Monday, June 29, 2009

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The Mount, front gate and door, photo by Michele Alpern, 2009
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We just spent a few days in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts. It was our second trip to Lenox and like last time, we visited The Mount, the house Edith Wharton designed and built there. (Construction was completed in 1902.) It's where she did much of her writing, and spent time with selected visitors (like frequent guest Henry James). She was seriously interested in architecture and this house is a reflection of her careful distillation of ideas found in other great American houses of the period, but also from French and Italian sources. In a more substantial way the house is the opposite of other late 19th century grand homes. (Of course it is-- her books brilliantly examine and critique the convoluted social structures and pretensions of the set that built those houses). The Mount is modern, ahead of its time. It is anti-ostentatious, meant for quiet work and conversation, not giant parties. It's a house for an artist.


The Mount, Edith Wharton's library / study, photo by Michele Alpern, 2009
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The library is a squarish room, it's full of light and owns a corner of the house on the first (not ground) floor. You might think this would be where her work took place. Actually the real writing went on in her bedroom, where she worked with her papers and books spread over the bed, and with her dogs all around. This room occupies the same power corner as the library, directly above it, on the second floor.


The Mount, Edith Wharton's bed was here, photo by Michele Alpern, 2009
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The drawing room, at the center of the house, was set up for fostering conversation. The space was broken into several seating areas, which were sometimes made even more intimate by setting up folding screens. This room opens out onto the terrace.


The Mount, sitting room, photo by Ken Weathersby, 2009
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The Mount, terrace, photo by Michele Alpern, 2009
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The Mount, view from terrace over gardens, photo by Michele Alpern, 2009
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Looking down from the terrace, there are two gardens, one to the right and one to the left. The one to the left, is higher, brighter and laid out in nested rectangles. It is rational, clear, and dry in feeling. To the right side is, a low grotto-like garden, laid out in curves, surrounded with rough stone walls and shaded. The standing contrast between the two, connected by a long, straight tree-lined path between, is powerful.


The Mount, gardens--the high garden, photo by Ken Weathersby, 2009
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The Mount, gardens--the low garden, photo by Ken Weathersby, 2009
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The Mount, gardens--the low garden-- Michele in the grotto, photo by Ken Weathersby, 2009
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Also near Lenox, in Pittsfield, Arrowhead a farmhouse property that was home to another great 19th century writer. Herman Melville did not have the financial (and other kinds of) success that Wharton saw, and Arrowhead is a different kind of place. Arrowhead is very interesting in its own right, but it was rainy during our visit, and little that's in the house now belonged to him, so we took no photos. We did have a strange experience with a tour guide who was very knowledgeable with details about the recorded history of the place. He had an interest in Melville as someone he thought of as an outstanding fellow who'd had some adventures on the sea, and which he had written down. He also had zero knowledge or interest in the fact that the guy was an artist, and confessed to not being able to force himself to read the books, even Moby Dick. We left glad we'd been there but horrified at the tourguide. We bought a postcard.

Herman Melville postcard (souvenir of Arrowhead), photo by Ken Weathersby, 2009
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3 comments:

gayle said...

Ken, these photos are so beautiful. Thanks for including such great information about the site. BTW, I was psyched to learn that Michele spells her name with one "l." My sister's name is spelled the same way - from the Italian (short for Michelangelo). I'm glad to have your link! I know I'll keep learning new things! : )

Michele said...

Hi, Gayle. My name is actually French (my mother's "mother tongue"), but it's nice to have something in common with your sister. Best, M.

* said...

Gayle,

I just saw your comment-- thanks for checking out the neutral!

Ken