Saturday, February 6, 2010

Monticello as a Museum

This link is to a Museum Review in the NY Times by Edward Rothstein about Monticello. It discusses the opening up of Jefferson's house to the public and the new exhibits they have. I find this especially interesting, considering Jefferson's view of domestic space. As we read in class, Jefferson built Monticello to divide public and private space; most of the space went to himself, where he could work or study or contemplate presumably without distraction. However, as discussed in the article above, the once private dwelling and space is now open to the public, allowing all to see what Jefferson tried to conceal. Despite his efforts to put the slave quarters below the crest of the hill, emphasizing at least a front of equality and democracy, everyone can now see how he and the slaves on his property lived. In many of the rooms, "the lives of black slaves are inseparable from accounts of Monticello’s domestic life," (Rothstein)--unlike in Jefferson's own time, the slaves are given equal status with the owner of the house. Despite the original intention of the domestic architecture planned in Monticello, anyone, regardless of class or race, can stand in Jefferson's bedroom, or dining room, or go upstairs to visit his dome. This is definitely much more true to the spirit of democracy and equality than Jefferson's paradoxical call for freedom in light of his own practices, but it does change the intentions of the private space of homes (though Monticello clearly isn't a home anymore).
The article mentioned above also discusses Poplar Forest, a smaller, more secluded home designed by Jefferson to be a sort of getaway. The article says that archeologists "have uncovered the relics of slave quarters" (Rothstein), meaning this, too, was a house full of slaves that is now being open to investigation. Poplar Forest and Monticello are both being made accessible through tours and interactive exhibits, bringing the public into Jefferson's personal life. Monticello offers a unique learning opportunity, as a historic house, work of architecture, and museum, but one pauses to wonder what Jefferson would have thought if he could see the way his private space is being toured inside and out.

No comments:

Post a Comment