Tag: Symposium

(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. 

The Natchez Symposium: The Treasures of the Trip

The Natchez symposium, Historic Natchez: Jewel of the Lower Mississippi, was a delightful look at a unique destination, and we could not have asked for more knowledgeable and gracious hosts along the way. Welcomed by both the Historic Natchez Foundation and the Natchez Historical Park, we were so impressed by the hospitality and the work that they are doing to preserve the local treasures in Natchez that we awarded grants to both organizations.

Here’s a sampling of what we saw and learned about in Natchez. Those who joined us early for the Thursday optional tours had the pleasure of visiting Rosedown, Wakefield, Butler Greenwood, and Oakley.

Rosedown Plantation

The main house on Rosedown Plantation was built in 1834-35 by Daniel and Martha Turnbull. At its largest, the plantation grew to approximately 3,455 acres, most of which were planted with cotton. As a result, Turnbull was known before the Civil War as being one of the wealthiest men in the nation. Upon building the house, the Turnbulls turned to the finest furniture makers in the North and Europe, and many of the pieces they purchased remain in the house, including a suite of furniture by the Philadelphia cabinetmaker Anthony Quervelle.

The gardens at Rosedown were made remarkable by the efforts of Martha Turnbull. In her lifetime, she expanded the formal gardens to include almost 28 acres of the property in the tradition of the formal European gardens she had seen in France and Italy when the couple honeymooned there.

It was good fortune that when the house was sold in 1956 to Catherine Fondren Underwood, she took it upon herself to begin an eight-year restoration project that included the gardens. Ralph Ellis Gunn used the garden diaries of Mrs. Turnbull to reconstruct the gardens as close as possible to their original design.



We had a delightful picnic lunch at Wakefield, the house of Sarah Turnbull Stirling, whose brother built Rosedown. Wakefield was built just a year later, and while it has been altered, the first floor rooms remain intact, and much of the furniture made by New York cabinetmaker Duncan Phyfe can still be seen in the house.

Wakefield was built by the Stirlings when their children had already left home, but the house features many bedrooms as the couple entertained many visitors. They visited New York City to purchase items for their new home and spared no expense. In addition to furniture from Duncan Phyfe, they purchased chairs from Oliver Edwards and Cyrus Baldwin. The Stirlings also ordered draperies and decorative wallpaper while in New York.


Butler Greenwood


Butler Greenwood is currently looked after by author and historian Anne Butler. Butler represents the seventh generation of the Flower, Mathews, Lawrason, and Butler families who have maintained the home. The parlor at Butler Greenwood is nearly untouched from when Harriet Flower Mathews decorated it with a suite of rosewood furniture she ordered from Hubbell & Curtis in Bridgeport, Connecticut in 1859 and 1860. Today the room, as a result of Anne Butler’s efforts, is destined to be interpreted and preserved by the professionals at New Orleans Museum of Art.

The collection has also been inventoried by the Classical Institute of the South and is accessible via online database.


“Thank you for the utterly delightful days in Natchez. Even though it was not my first visit there, I found new enlightenment and perspective. It was a treat from start to finish.”–Marilyn N.



Oakley_1Our next tour was at Oakley Plantation House which is now part of the Audubon Memorial State Park in West Feliciana Parish. Construction of the house began in 1799 for Ruffin Gray who purchased the land from Spanish authorities. While Gray died before the house was completed, his wife Lucy Alston remarried James Pierre of Scotland. The two had a daughter, Eliza, and they brought John James Audubon to the plantation in 1821 to serve as Eliza’s tutor. While Audubon only stayed at Oakley for four months, it was here that he painted 32 of the works that would later become part of his Birds of America.



Stanton Hall

Next we saw the Greek Revival style Stanton Hall that has Italianate detailing, like most Natchez mansions from the period of 1855-1860. While we only have exterior photos to share of this National Historic Landmark, we can assure you that the interior is grand and true to its origins. Photos taken at the time of owner Frederick Stanton’s death document the original furnishings and show the eclectic style typical of the mid-19th century. Among the treasures to be found at Stanton are original gasoliers and sconces by Cornelius and Baker of Philadelphia.


Longwood, another National Historic Landmark, that, like Stanton Hall, is opened to the public daily by the Pilgrimage Garden Club, has a unique history. While the house is America’s largest octagonal house, construction of the structure was never completed as a result of the Civil War. Haller and Julia Williams Nutt hired architect Samuel Sloan of Philadelphia to build the Italianate mansion that is crowned by a Moorish dome. Northern masons and carpenters were brought in to build the house, but when the Civil War began in April 1861, the Northern workmen went home. Because the house was unfinished, Nutt and his family made the basement of Longwood a temporary home, but Nutt died in 1864 and, as a result, the family continued to live in the basement. The house remains unfinished, but a lithograph prepared by Sloan’s office shows what it would have looked like had it been completed.


Yet another National Historic Landmark and another Greek Revival house, Melrose, built for Pennsylvania native John McMurran and his wife Mary Louisa Turner, is a grand Natchez mansion. Of interest at Melrose are several architectural details that are related to the area’s climate. These include a jib window, a dining room punkah, a staircase in the secondary lateral stair hall, and hinged windows in the clerestory to vent the attic. Original furnishings, formal gardens, a landscaped park, and original outbuildings all add to the experience.

Green Leaves

GreenLeaves_1While Green Leaves is another example of a Greek Revival in Natchez, it is unique because it was built with prefabricated materials. Local builder Thomas Seaton is credited with the construction of the house from the prefabricated materials; however, it is unlikely that he designed the sophisticated house. Today it is an excellent example of mid-nineteenth-century taste thanks to the efforts of the descendants of George W. and Mary (Beltzhoover) Koontz who have carefully preserved the house, its furnishings, and its gardens. The fully enriched Doric portico makes for a notable façade while the interior boasts lavish finishes.


Richmond_1Richmond is a unique house because it was built in three distinct stages: 1) a simple one-and-a-half story gabled-roof house built on a raised basement from as early as 1784, 2) a double-tiered gallery addition during the Federal period, and 3) a Greek Revival addition ca. 1840. This third addition was made by Levin and Sarah Marshall and is still owned by their descendants, Lela Jeanne Nall and Anna Mary Rowell, who hosted the Trust at the house.





Also owned by Marshall’s descendants, Lansdowne was purchased by Levin Marshall’s son George Marshall and his wife Charlotte Hunt Marshall in 1853. While the house is a single story, the interior is grand in scale and as finely finished as many other Natchez mansions. The house features a central hall that extends the full depth of the house. The property has original outbuildings that functioned as the kitchen, billiard room, privy, and quarters of enslaved servants. Among those things the family has successfully preserved at Lansdowne are the original wallpaper in the parlor and the original marbled and oak-grained painted finishes on the interior. It also has the original Cornelius and Company gas fixtures. The house at one time had its own private gas plant. The original furnishings on display include a Rococo Revival parlor, Romanesque Revival dining chairs, and an assortment of Gothic Revival, Elizabethan, and Renaissance Revival furniture in the hallway.


Bontura_1Our last main tour in Natchez was at the home of Free African Americans Robert and Ann Smith who built the house in 1851. Smith was born free in Maryland and purchased his wife and children while he was living in New Orleans. After freeing them, he moved the family to Natchez and ran a successful dray and carriage business. Smith died in 1858, and Joseph and Fanny Bontura purchased the house from Ann Smith. The couple added a two-story wing that included an inn for travelers. The house is a simple Greek Revival brick townhouse with side hall plan. The house is currently privately owned by Dr. and Mrs. James Coy, and we thank the Coys for allowing us to host our receptions at Bontura.



Many Natchez attendees stayed on for an extra day to see a number of the sites at Plantation Countryside. Enjoy some of the photos from Plantation Countryside below.

Thank you to all those who joined us in Natchez!

Apply Now for the Trust’s Dewey Lee Curtis Symposium Scholarship

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!