I visited Washington, DC, and New York City over the spring break thanks to the generosity of the Downing family and Vanderbilt’s History of Art department. During my trip I completed research for two projects, both supervised by Kevin Murphy, HART professor and department chair.
The first, my honors thesis, focuses on the Nashville Customs House and its architect, William Appleton Potter, who designed the building in 1875 as Supervising Architect of the Treasury. For this project, I visited the National Archives in College Park, Maryland, and Washington, DC, where most of the original records on the building are located. I also visited Columbia University’s Avery Architectural Library, which houses records related to Potter’s private practice.
My trip also included research for my Vanderbilt Library Fellowship project, “Visualizing Cass Gilbert’s Woolworth Building.” The Vanderbilt University Fine Arts Gallery recently acquired more than 150 drawings of the Woolworth Building in New York City, which was the tallest building in the world when it was completed in 1913. For my project I am creating a website that will contextualize these drawings within the larger body of sources on the Woolworth Building. I visited two other collections on the Woolworth Building at the Library of Congress and the New York Historical Society, and I had the amazing opportunity to take a behind-the-scenes tour of the entire Woolworth Building with the building’s manager, Roy Suskin.
When the archives were closed, I used that time to visit several art museums. In DC I went to the National Gallery of Art and the Smithsonian Museum of American Art, and in New York I visited the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Cloisters. It was my first time to visit these galleries, and it was wonderful to see works that I had studied in my art history classes. For instance, I am currently in a class on French art in the age of Louis XV, and at the Met I saw much of the decorative art that we have covered in that class.
This trip allowed me to find primary sources directly related to my projects that are not available online or through Vanderbilt’s library. Similarly, visiting the Woolworth Building in person provided a more holistic understanding of Vanderbilt’s collection of drawings and the building’s cultural significance in the history of New York. This trip is certainly one of the highlights of my Vanderbilt career, and I am immeasurably grateful to the Downing family for the opportunity.—Ellen Dement