by Elizabeth Fox
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, a 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.