Welcome to Staatsburgh State Historic Site's blog! Learn more about the Gilded Age home of Ruth and Ogden Mills!

Thursday, June 1, 2017

François Flameng: Gilded Age Portraitist

Portrait of Ruth Livingston Mills by François Flameng, 1909

After we discovered that the grandiose portrait of Mrs. Mills currently hanging in her boudoir was painted by François Flameng (and not François Glamony...see previous blog), we wanted to learn everything that we could about this French artist and his place in the art world. What kind of artist was he and how did he end up in New York painting scores of wealthy society ladies?

François Flameng in his studio, c. 1880s-1890s (MET Collections 2005.100.1249)

Friday, April 28, 2017

The (Mills) Family Jewels: Boucheron of Paris and the Ultimate Gilded Age Status Symbol

Recently the site was contacted by an intern in the Heritage Department of the French jeweler, Boucheron, a renowned company that has been supplying the wealthy and fabulous with jewelry since 1893.  He wanted to learn a bit more about the Mills family because he had been scouring the sales archives and noticed that they were very regular clients of Boucheron for over 30 years from the 1890s to 1920s.  They purchased jewelry pieces monthly that were delivered to them in London, Paris, and New York.

Home of Boucheron, 26 Place Vendomme, Paris (Photo credit: Wikimedia User Delud)

Jewelry has always been utilized as a status symbol and this was certainly true during the Gilded Age when unprecedented wealth and the desire to stand out in society created a market for fine jewelry.  Women like Ruth Mills wore jeweled tiaras, brooches, bracelets and necklaces to society events and balls.  Rare gems and large diamonds worth millions of dollars highlighted the wealth and social status of the women they adorned.  We can compare it to the red carpet at the Oscars in the present day when "Hollywood royalty" parade past the press wearing fancy gowns and jewelry worth millions and millions of dollars.

Through this connection, we were able to receive photos of some of the actual pieces that Ogden Mills purchased from Boucheron.  Since Staatsburgh does not have personal affects from the family, this provided a wonderful opportunity to look at actual pieces of jewelry Ruth Mills and her daughters would have worn in society.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

François Flameng's Portrait of Ruth Mills and its Connection to Women's Suffrage

In the previous entry we explored the exciting new discovery of the artist who created Mrs. Mills' large portrait which hangs in the Boudoir. François Flameng, a French portrait artist, painted Ruth in 1909 during one of his many trips to the United States to paint well known ladies of society.  Yet finding the true artist of the painting was not the only discovery that we made.  We also discovered that Ruth's painting was part of an exhibition in February 1913 to raise money for women's suffrage.  Due to a comment made by a family descandant in an oral history interview many years ago, site staff were under the impression that Mrs. Mills did not look favorably upon the idea of votes for women.  Yet, with this new information, perhaps we can change our views on Ruth and what she did or did not support.

In 2017, we are thinking more about women's suffrage because it is the centennial for women's suffrage in New York.  It was still three years until the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote nationally, so New York was ahead of the game.  New York State will be commemorating the centennial in many ways including a new exhibition at the New York State Museum opening in November 2017.  At Staatsburgh, in honor of the centennial, we invited Dr. Susan Goodier , a professor at SUNY Oneonta, to speak at one of our “Gilded Age Tea & Talk” programs, to explore how this momentous issue of the day was viewed by people of Mrs. Mills’ social set.  As the author of a study on the anti-suffrage moment in New York State (No Votes for Women: The New YorkState Anti-Suffrage Movement. Univ of Illinois Press, 2013), Dr. Goodier brings a special expertise to both sides of this contentious early turn-of-the-century issue.  We also are continuing to research the relationship between Ruth Mills and the suffrage movement. This blog explores some of our findings about that relationship.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

The Artist that Didn't Exist:
François Glamony and the Portrait of Ruth Livingston Mills

One of the most exciting things about studying history is the fact that the past is not static.  Things change and new discoveries are made on a regular basis.  New evidence can be uncovered that disproves the validity of facts that have been taken for granted for years.  It is imperative that historians never stop asking questions.  But how does that relate to Staatsburgh?  Keep reading to learn about our new discovery!

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Collections Care Workshop Part IV
Putting the Gilt in Gilded Age: Exploring the Techniques of Ormolu, Urushi and Gilding

During June 2016, aspiring conservators from around the country attended a 2 week intensive workshop at Staatsburgh.  "Housekeeping for Conservators", sponsored by The Foundation for the American Institute for Conservation along with funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities taught in-depth methods of caring for many different types of collections. Participants gained insight into artifact conservation and the conditions that cause deterioration. After the workshop, several of the participants wrote blog entries about their experience and a specific aspect of the workshop.

NYS Bureau of Historic Sites Furniture Conservator, David Bayne, organized this workshop to occur at Staatsburgh collaborating on its organization with Independent Conservator Cathy MacKenzie and Kirsten Schoonmaker from the Shelburne Museum.  Several conservation experts also participated in the workshop's instruction including John Childs from the Peabody Essex Museum, Genevieve Bieniosek from the Biltmore, and Catherine Coueignoux London of Oak Street Conservation.

Part IV in this series of blogs is by Fallon Murphy. Fallon is from Redding, Connecticut and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in sculpture in 2016. Throughout college, she has worked for several conservators, ranging from paper to sculpture. She recently completed a project on the Capitol Dome Project in Washington D.C. Currently, she is working at Harvard's Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology as a Conservation Lab Assistant; at Studio TKM on Chinese wallpaper, and for the Cambridge Arts Council studying graffiti removal.

Workshop participant and blog author, Fallon Murphy

Sunday, January 15, 2017

A Gilded Age Gossip Columnist:
Maury Paul, The Man Behind Cholly Knickerbocker

Downton Abbey Spoiler Alert!  Do you remember the final  season of Downton Abbey when Lady Edith's magazine hired a new writer with the pen name of Cassandra Jones to write an advice column for women? Ms. Jones' column turned out to be very popular and when Lady Edith arranged a meeting with the author, she found out Cassandra Jones was none other than her grandmother's butler Septimus Spratt!

Maury Henry Biddle Paul took on a similar gender bending identity and pseudonym when he wrote for newspaper columns as Polly Stuyvesant and Cholly Knickerbocker while reporting on the activities of society's wealthy elite class.  He was born in 1890 so he missed much of the earlier years of the Gilded Age, but he started paying attention to society news at a young age.  Even though Ruth Mills died in 1920, he still included her in more than one column when he reported about the status of the Millses several homes.  The Gilded Age elite were not immune to the prying eye of the media just as celebrities today are constantly hounded by paparazzi.  The fact that salacious gossip sells is not a new concept!

Maury Paul aka Cholly Knickbocker (right in black bow tie) visiting a club, circa 1938.