There are so many great stories to tell about my month-long residency at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. (http://www.gardnermuseum.org/news/2013/july_2013) Which one to share? One of the best is about the lady herself, and how her amazing legacy lives on in the vision of the Gardner staff. When Isabella Stewart Gardner assembled her collection, built a Venetian palace to display it and then left it to the world as a museum, her will stated that nothing could be changed.
So what does the staff at the museum do, besides care for the collection? They do what Isabella did, of course. Isabella welcomed friends, family and the general public into her palace that was also her home while she was alive. So when the Gardner planned an expansion, they included a living room complete with canaries (Isabella kept canaries) to welcome people to the museum, just as if they were visiting a home.
Isabella was a passionate music lover, staging concerts for friends in the palace, and hosting parties with authors, philosophers and composers. The amazing concert hall in the new expansion preserves that intimate feeling of attending a concert at a friend’s place, with chairs on the main level staggered only two deep, and just one row of chairs around the balconies.
Isabella loved plants and gardens, thus the famous courtyard in the palace that is truly one of the most beautiful green spaces in Boston. The Gardner included a greenhouse in their expansion, open to the public so we can admire the plants and flowers being nurtured to take their place in the courtyard landscape that changes four times a year.
Isabella invited artists, John Singer Sargent among them, to use rooms in her palace as studios. And so the Gardner invites artists, landscape designers, composers and the like to take up residence in lovely apartments in the museum, and display their work in an exhibition space especially for that purpose in the new expansion. This museum has vision, sharing the legacy of Isabella Stewart Gardner in ways that mirror and build on Isabella’s lifelong love of the arts. And once a year, for one month, Peggy Burchenal and her education staff at the Gardner welcomes a museum educator to live and work at the Gardner, with the idea that the result will contribute to the museum education field. Thank you to everyone at the Gardner for an amazing month, and thank you Peggy Burchenal for your inspiration and commitment to continuing the legacy of the Isabella Stewart Gardner.