From Our Deepest Darkest Archives

We have a new intern ’round these parts. Her name is Kristen and she is pretty great.

She recently finished conservation training at Palazzo Spinelli in Florence where she specialized in ceramics and other ancient artifacts. I wish we had more ancient ceramics for her to piece together, but alas — those have been [mostly] patched up over the last 50 years. Instead, Kristen has been hard at work transcribing the hundreds of hand-written letters contained in the Hermitage archives. What a job!

I’ve spent the last few days reading over everything transcribed by Kristen. I’ve read funny letters, sad letters, despairing letters, and letters detailing the quantities of birdseed purchased by Mrs. Sloane between 1940 and 1943. The letters are a tiny window into the life of the Hermitage during a fascinating time; they are at once impossibly romantic and extremely mundane. But that’s the stuff of life, isn’t it?

One of my favorite letters was written by Helen M. Turner, American Impressionist and — I won’t keep it a secret any longer — my very favorite artist in the collection. In a letter dated February 18th, 1927, Turner writes:

Dear dear Mrs. Sloane,

I love you for all the happy memories I have carried away from your happy home — I love you for making that beautiful spot on earth, and for making it possible for other people who love beauty to share and enjoy it with you. I love you for lots of things, amongst many others, for giving me such a wonderful time in Norfolk and for doing so many wonderful things to add to our pleasure. Glad I am that it is a Southern city that can boast of such a beauty spot in its midst, and can claim you as its own — a great philanthropist. I should call you. I only hope that those near you will see to it that you do not work too hard. Well here I am back in the old city — home again — and after all — be it ever so humble there is no place like home. I had a fine trip — everything went well. My brother and sister were on hand to meet me. Pouring rain! Cold wave promised for tonight. I found a pile of letters to be answered, and Child Hassam sketching in the French Quarter — He is etching — will stay but a few days — on his way to California with his sweet wife — says he is charmed with the old city and hopes to return. Will you please give all the sweet & loving messages you can to Mr. Sloane, Mr. Volk, and Miss Brooke — I hope I have been missed and I hope everything goes well in the Seaboard Airline Building. Now I must not weary you, and I must write to others. Dear love to you — everything that I have left unsaid to tell you how much I appreciate the good time I have had, consider it to be said — I hope you catch on to the intricacy of that last sentence.

Ever yours aff. —

Helen M. Turner

Helen Turner on the porch of her artist's retreat, Takusan, 1926.

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