Objects as entrees to other places and times

Re-reading this post, I realize that it serves as the foundation for all the art tours I offer through Art Tours by Amy.

Happy Reading! It would be an honor to travel with you to Paris or Spain in 2015. Amy

Amy’s Winterthur story
Why Winterthur? Perhaps you are wondering why I am leading an art tour to Winterthur Museum, Delaware, and the Brandywine River Valley in May? Quite simply this is a spectacular time of year to visit this spot on planet earth. The gardens are in their full glory, and the way that the du Ponts “painted” with plants at Winterthur, Longwood, Nemours, and Hagley is quite spectacular.

Secondly, it was at Winterthur that I had the honor to be immersed in material culture. For two years, I studied at the museum as a Winterthur Fellow. My undergraduate degree, from Sweet Briar College, is in American Studies (History, Literature, and Art History), and I also studied at the Louvre in Paris. It was at Winterthur that my interdisciplinary study, largely based in documents, received a deeper emphasis on objects. James Deetz’s book, In Small Things Forgotten, serves as a foundation for the study of material culture. The important emphasis is on initiating your inquiry of the past through an object, or objects. Archaeology is rooted in the object, and with pre-historic peoples, there are no accompanying historical documents to flesh out your understanding of the object at hand. As Deetz writes, objects “carry messages from their makers and users.” We can “decode those messages and apply them to our understanding of the human experience.”

At Winterthur, I studied furniture, silver, ceramics, textiles, glass, paintings and more. I recall one Sunday morning, before the museum opened, studying a Paul Revere tankard in the DuPont dining room, holding the tankard with white gloves and closely examining it, a powerful entree to the world of 18th century Boston. For my thesis, I read every letter written by Eleuthera du Pont (1806-1876) starting with her earliest, at about the age of 10, until her marriage to Thomas Mackie Smith, and kept an index of all of the objects she mentioned in her letters. I wanted her to tell me what objects were most important to her. She wrote most frequently about her needlework, and that is what I selected for my master’s thesis. With her 4,000 letters, the embroidery patterns, and finished embroidery all preserved at Hagley Museum which also includes her family home, Eleutherian Mills, I was immersed in her early 19th century world for nearly two years. My thesis was published by Winterthur Portfolio (volume 23, number 4, winter 1988) with the University of Chicago Press.

Fast forward several decades, and I now travel the globe, introducing small groups to amazing objects, and helping them to gain insight into the past. Powerful moments include Lascaux cave in France, Tiwanaku on Lake Titicaca in Bolivia, Koyasan in Japan, and the Duomo in Florence. An object, such a Brunnelleschi’s dome on the Duomo, serves as an entree to a moment in time, in this case Renaissance Italy. Thus my graduate work at Winterthur infuses my current career as a travel professional, and provides the intellectual framework for the tours offered here as Art Tours by Amy.

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