Thursday, May 28, 2009

Barbra Streisand's "Decoration of Houses"

Following in the footsteps of Mrs. Wharton, another woman of many diverse talents is writing a book dedicated to interior design and architecture. Barbra Streisand has signed a book deal with Viking for "A Passion for Design" to be released in 2010. She has been building her own house for the last few years, and of course, one of her inspirations was The Mount! Although your blogger was not here at the time, some of her colleagues remember the day well, as she brought her little doggies with her, something unheard of at the time here at The Mount. One is happy to say that our policy is somewhat less strict now, and well-behaved dogs (and owners) are welcome on the grounds. We wish Ms. Streisand luck with her book, and will watch with great interest to see how much influence Mrs. Wharton and Mr. Codman had on her design.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A Fantastic Opportunity for the Dedicated Whartonian!

An incredible collection of papers, letters, and artifacts of great interest to Whartonians everywhere has just come to light. The Anna Bahlmann Collection, mainly consisting of letters from Edith Wharton to Anna Bahlmann, her lifelong friend, companion, tutor, secretary and amanuensis, has been put up for sale at Christie's. It is a treasure trove of material, never before reviewed or published, including a letter that appears to be the earliest known extant letter from Edith Jones, written in May 1874. This vast archive could be the greatest contribution to Wharton scholarship for many years, and it is to be fervently hoped that it will be bought by some person or institution who will give access to researchers, and not keep it hidden away as it has been for so many years. Of course, the perfect home for these papers is The Mount! But alas, with an estimate of between $80,000-120,000 they are beyond our means at the moment. If any Mountie out there feels that they would like to help both Wharton scholarship and The Mount, get down to Christies on June 24th and keep on bidding, then simply donate them to us and everyone wins!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

WWI Memorial

Frank Buckles, the only known American WWI veteran still living, is 108 years old. He was recently interviewed on ABC News, and he still has a mission. Surprisingly, there is no memorial to WWI Veterans in the nation's capital. After spending time recently here at The Mount researching the Great War for our new exhibition, we have a new understanding of what Mr. Buckles and so many other young men went through. Texas Representive Ted Poe is sponsoring a bill before the House entitled the Frank Buckles WWI Memorial Act. If you would like more information on the memorial visit their website.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

An Open Letter from The Mount's Chairman of the Board

Last year, before the current economic meltdown, The Mount faced having no money, our founding Executive Director had resigned, a shaken staff did not know whether to come to work and a foreclosure date had been set for one month hence.

In the ensuing months, we raised over $1.4 MM through a grass roots, Obama-like internet campaign involving many hundreds of donors, many giving only $5 or $10; Susan Wissler stepped up and rallied our depleted staff; we negotiated month-to-month forbearance agreements with our creditors, and met every milestone that was required by our creditors in order to obtain successive extensions; in spite of all odds, we managed to open last summer and had a very good season; we reached out to the community, including our fellow cultural not-for-profits in the Berkshires, and began to repair relations; we restored the confidence of our lenders; the Board took stock of what The Mount was and what it could become, spoke to our many supporters about expanding our mission beyond being merely a museum show house and garden and came upon the idea of creating a center for the written word, thus providing The Mount with a legitimate basis to greatly expand its appeal and activities; and the Board commissioned a study to validate this concept and plan its development.

Over a period of three months we negotiated a restructuring agreement with our principal creditors, which was executed last March, but required at least a $700,000 funding commitment from one or more donors by May 31, 2009 to become effective.

To our great luck and fortune, members of the JM Kaplan Family became aware of our plight and reached out and provided the necessary funds.

While we are not “saved”, we are now in a position to complete our second consecutive fiscal year in the black (our year ends March 31). We now can play some “offense”, rather than only “defense”, and can begin to put into place meaningful elements of our new programming. Furthermore, we fully expect that our achievements and commitment will give both regular and new donors the confidence in us to step up and give, thereby further strengthening our position to the point where we can confidently state publicly that “The Mount is Saved”.

Our expanded mission, The Wharton Center the Written Word will fill a gap that presently exists among the Berkshire cultural not-for-profits. We are taking down “the velvet ropes”, and plan to put the house to work, as was intended by Wharton.

“The Mount Salutes French Design” show house set next summer (2010) will be a blockbuster, featuring many of the rising stars of French design, as well as a few of the established “lions”. During that period, not only will The Mount also host other cultural events celebrating France and Franco-American themes, but we also hope that our fellow Berkshire cultural not-for-profits will follow suit and stage music, dance, plays and art exhibitions featuring similar themes.

Just last Monday, I attended a breakfast at the UN at which Hillary Clinton was honored with the Eleanor Roosevelt “Following in Her Footsteps” Award by Save America’s Treasures. Mrs. Clinton was thrilled when I told her of our breakthrough. As you may know, she was responsible for founding Save America’s Treasures when she was First Lady and, during that time, The Mount was the recipient of the largest grant ever given by Save America’s Treasures, $2.9 million. Mrs. Clinton visited The Mount to commemorate that grant and the restoration program, and The Mount means a lot to her.

The Mount is more than an important house from an architectural and horticultural perspective; it stands as a leading symbol of the achievements of women writers and of women generally.

With kind regards,

Gordon Travers, Chairman of the Board

Saving America's Treasures (including The Mount)

The Mount is back in the spotlight again! In 2006 then First Lady Laura Bush came to The Mount to welcome Edith Wharton's library on its arrival from England. She gave a wonderful speech (above, flanked by Mount Board member Lord Christopher Tugendhat and former Executive Director Stephanie Copeland).

Our first visit from a First Lady was in 1998, when Hillary Clinton spoke at the beginning of The Mount's restoration, thanks to a 2.9 million dollar grant from Save America’s Treasures, the largest in their history. Mrs. Clinton, now Secretary of State, was honored on Monday May 18 2009 at a breakfast at the UN sponsored by SAT. She was given the Eleanor Roosevelt "Following in Her Footsteps" Award by Save America's Treasures. Presenting the award was Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.

This award is timely for The Mount, as it comes hand-in-hand with our own announcement of a successful restructuring of our debt which at last brings the prospect of a firm future for our own American Treasure! The Mount was also acknowledged at the breakfast for its recently completed restructuring. In the photo above are Bobbie Greene McCarthy of SAT, Secretary of State Clinton, and Gordon Travers, The Mount's Chairman of the Board.

We offer our congratulations to the Secretary of State for this entirely deserved honor!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Ellen Olenska and Scarlett O'Hara

Montblanc and Signature International, maker of fabulous jewelry, watches, pens and other of life's luxuries has joined with UNICEF to promote literacy. Their Signature for Good campaign, which was launched in February, includes portraits of today's leading ladies portraying their favorite literary characters. Of course, we favor Lauren Hutton as a stunning Ellen Olenska from The Age of Innocence, but the others, from Andie MacDowell as Cervantes's Dulcinea to Eva Longoria as Scarlett, are all as beautiful. The portraits will form a travelling exhibition, and then will be auctioned. All of the proceeds will go to UNICEF.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

"What nonsense! It can't be war."

The upcoming world première of a new musical version of Edith Wharton's novel A Son at the Front takes place in Chicago in June 5. A Son at the Front was the final of a number of works, both fiction and non-fiction, written by Wharton on the theme of the First World War, and we hope that Whartonians in the Chicago area will support this new production. Break a leg!

This comes at a timely moment for The Mount, as well. This season we are presenting a new exhibition written and designed especially for The Mount entitled Edith Wharton and the First World War.

The war had a profound effect on Edith Wharton. After leaving The Mount in 1911 and subsequently divorcing her husband in 1913, she found herself an independent woman for the first time. Just as she was beginning this new stage of her life, the world around her decended into chaos. She threw herself tirelessly and enthusiastically into work, both charitable and literary, and in doing so found a new strength and compassion in herself. By highlighting these two very different aspects of her work, we hope to highlight a side of Edith Wharton that is less well known to the public.

Edith Wharton and the First World War officially opens on May 22 and will run throughout the season. Please check our website for more details. (The above photograph from the "Children of Flanders" charity: “including the nuns and about 200 infirm old men and women, who are ‘children’ too … and could not be left alone in the ruins.” is courtesy of the Beinecke Library.)

Friday, May 1, 2009

Ultimate Road Trip to The Mount

The AARP magazine features an article called "The Ultimate Road Trips". The New England area is represented by a trip from Boston to Lenox, which of course includes a stop at The Mount. We are now open for the season, and will be featuring some very interesting programs, lectures, tours, and other events. Check our homepage for new developments!

The real saviours of The Mount ...

Darnell writes:

"I am from western Mass, and I had a friend in Pittsfield years ago and saw your building and loved it then. Over the years I payed attention to that building, hoping I could see it inside sometime. Then I heard in the news that it was in monetary turmoil and saw it listed for sale. This was very sad to me and I hoped someone would save it. Who ever thought about calling Ghost Hunters was very smart. Now it appears that your building will be saved after all. Who knew it would be the actual ghosts or past occupants that would save it. I am so glad that this gorgeous property is on its way to shining back to life again. I can't wait to see it in the future. Good Luck, and say hello to those ghosts over there for me."

The Mount loves the idea that the ones who might be able to save it are the people who loved it in the past. We thank you for the comment, Darnell, and can't wait to see you over the summer.