Help Restore Emily Dickinson's Conservatory!
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Emily Dickinson's conservatory was removed in 1916.
100 years later, we're bringing it back.
The bedroom, the garden, the kitchen: all are essential spaces that quickly spring to mind when thinking about the physical locations that inspired Dickinson's poetry . The conservatory, built by her father when the family returned to the Homestead in 1855, is another. In this diminutive greenhouse Dickinson maintained her link to the vibrant natural world during the frigid New England winters. She tended flowers "near and foreign," as she wrote to Elizabeth Holland in March 1866, in a space six feet deep and seventeen feet wide where she had "but to cross the floor to stand in the Spice Isles."
The deep connection between Dickinson and her horticultural pursuits permeated her poetry and daily life. Imagine dirt under the poet's fingernails as she wrote the poems that immortalized flowers blooming in her garden, home, and Amherst wilderness. The conservatory allowed her to follow this passion year round. Through its windows, Dickinson could view the gardens and orchard that she frequented in the warmer months. From the native species and fragile exotic specimens she grew inside would come the blooms and bouquets sent with letters and poems to her beloved friends in even the coldest months of the year.
To tell the Dickinson story more fully we need to restore the conservatory.
Dismantled in 1916, many of the conservatory's original architectural elements – including its window sash and original door – survive. In the past two years archaeological investigations of the southeastern corner of the house where the conservatory stood have unearthed its foundations and other important historical details. With photographic, documentary, archaeological, and even poetic evidence in hand, we're ready to bring Emily Dickinson's conservatory back to life. But we'll need your help to do it.
Our fundraising goal for reconstructing the conservatory and creating an endowment for its upkeep and programming is $300,000. Included in the goal is the establishment of a $200,000 endowment to maintain the conservatory and its plants and program for many decades to come.
As an incentive for donors to contribute to the fund, a member of the Emily Dickinson Museum's Board of Governors has pledged $100,000 towards the conservatory reconstruction, but the gift comes with an inspiring challenge. Additional new gifts to the project totaling $100,000 must be contributed to the Conservatory Reconstruction Project by December 31, 2016, in order to receive any of the matching funds.
“This is an opportunity not just to reproduce the small glass house, but to use the original building materials - saved on site for more than 100 years - in an actual reconstruction of one of Dickinson's most beloved and creative spaces,” says Emily Dickinson Museum Executive Director Jane Wald. “With the conservatory back in place by the end of 2016, we’ll have a whole new way of thinking about her daily life and her work as a poet. Because of that we want to do this as accurately as possible.”
Since its founding in 2003, the Emily Dickinson Museum has undertaken several projects that provide visitors with a more authentic understanding of the world inhabited by the Dickinsons. The restoration of Emily Dickinson's bedroom and library, return of the hedge and fence that connect the Homestead and Evergreens properties, repainting of the homes in their historic colors, and, coming soon, an heirloom orchard offer visitors a personal encounter with the poet’s world available nowhere else. The conservatory will add another critical detail to that immersive experience.
"It's been the mission of the Emily Dickinson Museum to try and restore the Museum grounds to a place that Emily Dickinson would recognize if she was here," says Emily Dickinson Museum Board of Governors Chair Ken Rosenthal. "That's our way of trying to better understand the environment in which she lived, thought, and wrote poetry, and we know the conservatory was very dear to her art. That's why it's so important to reconstruct it in its original location."
In her letter to Mrs. Holland, Dickinson also wrote that "We do not always know the source of the smile that flows to us." We hope that this project provokes many joyful smiles among those who care about the Museum's mission of interpreting and sharing the story of Emily Dickinson and her family. You can express a bit of that joy by contributing to making the conservatory a reality. We thank you in advance for your support of this latest step in returning the Museum grounds to a place Emily Dickinson would have recognized and in which she would have felt at home.
Among the ways you can support the Conservatory Reconstruction Project:
Conservatory Doors (2)
The south-facing exterior door appears in a 1916 photograph. Its glass inserts were actually double panes to provide extra insulation. Another door opened into the conservatory from the family library.
Stone Path, Foundation and Steps
A short stone path led from a secondary gate to the conservatory’s stone steps at the south door. Archaeology revealed the granite foundation for steps and the wood frame conservatory.
Roofing material was most likely a standing seam tern-coat metal, as was used for the roofs at The Evergreens and the Homestead’s kitchen addition.
Archaeologists retrieved a large number of nails from the area occupied by the conservatory. They also discovered that the interior foundation wall was not continuous. These findings point to a floor of sawn boards nailed to joists.
When the Parke family, Homestead owners from 1916 to 1965, dismantled the conservatory soon after purchase, they salvaged most of its usable elements for the construction of a garage behind the house, including three pairs of original double-glazed sash.
A single pair of shutters was mounted on the conservatory’s east façade. These shutters were also salvaged and will be restored to working order.
Fixed or free-standing shelves held delicate and exotic plants during the cold New England winters.
From Emily Dickinson’s own writings, it is known that she cultivated nearly two dozen species in the small conservatory.
Plants you can sponsor:
Crocus spp. Crocus
Daphne odora Daphne
Dianthus spp. Carnation
Dianthus caryophyllus Gilliflower
Fern spp. Fern – various species
Fuchia hybrida Fuchia
Gardenia jasminoides Cape Jasmine
Geranium spp. Geranium
Heliotropium arborescens Heliotrope
Hyacinth orientalis Hyacinth
Jasminum officinale Jessamine
Leucanthemum spp. Daisy(Chrysanthemum)
Lilium spp. Lily
Lobularia maritima Sweet Alyssum
Nerium oleander Oleander
Oxalis spp. Oxalis
Primula spp. Primrose
Punica granata Pomegranate
Zantedeschia aethiopica Calla Lily
Daphne odora Daphne
Donate to the Conservatory Reconstruction Fund by visiting our online donation page, or by contacting the development office at 413-542-5084 or development@EmilyDickinsonMuseum.org.