Howdy. As Emily Pfotenhauer introduced me in the previous entry, I’m her new part-time research assistant, supported by the Chipstone Foundation. I am recent graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a degree in human geography and material culture studies. I also just finished applying to graduate schools for in the fall of 2010. With a background in human geography I am sure most of you are surprised by my interest in the decorative arts. Traditionally most people do not connect the decorative arts with geography, but in fact, the database project is very geographic in nature–as many of you know, there is a strong connection between an object and its geographical location.
In late January, Emily and I had the pleasure of photographing artifacts and collecting data at Ten Chimneys Foundation for the Wisconsin Decorative Arts Database. Ten Chimneys is a National Historical Landmark in Genesee Depot, Wisconsin, about 30 miles from Milwaukee and 60 miles from Madison. It’s a large estate including multiple buildings, decorative objects, and yes chimneys! It is traditionally praised for its theater programming and direct connection to its original and famous owners, Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne. It also notable for its beautifully preserved rooms in the main house as well the additional outbuildings with romanticized and nostalgic visions of Scandinavian themes and ideals.
The craftsmen whose work we documented at Ten Chimneys were Schomer Lichtner, who created almost prop-like pieces of painted furniture (a sofa and clock); Per Lysne, famous for his gorgeous Norwegian-style decorative painting (a kitchen cupboard and two three-legged chairs); and set designer Claggett Wilson (Biblical and Scandinavian inspired wall murals in the main house).
A major question I asked myself as we photographed and recorded the objects was: “What makes an object Wisconsin?”—is it made in Wisconsin; from a famous person from Wisconsin; materials from Wisconsin; or captures a Wisconsin idea or sentiment? These questions pose many puzzles about how objects are classified and viewed but nevertheless, I look forward to further research on Wisconsin focused objects.
As previously mentioned, I am a recent young graduate and have had elementary experience with the field of furniture and decorative objects, and this was my first “field” experience in direct contact with decorative objects within a formal museum setting. My first impressions were scattered–with joy of actually handling the objects to puzzlement as I learned that objects are often held down with “museum wax”!?!
I look forward to helping Emily push further with this project! Thank you to Keith D. MacKay, Director of Historic Preservation at Ten Chimneys, for graciously giving of his time and energy, and to the Chipstone Foundation for taking a “risk” on me.
–Posted by Rebecca Wangard.