Wednesday, 7 October 2015


I have lifted the entire text of what follows from the Emily Dickinson Museum newsletter:

"The room comes alive": A celebration of Emily Dickinson's bedroom restoration

AMHERST, MA - It's surprising. Now, when you step into Emily Dickinson's bedroom, which also served as her writing studio, you see color. Bolder hues have replaced the wallpaper hung in the 1960s when the Homestead was still a residence. Light streams through lace curtains at four large windows and dances across the reddish pink of roses and spring green of leaves hanging on a background lattice pattern. Far from a muted, neutral space that seemed to reinforce a ghostlike image of the famously reclusive poet, the restored bedroom is warm, colorful, and vivacious.

"The room comes alive now, with the curtains and wallpaper and pictures that were here when Dickinson lived here, the beautifully reproduced desk and bureau, and the original bed," said Polly Longsworth, former Chair of the Museum's Board of Governors, as she viewed the fully restored room for the first time. "It's just wonderful."

Emily Dickinson, now recognized as one of the world's greatest poets, occupied the southwest chamber of the family Homestead in her adult years. There she wrote all but a few of the nearly 2,000 poems that make up her opus. Just a handful were published, all without her assent, during her lifetime. Only after her death were hundreds of poem manuscripts found in her room by her sister, Lavinia. Dickinson's work became known to the public through the publication efforts of Lavinia and first editors Mabel Loomis Todd and Thomas Wentworth Higginson.

"This was a tremendous project for the Emily Dickinson Museum, the most significant step we've taken toward re-creating Dickinson's everyday surroundings. As we close this project and celebrate its completion, we're really opening a new era for the Emily Dickinson Museum and how we introduce visitors to this magnificent poet," said Emily Dickinson Museum Executive Director Jane Wald.


The restoration of Dickinson's bedroom was celebrated on Saturday, September 26, marking the completion of two years of work that saw 20th century additions stripped away to reveal Dickinson's original 19th-century space. The process revealed architectural details that allowed historians, architects, designers and a crew of other experts involved in the project to accurately recreate a room that is prominently woven into American literature along with other Massachusetts landmarks like Thoreau's cabin on Walden Pond, Alcott's Orchard House, and Wharton's Mount.

William McC. Vickery
"It looks remarkable," said William McC. Vickery, the former member of the Emily Dickinson Museum Board of Governors who provided the seed gift establishing the restoration's initial funding. "I can now see Emily Dickinson in this bedroom, writing at her desk and storing her poems in that bureau, and I think everybody has a much different impression of what this bedroom meant to her than we did beforehand."
The bedroom restoration is the latest of an ongoing series of projects that began with the incorporation of the museum in 2003, which brought together Dickinson's house, the Homestead, with her brother's home, The Evergreens, next door. Work has included the restoration of the hedge and fence surrounding the Dickinsons' property, the painting of the Homestead and The Evergreens in their original colors, archaeological investigations, and a wide assortment of repairs necessary to keep the houses intact.

"The work over the past twelve years is a textbook example of exactly how to approach a site like this," said Eric Gradoia, architectural historian and conservator for Mesick, Cohen, Wilson, Baker Architects, who helped to create the restoration plan for the Homestead and The Evergreens. "As we peeled apart the bedroom and started to look at it, there was a wealth of evidence. The majority of the Dickinson period material is still here in the house, it's just hidden away behind much later additions and changes. Hopefully the bedroom is just the beginning of a much greater and grander restoration of the Homestead."

Emily Dickinson's conservatory
With the bedroom restoration complete, the Emily Dickinson Museum is now focused on the next major project: recreating Dickinson's garden conservatory. Built by her father, Edward Dickinson, in 1855, the conservatory was a crucial tie throughout the cold New England winter to the natural world she loved. This project, like the bedroom, is based on years of historical and archaeological research. Photographs from 1916, the year it was dismantled, provide useful documentation as do some of the original building materials saved on site. One hundred years later, the museum hopes to reconstruct the conservatory to add another chapter to the interpretive story of Dickinson's daily life. $100,000 of the $300,000 needed to complete the project has been raised, and the fundraising goal is to meet the complete tally by December 2016. 

"A complete restoration of the Homestead and Evergreens is made up of a number of individual steps," says Wald. "As we advance in this process, we hope the value of preserving this center of American literature becomes ever more clearly evident. Emily Dickinson so identified with home and Amherst that she even signed a letter with the name of the town rather than her own. The town, of course, has grown and changed. But within the borders of the fence and hedge, we hope to evoke Dickinson's 19th-century surroundings, a place that she would have recognized and in which she would have felt at home."

See Emily Dickinson's restored bedroom, and learn more of the details of the renovation, during one of our guided tours, offered Wednesday through Sunday, 11 am to 4 pm.  

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