Moving onSPM seeks talent to build, maintain Fairlawn collection
By: Shelley Nelson, Superior Telegram
Most entering Fairlawn Mansion may see a striking home furnished in Victorian splendor.
For the director who oversees the city’s museums, there are bare walls and sparsely decorated mantels amidst the grandeur of the 1890 home. Still, Superior Public Museums Director Susan Anderson sees the space as a blank canvas on which to paint a past akin to the one people might have experienced upon walking into the historic home of Martin and Grace Pattison more than a century ago.
“This, to me, is a huge opportunity not only to expand the look of it … but to bring the community into it,” Anderson said.
To achieve both goals, the Superior Public Museums Board this week decided to create an ad hoc collections committee to draw in expertise to oversee the collection and re-accessorize the mansion now that Douglas County Historical Society has removed those artifacts the city didn’t buy from the organization. The new committee would establish priorities for refurnishing and accessorizing the mansion and serve as an adviser to the museum board, which would take responsibility for fundraising.
The committee would establish the criteria for the collection, said SPM board member Charles Glazeman.
The goal behind creating the committee is to gain a level of expertise in the Victorian era that will allow the mansion to acquire period-appropriate furnishings in the mansion, Anderson said.
“It’s almost like we’ve been given a clean slate and we now have the opportunity to put a true Pattison stamp on it,” said board member Kaye Tenerelli.
The city paid $140,000 to purchase most of the Fairlawn collection owned by the Douglas County Historical Society — pieces once owned by the Pattison family or vital to telling the story of life in the mansion — but an estimated 300 items were not included in the agreement and were removed from the mansion. Some pieces are noticeably missing — benches that once decorated the first floor halls, large paintings in ornate frames and historic garments from the Victorian era.
“When you think of the Fairlawn collection, you think of everything on the first two floors,” said DCHS President Valerie Burke. “What the public doesn’t know is we had a ton of stuff in the basement that’s been there 30, 40 years.” Other items, like a pump organ stored in the mansion’s sick room, were not included in the collection on display for tours, she said.
“I think we’ve got an opportunity here where a lot of the stuff is out of the house, and I didn’t realize it … less was more,” said board member Kevin Norbie. “I think it’s looking better.
I don’t miss the piece that was here,” he said, indicating a space in the first floor hall where a bench with a eight-foot tall mirror stood until recently.
However, Anderson said, the Victorian era was a “more is more” period.
Norbie said any donations to the Fairlawn collection would have to meet a specific criteria, and financial contributions could support some of those replacements with period specific replicas that would make the mansion more usable as a venue for events such as weddings, anniversaries and business gatherings.
Anderson envisions collecting pieces and accessories suitable to the mansion from the Victorian period when the Pattison family built and owned Fairlawn. The period she’s hoping to maintain is 1890-1910, she said.
“There are a lot of wonderful things in homes in Superior that would fit in the mansion,” Tenerelli said.
Anderson said the community has already started to come forward with appropriate items, such as a collection of linens already placed on display and a crocheted coverlet that replaced one the city didn’t buy in Martin Pattison’s bedroom. The museum accepts those donations on behalf of the city, which owns the mansion, specifically for display in Fairlawn.
Different people with different interests could jump on board to help with portions of the house such as the mansion’s music room or office, said board member Chris Opheim.
The goal is to find expertise in the Victorian era and curatorial experience is also welcome, Anderson said.
“Here we are three museums and we don’t have a curator,” Anderson said.