Saturday, April 17, 2010

Belmont's Purple House Spring Show & Sale

When Pat Vossler told me that there was a time that she didn’t like antiques, my jaw dropped to her 100 year old carpet hitting, on the way down, antique glassware and photos. Her husband, Lew, changed her life in many ways from parenting two daughters to getting her interested in travel and by teaching her to love, and collect, antiques.

Pat lives in Belmont’s Purple House. Only a few years ago it was red, white and blue, striking in its own way but it didn’t look like it was dressed for high tea in the spring of 1890 like it does now. It needed to be painted so in trying to decide what to do Pat went to the Belmont Library and found a book about Victorian houses. She thumbed through it until she found one of those grand ladies done in shades of purple.

“Some people like it,” said Pat. “People knock at the door for permission to take photos but one woman looked at the house and asked if the paint had been on sale.”

“I wish,” was Pat’s laughing reply. It’s Pat’s Purple House and she likes it - a lot. Even the front lawn is sprinkled in purple forget-me-nots.

Inside are thousands of other colors because inside are thousands of other things but before describing any of those things, the house deserves a bit more time. It was built circa 1895 by Dr. Herbert A. Barney.

The March 22, 1907 issue of the Belmont Dispatch is my source of information about Dr. Barney. The entire front page holds eulogies and testimonials on the occasion of his death from quinsy at age 42. He was a doctor, town supervisor, the coroner and county jail physician. Clearly, he worked long hours with a deep sense of obligation to meet the needs of people, sometimes giving his patients money rather than charging them. The paper reports that over 1,000 people attended his funeral.

Legend has it that he was an inventor, that the second floor of his home was used as a home for elderly patients, that he experimented on himself in trying to develop new medicines but these are stories handed down from Lew Vossler to Pat and she doesn’t really know.

Clearly, Dr. Barney had the means to construct a marvelous house. Likely it had gas lamps then and multiple fireplaces. There is still a wood fireplace in the living room and the mantle from another fireplace stands in the dining room. There are two sets of pocket doors and the swinging door to the kitchen has a pair of hinges 8 inches long and large enough that a person could slip a garden hose inside.

The turret was in the original design as was the old tin roof which has lasted over 110 years (but due to be replaced this summer). After the Barney family left, the house was divided into apartments and went into decline until Lew and his first wife Jane Whitcomb purchased it with her parents in about 1940. Lew set to work restore the original glory with interior renovations and a new porch.

Pat’s favorite area is the dining room. It has the swinging door to the kitchen, a fabulous window with huge beveled glass panels as well as beveled diamonds. There is a large built-in china cupboard too. The walls and ceiling are papered in textured green and white and in the center is the table that Lew built. He built it right there in the dining room – it’s that big and heavy – and he caned the seats in several of the chairs that surround it.

Lew built a lot of things for Pat and he supported all her decorating ideas. They worked together to accessorize the house starting with his collection of antique boot jacks, door stops and tools. Then Pat got into it. There’s a little corner with souvenirs of the 14 European countries they traveled to. Then she started collecting hats and sometimes has tea parties where her guests all wear the hats.

Pat collected spoons from the many states she and Lew visited and she searched for and found hand painted photos by Wallace Nutting, a Presbyterian Minister from New England. In the kitchen is Pat’s teapot collection. She and her granddaughter washed them all recently and counted 58. One is from Cakes and Curious in Cuba. It is a divided pot with two spouts so it can steep and serve 2 teas at once.

She has a collection of dresses including her mother-in-law’s wedding dress and a celluloid collection of little boxes and pins. She collects old photos thinking that it’s sad that this bit of family history ends up in some rummage sale or antique shop. She gathers them up and takes care of them wishing she knew who that baby was or how life worked out for the smart gentleman with the mustache.

A lot of Pat’s things are like that. They are more made of memories than of wood, paint or china. The men’s hats were collected by Lew as they drove; the thermometers while driving along the old US highways during the 50s and 60s when they stayed at bed and breakfasts. The tea tiles, coin spoons, tea cups and dolls are important for what they represent as well as for their craftsmanship and beauty.

Pat’s respect and admiration for handcrafted work makes the Purple House a natural place for a craft show and so that’s why it has been the site of a Mother’s Day weekend craft show and sale for 3 years now.

Pat’s daughter is Kristen Vossler-Wigent, soap-maker and partner in Green Circle Grove. Also working as Green Circle Grove is Meredith Chilson who designs and sews totes, purses, bags, lunch bags and bitty bags. Together these ladies do a number of shows but they kick off the season with a tea party/sale in Pat’s kitchen.

Green Circle Grove often partners with Joan Sinclair with her cross stitch, weaving and and detailed needle work as well as with StoneFlowerPottery, locally known for Mommy Vases or Grandma Vases as well as all kinds of functional and fun pottery.

Green Circle Grove, StoneFlowerPottery and Joan Sinclair will be in the Purple House on Friday, May 6 from 11 till 6 and Saturday, May 7 from 10 till 4. Come over for tea and cookies and take home a handmade gift for Mother’s Day. Support the local economy and peek at Pat’s collections. White gloves and veiled hats optional.

For more information call 585 808 0385, visit or find StoneFlowerPottery on Facebook.

No comments: