Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Decline of Reason?

Working in a history museum the presence of the past is with you every day. There is not much that happens where you are not prompted to think about how it may have been different a century or two ago. So it is with the recent debates over public policy. What seems to be missing is the presence of reason. A principal premise of American society is the capacity of rational minds in a free society to reason. Today this principal has been replaced by the mindless chatter of television hosts, politicians and other assorted talking heads whose only proficiency is to state things as fact that have no connection to reality.

The Lees and their colleagues in the founding generation would be horrified by this turn of events. Reading their extensive correspondence and countless newspaper articles and pamphlets, their use of ancient texts and reason is evident everywhere. In the years before the American Revolution, proponents of American rights conducted a long debate with their opponents about British imperial policy. These debates are worthwhile reading, not just for their content but for the use of reason in making their arguments. Today the legitimacy of reason as a neutral objective faculty has collapsed, replaced by post-modern notion that all ideas are relative and objective reason indefensible.

There are those who argue that places like Stratford Hall and history museums generally are increasingly irrelevant in our modern world. These are the same people who helped create this world of intellectual chaos. Places like Stratford Hall have an obligation to provide a place where our citizens can reflect not just on the past, but the principles which have guided our nation for more than two centuries. One of these surely must be that it took reason to create a nation. It will also take reason to sustain it.

- Paul Reber, Executive Director

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Preservation and Restoration Excitement... No Really...

It's exciting times in the Preservation Department here at Stratford Hall. But lets be serious, when isn't it exciting? The big project I continue to work on is the Parlor restoration. The Parlor is being restored to its ca. 1795 Federal Period, also known as the "Light Horse Harry" Lee period. I described the overall project in a previous blog post which you can find here if you missed it or would like to freshen up your memory. One of the contractors just finished removing the window seats and installing the new paneling in the window embrasures. They also extended the window architraves to the floor. The next step in the restoration is to install the plaster cornice, which we are hoping to begin within the next month or so. I hope to wrap up the restoration of the Parlor sometime in June, then we will turn the space over to the Collections Department so they can refurnish the space.

As sprin
g arrives a little early here at Stratford Hall, I am preparing for the warmer weather. The first thing I did to prepare for spring, with the help of the Collections Department, was to install the bird nets on the doors of the outbuildings. We install these nets to keep the pesky barn swallows out of the historic buildings but still allow our visitors access. You can read more about our issues with these birds here.

Also as spring arrives the department is currently looking for its annual summer intern. So far we have a great applicant pool and it will soon be time to make the hard decision of who gets to spend 10 fun-filled weeks at Stratford Hall. If you are interested in knowing more about our internships the posting can be found on our website.

I am also gearing up to begin working on the exterior of some of the historic structures again. This work will consist of wrapping up the Slave Quarter restoration and continuing to work on the Great House windows. I am sure I will be getting into some more projects as the season progresses, so check back.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Flip-flops and flower gardens

March has arrived and we spent time earlier this month removing the wintertime scenarios from the Great House.  If you came to see us for our Christmastide program or any time over the holiday season, you saw the main house set up for a holiday party and displaying scenes of everyday wintertime life.  Silhouette-cutting in the Dining Room Closet and fresh laundry arriving from the Wash House for the hired Schoolmaster [above].

We've blogged about setting up the Great House for its wintertime scenarios  before (and its summertime scenarios and even fall ones too).  But what about springtime?  It is difficult (and incredibly time-consuming) to continually think of new ideas for room displays in the Historic Area.  So much planning goes into the new room projects (like the Parlor project that is now in its restoration and furnishing research phase) and changing them seasonally can be a challenge.

But just like our own houses, the residents of Stratford used their domestic spaces differently and changed things around as the weather changed.  I'm currently writing this blog post in my own home office, with the window thrown open and birds chirping outside.  I have flip-flops on my feet yet am bundled into a hoodie sweatshirt.  The heat has been turned off and the air has a springtime morning chill that is quite delicious.  My personal plans this time of year revolve around organizing and deep cleaning the house, as well as making plans for the vegetable and flower gardens.  English peas are one of my favorites.

Seasonality is always in the back of my mind when I plan scenarios in the Great House and Kitchen.  What foods are in season?  Would they have been using the fireplaces for warmth?  Would windows have been open for fresh breezes?  What little changes are being made (bed coverings switching from heavy to light, for instance)?  All adding up to bring a sense of real life to these historic spaces.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Update from Interpretation and Education

This past week we saw snow and temperatures in the 70s...spring is here at last! Stratford Hall is emerging from our winter season and gearing up for the spring. School trip season is not quite here, but our first school is scheduled be here at the end of the month. In the next couple weeks we will be reviewing program station content, checking on supplies, and cleaning the education spaces.

Public Events Manager Jon Bachman has been putting the finishing touches on our 2012 event calendar. Stratford Hall has already held four programs: Birding at Stratford: Left Out In the Cold, Robert E. Lee's Birthday, Reading Lee with Elizabeth Brown Pryor, and Reflections on Black History: Telling One Story. We have over twenty more programs on the schedule this year! The next program is Growing up Female in the 18th century. Many of our programs are also now free for Friends of Stratford members.

This winter also
provided the opportunity to visit other museums for research. Previous blog posts highlighted our trip to Montpelier and Washington, DC. Four members of the staff also recently visited Tryon Palace in New Bern, NC. This two day trip included a visit to their historic site, tour of the North Carolina History Center, and meetings with their staff. The hands-on exhibits provided the opportunity for some fun and competition. The ship was sailed somewhat successfully, ingredients located in the kitchen without angering the cook (see kitchen above), turpentine produced, and quilt created.These trips are extremely valuable as we start to think about what we would like to do as we move forward with our plans.

Check back every Thursday to learn more about what is going on at Stratford Hall. We will be having posts about preservation, the collections, programs, events in the Dining Room, the Gift Shop, and so much more.