Antique beams and wide plank floors still characterize the 1730s Brouwer House in Schenectady’s old Stockade neighborhood. Now a series of studios for artists and performers have been installed in one of the city’s oldest homes, which was gifted to the Schenectady County Historical Society in 2017.
Many historical societies face the question of what to do with a historic house they’ve been generously gifted. While there are exceptions, many (most?) house museums scrape by, defer maintenance, and lack the resources or support to maintain collections and provide public interpretation.
Stephanie K. Meeks at the National Trust called them part of a “A 20th Century Paradigm.” In Old Boston, the Globe asked “Do we have too many?” Even at Traditional Building they are saying their time has past.
The Schenectady County Historical Society is engaging in on an innovative approach for a historic society, to sustainably protect an important building in the Stockade Historic District.
The Society has transformed its new property at 14 North Church Street into an arts space, Brouwer House Creative. After analyzing options for sustainable care of the 1730s home, the Society is betting on a creative space for local artists and performers. The house is filled with history and with living arts. The approach is one way community historians can help protect their historic resources.
This November 30, from 10 am to 4 pm, the artists of Brouwer House Creative will open the house to the public for a Studio Sale. Unique and specialty items will be available from the artists. All are invited to tour the property, meet the artists-in-residence and buy their wares, and learn how the Schenectady County Historical Society is changing what it means to operate a “historic house.” More information is available on the Schenectady County Historical Society website.
Photos, from above: Leah LaFera’s soap crafting space; Lost And Found Studio; and Brouwer House Creative, provided.
Mary Elizabeth Stewart says
While Schenectady Historical Society is to be commended for its efforts, I ponder the following, not in reference to SCHS but in general as related to house museums. Maybe the stories being told at the historic house no longer excite or motivate people to think beyond the visitation experience to relevance or relationship of the story for today. Maybe the past style of look, listen, don’t touch needs to be evaluated. We live in a world that encourages interaction. Are visitors being invited to share their stories, to explain why they chose to visit, where they come from, etc? And the days of depending on tours, school groups, visitation are, as we all know, no longer sufficient to support the needs of a historic house. This is not a time to do away with historic houses. No, historic houses are not dead. This is a time to ask ourselves why we preserve historic houses, what can they contribute to the community, what can we learn from those who preceded us that is embedded in the house story, what is the relationship of the house and its story with us today? A time of challenge but also a time of examining how we can remain true to our missions while thinking differently about what we do and why we do it.
In NYC they have a lot of “art” in house museums, corsets a la art interpretation,bongo dancing on the front yard etc.But mostly used for outings for school kids & baby sitting services,cookies and coloring books .The new wave seems to be an over abundance and emphasis of the role of minorities importance being exaggerated.A sort of rewrite. It is sad to say there is very little connection to history when it is not being taught .I do understand the need for money and this work around,but still it is sad not to teach history on a intelligent level.
I concur with Mary Elizabeth Stewart’s comment above. I applaud the dedicated museum professionals around the state and the country who are committed to reinterpreting their historic homes and telling more inclusive stories about those who lived and worked on these sites. For example, visitors to Historic Huguenot Street learn about the African Americans who were enslaved in New Paltz, as well as the history and culture of the Esopus Munsee. In the South, visitors to many plantations encounter difficult truths about the history of enslavement, and the roles that African Americans played in shaping U.S. history. This commitment to reinterpretation, as well as a focus on creative uses and community accessibility along the lines described in the article, has the potential to reinvigorate interest in historic houses.
I visited the Brouwer House in September during my first (but not last!) Stockade Walkabout. The artists really gave the home a lived-in welcoming vibe. As a history buff, I can’t help but make comparisons to the early residents, crafting and making implements in this house, to what is going on in the house now. Btw, I was at Historic Huguenot Street last spring. Historic Huguenot did not “gloss over” the facts. I could see that a couple of visitors were uncomfortable with this. Good. The tour guide did his job well.