Saturday, November 2, 2013

A Voyage Across the Americas

Blending adventure and social commentary, the journals and letters of Henri de Büren, a young Swiss nobleman, detail his grand tour from his family castle overlooking Lake Neuchâtel, Switzerland, to the still youthful Americas of the 1850s. His voyage—on foot, horseback, and by boat—would take him through the Eastern United States, the waters of the Caribbean, the vast expanses of Mexico and the stunning lakes and mountain ranges of South America. Henri would not return home for two years.

Henri’s first-hand accounts of his travels in the New World reflect his observations on a variety of subjects: the grandeur of nature (made both from the vantage point of an artist and avid botanist); racial injustice and social inequality; his meetings with noted Swiss scientists such as Louis Agassiz; and his colorful encounters with European emigrants and wily government officials.

Henri’s journals and letters to his family, seeing the light of day for the first time in over 150 years, will fascinate readers who value wit, history, and the broadening qualities of travel. His thoughts and observations on the 19th century open a larger window into the past, one that shows at times how far we have come and at others how far we still have to go.

Six years from when I started this project, Henri’s entire work will finally see the light of day. The journey to publication has been like his voyage—countless twists and turns, an uncertain fate, and a deeply satisfying conclusion.

The book is available in print Paperback, as well as an ebook for KindleNook and iPad.

Friday, August 16, 2013

A Swiss Explorer Comes to America

"Like Henri de Büren's adventure, my project concerning him has continued to evolve. When I found the original journal, my fascination with it took me in its grasp and refused to let go. Beyond the intellectual calculations of its historical value, there was a deeply emotional component. The journal felt viscerally part of me, a creative product that called to me, desiring to be expressed."

My first published article has just gone live. After countless stops and starts, numerous rewrites, and a few additional gray hairs I am very pleased with the result. I tried to not simply write about my ancestor's voyage, but also what the journey has meant for me personally.

Please go over to and read my Tales from the Vault article Following in His Footsteps – A Swiss Explorer Comes to America.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Ruff Times

I am always intrigued by how certain fashion defines an era. I adore the fashion of the 18th century, but the austere aesthetic of the 16th and 17th centuries fascinates me even more.

The first time I saw a double cartwheel ruff and a fur hat in a painting of an ancestor, I was shocked. I am no fashion maven, but the somber appearance of the black robes, chains, undulating stiff cloth propping up sullen faces and gloves in hand ready to strike the insolent commoner was not the most inviting look. Yikes.

The ruff fell out of fashion at the beginning of the 17th century in most of Western Europe in favor of collars and bands, except for Holland, where it was worn for many more years. It appears the Swiss were taking the fashion tips from Amsterdam and not Paris.

As I have done research, the style appears over and over again in paintings of my ancestors and of other prominent Swiss families from the period. I have grouped a sampling of the fashion below in all its puritanical and repressive glory. Enjoy them, just not too much. 

Barbara von Wattenwyl, painted 1621.

Margaretha Fries, painted in 1670. Photo courtesy of the Swiss National Museums.

Helena von Wyttenbach, painted in 1638. Photo courtesy of the Burgerbibliothek Bern.

Salomé von Erlach, painted in 1623. Photo courtesy of the Burgerbibliothek Bern.

Magdalena Nägeli, painted in 1622. Photo courtesy of the Burgerbibliothek Bern.

Regula Hirzel, painted in 1583. Photo courtesy of the Swiss National Museums.

Lady of Zürich, painted in 1650.  Photo courtesy of the Swiss National Museums.

Maria von Manuel, painted 1638.  Photo courtesy of the Swiss National Museums.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Aristocratic Bern Aesthetic

When I was younger I spent many summer's traveling around Switzerland and visiting my older relatives in Bern, Denens and Geneva. It struck me that many of the interiors were all decorated in a similar old world style.

While I would love to have photos of the those interiors now, I think the photos below (all from the extensive © Burgerbibliothek archive) showcase that style well, especially that of the old families of Bern.

The subsequent photos, taken most likely in the post WWII period, are all from the de Tavel villa on Schosshaldenstrasse in Bern. The de Tavel villa interestingly is on the same street as Bürenstock, the manor home of the de Büren family for many years.

When I saw these photos I was struck at how familiar it all felt. The style of furniture, the fabric patterns, the walls adorned with artwork, and the way family portraits were suspended from crown moldings.

As an aside, the de Tavel family is deeply significant to the de Büren family not so much for an association with Bern, but rather one in the canton of Vaud. The Château of Denens was acquired through marriage with the de Tavel at the end of the 18th century, and is the only castle that is still in family hands today.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Magasin Agricole

In conducting some research today I found a very interesting reference to my great-great-grandfather, Henri de Büren in the March 19th, 1870 edition of the Feuille d'avis de Neuchâtel .

His name is associated with an ad announcing the opening of a shop for local farm products in Neuchâtel. At the time he was the President of Agricultural Society of Neuchâtel, so my guess is it was a store front for all the best products from the region, not just those from the castle of Vaumarcus.

The ad follows in both French and English:

Magasin agricole et débit de lait

faubourg du Lac 6

Le soussigné a l’honneur d’informer le public de la ville de Neuchâtel qu’il ouvrira dans le courant du printemps un magasin où les personnes qui voudront bien lui accorder leur clientèle, trouveront à un prix raisonnable et bien conditionnés, tous les produits de la campagne, tels les fruits, légumes, lait, beurre, miel, oeufs, vins en bouteilles, etc., etc

Le débit du lait commencera dès le 1er avril prochain, au prix de 26 centimes le pot, mesure nette, rendu à domicile, et de 25 centimes pris au magasin. Ce lait est garanti parfaitement franc de tout écremage. Les personnes qui seraient disposés à en prendre dès la date sus-indiquée sont priées de bien vouloir s’annoncer jusqu’à fin mars courant, auprès de Mad. Elise Junod, faubourgh du Lac, n° 6, 1er étage, en indiquant leur domicile et la quantité de lait qu’elles désirent prendre. Les comptes seront réglés au mois.

L’ouverture du magasin pour les autres produits sera annoncée par un avis ultérieur.

Henri de BUREN

Vaumarcus, 3 mars 1870

Farm Products and Fresh Milk

Faubourg du Lac 6

The undersigned has the honor to inform the public of the city of Neuchâtel that he will open a shop in the spring where people who are willing to grant him their business, will find reasonably priced and well packaged local farm products, such as fruits, vegetables, milk, butter, honey, eggs, bottled wine, etc., etc.

Fresh cream topped milk will be available from April 1st, priced at 26 cents a jar, net measurement, for home delivery, and 25 cents in the shop. Interested parties who would like delivery from the date above are kindly requested to inform Mrs. Elise Junod, faubourgh du Lac, No. 6, 1st floor, by the end of the month, indicating their home address and the amount of milk they desire. Accounts will be settled monthly.

The opening date of the shop for the local farm products will be announced by an upcoming notice.

Henri de BUREN

Vaumarcus, March 3rd, 1870

The street of Faubourg du Lac, taken by Victor Attinger a very famous Swiss editor  in 1918.

A Google map view of Neuchâtel, with the shop location denoted by the "A".

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

17th Century Epithalamia

In conducting research tonight on, an online resource for digitized rare book from Swiss libraries, I found two 17th century de Büren family related epithalamia. An epithalamia is a song or poem in honor of a bride and groom on the their wedding day.

The first was from the 1637 wedding of Albert von Erlach and Anna von Büren. The second was from the 1647 wedding of Nicolas Dachselhofer and Barabara von Büren.

Both epithalamia are in Latin, French and German. I am including images from them below and hope to get a translation of the poems and songs soon.

Saturday, February 2, 2013


While my family history is long and illustrious, my strongest personal association is with the 19th and early 20th centuries. This may be because of my extensive research surrounding the life of my great-great-grandfather, Henri de Büren but I think it has more to do with the quantity of family documentation that survives from this time period.

As a designer, artist, and photographer I am drawn to the sketchbooks, letters, journals and numerous business papers that remain. The beautiful sketch made down by the lake, the photographic portrait make in 1870s Geneva, the penmanship of a letter between siblings or even the typography used on the water bill are all revelations in their own right.

The following photographs are a sample of these items that hold dear and in which I am so continually fascinated. Enjoy.


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