Beginning in January of this year I embarked on a part-time, six-month fellowship as part of a historic initiative to reinstate Cheekwood as an American country era estate. A furnishing plan was created for the purpose of researching and reviving interior elements of the residence as they were originally intended by the Cheek family and their residential and landscape architect, Bryant Fleming, from New York. The plan included the family’s library, which was fortunate enough to receive a substantial donation of books from the Lazenby family that included similar titles—sometimes identical—to those owned by the Cheeks. Information was gleaned from a variety of historical documents, and a 1932 household inventory played a key role.
My first assignment was to create a comprehensive inventory of the donor’s collection in their Belle Meade residence. Unexpectedly during this initial phase of the project the Lazenby family sold their home, which resulted in the transfer of nearly 800 volumes of books to the mansion in a matter of days. Luckily we were able to draw up a temporary loan document since there was not sufficient time to produce a donor agreement.
The next step was assessing the conservation and preservation needs of the collection. In addition to selecting an antiquarian book restorer, I needed to source “do-it-yourself” tools such as preservation paste and cleaning sponges to treat the leather-bound books.
Another part of the process was working with Cheekwood’s digital asset management system, known as “EmbARK Gallery Systems,” designed specifically for the museum’s art collection rather than books. A system was devised that customized their metadata schema to better accommodate book records and allowed an import from an Excel spreadsheet. The final phase included book appraisal and exhibition planning, although the latter will require revisiting closer to installation in the spring of 2017.
Working on this unique project provided a fascinating insight into the Cheek family, 1930s book trends and reading habits, the Depression era in the South, private libraries, and education. Certainly, the result of this historic initiative can only enhance a visitor’s experience on encountering the mansion.
— Millie Fullmer, interim director of visual resources, Department of History of Art, Vanderbilt University