January 1, 2003
Lenox, Mass. (January 1, 2003) — The Mount has received a $100,000 grant from The Richard C. von Hess Foundation to restore Edith Wharton’s bedroom suite, the “private sanctum” where she wrote some of her most important works, including the best-selling The House of Mirth.
Over the next four months, master craftspeople will restore the suite of rooms, which includes Wharton’s bedroom, boudoir and bath, to the highest historic preservation standards, bringing back to life aged decorative plaster, woodwork, masonry, fixtures and more.
The Mount will unveil the restored rooms to visitors when it re-opens for the 2003 season on Saturday, May 3.
“While the restored first floor of The Mount exhibits the public side of Edith Wharton, the second floor, where the bedrooms are located, reveals her private and creative self,” said Stephanie Copeland, President of Edith Wharton Restoration, the non-profit organization responsible for the estate’s continued restoration efforts. “The suite was the author’s private sanctum, where she was to devote herself to her writing.”
Wharton’s bedroom is arguably the most important room in the 42-room mansion, because it was where she did her writing. In fact, the 1905 publication of The House of Mirth, written in her bedroom at The Mount, was a major turning point in Wharton’s life. The book was an instant best-seller, quickly achieving “the most rapid sale of any book ever published by Scribner,” according to her publisher. Its success and critical acclaim gave Wharton the confidence she needed to wholeheartedly pursue her writing career, a vocation that was not considered ‘proper’ for a woman of her background and social class. While living at The Mount, Wharton wrote five other novels, three nonfiction works and numerous short stories. She went on to write dozens more works and in 1921 became the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, for her novel The Age of Innocence.
Gaillard Lapsley, a friend of many years, painted a vivid picture of Wharton at work in her bedroom at The Mount each morning: “She would have her writing board perilously furnished with an ink-pot on her knee, the dog of the moment under her left elbow and the bed strewn with correspondence, newspapers and books.” As she finished a page, Wharton would drop it to the floor, to be collected later for typing by her secretary.
The Richard C. von Hess Foundation for historic preservation, based in Philadelphia, was formed by the late Richard Craig von Hess a few years before his death in 1997. Von Hess was an artist, collector and art director for the Armstrong Cork Company (now Armstrong World Industries) who shared a love of architecture, gardens and the decorative arts with his late wife Louise Tinsley Steinman. Other projects supported by the Foundation have included the Baltimore Museum of Art, the Walters Art Gallery, Ladew Topiary Gardens, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, the Governor’s Residence in Harrisburg, PA, and the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco.
Edith Wharton was one of America’s greatest writers and an influential authority on architecture, landscape gardening and interior design. She designed and built The Mount in 1902 based on the principles outlined in her best-selling 1897 book The Decoration of Houses, which is still in print today. To date Edith Wharton Restoration has invested $9 million to restore much of the mansion and most of the gardens to their original splendor. The bedroom suite restoration will complement The Mount’s continuing exhibition of main rooms decorated by leading interior designers, which continues through 2004.