Miracle on Fourth Street: 85 Years as a Museum
On May 11, 1936 – 85 years ago – the Merchant’s House officially opened its doors to the public as a museum. The founder, George Chapman, exclaimed:
“Here in Fourth Street stands a house that is really Old New York itself! You can mount its marble steps and ring its bell, and be carried back to the 1830s, into the life of the Seabury Tredwell family, who lived here for almost a hundred years … The whole house whispers of their lives. Everything you see was theirs, nothing has been added. It is an authentic picture of a merchant prince’s life, who helped to make New York the greatest city in the world today.”
For the last 85 years, the Merchant’s House Museum has carried on the legacy of its founder: preserving the house and its original collection, and sharing the story of a wealthy merchant family in mid-19th century New York with thousands of visitors each year.
This exhibition traces the museum’s 85-year history, from the struggle of the museum’s founder to realize his quixotic vision, to the dedication of a group of professional woman committed to reclaiming the beauty of the house’s original furnishings, to the critical intervention of an architect who devoted his life to an authentic structural restoration, to preservation efforts that persist to today.
The Index of American Design
The Index of American Design (IAD) was a New Deal arts undertaking conceived during the Great Depression to identify and document the country’s design heritage, i.e., what was distinctly “American” in the decorative, folk, and applied arts. Comprising more than 18,000 illustrations of objects from a wide variety of public and private collections, the IAD is a stunning and invaluable visual archive of American material culture from the colonial period to the early 20th century.
The Index of American Design, now housed at the National Gallery of Art, contains 18 illustrations of 15 objects in the Merchant’s House Museum’s collection: 3 pieces of furniture, 7 dresses, 3 clothing accessories, and 2 men’s garments. In our newest virtual exhibition, you’re invited to explore the Merchant’s House collection through the eyes of IAD artists who visited the house in the late-1930s.
Sylvia: A 19th Century Life Unveiled
In 2002, a small, timeworn leather trunk discarded on a sidewalk in Lower Manhattan was found replete with the cherished keepsakes of a 19th century woman. Thus began visual artist Stacy Renee Morrison’s self-proclaimed love affair with Sylvia DeWolf Ostrander, whose early life parallels that of Gertrude Tredwell, who lived at 29 East 4th Street.
For almost two decades, Ms. Morrison has been on an obsessive quest to weave together Sylvia’s life in the 19th century through the personal belongings she left behind — and to re-imagine it in today’s world through art and fashion.
Our Stuff, Ourselves
The Tredwell family lived at 29 East Fourth Street for almost 100 years. The house became a museum in 1936, its period rooms brimming with the family’s furnishings and personal belongings — the Tredwell Collection comprises almost 4,500 items.
The family’s personal possessions provide a doorway into their private lives, revealing the tastes, interests, and values of a prosperous merchant family in mid-19th century New York.
Behind Closed Doors & Drawers
The Tredwell family lived at the Merchant’s House for almost 100 years. When Gertrude, the Tredwells’ eighth and final child, died in an upstairs bedroom in 1933, she left her home brimming with the family’s possessions from the 19th century. The Merchant’s House Museum’s collection comprises approximately 4,500 Tredwell objects.
Some of the pieces of furniture and household objects may not be familiar to you. What were they used for? What do they look like on the inside? What do they tell us about how the Tredwells lived?
You are invited Behind Closed Doors & Drawers for an intimate glimpse of 19th century domestic life in New York City.
Icons in Ash
Contemporary fine artist Heide Hatry creates memorial portraits using cremated remains. She invented a labor-intensive mosaic technique in which she placed the individual ash particles into a surface of beeswax through several applications until a likeness has been achieved. Her discovery revealed the possibility of a life-altering silent communion that Hatry knew she wanted to share with others who were suffering their own loss.