Oh, how I love scouring Amazon’s Public Domain books for light reading. I go crazy just downloading all these forgotten art history books so I can review them. Which has led me into looking at Virginian Architecture in the Seventeenth Century by Henry Chandlee Forman. Written in the 1950s, this book hardly even fits in my ‘extremely old’ section, but I’m putting it there anyway.
However, this book makes for a great read. Forman writes beautifully and gives us an extensive view of Virginia’s history and culture. From the Native Americans (By linguistic groups: Algonquian, Siouan, and the Iroquois) that thrived to the early colonists developed their own style of architecture. In fact, these two worlds make up this book. He begins with Native American architecture and his analysis veers from admiring their skills to treating them as this exotic Other. Forman writes about every material, pattern, design, and meaning that comes from every mound and Treasure House he devotes a section to. He also compares Native American architecture to European architecture and speculates what the nations developed independently and what came from outside influences.
On the architecture of the early European settlers, he spends most of the book showing that they took a lot of their architectural influences from England’s Medieval and Renaissance eras. This resulted in a hodgepodge of styles that would evolve and change due to the variety. I think he backs up his points pretty well. He explains the materials and tools used and why they used them. He names famous people who lived there and any other historical events. In the last part of the book, he wraps up everything with the history and style of famous architectural landmarks.
This book has illustrations (click the Gutenberg link for that), but the free Kindle edition does not. They themselves consist of photographs and sketches. The sketches themselves have this simple style, but it provides a nice help. Hilariously, Forman does put a snarky tinge to his writing. Near the beginning, he writes:
“We commence the fascinating story of the early architecture of Virginia by describing the first architectural style which every flourished there–a style about which most people know little and most school children nothing,”
He writes with such vigor and energy, one can read this book in a day.