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Saturday, March 13, 2010

Vinland Estate, Newport Rhode Island

My second stop on the Newport "summer cottage" tour was the Vinland Estate (1882) which now serves as an administration building for Salve Regina University.  I was very excited -- it had been designed by the firm of Peabody and Stern in the Romanesque Revival style perfected by H. H. Richardson, a style I happen to love.  According to wikipedia, the interior included design elements by William Morris and windows by Edward Burne-Jones.  The house was named Vinland in romantic reference to the Vikings who were believed to have come ashore here and the Morris & Co. windows depicted Norse legends.

The exterior did not disappoint (although the overcast day and flat light did).  Here is the porte-cochere with a second century Roman Dolium on the lawn given to the original owner, tobacco heiress Catherine Lorillard Wolfe, in 1884 ("The Bean Pot" in local student parlance).  The red sandstone is carved with intricate floral designs purportedly derived from Celtic manuscripts from around 1000 A.D., the alleged time of Viking settlement.  (You know the old joke...Columbus was the last person to discover America.)







The inside appeared to be one large green, gold, and white French chateau gone bad (the fact that many rooms served as classrooms also didn't help the ambiance).   Now I know some people may like this but it wasn't what I hoped for or expected.   I searched in vain for stained glass windows and an office worker eventually assured me she knew of none in this building.

 Nothing looked "Morrisy" however I did like these carved cherub wall sconces.  I like the fact that the lower one is looking up at the socket wrapped in electrical tape and giggling.

What had happened?  A few days later I went back to the internet and found out some interesting things.  First, in an archive directory at J.R. Burrows I found copies of letters between William Morris  and the Vinland decorators outlining Morris's research and recommendations on which Vikings should be immortalized in the stained glass windows he and Burne-Jones were commissioned to make (note to Freydis, if you hadn't been such a horrible wretch maybe you too would have been immortalized a millennia onward).

Merton Abbey, Surrey
April 11th, 1883
Newport. U.S.A.
Dear Sir:
I have been talking over the matter of Miss Wolfes window with Mr. Burne-Jones, and he quite agrees to the sort of subjects. On reading over the sagas again, I find that Ericke Rau_i [Erick the Red] was never in America, and that all the people who had to do with Vinland Thofinn Karlsefne seemed to be closes connected with it: I should suggest the representing of him and his wife Gudridr instead of the old man and Freydis: which latter was a horrible wretch according to the Leifs' saga whereas Gudridr has something pleasing and womanly about her. It is true that in Thofinn Karsefnes' saga Freydis is softened into a courageous amazon; but that story is visibly untrustworthy compared with that of Lief Heppin and is very late in composition. I propose Odin Thor and Frey the 3 great Gods above the adventurers of Vinland; & in the small lights, a ship the middle, & on each side a scroll, with the passages from Hávamál (Edda) about undying fame on it: proper enough on this occasion since the poor fishermen & sheep farmers of Greenland & Iceland have so curiously found a place among the worthies connected with the great modern commonwealth [America]. Over leaf I make a diagram of the window.
May I ask as a matter of business if we may consider the window ordered and go on with it: I am vexed that any delay sould have taken place, but it has not been owing to any neglect of ours.
I am
Dear sir
Yours faithfully,
William Morris

 A few more interesting letters and articles can be read here and clearly the windows had once been in the house.  Then I found this article by A.C. Sewter that said that the seven Burne-Jones windows were removed in 1934 and sold in 1937 to the Cohen Brothers of Baltimore.  One panel, Leif the Lucky, is now owned by Mr. Otis Beall Kent of Maryland.  The rest are untraced!  Maybe we can find them --- I just need the readership of this blog to increase by about two orders of magnitude.  It can be like America's Most Wanted for famous arts and crafts relics.

Finally, I was still left wondering about the decor.  The house changed ownership in 1896 and a decade later they "recreated" the interior with the services of Ogden Codman, Jr. another famous architect and interior decorator known for his strong French influence.  Such are the fickle winds of fashion.

I am certain there are experts who know much more about this estate than I -- if you read this, please feel free to leave us some more info!

Next, my third and final stop....Ochre Court.