Preservation in Mississippi Fall Reading List

I know that we are nearly a month into Fall, the season where the weather entices one to go outside and enjoy the air, but that does not mean I cannot publish a reading list for the season. Of course the South usually has only about two or three weeks of Autumn weather squeezed in between Summer and Winter, so get out there and enjoy it quickly before it turns into cold, bitter Winter. But only after reading this post. I am sure you are saying, but what can I do outside in Fall; after all, one can only watch leaves come off trees for so long. Well Preservation in Mississippi readers, do not worry because I have a reading list sure to distract anyone from those leaves.

Most of the time, I do not worry about new architecture books coming out. I am busy hunting down rare titles on Ebay or in out-of-the-way places such as thrift stores, library bookstores, close-out centers, and elsewhere. It is one of the many things that I do; I buy piles of books, keep the most interesting ones for my ever growing library, and place the rest in my Amazon store or Ebay. However, I have made an exception and looked at some of the latest Mississippi-preservation-centric books and come to a conclusion: there aren’t many. Instead, here is a list of other books that are of interest to the discerning MissPres reader.

The first book is Mary Carol Miller’s soon-to-be-a-classic Lost Mansions of Mississippi: Volume II. Malvaney gave a good write-up for Lost Mansions: Volume II in late September, gloating about being the first person in the universe to buy the book (Malvaney wasn’t the first but neither was I). With this book, I think Miller is trying to win another Non-Fiction Book of the Year award from the Mississippi Library Association (which she won in 1997 for Lost Mansions of Mississippi).

Unless Miller gets upstaged by Richard J. Cawthon’s Lost Churches of Mississippi, which Malvaney reported about in May. With all due respect to Lost Mansions: Volume II, Lost Churches gets my vote for Non-Fiction Book of the Year (which means nothing since I am not a member of the Mississippi Library Association). Lost Churches places the lost churches into the national and statewide architectural contexts. These churches had architects and styles influenced by conditions from beyond Mississippi and many were destroyed by conditions originating from beyond Mississippi. Both Lost Churches and Lost Mansions: Volume II are great books.

Now I am not just recycling Malvaney’s old posts, these are some other, non-Mississippi books that the discerning MissPres reader should have on his/her bookcase.

First is Thomas Day: Master Craftsman and Free Man of Color by Patricia Phillips Marshall and Jo Ramsay Leimenstoll published this year by the University of North Carolina Press. From the dust jacket flap:

“Thomas Day (1801-1861), a master craftsman and free man of color, lived in Milton, North Carolina, where he became the most successful cabinetmaker in North Carolina – white or black – during a time when most blacks were enslaved and free blacks were restricted in their movements and activities. His surviving furniture and interior architectural woodwork still represent the best of nineteenth-century craftsmanship and aesthetics.

“Patricia Phillips Marshall and Jo Ramsay Leimenstoll show how, beginning in the 1820s, Day plotted a carefully charted course for success in antebellum southern society. His production of fine furniture and architectural woodwork for the region’s leading white citizens opened doors for him socially and elevated his status in the white community compared with other free blacks. His career flourished from 1840 to 1858, when Dan River planters, flush with new tobacco wealth, built large new homes and hired Day to design and craft their architectural interiors. As demand for his services rose, Day adopted technological improvements that increased his shop production and contributed to the complexity of his designs. Marshall and Leimenstoll explore Day’s ability to succeed with a largely white customer base who accepted both his conventional and unconventional designs. They also examine the factors leading to the decline of his business during the late 1850s.

“Day’s style, characterized by undulating shapes, fluid lines, and spiraling forms, melding his own unique motifs with popular design forms, resulting in a distinctive interpretation readily identified with his shop. The photographs in the book document furniture in public and private collections and architectural woodwork from private homes not previously associated with Day.

“Through their in-depth analysis and generous illustrations of Day’s furniture and woodwork, Marshall and Leimenstoll provide a comprehensive perspective on and a new understanding of the powerful sense of aesthetics and design that marks Day’s legacy.”

Thomas Day: Master Craftsman and Free Man of Color is not about Mississippi so why am I recommending it? Quite simply, this book is amazing. The book mostly contains furniture (which is outstanding) but has a nearly sixty page chapter on Day’s architectural woodwork. Well, if you are anything like me, you enjoy antebellum woodwork but sometimes feel there is something missing from the typical restrained mantles and newel posts. Thomas Day has helped me identify what is missing from antebellum woodwork: mental derangement. Now, Day was not mentally deranged, the opposite is the case. However, he carved like he was deranged, much like George Ohr threw clay like a deranged “Mad Potter of Biloxi.”

Next is Cabin, Quarter, Plantation: Architecture and Landscapes of North American Slavery, edited by Clifton Ellis and Rebecca Ginsburg. Cabin, Quarter, Plantation is a series of essays about slavery’s effect on architecture and landscapes in various places in North America, not just the South. Here is the table of contents:

  • Introduction by Clifton Ellis and Rebecca Ginsburg
  • The Home of the Slave (1901) by W.E.B. DuBois
  • Excavating the Spaces and Interpreting the Places of Enslaved Africans and Their Descendants by Garrett Fesler
  • Escaping through a Black Landscape by Rebecca Ginsburg
  • Accommodating Slavery in Bermuda by Edward A. Chappell
  • Slave Villages in the Danish West Indies: Changes of the Late Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries (1991) by William Chapman
  • White and Black Landscapes in Eighteenth-Century Virginia (1985) by Dell Upton
  • Building for “Our Family, Black and White”: The Changing Form of the Slave House in Antebellum Virginia by Clifton Ellis
  • Space and Place within Plantation Quarters in Virginia, 1700-1825 by Barbara Heath
  • The Big House and the Slave Quarters: African Contributions to the New World (1976) by Carl Anthony
  • The Landscapes of Northern Bondage (1996) by Robert K. Fitts
  • Slave Housing in Antebellum Tennessee by Michael Strutt
  • “The Balance Principle”: Slavery, Freedom, and the Formation of the Nation by Cheryl Janifer LaRoche

Cabin, Quarter, Plantation is a great, fresh look at the landscape of slavery.

Next is a book actually concerning Mississippi. William Faulkner and the Southern Landscape, part of the Center Books on the American South series from the Center for American Places, by the preeminent southern geographer Charles S. Aiken, is an excellent look at the landscape around Oxford through Faulkner’s interpretation. While many photographers and others have examined Yoknapatawpha and Oxford (notably Thomas S. Hines’s William Faulkner and the Tangible Past: The Architecture of Yoknapatawpha), Aiken, through photographs and original diagrams, reveals how the Oxford area influenced Faulkner’s writing. Aiken’s writing, while informative, is never dry, which is why I would also highly recommend Aiken’s other tome: The Cotton Plantation South Since the Civil War, which contains an examination of Tunica, Mississippi’s geography.

Finally, a book with a Mississippi connection, Michael Fazio’s Landscape of Transformations: Architecture and Birmingham, Alabama. Fazio is Professor Emeritus at Mississippi State University and a noted architectural history author. The title states exactly what the book is about and like all of Fazio’s books is excellently written. Landscape of Transformations should be added to one’s architectural library, alongside Fazio’s The Domestic Architecture of Benjamin Henry Latrobe (though Landscape of Transformations is only about a quarter of the size).

This should be enough of an ambitious reading list for the time being. Hopefully there will be enough new architecture/preservation books for a Winter Reading List in a few months.

  • Cabin, Quarter, Plantation: Architecture and Landscapes of North American Slavery, edited by Clifton Ellis and Rebecca Ginsburg, 2010, Yale University Press
  • Landscape of Transformations: Architecture and Birmingham, Alabama by Michael W. Fazio, 2010, University of Tennessee Press
  • Lost Churches of Mississippi by Richard J. Cawthon, 2010, University Press of Mississippi
  • Lost Mansions of Mississippi: Volume II by Mary Carol Miller, 2010, University Press of Mississippi
  • Thomas Day: Master Craftsman and Free Man of Color by Patricia Phillips Marshall and Jo Ramsay Leimenstoll, 2010, University of North Carolina Press
  • William Faulkner and the Southern Landscape by Charles S. Aiken, 2009, University of Georgia Press

Categories: African American History, Architectural Research, Books, Historic Preservation

1 reply

  1. I’m so glad to see that book on Thomas Day is out–I’m going to snatch that one up. I had the opportunity to see some of Day’s work on a tour with the SESAH group in Greensboro, NC a few years ago, and it was quite a treat. What a great story too.

    Oh, and I was totally the first one in the universe to find the new Lost Mansions book–your jealousy is so unbecoming :-)


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