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!
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.
Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library is currently hosting its annual Winterthur Institute, featuring courses taught by Winterthur staff and guest lecturers. This two-week intense course of study focuses on American decorative arts from the 17th through the 20th centuries. Winterthur houses the largest collection of decorative arts made or used in America between 1640 and 1860, so the Winterthur Institute offers a unique opportunity for participants to experience firsthand significant artifacts. Several courses are taught in period rooms and exhibition spaces at the museum, and participants also have the opportunity to go on field trips to local historic sites.
Today the Decorative Arts Trust’s executive director, Matthew Thurlow, is lecturing on neoclassical furniture at the Institute, as well as offering two workshops.
The Trust is also pleased to have helped sponsor a scholarship to the Institute. This year’s recipient, Alexandra Parker from Fairfax, VA, is a graduate of the Smithsonian-George Mason Decorative Arts program. Parker is currently completing her thesis on American-made knife boxes and their cabinetmakers. To date her studies have focused on the history of furniture and textiles and she has interned with the National Museum of American History, the White House Historical Association, and the Fairfax County Park Authority.
The Trust offers a variety of scholarships for graduate students and young professionals in the decorative arts field. The deadline for our next scholarship opportunity, the Dewey Lee Curtis Symposium Scholarship, is tomorrow. Learn more here and apply today. Find out more about all of the scholarship opportunities offered by the Trust on our website.
What do a young professional re-installing historic house exhibits, a student of New Jersey furniture, and an enthusiast of southern interiors have in common? They’ve all been recipients of a Dewey Lee Curtis Symposium Scholarship from the Decorative Arts Trust!
For every domestic symposium, the Trust’s scholarship committee selects two recipients from an applicant pool of current graduate students and emerging professionals. The trust is accepting scholarship applications for the 2014 Natchez Symposium until September 18th. As regular attendance is sold out, this is the only opportunity left to attend!
Attending these symposia help emerging scholars stay current on the latest developments in the field, network with other professionals and enthusiasts, and gain new perspectives on their own work. Last year, the Trust brought Caryne Eskeridge up to Concord Massachusetts for the fall symposium. As one of the curatorial fellows for the Preservation Society of Newport, she was tasked with re-installing period room displays at the Hunter House, the earliest structure currently owned by the Society.
“I left energized and full of ideas for my current projects,” she reported. “I enjoyed meeting so many people interested in the decorative arts as I start my career.”
Although Caryne has now moved on to be Research Curator at the Classical Institute of the South, her stamp can still be seen at the Hunter House, which recently garnered high praise in this review from Engaging Places.
How would a trust scholarship benefit you? The only way to find out is to apply! Applications can be submitted through the Trust’s on-line page. The deadline for the Natchez symposium is September 18th, so apply now!