2015 in Review

No matter how you look at it, 2015 was the Trust’s busiest and most exciting year. Matt, assisted by Christian for the latter half of the year, introduced new programs, expanded others, and thoroughly enjoyed bringing the Trust’s membership to five fantastic destinations in the United States and Europe. Some of our favorite memories are recapped here.

Although equally popular, this year’s domestic symposia could not have been in more different locations. True to its cosmopolitan reputation, Chicago’s cultural institutions and private collections offered a variety sites ranging from 18th– and 19th-century decorative arts to Arts and Crafts interiors to modernist skyscrapers for our Spring Symposium. Participants, particularly those who had travelled to Ireland with Trust in 2014, enjoyed a wonderful overview of Irish objects in Christopher Monkhouse’s exhibit Ireland: Crossroads of Art and Design as well as his keynote lecture focusing on the women artists and artisans of Ireland.

The Fall Symposium in Maine took the Trust to a completely different environment, with nary a skyscraper in sight. Even in the small towns and communities scattered along the coast, however, museums and private collections boasted wonderful examples of the decorative arts that gave those found in major cities a run for their money. One particularly memorable visit was a special evening tour and reception at Victoria Mansion in Portland. This was a magical moment in a time-capsule of a structure, with many of Gustav Herter’s original furniture commissions and decorative schemes still in place.

The major seasonal symposia were complemented by the special one-day event at the Wilton House Museum in Richmond, Virginia, focusing on research and interpretation at historic house museums in the Old Dominion. In addition to fantastic research presented by young and emerging scholars in the field, the event introduced the Trust to an ever-widening audience. More than a dozen graduate students in fields related to the decorative arts attended, and the program brought the Trust to the attention of fifty new members. Wilton House offers a stellar example to similar small museums seeking to evolve, having reinvigorated its interpretation, collections, and programming to attract new audiences and encourage repeat visits.

Both of 2015’s Study Trips Abroad were so popular that they required back-to-back tours to accommodate the demand. For citizens of a relatively young country, these outings provide a chance to see objects that predate the United States by centuries, and sometimes millennia, as well as examples of our host nation’s greatest cultural accomplishments. Many of the sites on the spring tour to Germany, particularly in Dresden, were destroyed during the second World War, and then spent several decades behind the iron curtain and largely inaccessible to the casual tourist from America until quite recently. Seeing these sites, many of which have been newly rebuilt or restored, proved to be special experience for many Trust participants.


In its turn Sicily introduced some of the oldest sites recently visited by the Trust. From the breathtaking Valley of the Temples in Agrigento to the fantastic mosaics at the Villa Romana in Casale, these remarkable structures are a visual reminder of the long history of cultural exchange and political control in Sicily and their effect on the island’s art and architecture. After dealing with these ancient sites, even the 13th-century mosaics at the Cappella Palatina seemed merely middle aged.

As wonderful as these trips were, the Trust owes its members a debt of gratitude for making them truly successful. The opportunity to see many like-minded friends while welcoming new ones make each event cause for celebration. For Christian, in particular, the opportunity to meet and interact with the Trust’s members over the past year was a wonderful experience, especially given that our friends are as enthusiastic about museums, exhibits, and the decorative arts as he is.

Sadly, the year included saying goodbye to a beloved member of the Trust. In addition to being a giant in the decorative arts field, Dean Failey was a kind and funny colleague and friend, who was as generous with his knowledge as he was with his time. Our fall symposium was not quite the same without his jovial and insightful company. His legacy will carry on, however, thanks to the generosity of Trust members, through the Dean F. Failey Research & Education Fund, which will help support these endeavors for many years to come.

2016 is now just days away, and we’re looking forward to an exciting, and doubtless no less busy, year ahead!

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