Reading this week:
- The Mermaid of Black Conch by Monique Roffey (beautiful)
Winterthur [“Winter-tour”] is a very nice place. I have been writing this blog post in my head for a few weeks and I have a few critical points to make but I want to be clear up top that I very much enjoyed my visit! It was a stunningly gorgeous fall day and me and my super amazing girlfriend were off to see our friend get married but it was conveniently an evening wedding and we had a few hours in the afternoon and were in the neighborhood so we went to go see Winterthur. It is apparently (so my super amazing girlfriend tells me) very big in the museum business as being a particularly thoughtful and well-run museum. This was the major draw for us. Whatever there was to actually see was somewhat secondary.
“Whatever there was to actually see” is broadly split into three major buckets at Winterthur. Bucket one is the grounds. Winterthur is the former estate of an astoundingly rich member of the du Pont family, the sort of astoundingly rich where you have “grounds” along with a whole model farming community to provide you nice views and where you can raise prize-winning dairy cows as a hobby, as opposed to you know because it’s your job. We arrived at the visitor’s center where we paid our admission fee and then hopped on a bus for a guided tour of the grounds which was extremely lovely. It is pictured above. The lady both driving the bus and giving the tour was bubbly and enthusiastic about the grounds and extremely knowledgeable.
A diversion. There is no such thing as a natural forest. That’s only a little bit of an exaggeration, and the exceptions are some parts of Africa. Worldwide, forests evolved over eons as part of an ecosystem that were inhabited by megafauna, like gigantic sloths or wooly mammoths and all sorts of gigantic creatures. The forest evolved to take these creatures into account, but then whether a coincidence or not humans started going out into large swaths of the world and all of these megafauna died off, with the exception of some of those elephants in Africa because they evolved alongside humans and knew how to handle themselves. So the forest ecosystem lost a huge part of itself in both a literal and figurative sense and exists in an unnatural state. The lack of megafauna I think was compensated for in some ways by the humans themselves however. It is a very recent development to think of anything as “nature,” that is separate from like, just the world. These days people know what you mean when you visit nature, but like 200 years ago and for the rest of human history before that you wouldn’t go into nature, it would just be another part of the landscape, where you also lived. Forests were actively managed to provide food and fuel (done better in some places and done worse in other places) and I think the felling of trees and active management but in a way that tried to sustain the forest (because you wanted to keep using it) went to some lengths to replace the megafauna. I bring this up because du Pont there practiced the tenants of The Wild Garden which, so our bubbly guide told us involved making your grounds look like a natural forest. So like, while I acknowledge that in fact all forests to more or less degree are a product of human meddling, this still feels like I dunno cultural appropriation from nature??? I didn’t know how to feel about it. The trees were lovely though and the landscape is designed so all the colors change throughout the year rewarding revisiting and careful contemplation which does indeed sound like the bees knees. Anywho.
The tour drops you off at the museum, which represents bucket two. The museum, and this du Pont himself, focused on Americana material culture. While we were there they had a big exhibition about how du Pont helped Jackie Kennedy remodel the White House. That was neat to see and was very informative because I had seen all the rooms they were talking about in the exhibit. They also had a very intriguing display of an old clockmaker’s blacksmith shop which was extremely neat. But the picture above was some even more quintessential Americana, a bunch of imported ceramics from China. I really enjoyed this display. The picture above is just a tiny fraction of all the stuff they had, including just buckets of ceramics that were centuries old and had all sorts of cool designs. Of course I like the ones with boats on them the best but they had stuff of all flavors. A chunk of the ceramics had been salvaged from old shipwrecks which is also pretty neat.
That brought us to bucket three, the house. Like I said above the du Ponts were astoundingly rich, the type of people with “grounds,” but to have grounds you typically have to have a house in the middle and boy did they ever. There was a glimpse of the outside of it in my forest picture, but that is just a tiny fraction. This house they lived in was nine stories tall and had 175 rooms! What do you do with all that space? Why do you have it? I assume you have a house that big because your rich friend has like, a 150-room house and you have to one-up him because that is how rich people measure dick size. But also you are astoundingly rich and old money to boot so you can’t be too ostentatious so you try to fit the house into the landscape so it looks like you are only living in a 50-room mansion or something. In fact they made the house into a museum during their lifetime and so to retire they built said 50-room mansion next door and called it a “cottage,” hoo boy dude I am ready to start the proletariat revolution via this here blog written by a government knowledge worker who has time to go visit rich people’s grounds. You only get to see a tiny fraction of the house, approximately the portion that Jackie Kennedy toured when du Pont was trying to convince her that she should remodel the White House using American stuff instead of French stuff. I saw a lot of similar rooms? Like they had different themes, but it seemed to be a lot of sitting rooms? I liked the bold colors, and the oil paintings of ships, these are two things I like and du Pont had that decoration style right for sure.
After the house tour it was more or less time to get glammed up and go to that wedding, which was awesome. Our friend got married and she looked so beautiful and the ceremony was beautiful and it was in an art museum and we got to see art though of course it paled in comparison to the sublime and timeless beauty that is love. Also they had a live band that exclusively covered the hits and lemme tell ya they had range. Maybe I should learn to play the bass so I can get weekend gigs playing weddings. I think that would be fun and my bass playing wouldn’t annoy my super amazing girlfriend at all. The point is like I said at the top Winterthur was quite nice and I would love to go back in the spring to see the different colors and explore the grounds a bit more. And maybe
steal liberate a gilded candlestick or two.