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Home > Publications > Historic New England Magazine > Fall 2002 > The Spirit of the House

The Spirit of the House

ABOVE Ati Gropius Johansen refines the arrangement of objects on her father's desk prior to documentary photography of the house interiors by SPNEA.

BELOW Walter Gropius with thirteen-year-old Ati at the house in 1938 during construction. Courtesy Archives of American Art.

The home of Walter Gropius and his family in Lincoln, Massachusetts, is filled with personal touches-coats and hats hanging in the hall, an Olivetti typewriter in the study, Ise Gropius's earrings on the dressing table, black-and-white towels hanging in the bathroom. Visitors constantly remark that the house feels as if the Gropiuses had just gone out for a stroll. Every time that happens, SPNEA has the Gropiuses' daughter, Ati Gropius Johansen, to thank.

For nearly twenty years, Mrs. Johansen has worked with SPNEA staff to bring the appearance of the Gropius House closer to the time when her parents were living there. She has offered special workshops for staff on the history of the modern movement, arranged furnishings and objects inside the house, and recorded hundreds of hours of taped recollections about daily life at home. She has given SPNEA objects that had once been in the house because she felt they would illustrate her father's design philosophy. In addition to being the family home, the house had always been a teaching tool for students, architects, and visitors from all parts of the world.

Throughout SPNEA's extensive restoration of the house and landscape, which has been under way for the last fifteen years, Mrs. Johansen has provided invaluable advice. Most recently, she made and donated arrangements of silk flowers, replicating the kinds of arrangements her mother used to place around the house at different times of the year. She fine-tuned object placements so that curtains, fine art, jewelry, and even dishes and forks are correctly located. Before anything could accidentally be shifted, documentary photographs were taken to create a permanent record. SPNEA has benefitted greatly from Ati Johansen's dedication and guidance, which will ensure that the interpretation of Gropius House will always be both full of life and accurate.

-Peter Gittleman
Director of Interpretation & Education

From the CHAIR
As a museum of New England's cultural history, SPNEA's collection of objects, houses, and landscapes preserves the past and our collective memories. By understanding and interpreting their embodied stories, we define our sense of place, our sense of community, and ourselves. This issue of Historic New England illustrates several ways that individuals and families have significantly contributed to our collections. Miss Ellen Stone of Lexington, Massachusetts, donated more than a thousand carefully documented household objects that tangibly teach us about late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century New England material culture. The touch of Ati Johansen, Walter Gropius's daughter, is found in every corner of Gropius House in Lincoln, Massachusetts. Over the past two decades, Mrs. Johansen has been a central figure in the interpretation of her childhood home and landscape. Through her work, SPNEA is better able to engage the thousands of yearly visitors to Gropius House. Both SPNEA and the modern movement are greatly in her debt. Finally, due to the generous donations of friends of SPNEA, we were able to acquire the wonderful looking glass that has been in the Barrell family of York, Maine, since its purchase in London in 1763. The rich history of this piece will be shared through our traveling exhibition, Cherished Possessions, and then in the Lang-don House interpretation. Each of these contributions has made a significant impact on the stories we tell and our ability to inspire others to discover their sense of place.

- Janina Longtine, M.D.

The Spirit of the House