Short story (although I beg you to read the entire blog): I’m selling a drawing of the Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain house and donating the profits to preservation and restoration efforts.
Now, let’s have the whole story. The links will be at the end of the blog again too. I don’t know if my efforts will be successful but my hope is you’ll feel my passion by the end of this blog.
We’re here to talk about something very near and dear to my heart – the Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain house in Brunswick, Maine. The porches that Chamberlain himself built on his home of over fifty years are in structural danger. Together, you and I are going to help. Buildings like this one belong to all of us.
Briefly, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain was a Union general in the American Civil War who rose to that rank without formal military training (he was a professor before the war). He volunteered for service, and then later became a four-term governor of Maine, followed by president of Bowdoin College.
His wife, Fanny, was a rare example of an independent woman, having a career of her own as a music teacher and an artist before she decided to get married. The two of them were quite liberal in a lot of ways; believing women should be admitted to college wherever they chose, believing in the right to contraception and family planning, believing in racial equality, and so forth.
For a bit of context into the time and place the Chamberlain family lived, they knew Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and attended church with her for years. Stowe sometimes held gatherings of Bowdoin College students in her home where she read chapters of Uncle Tom’s Cabin aloud. Chamberlain took Fanny to some of these readings while they were “dating” (dating wasn’t the term in those days).
National history largely forgot Chamberlain until Ken Burns heavily featured him throughout his documentary series, The Civil War. Then in the early 90s, Jeff Daniels actually played Chamberlain (seen in character on the left) in the film, Gettysburg, followed ten years later by playing him again in Gods and Generals.
His impact reaches far beyond Maine. Even I live in Atlanta and I’m just three miles from both Chamberlain Street and Oakland Cemetery where one of his best friends, General John B. Gordon, is buried.
You’re beginning to see why this family and this house matter to American history. We could sit here discussing Chamberlain’s fascinating life and undeniable affect on Maine history until we write a book. In fact, there are a lot of books about him, his military commands, and his family.
Not only did the family live in this house for over fifty years, but Henry Wadsworth Longfellow rented rooms in the same house before they bought it. Longfellow’s presence in the house is still felt today in the upstairs parlor where a portion of the wallpaper he put up is still there.
This is the house today. Originally, it was only one-and-a-half floors. Chamberlain had the entire structure moved to the corner of Potter and Maine, and then lifted about eleven feet off the ground to build an entirely new first floor addition. He designed most of the first floor himself, including a beautiful curved staircase that greeted guests upon walking through the ruby red foyer. It’s is one of the most architecturally important houses in the state of Maine due to the odd mixture of building and decorating styles blended together from different popular aesthetics in the nineteenth century – Cape Cod, Gothic Revival, and some Art Nouveau influences. Chamberlain wasn’t even a trained architect or interior designer.
The Pejepscot History Center (PHC) rescued the house from demolition in 1983 after decades of being rented out to Bowdoin College students. It had been chopped up into seven apartments and the interior was painted psychedelic colors when they acquired it. Almost 37 years under the careful stewardship of historians and volunteers has seen great strides toward preserving and restoring the home to the way it stood when Chamberlain lived there, but only partially so.
As of my last visit, renters still live in the upper portions of the house in, I believe, three apartments because renting brings in money for upkeep. Many of the unoccupied rooms upstairs haven’t yet been restored either, including all of the Chamberlain family bedrooms. The downstairs bathroom with original fittings and the master bedroom upstairs were being used for storage instead of teaching and tourism. It takes a lot of money to preserve and restore historical buildings. Brunswick is a small town and Maine is a small town state.
Why does the decay of an old house matter to me?
My family name is Jewett. That was, once upon a time, an influential name up in Maine, so much so that if you take a drive over to South Berwick, you can tour my ancestors’ home. I’m related to Sarah Orne Jewett and she left her home to Historic New England when she died. If you click on her name, it’ll take you to the website for that house. There, you’ll see the potential when important places have the resources for full, meticulous restoration and preservation. I have a vision for the Chamberlain home being just as preserved, studied, and restored as the Jewett house.
I’ve had the privilege of visiting the Chamberlain house twice. Tour guides were wonderful and well-informed, the gift shop was better than most battlefield gift shops, and there was a beautiful wheelchair ramp built onto the back porch – a rarity for historical landmarks. In the above photo, you’re looking at my first trip to the house twelve years ago when I was quite sick and underweight compared to now. Sick or not, historical preservation is my passion. So I went to Maine.
I’d like to show you more photos from my trips to the Chamberlain house. I quickly grabbed some from my collection so you can see how special this place is to many of us in the American history, women’s history, and Civil War fields.
In 2018 and 2019, the PHC raised $48,000 for serious restoration work on the exterior of the house. They even got the wheelchair ramp rebuilt on the back porch as a bonus. It was a really spectacular job and it all looks like it belonged on the house from the beginning, although General Chamberlain never had a ramp back there.
The old ramp and porch.
The new ramp and porch.
I’m showing you this because I want you to see what’s possible through the help of donations, foundations, and grants to not only restore historical landmarks but also to make them accessible to more people in the future. Places like this really depend on tourism for cash flow in addition to the few grants that are available. Tourism matters economically to small towns. It pays to have interesting landmarks, speaking in practical terms. We’re American. We understand that money talks.
Take a look at this photo of the house from the 1870s. Do you see the glass porch on the first floor, and then the open air porch above it? Pay attention to those.
I’m letting the Pejepscot History Center explain what happened. This is from their fundraiser page. I’m not sure if the fundraiser page is still open, but if it is, I’ll update this blog with a link.
Thanks to $48,000 raised from foundations and individuals over 2018-2019, we were able to undertake extensive exterior restoration work on the Joshua L. Chamberlain Museum starting in the spring of 2019.
Four faces of the building have now been lovingly restored, but in the process, considerable rot due to deferred maintenance in the past was found and corrected.
This led to fewer funds available for addressing the final part of this Phase I restoration effort: the two historic porches on the southeast corner of the building, which have some of the most interesting architecture on the building, and provide considerable structural support.
Unfortunately, they too have more deterioration than originally anticipated, necessitating additional funds to repair and rebuild the porches correctly.
Chamberlain raised the house 11 feet in the air in 1871 to add the lower story, thereby adding the first floor porch himself. He especially loved these porches. Over the years, he and the family enjoyed sitting on them and raising plants in the ample southern sunshine.
So I decided to make donations interesting. Individually, none of us can afford the $20,000 the PHC needs to raise to save Chamberlain’s porches from decaying and deteriorating. I know I can’t.
But what I can do is use my skills as an artist to draw attention to the house and make it worth your effort to help rescue the house. I’m a portrait artist most of the time, selling commissions of ordinary people as well as portraits set in highly researched historical scenes. To me, the Chamberlain house like all other historical houses are like living things with souls and sets of memories all their own.
The idea occurred to me that if people were willing to buy my portraits of people, perhaps they would be willing to buy a “portrait” of a house. I had already done a Christmas-themed piece of art showcasing the Chamberlain family’s church, First Parish, and I was interested in doing another piece anyway. If I could use my artistic drive to raise awareness for historical preservation, all the better.
So I got to work. Watch the video below to see me in action.
Yes, the manner in which I do my art is a bit different. We’ll go ahead and address the elephant in the room since many of you might be new to my website and my art. If you didn’t guess from my other photos, I’m physically disabled. I was born with a condition called Arthrogryposis and the nature of it means I need to do everything with the tools in my mouth, whether it’s writing, typing, chopping vegetables, sewing, or creating art. I’ve had about nineteen surgeries to date with a high probability of two more surgeries in 2020. Selling art is how I make extra money.
This time, however, I’m not making money from the art. I’ve decided to sell both the original and various sized prints made from the Chamberlain house piece for the benefit of the restoration project. When I sell this piece, I will make a donation from 80% of the profits (I need 20% for shipping, materials, etc.) to the Pejepscot History Center and I will make public all of the pertinent documents. That way everything is crystal clear and there are no questions.
This is the completed piece of art.
It took me about three weeks to complete it. I used a combination of Pentel mechanical pencils with .5 mm lead and Prismacolor Ebony pencils on 11×14-inch mixed media paper. Each detail of the house was researched and replicated to the best of my ability down to the placement of the trees, the curtains from the 1870s photographs, the wrought iron fence design, and the woodwork. If you look up top, you’ll see the famous chimney Chamberlain added after the war with the Maltese cross. He was a Fifth Corps officer and the Maltese cross was their insignia, a symbol found throughout the house.
You’ll be able to purchase this piece of art in my shop.
The original, as in the actual piece of art I worked on, is 11×14 inches and costs $385.00 USD. Prints (5×7, 8×10, or 11×17) range in price from $12.00 USD to $24.00 USD and are made on high quality cardstock with a glossy finish.
Orders larger than 8×10 inches are shipped in a tube with the art rolled inside to protect it from rough postal workers. Orders 8×10 and smaller are shipped in flat bubble mailers reinforced with cardboard. All customers are given a tracking number so they can keep an eye on their packages with the postal service as well. Every order within the United States includes free shipping. Shipping for international orders will be calculated at the time of purchase.
Please consider purchasing this piece. It’s such a worthy cause. I realize there is a lot happening in the world, and I’m doing my part for those causes too, but we should care about American history too. We need to be thinking about what kind of tangible legacy we’re going to leave our children and grandchildren. Wouldn’t you want to teach your descendants to celebrate and honor a man who believed in the qualities of a better world that we’re still fighting to create? What better way to honor him and his family than to help preserve the place they loved and called home for over half a century?
If you’re not interested in buying my art, that’s quite all right. There are choices.
One option is to let me collect the donations at PayPal.me/ArtByJessicaJewett and I’ll get it to the Pejepscot History Center for you. Please specify that you are donating to the Chamberlain house in the notes. I’ll send donations on the 15th of every month (when there are any) and I will give you copies of the receipts.
Or you can make a donation directly to the Pejepscot History Center, but please make sure you specify that your donation is for the Chamberlain house. They don’t have digital donations aside from the annual membership drives. The new 2020 membership drive hasn’t been created yet since they are closed until February 4.
To donate by mail:
Pejepscot History Center
159 Park Row
Brunswick, ME 04011
By phone: Call (207) 729-6606 to provide a credit card number. They take all major cards.
In person: Drop by their offices at 159 Park Row during open hours.
The Pejepscot History Center is a non-profit, tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization. Your gift is tax deductible to the full extent allowed by law.
I’m not affiliated with the Pejepscot History Center in any way, nor do I work for them. My fundraising efforts are as a private citizen.
Please consider making a donation to help me keep up with the cost of art supplies, living expenses, equipment related to my disability, and so forth. The minimum is set at $10.00. Thank you for your generosity.
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