by Edith Holmes
Esther Stevens BRAZER, our teacher and the inspiration for our Guild, was born in Portland, Maine, April 7, 1898, the daughter of Samuel Augustus Stevens and Harriet Belt of Wilmington, Delaware. She attended the Portland schools and her art career began in her teens at the Swelt Memorial Art Museum in Portland. She graduated from Waynfleet School for Girls and later studied interior decorating at Columbia University.
At the end of World War I, Esther Stevens married Mr. Cecil Fraser of Cambridge and went to live in the old John Hicks house on Dunster Street. It was there that she began her research work. Desiring to repaper some of the rooms she began stripping the walls and just as she later displayed her patience and curiosity in her search for old tray and furniture designs, she sought the bottom layers and the original designs of wall papers. Under fourteen layers of paper in one room she unearthed enough of the original design to reproduce it. This she did in blocks, as the early papers were done, and restored the room to its original appearance.
Later, when she and her husband bought the old Hall house in Duxbury and moved it to Gray Gardens, West, in Cambridge, she carefully took that paper from the wall in the Hicks house and put it on the wall of the little library in the Hall house.
All this was a side issue, as at about this time Esther was devoting much time to mothering her two daughters, Diana and Constance. This is just an example of the untiring persistence that stayed with her to the end. In an article she titled "I Hunt for Hidden Treasure" written for the magazine "Avocation" in 1938, she tells of some of her remarkable discoveries of original designs on chairs and tables and trays under layers and layers of paint. I wonder who of us can develop the energy and clever ability to carry on that part of her work.
Esther's stencilling began with her one and only visit with Mr. George Lord of Portland, a short time before he died. Mr. Lord was keen and active in spite of his eighty odd years and apparently realized that Esther Stevens was the person to carry on his work, for in one short half hour he taught her the art of stencilling. He was a good teacher and she, as apt a pupil as he ever had, I am sure.
I refrain from telling the story of Zachariah Stevens and Esther's discovery of his painted tin, her research work on painted chairs and Pennsylvania chests and many other subjects, about which she wrote, because I have hopes that these articles will all be published under one cover in the near future.
When I first knew Esther she had cut over a thousand stencils. It would be interesting to know how many there were in her collection at the end. She always had some stencils and her tiny scissors in her bag and, whether it was a long train ride or a few minutes wait in a hotel lobby, the scissors came out and another stencil was cut. Beautiful, intricate stencils! How she did love to produce them!
On one of our pilgrimages, the Plymouth Black and White Club went to the Junior League In Boston to see the exhibition of Esther Stevens Frazer's trays and furniture. That was in 1934. We were thrilled and our desire for instruction was great. I soon went to Cambridge to see her and began lessons immediately.
Those were never to be forgotten days! Esther's love of her work and her desire to give her best to each and every one in the class, made those lessons days of joy, much too short and only one day a week. We had those lessons in her Cambridge home, where the stencilled walls and floors, the lovely old furniture, the collection of trays, the atmosphere and Esther herself, made us strive to the utmost to reproduce the deigns she set before us.
In 1937, Esther married Mr. Clarence W. Brazer of New York. They purchased "Innerwick", the second oldest house in Flushing, Long Island. There again she painted and stencilled walls and restored another landmark.
Distance didn't make her desert her Boston classes. She came by train every other week all winter, lugging huge folios of beautiful designs, teaching long hours, then taking the train trip back again to Flushing. We appreciated all the time and effort she gave us and we came from near and far for those lessons.
Then came the time when she could no longer take the long train ride. It was hard to give her up —
We, of the Wellesley group, have met regularly each winter, carrying on by ourselves, always keeping in touch with Esther to the end. We loved her, we needed her. We had to lose her and we must keep on without her.
She talked of her other classes to all of us, until we almost knew each individual. Now that we are united in one group, we must know each other better, we must strive to be true disciples of her teachings and make our Guild a credit to the memory of Esther Stevens Brazer.
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