PORTLAND — Even after a decade as director of Victoria Mansion on Danforth Street, Tom Johnson still is learning new things about the historic home, and he hopes a new video series will do the same for the public.
“The house has so many layers of history and detail,” Johnson said. “In cleaning the walls and ceilings of the rooms, we have found details that have been obscured for decades and are learning more about the techniques the original painters used. It’s a house full of detail, bottomless detail.”
Staff and volunteers have teamed up to launch a series of videos about each of the rooms of the ornate mansion, now a museum, which was closed to the public because of the pandemic.
The 15- to 30-minute videos started as a tool to train tour guides, but Johnson said he soon realized it would be illuminating for anyone to experience the museum that way.
“It’s not a substitution for visiting in person, but it offers something that even during a visit you might not see,” Johnson said.
The building, also known as the Morse-Libby House, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1970 and is considered “one of the finest and least altered examples in the United States of a large Italianate Villa-styled brick and brownstone town house.”
Three videos, which soon can be found at victoriamansion.org, have been completed so far. They feature detailed looks at the reception room, dining room and parlor, which has been undergoing a years-long restoration.
For her video of the dining room, volunteer guide Breda White tracked down images from an 1800s architecture and interior design source book and compares them to the furnishings in the room, a detail that isn’t included in the tours.
“People can see and make that visual connection that aren’t possible if they visit the house,” said White, who also filmed a video about the house’s European inspirations.
The exterior of the house, named for Queen Victoria, was inspired by Osborne House, the home the queen and Prince Albert shared in Isle of Wight, England. German-born Gustave Herter designed the interior and much of the interior painting was done by Giuseppe Guidicini, a native of Italy.
The museum’s education committee created a video on tea parties. Each spring/summer the museum hosts an authentic Victorian tea party on its side lawn.
“Hopefully it gets people interested and curious about going to the tea party in person next year,” said Carlene Magno, the education committee chairperson and a museum trustee.
Other rooms that will be documented include spaces off limits to the public, such as the cellar and tower room, which like other parts of the house features trompe l’oeil, a two-dimensional painting style made to look 3-D.
Another future video will focus on the mansion’s servants.
Victoria Mansion was built between 1858 and 1860 for Olivia and Ruggles Morse, who made his wealth as a hotelier in New York, Boston and New Orleans. Following Ruggles’ death, his wife sold sold the home and most of its furnishings in 1895 to J.R. Libby, a local dry goods merchant. The Libby family lived in the home until 1929. After more than a decade being vacant, and with the site on the verge of being sold to construct a gas station, the house was saved and opened as a museum in 1941.
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