With the opening this spring of “N.C. Wyeth’s Men of Concord” at the Concord Museum, plenty of attention has been paid to 19th-century author Henry David Thoreau and the artist who later illustrated his writings.
But the exhibition also spawned the inevitable question: What about Concord’s women?
Acting swiftly upon that curiosity, the museum has launched “Women of Concord,” which will run in parallel through mid-September.
The show uses objects from the museum’s collections to tell the stories of the town’s female citizens, some of whom supported the efforts of prominent men and others who found importance in their own right.
“It seemed to us that this might make an interesting foil,” said museum curator David Wood. “The exercise was to take a look at our existing collection and find objects associated with women. We know that there was a group of extraordinary women who lived in Concord during Thoreau’s time. What could we exhibit to best represent them?”
In some cases, the owners of the objects are well-known personalities.
There’s a tea kettle that “Little Women” author Louisa May Alcott kept from her days serving as an Army nurse during the Civil War and later donated to Concord Museum founder Cummings Davis. An oak and pine chest from 1705 that descended through the Jones/Hoar/Brooks/Clark/Emerson families. The silver tea service used by Rebecca Poor Farnham Damon to serve luminary guests such as Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Other pieces in the exhibit are portrayals of well-known women, such as a silhouette profile done when Margaret Fuller, a leader of the Transcendentalists and an early advocate for women’s rights, was in her teens.
And still others remind viewers that women did more with their creative talents than cook and serve tea, such as the hand-wrought communion plates made by silversmith Lucy Cora Myrick Brown, a student of the Society of Arts and Crafts in Boston; and a toy ship made by Martha Lincoln and Katharine Torrey, founders of the Bantam Workshop, a preschool and after-school program in the 1950s that taught children woodworking skills.
The exhibition includes items that tell almost forgotten stories from Concord’s less heralded past. There is an antislavery periodical that tells the story of two 12-year-old girls, one black and one white, who walked together holding hands in the Concord Bicentennial Parade in 1835. And there is a bird-head pestle, a Native American artifact that likely belonged to a female tribal leader before Europeans arrived in the 17th century.
Eighty-four-year-old Eileen Thrasher of East Aurora, N.Y., took in both exhibits with her daughter recently. And both made an impression on her.
“I am very familiar with [N.C. Wyeth’s son] Andrew Wyeth’s art but not his father’s, so I was surprised to learn that his father was an accomplished artist also,” Thrasher said of the show, which for the first time in nearly 80 years brought together the 12 original panels Wyeth painted for the 1936 book “Men of Concord and Some Others, as Portrayed in the Journal of Henry David Thoreau.”
“His paintings were wonderful; I could really see these figures of Concord,” Thrasher said. “And I also loved the ‘Women of Concord’ exhibit. It reflected women who had an awful lot of courage, given that they were so suppressed at that time. The slavery story made me think of the heroism of better-known women like Harriet Tubman. I learned interesting things about Ralph Waldo Emerson’s wife as well, and Louisa May Alcott. These women were so admirable and inspirational, and the exhibit reminded me of all they had done.”
To Wood, the “Women of Concord” exhibition reflects Thoreau’s interests just as significantly as the “Men of Concord” exhibition does. For example, Wood said, “Women of Concord” includes a daguerreotype of a young female domestic made in the early 1850s.
“That was very rare,” Wood said. “More typical at that time would have been a daguerreotype of a bank president, someone prominent.”
But Thoreau himself was always interested in people such as domestics, Wood said. “Thoreau would run into people around town and wonder why they were invisible, not only to his contemporaries but to the historical records. He devoted considerable thought to the question of why people he saw every day didn’t seem to figure into the town’s documented history.”
Bringing the two exhibitions, “Men of Concord” and “Women of Concord,” together along with consideration of still more aspects of the community’s history is a summer lecture series, “The People of Concord,” covering topics such as “Outcasts and Others: Hardscrabble Lives in Concord” and “Such a Dusky Orb,” about African-American life in 19th-century Concord.
“Women of Concord” runs through Sept. 25 at the Concord Museum, 200 Lexington Road, Concord. For hours and more information, as well as the summer lecture schedule, call 978-369-9763 or go to www.concordmuseum.org.
Nancy Shohet West can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.