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The Redwood Library and Athenæum, America’s oldest library

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Published: 11 July 2015

The Classical House: Two Thousand Years of Architectural Design

“This summer’s lecture series at the Redwood Library— a Newport literary and architectural treasure in so many ways— will teach, inspire, and delight,”

- Kelly Wright

This summer in Newport, Rhode Island, America’s oldest library and its oldest auction house will partner for a noteworthy historical lecture series, “The Classical House: Two Thousand Years of Architectural Design.”  The Redwood Library and Athenæum, along with Freeman’s, will present this event which investigates the social and cultural history of domestic architecture from the houses of ancient Rome to the villas of the Italian Renaissance and the Neo-Palladian country seats of eighteenth- century Britain.  Freeman’s is delighted to be a sponsor, and the subjects for discussion—organized by architectural historian, John Tschirch—are equally as interesting as the venue.

The Redwood Library and Athenæum is the oldest library building in continuous use in the country. Founded in 1747 by forty-six proprietors upon the principle of “having nothing in view but the good of mankind,” its mission continues over 250 years later. The Company of the Redwood Library was established in 1747 by Abraham Redwood and a group of his friends and associates. One of the country’s earliest “public” libraries—open to the public though not “free”—Redwood remains a “membership library” supported by Proprietors, who own shares and pay an annual assessment, and Subscribers, who pay fees. The Original Collection of 751 titles has grown to a collection numbering more than 160,000 volumes. Today, the Library is open to qualified scholars and researchers and to those making use of the collections.  Lectures, exhibitions, fine arts displays, and other educational activities are part of its continuous offerings to the community. The outstanding classical architecture of Redwood was noticed by Thomas Jefferson when he visited Newport in 1790 as Secretary of State in the company of President George Washington. Jefferson began championing classical architecture as the model for public buildings in the new Republic. The Redwood Library is possibly one of the most architecturally influential buildings in America.

The Classical House: Two Thousand Years of Architectural Design

The Roman House: Retreats Fit for Emperors | August 19
The Palladian Villa: The Renaissance Masterpieces | August 26
The Flowering of France: Chateaux of the 17th Century  | September 09
The Neo-Palladian Triumph The 18th Century British Country Seat | September 23
 

Purchase Your Lecture Series Tickets

In 1981, the Redwood Library received the Cynthia Cary Collection from Guy Fairfax Cary, Jr., in memory of his mother. Collected over decades by Mr. and Mrs. Guy Fairfax Cary, Sr., devoted benefactors of Redwood who were passionately interested in eighteenth-century English decorative arts, the Cary Collection contains nearly 200 English and related Continental pattern books of furniture, decoration, and ornament from the late-fifteenth-century to the mid-nineteenth-century. This significant collection has been a resource for scholars from all over the world.

The relationship of the architectural pattern book and design literature, so richly represented in the Redwood Library’s collections, will be examined as key features in the development of the extraordinary buildings in the lecture series. Tschirch, an award- winning architectural historian, writer and teacher, authors a monthly design history blog on Facebook, called “John Stories,” and is an authority on the artistic and social evolution of historic houses and landscapes. He joined the Preservation Society of Newport County in 1986 as Director of Education becoming Director of Academic Programs and Architectural Historian in 1995.  In 2010, he was appointed their Director of the newly-created Department of Museum Affairs. He holds an M.A. in Architectural History and Historic Preservation from the University of Virginia.

Since 1805, Freeman’s has held a respected place in America’s history as its oldest auction house, and as one of the country’s first family-owned businesses. For seven generations, Freeman’s has been an  integral part of the country’s auction culture, handling countless, often historically significant sales on behalf of private collections, estates, and museums. Recently, Tara Theune Davis, Freeman’s Senior Vice President, discussed the upcoming lecture series with John Tschirch. He spoke of how he was inspired by houses across Europe and the unique combination at Redwood of the landmark classical building with an extraordinary collection of historic pattern books on architecture and design. “All of my globetrotting to both study and work on the preservation of great historic sites was clearly rewarding. However, closer to home, there was also a pivotal moment, the day I walked up to the Redwood Library in Newport, Rhode Island, the very first temple front building in North America. The great houses of the past and the role of literary works in their design is the inspiration for my lecture series.” As for the continuing influence and impact of Greek and Roman traditions today on Western culture, Tschirch continued, “The classical house distills Western art and culture in single dwellings. It is an unbroken story spanning hundreds of years and thousands of miles. Beginning at Pliny’s seaside villa and continuing with Thomas Jefferson sitting aloft his mountain top house, Monticello, in Virginia. Classical houses are poetic in their use of proportion and scale and they are the product of a complex social and cultural life based on an appreciation of refinement, harmony and order. For centuries, both poetry and design pattern books have celebrated and strongly influenced the creation of these classical houses, from Roman villas and Renaissance palazzos to French chateaux and British country houses.”

Offering a glimpse of what will be awaiting participants in the lecture series, Tschirch expounded, “People will see close-up images of great European villas, chateaux and palaces, along with the very books that inspired them and spread their fame.  The building and the book come together in this lecture series and the beauty of architecture and the exquisite drawings in pattern books become one. Someone who attends the lectures will have a unique look at buildings before, during, and after their creation through the art of pattern books, which influenced their design.”

“This summer’s lecture series at the Redwood Library— a Newport literary and architectural treasure in so many ways— will teach, inspire, and delight,” shared Freeman’s New England Director Kelly Wright.  It will have a unique position as a catalyst for dialogues about education across periods of time and disciplines and enable its fortunate participants to see close-up images of great homes along with the very books that translated architectural dreams and designs into reality. The relevancy of these topics for us today is irrefutable. One thing that hasn’t changed is that for everyone, the house is central to the cultural identity of the human race. Everyone lives somewhere and it is “home” in any language.

Learn More About the Redwood Library & Athenaeum

The Redwood Library and Athenæum is the oldest library building in continuous use in the country.

 

 

 

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