National Watermelon Day:

Celebrating the Taste of Summer
On August 3 the nation celebrates National Watermelon Day, just as the heat of summer makes this cold, juicy, chin-dribbling, seed-spitting treat even more irresistible. One work in the Mercantile Art Museum’s collection immediately came to mind to celebrate National Watermelon Day. James Godwin Scott (1931-2015) is best known for his scenes of life on and along the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, but he also captured all aspects of St. Louis, including the historic Soulard Farmers Market. Scott’s watercolor sketch of the Market features a shopper carrying a substantially sized watermelon.
James Godwin Scott (1931-2015) Watermelon, Soulard Market, watercolor, ca. 1985
Collection of the St. Louis Mercantile Library Art Museum
The Soulard Farmers Market also inspired Illinois artist Ed Karasek (1909-2009), whose work is included in the Feldacker Labor Art Collection. Karasek was a commercial artist by trade, but was also active in the arts communities in Belleville, Illinois and St. Louis, becoming well-known for portraiture and landscape paintings. Unlike Jim Scott’s watercolor that featured the busy shoppers, Karasek’s acrylic painting from 1980 focuses on the architecture of the Market’s second building, built in 1929, which is the familiar Soulard landmark.
Edward L. "Ed" Karasek (1909-2009) Soulard Farmers Market, acrylic on board, 1980
Collection of the St. Louis Mercantile Library Art Museum
In 1779, the current location of the Soulard Market was simply a meadow where farmers came to sell locally raised produce, dairy, and livestock. In 1795 Gabriel Cerre gave his son-in-law, Antoine Soulard, 122 acres of land that included the market meadow. Although its ownership was disputed after the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, in 1836, after years of legal dispute, Antoine’s widow Julia acquired a clear deed to the land. Five years later she gave two blocks of land to the City of St. Louis with the stipulation that it be used as a market in perpetuity. The Market has been an important part of St. Louis life ever since, including having its first building destroyed by the 1896 tornado. The current building, built in 1929, was modeled after the famous Foundling’s Hospital (Ospedale degli Innocenti) in Florence, Italy, designed in the early 15th century by Filippo Brunelleschi (1377 – 1446).

One of the joys of being a curator for the Mercantile Library is finding the connections across collections that occur when researching a subject. In addition to the artistic renderings of the Soulard Market, the Library’s Globe-Democrat collection contains several related photographs. One, from the 1950s, is reminiscent of Scott’s watercolors in that it shows the bustling crowds of shoppers seen entering the arcade. Like Karasek’s composition, the second photograph, from 1968, emphasizes the exterior of the historic building.
Soulard Market, photograph from the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, ca. 1950s
Collection of the St. Louis Mercantile Library
Soulard Market, photograph from the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, 1968
Collection of the St. Louis Mercantile Library
The Library’s watermelon-related collections don’t stop there. Among our many historic cookbooks is The White House Cookbook: A Comprehensive Cyclopedia of Information for the Home by Hugo Ziemann, Steward of the White House, and Fanny Lemira Gillette (1828-1926). This 600 plus page volume contained “cooking, toilet and household recipes, menus, dinner-giving, table etiquette, care of the sick, health suggestions, facts worth knowing, etc.” and was dedicated “to the wives of our presidents, those noble women who have graced the White House, and whose names and memories are dear to all Americans.” The book was first published in 1857 and was reprinted several times; the Library’s copy is from 1903 and features this enticing recipe for Watermelon Rind. Whether you decide to try out this vintage recipe or choose to prepare the bounty of one of St. Louis’ many Farmers Markets in your favorite recipe, we wish you a safe and happy National Watermelon Day!
The White House cookbook: A Comprehensive Cyclopedia of Information for the Home,
by Hugo Ziemann and Mrs. F.L. Gillette, 1903
Collection of the St. Louis Mercantile Library
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