Fall Lecture Series Just Part of Boscobel’s New Focus

Boscobel Style’ flavors programming, exhibitions; enhanced Woodland Trail to be unveiled in November

By Alison Rooney

The word written most often in Boscobel’s sign-in book is, quite simply, “beautiful.” This, according to Boscobel’s Executive Director Steven Miller, results from its “setting, collection, and the story we tell … Boscobel is beauty, design, style, fashion.” This beauty will be celebrated and studied in a new series of lectures, all centered on the interior design of the Federal period. Three talks, all under the umbrella of the Friends of Boscobel Fall Lecture Series, will take place inside Boscobel’s grand entry hall, with seating on stairs and chairs. A wine and cheese reception will follow in the Carriage House.

The first program, presented by Peter M. Kenny, Curator of American Decorative Arts and Administrator of the American Wing at The Metropolitan Museum of Art (and Boscobel board member), will take place at 6 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 4, and is titled “House of Style: Boscobel and Duncan Phyfe, America’s Most Famous Cabinetmaker.”

One of the paths leading to the main house. 

One of the paths leading to the main house.

This speaker series delves into the early 19th-century “high style interior living” found in Boscobel, says Miller, but “it has a contemporary relevance … Boscobel’s role in this is to put modern life in a historic context through our collections and the setting.” Miller, who has been in the museum field for 42 years and who was appointed executive director five months ago, says Boscobel has always had a stellar reputation owing to the quality and stature of what it has, and is held in very high esteem among American decorative scholars. On a weekly basis Boscobel receives numerous research inquiries relating to its ceramics, lighting, furniture and more and “if you look at any books on the history of decorative art in America, Boscobel is there.”

The second lecture in the series is “A Federal Case: Living, Loving and Learning,” presented by Mitchell Owens, special projects editor of Architectural Digest, on Oct. 18. According to press notes, Owens “purchased a modest Federal Style farmhouse on the outskirts of Sharon Springs, N.Y. Though it was a ruin inhabited by raccoons and riddled with rot, he and his family were bewitched by what remained of the building’s crisp details, elegant proportions and simple grace. He will discuss what they have learned along the way and explore how an architectural style launched more than two centuries ago remains fresh and inspiring today.”

The third, to take place on Nov. 22, is called “The Ingredients of a Great House: Tradition for the Way We Live Now.” Gil Schafer, a leading practitioner of contemporary classical architecture, will speak about what makes a traditional house livable today, offering “valuable insights into the best qualities of traditional residential architecture — from the detailed craftsmanship and elegant proportions to the connection to a historic time and place.”

Tables with a view of the fountain await diners.   

Tables with a view of the fountain await diners.

Miller envisions doing a series of three lectures both in fall and in spring. Next spring’s topic will be formal gardens. “We’ve set a good example already of getting distinguished and knowledgeable speakers,” he said, “and it’s all part of ‘Boscobel Style.’” Boscobel is also focusing more on its educational programs. With a new education director, Lisa DiMarzo, formerly of the Children’s Museum in Poughkeepsie, the first goal is to get Boscobel into the school systems. “We haven’t been doing this at a grassroots level within schools,” Miller says, “and we’re now making connections with school districts.  We’ve always had schools here, but now we want to bring Boscobel to them, too, and all programming will be part of the required school curriculum.”

Calling Boscobel’s 10 docent guides “our frontline teaching faculty” — they’re imparting information on the history of the region and decorative arts – Miller defines Boscobel as a “museum, in and out. Our most popular exhibit is our view; I think it is unique. We look south and west, and have been allowed to open up our viewscape … the public is charmed by it.” Outdoor tables outside the ticket area now allow for al fresco consumption of light meals prepared by Cold Spring’s Hudson Hil’s available for purchase by visitors.

The outdoor component has been aided by a recent grant, allowing for the amplification of signage and descriptive materials along the Woodland Trail. Boscobel board member and artist Stacey Farley has been creating 20 “signs” made from wood cut from trees, painting each with a bird in an outdoor exhibition. Four new explanatory panels detail relevant regional history as background for the views. An Eagle Scout project is underway, tidying up the trail carved out by another Eagle Scout earlier. The results will be unveiled on Nov. 9, accompanied by Revolutionary War re-enactors.

Inside, there are also site enhancements going on, including the refurbishment of the grand entry of the house, with updating and/or replacement of the floor covering, wallpaper and painted surfaces.  This will begin during the winter months and continue over the coming year, and the work itself will be “part of the story of the house,” explains Miller.

Steven Miller, Boscobel's executive director  

Steven Miller, Boscobel’s executive director

Not just a simple upgrading, the project entails much consultation with historians, with goals of maintaining close connections to the original. New wallpaper will be made by a company in upstate New York, in a historically appropriate manner; paint won’t be applied with rollers but in the way it would have been applied 200 years ago.

“These are subtle differences, but cumulative,” says Miller. “We want this process to be part of our education program.” They’ll also be looking at the collection, with a goal in mind to improve it within the context of the house. As an example, says Miller, “Say a piece of furniture becomes available. If it fits our parameters and will be an appreciable upgrade for the house, we will consider acquiring it, but not if it radically alters the historic accuracy of the house today.”

Boscobel will continue many of its perennially popular programs, including, in coming months, family bonfire night (Oct. 13), ghost tours with Linda Zimmerman (Oct. 23-25), Halloween with ‘Edgar Allan Poe,’ (Oct. 31, Nov. 1 and 2), Music in the Mansion 1800s Chamber Concert (Nov. 16) and, a little different this year, a re-imagined “Nights of 10,000 Lights” (Fridays and Saturdays in December through the 21st), with twilight tours and festive holiday happenings.

The major exhibit, Robert W. Weir and the Poetry of Art, remains on view through Nov. 30. The focus of the art gallery is to show exhibits that relate to this region historically — essential to make it “an art exhibit and an art history exhibit,” says Miller, adding “the gallery is a fun component and a draw in and of itself; people are coming just to see it.”

The Cold Spring Farmers’ market continues outdoors on the grounds through November. “I’m a populist when it comes to museums — [Boscobel should] do the most it can for the people it serves — and stay appropriate,” says Miller, adding that Boscobel was a farm when it was downriver so there’s a connection there. It introduces new people to Boscobel (marketgoers are welcome to stroll the grounds free of charge) and it’s using our property in a real way.”

Miller sums up his first five months, saying “We have a very large packet of offerings, all based on our mission. Our staff is terrific: small, talented and dedicated.” Asked what has surprised him the most during his initial tenure, Miller replied, “The importance of the view for the public. Obviously it is spectacular — it is a given, but you come to realize how important that view is for the visiting experience here.”

Visit boscobel.org for information on all programs, lectures and exhibits.

Photos by A. Rooney


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