Mrs. Sloane Returns to New York

… in spirit at least.

This past weekend I journeyed to Bronxville, New York to present a paper on our esteemed patroness, Florence Sloane. My paper was part of a panel on ‘Biography’ at the Sarah Lawrence Women’s History conference. You may not know that Mrs. Sloane was a native New Yorker, so it felt like a bit of a homecoming.

The baby was DELIGHTED to be there.

The campus of Sarah Lawrence is especially comely.

We had a lovely group of very sharp ladies attend the panel and I enjoyed meeting my co-presenter very much. I plan on adapting the paper into a lecture for our hometown audience, so I don’t want to share too much of it here, but I thought I would at least share the introduction so that those of you who are feeling especially curious can slake your thirst:

Florence K. Sloane and the Origins of Culture in Coastal Virginia: 1898-1953

Located at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay in the fertile Tidewater region of Eastern Virginia is the port city of Norfolk. Spend any time in Norfolk and you will invariably find yourself at the Chrysler Museum of Art. The Museum is the beating heart of this mid-size Southern city. Its world-class collection of fine and decorative art rivals that of its northern neighbors  and boasts works by Veronese, Matisse, Braque, Cassatt, Hopper and many other American and European masters. The Chrysler glass collection, with more than 10,000 pieces, is the one of the finest of its kind in the world.

But the Chrysler is not all the city as to offer, nor was it the first museum built in the area. The Hermitage Museum and Gardens, located just five miles north of the Chrysler, stands as testament and monument to the founder of Norfolk’s museums and cultural life – the indomitable Florence K. Sloane. The Hermitage is home to the Sloane Collection, an assemblage of fine and decorative art which rivals the Chrysler collection in both scope and inventiveness. With over 10,000 objects, the collection spans 5,000 years of art history and represents over 30 countries. As a pioneering patron of early 20th century painters and sculptors, Mrs Florence Sloane is among the pantheon of great American collectors. Her triumphs were legion, but chief among them was that she managed to amass her formidable collection relatively unassisted, while physically isolated in the Virginia countryside, during the first half of the twentieth century – a time of tremendous social, financial, and political upheaval.

Today, outside of the Hermitage Museum, Florence Sloane is rarely remembered for her efforts. Credit inevitably goes to Walter P. Chrysler for the establishment of the Chrysler Museum, but that is false recognition. Walter P. Chrysler did not become part of the museum until 1971, which was thirty-two years after its doors were first opened. The Chrysler Museum was originally known as the Norfolk Museum of Arts and Sciences and may not have existed at all if not for the tireless work of Florence Sloane.

This paper explores the shared history of the Chrysler and the Hermitage as it relates to the role that Florence K. Sloane played in their establishment, and how her life’s work contributed to the cultural bedrock of Norfolk that persists to this day. This paper will examine the historical forces at work behind her decision-making between 1895 and 1953 – a time which spans the Gilded Age, two World Wars, the roaring twenties, the Great Depression, and the post-war boom period. Her collection methods and significant acquisitions will be considered as well.

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Are you interested yet?! I’ve got 3,000 more words on the topic if so… Watch this space for upcoming lectures and events on our dear Florence Sloane. Until then, be well, and may the springtime treat you with warmth and kindness.

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