Art to the People

Monday, January 12th

By Julia, Harvard ’17

Featured imageOur first twenty-four hours at Dumbarton Oaks have been filled with lots of new, wonderful people, great conversations, and chances to transport ourselves into the minds of interesting, albeit quirky, collectors. Not to mention a sense of how much DO can spoil us in just one short week: we’ve been equipped with bags, badges, and a beautiful book. After Director Jan Ziolkowski gave a short introduction to the course, Archivist James Carder helped us become better acquainted with the couple to whom Dumbarton Oaks owes its existence—Mildred and Robert Bliss. Dr. Carder explained the particularities of their collecting interests and the roots of their desire to create “a home for the humanities,” and even let us pop into the closed museum (shh!). I absolutely loved seeing a photograph of the Music Room, which hosted the diplomatic conversations that led to the creation of the United Nations, and walking into that same room moments later. One of my favorite objects in the house tour was a wrought-iron stair railing that included parrots, oak leaves, squirrels, and other creatures.

After lunch, we had a seminar with Inge Reist of the Frick Collection entitled “Private Art Collectors and Public Philanthropy: What’s Mine is Yours?” I learned that Americans are most generous in their philanthropic art giving worldwide. They donate entire collections, underwrite scholarships, establish endowment funds for future acquisitions, and sometimes (as did the Blisses) even move out of their homes to turn them into full-time museums. Dr. Reist informed us of a bizarre fact: the Metropolitan Museum in New York was founded without owning a single piece of art! She also tackled tricky questions related to the delicate balance of honoring the wishes of a donor while allowing for growth within the institution. It was great preparation for the case study projects we’ll be working on later in the week, in which we get to research a collector of our choice. During the break between the seminar and dinner, I took a walk through Georgetown, enjoying the large bay windows, bright colors piled atop one another, and flowers in window boxes that survived the snow.

We were lucky to be joined at dinner by several staff members from the three main areas of study (Byzantine, Garden and Landscape Studies, and Pre-Columbian) as well as librarians, fellows, writers, and administrators. We definitely received a warm welcome and are looking forward to another packed day tomorrow!

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