Museum Studies at Tufts University

Exploring museums, ideas, and conversation

Category: event reviews

House of Mirth – House of Codman from Historic New England

I finally fulfilled my goal of visiting Historic New England’s Codman Estate by attending the intriguing “House of Mirth – House of Codman” program on October 16. The program featured two illustrated lectures and an abridged house tour. Originally built around 1740, five generations of the Codman family inhabited this home and referred to it as “The Grange.” This particular program focussed on Ogden Codman, Jr., an architect and interior designer, and his siblings. Ogden Jr. befriended Edith Wharton in Newport, RI and contributed to the design of both her Newport and New York homes. Together, they wrote The Decoration of Houses, in 1897.

The first lecture familiarized the group with the plot of Wharton’s House of Mirth before going on to describe three major themes linking the novel with the Codman family and The Grange. Following was a brief lecture to acquaint the group with the history and members of the Codman family. Through the lens of high society in the Gilded Age, we were then able to explore the house and learn more about the pursuits of Ogden Jr’s generation. This property was left to Historic New England upon the death of Ogden Jr’s youngest sister, Dorothy, in 1968. Dorothy kept the rooms and their contents as her family members had left them, only adding to them when she sold her Boston townhouse. As a result, the collection is amazingly intact and illustrative of life as a Codman. For me, the highlights were the extensive collection of family portraits and the watercolors by Alice Codman, Ogden Jr’s other sister. Unfortunately, the Codman Estate is already closed for the season, but I urge you to visit next spring for a full tour or one of their wonderful programs.

Tales and Ales from Historic New England

Certificate students Sarah Margerum brings us this review of a recent museum event. If you’d like to review museum events for the Tufts blog, drop us a line in the comments!

This past Saturday, October 8, Historic New England hosted Tales and Ales, a fun-filled evening of food, ale, and learning about the sordid side of Newbury’s fascinating past. The evening was led by Bethany Groff, North Shore Regional Director for Historic New England, whose enthusiasm for the event was positively contagious. The Swett-Ilsley House, part of which dates back to the 1670s, was originally built as Swett’s Tavern. The evening began in the original tavern space, crammed with guests, snacks, ale, and period-appropriate live music. After a warm welcome, everyone was ushered into a larger space with rough tables and benches and served a hearty meal of chicken, ham and root vegetables – eaten with our hands, of course. Guests were picked at random to rise and make a toast, resulting in much more merriment than any modern bar scene. Thoroughly satiated, we then returned to the original tavern where guests were given parts to play in the reading of actual transcripts from the Essex County Quarterly Court. Better than any fictional drama, Newbury’s 17th century residents were brought to life through the colorful quarrels and sometimes shocking events of their time. Powerless to resist Bethany’s enthusiasm, participants played their parts proudly and with bravado. The night ended with everyone in attendance joyfully singing traditional tavern songs. Look for the next Tales and Ales event next spring and buy tickets immediately. This event sells out quickly and it’s too wonderful to miss!

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