Corrections or additions?
Author: Nicole Plett. Published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on January
19, 2000. All rights reserved.
Decorating: Huge Houses, Expensive Things: Morven
Furnishing the New Jersey home is something that
every contemporary householder faces, but perhaps none so awesomely
as Emily Croll, director of Historic Morven, the former Richard
home that is in the process of being transformed into a historic
Historic Morven hosts a talk on "Furnishing the New Jersey
by Newark Museum curator Ulysses Grant Dietz at the Suzanne Patterson
Center, Princeton Borough Hall, next door to Morven, on Sunday,
23, at 4 p.m. This is the second in Morven’s three-part lecture series
on "The New Jersey House."
Morven has been closed since July, 1999, for the first phase of a
three-phase restoration project. It will re-open to the public this
summer with restoration work completed on the exterior of the house,
the historic gardens, walkways, and paths, and the servants’ quarters,
which will constitute a new visitors’ center.
"We were particularly concerned about providing programming while
we were closed for restoration," says Croll. "Since we’re
in the process of restoring a New Jersey house — and one that
has had a lot written and said about it — it seemed a good idea
to look at a whole history of the New Jersey house from a variety
Architect Mark Alan Hewitt launched the series last November with
a talk on New Jersey domestic architecture over four centuries;
architect Constance Webster gives the final talk in the series,
of the Garden State," on March 19.
Often described as the most historic house in New Jersey, Morven was
built in 1758 by Richard Stockton, a signer of the Declaration of
Independence, and his wife Annis Boudinot Stockton, one of America’s
first published women poets. Beginning in the 18th century, the
Georgian mansion and five-acre formal gardens became a center for
social and political activity.
In 1945 Governor and Mrs. Walter Edge purchased Morven from Stockton
heirs, and in 1954 they deeded the property to the State of New Jersey
on condition that it be used as governor’s mansion or museum. From
1956 to 1981, it served as the residence of New Jersey governors and
their families. In 1986 it was turned over to the State Museum to
be developed as a historic destination.
Lecturer Ulysses Dietz has served as curator at the Newark Museum
since 1980 with a speciality in material culture and decorative arts.
Among the 73 exhibitions he has curated have been shows on colonial
furniture to contemporary crafts. In the early 1990s he directed the
restoration and reinterpretation of the 1885 Ballantine house in
and the accompanying interpretive exhibition, "House and
He says although New Jersey has always been short on respect from
its prestige neighbors, its residents have long had access to the
best of the best.
"Benjamin Franklin described New Jersey as `a barrel tapped at
both ends,’" says Dietz, speaking from his Newark Museum office.
"Since colonial times, the New Jersey householder has been faced
with the presence of New York and Philadelphia, major manufacturing
centers at either end of the state. While this has created tough
for local producers of household goods, it has also given even rural
New Jerseyans ready access to the most fashionable goods available
in America." His lecture will explore the options and choices
presented to New Jersey householders furnishing their houses over
the course of the 18th and 19th centuries.
"The basic premise is quite simple. I’m going to try to track
objects that were made in New Jersey, used in New Jersey, or that
could have been used in New Jersey, over time, beginning in the 17th
century and continuing even into the 20th century," he says.
still this dogged notion, even in the 18th century, that nothing that
is used in New Jersey is actually produced here. It’s a very powerful
"It means different things at different moments. In the 19th
it was difficult for New Jersey manufacturers to compete with New
York City. For example, there were no New Jersey silversmiths of any
prominence in the 18th century because of New York and Philadelphia.
But that began to the change in the 19th century when Newark became
a major silver production center. Even Tiffany moved its silver
to Newark, although its products were still sold as New York
Dietz says the household furnishings that have survived
in museums and private collections belonged to New Jersey’s very
families. "From the 17th century on, the things that ordinary
people own, generally speaking, don’t survive," he explains.
things that were considered precious in the 18th century — like
the high boy cabinets that ended up in people’s chicken coops —
were thrown out in the 19th century. Families in the mid-Atlantic
colonies that grew richer almost always threw everything out and got
Speaking of the collections of the Newark Museum, Dietz says the
of its New Jersey furnishings were used in the state but made in New
York and Philadelphia. Not only were these manufacturing centers
accessible to New Jersey householders, but families in South Jersey
often had ties in Philadelphia, and similarly, households in North
Jersey had family ties — and often homes — in New York City.
Until the 19th century, beginning roughly in the 1830s, the whole
concept of an elegantly decorated house or a house decorated with
any style at all was purely an upper-class notion. Outside the British
aristocracy, the idea of a decorated dining and drawing room hardly
existed, Dietz explains. And until then, there was no middle class.
"There was no set social structure in American society. George
Washington had a great house full of nice stuff — he modeled
on the British aristocrat. But there were other people of means who
had no pretensions. They only bought what they needed to use."
Gradually, the current notion that your home reflects both your taste
and your social standing began to take root in America.
"By the 1830s it was routine for middle class to have both dining
and drawing room. And by mid-century there were fashion and etiquette
magazines to cater to people adopting the genteel notion of how to
live. For the first time you could buy furniture ready-made,"
Dietz is responsible for restoring Newark’s Ballantine mansion, built
in 1885 and furnished in high Victorian style. From Oriental rugs
and upholstery to ornate carved wood paneling, and chandeliers, the
Ballantine rooms are characteristic of a "nature abhors a
style of decoration.
Morven, however, will be restored to the colonial revival style
by the mansion’s owners at the turn of the 20th century. Contrasted
with the Victorian love of bric-a-brac, the slightly earlier Colonial
Revival style demonstrated nostalgia for simpler times and honest
hand craftsmanship. It was introduced to Morven by Helen Hamilton
Shields Stockton, the second wife of Bayard Stockton, who lived at
Morven from 1891 to 1928, and was arguably the most stylistically
influential of Morven’s owners. Partly a product of the brutal
of the Civil War and the problems of industrialization, the Colonial
Revival looked back with a romantic eye to the time of the American
Revolution and to the nobility of the intentions of the nation’s
when men and women were fighting for the same cause.
With only a few pieces of period furniture in its possession, Croll
says the organization is in the process of developing the plans for
using the interior spaces before formulating a plan for acquisitions.
Because Morven is administered by the State Museum, which has an
decorative arts collection, there is the possibility of loans from
that collection. "We also hope to have changing interpretive
at Morven that might also borrow from other collections," says
Croll. The restoration of Morven’s interiors will capitalize on a
small but significant portrait collection that takes in almost all
of Morven’s principal residents, beginning with Richard and Annis
While Morven raises funds and trades on the goodwill of the State
Museum for its furnishings, other New Jerseyans consume apace. Dietz,
a specialist in Victorian conspicuous consumption, says the 1990s
bear an unexpected resemblance to his period of specialization. "I
find it eerie that we’re in a similar position as 100 years ago, a
sort of neo-Victorian era," he notes. "Vast amounts of money
are being made, and people are appearing out of nowhere building huge
houses filled with expensive things."
— Nicole Plett
Center, Princeton Borough Hall, Bayard Lane and Stockton Street,
The Newark Museum curator of decorative arts talks on "Furnishing
The New Jersey Home." $10. Www.historicmorven.org.
January 23, 4 p.m.
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