IT'S TRUE that the first time Maryland Gov. Harry Hughes saw the brilliant chrome yellow planned for the redecoration of the Empire (formerly the State) Drawing Room of the governor's mansion, he was, to put it mildly, shook up.
But now that he's seen the historically correct color set against the new brilliant green-and-gold upholstery and the proper matching bold geometric rug, he's so pleased that he's introducing legislation to set up a trust for the house's historic furnishings and decoration.
Government House, as the Maryland governor's mansion is called, in the past few years has been the setting for a running drama. Currently, the state claims that former governor Marvin Mandel left the mansion with furnishings belonging to the state.
Gov. Hughes plans to introduce legislation in the Maryland General Assembly this session to set up safeguards so that antiques and money for decoration can be donated or lent to the house, and the donors will have some reasonable expectation that they will stay there. So far the Friends of Government House, headed by Leonard C. Crewe Jr., have already raised $25,000 for the project from private contributions. No public money is to be spent.
Patricia Hughes, the governor's wife, has instituted an elaborate plan to turn the house into a showplace of Maryland antiques and art. Many other state governments have started on similar programs, following the lead of the White House and the Vice President's Residence. But the Maryland plan is unusual, because the emphasis is on antiques and art made in Maryland or by Maryland artists and craftsman. Not many other states could produce as proud a heritage of fine workmanship. The project is also unusual because the house is being redecorated, not to a single period, but to reflect the breadth of the state's history, from the Federal period to now.
The Empire room was finished just in time for Christmas. The plan started when Patricia Hughes, walked through the house when they first moved in. Putting it as politely as possible, she thought, "What a melange, to say the least. There were beautiful things in every room. But there was no coherence. All the governors and their wives over the years had made changes in the house so there was no continuity of design. It goes back to 1935 when the entire house was bastardized."
The original house was built in 1870 in high Second Empire style with a marvelous mansard roof and a practical south-facing porch and conservatory with tall windows to bring in light and solar heat. But in a misguided attempt to "early the house up" to match the State House across the street (the earliest in the country), Government House was completely wrapped up in a pseudo colonial-revival overcoat. Such aberrations were common in the '30s, when interest in the country's colonial period was rampant. Williamsburg was the principal result.
Avoiding such lapses, Patricia Hughes called on the Maryland Historical Society, a good place to go since the Society has a remarkably fine collection of Maryland art and antiques, and asked them for advice and loans.
"I told them I wanted all the public rooms redecorated with the correct historical settings, using Maryland art and antiques. Maryland is fortunate in having a great history of importance in both furniture, silver and paintings. I asked them to use what we had as much as possible, and I laid down a rule that everything had to be usable. The house couldn't be turned into a museum. We have too many things going on here for that." Maryland Historical Society's Stiles Tuttle Colwill, gallery curator, and Gregory R. Weidman, furniture curator, the team named to the project, had to set to work immediately to redecorate what became the small Federal reception room.
"Mrs. Hughes asked us to do the first room in time for Joan Mondale's visit three weeks off [last spring]. We did it, I'm not sure how," said Weidman. She knew Annapolis well, because she had worked with its historical society for several years before going to Baltimore and the state society.
Weidman looked in each room for some architectural hint of what the room should contain. The first room was done up in the Federal taste because it had a rather nice classical fireplace, not original, but rather well done. Unfortunately one fireplace (in the private quarters den) in the whole house works. The others are all fakes.
Colwill said that the first time he went through the house, he noticed the teapot sitting in the kitchen. "The handle looked as though it had been boiled. The tea service was used everyday. I checked, and sure enough, it was by Simon Wedge, an important silversmith. The Baltimore assay marks were 1814 to 1825." The service now resides in lordly grandeur, safe from the dishwasher, in the Federal Reception Room, inside a Maryland Federal Desk and Bookcase (circa 1800). The secretary was lent by Lillian Laird and Evelyn Raphel to the Historical Society.
Some pleasant small Oriental rugs were found in the basement by Patricia Hughes and installed upstairs.
The treasure hunt goes on, both in the house, in the Society, and, they all hope, in the homes of prospective donors.
The Maryland Historical Society also lent the first of the rooms a Baltimore Chippendale tall mahogany clock (circa 1795). The clock, lent by Ethel Miller, has works by William Thompson of Baltimore. A pair of Maryland Federal card tables, made about five years later, originally from Poplar Hill in Prince Georges County. Above the mantle hangs another loan, the painting, "George Washington at Dorchester Heights, Boston" (1777). Jane Stuart, daughter of Gilbert Stuart, painted the oil on canvas, after a painting by her father.
Weidman, thrifty ever, had the curtains in the room redone in the Federal manner, using the old fabric.
The second room, the Empire Drawing Room, formerly called the State Room, took its theme from the arched windows in the Empire manner that march down one wall. The chrome yellow that so rocked the governor was chosen from documented paint from Maryland houses of the Empire period, including Charles Carroll's much admired Homewood.
"I took the design of the swagged window curtains from English design books of the 1820s [by Rudolph Ackerman and George Smith] because I knew the books were used in Maryland at the time," Weidman said.
The emerald green silks were woven especially by Brunschwig and Fils of New York. Mrs. Brunschwig is originally of Maryland and took a great interest in the project, donating a part of the cost. The fringe on the curtains, an elaborate fancy something like those in the White House's Red Room, another Empire room, was custom dyed and handmade by Scalamandre Silks of New York. The Stark carpet is "Losanges Directoire," made up of medallions to match the decoration on the chairs and anthemions (a classical stylized leaf or flower form) that decorate much of the furniture.
Crewe of Cockeysville, Md., the president of the Friends of Government House, paid for the redecoration of the room. He also donated to the room a set of 1820 Empire side chairs with "klismos" backs (an ancient Greek design). The upholstery is a medallion damask originally popular in France during the Napoleon era.
"The center table with its scrolled legs was shoved against the wall where it looked awful," said Weidman. "But pulled out from the wall into the middle of the room here, with a proper setting, it looks fine."
"Mr. Crewe has a very fine collection of Federal furniture himself, so he was really rather shocked when he first saw swatches of the fabric and the paint. But now that the room is together, he loves it," Weidman said.
The Baltimore 1825 Empire sofa with its elaborately carved cornucopias is one of the most handsome pieces in the room. The card tables (circa 1815) silhouetted against the windows, are distinguished by the reeded legs common to the period and the place. They were originally owned by Baltimore's first mayor, James Calhoun. The painted century decoration. Gov. Elihu Jackson used the table at his Salisbury home. The 1825 worktable was originally used for needlework. The elaborate gilt girandole looking glass (1820) reflects the rooms other glories.
Colwill, who is responsible for the paintings in the house, talked his family into lending a portrait of Capt. John McHenry (1791-1822) by Maryland painter Philip Thomas Coke Tilyard. Fort McHenry was named for his father.
The portrait of the captain's wife also hangs in the room, as do the portraits of Mr. and Mrs. Benjamin Chew Howard, his sister and his brother-in-law (and his commander). The picture of Howard was painted by New York artist Henry Inman -- one of 11 he painted in a marathon weekend of work in Baltimore. Her painting is by Thomas Sully.
Another painting is of Gov. John Eager Howard, the Revolutionary War hero at the Battle of Cowpens. Sully, surely the most important 19th-century portrait painter, painted Howard from an earlier likeness by Rembrandt Peale.
Colwill notes that Sully only charged $100 for Mrs. Howard's portrait and Captain McHenry's painting went for $35.
An 1820 marble bust now standing against the windows is of Gen. William Henry Winder by Hugh Cannon, in the manner of Antoniop Capellano. The general was a hero of the War of 1812 and the son of a Maryland governor.
Weidman and Colwil have many more plans. Curtains once in the State Drawing Room will become new seat covers for 36 dining-room chairs. New curtains in the 18th-century style will be hung in there.
The private reception room, which already has pleasant velvet banquette-type sofas and chairs of the Victorian period -- and most important, a fine original marble fireplace dating from before the remodeling -- will go all the way Victorian. The major problem in this room are the portraits of seven of the 57 governors' wives, which include, for instance, as one person pointed out, the first Mrs. Mandell but not the second. None of the ladies look Victorian.
The most interesting room may well be the conservatory, which is to be furnished with modern furniture, folk art and contemporary paintings by internationally known Maryland artists such as Lowell Nesbitt.
The great glory of the house is the great ceremonial front hall. The massive-four-story staircase swoops up to a great skylight, all that's left over from the Victorian house's whoop-de-cupola. Weidman, upon reflection, decided that "ceremonial" is the word for the hall and the decoration will be in keeping. A giant portrait of Queen Henrietta Maria, for whom the state was named, is expected to preside here, with reflections from Federal Revival mirrors. I hope that Weidman will be able to bring herself to use here the immense Arts and Crafts movement clock, complete with gargoyles and a music box.
All the plans, after being drawn up by Weidman, are approved by the Maryland Commission for Artistic Properties, the Historical Association and the Friends of Government House. All the renovation is being paid for by donations.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Hughes who has tried to keep her personal preferences out of the public rooms redecoration, has been busy on the family side of the house. She's wallpapered the family dining room, put in new curtains in the den, dining room and some of the upstairs bedrooms, bought a new rug for the den, swapped furniture around the house. In all, according to house-manager Ethel Tigner, $12,460 has been spent to repair or replace furnishings and to decorate the house since the Governor and Mrs. Hughes moved in a year ago. Another $1,500 was spent for a card table and four chairs for the family room.
Tigner pointed out that little had been spent on redecorating the house in several years because of the Mandel's problems. "There weren't even any curtains in some of the bedrooms," she said. "And the rug in the den was just awful." On the other hand, Tigner says that though the house is authorized to have a staff of 11, Hughes has kept it down to 8. The money saved is going into redecoration. "We can't just buy cheap things for the house, it wouldn't be economical because of the hard usage."
Governor and Mrs. Hughes brought in a whole roomful of their own furnishings for the den. "And, I've been very sure my own things have been registered as ours. I don't want any controversy when we move out," Mrs. Hughes said.