Jacqueline Kennedy Redesigns the White House.

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You may also visit: https://www.raabcollection.com/content/americashistory/camelot.aspx for more details on this collection.

From the moment that John F. Kennedy was elected president in November 1960, it was clear that the incoming First Family would bring an unaccustomed sense of style, grace and optimism to the White House. Jacqueline Kennedy was a young...

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Jacqueline Kennedy Redesigns the White House.

You may also visit: https://www.raabcollection.com/content/americashistory/camelot.aspx for more details on this collection.

From the moment that John F. Kennedy was elected president in November 1960, it was clear that the incoming First Family would bring an unaccustomed sense of style, grace and optimism to the White House. Jacqueline Kennedy was a young woman of notable beauty, at once wistful and luminous, and of acute intelligence and exacting expectation. Her response to life was aesthetic, and to her appreciation of the arts, Mrs. Kennedy added a passionate sense of history. These qualities made her the ideal person to initiate a quest to bring beauty and history to the White House, one that was brilliantly executed, and led to the most influential redecoration in its history.

On February 23, 1961, hardly a month after the inauguration, the 12-member Fine Arts Committee for the White House came into existence as a body empowered to develop restoration plans and "locate authentic furniture of the date of the building of the White House and raise funds to purchase this furniture as gifts." Henry F. du Pont, founder of the Winterthur Museum and revered as the most important collector of American decorative arts of his day, was named chair with Mrs. Kennedy serving as honorary chair. The grand parlors – the Green Room, Red Room, and Blue Room – were deemed the areas of highest priority. The State Dining Room and the East Room, at either end of the house, were equally high-profile areas for the committee. A primary aim was to procure furniture and artwork that was either owned by previous presidents or representative of particular periods in the building’s history. The Fine Arts Committee and its devoted mem- bers would send out pleas for furniture, paintings, busts, chandeliers, rugs and other items that had been or might have been at one time or another in the Executive Mansion. They were astonished by the response, as they were barraged with offers from extraordinary presidential heirlooms to old quilts, spittoons, and paintings.

Mrs. Kennedy’s next goal was to create and staff a White House infrastructure to accomplish this project and others in the future. On March 29, Winterthur-trained Lorraine Pearce was appointed the first curator of the White House, Sally Powers was named her secretary, and Janet Felton was selected secretary to the Fine Arts Committee.

The First Lady turned the White House inside out and imprinted her own style upon the mansion. According to an official who worked with her, "In public, she was elegant, aloof, dignified, and regal. In private, she was casual, impish, and irreverent. She had a will of iron, with more determination than anyone I have ever met. Yet she was so soft-spoken, so deft and subtle, that she could impose that will upon people without their ever knowing it." Relaxed and uninhibited, she was always popping up everywhere, wearing slacks, kicking off her shoes, sitting on the floor, hair flying in every direction. She was highly organized but rarely held herself to a schedule. She conducted "spelunking" expeditions into dusty storerooms and warehouses in search of forgotten treasures.

Jacqueline Kennedy focused on three additional White House needs. The first was a permanent collection of American paintings. A Special Committee for White House Paintings was set up, headed by the artist James W. Fosburgh. Within two years his Committee gathered more than 150 paintings, prints and sculptures. The second was the lack of a fine working library for the White House. What Mrs. Kennedy had in mind were the "American Classics" – the two thousand or so volumes most essential to an understanding of the American experience. James T Babb, the Yale University librarian, headed the selection committee. Mrs. Kennedy directed the committee to choose the "writings that have influenced American thinking…”Another need was for a White House guidebook – incredibly, none existed. With the formation of the White House Historical Association in November 1961, Mrs. Kennedy gave creation of such a book priority, and the result was The While House: An Historic Guide. More than 600,000 copies were sold in the Kennedy years, and it has been selling steadily ever since.

Mrs. Kennedy’s efforts to restore the executive mansion won enthusiastic national support. For three days in January 1962, CBS correspondent Charles Collingwood was filmed interviewing her on a first-ever behind-the-scenes tour of the history, rooms, and contents of the White House. An estimated 56 million viewers watched the hour-long tour broadcast on all three national networks on Valentine’s Day that year.

The Kennedys' personal interest in making the White House a showcase of art, culture and history ultimately reached beyond its walls to affect the American people's sense of their own history. We are proud to present the papers of Sally Powers, secretary to Lorraine Pearce, consisting of in excess of 150 items, all directly relating to Jacqueline Kennedy’s White House redecoration. Included are draft letters and retained copies of letters, mainly written by Mrs. Pearce and Mrs. Kennedy, reports to Mrs. Kennedy and the President, photographs and other mementos. A few are very rare ALS’s of Mrs. Kennedy as First lady on White House letterhead. The correspondence reveals such valuable information as the specifics of President Kennedy’s interests in the project, the First Lady’s style and management skills, and the details of suggestions and comments made by her and the committees. Altogether, it is probably the most significant manuscript group of Jacqueline Kennedy ever offered for sale.

Manuscript Material

Mrs. Kennedy turns on all her personal charm and political skills to cajole an important chair from the DAR

A draft letter as First Lady on White House letterhead, October 17, 1961, to the President General of the Daughters of the American Revolution. “I am certain you know of the Bellange chair ordered by President Monroe for the Blue Room, which is now in the DAR museum in Washington. If the DAR will lend this chair to the White House, I would like to have you present it – & have the presentation covered by the press…Because the DAR has such roots in America’s past, I feel it would be most fitting to have them present the 1st publicized piece of Presidential furniture that has been returned to the W. House. I would hope that their fine example would encourage other museums & collectors to return other pieces of Presidential furniture…”

The East Room obtains its painting of Lincoln’s reception for Grant

A draft letter on White House letterhead with handwritten comments by Mrs. Kennedy, addressed to Robert Breedon of the National Geographic Society. “It is thrilling to finally have the painting of the Lincoln reception for Grant as a part of the White House collection, and I wish to thank you for initiating this ‘coup.’ How fitting to have it here where the event took place. Thank you for your share in making this contribution possible.” She then adds, “I think it is almost our most exciting contribution so far.” This painting remains in the East Room to this day.

Jackie wants to hang the paintings in the Red Room

Draft letter as First Lady on White House letterhead, October 31, 1961, to James W. Fosburgh, the chairman of the paintings committe. “I am sure the way you have lighted your pictures will be a solution to our problems. So if there is anything we should do to Red Room before walls are rehung – would you tell Janet. Perhaps you should even come & look again – as we will hang pictures pretty much as they are now to cut down on all that red. Thanks, JBK.”

Mrs. Kennedy explains why she undertook the White House restoration project

The Project’s Purpose Was to Create a “feeling of pride in the nation’s most beloved house – & a feeling of pride in our country’s history.”

Betty Beale was a longtime syndicated society columnist for the Washington Star newspaper. Draft partly Typed and partly Autograph Letter Signed on White House letterhead, May 11, 1962, to Beale. “As you can see, there are only 8 pictures. That is because we decided the only way for our Committee to accomplish something really worthwhile was to settle only for the best – even if it takes us much longer to raise the money to acquire them. All these pictures are very expensive – all have a reason for being in the W. House. They are of great Americans or historical figures of interest…So the pictures we acquire should all have a certain reason & appropriateness for being in the White House. They can be of people or events that are a part of our history – of significant American landscapes or historic houses. But they still can and must be great pictures or we will defeat our own purpose – of acquiring art for the W. House which will augment the feeling everyone has when they come here – a feeling of pride in the nation’s most beloved house – & a feeling of pride in our country’s history.” She signs “Affectionately, Jackie.”

The First Lady confides the Kennedy White House is a madhouse

Draft Autograph Letter Signed as First Lady on White House letterhead, June 29 1962, to friend, philanthropist and committe member, Jane Engelhard. “Am dashing this off before we leave for Mexico…I am thrilled with Family Dining Room…Jack’s office is a madhouse as you can imagine…”

The First Lady says what interests JFK most is the White House Library

Professor James Babb, who was given the task of assembling a definitive list of books and stocking the White House Library, selected a committee to assist with this project that included the editor of the Adams and Jefferson papers, members of the White House Fine Arts Advisory Committee and a host of distinguished scholars, librarians and publishers. A typed note to Mrs. Kennedy from Janet Felton, 1963. “The news has leaked out about Mr. Babb. Pam is being pressed for a confirmation or release and could use some of his ‘statement.’” The First Lady then writes, “Janet – call Babb…give him a rough idea of space we have – so a) he will fill it up, b) won’t go overboard & give us enough books for a Library of Congress…Tell him the Pres. is more excited about this than anything. I showed him the plan – the sooner the better.”

Other Manuscripts

There are 52 photographs, many original; files with over 100 retained copies of White House correspondence relating to the redecoration; numerous reports (some to the President and First Lady) detailing all aspects of the project; copies of Acts of Congress that provided for the protection and preservation of the treasures Mrs. Kennedy was bringing into the White House; her draft introduction for the White House guidebook; and much more. Among the retained copies is this fascinating one.

The First Lady manipulates Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson

“I have worked myself to the bone for the last year and a half to make the White House what it should be, not for myself, but for the people who see it…”

A copy of a letter dated June 5, 1962, from Mrs. Kennedy to Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson, showing her enlisting the skills of the country’s most consummate politician on the mundane errand of securing a chandelier for her. “I have decided it would be best for just one White House chandelier from the United States Capitol…I would like to request either the one that was in your office or the one in the Senate Committee on Appropriations Room. These are the old East Room chandeliers of 1873…As everything in the room was used in the White House at the time of President Grant, there is just no reason, except Mr. Stewart’s stubborness, why the chandelier should not be there…Dear Lyndon, let us face a most unpleasant reality – Mr. Stewart…doesn’t want to give up something under his wing…I simply cannot understand such selfishness. I have worked myself to the bone for the last year and a half to make the White House what it should be, not for myself, but for the people who see it and for the future…I have never been so determined about anything as I am to get that chandelier from Mr. Stewart – and get it we will!…You, who have accomplished so many masterpieces of persuasion in the Capitol, are the only person who can make him see the light…” One can imagine how the once-powerful Johnson felt, marginalized from real power by the President and now reduced to braving the First Lady’s cajoling and having to browbeat a Capitol employee on her behalf for a chandelier.

“Don't let it be forgot, That once there was a spot,

For one brief, shining moment that was known as Camelot”

After the Kennedy tenure in the White House proved so short-lived and its intellectual and artistic glimmerings had faded into the recesses of history, the redecoration came to be seen as more than just a project, but a cultural flowering. Ultimately it became emblematic of the brief, golden Kennedy years, an era remembered in almost legendary fashion as Camelot.

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