These are brief reviews of books recently sent to us. We have included ordering information for publishers that accept mail, phone, or on-line orders. For other publishers, your local bookstore or mail-order house is the place to look.
Romantic Spirits: Nineteenth Century Paintings of the South from the Johnson Collection by Estill Curtis Pennington (Cane Ridge Publishing House, distributed by University of South Carolina Press, 2012, 168 pp., hardbound, $34.95 plus S/H from University of South Carolina Press, [www.uscpress.com] or  768-2500).
The Johnson Collection in Spartanburg, South Carolina, is a young organization with a big mission—to promulgate art appreciation and art history of the South. It began in 2002 with the personal collection of George D. Johnson Jr. and his wife, Susan “Susu” P. Johnson, who continue to support and guide the museum. This book is the first in a proposed series to illuminate the growing collection concerned with a wide range of artistic activity in the South. The organization chose Estill Curtis “Buck” Pennington (no relation to the M.A.D. Penningtons) to author it. We have reviewed with praise an earlier book by Pennington about art of the South, and this one lives up to those high standards.
An overview, “Spirit of an Era,” begins with a stirring reminder of the intrinsic value of art as a record of culture. The author’s honest assessments (on themes such as “the idealized chivalric code of personal honor”) set a positive tone for looking deeply at the illustrations and for reading the artists’ biographies with confidence that they are accurate. The ample size of the pages yields a sense of spaciousness to the clear typography and good illustrations of the paintings.
The bulk of the book is “Works of Art,” which is set up with an illustration of a painting on the right page, facing a page with author’s interpretation of the work on the left. These compact essays include some biographical information about the artists and subjects and amount to a serious, readable compilation of vignettes of the South and southern attitudes of the time. This is where a reader will learn most cultural history.
One example comes from the entry on Thomas Bangs Thorpe (1815-1878), who was better known in his lifetime as a writer than a painter. His 1839 painting of an open watermelon on a silver tray with grapes and peaches in the foreground is a simple still life based on his awareness of 17th-century Dutch masters, and because of his symbolist writings, the author suggests that the painting be read as symbolist. That interpretation, coupled with a summation of his romantic writings about man’s place in nature in the southern vernacular, makes a case for the artist’s consistently close observations of life and his good (if not excellent) skill in illustrating them, either in words or paint. Somehow it seems comforting to know that such a fellow’s illustrations of his time are not lost.
Another example of a modest, talented artist whose legacy is preserved comes from the book’s “Artist Biographies” section. Here with a photograph of Enoch Lloyd Branson (1853-1925) come some well-researched paragraphs, wherein he is described from his obituary. “Modest and retiring to a marked degree this talented artist attracted to himself the men and women of artistic taste and a love of the beautiful. Although quiet and reserved, Mr. Branson was an excellent conversationalist and could entertain his sitters ‘with many interesting stories of his visits to the famous art galleries of the world.’ That same obituary notes that Branson had ‘been known to spend hours quietly on the street keenly observing the faces of those passing along.’” He never married, and several of his most famous and monumental paintings were destroyed in fires, so again, it is nice to have this reminder of a sensitive observer’s life and works.
Naturally, there are many more such examples in this book, which is recommended for its clear writing style and sensitive collation of historical works associated with the theme of the Johnson Collection.
The exhibition that is a companion to this book may be seen at the Johnson Collection through May 26.
Painted Rooms of Rhode Island: Colonial and Federal by Ann Eckert Brown (Spring Green Books in association with The Connecticut Press, 2012, 184 pp., hardbound, $50 plus S/H from The Connecticut Press, [www.connecticutpress.com] or  268-6784; or $55 postpaid from Ann Eckert Brown, 500 Spring Green Rd., Warwick, RI 02888, [www.anneckertbrown.com]).
Ann Eckert Brown has been researching and teaching 18th- and 19th-century painting techniques since the 1960’s. In her previous publications she explored pre-1840 wall stenciling and painted floors. In this book she focuses on interior architectural painting in Rhode Island between 1740 and 1840.
In five chapters—one for each county—Brown describes and illustrates stenciling, murals, and other decorative painting on walls, floors, and woodwork in 47 homes and public buildings. She discusses techniques, sources, materials, and artists (when known). One appendix provides brief biographies of eight known decorative painters, and another explains the types of paint used before 1840.
According to Brown, “Rhode Islanders embraced the use of multicolored decorative paintings to embellish their homes and lives, making the little state on Narragansett Bay a repository for numerous fine examples of 18th- and 19th-century painted interiors.” She points out that this provides “a welcome legacy for local preservationists and owners of antique houses, but also a responsibility.” Through this book she hopes to bring attention to architectural painting “as a vital but rapidly disappearing component of American history.”
A Guide to Buying Antique Garden Ornament by Barbara Israel (Barbara Israel, 2012, 72 pp., softbound, $19.95 plus S/H from Barbara Israel Garden Antiques, [www.barbaraisrael.com] or  744-6281).
If the arrival of spring inspires you to think about buying antiques to display in your garden, you will find helpful information in this little guidebook. For over 25 years, Barbara Israel has specialized in selling antique garden ornament. In this book she shares tips on selecting, identifying, and caring for decorative outdoor works made of cast stone, carved stone, marble, terra cotta, stoneware, cast iron, wrought iron, lead, zinc, and bronze. Color photos illustrate points such as the difference between acceptable and unacceptable losses. (The photos of marks and patterns would have benefited from being larger.) At the back of the book are suggestions for further reading and a short list of useful Web sites.
Fenton Art Glass: A Centennial of Glass Making, 1907-2007 and Beyond by Debbie and Randy Coe (Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 2012, 248 pp., hardbound, $39.99 from Schiffer Publishing, [www.schifferbooks.com] or  593-1777).
This expanded second edition brings the company history up to 2011, when it was announced that the Fenton Art Glass Company would close, and it includes some updates from 2012. More than 4000 pieces are pictured, 1000 of which were added for this volume. Each chapter covers a decade and highlights company history and developments in design and manufacturing processes.
Items pictured represent mint examples from each decade. Values shown are for items in mint condition; rare or unique pieces for which it was difficult to determine values are listed as “value not established.” The book’s introduction gives a good explanation of how the values were determined.
Pieces are identified by pattern numbers and names, sizes, colors, and dates. A nice addition to the book are the archival and recent photographs of the Fenton family, the factory, and the employees from over the years. An index, a bibliography, and a page with information on clubs and resources for collectors are included.
American Silver Eagles: A Guide to the U.S. Bullion Coin Program by John M. Mercanti and Michael “Miles” Standish (Whitman Publishing, LLC, 2012, 154 pp., hardbound, $29.95 from Whitman Publishing, LLC, [www.whitmanbooks.com] or  546-2995).
Written by a former chief engraver of the U.S. Mint, this “encyclopedic book-length” study of the American Silver Eagle bullion program and coins focuses on the history of bullion in the U.S., the development of the eagle bullion coin, and a guide to each American Silver Eagle, including sets and varieties. The guide includes large detailed photographs of each example, obverse and reverse, and gives commentary and historical context as well as certified coin numbers and a value guide.
John Mercanti gives an insider’s perspective of the U.S. Mint and details of how he was hired as a sculptor-engraver in 1974. He became the chief engraver in 2006 and retired in 2010. The book includes illustrations and descriptions of other silver, gold, platinum, and palladium bullion coins and medals to put the eagles in context. The appendices include charts with the populations, mintages, and values of Silver Eagle coins from Professional Coin Grading Service data; an illustrated catalog of coins and medals with Mercanti’s designs; and notes, a glossary, and an index.
Quilts in Everyday Life, 1855-1955: A 100-Year Photographic History by Janet E. Finley (Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 2012, 192 pp., hardbound, $34.99 from Schiffer Publishing, [www.schifferbooks.com] or  593-1777).
Quilts in Everyday Life combines two collecting categories: quilts and photography. Janet Finley began collecting photographs that included a quilt in the image while she was the executive director of the Rocky Mountain Quilt Museum. From the almost 1000 photographs in her collection, she chose more than 300 to feature in this book. Photos are grouped and arranged in order by date. Her introduction gives an overview of the changes in photography and photography practices. She also explains how she dated the photographs.
The photographs mostly are portraits of children, individuals, and families, but some are of postmortem children and infants. Quilts were used as backdrops, props, or coverings. The appendix features research done by Susan Salser on the Detroit News “Quilt Club Corner,” a newspaper column by Edith B. Crumb that ran three times a week. Crumb also hosted a radio show that promoted quilting in the 1930’s and ’40’s. The club had mail-order members and hosted an annual quilt show.
The author has created a fascinating view of American life when making quilts was common and photography was new and developing.