Uncas was able to maintain Mohegan autonomy and trade because of his alliance with powerful people in the Colony and the defeat of the Pequots. By 1703, the Mohegans lost almost all of their land to the settlers and despite protests to the Crown and the lands in question were never returned.
 
By 1649 there was a more permanent English presence when Jonathan and Lucretia Brewster were granted 600 acres and exclusive trading rights along the river. In 1659 Uncas, Sachem of the Mohegans, conveyed to the English settlers, led by Rev. James Fitch and Maj. John Mason, a “9 mile square” parcel of land which would become Greater Norwich.  The settlers transformed the landscape by building homes and a meeting house, roads and turnpikes.
 
In 1775 several Norwich men joined the thousands who rushed to Massachusetts after the “Lexington Alarm.”  Many Norwich men commanded ships of the Continental Navy and the port of Norwich played a critical role in moving military supplies from the inland towns of eastern Connecticut and central Massachusetts.
 
Samuel Huntington practiced law in Norwich before he served as a delegate to the Continental Congress. He signed the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation. In 1779 he was elected President of the Continental Congress.  Norwich grew and prospered after the war and her port remained an important deep-water location for shipbuilding and shipping.  By the early 19th century the center of the city had moved to the port area and a new courthouse and shops were built to serve this area.
 

Gallery Highlights

white mug with a top. A man and women stand facing each other in a wooded scene.

English 
Molded Bristol Glass with painted design, Late 18th century 
Gift of Raymond Case
100.0041

American flip was made in a large pewter mug or earthenware pitcher filled two‐thirds full of strong beer; sweetened with sugar, molasses, or dried pumpkin; and brandy or wine. The drink came to the colonies during the 18th century and became very popular. Since brandy and wine were heavily taxed, Caribbean rum was a more cost-effective substitute, and often it would be smuggled. A red-hot flip iron would then be inserted into the mixture. The seething iron made the liquor foam and bubble giving it a near burnt and bitter taste that many people loved. During the American Revolution, rum supplies became heavily reduced so colonial Americans instead turned to home-brewed whiskey and bourbon to make their flip. The drinks were often served in attractive glasses or tumblers without handles – many are still found throughout New England homes.
A waterfall  in a rocky landscape.

John Trumbull (1756-1843)
Oil on canvas, c. 1820
180.0018
Gift of Raymond B. Case

Born in Lebanon, Connecticut in 1756 to Connecticut Governor Jonathan Trumbull and Faith Robinson Trumbull, John Trumbull graduated from Harvard in 1773 and a childhood injury to one of his eyes may have given him a desire to focus on details during his prestigious career as an artist. John Trumbull served during the American Revolution as an aide to General Washington and deputy adjunct-general to Horatio Gates before leaving the army in 1777. In 1780, Trumbull traveled to London where he studied under renowned artist Benjamin West and in 1785 went to Paris to sketch French officers for a future painting titled, “Surrender of Lord Cornwallis.” Trumbull captured the likenesses of George Washington, John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, and many more. His paintings “Surrender of Lord Cornwallis,” “General George Washington Resigning his Commission,” “Surrender of General Burgoyne,” and “Declaration of Independence” hang in the US Capitol Rotunda to this day.

John Trumbull would have been quite familiar with Norwich and its landscape – his sister Faith Trumbull married Norwich’s Jedediah Huntington in 1766 and the families remained close. Trumbull painted likenesses of his brother-in-law Jedediah and other Huntington family members. His scene of the Yantic Falls reflects a moody and dark landscape which became the scene of great battle in 1643 between the Mohegan and Narragansett peoples. According to the history, the Battle of Sachem’s Plain culminated at the mighty Falls where Mohegan Sachem Uncas leapt over the Falls to pursue the Naragansett Sachem, Miantonomo. Miantonomo was ultimately captured, and the location today is known as the “Uncas Leap Heritage Area.”

A wooded landscape with figures in the foreground and middle ground

John Denison Crocker (1822-1907)
Oil on canvas, 1847
Bequest of William A. Slater
180.0263

This scene by John Denison Crocker is the artist’s depiction of an event which occurred more than two hundred years before this work was painted: the legendary Battle of the Sachem’s Plain in 1643. Depicted in the foreground is the Narragansett Sachem Miantonomo who according to tradition was wearing a suit of armor given to him by English colonists. Weighed down by the heavy armor, Miantonomo crossed the mighty gap of the Yantic Falls, pursued by Mohegan Sachem Uncas who leapt over the Falls to capture the rival Sachem. Uncas and his warriors captured Miantonomo and the Narragansett leader was executed. In this scene, Crocker employs a technique similar to that of other artists of the 19th century such as Albert Bierstadt; Crocker emulates Bierstadt’s technique of introducing large amounts of concentrated natural light which brightens the landscape. Crocker’s works such as this one are reminiscent of other notable artists including Benjamin West, Thomas Cole, Frederic Church, and more. This particular work came from William Slater himself who likely commissioned Crocker to paint the piece.
Schrimshaw of a whaling boat at sea on a whale's tooth

Maker Unknown
Whale Tooth, Early 19th century
160.0006
Gift of Mrs. Elisha Rogers

The life of a whaleman out at sea was dangerous and difficult. While at sea typically for three to five years at a time, whalemen found creative ways to pass their downtime or “watches” while not catching whales or processing whale blubber. Dating back to the eighteenth century, the most iconic art form developed by the whalemen themselves was the art of scrimshaw, decorative pieces made from the bones and ivory of sperm whales and other marine mammals. Upon successfully catching a sperm whale, the captain of the whale ship often awarded his sailors with whale teeth as souvenirs and the sailors then spent hundreds of hours polishing the ivory, etching their design, and inking it with a pigment to form the final product. Every piece is unique and reflects the creativity of the sailor and the term “scrimshander” is used when defining a person who makes scrimshaw.

Mahogany secretary. All doors are open to show multiple shelves and cubbies.

Maker Unknown
Santo Domingo Mahogany, c. 1740
90.0020

Dating to approximately 1740, this block front desk represents a typical design seen in Connecticut and New England during the eighteenth century. Original finials, hardware, and handles are featured throughout the piece made originally for Connecticut founding-father, Samuel Huntington. The desk then passed to Huntington’s in-laws, the Devotion family of Scotland, Connecticut. The desk is comprised of expensive San Domingo Mahogany, a species of wood found in tropical locations throughout Florida and the Caribbean. Direct access to the Long Island Sound and the Atlantic via the Thames River provided maritime traders with the opportunity to ship and sell this wood to craftsmen in Norwich; presently, this wood is grown and traded under environmental protections.

Samuel Huntington (1731-1796) was born in Windham, Connecticut (present-day Scotland) to Nathaniel and Mehetabel Huntington. His childhood home in Scotland still stands to this day as does his home in Norwich, now the administrative offices of United Community and Family Services. Samuel Huntington’s early life remains obscure but it is known that a significant portion of his early education was self-taught and he did not attend college or university. He apprenticed under a local cooper at age 16, and his father-in-law, Reverend Ebenezer Devotion, provided him with books that he studied on a variety of topics. Huntington passed the bar in 1754 and relocated to Norwich where he established his career as a lawyer. His long list of accomplishments includes being named a delegate to the Continental Congress in 1775 and was one of four men to sign the Declaration of Independence from Connecticut. In 1779, Huntington was elected President of the Continental Congress and presided over the ratification of America’s first form of government, the Articles of Confederation in 1781. Historians have claimed that because of this, Samuel Huntington could be considered America’s first official President, eight years before the inauguration of George Washington in 1789. After the war, Huntington was elected Governor of Connecticut and held that position until his death in 1796.

Portrait of an older, bearded man in plaster. He stands with his weight on his left leg and his hands are clasped behind him.

Paul Bartlett, American (1865-1925)
Plaster
Study for a proposed bronze portrait statuette
230.0025

 

John Brown (1800-1859) was a revolutionary abolitionist in the United States who advocated and engaged in violent revolts in an effort to abolish slavery in the 1850s. He fought in the “Bleeding Kansas” attacks and personally led the 1856 Pottawomie Massacre, killing five men. In October of 1859, John Brown led the infamous raid on the federal arsenal located in Harper’s Ferry, Virginia in which he and a group of armed insurrectionists attempted to seize weapons from the arsenal to initiative a full-scale slave rebellion in the southern states. Brown was captured, convicted of treason, and executed after the raid ultimately failed.

This likeness of John Brown, done by American sculptor Paul Wayland Bartlett (1865-1925), was used as sample for a proposed bronze statue. Originally from New Haven, Connecticut, Bartlett’s father and sculptor, Truman A. Bartlett brought him to Paris at age nine to study art and sculpture. Bartlett studied under renowned artists including Rodin and first exhibited in the Paris Salon at the young age of fifteen; his featured piece was a bust of his grandmother. He spent a majority of his time in France and over the course of his career he earned several notable distinctions from the French government including being designated as a Chevalier of the Legion d’Honneur in 1894. His renowned works in America are numerous and include the sculpture group Apotheosis of Democracy, featured on the pediment of the United States House of Representatives at the U.S. Capitol which he finished in 1916.

White marble bust portrait of George Washington.

Hiram Powers (1805-1873)
Marble, n.d.
230.0192

 

Hiram Powers earned acclaim as one of America’s most influential sculptors of the early to mid-nineteenth century. As a young man, Powers worked in a factory owned by Luman Watson in Cincinnati, Ohio where he assembled watches and organs; he later studied sculpture under Frederick Eckstein. Powers rose to international acclaim upon the completion of his masterpiece sculpture, The Greek Slave, in 1845. As a contributing artist to the nineteenth century neo-classical movements, Powers created a series of sculptural portrait busts of many American founding fathers and Presidents including George Washington, Andrew Jackson, and more.

Powers’ depiction of George Washington blends the iconic face of the nation’s first President cloaked in a Greco-Roman style robe. Upon the celebration of America’s Centennial in 1876, George Washington in particular was universally lauded as being the ubiquitous symbol of American values and ideals. Artists at this time depicted figures such as Washington in the classical ideal, reminiscent of Greek sculptors in the 5th Century BCE.

view of farm land. Houses and a traveling train are visible.

John Denison Crocker (1822 – 1907)
Oil on canvas, c. 1850
Friends of Slater Museum purchase
180.1201

John Denison Crocker captured many scenes and locales of the greater Norwich region. Landmarks such as the road, railroad tracks, and the winding bend of the Shetucket River are still present to this day. Crocker painted this sweeping vista likely from the vantage point of “Bundy Hill” overlooking what was then the Edward Tracy Farm in Lisbon, Connecticut. Much of the farmland still exists and the road depicted became state Route 12. Following the road just past the tree line in the distance would ultimately bring the viewer to the modern-day Lisbon Landing Shopping center.

Mahogany with rosewood inlay and ivory keys.  Gilt stencil, brass ornaments

John Whittlesey, c. 1830
Mahogany with rosewood inlay, gilt stencil with dolphin motifs, brass ornaments and seven legs of twisted rope pattern.
90.0023
Gift of Mrs. Sidney (Sarah) Burleigh

Brothers Orramel and John Whittlesey established one of the earliest piano manufacturers in America in addition to the Music Vale Seminary and Normal school in 1835. Prior to 1835, John Whittlesey processed ivory in Salem, Connecticut. Orramel first disassembled a piano and used it as a pattern to begin manufacturing additional units as early as 1828. This particular pianoforte is also known as a “square grand” and was popular in homes of the well-established upper classes of American society. These pianos sounded much different than the more majestic grand pianos seen today and would have occupied many parlors across American homes. The Whittlesey brothers operated their facility as well as Music Vale Seminary for decades near the present-day Salem Four Corners until Orramel Whittlesey passed away in 1876.