Nutting photographs enhance Wentworth-Gardner tour

Special summer celebration runs from May through September

Story, photos by Judy Palm

Wentworth-Gardner House at 50 Mechanic st., south of Prescott Park.

There are two reasons to attend the celebration of Wallace Nutting photographs this summer at the Wentworth-Gardner House in Portsmouth.  One reason is to view Nutting's works themselves; the other is to take the house tour.  Nutting was a photographer who wanted to depict “Images of Old America”. He was a prolific photographer and chronicler, and many of his works will be on display at the historic Wentworth-Gardner House which Nutting owned for a brief period.

The Wentworth-Gardner House is one of the finest Georgian homes in the area, noted for its quality and proportions.  The hallway in the home is famous for its composition.  The home gained national significance when Nutting purchased it in 1915.

Wallace Nutting started out as a Minister in Connecticut.  When he had a nervous breakdown, his wife persuaded him to take up photography, so at the age of 45 he began his new career.  He took thousands of period photographs and had the prints hand colored.  His favorite subjects were colonial scenes, cottages in England and birches (above) and blossoms.

He made a good deal of money with his prints, and with that money he bought five houses to renovate.  His wife, who helped him with all of his enterprises, hooked rugs which were used in the homes.  The first was the Webb House in Wethersfield, Conn.  It is now owned by the Colonial Dames of Connecticut.

The Saugus Ironworks House was another of his homes. It is now a museum in Saugus, Mass.  The Hayes and Garrison House in Haverhill, Mass., and another house in Newburyport were also owned by Nutting.  The Wentworth-Gardner House became his fifth home.

Nutting himself did much of the restoration in Saugus and Portsmouth.  His hope was that interested people could get into their cars and in one day see all five houses.  His plan, although well-intentioned, didn’t make him enough money to continue, so all five houses were sold.  The furniture from the Saugus and Haverhill homes was sold to J.P. Morgan and is in a museum in Hartford.  The furniture from the Wentworth-Gardner and Webb homes was sold to Wanamaker.

The Wentworth-Gardner House was sold to New York City's Metropolitan Museum of Art, which hoped to move the house to New York.  Before that could happen they were persuaded against the move and in 1940 sold it to the Wentworth-Gardner and Tobias Lear Houses Association in Portsmouth.

With the money that he made from the sale of the houses Nutting opened a furniture factory in Framingham, Mass., where he made reproduction-period furniture.  He also published many books on furniture and books of his photographs.  These include the “Beautiful” series: Beautiful New Hampshire, Beautiful Massachusetts, Beautiful England and many more.  Nutting also gave lectures for which he was paid $100, not a bad amount in the 1930’s. These lectures promoted his photos and books.  He was a true entrepreneur.

Upon his death Nutting left his entire estate to Berea College in Kentucky.  Berea is an art college founded to promote Appalachian and traditional crafts.  All of his negatives were destroyed in the 1960’s.  Thus no new prints of his works are available.

Sandra Rux is in charge of the restoration of the Wentworth-Gardner House. She was kind enough to take us for a walking tour through it.  Ms. Rux works for both the Wentworth-Gardner and Tobias Lear Houses Association and for the John Paul Jones House which is the Portsmouth Historical Association.  The renovation of this house is a work in progress and will eventually be restored to reflect both the Wentworth and the Nutting eras.

Rux's work includes restoring some of the wall treatments, hanging Nutting’s photographs, especially those which depict particular rooms in the house, and tracking down furniture which has been removed, or providing other period furniture.  This work will take much time.  Rux hopes to have several rooms done before the opening of the Nutting exhibit in June.

Her job is complicated, because Nutting sold the furniture separately from the houses.  The Nutting furniture books are a valuable resource, however, and his photographs are a guide for redecorating the rooms as they were.

Rux is trying to trace down the furniture.  Nutting furnished his houses for the aesthetics of the photography.  The balusters on the stairway (below) came from the Sheafe house on Congress Street.  The mantel in the front room was invented by Nutting, but the beautifully carved woodwork is original.

The rooms will be repainted. The walls were originally wallpapered, and Nutting did use wallpaper.  However when redecorating was done in the 40’s most of the walls were stripped and painted. Using paint analysis the various paint colors have been determined, and the walls will be repainted an authentic color which will best show off the Nutting photographs to be hung.

Rux and the Historical Association are working hard to have several rooms restored before the Nutting Exhibition.  You can make their hard work worthwhile by visiting this summer.  Having company?  Have a day with nothing planned?  Stuck indoors on a rainy day?  Take in a historic house tour along with a photographic exhibit.  Talk it up to friends and family.  We thought it was fascinating and the house wasn’t even done.

What follows is a schedule of events for the summer:


May 5th
Annual Clean-up Day

May 6th
Special performance of “Wallace Nutting’s Old America” by the Pontine Theater for members.

May 12th
Fundraiser - Yard and Plant Sale (rain date - May 13.)

June 8 & 9th
Annual meeting of the Wallace Nutting Collectors' Club - public auction of Nutting items on June 8, 12 p.m., at the Best Western Wynwood Hotel and Suites (preview, 10:00-12:00.)

June 14th
Opening Day

June 24th
Official opening of the Wallace Nutting exhibit at the Wentworth-Gardner House - reception and performance.

July 19th
Wallace Nutting Lecture series:
Richard Candee - "Wallace Nutting's Portsmouth"

August 25th
Wallace Nutting Lecture series:
William Hosley - "Pilgrim Furniture and the American Collector"

September 16th
Tobias Lear Birthday Celebration - guest performance by the Pontine Theatre.

September 27th
Wallace Nutting Lecture series:
Thomas Denenberg - "Wallace Nutting and the Invention of Old America"

May, 2007