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Jul 11, 2023 Washington D.C. —
The White House Historical Association will release Furnishing the White House: The Decorative Arts Collection on September 25, 2023. This book is now on presale.
The White House was built to be the residence of America’s presidents and their families and has been a symbol of the nation since 1800. Within its walls, presidents have led both public and private lives, and the house has served as the president’s office and as a stage for ceremonies of state. As such, the White House has accumulated a special collection of decorative objects. These historic furnishings (furniture, ceramics, glass, metals, lighting fixtures, clocks, and textiles) reflect and document the tastes and daily life of the first families who helped shape the collections. From the early nineteenth century, when First Lady Dolley Madison enlisted architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe to select fabrics and design seating for her Oval Drawing Room, to the late nineteenth century when President Chester A. Arthur called on Louis Comfort Tiffany to redesign the State Rooms, to the 1960s when Jacqueline Kennedy established a committee to aid her restoration of historic interiors, the furnishing of the White House reflects changes in the nation’s taste and technology, its styles of decoration, and an increasing interest in the country’s history and its cultural heritage.
It is the enormous responsibility of the Office of the Curator to ensure that the White House Collection is cared for, documented, displayed, and, in collaboration with the White House Historical Association, shared with the public. In Furnishing the White House: The Decorative Arts Collection (White House Historical Association; September 25, 2023), four generations of White House curators (Betty Monkman, William G. Allman, Lydia Tederick, and Melissa Naulin) share their knowledge of more than two centuries of changing presidential taste, hospitality, and lifestyle. This richly illustrated and comprehensive history of White House decorative arts is the first published collaboration of these White House curators.
No other scholars know more about the collection or could write with more authority on the collection than Betty C. Monkman who served from 1967 to 2002, William G. Allman who served from 1976 to 2017, Lydia Tederick from 1979 to 2023, and Melissa Naulin from 2003 to present. They share both their vast knowledge and behind-the-scenes insights into the process of conserving and storing the objects.
Furnishing the White House chronicles the stylistic periods of the decor, from the late Federal period, through eras of French and British taste, to the emergence of an American identity and the Colonial Revival. It is a study of how furnishings fit for the president of a republic became a museum collection of decorative arts recognized as among the finest in the nation. The book features 375 images of furniture, china, lighting, textiles, silver, and glass along with stories of how presidents and first ladies lived and entertained in the White House. With this book, the curators explore the meaning of objects in diplomacy, national pride, and everyday life and explain how museum-quality objects that are in constant use are cared for. The book provides catalog entries consolidating essential information, provenance, and associated histories.
Among the stories shared in the book is the journey of the suite of gilded furniture ordered by James Monroe from Paris cabinetmaker Pierre Antoine Bellangé, which was installed as the defining glory of the Oval Room in the rebuilt White House, sold at auction in 1860, and rediscovered in 1961 by First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy. Eleven of the fifty-three original pieces are back in the White House and, recently regilded and reupholstered, once again defining what is now the Blue Room.
There is also an account of the famous Lincoln Bed, which has never left the White House and was purchased by Mary Todd Lincoln, but not slept in by Abraham Lincoln. The authors discuss its use over the years by presidential families and the 2005 refurbishment of the Lincoln Bedroom, complete with reproductions of Lincoln-era wallpaper, draperies, and carpet.
Furnishing the White House is a fascinating volume that provides a historical context for examining selected treasures from the extensive collections of the White House; a collection that will continue to grow and change to reflect each new era and the evolving cultural tastes of the White House and nation.
Betty C. Monkman served more than thirty years in the Office of the Curator, the White House, retiring as chief curator in 2002. She is the author of The White House: Its Historic Furnishings and First Families (2000, 2014), and The Living White House (2007, 2013, 2017) and was managing editor of the 23rd edition of The White House: An Historic Guide.
William G. Allman is the former curator of the White House, having retired from the office in 2017 after forty years. He co-authored Something of Splendor: Decorative Arts from the White House (2012) and authored the updated and expanded third edition of Official White House China: From the 18th to the 21st Centuries (2016).
Lydia S. Tederick is curator of the White House. She received her M.A. in museum studies, with an art history concentration, from George Washington University. She has been part of the White House curatorial staff since 1979. Tederick has lectured and published articles on the White House Collection and specializes in historic photographs of the Executive Mansion. She is a regular contributor and an editorial adviser to White House History Quarterly.
Melissa C. Naulin is associate curator of decorative arts in the Office of the Curator, the White House where she has served since 2003. She is a graduate of Smith College and the Winterthur Program in Early American Culture. Naulin has held curatorial positions at the Strong Museum, Winterthur Museum, and George Washington’s Mount Vernon. She co-authored Something of Splendor: Decorative Arts from the White House
About the Photographer
Bruce M. White is a fine art and architectural photographer. Formerly a staff photographer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, he now works on commission for museums, artists, art collectors, universities, and publishers in the United States and abroad. His photography is used to illustrate publications and exhibition catalogs. White is principal photographer for numerous award-winning books including The White House: An Historic Guide and At Home in the President’s Neighborhood: A Photographic Tour.
About the White House Historical Association
First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy envisioned a restored White House that conveyed a sense of history through its decorative and fine arts. She sought to inspire Americans, especially children, to explore and engage with American history and its presidents. In 1961, the nonprofit, nonpartisan White House Historical Association was established to support her vision to preserve and share the Executive Mansion’s legacy for generations to come. Supported entirely by private resources, the Association’s mission is to assist in the preservation of the state and public rooms, fund acquisitions for the White House permanent collection, and educate the public on the history of the White House. Since its founding, the Association has given more than $115 million to the White House in fulfillment of its mission.
To learn more about the White House Historical Association, please visit WhiteHouseHistory.org.