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Part two of a series

Mrs Garnett, Housekeeper, oil on canvas by Thomas Barber. NTPL Ref. No. 42286

Mrs Garnett, Housekeeper, oil on canvas by Thomas Barber. NTPL Ref. No.

I’m minding my own business checking out my friends’ business on Facebook, when Mrs Garnett appears on Joanna Waugh’s blog. Mrs Garnett had been rattling around in my head as “Wait, there’s that housekeeper painting, and she’s got, like, this great bonnet…” which is the art historical equivalent to an ear worm.

Yes, the Kedleston Hall housekeeper. A bit grand for Mr and Mrs Brown, if you compare a fine mansion in Providence to a English County House with a Collection and its Own Catalog, but not too grand if you compare John Brown’s House to Jeremiah Dexter’s, or Stephen Hopkins’.

We are talking about a man who asked his son-in-law to fetch back marble busts from Versailles, during the time of the French Revolution when the scent of blood was, literally, in the air. Mr Brown had pretensions.

This is tough to hang on to because I see that house every week and it is now so familiar that I don’t see it: it’s background. This is both good and dangerous: I need to hold on to the magic and mystery of the overwhelming high style decorative arts of the house, while also feeling ownership and pride in that house. The catch is that the meaning is so different to me now than it would have been to me then. Though to be honest, being a curator is not so different from being a housekeeper. Curator has its roots in the Latin “cura,” to care, and in that root lies the similarity of roles.

So I will care for the house, and care how I represent it: those are keys, I think, that, as Sharon Burnston says, point to a solid, sober-colored worsted. She referred me to the Francis Wheatley “Cries of London” series, which you may recall from earlier posts.

Again, it is hard to shake the familiarity with the street vendor/woman of the army/runaway apprentice chaser I am accustomed to being. But I think the solution to my desire for playfulness lies in thinking closer to 1800 in style, and in a contrasting petticoat. Also, a bonnet. You can never have too many bonnets.

But this is academic, in a way, until I get my fabric samples. I shall will myself to patience, and instead keep sewing the Wasmus Coat for Saratoga. Yes, I realize my idea of a brown gown and pale blue petticoat will replicate the contrast of the coat body and facings. But I do really love those coats!