Saturday, November 28, 2015

Mary Vial

This image of Miss Mary Vial has hung in my home for years:

Click on image to enlarge it

The portrait was made in 1753, when Mary was 15 or 16.  (Since her birthdate was December 19, 1737, she would have been only 15 for most of 1753.)  She was the only child of Boston shopkeepers, according to a book I'm reading this week:
A Day at a Time: the Diary Literature of American Woman from 1764 to the Present. Edited by Margo Culley. (The Feminist Press at the City University of New York, 1985)
Her diary writing began soon after her marriage (November 22, 1759) to Dr. Edward Augustus Holyoke, a prominent physician in Salem, MA. Short excerpts reprinted in the book above document the births and deaths of many of their children. Life in the 18th century was difficult. Dr. Holyoke had already lost his first wife (Judith Pickman) and first-born child in 1756.  In September 1760 Mary gave birth a daughter who lived for only 3 years. Her second child, Margaret, survived and lived a long life (1763-1825). But Mary lost other babies in 1765, 1766, 1767 and 1768.  Out of 12 births, only three of her children grew to adulthood. I am descended from her eleventh child, Susannah Holyoke (1779-1860).

Recently I have been corresponding with descendants of Mary's ninth child, Judith (1774-1841). They asked me to send a photograph of Mary Vial's portrait. I have had trouble making a clear photo of the framed portrait because the glass protecting it reflects light. I am unwilling to remove it from the frame because of this fragile handwritten note attached to the back of the frame:
"Mary Vial (Grandmother)
Second wife of Edward Augustus Holyoke
Her daughter Susanna married Joshua Ward.
Their daughter Mary married Andrew Nichols."
Yesterday my husband used a scanner to capture the portrait image in spite of its glass and frame. Today we compared that scanned image, which you see at the beginning of this blog entry, to the one reproduced facing page 47 in The Holyoke Diaries (Essex Institute, 1911). The aspect ratio is slightly different. Perhaps the photographer in 1911, faced with the same problem of glass reflection, shot the picture from above, foreshortening the image a bit. Or, perhaps my framed version is not the original portrait, but a copy made from it. Because of its small size (8.75" x 7.125") and lack of color, I have long suspected that this might be a only reproduction.

Here is a comparison of my small framed copy and the Holyoke Diaries book:

I have now rediscovered (11/29/15, in a file box in my house) additional information about this portrait. Ten years ago my cousin Janet Derouin sent me photocopies of photographs of several family portraits. On the back of each photograph was the stamp "Robb, Photographer, Salem, Mass." and handwritten notes by "Aunt May" (our great aunt Mary E. Nichols who lived at Pine Knoll).  For this portrait Aunt May wrote,
Mary Vial second wife of Edward Augustus Holyoke M.D. ...
Portrait by Greenwood.  Owned in 1952 by a great great great granddaughter, Ruth (Preston) Goldsmith in Buffalo, N.Y.
I conclude that the real portrait went to New York long ago. What I have inherited is a copy.

Another portrait of Mary Vial was made in 1771, when she was about 33 years old.
Mrs. Edward A. Holyoke
[scanned photocopy of photograph of 1771 portrait]
Aunt Mary's notes on verso of photograph

My cousin Stuart Brewster emailed, "I have been reading Mary Vial Holyoke's section of the Holyoke diaries and found an entry on March 27, 1771: "First sat for my picture." A footnote by the Essex Institute editors in 1911 adds, "A pastel by Benjamin Blythe, now in possession of Andrew Nichols of Danvers, Mass." That pastel portrait hung for years in the Pine Knoll parlor just to the right of the fireplace. (See photo in my previous blog entry, Portraits at Pine Knoll.)  As Aunt May noted, her sister Margaret owned it in 1952.

Stuart's daughter Andrea, an artist, has researched the artist Benjamin Blythe and found a wonderful resource that reproduces many portraits attributed to Blythe (also spelled Blyth), including 1771 portraits of both Dr. and Mrs. Edward Augustus Holyoke.  See the Dictionary of Pastellists before 1800 by Neil Jeffares: online entry for Benjamin Blyth  (Scroll to 3rd page to find Holyokes).

In Mary's diary on March 12, 1771, she wrote, "Doctor Sat for his Picture." The 1911 footnote there adds "Probably the pastel by Benjamin Blythe now in possession of Mrs. Charles S. Osgood of Salem."   Where these portraits are today I do not know.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Portraits at Pine Knoll

My cousin Dave Brewster has once again delighted me by sharing a batch of scanned images from old Brewster family photographs and slides. I never know what I'll find in each batch, but it is always worth looking. The batch he sent November 14 was titled "Nichols Parties 1961-1978" and contained some photos of my parents as well as many other recognizable relatives. What really grabbed my attention, however, was a series of photos of the portraits hanging on the walls at Pine Knoll.

For instance, look at this photograph of "The Holyokes"...

A few weeks ago a woman in Canada reached out to me, inquiring about my Holyoke ancestry. She is a descendent of Edward Augustus Holyoke, and wondered how we might be related. I called her on November 11. We introduced ourselves and shared enough details of family history to convince ourselves that we are indeed cousins of some sort.

Specifically she was curious about my connection to Mary Vial Holyoke. We exchanged email addresses and I followed up by sending her a list of my lineage going back to Mary.  I wrote, "My father's family goes back to the Holyokes via his father William Stanley Nichols, grandfather Andrew Nichols, great grandmother Mary Holyoke Ward, great-great grandmother Susanna Holyoke, whose parents were Dr. Edward Augustus Holyoke and Mary Vial."

Well, what a surprise to see among Dave's images this week one captioned "...fireplace with Mary Vial Holyoke..." !   See below.

Mary's portrait can be seen just to the right of the fireplace. As a child visiting Pine Knoll I hardly noticed these portraits, nor did I pay any attention to who was who. I wouldn't have been able to tell anyone where Mary Vial's portrait had hung.  I only became familiar with these portraits years later when I read The Holyoke Diaries (published in 1911 by The Essex Institute). Facing page 77 in that book is an illustration of the very portrait we see above.  The index of illustrations lists it as "Mrs. Mary (Vial) Holyoke, age 33."  The caption under it gives this information:

From the pastel by Benjamin Blythe made in 1771 and now in the possession of Andrew Nichols.

Pine Knoll is where Andrew Nichols lived. He built the home in 1861, expanded it in 1880, and lived there until he died in 1921. The portraits on the walls of his home remained in place for many decades longer; two of his daughters lived at Pine Knoll until the late 1960's.  The Pine Knoll parlor, in particular, remained unchanged, with many many portraits on the walls.

Here is a closer look at the portrait of Mary Vial's husband, Edward Augustus Holyoke:

Other images of Pine Knoll parlor walls and their portraits:

This last photo gives, I think, a better idea of the real colors in that parlor.  The pinkish photos above may have been taken with a flash, or faded over the years, or both. I thank Dave Brewster for scanning and sharing these old slides and photographs. (I don't know the original format, nor whether his father David, or his uncle Dudley Brewster, took these pictures.)

In 2012 I wrote a column about my memories of this parlor and included a black-and-white photograph taken by Julie Snow in 1968. It was published in The Danvers Herald November 2, 2012. See Parlor at Pine Knoll.