Category: Travel

Loving the Loire Valley: Notes from the Study Trip Abroad to France

Châteaux, cathedrals, museums, vineyards, and more—the Decorative Arts Trust’s exploration of over 40 sites in the Loire Valley definitely wowed the members who participated in the two sold-out programs.

The Loire is the longest river in France at 633 miles and demonstrates a stunning variability along its course to the Atlantic. The river’s voyage begins in the Vivarais mountains only 85 miles from the Mediterranean and is fed by innumerable tributaries, such as the Indre, Vienne, and Char. The novelist Gustave Flaubert described the “fertile, gentle” territory we will explore on this Study Trip Abroad as “the land of bon petit vin blanc and beautiful old Châteaux, watered by the Loire, the most French of French rivers.” He acknowledged the river’s “sung prose” with “the sort of beauty which caresses without captivating, charms without seducing and, in a word, has more good sense than grandeur, and more wit than poetry: it is France.” For sculptor Auguste Rodin, the Loire, not the Seine or the Rhône, was “the aorta of our France.” 

This Study Trip Abroad in western France featured two tours: one from October 13 to October 22 and one from October 24 to November 2. The first tour commenced in Montbazon and concluded in Nantes, whereas the second started in Nantes and ended in Montbazon. The unique itinerary highlighted less-visited Lower Loire Valley hidden gems and iconic sites, with a special concentration on exclusive private visits that highlight the region’s superlative architecture, collections, gardens, and wine. The Trust also offered an optional extension focusing on Brittany’s Loire Atlantique Region from October 22 to 25, allowing some Tour 1 attendees to extend their travels and some Tour 2 attendees to begin their adventure early. 

In this post, we’ll share insights into three standout sites: the châteaux of Serrant, Villandry, and Chenonceau.

Château de Serrant

Although built over three centuries, the Château de Serrant shows an amazing unity of style. Building began in 1547 on behalf of Charles de Brie to the plans of Philibert Delorme. De Brie found he lacked sufficient funds for the project and sold the property to the Duc de Montbazon with only the north tower completed. Construction resumed in the 1630s under Guillaume de Bautru, a state councilor. He continued the façade of pale white tuffeau and dark russet schist. The massive corner towers topped by cupolas lend an air of dignity, and the central pavilion contains one of the most beautiful Renaissance staircases in the region. Subsequent owners included the Marquis de Vaubrun, who added the west wing. After the Marquis’s death at the Battle of Altenheim in 1675 during the Franco-Dutch War, his widow ordered a memorial sculpture by Antoine Coysevox, which is now in the Chapel. In 1747, the estate was sold to Anthony Walsh, an exiled English shipbuilder in Nantes and friend of the Stewarts. Walsh supplied Prince Charles Edward with a fleet for his ill-fated effort to rally Scotland to his cause. The Château contains a painting that commemorates Bonnie Prince Charlie’s departure for Scotland. In 1830, the house passed by marriage into the hands of the Ducs de Trémoille, whose descendants still own it. The house contains some magnificent furnishings, notably of the Empire period, including a table by Jacob and candelabra by Thomire in the dining room. Serrant also features an important collection of Flemish tapestries and an impressive library. We were shown and incredible 17th-century ebony cabinet. Ordered in 1654 from the celebrated cabinetmaker Pierre Gole as a wedding present, the cabinet is one of a few examples known and the only one remaining in a private collection. The theater-like central reserve is stunning and contains a dozen hidden compartments. The colorful grotto is carved and painted cork.

Villandry

Villandry is the last of the great Renaissance châteaux in the Loire. It stands on the site of a feudal castle and was built in 1552 by Jean le Breton, Secretary of State to François I. It was bought in 1906 by Dr. Carvalho, founder of “La Demeure Historique,” who transformed the gardens, replacing a 19th-century English landscaped park. It is famous for the formal design of the potager, with beds of ornamental cultivars (and ordinary vegetables) outlined with vine arbours, hedges, clipped yew trees, and fountains. There is also a water garden, herb garden, and labyrinth.

Chenonceau

We approached Chenonceau via a grand avenue of plane trees and symmetrical gardens that stretches across the River Cher. The château was built over the course of the 16th century and inhabited by a succession of powerful women, each of whom left a distinctive mark. The square mansion with turreted corners was constructed 1513-17 for Thomas Bohier, Treasury Superintendent under Francois I, but in practice, Bohier’s wife, Catherine Briconnet, took charge and was the creative spirit behind the project. Notable Italian features include the dormers (early examples of the type to be found in all the Loire châteaux, still medieval in form but decorated with dolphins and candelabra in the new Renaissance manner), and the single straight staircase, doubling back on itself, which replaces the usual French spiral. In 1547, Henri II gave Chenonceau to his mistress Diane de Poitiers, who added formal gardens and built a long arched bridge (1556-1559), linking the Château with the south bank of the River Cher. After Henri’s death in 1559, Queen Catherine de Medici claimed the property and added a two-story Italian-style gallery to the bridge (1570-1576). She also expanded the park and constructed numerous outbuildings. In the 18th century, Louise Dupin hosted a literary salon at Chenonceau, attracting famous Enlightenment writers including Voltaire, Montesquieu, and Rosseau. In the 1870s, heiress Marguerite Pelouze exhausted her considerable fortune restoring Chenonceau, and, since 1913, it has belonged in the Menier family, esteemed chocolatiers, who have undertaken numerous renovations. The interiors are sumptuously furnished with period tapestries, sculptures, and paintings.

Un Grand Succès!

Albeit a bit cold and wet, the two tours and extension of the Loire Valley trip were great successes.

Study Trips Abroad are designed to engage and enlighten Decorative Arts Trust members, although non-members are welcome to join when they register. Members at the Ambassador level and above receive early registration benefits. Upcoming Study Trips Abroad include Amsterdam in March 2020, Ireland in May 2020, and Italy in October 2020. See the Decorative Arts Trust’s full calendar of events for more information about upcoming programs.

Touring Yale’s Hume Furniture Study Center and the Wurtele Study Center in Connecticut

On Friday, October 4, Decorative Arts Trust members experienced an exceptional collection of colonial and Federal furniture at the new Leslie P. and George H. Hume Yale American Furniture Study Center in Connecticut. The Furniture Study reopened at Yale West Campus after nearly 60 years in downtown New Haven, and it contains over 1,000 examples of wooden objects dating from the 17th through the 21st century. 

Patricia E. Kane, Curator of American Decorative Arts at the Yale Art Gallery, and John Stuart Gordon, Associate Curator of American Decorative Arts, hosted Trust members as they toured a broad range of displays focused on topics tied to the study of furniture, from joinery and surface to hardware and upholstery. These hands-on installations allow visitors the opportunity to delve into important components of furniture history along with an up-close analysis of Yale’s extraordinary collection.

Trust members were especially pleased to be a part of this tour because the Trust’s Dean F. Failey Grant supported development of these didactics. This annual grant of up to $10,000 supports noteworthy research, exhibition, publication, and object-based conservation projects. The application deadline for the next grant cycle is October 31, 2019. 

The day continued with a visit to the nearby Margaret and Angus Wurtele Study Center, which houses more than 30,000 three-dimensional objects, including Chinese porcelain and ancient Greek vases. John Stuart Gordong pulled two dozen selections from the American decorative art collection, from 18th-century tiles to late-20th-century plates designed by Robert Venturi.

The Trust has many more special programs and events scheduled for 2019, 2020, and 2021. Sign up for our e-newsletter or follow us on social media for updates.

(Fall)ing in Love with the Berkshires: My Symposium Adventures

by Elizabeth Fox

Elizabeth Fox in the Naumkeag dining room
Elizabeth Fox in the Naumkeag dining room

I embraced the majestic fall beauty of the Berkshires during the Decorative Arts Trust’s Fall 2019 Symposium. As a Georgia native who just moved to Massachusetts for my curatorial assistantship with the Worcester Art Museum, I had a limited understanding of New England culture beyond colonial American art and history. Thus, I welcomed the opportunity to experience the diversity of western Massachusetts’s architectural landmarks for the first time. The weekend was jam-packed with tours of historic properties, which ranged from colonial residences (e.g. Mission House); to Shingle Style and “Newporty” mansions (e.g. Naumkeag and the Mount); and to modern Bauhaus-style interiors (e.g. Frelinghuysen-Morris House & Studio). Although very different in appearance and era, each house was in some way influenced by notions of collecting and design of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Additionally, we learned more about American sculpture at Chesterwood and early 20th-century illustration at the Norman Rockwell Museum. During the symposium’s lectures, speakers demonstrated their decorative arts expertise by showcasing groundbreaking projects. For instance, Cindy Brockway, Program Director for Cultural Resources at the Trustees of Reservations, presented the results of a six-year restoration of Naumkeag’s gardens, completed based on the original plans of landscape architect Fletcher Steele. This project served to not only recapture former owner Mabel Choate’s vision of Naumkeag but also to rethink its role as a public site, something that most historic house museums are working to improve. Throughout these presentations, I observed each scholar’s enthusiasm over new discoveries. Christie Jackson, Senior Curator at the Trustees, detailed her extraordinary finds at the Old Manse in Concord, MA, including a ghosting of repeating stripe wallpaper (c. 1860) that was unearthed in the parlor. These discoveries informed her conservation work on the property. During his furniture workshop at Mission House, Brock Jobe, Winterthur’s Emeritus Professor of Decorative Arts, expressed his excitement over a rare 1736 Philadelphia high back chair, which had a slat back with Germanic characteristics. Witnessing the passion and accomplishments of these scholars encouraged me tremendously and impacted my overall experience as a scholarship recipient. Thank you Decorative Arts Trust and its members for helping me further my education in New England decorative arts and allowing me to learn from noted specialists in the field!

 

Elizabeth Fox, Curatorial Assistant at Worcester Art Museum, was a recipient of a Dewey Lee Curtis Symposium Scholarship. She attended the Decorative Arts Trust’s Fall 2019 Symposium in the Berkshires

A Wondrous Experience: Exploring the Berkshires

by Drew Walton

Drew Walton in Naukeag's Chinese Garden
Drew Walton in Naukeag’s Chinese Garden

The Decorative Arts Trust’s Fall Symposium in the Berkshires was a truly wondrous experience on so many different fronts. On a personal level, this was my first time visiting New England, and my journey to and from Stockbridge, MA, was quite an adventure. I not only expanded my horizons geographically but also intellectually with engaging tours around the various historic houses, museums, and artist studios that we had the privilege of visiting during our long weekend together. The Mount, Mission House, and Naumkeag were fascinating homes to explore while learning about their occupants. However, I found the Hancock Shaker Village to be especially enlightening. In walking amongst the living quarters and workspaces of the Shakers, I glimpsed how this unique sect of people lived their pious lives. Freely roaming around the open-air museum put their material culture into perspective beyond the outside world’s tendency to view their works as decorative arts. My appreciation for the fine arts was further expanded by our visit to Chesterwood. Standing inside Daniel Chester French’s studio was simply breathtaking and awe-inspiring, not only in viewing his sculptures up close but also in reveling in the sheer scale of the projects that were brought in and out of the wooden gates. The Norman Rockwell Museum was also quite the treat to experience. Professionally, it was intriguing to learn about the digital analysis undertaken to restore the wallpapers in one of Naumkeag’s bedrooms. That is exactly the kind of work I aspire to conduct in my career in the digital humanities. I enjoyed the opportunity to meet the lovely and varied members that make up the Decorative Arts Trust. Everyone was so nice and welcoming, and I deeply appreciate your kindness. Your generosity made both my internship at the William King Museum of Art in Abingdon, VA, and my symposium scholarship possible. It was truly an honor to meet and interact with everyone over the weekend.

Drew Walton, Decorative Arts Trust Digital Humanities Fellow at the William King Museum of Art, was a recipient of a Dewey Lee Curtis Symposium Scholarship. He attended the Decorative Arts Trust’s Fall 2019 Symposium in the Berkshires

Inspired by the Berkshires: Notes from the Fall 2019 Symposium in Western Massachusetts

With the autumn leaves changing colors, members of the Decorative Arts Trust reveled in the cultural history of Western Massachusetts during the Decorative Arts Trust’s Fall Symposium from September 19-22, 2019.

Pre-Symposium Tour and Symposium Kick-Off

The event began with a pre-symposium optional tour of Williamstown, Massachusetts, on Thursday, September 19, with visits to the Williamstown Art Conservation Center, the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute (the Clark), and the Arrowhead Museum.

The day began with private, behind-the-scenes tours of painting, paper, sculpture, and furniture conservation labs at Williamstown Art Conservation Center, a state-of-the-art facility on the Clark’s campus. At the Clark, Kathleen Morris, Director of Exhibitions and Collections and Curator of Decorative Arts, led a presentation of some of the museum’s decorative arts treasures. She and Alexis Goodin led members through tours of European and American galleries with objects spanning the 14th to the early 20th centuries.

After lunch at the Clark, members continued to Arrowhead Museum in Pittsfield, the former home of author Herman Melville (Moby-Dick, Pierre, The Confidence-Man, Israel Potter). Melville named The Piazza Tales and “I and My Chimney” stories for Arrowhead’s porch and chimney, respectively. Berkshire County Historical Society members guided participants through the house, even showing them where he had the idea for his famous white whale, based on his view of a show-covered Mount Greylock from his study window.

Back at the Red Lion Inn, the Fall Symposium kicked off with opening remarks on Thursday evening, featuring a presentation by Richard Jackson’s on Country Houses of the Berkshires, 1870-1930.

 

 

Naumkeag and Mission House

On Friday, September 20, members enjoyed lectures about Mabel Choate Goes Shopping: Furnishing the Mission House, 1928-1930 with Brock Jobe, Professor Emeritus, Winterthur Program in American Material Culture; Polishing the Masterpieces: Garden Conservation as Fine Art with Cindy Brockway, Program Director for Cultural Resources, The Trustees of Reservations; and A Comparison of Two Great American Houses: Naumkeag and the Mount with Pauline Metcalf.

The afternoon featured a tour of Naumkeag House and Gardens, the 1886 Choate family estate, and the Mission House, a mid-1700s house that Mabel Choate restored to a Colonial-era house and museum in the 1930s. Naumkeag stand-outs included the Blue Steps, the Chinese Garden, and Choate’s collection of porcelain dishes displayed on a golden-yellow drapery in her dining room. Brock Jobe shared his expertise of Colonial-era furniture during a furniture study at the Mission House.

The evening concluded with a reception to celebrate Trust’s Emerging Scholars Program, which includes Continuing Education Scholarships, Summer Research Grants, Curatorial Internship Grants, Emerging Scholar Lectures, and Exhibition and Publication Grants. This program is the heart of the Trust’s mission to provide opportunities for scholars to share their passion for the decorative arts, and support is always welcome.

 

Lenox, Pittsfield, and Stockbridge

Saturday, September 21 began with a tour of Mount Estate and Gardens and the Frelinghuysen-Morris House and Studio in Lenox, followed by visits to the Hancock Shaker Village in Pittsfield, the Rockwell Museum, and Chesterwood.

The Mount Estate and Gardens is the former home of Edith Wharton, author of The House of Mirth and The Age of Innocence. The beauty of the house and its furnishings was as inspiring as the anecdotes about Edith’s wit and cleverness.

The Frelinghuysen-Morris House and Studio was the home and art studio of American abstract artists George L.K. Morris and Suzy Frelinghuysen. The house features their artwork alongside Modern Masters such as Picasso, Braque, Gris, Miro, and Matisse and furniture by Frankl, Deskey, and Aalto. Not only did members have the opportunity to view an exceptional collection of Mid-Century Modern architecture and abstract art, they also were invited to participate in a sketching exercise lead by Frelinghuysen’s nephew.

The weather was perfect for lunch and a stroll around Hancock Shaker Village in Pittsfield. Now a living-history museum with over 20 buildings and 22,000 artifacts, the village presents rich collections of Shaker furniture, rotating exhibits, and a working farm with extensive gardens and heritage-breed livestock.

Members continued the afternoon at Chesterwood (sculptor Daniel Chester French’s estate) and the Norman Rockwell Museum.

Daniel Chester French is most famous for his monumental statue of Abraham Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. Chesterwood not only featured a lovely summer home and an inspiring studio, but it also included a gorgeous garden that French designed.

Norman Rockwell—most famous for his Saturday Evening Post magazine covers, illustration for over 40 books, and presidential portraits—is celebrated at the Norman Rockwell Museum and studio. Docents showed members which models he used most often (his neighbors!) and encouraged participants to look deeper into his style and artistry.

Final Day: A Wealth of Learning

On the last day of the Symposium, Sunday, September 22, Matt Thurlow led the Decorative Arts Trust Annual Meeting; Amber Wingerson (Curatorial Assistant at the Cape Ann Museum) presented the John A.H. Sweeney Emerging Scholar Lecture, “Glass That Decorates”: the History, Designers, and Stained-Glass of the Church Glass and Decorating Company of New York; Christie Jackson (Senior Curator, Trustees of Reservations) shared Curating Color: A Fascinating Journey of Color in Three Conservation Projects; and Mark Wilson (Curator, Trustees of Reservations) spoke on Avoiding the Obvious: Lawrence Bloedel & Collecting Modern. The symposium concluded with Rebecca Migdal giving the Marie Zimmermann Emerging Scholar Lecture on Modern in the Mountains: Mid-Century Design in the Berkshires.

Before departing, members thanked retiring Board of Governors members Helen Scott Reed (after 39 years of service) and Cindy Brockway and congratulated Matt Thurlow on his fifth year as Executive Director of the Trust.

Post-Symposium Tour with Bunny Williams, the Snyders, the Demoses, and the Bidwell House

On September 22, members had the option to continue their Berkshires adventure with visits to the Falls Village Inn; the home, studio, and gardens of Bunny Williams; the private residences of Grace and Elliott Snyder and Virginia and John Demos; and the Bidwell House Museum.

Participants enjoyed lunch at the Falls Village Inn, built in 1834 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Following lunch, renowned decorator Bunny Williams greeted members and showed them her lovely home, studio, and garden in Falls Village. Robert, her master gardener (whom Bunny calls a “plant-whisperer”), shared insights into landscape architecture and design.

Members were delighted to meet Grace and Elliott Snyder of Snyder Antiques. The team deals in a wide variety of 17th- through early-19th-century material and specialize in American vernacular furniture from the 18th century, textiles, and lighting.

Virginia and John Putnam Demos’s c. 1800 country house blends late-Georgian and early Federal style. One of the home’s most remarkable features is the large, original fireplace with hand-painted Delft tiles that dates to 1763. Their collection includes: a c. 1700 six-board chest, a painting by Hudson River School painter Edmund Coates, and a letterbox featuring 18th- and 19th-century documents from the Williams family, the subject of John’s book The Unredeemed Captive.

As the day ended, members savored sunset over the gardens of the Bidwell House Museum. Built in the 1760s, the house is a classic Georgian Saltbox built around a central chimney with two additions: a rear Ell and a Greek Revival carriage barn. Using the inventory of the Rev. Bidwell’s estate, which listed all his possessions at the time of his death, caretakers proceeded to fill the restored house with an appropriate collection, including many objects owned by the Reverend.

Future Symposia and Tours

As we cherish our memories of the Berkshires, we also prepare for the Trust’s upcoming events. The Spring Symposium is scheduled for April 15–19, 2020 in Lexington and Louisville, Kentucky. And don’t miss us at the New York Antiques Weekend, January 24-25, 2020. Study Trips Abroad include From Château to Vineyard: The Lower Loire Valley (October 13–22 and October 24–November 2, 2019, extension October 22–25), An Embarrassment of Riches: Tracing the Dutch Golden Age in Amsterdam & Maastricht’s TEFAF (March 8–15, 2020), The Great Houses of Upper Ireland: The North & Border Counties (May 5–13 and May 14–22, 2020), and La Dolce Vita in Northern Italy: Genoa, Turin & Milan (October 5–20 & October 19–28, 2020, extension October 15–18).

Sign up for our email list or visit our events page for updates on upcoming trips to New Bern, East Anglia, China, and more. Ambassador-level members get pre-registration benefits!

Note: Dates and locations subject to change. 

Meet the Trust: Nick Vincent

Nicholas Vincent
Nicholas Vincent

While the Trust’s staff members are the most familiar faces leading symposia, tours, and study trips, a great deal of our event planning is facilitated by the Programming Committee of the Board of Governors. This past month, the Committee welcomed a new chair, Nick Vincent, who joined the Board in January.

Nick’s involvement with the Decorative Arts Trust began in 2007, when he received a Dewey Lee Curtis Scholarship to attend a symposium in Pittsburgh. Since then, he has helped arrange tours for the Trust around New York City, particularly at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where he has worked in various capacities for the past 11 years. He recently assisted the staff during the Hartford and Upper Hudson symposia.

A graduate of Wesleyan University and the University of Delaware’s Winterthur Program in American Material Culture, Nick’s tenure at the Met began in the American Wing. He currently serves as Manager of Collection Planning for the Director’s Office and is responsible for coordinating museum-wide collections care, storage, and loan initiatives in collaboration with more than 300 collections and curatorial staff.

Nick examines a c. 1670 Massachusetts court cupboard in the collection of the Wadsworth Atheneum during a quiet moment of the 2017 Fall Symposium to Hartford.
Nick examines a c. 1670 Massachusetts court cupboard in the collection of the Wadsworth Atheneum during a quiet moment of the 2017 Fall Symposium to Hartford.

Nick brings a wealth of programming experience to his new role with the board. From 2011 until 2016, he served on the board of the Decorative Arts Society as Vice President and Programming Chair, bringing members to programs in cities as distant as Chicago, IL, and Athens, GA. On behalf of the Met, he accompanied international tours to Switzerland and Egypt. As an adjunct professor and guest lecturer for Sotheby’s American Fine & Decorative Arts graduate program, Nick organized and lead tours along the eastern seaboard.  He credits his former professor (and now fellow Trust Governor) Brock Jobe for providing the example that, where itineraries are concerned, more is indeed more. In his spare time, Nick enjoys getting further acquainted with his newborn son, Leo; playing with the Met’s softball team; and planning trips for family and friends.

“Working with the Decorative Arts Trust’s staff and board is one of my favorite parts of being involved,” Nick says, “and the mission and its impact will continue to have enormous consequences in the field.” He is particularly looking forward to expanding the scope and content of the Trust’s programming over the next few years. We are very excited to work with Nick as we expand our calendar and look forward to discovering new territories and opportunities with you!

 

On the Hunt for French Material Culture in the Land of Midnight Sun

The announcement for the Decorative Arts Trust’s recent Study Trip Abroad “Sweden and Denmark: Scandinavian Castles and Collections” caught my attention even though my specialty is Monticello and its material culture. Although headed to Nordic countries, my curatorial appetite was whetted because I knew the itinerary would contain many rare examples of French decorative arts! French art and architecture set trends around the western world in the late 18th century, but the Swedes in particular were as influenced by French art and architecture as Thomas Jefferson, who lived in Paris from 1784 until 1789. After a series of unexpected events, I found myself in Stockholm with a welcoming group of Trust travelers, who proved to be engaged learners and great fun too.

The Haga fauteuil de bureau. Photo courtesy of Diane Ehrenpreis.
Revolving Armchair or Fauteuil de Bureau, probably Paris, c. 1785. Photo courtesy of Diane Ehrenpreis.

Of all the historic and aesthetically impressive sites, the one that I was most keen to visit was Haga Park with its Neoclassical Gustav III Pavilion. Built for the king in 1784, it was designed by Olaf Templeman and decorated in the French manner by Louis Masreliez.[1] The interiors offered a smörgåsbordof French furnishings, or Swedish examples in the French style, including gilded mirrors, wallpaper treatments, bed alcoves with blue-gray silk curtains and alcove beds, and most exciting of all, a revolving armchair, or a fauteuil de bureauin French, (fig. 1) designed for gentlemen to use at a desk.[2] The royal example has fluted legs, carved rosettes, gilded brass bosses and trim, as well as faded leather upholstery over a comfortably padded back and seat. The chair can be easily moved because of its casters, rotating to enable the sitter to work more efficiently by saving time and motion.

Revolving Armchair, attributed to Thomas Burling, New York, 1790 (c) Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello.
Revolving Armchair, attributed to Thomas Burling, New York, 1790
(c) Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello.

This handsome and innovative chair was available to only the wealthiest patrons, which apparently did not include Jefferson. Despite the haul of furniture that returned to America when Jefferson gave up his post as Minister to France, it did not include a fauteuil de bureau. Instead, he commissioned one almost immediately upon arriving in New York City, charging the cabinetmaker Thomas Burling with the job. Jefferson’s revolving chair (fig. 2) survives today as one of the most important objects in the collection at Monticello. From 1790, when he took possession of it, until his death in 1826, this is the chair that Jefferson used almost daily when working on his correspondence. The Burling version has the same overall features as the high style example at Haga Park, but the form is less refined and the decorative elements have been eliminated. A great-grandchild told journalist Frank Stockton that “In . . . his study, stood Mr. Jefferson’s writing-chair which was made to suit his peculiar needs; the chair itself was high-backed, well rounded, and cushioned. . .”[3] Jefferson used his armchair in his cabinet, or study, at Monticello, where he executed his vast correspondence. It appears that this placement and function is in keeping with how King Gustav used his own example in the library of the Pavilion at Haga Park. Having the rare opportunity to consider a fauteuil de bureau in its original setting, both at Monticello and Gustav III’s Pavilion, was an invaluable experience. My own modern turning office chair is directly related to the innovations in seating promoted by these two Francophiles, and others like them.

N.B. Diane Ehrenpreis would like to thank the Decorative Arts Trust and the Thomas Jefferson Foundation for their support of this trip. She would welcome the opportunity to greet her travel mates and invites them to come see the Jefferson armchair at Monticello. Please visit our website https://home.monticello.org/

 

[1]For more on Haga Park and the Pavilion: see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gustav_III%27s_Pavilion

[2]For more on this type of chair see: Wolfram Koeppe, Extravagant Inventions: The Princely Furniture of the Roentgens(New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2012), 167-169.

[3] Frank R. Stockton, “The Later Years of Monticello,” Century Illustrated Magazine, XXXIV, no. 5 (September 1887): 654. This armchair is owned by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation. See: Susan R. Stein, The Worlds of Thomas Jefferson at Monticello(New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1993), 266-267. George Washington also had a version of the revolving chair made by Burling.

The Upper Hudson: Four Centuries of Craft and Commerce

Among the oldest surviving European settlements in the United States, Albany and the Upper Hudson region boast a rich and often overlooked array of historic sites that illustrate the region’s economic importance to the development of the modern United States. Throughout the symposium, participants encountered sites introducing topics ranging from the Dutch fur trade to the Erie Canal, and from post-industrial urban renewal to the renovation of Colonial Revival historic house museums.

The program began with an introduction to Albany’s architectural history and development by City Historian Tony Opalka. While comparatively few traces remain of the original Dutch city, the Low Country influence remains in the original city plan and the fashionable 18th-century houses built after the colony’s handover to the British. Like many communities, Albany struggled with economic recession throughout the 20th century, and various development projects erased many historic neighborhoods. The symposium’s opening lecture and reception took place in the heart of the massive Empire State Plaza, an urban renewal effort of the 1960s and 1970s at the behest of Governor Nelson Rockefeller. Although the massive construction project modernized the city’s infrastructure and provided much needed space for the state government, it came at the cost of the destruction of several historic 19th-century neighborhoods.

Friday’s itinerary focused on the early history of Albany and its rise to national prominence. Former Trust Governor and Co-President of the Classical American Homes Preservation Trust Peter Kenny discussed the rapid development of cosmopolitan European cultural life in the area with the Dutch settlement in 1614. The area’s economic importance to the country increased with the opening of the Erie Canal, which according to historian Duncan Hay, became a major aspect of the region’s identity. After lunch at the historic Fort Orange Club, we visited three key sites in the city. The Albany Institute of History and Art, founded in 1791, is one of the oldest extant museums in the United States. Our guides, curators Doug McCoombs and Diane Shewchuk, brought participants up close and personal with the museum’s extraordinary collection during a special tour through collections storage and the galleries. Participants were treated to a close look at furniture by French-born New York cabinetmaker Charles-Honoré Lannuier, while Christian enjoyed the opportunity to briefly hijack the tour to show participants original concept sketches by industrial designer Henry Dreyfuss, the subject of his master’s thesis. Heidi Hill’s tour of Schuyler Mansion was a particular highlight of the day. Hill has overseen a vast restoration program during her tenure at the site, particularly in the lead up to the house’s recent centennial as a museum in 2017. Although work continues, the digital reproduction of Philip Schuyler’s “Ruins of Rome” wallpaper and replicas of the family’s back stools in the front hall offer visitors an immersive, tactile link to the house’s heyday during the American Revolution. Many took advantage of an opportunity to sit on the chairs—a rare opportunity at a historic site!

Saturday’s schedule brought participants across the Hudson River to Troy. Founded in the late 18th century, the city became an industrial center in the 19th century, making it one of the wealthiest communities in the nation. Economic depression through much of the 20th century had the fortuitous effect of preserving many fine buildings. In addition to touring a fabulous private collection, participants were wowed by the splendor of St. Paul’s church. The 1820s gothic structure was renovated and redecorated in the 1880s by Tiffany Studios. As one of the few surviving intact Tiffany interiors, it is a marvelous time capsule. Tiffany historian Josh Probert offered enlightening commentary on the church’s decorative program and significance.  

An additional highlight of our time in Troy was our visit to the Rensselaer County Historical Society and the Hart-Cluett House. A rare survivor, the interpretation of this early-19th-century townhouse is strengthened by astounding archival material discovered by RCHS board member Dough Boucher packed away in a long-forgotten trunk. Participants were able to view receipts from talented local furniture maker Elisha Galusha, whose Rococco Revival designs are popular among local collectors. The Hart family kept meticulous records of their purchases, including many from Galusha, that were displayed along with the extant furnishings they document.

In the afternoon, participants chose between two of tours of Albany’s historic districts. An excursion to the Capitol Hill neighborhood included a visit to the collections storage of the New York State Museum with Curator Connie Frisbee Houde and Curator Emeritus John Scherer before exploring the Masonic Lodge and State Capitol. Other participants chose to investigate archaeological excavations at the city’s oldest surviving house, the Van Ostrande-Radliffe house of 1728, followed by a walk along the historic Pearl Street district ending at the First Reformed Church, designed by renowned Albany architect Philip Hooker.

Developments in historic preservation and interpretation are ongoing throughout the Upper Hudson region, and we enjoyed updates on recent findings during our Sunday lectures. Local independent scholar Britney Schline Yatrakis, the Marie Zimmermann Emerging Scholar Lecturer, shared new research on the collaboration between women and jacquard weavers in upstate New York in the designs of coverlets. Siena College professors Jennifer Dorsey and Robin Flatland concluded the program with a discussion of their collaborative project with the Stephen and Harriet Myers Residence, the home of an African-American abolitionist family that served as a stop on the Underground Railroad. Their work involves outreach in the local community and will use virtual reality technology to help interpret the space.

Although Albany may is often overlooked, the symposium introduced Trust members to fascinating sites and exciting research on the spectacular public and private collections. We look forward to equally exciting programs in the coming months, including our special one-day program at Drayton Hall and fall symposium in New Orleans!

Connecticut: All Museums Great and Small

Hartford boasts impressive historic statistics: founded in 1635, it is one of the oldest cities in the country; the local Wadsworth Atheneum is the nation’s oldest public art museum; and the city is home to the nation’s oldest continuously published newspaper, the oldest publicly funded park, and the second-oldest secondary school. Compared to these, the Decorative Arts Trust is still a spring chicken at 40!

While our primary focus for the weekend was all things Connecticut, we took the opportunity to reflect on and celebrate this significant anniversary during our Thursday lectures and reception at the Wadsworth Atheneum. We were honored to have Jonathan Fairbanks and John and Penny Hunt emerge from well-deserved retirements to reflect on the past four decades of decorative arts scholarship and the growth of the Trust. As an organization, we have undergone tremendous transformation during our four decades while remaining true to our passion and mission of engagement with the decorative arts field. The Emerging Scholars Program has long been an essential component of the Trust’s mission and is a particular point of pride as a significant philanthropic force within the museum field. After the lectures, which brought back many fond memories and a few misty eyes, we adjourned to the recently reinstalled Morgan Great Hall for a celebration of this milestone.

Friday may have brought us back down to earth, but thankfully Connecticut is a wonderful place for a landing. We began the day at the Connecticut Historical Society, where a trio of lectures introduced participants to the craft traditions of the state. Speakers included renowned antique dealers Arthur Liverant and Kevin Tulimieri, former CHS curator Susan Schoelwer, and Kevin Ferrigno and Christina Keyser Vida, who have long maintained a scholarly interest in Connecticut furniture. Susan, Kevin, and Christina kindly led workshops on Connecticut needlework and furniture at the CHS during the afternoon.

Participants also visited two local icons, the Mark Twain House and the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center. These two literary icons of 19th-century America were friends and neighbors, and today the decorative arts take center stage to tell their story and celebrate their contributions. The fashionable furnishings throughout the Mark Twain House speak to the financial success brought about by the enormous popularity of his writings, while also interpreting his affectionate family life and gregarious entertaining of both local society and international celebrities in the house. By contrast, a humble dining table at the Stowe Center, likely made in Boston, takes pride of place as the surface on which Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote a great deal of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The table is the focus of an entire gallery, where a short media presentation pays homage to the role of Stowe’s writing on the course of our nation’s history. The evening concluded with a special tour and reception at the Webb-Deane-Stevens Museum, an unusual institution that features three adjacent 18th-century houses. Although their owners, a merchant, a leatherworker, and a diplomat, were somewhat unlikely neighbors, the houses remain to interpret the rich history of the town of Wethersfield.

Saturday’s schedule introduced participants to museums and collections both great and small across Connecticut, which were superbly introduced by the morning’s lectures: Brandy Culp on new directions for the decorative arts at the Wadsworth, Jeannine Falino on the museum’s extraordinary Hammerslough Collection of silver, and Bill Hosley on the culture and craft of the Connecticut River Valley. All three lectures were a wonderful prelude to a series of tours of the Wadsworth’s extensive collection, which include everything from the Morgan Collection of European decorative arts to the homegrown Wallace Nutting collection of American furniture. Participants had the opportunity to glimpse behind-the-scenes areas at the Wadsworth rarely open to public access.

Because Connecticut offers something for everyone, participants could choose one of three options for the afternoon’s site visits. One group stayed local to Hartford, learning about the city’s 18th-and 19th-century history and architecture at the Butler-McCook and Isham-Terry Houses. Another group enjoyed an excursion to 20th-century sites, including the theatrical Chick Austin House, where Bauhaus design met Baroque furniture in a heady combination, before venturing to the Arts and Crafts style campus of Avon Old Farms School, designed by Theodate Pope Riddle, one of the first registered female architects in America.  For those who still had not had their fill of antique furniture or sought an opportunity to make an acquisition, a third group enjoyed an excursion to Colchester for a workshop at the gallery of Nathan Liverant & Son, one of the premiere dealers in American antiques.

All good things must come to an end, but thanks to our Sunday lecturers ensured we ended on a high note. Two emerging scholars, Ben Colman and Willie Granston, presented their original research of the decorative arts of Connecticut, from locally made furniture to the legacy of building undertaken by Elizabeth Colt to memorialize her family. New discoveries of local history were highlighted by Catherine Fields, the director of the Litchfield Historical Society, whose presentation on Litchfield merchant Elijah Boardman’s ledgers delighted the audience. Our time in Hartford was closed by Bill Hosley, who gave a rousing introduction to the many small museums around Connecticut, each worthy of celebration and support.

The Trust’s 40-year milestone has brought our members to, by our count, 80 Symposia in 58 different locations. We have enjoyed a wonderful and memorable journey, characterized by deep friendships and a shared passion for the decorative arts. We are incredibly grateful for friends both old and new who made the journey to Hartford this September, and look forward to many exciting and adventurous years ahead!

Scotland: A Legacy of Cultural Achievement

After two years of planning, the Decorative Arts Trust launched our most ambitious Study Trip Abroad to date. All told nearly eighty members filled three back-to-back excursions to Scotland, a tour appropriately titled “A Legacy of Cultural Achievement.” The itinerary touched on the numerous highlights of Scotland’s rich history as well as the craftsmen and artistic influences that made their way to America.

Beginning in Edinburgh, participants enjoyed a walking tour designed to explore the contrasts between the city’s medieval Old Town and the Enlightenment-era New Town. Laid out in 1767 by a 28-year-old James Craig, the New Town also introduced the group to the architectural sensibilities of Robert Adam, who established the neoclassical idiom there with the construction of the Register Building. City regulations mandated highly finished facades intended to draw fashion-conscious residents across to the more spacious and sanitary portion of the city. These exteriors were a stark contrast to the irregular appearance of the low-cost free stone used throughout the Old Town.

Outside the Edinburgh city limits, we toured numerous country houses connected to the Adam family of architects, including the patriarch William and his sons John, James, and Robert. William was an entrepreneur extraordinaire and supplied building materials for his projects from his own quarries. His exuberant Baroque and Palladian houses and interiors were de rigeur, often featuring plasterwork by master stuccador Thomas Clayton and woodwork from carver and gilder William Strachan. Participants were treated to excellent examples of William’s oeuvre at Arniston and The Drum, both private houses. It was not unusual for one of William’s sons to later complete his father’s designs or modify them to suit later fashions, as in the case of Arniston.

The participation of Scottish decorative arts scholars enhanced our study of the material on view. Stephen Jackson and Godfrey Evans shared the exceptional collection of the Scottish National Museum. Our members gained immensely from the guidance of furniture historian David Jones, who provided in-depth connoisseurship lessons on Scottish cabinetmakers, ensuring that we could distinguish the work of Edinburgh wrights Alexander Peter and William Trotter. David’s gracious instruction enhanced the visits to many of the public and private collections visited, including Dumfries House, Mellerstain, Hopetoun House, Culzean Castle, and Traquair.

Trust members also received a good dose of Scottish history, learning about the clans and their strife that dominated the country’s struggles between the 13th and 16th centuries. Despite generations of political turmoil, Scottish intelligentsia became profoundly influential in Western thought and civilization through the Scottish Reformation and Enlightenment. Edinburgh was known as the Athens of the North and served as a leading center for economic, political, and medical discourse and education.

The connections with America abounded. Participants on our third tour visited Paxton House, furnished by Thomas Chippendale in the “neat and plain” style of furniture preferred by George Washington and his Chesapeake contemporaries. The groups also saw the parallels between the work of Edinburgh cabinetmakers and the furniture of craftsmen such as Robert Walker and Thomas Affleck who emigrated from Scotland to Virginia and Pennsylvania, respectively.  Scotland’s central role in the transmission of style to the American colonies was clear, with both countries establishing a cultural and aesthetic identity distinct from English patterns.

The preservation of historic sites and objects defines Scotland’s strong sense of national pride. At Traquair, Scotland’s oldest continuously occupied house, the family now proudly displays items relating to their support of Mary, Queen of Scots, the Jacobite Cause, and their Catholic faith, which was outlawed under sanctions from the government until emancipation in 1829. At Abbotsford, historic curiosities collected by Sir Walter Scott were tied to major figures and events from Scottish history, including William Wallace and the Battle of Culloden. At Bowhill, a house greatly expanded throughout the 19th century, we encountered the Duke of Buccleuch’s new initiatives in the conservation of original wall treatments, not to mention the world-class painting collection of this important Scottish country house. Today, the quest to preserve Scottish heritage in a sustainable manner is resulting in diverse approaches to public sites, such as the Scottish National Trust’s efforts at Newhailes, private charities that preserve family homes such as Hopetoun, and many homes and collections that remain in private hands, such as Balcarres House.

Thanks to the hard and diligent work of our staff, representatives of the Board of Governors, and our colleagues at Specialtours, the three back-to-back study trips (separated by two Highland extensions nonetheless) were our most popular trips to date. Not wishing to rest on our laurels, however, preparations are in full swing for subsequent adventures in Venice and the Veneto in October 2017, Sweden and Denmark in May and June 2018, and Prague and Vienna in October 2018. We are most grateful for the continued enthusiasm and support of the members who attend these wonderful Study Trips Abroad!