January 30, 2019

New Winter Series at Morven Glimpses Great Homes, Gardens

GRACIOUS LIVING: Author Kate Markert will discuss and sign her book about Marjorie Merriweather Post and her lavish homes at the first of four talks at Morven on February 21. The museum hopes to make the Grand Homes & Gardens Distinguished Speakers  Series an annual event.

By Anne Levin

During winter’s bleakest months, it can be difficult for museums to entice people away from the warmth of their living rooms. An upcoming series of programs at Morven Museum & Garden was created with just that challenge in mind.

The Grand Homes & Gardens Distinguished Speakers Series aims to lure patrons with talks and visuals about how the other half lives — or lived. From Post cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post’s three spectacular homes, including the now famous Mar-a-Lago, to Morven itself, the series provides a kind of “armchair travel,” said Jill Barry, Morven’s executive director.

“It’s the drabbest part of winter, and this is a way into not only beautiful gardens, but beautiful homes that epitomize their sense of space and place,” she said. “We are hoping this is a success, and that every winter we can bring another series together.”

The programs begin Thursday, February 21 with a presentation and book signing by Kate Markert, executive director of Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens, one of Post’s homes located in Washington, D.C. Next is a behind-the-scenes look at the lavish public garden Chanticleer, by Executive Director and Head Gardener R. William “Bill” Thomas, on February 26. The series continues March 5 with “Reimagining Morven & Its Historic Gardens” by Curator of Collections and Exhibitions Elizabeth Allan and Horticulturist Pam Ruch. Programs conclude March 12 with “Hamptons Houses & Gardens of The Gilded Age,” presented by architect and historian Gary Lawrance.

Barry was inspired to create the series after seeing how popular a similar program was at Hillwood. “I had known Kate [Markert] for a very long time, and I knew how successful this was at Hillwood,” she said. “It was about the legacies of great houses, which sounded like something that made a lot of sense to translate to both Morven and Princeton. The story of Hillwood is so lovely, so we start with that. Marjorie Merriweather Post was the epitome of gracious living. It sets the tone for the series.”

Hillwood has been running a Great Homes and Gardens program each February for several years. The estate has 13 acres of formal gardens, which Post had redesigned and redone when she purchased the 25-acre estate in 1955. “Hillwood is the culmination of all of her favorite things and all of her homes,” said Hillwood spokesperson Lynn Rossotti. “She knew she was going to leave it as a museum. It is very much reflective of the way it was when she was here.”

In addition to Mar-a-Lago, where she spent the winter months, Post owned Top Ridge, a camp in the Adirondacks where she lived during the summer. Her time at Hillwood is defined not only by the gardens, but also the objects she collected. “In the 1930s, she found that the Russians were divesting themselves of many of their great treasures,” Rossotti said. “She found that they were very much in line with what she loved about French decorative arts, so she got into Russian imperial art. Hillwood reflects both of these passions and her gracious way of living.”

The evening focused on Chanticleer will be a visual tour of the former home of the Rosengarten family. The famous garden located in Wayne, Pa., is known for its residential-scale plant combinations and “is a study of textures and forms, where foliage trumps flowers, the gardeners lead the design, and even the drinking fountains are sculptural,” according to its website. Thomas’s book, The Art of Gardening: Design Inspiration and Innovative Planting Techniques from Chanticleer, will be available for sale and signing at the February 26 event.

At the program on Morven, Allan and Ruch will share how the house and gardens evolved under each family that lived there. They will begin with Annis Boudinot Stockton (18th century) and continue with Harriet Potter Stockton (19th century), Helen Hamilton Stockton (20th century), and continue up through the more recent influence of Robert Wood Johnson II and Governor Walter Edge.

The final program is “an illustrated journey and brief history of the great summer resort homes that made the Hamptons one of the premiere resorts of glamour, luxury, and architectural achievement,” according to a press release. Lawrance’s book on the subject will be available for sale and signing. The houses to be discussed include Wooldon Manor, home of Jesse Woolworth Donahue; Black Point, the H.H. Rogers mansion; Bayberry Land, the du Ponts’ Chestertown House; and The Orchard, which was designed by Stanford White.

“The series has come together nicely, and it forms a nice narrative,” said Barry. “I think it’s perfect for Morven and for Princeton.”

Visit morven.org for information about tickets. Morven is at 55 Stockton Street.