Robert Whitley: America's Historic Woodworker

By Rusty Thomas

July 20, 2018: Recently, I was dining alone in a small, off-the-beaten path cafe in New Hope, PA--- a place with quirky charm and the perfect spot for breakfast or lunch while delving into the dailies. After the server took my order the owner/chef motioned me to the kitchen door to asked if she could introduce a friend who was also there. It was an elderly gentlemen and she promised it was not a hookup -- we both chuckled--and that he was an interesting guy who needed some cheering up. A "woodworker" is how she described him. That was an understatement!

I invited Robert Whitley to my table and we proceeded to enter his woodworking world. Because of the proximity to Philadelphia he told wonderful stories of his commissions for reproductions for Independence Hall, Trenton during the Revolution, Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Valley Forge, etc, as well as the restoration commissions.

For the next three hours I was pretty much enthralled with the treasures of our country that he'd reproduced. I asked which was the most difficult or the most national and he said the chess set he created as a Presidential gift from the United States to Russian people. That piece I knew about and that Nixon gave it to Brezhnev.

In the parking lot after lunch, he reached into his car to give me a booklet called 'Treasures of Our Nation'. It's all about his talent for our nation and I zeroed in on the center picture of what looked like the White House's HMS Resolute desk! Yes it was! He was the one who created the one for the Kennedy Library! For the next hour he told me about that commission alone and in dealing with the Kennedy Family and JBKO (and yes, we would be proud of her admiration and appreciation for his work.)

I also was fascinated by his story about President Carter allowing him in the Oval to take measurements etc. of the desk for three days while he was away.

My chance encounter with Robert Whitley is one I will always remember.

Image courtesy Kennedy Library.

Jackie's 1962 Christmas Visit to DC Village

By Steven Louis Brawley

December 22, 2017: Jackie avoided as many traditional "First Lady" appearances as possible. Her polite brush off policy is legendary. That's why her December 13, 1962 visit to DC Village is so important to acknowledge. DC Village supported and cared for the homeless and underprivileged children and seniors. Jet Magazine covered the event using the headline - "Jackie Kennedy Plays Santa Claus to Needy Negroes."  I was fortunate to buy a copy of the January 3, 1963 issue of the magazine featuring this story (scans below). More research needed on who set up the event and why Jackie agreed to it.

Images courtesy of Jet Magazine, January 3, 1962.

Return Jackie's Treasures to the White House

By Steven Louis Brawley

August 18, 2017: When the famous Jackie auction was held in 1996, there was hope that many Kennedy-related items would return to the White House. Well, that didn't happen. The White House Historical Association's coffers were not rich enough to afford the items. WHHA walked away with a simple, yet historic, sketch of a James Buchanan Blue Room reception. The sought after auction catalogue gave specific provenance to many of the items that were part of the Kennedy state and private quarters.

Where are these antiques now? Would the current owners ever consider donating the items to the White House? It would be great to have these treasures back at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. There was some good news, her pair of Jefferson owned Louis XVI Fauteuils did make their way to Monticello. The commode gifted to the Kennedy's by DeGaulle is in the JFK Library's collection.

Jackie knew her furniture and artifacts would bring big bucks. So, I don't harshly criticize her for not donating some items upon her death. I wish she had bequeathed some items. She created a legacy that ensured the White House was a museum with a curator. Was she mad? Maybe we should blame Clement Conger for erasing her Parish, Boudin, and DuPont decor.

Here is an inventory of Sotheby's auction items that I wish were back at the White House.  If anyone knows where these items are today, please let me know.

Yellow Oval Room/Treaty Room Table:

Louis XV mahogany table was among the furnishings in the Yellow Oval Room of the Kennedy White House.Was also used in the Treaty Room during a signing ceremony for the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. Jackie used in her 1040 library. Sotheby's winning bid: $1.43 million. (Sold to a European museum that was not been identified).

 

President's Dining Room Chandelier: 

Empire Chandelier used in the second floor President's Dining Room created by Jackie in the Kennedy White House. Sotheby's winning bid: $37,375.

Red Room Obelisks:

A pair of gold-mounted, multi-colored marble obelisks. Graced mantle of dining room at 1040. These obelisks were among the furnishings of the Red Room of the Kennedy White House Sotheby's winning bid: $85,000. 

Oval Office Pier Table:

Classical ormolu-mounted and carved mahogany marble-top pier table, New York, circa 1815. This pier table was among the furnishings in the Oval Office of the Kennedy White House. Sotheby's winning bid: $48,875.

Elevator Hall Card Table:

Charles Honore Lannuier, New York, circa 1815, swivel top mahogany card table. Used in the second floor elevator hall in the Kennedy White House. Sotheby's winning bid: $107,000. Either gifted or on loan to the Kennedy Library. Currently on display.

Images courtesy Kennedy Library and Sotheby's.

 

Haunting Beauty of Grey Gardens

By Steven L. Brawley

September 3, 2017: As summer ends, here is a salute to Jackie's love of gardens. At the White House, she worked with Bunny Mellon to restore the White House Rose Garden. As a child she spent time at her Aunt Edith's house - Grey Gardens near her maternal and paternal grandparent's estates in East Hampton. Jackie and her cousins would have roamed the Grey Garden's charming paths and hideaways.

The now famous house was designed by Joseph Greenleaf Thorp and the garden landscape was the work of Anna Gilman (Mrs. Robert C.) Hill. Jackie's paternal Aunt Edith Bouvier Beale owned the estate from the 1920s. These gorgeous 1916 era hand-colored glass lantern slides of Grey Gardens' landscape are credited to Frances Benjamin Johnston and Mattie Edwards Hewitt.

Images courtesy Library of Congress.

 

President Kennedy's White House Bedroom Fabric

By Steven L. Brawley

May 10, 2017: For many years I have been seeking information regarding the blue and white toile used in President Kennedy’s White House bedroom. A much more feminine design than one might expect – featuring flowers and angels/cherubs. (Image below courtesy JFK Library).

The fabric has always intrigued me. According to several accounts, the toile was not originally intended for the President’s room. However, when he saw Sister Parish’s fabric swatch printed with angels, he reportedly said, “I've always loved angels.” His selection would adorn his White House bedroom’s antique four poster bed and window curtains. President Johnson would retain the same décor.

Now, the 2016 JACKIE movie has provided me with more clues about the toile.

The sets for the Jackie movie are outstanding, and the attention to detail is superb. One of the rooms beautifully recreated is the President’s bedroom.

The movie’s production designer Jean Rabasse and his team, including set decorator Véronique Melery, dug into archives of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum to learn more about Jackie’s decor and restoration through her work with American decorator Sister Parish, decorative arts expert Henry Francis du Pont, and French designer Stéphane Boudin of Maison Jansen.

An article in SETDECOR helped me on my journey. The article featured décor and set design expert William De Biasio, who I know from several Facebook groups. The article also included interviews with Rabasse and Melery.

I kindly asked De Biasio if he would reach out to Melery, who has a noted 34 year career as a set decorator and production designer, to provide me with more details on the fabric. He kindly did so.

According to Melery, the fabric is named Toile Cherubins and is currently available through Charles BURGER of Paris. It is 59 percent linen and 41 percent cotton. It is now available in gold, red, peach, and the original blue.

Thanks to the new JACKIE movie for helping solve my toile mystery. (Image below courtesy Charles BURGER of Paris).

 

Copyright Steven L. Brawley, 2002-2015. All Rights Reserved.