“Drawing Toward Home” is the kind of book that hardly needs a review. Simply examining the volume, beautifully designed by Julia Sedykh with extraordinary architectural prints from Asher Benjamin’s “Elevation of an Ionick Front,” 1797, to Rammert W. Huygen’s “Perspective of the Harwood House,” 1973, offers a previously unavailable treasure chest of visual material. This is backed up by an alpha team of professionals who really enjoy their work.

Reading and viewing it from cover to cover is a joy and this is a collection that may be contemplated over and over and never grow stale. If you like architecture, art and history you could generate long, long thoughts from and in most every plate. If it is every cultural organization’s mission to collect, preserve and exhibit it is also paramount to share its treasures with as many students and scholars as possible. Hardcover, beautifully printed on excellent paper, Drawing Toward Home should be in all New England libraries. It is a veritable cornucopia of our shared heritage.

In the “Forward:, Historic New England” president and CEO, Carl R. Nold writes, “From its founding by William Sumner Appleton in 1910 as the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, Historic New England has focused on preserving the history of New England homes. We collect landscapes and buildings, photographic images, drawings, archival records, architectural fragments, and domestic artifacts.”

Historic New England, headquartered in Boston, has grown apace and this project began through the work of Curator of the Library and Archives, Lorna Condon. Focusing on the best of drawings, which in collections throughout the region and among architects themselves have traditionally been assigned little value, have in the past two or three decades become valued both as informative documents and as works of art.

Though important as a regional groupings, “Drawing Toward Home” has its deepest component in the Bay State but solid samplings in other New England states as well. Maine is surprisingly well represented, given the depth of the collection and the connection in personal and professional ties of many of the historians.

“Drawing Toward Home” opens with a solid introduction by James F. O’Gorman, Professor Emeritus of The History of American Art, Wellesley College. Here we are treated to an overview of the meaning of the home in American social and architectural history, the rise of the architect from builder to draftsperson to artist. This is important stuff, not easy to find, the role of draftsmen in the office. The pioneering exhibition of drawings by the Boston Society of Architects at the Boston Art Club in 1886 was a bench mark. Interestingly, Maine’s John Calvin Stevens drew favorable attention.

Christopher Monkhouse, chair of European Decorative Arts at the Art Institute of Chicago, and a former Portlander, follows with an illuminating essay on the history of framing architectural drawing as works of art. These are beautifully illustrated by perspectives of buildings at Northeast Harbor, Islesboro and Rockland. Backing this up is an expectedly good essay, “The Development of the Architectural Profession in New England : An Overview” by Roger G. Reed and Earle G. Shettleworth Jr. of the Maine Historic Preservation Commission. Finally, Curator Lorna Condon sums everything up about the growth of the HNE drawing collection and its related elements. Nobody knows the depth and breadth or the history better. Other contributors are too numerous to list entirely but include such notables as Abbott Lowell Cummings, Richard C. Nylander and Annie Robinson. There are notes, a bibliography and, I am happy to note, an index. This is a model for other institutions to follow. Well made and researched.

 

William David Barry is a local historian who has authored or co-authored five books, including “Tate House: Crown of the Maine Mast Trade” and the novel ” Pyrrhus Venture.” He lives in Portland.