This spring’s symposium found Trust members journeying across Long Island and through the eras of its first inhabitants to its great estates. From the very first day of visits to Teddy Roosevelt’s Sagamore Hill, the Vanderbilt’s Eagle’s Nest estate, and the charming early Raynham Hall, Trust Vice President Dean Failey captivated our interest both in his lectures and the tours with his seemingly endless knowledge of Long Island’s early settlements and Gold Coast estates. The symposium began with a welcome reception generously sponsored by Trust Governor Jim Sanders from Evansville, IN, who hopes that others will see fit to sponsor a reception or a lecture at symposiums to come. Dean Failey’s lecture on Long Island furniture and craftsmen followed, explaining in detail that the houses and furniture were influenced by the Dutch and English ancestry of Long Island settlers. Many of the furniture examples and objects can be found in his book, Long Island Is My Nation.
Friday morning took us to the far end of the island and East Hampton, where we heard excellent lectures from Richard Barons and Mac Griswold. Barons showed many images of paintings by Winslow Homer, Sanford Robinson Gifford, Thomas Moran, and other Long Island artists whose works depict a visual history of life and landscapes on the island. Scenes of whaling and windmills feature prominently in many of these paintings. Barons also introduced us to John Howard Payne’s 1720 house, Home Sweet Home, which we visited next door after the lectures. The house, a shingled saltbox home named for the song Payne composed, is a fine example of early East Hampton architecture.
We then visited Clinton Academy and the Osborn Jackson House, also on Main Street in East Hampton, where we had the opportunity to see wonderful examples of Long Island furniture, much of it by the Dominy family whose complete workshop is now installed at the Winterthur Museum in Delaware.
Landscape historian Mac Griswold previewed her upcoming book Slaves in the Attic: The Extraordinary Story of a Northern Plantation, the biography of the 350-year history of Sylvester Manor on Shelter Island, to be published this October.
Her research and the discoveries of the University of Massachusetts archaeology team have uncovered a great deal about the evolution and the workings of the plantation. She showed a fascinating 1684 map of Barbados, the richest island in the West Indies, where the Sylvesters had a sugar plantation. By calculating weight values, Griswold found that one acre in Barbados was worth 20 teaspoons of sugar, and one acre on Long Island was worth only one teaspoon of sugar. The archives of Sylvester family papers found by Griswold in the manor house were donated to New York University, which has been working to preserve them. An online guide to the archive can be found on the NYU Fales Library website.
Our tour of Long Island architecture and arts continued on Saturday at Lloyd Manor overlooking Lloyd Harbor. The house, owned by the Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquity, was built in 1766 and contains John Lloyd II’s inventory of furniture and stoneware. It was such a treat to explore the rooms so well preserved with the correct furnishings, some original to the house, and the interesting woodwork by Connecticut craftsmen. Despite the rainy weather, members also enjoyed a stroll in the formal garden on the grounds.
Saturday was the day of beautiful gardens as we continued on to the English Mansion at Old Westbury, home of John S. Phipps and his family. The interior is handsomely decorated with the family’s English antiques, and the grounds stretch out from the house for 200 acres. We wish we had had all day to walk through the gardens and woods taking in the orchards, roses, ponds, and landscape. Trust members departed Old Westbury for another great English estate, Coe Hall at Planting Fields, where the true highlight of the afternoon was seeing the 1915 Tea House decorated by Elsie de Wolfe. The tea house has latticed walls and floral chandeliers, making it a private retreat within the estate’s gardens.
This wonderful weekend concluded Sunday morning with more interesting lectures. Dean Failey continued to share his vast Long Island knowledge with a lecture about 18th-century Long Island silversmith Aliza Elias Pelletreau, complete with spoons and pitchers on display. It was a morning of show and tell, with Toby Kissam and local collector Anthony Butera delivering a lecture on Long Island pottery that included intriguing brown stoneware pieces from their private collections. Their ceramic bowls, plates, jars, and other shards came from sites of former potteries from Brooklyn at the west end, to Greenport on the east end of the island. In uncovering these pieces, Butera has found 21 different stamp patterns for his slipware collection, along with other techniques for applying slip designs including manipulated slip mixed with copper oxide to give the slip a green hue and freehand designs which require a very steady, skilled hand to apply smoothly. Butera’s article “Informed Conjecture: Collecting Long Island Redware” appeared in Ceramics in Americain 2003.
Our final lecturer was Samuel White, the great-grandson of Stanford White, the great American architect. Box Hill, Stanford White’s Long Island house in St. James, was an ongoing project and place for White, Charles McKim, and William Mead to experiment with designs. What began as a simple, single-gable yellow farm house was modified and expanded over the years to become a four-gable, pebbledash home with an equally interesting interior that also served as a canvas for White to decorate the walls with bamboo and to add doors from the Morgan Library. Samuel White’s lecture was an exciting look into the ongoing transformation and many stages of the house.
It was especially interesting to see Stanford White’s architectural sketches and see how his ideas took shape. Box Hill is still owned by the White family and Trust members visited the house by kind invitation of Samuel, Daniel and Betsy White on Sunday afternoon. We also saw the Pink Cottage on Box Hill’s property, where Charles McKim spent his final years.
We would like to thank Dean and Marie Failey once again for being so instrumental in putting this symposium together and their extremely kind hospitality throughout. Their knowledge and generosity allowed us into so many rich and historically important places. It was a truly engaging exploration of such a unique and diverse region.