Wednesday, November 10, 2010

book week: notes from new england

I could not imagine doing a book week about house books without tapping the inestimable Downeast Dilettante, whose library (like that of Keith Mackay) would turn any student of architecture green with envy. As a New England native, I am particularly delighted by his thoughtful contribution:

Indeed the subject has tortured me—or rather, the discipline of narrowing the field to one. I have personally owned over 2,500 design and architecture books of every description, and have been inspired and educated by most of them. I was torn: a favorite from childhood like Charles Edwin Hooper's The Country House? An elegant monograph like Richard Pratt's David Adler, Architect? Vincent Scully's The Shingle Style? Or Mario Praz's seminal and gorgeous, An Illustrated History of Interior Decoration?

And then it hit me. It may be cheating a little, but they are all the same author, and cover similar subjects. I choose the remarkable series of books about early American—and specifically New England—architecture by Samuel Chamberlain, which merge in my mind as many volumes constituting one sweeping chronicle.

Trained as a print maker, Chamberlain is best known for his etchings and lithographs. Earning the distinguished title of Guggenheim Fellow in 1926, he lived for a time in France, and finally, Marblehead. He traveled New England, recording the architecture of the region with his camera, and publishing the results in a series of poetic and elegant books of black and white photographs—as beautiful a love song to New England as has ever been produced.

I learned by looking at Chamberlain’s beautiful photographs and reading his short, intelligent captions, to appreciate the scale and line of the beautiful early architecture of my native New England. His books include Salem Interiors, Open House In New England, New England Doorways, The New England Image, Portsmouth: A Camera Impression, New England Rooms, 1639-1863, Beauport at Gloucester: The Most Fascinating House in America (the very first book about that magical place), and some 20 others. And while many books have come and gone from my library, these books remain on the shelves, constantly perused. These visual essays about light and architecture and the genius of place continue to delight after nearly five decades.

(images: from The New England Image, 1962, reprinted 1994)

Note from JCB: for a bit more of Chamberlain's work, please see this wonderful set on flickr.


BWS said...

Excellent choices.

Janet said...

Chamberlain has become MY latest book obsession. As if I needed another.

cstorb said...

Though I knew it couldn't be true, it used to seem that I was the only one who owned a copy of "Salem Interiors"!