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

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Hidden Treasures of the Collections: Greek Vases

Recently the site was delighted to receive a visit from Vassar Professor of Art History, Eve D'Ambra, who was encouraging her undergraduate students to explore and research works of art in local collections.  The essay below is drawn from a research and observation paper completed by her student, Lily Palaia, Class of 2019, who chose to research the five ancient Greek vases on view in the mansion.  The site thanks Lily for her contribution to our blog!

In Staatsburgh's drawing room, five Greek vases sit on two bureaus on the south side of the room. Ogden Mills purchased these vases in 1909 from Henri De Morgan at an auction in New York City. These five vases feature diverse subject matter, yet are from the height of the classical period, from early 6th through 4th century B.C. Three of these objects would be described as “Attic” because they come from the city of Athens or the surrounding area, one from Boeticia and one from Southern Italy.  

A page from the 1909 Henri De Morgan sale catalogue.  Ogden Mills purchased the center amphora.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Ladies' Fashions at the Turn of the 20th Century

When Stanford White was brought in to remodel Ruth Livingston Mills’s inherited home, he took special care to install an enormous staircase, knocking out a ceiling and a couple of walls to do the job. Looking at the staircase today, you can almost see the beautiful ladies visiting Staatsburgh sweeping down those steps to make their grand entrance for dinner, no doubt bedecked in one of the most fashionable gowns they owned.

The "pigeon chest"

Fashion in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century was quite elaborate and just as fickle as it is today. Over the course of around twenty years (from the very late 1890’s up to around 1915) women’s fashion would undergo a veritable coup.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Hidden Treasures of the Collections: Armoire

One of the reasons that we initially created this blog was to have an avenue to highlight some of Staatsburgh's collections that are not always noticeable or highlighted on the tour.  The house has so many collections that it is impossible to cover it all on a tour.  Some objects or paintings are positioned in such a way that is is hard to see them from the tour path.  The "Hidden Treasures of the Collection" blog series provides a closer look at some of the interesting pieces throughout the house. 

One of the most remarkable pieces of furniture is the 19th century oak armoire in Mrs. Mills' bedroom, which is situated just between her closets.  Even though there are two closets in Mrs. Mills' room, closets were uncommon and most homes like Staatsburgh contained armoires in every bedroom to store clothing.  Read on to learn more about the armoire and the intensive efforts that went into conserving it.

Oak Armoire from Normandy, early 19th century (ML.1974.382)

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Francis Lewis: A Revolutionary Life

Happy Independence Day!

You may not realize what a close connection Staatsburgh and the Mills family have to the events we commemorate by recognizing Independence Day as a national holiday.  Ruth and Ogden were born about eighty years after the momentous event, but there is a family connection!  Mrs. Mills' great-great grandfather was a member of the Continental Congress and was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.  We know that Ruth took considerable pride in her ancestors because several historic documents relating to Francis Lewis and other illustrious fore-bearers were displayed in the house.

Francis Lewis (1713-1802)

Thursday, May 31, 2018

The House of Worth:
Designer Fashion in the Gilded Age

Today there are countless dress designers who have successfully made a career of dressing the rich and famous.  Names like Armani, Dior, Chanel, Gucci, and Valentino are commonly muttered by artists and entertainers walking the red carpet.  However, if one were to ask the most elite women in Gilded Age society about their gowns, the vast majority of answers would be the same...the House of Worth.

Friday, April 27, 2018

New Discoveries: The Edgar Mills Letters

With history research, there are always new things to discover and the internet has made many of those discoveries easier than ever.  Recently, when I was looking for something completely unrelated, I stumbled upon a description for the Edgar Mills papers at the California State Library.  Part of the collection included correspondence with his brother, D.O. Mills, and his nephew, Ogden Mills.  The description also mentioned that the correspondence included a discussion of Ogden's engagement to Ruth Livingston.  Since we know very little about their courtship and marriage, I was very excited by the prospect of reading these letters.  Keep reading to see what I found!

Headline in Sacramento's The Record-Union, February 4, 1882

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Life Downstairs at Staatsburgh: A Servant Wedding

Fans of the television series Downton Abbey may remember the slow burn of the relationship between the butler, Carson, and the housekeeper, Mrs. Hughes.  Finally, after many seasons of the show, and many more years of working together, the pair expressed their love for each other and were married (much to the delight of the show's fans!).

Romance between servants was usually discouraged, but it did happen.  Some left service after being married, but others continued like Anna and Mr. Bates (another married couple featured on Downton Abbey!).  Even here at Staatsburgh, we know the servants were not immune to falling in love.  Staatsburgh's butler was already married with children when he started working for the Mills family, but his daughter fell in love and married a footman!  Read their story below:

Carson & Mrs. Hughes (Photo: PBS/Masterpiece)

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Love in the Gilded Age: Successful Second Marriages

During the early years of the Gilded Age, divorce was quite uncommon and a reason for immediate expulsion from Gilded Age society. However, within a couple decades, divorce was more frequent even among families like the Vanderbilts and Astors. A few groundbreaking divorces from those high up in society, and more couples decided not to remain married to individuals they despised. Many Gilded Age marriages, especially among the upper classes, were not love matches. Parents would push for and even arrange certain marriages in order to cement a partnership, elevate social status, or increase finances, but the individuals were frequently ill suited to each other.  Many of these marriages ended in divorce, but what often resulted from these divorces was a happy second marriage.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Preventative Conservation Workshop 2017: Part IV - Cleaning the Passage Room

During June 2017, aspiring conservators from around the country attended a 2 week intensive preventative conservation workshop at Staatsburgh.  This was the second year that the workshop was held at Staatsburgh with sponsorship from The Foundation for the American Institute for Conservation along with funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities.  The workshop 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.  Several conservators participated in the workshop's instruction including  Kirsten Schoonmaker from the Shelburne MuseumValentine Talland formerly from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, and Michelle Smith, most recently at the National Library of France.

Blog author Jennifer Mikes
Part III in this series was written by Jennifer Mikes and Stephanie Carrato. Jennifer Mikes is a pre-program art conservation intern.  She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in biology with a minor in studio art from Franklin & Marshall College.  She has acquired experience in textile, furniture, paintings, and objects conservation from the University of Delaware, Headley Conservation Services, The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and The University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.

Blog author Stephanie Carrato

Stephanie Carrato is from Monroe Township, New Jersey. She has a BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (2009). She has worked in conservation for The Buffalo Bill Center of the West, Andrea Pitsch Conservation, and The Philadelphia Museum of Art. Stephanie is currently a conservation technician at the Penn Museum.