In last month’s Cooper Hewitt Short Story we delved into the expansive drawings collection of Italian artist and collector Giovanni Piancastelli. But now, on to summer… #beachreads
Margery Masinter, Trustee, Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
Sue Shutte, Historian at Ringwood Manor
Matthew Kennedy, Publishing Associate, Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
Two years ago, we wandered through the whimsical artistry of the guest books from the Hewitt family’s country estate, Ringwood Manor in Ringwood, New Jersey. The books—in four volumes and awash with imagery and poetry and autographs—are vital documents that preserve the vivid and evolving spirit of Ringwood and its eclectic array of inhabitants and visitors. So this month, in honor of summer and the time away the season often affords, we revisit these lively volumes.
On July 4, 1882, Peter Cooper reported: “Temperature 57 degrees wind N.N.W. along with heavy rain. Everybody in doors sitting by cheerful wood fire”
On July 4, 1920, Hewitt family friend Caroline King Duer conveyed her Independence Day mood in more humorously allegorical terms with this figure:
These two entries, apropos to this time of year, characterize the types of entries as well as the tones represented on the volumes’ pages.
“Weekly But Not Weakly”
The Ringwood season ran from spring until late autumn, and guests came and went during those warm summer and brisk fall months “weekly but not weakly,” according to Hewitt friend Madison Jones, a Ringwood regular, in October of 1893.
As would be expected, the Hewitts entertained colleagues and acquaintances from their museum after its opening in 1897. The roles of Hewitt friends, Ringwood guests, and museum patrons invariably overlapped, and the pages of the guest books are dotted with signatures of individuals whose names now reside in Cooper Hewitt’s collection credit lines, having contributed gifts important to the then-budding Cooper Union Museum and now significant to Cooper Hewitt.
Ogden Codman—architect, interior designer, and contributor to the museum collection—helped close the season on December 2, 1900…
…and then promptly returned the following June to reopen the vacation estate.
In autumn 1901, his signature is accompanied by the exclamatory “Oh Piancastelli!!!” in reaction to the large collection of Italian drawings purchased by the sisters for their museum earlier that year. Codman wrote The Decoration of Houses (1897) with his friend and novelist Edith Wharton, who herself signed the guest book on October 3, 1905, after donating textiles and prints to the museum collection a few years prior.
Wharton’s neice, Beatrix Jones Farrand, was a friend of the Hewitts and influenced the design of the Ringwood gardens. Her signature appears throughout the guest books (as simply Beatrix Jones), and she additionally offered objects to the museum’s collection, including this nineteenth-century fan with similarly pastoral themes as the activities at Ringwood.
Person of Interest/America’s Sweetheart: Caroline King Duer
There has been no shortage of praise for one particular woman on this blog. And no, I refer to neither Sarah nor Eleanor Hewitt, despite the substantial praise for their intelligence, wit, and accomplishments for this museum. I refer, rather, to Caroline King Duer. As it has been previously noted, Duer, dear friend of Sarah and Eleanor Hewitt, was a frequent visitor to Ringwood and unarguably the most prolific contributor to the guest books. She visited often, often mysteriously…
…and occasionally unaccompanied, to her chagrin and/or peaceful pleasure:
In later decades, it appears that Duer frequently visited Ringwood alone, perhaps as a quiet escape to pursue her short story writing or writing and editing for Vogue magazine.
As the unsung comedic writer of the twentieth century (well, that may be a humble stretch), she once attended Mark Twain’s birthday party (pictured in the front in fabulous sleeves) in 1901. But she more than once attended a Ringwood party. In this 1898 sketch, she captures a rather embarrassing party foul at a tumbling soirée.
On a literary and artistic level (if such an examination can be brought to the musings of friends on vacation), Duer shaped the tone of the guest books in later decades (1890–1930), elevating pleasant messages and well wishes to narrative- and commentary-driven poetry and illustrations. And as we learned in our last exploration of the guestbooks, many of these were playfully directed at Sarah and Eleanor!
The above illustration is from late autumn 1918, shortly after the conclusion of World War I. The sisters and their friends were highly engaged in the war effort, providing both time and financial resources, and this jesting illustration is perhaps a commentary on both micro and macro financial situations.
Happy Birthday, Abram Hewitt
We close this month with a celebratory note at the end of the month: “George Forbes with sincerest congratulations to our esteemed host on his 73rd birthday,” wrote George Forbes on July 31, 1894. Abram Hewitt—the aforementioned esteemed host and father of Sarah and Eleanor—countersigned directly under Forbes’s well wish: “Abram S. Hewitt on his 72nd birth day anniversary” (as, born in 1822, that birthday did mark his 72nd year). Abram Hewitt shares a birthday with some renowned figures from history: St. Ignatius Loyola, economist Milton Friedman, wizard Harry Potter, and the author of this blog post.
The guest books have been digitized and are available to view via download from the Ringwood Manor website.
“Ringwood Manor Guest Books,” Ringwood Manor, http://www.ringwoodmanor.org/ringwood-manor-guest-books.html