Rough Point is the English baronial-style summer residence of Doris Duke located in Newport, Rhode Island. In 1993 upon her death the estate was bequeathed to the Newport Restoration Foundation’s architectural collection, and opened as a Gilded Age house museum. In 2011 staff built consensus to replace a pair of elaborate 17th century applique valances, repurposed in the 20th century for the Rough Point dining room.
This decision prompted an institution-wide debate on how to replace the historic needlework displayed in the house while staying true to the historic setting, the narrative of the house, and the organizational mission. Staff transformed this discussion into a multi-faceted public outreach program framed around a live reproduction studio to explore the nuances of authenticity as well as to engage new audiences with the history of Rough Point in ways that help to serve and shape their vision of preservation.
The heart of the program, named Volunteers in Partnership (VIP), was Rough Point’s first volunteer effort. Volunteers invited qualified needle workers under the guidance of contract conservators to reproduce the 1000-piece velvet appliques using time-honored handcraft methods. Upon completion of the project, the volunteers were armed with more knowledge and resources for the stewardship of their own community and family histories.
Educators adapted house tour narratives to help visitors feel a synergy with ongoing preservation needs at Rough Point and to explore how the issues of authenticity are handled both in interpretation and in practice. The experience underscored discussions on authenticity – what is real for the house and how the reproductions influenced the overall real appearance of the room.
The valance initiative program has stimulated people to learn, collaborate, and celebrate preservation. For Rough Point, the reproductions themselves were not the singular goal, but the means to inspire audiences to draw their own connections to preservation in ways that are most meaningful to them. By taking individual ownership of preservation, visitors and volunteers unite the ‘real’ past with the ‘real’ present.