Ten Well-Known Visitors to Historic Kenmore

Since its transformation into a historic site, Kenmore has drawn its share of prominent and recognizable visitors including a vice president, a congressman, and numerous First Ladies of the United States. Indeed, the ladies of the Kenmore Association, who worked to save, restore, and operate the historic home during the 20th century, made it a point to reach out to First Ladies and, in turn, several of those First Ladies visited the auspicious brick home of Patriot merchant Fielding Lewis and wife Betty Washington Lewis, sister of George Washington.  For that matter, even during the days that Fielding and Betty lived in the home during the late 1700s, important figures in colonial Virginia and of the Patriot cause occasionally came to Kenmore.  Here is a list of “Ten Well-Known Visitors to Historic Kenmore.”

10. Louise du Pont Crowninshield (1877-1958)

Louise du Pont Crowninshield surrounded by other members of the Kenmore Association.

Louise du Pont Crowninshield surrounded by other members of the Kenmore Association.

Louise du Pont Crowninshield was president and chairman of the board of trustees of the Kenmore Association from 1940 to 1954.  An active historic preservationist, she was also a founding trustee of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.  Mrs. Crowninshield was born into the prominent Du Pont family and grew up at Winterthur, the family estate in Delaware. The home is now a museum and holds some of most important collections of Americana in the United States.  She helped save and restore Kenmore and visited many times during her term as president.

sol-bloom-portrait

Sol Bloom in 1923. Credit: Library of Congress / Wikipedia

9. Sol Bloom (1870-1949)
Sol Bloom was an entertainer, music publisher, and congressman from New York.  He was the biggest producer of sheet music in the U.S. before taking up politics.  Bloom was associate director of the United States George Washington Bicentennial Commission and came to Kenmore for a luncheon with Emily White Fleming and the Kenmore Association.  In 1936, Bloom made a $10,000 bet with Walter “Big Train” Johnson, former Washington Senator’s star pitcher, that Johnson could not throw a silver dollar across the Rappahannock River as legend said George Washington had done.  Bloom lost but refused pay the money.

elizabeth-monroe

Elizabeth Monroe, unknown date and artist. Public domain. Credit: John Vanderlyn / Wikipedia

8. Elizabeth Monroe (1768-1830)
Elizabeth Kortright Monroe was First Lady of the United States from 1817 to 1825.  Elizabeth was born in New York City and married James Monroe in 1786.  She spent time in France and Britain during her husband’s ambassadorship and was even invited to be part of the American delegation that attended Napoleon Bonaparte’s coronation.  Mrs. Monroe actually lived at Kenmore shortly after her marriage to James.  Her husband left town on business and, since they had not yet set up a home in Fredericksburg, she stayed with Betty Lewis until James returned.

 

edith-wilson

Edith Wilson. Credit: Library of Congress / Wikipedia

7. Edith Wilson (1872-1961)
Edith Bolling Wilson was the second wife of President Woodrow Wilson and served as First Lady of the United States from 1915 to 1921.  Some historians argue that Mrs. Wilson became the de facto president after her husband’s stroke in 1919. She did, it seems, act as the only conduit to and from the president and decided which matters important enough to bring to her husband’s attention while relaying his decisions to those who needed to know.  Long after her time in the White House, Mrs. Wilson came to Kenmore for a luncheon in October 1946.

6. Elizabeth Virginia “Bess” Truman (1885-1982)

bess-truman

Bess Truman in front of the fireplace in Kenmore’s dining room with Robert Porterfield, founder of the Barter Theatre, and an unidentified woman.

Elizabeth Virginia “Bess” Truman was First Lady of the United States from 1945 to 1953.  Elizabeth Wallace was born in Independence, Missouri and had known Harry Truman, her future husband, since they were children.  They married in 1919.  Mrs. Truman detested the lack of privacy and disliked the social and political scene of Washington, D.C.  She was relieved to move back to Missouri.  Mrs. Truman visited Kenmore multiple times and was pictured in front of the mantel in the Dining Room with Robert Porterfield, founder of Barter Theatre, the State Theatre of Virginia, in Abingdon.

5. Lou Hoover (1874-1944)

Lou Henry Hoover was First Lady of the United States from 1929 to 1933.  Lou Henry was born in Iowa in 1874 and married Herbert Hoover in 1899.  She majored in Geology at Stanford University, was fluent in Chinese and Latin, assisted in the Belgian relief during WWI, and worked a great deal with the Girl Scouts of America.  Mrs. Hoover, as First Lady, toured Kenmore in September 1930.

4. Colonel Sanders (1890-1980)

Colonel Harland David Sanders founded the restaurant chain Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) in 1930.  Sanders was born in Indiana in 1890 and, after a number of jobs, he started selling fried chicken at a roadside restaurant in Corbin, Kentucky during the Great Depression.  The restaurant, Kentucky Fried Chicken, was a success and, in 1952, he started franchising across the country.  In 1964, Sanders sold the company and used his stock holdings to create several charitable organizations.  He promote these organizations as well as KFC by touring the country dressed as the Colonel.  He came to Kenmore and took a tour in the summer of 1977.

calvin-coolidge

Calvin Coolidge (left) enjoys gingerbread at Kenmore.

3. Calvin Coolidge (1872-1933)
Calvin Coolidge was born in Vermont in 1872.  After college, he became a lawyer and went into politics becoming the governor of Massachusetts from 1919 to 1921.  He was the 29th vice president under Warren Harding and the 30th President of the United States from 1923 to 1929.  Vice President Coolidge came to Kenmore in July 1922 to launch a fundraising campaign aimed at raising money to purchase the house and make it a historic site. He enjoyed some gingerbread during his visit.

 

eleanor-roosevelt-portrait

Eleanor Roosevelt in 1932. Credit: Library of Congress / Wikipedia.

2. Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962)
Eleanor Roosevelt was First Lady of New York from 1929 to 1933 and First Lady of the United States from 1933 to 1945.  She was born in New York City to the socially prominent Roosevelt and Livingston families and married Franklin D. Roosevelt in March 1905.  After her time in the White House, she chaired the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in the late 1940s and early 1950s and John F. Kennedy’s Presidential Commission on the Status of Women.  When she was First Lady of New York, Mrs. Roosevelt visited Kenmore on several occasions with various groups who came from the New York state capital of Albany.

1. George Washington (1731-1799)

houdons-george-washington

Bust of George Washington (c. 1786) by Jean-Antoine Houdon and based on a life mask of Washington. Public domain. Credit: Dallas Museum of Art / Wikipedia.

George Washington was the first President of the United States (1789-1797) and the older brother of Betty Washington Lewis.  Construction of Kenmore was complete late in 1775. George would not stay in the house until 1784.  Including this 1784 visit, Washington stayed at Kenmore at different times during the years 1785, 1787, 1788, and 1791.  The final visits in April and June 1791 were the only times he stayed at Kenmore while serving as president.[1]

Heather Baldus
Collections Manager

[1] Paula Felder, Fielding Lewis and the Washington Family: A Chronicle of 18th Century Fredericksburg. The American History Company, 1998: 216.

The ‘Monuments Men’ of World War II Come to Kenmore

Fielding Lewis by John Wollaston, ca. 1765. This portrait has been in the Kenmore Collection for many decades.  It was recently returned to the Drawing Room, where it would have hung when the Lewis family lived in the house 200 years ago. Watch a video of the hanging process here.

Editor’s Note: This Memorial Day, we again remember ‘The Monuments Men’ and their invaluable work to locate and save European art looted by the Nazis during World War II as well as their continued efforts to conserve and preserve art after the war, including art at Historic Kenmore.  This post originally appeared on Lives & Legacies on May 20, 2015.

Recently, while flipping through old files of the Kenmore Association dating back to the 1920s and looking for anything related to our portrait of Fielding Lewis by John Wollaston (ca. 1765), I spotted a familiar name: George Stout.  It took me only a moment to realize why the name was familiar.  Those of you who read Robert Edsel’s book The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History or saw the movie The Monuments Men starring George Clooney, Matt Damon, John Goodman, and Bill Murray may also recognize the name.

During World War II, George Stout was a member of the U.S. Army’s  Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives unit, nicknamed the “Monuments Men.”  These soldiers volunteered to leave their jobs as curators, historians and conservators to travel the frontlines in Europe, documenting, cataloging and in some cases saving priceless cultural artifacts in harm’s way.  Along with serving as a Monuments Man, Stout is widely considered the father of modern methods in art conservation in the museum world.  He’s kind of a rock star to all of us who work in museums, as are all of the Monuments Men.  It is not often that curators get to be the hero, but those men were.

Lieutenant George Stout, U.S. First Army and U.S. Twelfth Army Group. Age: 47. Born: Winterset, Iowa. A towering figure in the then obscure field of art conservation, Stout was one of the first people in America to understand the Nazi threat to the cultural patrimony of Europe and pushed the museum community and the army toward establishing a professional art conservation corps. As a field officer, he was the go-to expert for all the other Monuments Men in northern Europe and their indispensable role model and friend. Dapper and well-mannered, with a fastidiousness and thoroughness that shone in the field, Stout, a veteran of World War I, left behind a wife, Margie, and a young son. His oldest son served in the U.S. Navy. Walter Hanncock Collection, courtesy of the Monuments Men Foundation

Lieutenant George Stout, U.S. First Army and U.S. Twelfth Army Group. Age: 47. Born: Winterset, Iowa. A towering figure in the then obscure field of art conservation, Stout was one of the first people in America to understand the Nazi threat to the cultural patrimony of Europe and pushed the museum community and the army toward establishing a professional art conservation corps. As a field officer, he was the go-to expert for all the other Monuments Men in northern Europe and their indispensable role model and friend. Dapper and well-mannered, with a fastidiousness and thoroughness that shone in the field, Stout, a veteran of World War I, left behind a wife, Margie, and a young son. His oldest son served in the U.S. Navy.  From the Walter Hancock Collection courtesy of the Monuments Men Foundation.

ALTAUSSEE, AUSTRIA – JULY 10, 1945: Removal of priceless works of art from the salt mine at Alt Aussee posed problems for Monuments Man George Stout unlike any ever contemplated. Stout constructed a pulley to lift Michelangelo’s Bruges Madonna onto the salt cart to begin its long trip home to Belgium. Visible on the far left is Monuments Man Steve Kovalyak, an expert in packing art, who was a key assistant to Stout. National Gallery of Art photo courtesy of the Monuments Men Foundation.

After the war, many of the Monuments Men returned to their museum jobs where they continued to work together, revolutionizing the care and conservation of artwork and historic objects.  They established standards for conservation practices, ethics for conservators, and tested new scientific methods for preserving all varieties of artwork.  Perhaps their greatest legacy was that many of them established schools for training conservators, ensuring the future of the field.  For the first time, American museums had a cadre of experts to turn to when masterpieces in their collections needed help.

Kenmore’s old files perfectly reveal the post-war story of George Stout and the Monuments Men. It’s a story that also involves numerous other luminaries of the art conservation world such as John Walker, Harold Cross, Sheldon and Caroline Keck, and Russell Quandt.

It all started in 1949, when John Walker, then Chief Curator of the National Gallery of Art, visited Kenmore.  His visit moved him to write a letter to Kenmore’s own Louise DuPont Crowninshield, praising the Kenmore Association for its work in saving the property and for its fine collection, which included the Wollaston portrait of Fielding Lewis.  Mr. Walker felt very strongly that the Wollaston portrait was in need of immediate conservation treatment.  He recommended a young man named Harold Cross, the new restorer at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., for the project.

John Walker was not a Monuments Man but he was heavily involved in the complicated and tedious post-war effort to identify artwork looted by the Nazis.  This brought him in close contact with many of the Monuments Men over several decades.  He suggested the Kenmore Association contact George Stout, then at the Worcester Museum of Art, to get a personal testimonial as to Harold Cross’s abilities. Cross apprenticed under George Stout, receiving training in Stout’s scientific methodology.  Mrs. Crowninshield contacted Stout, who highly recommended his former student. Cross performed the first ever restoration of the ca. 1765 Wollaston portrait.  The post-war Monuments Men network had made its first mark at Kenmore by saving our only image of Fielding Lewis.

keck_sheldon

Lieutenant Sheldon Keck (kneeling), United States Army. Read Keck’s biography here. Courtesy of the Monuments Men Foundation.

The next involvement of the Monuments Men with the Wollaston portrait came in 1952, when the ladies of the Kenmore Association became concerned that the portrait was warping at an alarming rate.  Through personal connections, they learned that Sheldon and Caroline Keck would be visiting Colonial Williamsburg in January.  Sheldon Keck was a former Monuments Man and the chief restorer at the Brooklyn Museum of Art; his wife Caroline was also a restoration specialist at the same museum.  Together, they trained more than 150 conservators before they retired.

Their presence in Virginia was fortuitous, and the decision was made to pack up the Wollaston and have Executive Director Mary Mason take it directly to Williamsburg.  Mr. and Mrs. Keck agreed to take a look at the painting, and apparently performed their treatment of it in their hotel room, “re-keying” the wooden stretcher so as to tighten the canvas and reduce the warp.  The Kecks did not charge for their emergency services “in the field”, rather they indicated that it was their pleasure to assist in the preservation of such an important work.

Finally, in 1957, the Wollaston portrait’s care was passed on to the capable hands of another heir to the Monuments Men legacy.  When new preservation issues surfaced, the Kecks recommended a former student of theirs, Russell Quandt, examine the painting.  Over the next decade, Mr. Quandt would be the primary conservator of the portrait, performing treatments on it both on-site at Kenmore, at his lab at the Corcoran, and eventually at his own private-practice studio.

All told, the Monuments Men were either directly responsible, or had trained those responsible, for the preservation of Kenmore’s Wollaston portrait for almost 20 years.  It can be argued that they continue in that role today, as we hire conservators whose professional training has been a direct result of the methods, systems and institutions established by them.  Many of today’s conservators are still inspired by the wartime service of the Monuments Men.  As Memorial Day approaches, the museum world in both Europe and in this country owes them an immense debt of gratitude.

Visit http://www.monumentsmenfoundation.org/ to learn more about George Stout and Sheldon Keck, their comrades, and their wartime work.

Meghan Budinger
Aldrich Director of Curatorial Operations