Charles H. Sullivan's Baton

Object Details

Between 1890 and 1933
wood, ivory, metal, shell, ink
15 13/16 × 13/16 in. (40.2 × 2.1 cm)
An orchestra conductor synchronizes a musical group using a handheld baton to mark the beat out visually. At the turn of the twentieth century, musicians often showed gratitude to their leaders by presenting them with a special baton like this one. The lacquered ebony baton recalls a woodwind instrument, such as a clarinet or oboe. Rather than keys, however, metal ribbons curve around it to adorn as well as to reinforce it against taps on a music stand. Carved into the ivory handle, a flowering vine emerges from a flowerpot, and this symbol of growth continues on an ivory tip. The brightness of the tip helps players to follow the baton and, therefore, the beat. Inlaid mother-of-pearl dots both ebony and ivory with iridescence. The baton belonged to musician Charles H. Sullivan (1865-1933), the eldest son of Canadians of African descent who immigrated to Boston in the late 1800s. Skilled at making and repairing instruments, Sullivan founded the multiracial Victorian Concert Orchestra in 1906. His obituary noted his service to the orchestra, which continued until his death, and his orchestra’s devotion to him. One can imagine the orchestra giving him this elegant baton in appreciation for his leadership.
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