French Students in Cultural Heritage Exchange Program Engage in Archival Work at Lyndhurst

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by Linda Viertel – 

French students, in cooperation with the French Heritage Society, have been learning about American cultural heritage at the Lyndhurst Estate in Tarrytown this summer. The exchange program places French students throughout the United States as well as American students studying in France. Through their work/study, students from both countries gain a knowledge and appreciation of one another’s culture.

Julie Bernasconi and Marie Bord, the two winning and hardworking French students from L’Ecole du Louvre on work/study grants from the French Heritage Society, have been busily archiving maps and paintings long-stored at Lyndhurst’s greenhouse service building. They arrived at a time when the curators were doing regular maintenance on this Jay and Helen Gould collection, so it fell to  Mademoiselles Bernasconi and Bord  to clean, catalogue, measure, photograph, check the status of the frames and repackage the artworks in archival material for preservation, all of which they diligently completed during their short two-month stay.

Bernasconi, hailing from Fontainebleau, and Bord, from Nantes, have been studying art history and museumology for four years in Paris, with a one-year internship in Leiden, Holland. Marie applied to her internship at Lyndhurst because, as she said, “My specialty is in design and collections. In the 19th century, Jay Gould was deeply influenced by European art and was an important American collector.”  Julie was interested in doing research on “Gould’s beautiful and unique collection here in the Hudson Valley, so historically fascinating,” she said.

They have both spent their time working on Gould’s map collection also stored in the greenhouse service building. Gould, a cartographer when he was young, amassed a collection of European and Japanese maps, plus four of Delaware County. His maps were originally displayed in his mansion along with his painting collection, but were taken down long ago.

Bernasconi and Bord were tasked with opening the maps and taking photographs, cleaning and cataloguing them, collecting the pieces that were detached from the originals, and writing condition reports. They then carefully rewrapped them in acid-free paper for re-storage.

Bernasconi examining a portrait of Jay Gould

One of their most exciting discoveries, when working on their maps project, was finding an American flag given to Helen Gould created to honor the Raleigh Raid of April 11, 1899 during the Spanish-American War. By chance, they discovered a picture of this exact flag in the stored collection, a serendipitous relationship uncovered just before July 4th.

Bernasconi and Bord in front of their summer’s artwork restoration project at Lyndhurst.

Other art maintenance work included analysis and minor cleaning of a Jay Gould portrait painting in addition to other Italian, French and Chinese artworks. Complementing their work on Lyndhurst’s stored art collection, they helped enhance a book entitled The Greenhouse at Lyndhurst for republication. The famous Lord and Burnham greenhouse, dating from 1881, was considered the largest greenhouse in the country in its day and was built at the company’s original factory In Irvington. Bernasconi and Bord’s mission was to find new documents and color photos in the Lord and Burnham archives at the New York Botanical Garden and at the Westchester County Historical Society housed in the Westchester Archives Building. While the book’s text will remain the same, the design, layout and photos will be revised in a new template with their archival help.

Tarrytown was the first place either young woman had visited in the United States. The French Heritage Society  fellows lived in one of Lyndhurst’s service buildings with four other preservation interns and enjoyed biking throughout the rivertowns, visiting the Historic Hudson Valley sites and the Rockefeller Estate, as well as New York City and its multiple museums. The Frick Museum was their favorite.  Their engaging and supportive staff mentors at Lyndhurst were Krystyn Hastings-Silver, Assistant Director and Curator at Lyndhurst, and Emma Gencarelli, Special Projects Assistant.

When asked what Bord and Bernasconi would miss most about their stay at Lyndhurst, they both agreed that it would be very difficult to return to a city after living in such a beautiful countryside. They acknowledged, “The staff was all so nice and everyone made us feel at home.” They both loved the barbecues, as well as trying s’mores and other unique American food. But, in August, Bord and Bernasconi will return to their native France, where the cuisine is, arguably, the finest in the world.

During their short time at Lyndhurst this summer, these two young exchange students’ diligence and professionalism have helped our local National Trust treasure,  Lyndhurst, expand its cultural patrimony. And, the French Heritage Society’s program has given Bord and Bernasconi a unique experience, helping them understand and appreciate our American culture.

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