Frelinghuysen Morris House & Studio (Lenox, Massachusetts)

Historic Artists’ Homes and Studios Program Member Highlight

By Valerie Balint, Program Manager, Historic Artists’ Homes and Studios

 George L.K. Morris and Suzy Frelinghuysen on the marble staircase in their home. Photo credit: Frelinghuysen Morris House & Studio

George L.K. Morris and Suzy Frelinghuysen on the marble staircase in their home. Photo credit: Frelinghuysen Morris House & Studio

The Frelinghuysen Morris House & Studio is the preserved home, studio, collections and environs of American Abstract artists George L.K. Morris and Suzy Frelinghuysen. The summer marks the 20th anniversary of the site opening to the public.  While of a completely different era and sensibility than Daniel Chester French’s Chesterwood, as sites that exist only ten miles from each other in the adjoining towns of Lenox and Stockbridge, MA—These two Berkshire treasures can be considered “sister” HAHS sites.  Even in their differences, these two sites share something fundamental in common; originally serving as country retreats for artists who held primary residence and studio spaces in New York City.  The lush and inviting landscapes make both the Chesterwood and the Frelinghuysen Morris properties speak to places of inspiration, reinvigoration and conviviality – for personal use and artistic practice.

As the stewards of the Frelinghuysen Morris House & Studio (Lenox, MA) celebrate this benchmark anniversary season, they should be commended for the outstanding preservation, restoration and innovating programming they have accomplished throughout their tenure, and specifically within the last several years.  In a region of Massachusetts best-known for Gilded Age architecture, the Modernist home George L.K. Morris and Suzy Frelinghuysen designed as retreat and artistic hub, stands as both early and unique example of International style in the United States.  

 Frelinghuysen Morris House & Studio with the Studio in the upper left and a fresco by George L.K. Morris in the garage breezeway. Photo credit: Frelinghuysen Morris House & Studio

Frelinghuysen Morris House & Studio with the Studio in the upper left and a fresco by George L.K. Morris in the garage breezeway. Photo credit: Frelinghuysen Morris House & Studio

Replete with experimental architectural elements including in-situ artworks in fresco by both Frelinghuysen and Morris, as well as important examples of American and European cubist art, modern furniture and decorative arts, this holistic artistic environment provides enchantment for every visitor; and challenges for those responsible for its care.  Both the building and its contents are exemplary in national significance, serving to illustrate the collective vision of two influential artists, while also encapsulating a significant era in our nation’s cultural history. 

 Dining Room with frescos created by Suzy Frelinghuysen. Photo: Frelinghuysen Morris House & Studio

Dining Room with frescos created by Suzy Frelinghuysen. Photo: Frelinghuysen Morris House & Studio

The site represents strong dedication to preservation, conservation and restoration best practices, with a strong focus on direct activation of the site to serve local community, while also providing excellent visitor experience for those devotees who make the pilgrimage to this modern wonder of the Berkshires. This small, private non-profit foundation has grown from a burgeoning public site to a model for what creative placemaking can offer.

Suzy Frelinghuysen planned for the long-term legacy of this site as a public institution during her own lifetime, entrusting her nephew Kinney Frelinghuysen to secure its future after her death.  Today, Kinney serves as Executive Director, assisted by a full-time staff of four, including his wife Linda, who serves as Communications Director.

Over two decades, Kinney and Linda have thoughtfully and carefully preserved and restored many aspects of the site, which includes an original 1930 studio built by Morris based on Ozenfant’s Parisian studio by Le Corbusier, which Morris had seen while studying abroad.  In 1941, Morris and Frelinghuysen hired local architect John Butler Swann to design a house which would integrate with the earlier studio.  Preservation projects on both buildings have included repair to a garage breezeway fresco by Morris, stabilization of exterior walls, the faithful replacement of the parlor’s original Argentinian leather floor, and most recently, the complete restoration of the debilitated marble rear patio.  Many designed elements of the house are experimental in nature, whether it be materials, construction or design, and therefore all projects have required an approach employing sensitivity to original artistic intent, exploratory research as to historical accuracy, and innovative approaches for preservation solutions.  

Staff and volunteers have worked with experts to identify and then conserve furniture and objects in the collection, which were previously unattributed.  This work has brought to light rare and important examples from this period, personally selected by Morris and Frelinghuysen for their home.  The extensive art collection has required constant and careful stewardship.

In addition to this work, the site has received multiple grants for the protection of the vast archive holdings, including digitization of early travel films made by the couple.  The site actively loans its impressive collection of artwork (Morris, Frelinghuysen, and collected master works) to exhibitions throughout the world.  The site’s annual exhibitions are notable for creativity, including the most recent, which displays both sides of various paintings at once, enabling viewers to learn about art-making and history through direct observation. Community engagement on all levels is impressive.  Significant is the continued programmatic relationship with students and teachers of the nearby Morris Elementary School, which boasts a rare mosaic created and donated by Morris.  Kinney Frelinghuysen, an artist himself, has worked to develop interpretation that assists the visitor with understanding Modernist art: public tours, special programming including “Unlock you Creativity” workshops for adult learners, guest-speaker lectures by noted historians and preservationists, and professional painter practicums conducted by leading contemporary artists.

 Kinney Frelinghuysen leads an adult creative workshop at the site. Courtesy Frelinghuysen Morris Houses & Studio

Kinney Frelinghuysen leads an adult creative workshop at the site. Courtesy Frelinghuysen Morris Houses & Studio

Be sure to make it a must see on your next visit to the Berkshires and don’t miss the Morris mosaic at the Morris Elementary School as you drive by!  To learn more about visiting this valued member of the HAHS program see the site in our directory at www.artistshomes.org

Listen to a recent radio interview with Kinney Frelinghuysen on WAMC.org.

Elisabet Ney Museum (Austin, Texas)

Historic Artists’ Homes and Studios Program Member Highlight

By Valerie Balint, Program Manager, Historic Artists’ Homes and Studios

 Elisabet Ney in her studio at  Formosa , Courtesy Elisabet Ney Museum 

Elisabet Ney in her studio at Formosa, Courtesy Elisabet Ney Museum 

As the administrator for the Historic Artists’ Homes and Studios Program (HAHS), Chesterwood has the privilege of championing its colleagues around the country.  The roster in this membership of artists’ spaces spans the country, crossing many eras, artistic mediums and styles, and even gender and race.  Each member of the HAHS program, and its physical site, represents the very personal expression of a specific artist.  That said, synergies between sites also exist as is the case between Chesterwood and the Elisabet Ney Museum. 

Visitors today experience the comprehensive artistic environs, sculptor Elisabet Ney created for herself at Formosa in Austin, Texas.

   
  
 
  
    
  
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   Formosa , Ney’s artist-designed home, studio and landscape in Austin, Texas

Formosa, Ney’s artist-designed home, studio and landscape in Austin, Texas

Ney was groundbreaking, building the first artist’s studio in Texas.  Later, when her close friends preserved the site, and created a memorial museum after her death in 1907, her home and studio became the first art museum in the entire state.  Today’s visitors to the museum enjoy the same rare opportunity to view original preparatory plaster models for final artworks, as the public does when touring Chesterwood.

In addition to the careful preservation and interpretation of Ney’s legacy, the Elisabet Ney Museum is dedicated to engaging programming, which often includes female writers in residence.

Like Daniel Chester French, the nineteenth-century sculptor, Elisabet Ney (1833-1907) worked in the classical vein.  She too was prolific and successful, and while she created some allegorical works, she is best known for her portraits.  Born in Germany, Ney spent the first part of her artistic career in Berlin and with the support of her friend and patron King Ludwig II, created likenesses of important personages such as Jacob Grimm, Arthur Schopenhauer and Giuseppe Garibaldi. 

 Plaster busts by Ney at the museum

Plaster busts by Ney at the museum

By 1892, Elisabet Ney and her husband Edmund Montgomery, a Scottish medical doctor and prolific philosopher had moved to Austin, Texas. Elisabet set about designing her own home and studio, which she would call Formosa; “beautiful” in Portuguese. Only a few years later, French too would begin work on his own studio and residence at Chesterwood.

Ney would surround her resulting classically-inspired stone villa with 2.5 acres of designed prairie landscape, taking advantage of the native species of grasses, yucca and wildflowers, in much the same way French would integrate Berkshire native woodlands into his larger landscape design at Chesterwood.  Like so many artists, Ney continued to perfect her vision for her home, enlarging her studio in 1902. 

While at Formosa Ney, in the later part of her career, would sculpt many important Texas citizens including Sam Houston and Stephen F. Austin.  Her finished works grace sites all over Texas, as well as the collections at the Smithsonian and the National Statuary Hall in Washington, D.C. 

The sculptor had varied interests beyond her art, and is considered today an early feminist, as well as a philosopher, historian and humanist.   At Formasa, as at Chesterwood there were many and varied guests and entertainments, including rigorous discussions centered around politics, literature and music.

Ney’s legacy is now entrusted to the City of Austin Parks and Recreation Department. In addition to being a local and state historic landmark, it is also on the National Register of Historic Places.

The museum has been a recipient of a National Trust for Historic Preservation’s  Save America's Treasures grant, and continues its efforts to restore the entire site to the vision of its initial creator, Elisabet Ney. To learn more about visiting this valued member of the HAHS program see the site in our directory at www.artistshomes.org.