Sunday, July 31, 2016

Katharine Comes Home: An Exciting New Donation from a Livingston family Descendant

This small collection of mini-
ature portraits proved to be just
the beginning.
It all started almost three years ago, when a Livingston family member arrived from England with a surprise donation of several miniature portraits from Katharine Livingston Timpson's family--his family.

Katharine Livingston Timpson
and her first two children:
Theo and Kay
Katharine, John Henry's daughter from his first marriage, was a favorite of her grandfather, and briefly inherited Clermont before selling it back to her father for one dollar.  After a split with her father around 1905, Katharine and her family moved to England, bringing with them the furnishings, jewelry, letters, and pictures that surrounded their daily lives.  Many of her grand children and great grandchildren still live there, and many of Katharine's belongings have been passed down to them.

Maizeland, Red Hook, NY
Over the past few years, her descendants have spent hours photographing her belongings that remain in their possession, painstakingly sending us image after image via email:  pictures of her house in Red Hook, called Maizeland, where her first two children grew up, pictures of her jewelry and clothes--even a rare picture of the inside of Clermont!  Over and over again, I kept yelling "wow!" and my office neighbors would have to come over and see what we'd received this time.

Clermont's study, possibly 1890s
This photo made all of the staff so excited,
I have to admit, I stood up and did a little jig.
After more than two years of this, the most exciting email of all arrived in my box:

Photos were sent in advance, showing
us what kind of things we needed to
be prepared for.
Our friend was coming back again--this time with his luggage stuffed full of photographs and belongings for donation to Clermont.  His timing couldn't have been better. With a new curator of collections on staff, we were ready to take on the incredible amount of work that goes with any donation.  This was even more important when we started getting photos of what was coming over, because we realized that the total could be over 1,000 artifacts!


On Memorial Day weekend, we got to work, checking in one artifact after another and frequently just marveling over the trove that was in my office.  Some of the biggest revelations from the collection were three previously-unknown photographs that showed the interior of Clermont.  New views of the study, the dining room, and the drawing room will give us new insight into the mansion's Victorian-era appearance.  Still others were touching reminders of the bonds of family, like a bible embossed with Katharine's mother's name.  Even some day-to-day items were part of the donation, like a little tub of rouge with a fancy-sounding French label.

It took more than two days for three staff members to catalog the 700 photos and several hundred three-dimensional artifacts by hand.  Submitting items for acceptance into a museum collection is a big deal.  Not only does the object need to be historical, it also needs to meet the museum's Collections Policy, a document that gives clear guidelines for what a museum can take in.  Just because we think an object is neat doesn't mean we're allowed to accept it.  Among other qualifications, it has to have a clear provenance to the Livingston family--especially those who lived at Clermont.

A bible with Katharine's mother's maiden
name embossed on it.  Catharine was John
 Henry's first wife
Once we had everything recorded, it was to be submitted to the Collections Committee for approval.  This body helps New York State historic sites monitor their incoming donations to make sure that they are appropriate for the museum, but in this case, we had little doubt they would be accepted.

But the work doesn't end there!  Each individual item still has to be cataloged and housed in archival-quality storage.  A curatorial assistant had to be brought in for this massive project, which is expected to extend for five weeks.  And once everything is cataloged, then we can do what we really like to do with our collections--exhibit them so you can come and see!

Katharine was an amazing and an interesting woman of her time.  But without the thousand or so artifacts we're still sifting through, we'd never know her that way.  Each piece that was accepted for our collections helps us to understand she and her children as human beings, and we look forward to sharing that with you the public.  Why?  Because seeing historic people as real people with thoughts and feelings and make-up and babies and family photos is what makes history something you can relate to.  And really that's our whole goal here.

We'll keep you updated as we get ready to unveil this daughter of Clermont next spring!




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