Curator's Corner

Getting Glammed Up

As soon as the doors opened to “Dodge Brothers: Detroit’s Automotive Geniuses,” research and planning began on the Holiday Walk exhibit, which will be a celebration of the next generation of the Dodge family. Frances Dodge was born on November 27, 1914, nearly two weeks after her father and uncle drove their first Dodge Brothers car out of their factory. Frances was born at an exciting time in her family’s life, as the Dodge Brothers transitioned from Ford Motor Company’s largest parts supplier to a car company in their own name. The Dodge family, consequentially, transitioned to being one of the most wealthy and well-known in the nation. The newspapers especially adored the glamorous Frances Dodge; the exhibit will address Frances' role as a beautiful, rich debutante in the early 20th century and how she superseded that to become a respected and influential horsewoman. Even more fitting, the 100th anniversary of her birth falls on Thanksgiving, the day before Holiday Walk opens.

Frances Dodge played a fundamental role on Meadow Brook’s estate, not only throwing dazzling parties in The Hall but also revitalizing the farm property. From 1933-36, she built the outdoor pool and gardens, the kennels, and the world-renowned Dodge Stables. She also attended Mount Vernon Seminary, a premiere girls’ school in Washington, DC, from 1932-33. While researching the school, MBH’s curator found a 1933 copy of Mt. Vernon’s yearbook on eBay and quickly ordered it to supplement the Holiday Walk exhibit.

The yearbook, called The Cupola, belonged to one of Frances’ classmates, Imogene Bliss (1918-2003), who later became a stage and television actress. The disappointment in finding only one small photograph of Frances in the yearbook was forgotten when the inscription she wrote to Imogene was located on one of the final pages. Meadow Brook is full of history and grandeur and important architecture, but these quiet moments can be just as exciting because the minute Frances took to sign a friend’s yearbook reveals some of her character and personality. Joking with Imogene that they were both missing from the class’ group portrait, she signed it with a nickname. What was her nickname? You will have to celebrate Frances’ 100th birthday with us to find out.

Ongoing Conservation

Besides planning for Holiday Walk, the curatorial and facilities management teams are managing several conservation and preservation projects. In an 88,000 square foot home with some 75,000 artifacts (including furniture, ornate plaster ceilings, newspaper articles, fine china and outbuildings), collections care is a constant hum behind the scenes.

Help of our Friends

In the summer of 2013, several of Meadow Brook’s Friends helped plan a brand new fundraising event, one that would benefit a new conservation project every year. The resulting event was a fashion show and fundraiser that concluded MBH’s “Decades of Dress” summer 2013 exhibit, with all proceeds delegated to textile conservation. With the help of the Friends committee and Neiman Marcus, Meadow Brook not only met its financial goal, but exceeded it by three times. The success enabled Meadow Brook to conserve two iconic costumes worn by Matilda Dodge Wilson in the 1920s and to replicate a set of curtains.

The committee is currently planning its second fundraising event for October 9, 2014. One of the conserved dresses will be on exhibit for the first time in six years.

Curtain Call

The four pairs of curtains in the Breakfast Room of Meadow Brook are stained, ripped, and sun-damaged beyond repair. Though the fabric, a pale green antique satin, was popular and available while Matilda lived at The Hall, the curtains are earlier replicas of the original curtains, purchased in 1976 after Meadow Brook Hall became a museum. Because they are not original, it is far easier for the curatorial team to have them replicated and replaced. The new fabric was color matched to the original and the curtains are being hand-made by a local design company to match the intricate four-cord pleat style.

Papers in Archives reveal the last known time that the Wilson family replaced the curtains. In 1946, Matilda worked with the Hayden Company of New York to redo the curtains and furniture upholstery throughout some of The Hall; a pistachio green silk was chosen for this room.


EXPLORE THE COLLECTION:

Decorative Arts
Paperweight Vase with White Dogwood Flowers, 1919
Louis Comfort Tiffany (American, 1848-1933)
Favrile glass, 15 5/16 inches high

Explore the world of the Decorative Arts at Meadow Brook Hall. Collected in the 20th century by the Dodge and Wilson families, our collection encompasses some of the finest objects from companies around the world including Sevre, Tiffany, Lalique, Rookwood, Oscar Bach and Paul Poiret. Also on view are original custom decorative objects and furniture created between 1926 and 1929 from interior design firms such as Hampton Shops and Hayden Company for Meadow Brook Hall.

Fine Art
The Virgin and Child
Raffaellina de Garbo (1476-1524)
Oil on Panel, framed 28" x 16"

As you tour Meadow Brook, you will have the chance to view the collection of fine art the family amassed. Although the collection spans multiple centuries and cultures, the collection focuses mostly on the 19th century artists that the Wilsons enjoyed. Especially prominent are landscape paintings and family portraits.

Textile
Coat of black wool lined in red crepe, edging of gold metallic braid and gilded leather, 1924
Paul Poiret (French, 1879-1944)

Meadow Brook Hall is graced by many original textiles, both in our extensive costume collection (periodically on view) and our decorative collection. Antique tapestries, rugs and linens showcase the extraordinary skill that went into many of these works and represent an area of craft that is often underappreciated today.

Digital Dress: 200 Years of Urban Style

From 2003-2005, Meadow Brook Hall participated in a project with Wayne State University, WSU College of Fine and Performing Arts, the Detroit Historical Museum and The Henry Ford.  In partnership we created a universally accessible, unique, research quality web portal for increasing access to a multi-institutional collection of 5,000 digital images of men's, women's and children's clothing and accessories. These objects, including 450 from Meadow Brook Hall's collection, have been photographed and studied, with the results available to the public HERE.

Architecture
Limestone Carved Corbel, 1927
Designed by Corrado Parducci

Meadow Brook Hall is the preeminent example of Tudor revival architecture in the United States. At 88,000 square feet, the home boast exquisite architectural ornamentation and detailing by top craftsmen in woodworking, masonry, plaster and metal work. Every room provides a new surprise whether you are exploring stories from Alfred Wilson's life carved into the Frieze of his private study, passing finely modeled custom door hardware or staring in awe at one of the region's most beautiful plaster ceilings.

ESTATE GROUNDS
Pegasus on Mount Helicon, 1949
Avard Fairbanks (1897-1987)
Bronze with Verdigris patina

While few of the original gardens were ever fully constructed, the 1928 plan created by English landscape architect Arthur Davidson for Meadow Brook Hall originally called for a wide variety of formal and informal gardens. Today some of those original features exist and intermingle with modern gardens that continue to inspire with their beauty. The Pegasus garden (seen here) was part of the original design but was not completed until 1949. It features the striking figure of Pegasus on Mount Helicon and was created by famed sculptor Avard Fairbanks, who designed the original Dodge Ram hood ornament. It is one of two sculptures of his that grace our landscape.

Click HERE to view an Interactive Estate Map of the gardens at Meadow Brook Hall.