[Advances in Chemistry] Historic Textile and Paper Materials Volume 212 (Conservation and Characterization) || Charting the Future: Conservation Principles of Henry Francis du Pont

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  • 1 Charting the Future: Conservation Principles of Henry Francis du Pont

    Margaret A. Fikioris Conservation Section, Winterthur Museum, Winterthur, DE 19735

    Henry Francis du Pont, founder of Winterthur Museum, was a leader in the museum field during his lifetime in acquisitions, display, and care of the collection. He began his American collection in 1923 and was active until 1969. His conservation principles are a synthesis of a late 19th century concern for the care of objects and a 20th century willingness to initiate and encourage modern conservation science and practices. It has now been 16 years since his death, and it seems a fitting time to reflect upon and acknowledge Henry Francis du Pont's contribution to the museum field nationally and to the role of conservation.

    T H E S E A R C H T O U N D E R S T A N D the conservation principles of Henry Francis du Pont unfolded easily, because he was a great organizer and initiator. Henry Francis du Pont exemplified the well-to-do Victorian household tradition of having a large staff and a formal way of accomplishing routine tasks with instructions given orally. Great loyalty and mutual respect were shared between Mr. du Pont and his staff. Many of the museum employees worked at Winterthur during Mr. du Pont's lifetime, and several of these people generously shared their memories of how things were done in the early transitional years of Winterthur as it changed from a private home and estate to a museum institution and public gardens (Figure 1). Through the letters and instructions of Henry Francis du Pont, one can clearly follow his thought processes and understand his goals of planning the future, maintaining the present, and preserving the past. Many of the principles of how the museum should be cared for were established early in Mr. du Pont's collecting lifetime and served as building blocks for later documents. They were carefully spelled out in the notebook of instructions entitled "Letters and Notes To the Executors and Winterthur Directors [Trustees] Concerning The Winterthur Museum and Winterthur House." This 83-page book was begun before the official opening of the museum in 1951 and was

    0065-2393/86/0212-0003 $06.00/0 1986 American Chemical Society

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    In Historic Textile and Paper Materials; Needles, H., et al.; Advances in Chemistry; American Chemical Society: Washington, DC, 1986.

  • 4 HISTORIC TEXTILE AND PAPER MATERIALS

    continually reviewed and reworked; each page has three to five dates in the top margin signifying the many revisions made by M r . du Pont over the years.

    Henry Francis du Pont (Figure 2) worked fervently to get the more than 195 period rooms and display areas completed in his lifetime. Often he w o u l d express to his closest staff (J), " D o it now because it won't be done after I d ie . " When asked b y Harlan B. Phillips in a 1962 oral interview for the Archives of American Art about his feelings on

    Figure I. View of Winterthur House from the east, 1902-28, as it appeared when Henry Francis du Pont inherited it. Courtesy, The Henry Francis du

    Pont Winterthur Museum.

    Figure 2. Patriot's Day ceremonies at Winterthur, April 19,1955. From left to right: Henry Francis du Pont, Lammot du Pont Copeland, and Delaware

    Governor J. Caleb Boggs. Courtesy, Harry A. Lemmon.

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    In Historic Textile and Paper Materials; Needles, H., et al.; Advances in Chemistry; American Chemical Society: Washington, DC, 1986.

  • 1. FIKIORIS Conservation Principles of Henry Francis du Pont 5

    having to move out of his house to turn it into a public museum, be responded (2):

    I've always lived in that house, and the more I thought of it as a museum, the more workable I thought it would be. It was just a question of upkeep. It's an enormously big house, and I did want to see it done properly or according to my idea. . . . The best way really was to move out; in fact, I didnt think that many people would come to see it then, that it would evolve by degrees. I['ve] got a big book full of notes for our trustees, executives, and so forth. I kept some of the early pages . . . some of the originate. I thought that they were rather interesting.

    Henry Francis du Pont began his "Letters and Notes T o Executors and Winterthur Directors" with the fol lowing statement (3): "It is my intention and desire that Winterthur and the surrounding grounds shall be kept in perpetuity as a Museum and arboretum for the education and enjoyment of the publ ic . " H e continued, " M y purpose in leaving Winterthur as a Museum to the public is to afford all those interested an opportunity to v iew and to study the conditions surrounding the early American home l i fe . " M r . du Pont also wanted the building kept in such a way that it would retain its charm and intimacy. "The reason for this," he stated, "is that the interest of the Museum, quite aside from its furniture, beauty of colors, and upholsteries, lies in the infinite de-tails, . . . and the many, many different ornaments and accessories."

    M r . du Pont d i d not want the visitors to be hindered in the enjoyment of the room. Thus, he felt that the number of visitors should be restricted. H e wrote (3), "There may be two to ten groups seeing the house at the same time, depending on the number of guides available, and each group should be accompanied by a suitable and competent employee guide of the Museum." F r o m his own experience Henry Francis du Pont believed (3) "that three or four people are really all that can go through in one group conveniently and comfortably." Further-more, l imiting the number of groups would help reduce the "wear and tear" on the collection, and this limitation w o u l d allow the "furnishings [to] be kept intact for a longer period of years so that those who go through may do so with enjoyment." The guides escorting the visitors through the museum were instructed (3) not to give "a set talk about each r o o m . " "Their attitude should be more that of a librarian or wel l -trained attendant, helpful but not intruding in any way . "

    Throughout his life Henry Francis du Pont strongly believed that barriers should not be erected in the museum. Visitors were to enjoy an unobstructed view. H e explained to Phillips (2), " M y idea on what is

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    In Historic Textile and Paper Materials; Needles, H., et al.; Advances in Chemistry; American Chemical Society: Washington, DC, 1986.

  • 6 HISTORIC TEXTILE AND PAPER MATERIALS

    wrong with museums in this country is that if you have these things strapped off, you'l l lose everything."

    Because of the open access to the rooms, guests were instructed at the beginning of each tour not to touch any museum object, especially the historic textiles. Henry Francis d u Pont explained to the executors and Winterthur directors (3):

    As I have found that much damage is done by frequent handling of the curtains and upholstery, I have had little cards printed requesting visitors not to lean or put their hands on any upholstered chair or on the curtains. One of these cards is to be shown to each visitor, and should this request be disregarded, the accompanying guide, who should always carry one of these cards with him, should again show it to the visitor. This applies to the Directors and distinguished guests, also.

    M r . du Pont also forbade sitting on the sofas and chairs in the collections (3). "As the years pass by and the old materials begin to wear out, not only f rom the stretching, but also b y use, I realize that the less they are sat upon the better." This rule applied to guests, museum personnel, and even trustees. Certain rooms with more durable pieces were designated sitting rooms for guests. Memorial Library was one such room; however, even here restrictions were found (3). "I think it w o u l d be wiser for the Directors [Trustees] to use the Memorial Library . . . exclusively for sitting," and M r . du Pont added, "Please, Directors, sit on the leather pieces and do not lean on the back of the w i n g chairs." M r . d u Pont also included specific instructions for those staff members who moved upholstered furniture (3). They were not to touch the fabric when moving the furniture about the museum and he specified that the wing chairs must [always] be lifted by their legs.

    When Winterthur was a private residence prior to 1951, many guests were entertained on weekends at which times special bedspreads, usually of modern fabrics, replaced the historic bedspreads. A delightful story is told b y John Sweeney, then Curator, of how M r . du Pont arranged to have a newly acquired antique bedspread placed on the bed of Miss Mary All is , a friend and an antiques dealer especially interested in textiles. A t dinner, M r . du Pont asked Miss Mary Allis how she had spent her afternoon. She replied cheerfully that she had had a lovely nap. Henry Francis d u Pont paled. Miss Mary Allis then added (4), " O h , don't worry. I didn't sleep on the bed. I took a pi l low and slept in the bath tub."

    The working operation of the museum was never intended to be seen by the public. O n Mondays the museum was closed and major housekeeping tasks were done: floors were vacuumed, waxed, and

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    In Historic Textile and Paper Materials; Needles, H., et al.; Advances in Chemistry; American Chemical Society: Washington, DC, 1986.

  • 1. FIKIORIS Conservation Principles of Henry Francis du Pont 7

    polished; new furniture pieces were installed. O n the other days of the week half of the museum was opened for tours in the morning and the other half was opened in the afternoon. The furniture in more than 195 rooms was dusted on a daily basis by women who quietly worked through the rooms that were not "on tour". Because each duster worked the same two or three floors everyday, she came to know the locations of important objects, according to Everett Boyce, Museum Buildings D i v i s i o n Supervisor, and was able to spot any m o v e d or missing piece (5).

    Henry Francis d u Pont put a great deal of effort into positioning each object, and in 1964 he wrote (3), "I expect the Director and Associate Director and Curator of the Museum, in addition to their conventional duties, to take personal charge of seeing that the furniture and many small objects are kept in their right places and their right angles." When the museum opened in 1951, the task of keeping track of the more than 30,000 museum objects on display was the responsibility of all the offices: curatorial, registrar, housekeeping, and properties. T o help them in this task detailed records were made of every room (Figures 3 and 4). About this time M r . d u Pont wrote (3,6 ), "Leslie P. Potts [draftsman and F a r m Superintendent] is making a detailed drawing of each room showing the location of each piece of furniture, ornament, etc I would like h i m to continue making these drawings until every room has been completed."

    In contrast to the fixed placement of furniture and other artifacts, M r . du Pont wanted the textiles, curtain sets, slipcovers, slip seats, bed dressings, and rugs changed seasonally. H e believed that the textile sets needed to "rest" in storage for a period of time and had them stored in

    Figure 3. The Baltimore Drawing Room's window wall elevation as executed by Leslie P. Potts, circa 1940. Courtesy, The Henry Francis du Pont

    Winterthur Museum.

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    In Historic Textile and Paper Materials; Needles, H., et al.; Advances in Chemistry; American Chemical Society: Washington, DC, 1986.

  • 8 HISTORIC TEXTILE AND PAPER MATERIALS

    Figure 4. The Baltimore Drawing Rooms fireplace wall elevation as executed by Leslie P. Potts, circa 1940. Courtesy, The Henry Francis du Pont

    Winterthur Museum.

    darkness for the 9 months they were not on display (4 ). The rotation of sets also provided an interesting change for visitors returning throughout the year (5). Because M r . du Pont selected the color and texture of the historic fabrics "to coordinate [with] what was seen through the windows," everything had to knit together wi th the gardens, reflected George C o l m a n who was in charge of the textile changes in the early years of the museum (J). Bright, cheerful, colored fabrics were used in spring. In summer the colors were quieter and more subtle. The autumn brought colors to match the brilliant fal l foliage. In the winter the colors of the fabrics became deeper and richer to contrast wi th the out-doors (J) (Figures 5-9).

    Although M r . du Pont approached the selection of textiles "visually and intuitively", historical accuracy in curtain design was also very important to h im (4). M r . du Pont opined (3):

    The curtains, upholstery, bed hangings and bedspreads at Winterthur are in themselves a textile museum; and the way the materials are draped, upholstered, etc., carries out the best tradition of a museum of decorative arts. Many, many hours have been spent looking at paintings, engravings, and books to find the correct models for the period of each room, and their execution has taken countless hours of hand-sewing. The accurate and minute details of the fringes, tape bindings, tassels, etc., and the ingenuity in making much too short a yardage go in a certain place, the infinite details of the so-called tailoring of curtains and bed valances, have taken endless hours [to execute].

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  • 1. FIKIORIS Conservation Principles of Henry Francis du Pont

    Figure 5. The Baltimore Drawing Room, which was installed in 1930, circa 1962. Courtesy, The Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum.

    Figure 6. The Blackwell Parlors furnishing plans as executed by Leslie P. Potts in 1943. Courtesy, The Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum.

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