Hello from Winterthur, Week 1!

Hello from Winterthur! My name is Grace, and I am a rising junior at W&M. I’m a History major, and I’m also minoring in English and Classics. This summer, I will be spending 10 weeks as a curatorial intern at the Winterthur Museum in Winterthur, DE. It could also be placed in Wilmington, DE, but as I learned on my first day, Winterthur is big enough to have its own zip code (and post office and fire department)! I have never worked in museums before, and to be honest, my first thought as I finished my first day was “I should have started smaller”. The house and the museum are unfathomably huge! If you’re like me and had not heard of Winterthur before now (or in my case before I applied for the position), Winterthur is a house formerly owned by the DuPont family of Delaware. The DuPonts originally came from Nemours, France, but emigrated to America during the French Revolution. They made their money in gunpowder originally and got rich by producing gunpowder for the US Army during the Civil War as well as for various wars and expeditions of westward expansion. After the need for gunpowder really dried up in the early 20th century, they closed their mill at Hagley/Elutherian Mills and opened up a scientific industrial research division, where they invented things like nylon and Kevlar and Teflon(just little things!). In this part of Delaware there are four separate DuPont estates, so the family (and their money) are everywhere here. The Winterthur museum was established by Henry Francis (HF since there are a lot of Henry DuPonts) DuPont, who expanded the house and turned it into the museum it is today. He created the rooms to be show off regionalism in furnishings and design as well as differences across time periods. The house museum is not set up like any other house museums you’ve probably been to; each room serves an exhibitionary, rather than formerly functional, purpose. Also, how many house museums have a courtyard with the facades from four different tavern buildings inside of them? My first week has been a little overwhelming, but I am feeling more confident and more exciting as the days go by. My first day began with a whirlwind tour of the 150 room mansion and some of the curatorial storage space. I was introduced to many people in the museum wing, including all the curators and everyone in registration. I even got my light wand, allowing me to turn on and off the lights in the house! I thought that was a lot, but on my second day, I got a tour of the research building. Winterthur is one of the few museums big enough to have full labs staffed with scientists, so it was fascinating to see the intersection of art, humanities, and science in the conservation spaces. We visited textiles, books, paper, wood, art and paintings, and other labs. I was lucky that a tour full of important people was about to go through the building after me, so all of the specialists were already set up to explain their job and to show off their cool stuff. On my second day, I was even cleared to handle objects in the collection. I watched videos and took a mini-quiz to prepare, but in order to show that I knew what I was doing, I got to move a teapot across Mrs. DuPont’s bedroom. Sounds dull, until you realize that to pick up the teapot, you must know how to interact with the rug you’re standing on, the couches (with textiles and wood) on either side, the table the teapot came from and the table it’s going to, and every other part of the room around you. The coolest part about Winterthur is that everything is an object- not many things are in a case. Everything in every room around you has value and conservation necessities. Side note- I also got to move a Benjamin Franklin porcelain statue in the Port Royal dining room, which looked nothing like the Franklins on either side of him. Miniatures of famous eighteenth century figures like Franklin are fun because not all artists knew what they looked like, so sometimes you’ll see mistakes- like a statue of Franklin labeled “G. Washington” (C150 friends, you know what I’m talking about!). On my third day, I attended a curators meeting, where I got to listen in on all the ongoing projects and thoughts that the other curators had. I also learned about one of my main projects this summer, which is working on the IMLS grant project. I learned how to use accessioning records, object files, and other master cards to piece together how the object arrived at the museum, who gave it to us, and what its importance is. This work is used to determine whether the object can be deaccessioned, or removed from the collection. Winterthur has so much stuff, so deaccessioning is very important. I am currently working on spatterware (porcelain), which was a pet project of HF Dupont’s (meaning he has *a lot* of it). I also had a meeting with the education and outreach department who I will be working with on the Terrific Tuesdays programs for families this summer. Wednesday was also the first day I could get into the building and up to my office with my very own badge, which was a fun milestone. On my fourth day, I spent the morning learning about object research. I learned that members of the public can request information about objects in Winterthur’s collection that they might not be able to access on their own from the outside. It is the job of curators and other staff members to help them with their inquiries by doing a little research about the history of the object, related objects, and the object’s provenance. We also included a little extra bibliographic information about the object in general, since it was mentioned in a few books in the Winterthur library. In the afternoon, I was able to see a great concert by two professors/opera singers featuring an interesting variety of 18th and 19th century music from Winterthur’s collection. I spent the rest of the afternoon in the library, where I learned about Winterthur’s ephemera collection and its archives. I am a huge fan of libraries in general, so I hope that and I’m sure that I will be spending a lot more time down there. As my week came to a close, I had my first non-scheduled day. Every other day so far had been scheduled with a lot of trainings and events, but on Friday, my calendar was open. I spent the first part of the morning exploring the house. I went in all by myself (no guide and no map woo!) and set about trying to find specific objects I picked out in the catalogue. I made sure to go early, before the museum was technically open so that I could avoid the obstacle of tours. Just to share some pictures:

This is probably my favorite room in the whole house: it’s the Port Royal Parlor. Being from the South, I’m a sucker for all things light and airy. The woodwork in the parlor comes from a specific house, Port Royal, just outside of Philadelphia. One of the coolest parts of the room: the yellow couches by the mantle belonged to John Dickinson! You can’t see it from the angle at which these pictures were taken, but on the far wall there is the famous unfinished painting by Benjamin West of the signing of the Treaty of Paris!

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This is from one of the most interesting parts of the house: it’s the court. This used to be a badminton court before HF took it apart to create this scene from the past. I say “past” and not something like “late 18th century Philadelphia” because HF wasn’t too concerned with total historical accuracy. The facades of the buildings around the courtyard are from different locations and different time periods, but combined, they produce a pretty great aesthetic.

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Thus concludes my first week at Winterthur, stay tuned for more next week!

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