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The Connecticut Landscape


Jodi Blankenship; Exec Dir, CHS

Karen Depauw; Research & Collections Associate, CHS


The Connecticut Landscape Depicted:


Oil painting dated approximately 1840, artist unknown, showing the Thames River looking north toward Norwich. At this time Norwich was transitioning from primarily a port city to one based on manufacturing. Textiles, pottery and iron products were among the items produced in this city. (1945.2.0)


Oil Painting – The “Charter Oak”, an ancient and massive white oak tree in Hartford’s south end, was long celebrated for its role in the story of the protection of the CT colony’s original royal charter. Whether or not the story of the charter’s being hidden in a hole in the tree (to keep it from being seized by British authorities) is true or not, it had taken on mythic status by the time this oil painting of the tree (located on what was the Wyllys family homestead) was made by George Francis. The painting is believed to have been done before 1834. (1960.93.4)


Saucer – An image of Connecticut’s “new” state house, completed in the mid-1790s, was captured in this English transferware saucer, part of a complete tea service that dates to the 1820s. The state house was one of the more significant public buildings in Hartford, making it a likely subject for such decorative pieces. As co-capitol (alternating with New Haven), this building was one of the centers of Connecticut’s political landscape. Note the absence of the familiar cupola (added in the 1830s). (1965.88.3)


Box – Pasteboard “bandboxes” were used by retail shops for carrying purchases such as women’s hats or other fashion items. The decorative paper used to cover them was frequently used as wallpaper as well. Some of these papers included classical imagery, while others might feature a specific local setting, such as this example featuring the pioneering “Deaf and Dumb Asylum” in Hartford. This box likely dates to the 1820s. (1956.65.1)


Needlework Sampler – Ten-year-old Louisa Miller of Middlefield stitched this sampler in 1847. She included a local town view as part of her needlework effort, yet another way that both the natural and built environment of Connecticut can be represented. (1961.12.39)


Using the Products of the Connecticut Landscape:


Small Cooking “Pot” – Pipkins were small 18th C. ceramic cooking pots designed to be used in open hearth cooking. This redware example is made of local clay from the Norwich area and dates to the last quarter of the 18th C. The geology of Connecticut’s landscape provided a variety of stone (including brownstone, granite and traprock) and clay for different uses. (1952.80.0)


Charter Oak Wood Item- Connecticut’s forests provided a rich resource in the 17th and 18th centuries, until clear-cutting left the state with little forest cover by the mid-1800s. Certain trees, like the ancient and storied Charter Oak in Hartford, were honored even after their loss. In the decades after the loss of the Charter Oak (1856) souvenirs and commemoratives of all kinds were produced from its wood. Perhaps the most unusual—and humorous, even by the kitschy tastes of the time, was this “Connecticut ham” fashioned from a piece of the mythic tree! (2011.480.1)


Tunxis Herb Basket – The Connecticut forests supplied Native Americans with a host of resources, including wood splint for use in traditional basket forms. This circa 1850 herb basket is attributed to the Tunxis tribe, and consists of ash splints with natural dye coloring. (1950.428.0)


Seaweed Album – The jagged Connecticut shore, with its many bays, inlets and harbors, provided an unusual raw material for a Weston, Connecticut, woman named Clarissa Perry—algae and seaweed as decoration. Clarissa created this unusual album of seaweed specimens in the 1850’s. (Ms 100714)


Inspired by the Connecticut Landscape:


This painted tin pot, believed to have been made in the 19th century by Goodrich, Ives & Co. of Meriden, could hold maple syrup, molasses, or some other foodstuff. Connecticut’s plentiful sugar maples, whose crimson foliage highlights the fall landscape, were—and remain—a prized source of the liquid sweetener. (1972.4.47)


“Mad About Shad” Hat – The state’s waterways were a prominent and vital part of the Connecticut landscape, providing not only transportation but in many instances a bounty of food. The annual spring shad run in many of Connecticut’s rivers was a benefit to people living along its banks. Baked, broiled, pickled—you name it—this largest of the herring family was a valued food source. Towns like Windsor still celebrate this annual migration with a “shad festival”, providing a social element to this natural phenomenon. In 1818, people were clearly mad about shad, as evidenced by this varnished hat celebrating a record catch on May 25th of that year. (1951.15.0)



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