J. Ritchie Garrison
Two Carpenters: Architecture and Building in Early New England, 1799-1859
The Abbott Lowell Cummings Award, established in 1982 and named after the founding president of the VAF, is awarded annually to the publication that has made the most significant contribution to the study of the vernacular architecture and landscapes of North America. The jurors look for a publication that is based on primary research, emphasizes fieldwork, that breaks new ground in interpretation or methodology, and that contributes generally to the intellectual vitality of vernacular studies in North America. Works published during the past two years are eligible. The 2007 committee, comprised of Gretchen Buggeln, Susan Kern, and Philip Pendleton considered twenty-two titles nominated by individuals or publishers.
The VAF is pleased to present the 2007 Cummings Award to J. Ritchie Garrison for Two Carpenters: Architecture and Building in Early New England, 1799-1859 (University of Tennessee Press, 2006). Two Carpenters traces the lives and work of Northfield, Massachusetts house carpenters Calvin and George Stearns, father and son, and their extended family of builders. In this work Garrison, a professor of history at the University of Delaware and Director of the Winterthur Program in Early American Culture, explores "the working practices, design ideas, social networks, tools, and training of two generations of early American carpenters who helped reshape rural New England during a time of great social and economic change." Garrison’s comprehensive fieldwork is masterful, as is his use of extensive documentary evidence. He gives us an extraordinary amount of detail about the Stearns, their buildings, and the communities and craft networks they engaged. Garrison uses his meticulous research to demonstrate the builders’ role in the development of architectural style, the interaction between urban and rural design and building, and the Stearns’ shrewd and aggressive business practices dependent on a demonstration of both competency and innovation in practical and stylistic matters. A final chapter includes a fascinating account of a Brattleboro, Vermont mansion built by George Stearns for Savannah, Georgia cotton merchant John Stoddard, according to the designs of New York architect Richard Upjohn. Garrison here shows us the negotiations and frustrations of communication across great distances, and the extent of decision making power that rested not in the patron or architect, but the builder. Two Carpenters convincingly argues against a facile interpretation of the meaning of style as simply an expression of the class of the patron. Garrison’s marvelous book is both an excellent point of entry for a student freshly discovering the methods and questions of vernacular architecture and a rich study that will ask all of us to rethink our understanding of the rural architecture of the first half of the nineteenth century.
Chair, Abbott Lowell Cummings Award Committee