Happy Holidays from the Hermitage Staff! As we get ready to shutter the museum for the holidays, I wanted to take a minute and thank each of you dear readers for stopping by over the past year. It’s been a fun ride. I’ll see you in January with plenty of stories (I’m traveling to visit some historic houses in England and Wales!) and fresh enthusiasm for all our new curatorial projects. Be well, and I’ll see you in 2011!
Some days I cannot fathom sitting at my desk. Fortunately there is always something to be done elsewhere in this enormous house. Last week I enlisted the help of our trusty new volunteer, Meredith, and got to work on dressing the butler’s pantry.
The butler’s pantry has long been a catch-all for the myriad supplies we need for gallery openings and other fancy affairs. The cabinets were a jumble of mismatched wine glasses, serveware of all shapes and sizes and crystal ashtrays left over from the days when guests were allowed to light up inside the house (what a thought!). We stripped the cabinets of their less-than-distinguished contents and got to work cleaning and re-lining the shelves with acid free paper. Actually, I did a lot of pointing while Meredith did most of the cleaning:
Once the shelves were clean, Meredith and I descended into the bowels of collections storage to begin the lengthy process of unpacking Mrs. Sloane’s vast collection of porcelain, earthenware, and crystal. Let me tell you: there is nothing more fun than unpacking mystery boxes of china. I am a total nut for all things table-related. Each new stack revealed a different pattern, and each new pattern suggested a different dinner party. Many of the pieces still had soot on them from the Music Room fire in 2003. Once smoke gets sucked into an HVAC system there’s no telling where you’ll find it seven years later.
I’m sure a curator with her head screwed on right would have arranged everything in some semblance of order. I am not that curator. When I see miles and piles of china I get weak at the knees and start cramming in as much as possible. I’m sure my fellow ceramaphiles will agree: the more the better! Besides, this is more of an “open storage” display than anything else.
I spent the rest of the day researching various patterns from Limoges, Spode, Lenox, Noritake and Pickard. Next time you stop by the house be sure to stick your head in the butler’s pantry for a look. I’ll be more than happy to come down and point at things for you. Just ask.
During my English sojourn I spent one particularly exhaustive afternoon ensconced in pillows in an upstairs room of Claydon House. My roommate, Rachel, wasn’t feeling well (we were all run a bit ragged at that point), so I happily sat with her in a designated reading area and flipped through back issues of National Trust Magazine.
The reading area was nothing fancy: three nondescript couches surrounding a low table in front of a hearth. The rest of the room was bare, with tall windows overlooking the grounds. My classmates milled about and eventually one of the Trust curators sat down with us. We chatted idly about the house and the course thus far and I began to feel quite at home.
I remember the afternoon so well because it was the first time I had ever just… sat down at a historic house. I’ve done all kinds of things at historic houses: lolled on the floor; crawled in the eaves; picnicked on the grass. I spend most of my waking hours in a historic house — but when I’m here I’m usually, you know, working. It was such a simple pleasure to sit and enjoy a space in such a passive, ordinary way.
We spend a great deal of our time trying to impress our visitors with the uniqueness (and the historical gravity, and the cultural importance, and the total awesomeness) of the Hermitage, but maybe the point is that we should provide more couches.
I’m in the middle of redesigning the West Gallery, and as a part of that overhaul I’d like to include some couches for reading/sitting/resting. Mrs. Sloane always intended for her home to be a place where the public could gather, relax, and learn about art. Why not keep it going?
If you have a moment, would you mind putting the matter to a vote? Click the link below and be a part of the decision (it redirects you to the poll):