A Highly Focused Collection
By Richard H. Jenrette
First off, unlike many museums or preservation groups, we are not trying to be “all things to all people.” Our collection of old houses and decorative arts is tightly focused – first half of the 19th-century, residential (as opposed to public buildings, churches, etc.), classical (i.e. inspired by Greek and Roman precedent), and American. When it comes to antique furniture we are even more focused, especially in New York-made furniture (Phyfe, Lannuier, etc.). Exceptions to the Americana rule are imported luxury items, used but not made in the U.S. at the time. The six houses include an important collection of classically inspired early 19th-century English, French, and other European crystal chandeliers, mirrors, clocks and porcelain, some of it original to the houses.
Why focus on the early 19th-century art and architecture in America? Admittedly, it’s partly happenstance, since I accidentally stumbled across the two handsome Greek Revival houses back in 1968. Of more historical importance, this was America’s critical first 50 years – the “take-off stage” – following our success in gaining independence and founding a new nation. The classical architecture of the Greeks and Romans became our national style. It seemed to reflect the Republican values of early Rome and Athenian Democracy at its peak. The house and furnishings also represent a uniquely American amalgam of English, French and other Continental styles.