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(Photo by Rebecca Blackwell ©2003 Town Topics)

MANAGING MORVEN: Newly-appointed Morven Curator Anne Gossen sits in front of the historic building, which has housed U.S. Senators, New Jersey governors, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and one of the nation's first woman poets.

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Princeton Resident Anne Gossen Named Curator of Historic Morven

Laura Goldblatt

Young, maybe, but inexperienced she is not. With renovations to Morven nearing completion and its reopening as a museum expected soon, Historic Morven Inc., the organization that oversees the mansion, recently named Anne Gossen, who lives in Princeton with her husband, as curator. Ms. Gossen received a bachelor of arts degree from Harvard University in 2000 in the history of art and architecture with a specialization in American decorative arts (art objects other than paintings).

Academia aside, Ms. Gossen has a more personal connection to early American History. "I'm from Chambersberg, Pennsylvania, and I grew up on an historic eighteenth-century farm," she said. "That's probably the root of my interest in history."

The first house to be built on the nearly five-acre Morven property was constructed in 1750 by Richard Stockton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. His wife, the poet Annis Boudinot Stockton, named the house "Morven" after a mythical Gaelic kingdom in the epic poems of Ossian. Though the initial house was demolished before the second house to be built on the property was completed in 1795, much of the original foundation remains.

Several subsequent generations of Stocktons lived at Morven and were active in the Princeton community. One of the better known is Commodore Robert Stockton who was the commodore of the United States Naval Pacific Fleet, and was involved in the founding of the nation of Liberia. He lived at Morven from the 1840s to the 1860s.

In the late 1920s, General Robert Wood Johnson, the chairman of Johnson & Johnson, rented the estate, adding a "modern style" pool house in the rear. Later, Morven became New Jersey's first governor's mansion, due to its close proximity to Trenton. It was home to five state governors before the official residence was changed to Drumthwacket. Morven was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1971, and renovations and its conversion into a museum of New Jersey history and culture were initiated in the 1990s.

"I'm trained as a curator and that's why this is such a fantastic match," Ms. Gossen said. "And I'm so thrilled to be in Princeton. I've found that its cultural resources are unsurpassed for a town of its size."

After Harvard, she attended the Winterthur Program in Early American Culture, a program administered through the University of Delaware and held at the Winterthur Museum where Ms. Gossen received her museum studies certification. Before officially completing the program, which specifically is concerned with Colonial American decorative arts, Ms. Gossen won the E. McClung Fleming Prize Competition for the best master's thesis in her graduating class.

She has contributed to "Byzantine Art," and the forthcoming "Harvard University Bronzes," two Harvard publications, as well as written an article for the Seattle Art Museum Newsletter. Her curatorial experience includes working as a programs assistant at Mt. Auburn Historic Cemetery in Massachusetts, and as research intern for the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities in Boston.

A Cultural Venue

Since 1998, the Morven renovations have been divided into three phases. In the first phase, the exterior of the house and a portion of the grounds were restored to match the way the house appeared in the 1920s because the architectural records for that period were the best. Based upon paint samples, a lime wash was imported from England and applied to the house.

The second phase began in January 2002 and included installing state of the art environmental controls such as humidity controls, light sensors, and forthcoming UV filters for the windows. The house is divided into zones and each zone can be kept at a different temperature and humidity level so Morven staff memers can ensure that delicate artwork and antiques will be preserved in their ideal environment. All the controls are monitored daily.

"It's the equipment that every museum would like to have, but it's quite expensive so we're very fortunate to be able to have this," Ms. Gossen said.

A multi-layered security system was installed, everything that needed to be reconstructed was fixed, and each of the rooms was restored to the era for which the best historical evidence remained.

Ms. Gossen explained that quite a lot of the rooms survived from 1795 and that the renovations have tried to retain as much as possible of the original materials.

The third phase will begin in a year or two, and will involve renovating the pool house and carriage house at the back of the mansion, as well as constructing a classroom for children.

Museum's Future

Once renovations are completed, Morven will boast a permanent exhibit that will focus on the history of the house and will be contained in the four main rooms, as well as several temporary, rotating exhibits in the other rooms. The first temporary exhibit will feature New Jersey decorative and fine arts collectors and collections, highlighting the scope and variety of New Jersey's cultural fabric. In a time when funding, especially for the arts, is scarce, the project at Morven has been deemed important enough by state officials to receive support.

"Because we have a state operating subsidy, we feel it's appropriate to do an exhibit that considers the entire state as a thank-you," Ms. Gossen said. "I'd like to see a focus on New Jersey all the time, but within that the exhibitions in the gallery can be anything from New Jersey glass to New Jersey industry."

In the eyes of Ms. Gossen, Morven's small permanent collection may end up being one of its better assets.

"That's one of the reasons that this is such a great venue because we can be very innovative at putting together some interesting exhibits," she said. "We're looking forward to being a welcoming cultural space in New Jersey."

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