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).
Note: Dates and locations subject to change.
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Formerly known as the "blog,” the Bulletin features new research and scholarship, travelogues, book reviews, and museum and gallery exhibitions. The Bulletin complements The Magazine of the Decorative Arts Trust, our biannual members publication.