This next week will be hard for me. I will be guiding tours of the museum, reading in the library, spending time in the collection, and attending several parties with my wonderful classmates. All of those activities are my favorite things in the world, but this week will be hard because when it is over, I will have to leave Winterthur. I have spent the last two years at the museum, garden, and library as a student in the Winterthur Program in American Material Culture (WPAMC). My tenure will come to an end on Friday, May 24, when I present my final thesis research and receive my master’s degree in material culture from the University of Delaware.
My time at Winterthur has been amazing. In the first year of the program, I became a Connoisseur. Through connoisseurship classes with the Winterthur curators, I learned to “connoise” objects to understand their construction, style, and time and place of origin. Linda Eaton, director of museum collections, taught us about weave patters. Leslie Grigsby, senior curator of collections, emerged from the exhibition Uncorked! to teach us the difference between earthenware and stoneware. Ann Wagner, associate curator, showed us the shiniest metal objects in the collection. Tom Savage, director of museum affairs, made us look at flat stuff to identify engravings, etchings, and lithographs. Finally, Wendy Cooper, senior curator, taught us about the woods, construction methods, and styles of American furniture.
I have gone on wonderful field trips and met fascinating people through the Winterthur Program. In January of our first year, we traveled to England, where we got to handle the armor collection at the V&A, view the original John White watercolors from his trip to Virginia in 1585, and take apart French furniture at the Wallace Collection. In the summer after our first year, we set off on two field studies, first to the South, and second to New England. We visited neoclassical mansions, prominent private collectors, and recreated settlements. Finally, in January of our second year, we ventured to New York for Americana Week to get a glimpse of the worlds of auctions and Lower East Side tenements.
In my second year, I have taken classes at UD, completed internships, and worked on my thesis on presidential campaign objects in the second quarter of the nineteenth century. I scoured the collection at Winterthur and visited several institutions to create a catalog of objects made to support Andrew Jackson, William Henry Harrison, Henry Clay, and Zachary Taylor in their campaigns for president. From this catalog of evidence, I came to several conclusions about the vital role of material culture in populist politics. If you ever have several hours to kill, find my thesis in the library stacks and read about the bandboxes, bedspreads, and parlor stoves that brought the campaign into the home in the Age of Jackson.
I think I have made myself known at Winterthur—I am “The Andrew Jackson Girl.” As a side effect of my research, I have fallen in love with the seventh president of the United States. I can’t stop talking about the Hero of New Orleans. I have lead Andrew Jackson tours of the house, hijacked parties and turned them into Jackson birthday parties (sorry WPAMC class of 2015!), and claimed a table in the library with an Andrew Jackson bobble head. I have spoken to my classmates, my professors, the visiting public, and even the Winterthur Board of Trustees about my one, true love. Winterthur is a wonderful environment that welcomes crazy people like me. Everyone here has an obsessive nerdy side to them; mine is just a little more overt and focused on one particular character of American history. I am extremely grateful to everyone who has tolerated my obsession over the past year.
In my last semester, I have undertaken a project to learn about every department that makes up the institution. I interviewed Winterthur employees in collections, public programs, development, finances, facilities, and human resources. I reviewed the budget with Winterthur’s chief financial officer, discussed leadership with the director, and toured all of the barns with the director of facilities. Through these WInterviews, I have learned that the most valuable resource at Winterthur is not the house, garden, or library, but the people who work here. Working with Winterthur people was consistently my interviewees’ favorite part of their job, and knowing how to encourage, manage, and communicate with people was the most required aspect of their position.
I will be sad to leave Winterthur. It has been my home for the past two years and the setting of a wonderful experience. I have learned so much, met wonderful people, and seen amazing things. I will miss the library and the collections, but I will miss the people the most. Winterthur has prepared me for my future career. I do not have a post-graduation job yet, but I am confident I will find one with the people of Winterthur at my back.
The WPAMC Class of 2013 will be celebrating their graduation by presenting their thesis research at 1:30 pm, Friday, May 24. Come and see what we have discovered in our time at this wonderful institution! Until then, I will be in the collections touching as many things as possible!
Lydia Blackmore is a student in the Winterthur Program in American Material Culture.
For more on the WPAMC students check out the tumblr page If It’s Not Barque, Don’t Fix It!