What’s New at WDS – June 10, 2020

A “Sound” Program

Has anyone ever asked to use you as a sounding board? If so, you may have wondered what a sounding board is. Students who attend our WDS Meeting House Program know! First, students visit the meeting house you see here, which was built in 1761 and is now known as the First Church of Christ. Located on Main St. in Wethersfield, it was visited by John Adams (who loved it), and George Washington attended services there while staying at the Webb House in 1781.

Duly impressed, the students then learn that the octagonal structure hanging above the First Church of Christ pulpit is a sounding board, used in the days before microphones to amplify the voice of whomever was speaking. In the 18th and 19th century, the meetinghouse was used for both religious services and town meetings, with speakers of varying vocal power. With the sounding board, the sound waves of the person speaking bounced off the board and out to the congregation, enabling more people to hear the speaker.

At the conclusion of the Meeting House Program WDS Guide and Educator Katie Sullivan assures students that if someone asks them to be a sounding board their friend doesn’t want to suspend them from the ceiling, they simply want to bounce an idea off them and get their opinion!

Collections A to Z

“I” is for Imari!

Beginning in the 17th Century, European nations developed a brisk trade in Asian ceramics, with Chinese porcelain perhaps the best known. Both the Webb and Deane houses showcase examples of these wares. But other ceramics also became popular in England and Europe, among them brightly decorated Japanese Imari porcelain.

Named for a small port on Kyushu, Imari wares were first shipped to the nearby port of Nagasaki where the Dutch and Chinese maintained trading posts. From there the items were carried to Europe and China, where they enjoyed great popularity. They were so popular that European, English and Chinese potters began to produce their own copies, far outnumbering what was being produced in Japan. Talk about globalization!

Imari tends to be very brightly decorated with orange, blue, green, and gold among the more common colors. These two Imari plates from the Deane House are likely of European or English manufacture. Archeology at the Deane and Webb houses has uncovered a few fragments of Imari, among other 18th-century English, Chinese and European earthenwares, proving that such colorful ceramics were enjoyed locally.

In time, Nutting acquired a group of period homes which he restored and operated as house museums. Among these was our Joseph Webb House, which includes Nutting’s wall murals depicting Washington’s 1781 meeting with French General Rochambeau at the Webb House. Nutting ultimately branched out and established a factory that reproduced period furniture and furnishings, often branded with his name. While it seems unlikely the hat rack was based on an actual piece, it does reflect Nutting’s interest in all things colonial.

Around the Grounds

WDS Property Manager Dick Agne’s photos show mahogany planks being installed on the terrace overlooking our Colonial Revival Garden. This 48-foot deck will be accessible from four doors off the Meeting Room/Reception Room and stairs on either end of the terrace. A railing will be built along the concrete cap shown on the outside edge of the deck. Doesn’t the idea of a deck of this scale conjure up images of moonlit parties overlooking the garden…?