Edward L. and Judith Keenan
JC: I’m James Carder. It’s Wednesday, April the 8th, 2009. I’m at the Guest House of Dumbarton Oaks with Judy and Ned Keenan. Ned was Director at Dumbarton Oaks between 1998 and 2007. Among many other things, he is credited with greatly improving and enlarging the physical campus and positioning the organization to meet its mission in the twenty-first century. Ned, why don’t we start with when you first arrived? I believe that you came thinking you would be here for only a year and Judy would remain in Boston.
NK: That’s correct.
JC: Could you speak to that and what changed your plans?
NK: Well, I have to relate a conversation I had with President Rudenstine. I had been, I think, chairman of the search committee to replace Angeliki Laiou, and we failed. We didn’t – it could’ve been scheduling problems – but we didn’t come up with a candidate. So, I had to go and tell Neil this news and he said, “Well, okay, that’s your responsibility. Why don’t you take the acting directorship for a year?” So, I said – Neil’s an old friend – and I said, “OK, but don’t think that you’re going to get me into this for many years. Judy’s working at Commonwealth and we’re quite happy in Boston, and I’ll do it”– I’ve never turned down anything at Harvard, any responsibility – so I said, “I’ll do it, but only for one year. You’ve got to promise me you’re not going to come back to me and say, you know, ‘Why don’t you stay?’ or ‘Why don’t you take another year?’” What I was afraid of, what happens with things like that, is you get an acting person– I was once acting Director of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies and I was asked to stay on again and I didn’t want to do that. So, Neil smiled and he said, “Why don’t you try it, and why don’t we talk about this in a few months?” And I enjoyed it. And we were preparing to do some serious work and it just seemed to me that it was a lovely spot, so Judy joined me in 2000. And I guess if you have to say, the rest is history. It’s ancient history.
JC: Judy – you had to leave Commonwealth then to take, I guess, a retirement at that point. Is that right?
JK: Well, yeah, retirement. I noticed something right away when we were out here, which was that something appealed to Ned in the physical surroundings. And it seemed to me that it had something to do with growing up in a rural area in western New York, and he was in his element so to speak. And it was quite clear that it was a fit, so I went back then and said I would be leaving in eighteen months time to give them time to do a search.
JC: You then within a fairly short period of time started working again on the Hill, is that correct?
JK: Not for about fifteen months.
JC: Not for fifteen months?
JK: No, I had said I would not be heading another school and I would not go back to the Hill. I didn’t know what I would do. I had spent about six or eight months at the Children’s Defense Fund working on a special project on School of Choice which was actually very interesting at the time and very helpful subsequently in understanding the fights of our education. But then the Democrats took the Senate, and Jim Jeffords left the Republican Party in the summer of 2001 – and we started on September 10, 2001.
JC: So, work to be done, you discover at Dumbarton Oaks. What work was that?
NK: Well, a lot. The place I think had become a little bit set in its ways, and it seemed to me there were considerable opportunities. And we talked about –I just thought about Hector’s kitchen. Do you remember what Hector’s kitchen was like?
JC: I do.
NK: Do you know that when we did the demolition here we had to take the refrigerator and stoves and things out of there, and when we looked under them you could see right to the basement? You couldn’t walk in there. You had to walk on the joists. And in a sense that’s a kind of symbol of the general state of things. Everything was fine-looking and Hector was doing a wonderful job and the people were happy with the arrangements and so on, but it was clearly past its prime physically and not really taking advantage of all of its opportunities. So, we decided to expand it a little bit, to improve it. And you remember what the library situation was?
JC: I do.
NK: We had books in every closet upstairs – these were all bedrooms and dining rooms and living rooms and bathrooms and closets – and there were bookshelves everywhere. And the books, the arrangement was known only by the librarians, basically, and that meant that people couldn’t really browse properly, except they would find all kinds of serendipitous things where they went to look for book A and they found book B. But it was really a terrible mess. There were all kinds of things that had started out well and had once worked but had reached probably their use-by date.
JC: Of course, Bill Tyler in the ’70s already wanted to build a new library.
NK: Oh, sure.
JC: He did— a subterranean North Vista library, and I believe you took a look at that.
NK: Well, we looked at that idea, and it didn’t work for a number of reasons. And we had pretty much impossible relations with the – what is that called? – The Association of American Gardeners, Landscape Gardeners. What is it called?
JK: Well, they’ve got “landscape,” but I think you’re right.
NK: It’s a big professional organization, the hundredth anniversary plaque of which is presumably on Jan’s table at the moment. It was on mine. And we went back and forth with them and tried to sweet talk them and they were adamant. And there was an element of genderism in it all because of Beatrix Farrand and so on. And then one day I was walking around, and you may remember there was a great plane tree outside what is the cottage, the security cottage, down roughly where that pathway is now, and it got hit by lightning. And then we decided to do some work on it, and the workmen came to put some guy-wires up to hold the branches and they put one of these bolts in, an eye bolt, to attach the guy-wires to. And the guy pounded it in and it went right through and then you heard it, rattled all the way down to the bottom of the tree. And the tree was really hollow. I don’t know whether you remember looking at that stump but the only thing supporting that tree– it was like a straw, and a soda fountain straw you can put a certain amount of weight on it if you just do it like this [cups one hand as if holding a mug and presses directly on top of it with other hand], but if you twist it, it’s gone. And that tree was just about gone. At that time it was completely hollow inside, so we had to take it down. And I walked out there one day when they had taken it down, and I looked up and I realized that this is a message from God. That this space – I felt like Brigham Young!
JK: It was a burning bush.
NK: And so we junked all those other plans, all of which had been involved with all kinds of contrivances. I don’t know whether you saw some of those early plans – you probably have because they’re in the Archives – but they involved skylights and all kinds of things that were probably a bad idea for a library anyway, and it was all a way to conceal a library. And what we decided to do was just give up on the formal gardens and move somewhere else. Well, then we had the problem of preserving the courtyard and – you remember the orchid house. We thought of removing that, but ran into some preservationist resistance and were essentially told by some commission that that courtyard was a historic site and had to be preserved.
JC: In fact, the building couldn’t even be taken apart and then rebuilt where it had been.
NK: That’s right. And the building was in terrible shape. I don’t know whether you remember. It was musty and it was basically – the walls – it was a shell of a building with basically one brick thick. And when we decided to put a real roof on it, we had to reinforce it because it had– so in any case that was a given. Then we went back and forth among architects. We had a number of architects whom we parted ways with, all of whom had seemed perfectly nice, capable to us at the beginning. But, eventually we reopened the competition, and Bob Venturi’s name came to the top. And I went and looked at some of his buildings. He had been doing all kinds of historic supplements, additions to historic buildings, and of course he has— I don’t know if you’ve read Learning from Las Vegas, but he’s a controversial guy. And he loves controversy. He’s a perfect passive-aggressive person because he’s Italian by background, but he’s a Quaker. So he really was – and that by the way led to a lot of problems with Carter Brown who was at that time the Chairman of the Fine Arts Commission, and it had a thirty-three-year vendetta with Venturi and—
JK: But you did not know about that –
NK: I didn’t know about that.
JK: – until much later.
NK: Bob Venturi had never built anything in the District of Columbia. He was the original architect for that thing down on Pennsylvania Avenue – there’s an army and navy memorial, 13th Street – but that was never really built. It was designed, and they did some of the basic work – the underground work, but it never got built. And Carter and Bob were just like well, here’s a kid, this Italian-Quaker from the wrong side of the tracks in Philadelphia and this Brahman aristocrat from Providence whose father, when he was born, was the richest child in America. And that was a saga. And we kept going back and forth to the Fine Arts Commission. Venturi had a plan, which eventually we called Plan A, which was a perfectly nice design – it’s pretty much what was built – but Carter didn’t like it and he said, “It’s not Dumbarton Oaks.” And I said to him one time, “Look, Philip Johnson is not Dumbarton Oaks.” And he said, “Oh, but that’s a jewel.” And I said, “Well, you know, let’s see.” In any case, what happened with the Fine Arts Commission was that we took Bob’s original Plan A in, and it was turned down. Carter at the time dominated that board. I mean he really, I would say, tyrannized the Fine Arts Commission. No one else spoke; no one resisted his views. He’d been there for thirty-three years, and he had been Director of the National Gallery, and he was an authoritative voice, so the decision was the first time we took it in, it needed some more work. So we came up with Plan B, and then we came up with Plan C, and then we came up with Plan D, which was so different from Bob’s original plan, design that I really was going to go up to Philadelphia and tell him – and what had happened was that some of the guys who worked with Bob – I’ve forgotten their names now.
JK: Jim Wallace?
NK: Jim Wallace and the other one—what was his name? Jim Wallace and somebody else said to me they wanted the work. And they were getting a little nervous in the firm because Bob was seventy-some odd years old and architect firms live and die, and so they wanted the work because I think it could be that Bob’s firm was not getting as much work as it had been.
JK: There was also a point where Bob said he would be – after any number of iterations – that he would be willing to have the firm build the building, but he did not want his name on it.
NK: That’s right. That was the punch line of my story. He said he didn’t want his name on the building. So we were ready to go in with Plan – [counting] A, B, C, D, E – E, and Carter died. And Carter died quite suddenly. He retired I think from all of his many chairmanships and so on on Friday and died on Monday. And he went in for some kind of radical treatment, and it didn’t work. The next meeting of the Commission, of the Fine Arts Commission, was the remaining commission. It was ten days later, and they were all on Tuesdays. It was a Tuesday, probably eight days later, and the Vice Chairman – these are all appointed by the president, these members – and the President hadn’t had time to reappoint a commission, reappoint someone to replace Carter, and so the Deputy Chairman was in the chair and there were only six of them instead of seven. And we went in with Plan D or whatever it was, and they really had a discussion for the first time in my presence. And one of them said, “You know, this design is sort of half-and-half. It’s neither fish nor fowl. It’s not a Venturi building and it’s not an English cottage. Why don’t you come back with the original design?” And I did and I bless that woman, who had a hyphenated name I forgot, for the rest of my days. So we came back the next Tuesday with the original plan and it was approved in ten minutes, after months of fiddling around with Carter. And I think it works. God knows what the roof leaks are like and whatever, but it has turned out to be a very nice space. Well, then there were some episodes in construction. Do you remember when they were setting those pylons into the bedrock? They had to go down to the bedrock. They were drilling, and they had this enormous drill out there. It sort of looked like a crane. And they were going down into the rock to do something, and there was water flowing over the bit of the drill to cool it. And the drill operator noticed that things were going pretty easily, and he thought it’d be hard-going through the rock, and he actually I think turned off the water at a certain point because he was making so much progress through he thought that it was not really hard rock there. What it turned out was that he had gone through and old storm sewer which we had never found, and all this water that he was putting on his bit and all kinds of other cement – they were putting a slurry into those holes. And this slurry went out into rock creek, down through the old abandoned storm sewer and into Rock Creek. And a jogger noticed it and called the police. And one night we were coming home from dinner – I think we were downtown and we drove up – and we saw an enormous swarm of police cars and emergency vehicles and lights flashing and sirens and so on and all of these guys in space suits from the EPA tramping down through the woods to try to figure out what the problem was. And of course they thought that this was a way – you remember Cheney’s undisclosed location is just across the way here – and they thought that there was an attempt to poison him or something like that. And that was a very – and they closed it down. The EPA actually stopped construction at some point. It was a terrible moment because I was by that time eager to finish up, and there had been so many frustrations and delays and so on. But we got the stop order rescinded and went back to work. And I must say Whiting-Turner was very good, and Mike Steen was very good. He was very helpful. He was on assignment from a company called Jacobs, and I guess he still may work – no, he’s come to work for us now. So we hired Jacobs as the construction management firm. Together with Whiting-Turner they really did a wonderful job, I think. And then, you know, we had all these other – this building out here and this place and all kinds of other things.
JK: The refectory.
NK: And the refectory, of course.
JC: Speaking of which, you were the last residents of the old Director’s House before it became the Refectory. Could you speak just a little bit about what that building was like and what were the pleasures or lack thereof?
NK: Well I think – Judy’s laughing. It was a piece of junk.
JK: No, no, no, no, not at all.
NK: Fancy junk.
NK: Well, sweetheart.
JK: No, in many ways it was aesthetically much nicer than the house that is currently the Director’s House, the current Director’s House.
NK: That’s different, that’s a piece of junk too, I mean –
JK: It was built – I once I ran into John Warner in the Senate cafeteria and I said to him –because I knew that Paul Sarbanes had said something to him about who was living in the house – and I said, “Senator Warner, I am the woman who is living in your house.” He got very teary eyed, and he said, “Oh, the stories I could tell you about that house.” He said, “You know, in an earlier life I was an engineer, and I not only built that house, I designed it.” And he said, “Many things have happened to it since. One of my former wives even built a movie theatre in the basement.” But it was designed in the early ’60s to survive a nuclear attack and therefore the walls are eighteen inches thick, and there are cement slabs between the two floors and between the ground floor and the basement. And it –
NK: Eighteen-inch reinforced concrete slabs.
JK: It does feel when you live in it a little bit as though you’re living in a bunker. The old Director’s House on the other hand was aesthetically very pleasing. The ceilings were higher, the entertaining space was lovely, the room off the bedroom – and there was really only one bedroom – there was a lovely large living room looking over the porch area, there was a fine dining room, a very dark library – paneled and getting no light at all – and the bedroom, and then a kind of a sun room that had been built off the bedroom for the wife of an earlier Director who had some kind of handicap or something.
JC: His mother.
NK: Mother, yeah.
JK: Oh, mother. Okay. That was very pleasant.
NK: But it was under water a lot of the time.
JK: And sometimes it was underwater. But the kitchen was designed not to be cooked in, because no one ever cooked in the kitchen. All of the preparation was done by Hector in his kitchen. And there was a butler’s pantry and the kitchen, which were essentially for serving. I like to cook a lot, and therefore it was very inhospitable. It was impossible to have guests there. There was –
NK: – there was no bedroom –
JK: – upstairs, only through the house. The old attic had been converted into living space, and it was fun for young people, but for anyone who was older the only access was a steep staircase from the kitchen and –
NK: By older you mean just grown up.
JK: No, it was alright for us, but for a family with younger children, parents would have been so far from the children and in an emergency, in a fire there was no way to get out of the upstairs except –
NK: You know, in fact, that’s one of the main reasons why that search committee to replace Angeliki failed because all the usual suspects had youngish children, and there was no place for them. Now, I guess Dimitri lived up there and had the whole space to himself and seems to have enjoyed it.
JK: He was an adolescent by that time.
NK: Yeah. Well, the plumbing was bad. When it rained, that one bedroom –
JK: – the sunroom –
NK: – the sunroom filled with water. Things were getting run down, the flashing was shot and all kinds of other problems. And of course the building, as you may remember, was very solid. It was like a pillbox sitting there on the side of the hill.
JK: A jewel box.
NK: A what?
JK: A jewel box.
NK: Well, that’s what Carter said about the Pre-Columbian Gallery.
JK: He said “a jewel.”
NK: But it certainly, at the very least, needed some work and the question was: once you’re going to get the carpenters and the construction people in here you might as well do it. And then I happened to be walking around with an old college roommate of mine and we happened to notice that place which Judy so loves –
JK: – and spent seven very happy years there –
NK: – was for sale. And it turned out that the person selling it had been an old schoolmate of Judy’s – Barbara Lindeman, I think was her name – and so we bought it and once that had happened I think it simply made sense to make – given the situation in here and the crowding, the tables – remember how it used to be? Everybody at the table had to get up when you went out to get your coffee and dessert.
JC: There was no handicap access.
NK: Oh no, that was completely shot. It was true everywhere, and one of the reasons – and, you know Dumbarton Oaks is built in a no-handicapped zone. It’s impossible. It’s a ravine that runs down into Rock Creek and all. I don’t know if you’ve ever looked at the base of the various garden walls in the various rooms. Some of those walls are sixteen feet of masonry at the base. And they have girders going down into the soil or tying back into the hill. And God did not intend for anything to be here except Rock Creek Park – sliding into Rock Creek Park, and trees falling down and that kind of thing. So, it was very – they really built things here very well. We have to thank the Blisses for many things, and one of them is that they didn’t hesitate to spend money on engineering and construction. You know, you look around here and there are all kinds of things. Well, you remember the ceiling in the Music Room. That was a typical Dumbarton Oaks specimen, I think: slapdash improvements over the years, custodial people being engaged to paint over things above their pay grade kind of thing. And that was true really pretty much everywhere. But they built – the original construction was really very solid, and when you went into a building and really dug it out, it’s clear that they knew how fragile this hillside was and how much they had to compensate for that. And they did, and they didn’t hesitate – I mean, I don’t know whether you walked around down in the Pre-Columbian gallery when it was all cleaned out downstairs. That was like a bomb shelter. It was like a parking garage. Very solidly done and absolutely no corners cut. And it was true here; it was true really everywhere – except in our house.
JK: There was one other very nice part for me, a touch about living in the old Director’s House. It was originally the chauffer’s quarters and the garages were at the courtyard level but they moved the house. And the gardeners can come to work very early in the morning, and they would put on a pot of coffee. And so we would wake up to the smell of the gardeners’ coffee early in the morning, and that was really nice.
JC: I had an office there – I had a room, and at 2:30pm or sometime they made popcorn.
JK: Oh, that –
JC: And I always smelled the popcorn later in the afternoon.
NK: In which room?
JC: The library, the paneled –
NK: Oh yeah. For a while – I remember that during the transition you were there.
JC: Speak a little bit about the Bass House as a rented swing space, since that’s not part of our history, and how that came about.
NK: Well, that came about because we were looking for swing space. It was a combination of dire necessity and opportunity, as so many things are.
JK: That is just what Rahm Emanuel says about the current economic situation.
NK: You know that building down here? It’s just over the brow of the hill on Wisconsin. There’s an odd brick building. It’s an office building and it happens to be set in an odd angle to the street. It actually is not square with Wisconsin. It’s square with the cross streets, with Reservoir Road, I think, which is the one below it.
JK: It’s on the west side of Wisconsin.
NK: Yeah, it’s on the west side of Wisconsin. And we looked at that; I think I asked Peter Riley to come from Cambridge and to walk around with me, and we looked at that. And we thought there were a lot of offices in there and they would’ve been reasonably good space, but there were considerable problems. The landlord couldn’t root out some of the people, and so we would’ve had to have a transition and various other messy things. And at some point – I don’t remember. I guess it was Branson, Bob Branson. Does that name mean anything to you? He’s sort of the real estate manager for the Bass family interest and, somehow, I think maybe through Chip, I sent the word out that we were looking for some space and Branson had this – you know, the Basses spent a fortune on it. Well, you’ve been in that building, you know – they rehabbed the building in about – well, let’s see, it had been thirteen years – it was probably the late ’80s. They rehabbed that building and absolutely spared no expense. I don’t know whether you’ve opened drawers in that building and so on but everything is just highest quality, eight bathrooms – the usual. And they had a problem. Bass had been the president of the Historic Preservation – American Historic Preservation Society or something like that, and when he decided to gut this building, the lovers of old scenic wallpaper and so on and so forth descended upon him and threw him out. He had a terrible fight with them. But he ended up having his way, doing what I think is a very fine job of renovation of an old essentially Civil War period building. And Branson and I – we went back and forth, and we talked about various arrangements and eventually we rented it. I mean it struck me as an excellent solution to our space problems during transition. Actually, Don Pumphrey told me last night, I guess, or –
NK: – Monday, that he had been moonlighting over there as a security guard. He got to know the cops over there. The Basses pay for 24-hour police protection over there and in addition they have a system whereby the alarms, fire alarm and various other entrance alarms and so on that are in that building, send signals to Fort Worth which is their headquarters. And so anyway it struck me as a plausible place. Not perfect. It certainly wasn’t designed as office space, but neither was the big house. And we had to get everybody out of the Main House, and so I came over here, Nancy came over here, and Alice-Mary came in that space in the front and we did various other things. People were upstairs and we used our space as best we could but we needed more space and so that turned out to be all right. And I don’t think that the Basses have ever used that house. Is there anybody in it now?
JC: I doubt it. I haven’t seen anyone inside it.
JK: No. In fact, you told me that they kept it.
NK: They kept it for their daughter –
JK: – thinking that a child might want to be married – as I remember – might want to be married there someday. And they held onto the house for that reason. I would have liked to have lived in that house. Unfortunately, it was used for office space.
NK: Well, you couldn’t take it for the director’s house, sweetheart. But, I mean, among other things, have you ever contemplated trying to rehab this house [pointing to the Director’s House across the street]?
JK: No [laughs].
NK: – for office space?
JK: No [laughs].
NK: You know, the walls there – because they have those two reinforced concrete slabs –ordinary little walls, as I’m sure you’ve noticed and maybe I’ve shown you – are eighteen inches – just the partitions – are eighteen-inch thick masonry to hold that concrete slab up. And it’s a terrible place to try to install any kind of electrical service or anything like that – TV. What we ended up with – the TV was cable – is having to take it all the way around the house – you can’t get in through the walls – take it all around the house and go in through the ceilings and then down and of course, you can’t snake a wire through – the walls are not typical hollow walls, and so you just can’t get a wire from point A to point B in that house without having it exposed or without taking it around the outside – the same with pipes and the air conditioning. They had a nice heating and air conditioning system, but it was forty years old and beginning to get toward the end of its life. But the prospect of replacing it –These pipes were going through concrete and brick walls and you couldn’t put another one through there. Well, I don’t know. The Bass House I think worked out all right. We had to take out a bunch of bathrooms, or decommission them, which was all right because when I first looked at that place, it was beautiful, but there were no toilets. Have I told you this story?
JC: I remember it.
NK: You do remember it.
JC: It was somebody in California.
NK: He had sent them because in California they had had some zoning rules about low volume, gallon-and-a-half flush toilets, but there was a grandfather clause that permitted people who had old toilets in their houses to keep the water wasting toilets, and if they wanted to move from house A to house B, they could move their toilets. And so he moved his toilets from that house to a new house he was building in Palo Alto or something. But in that – You remember the guards’ cottage there? That little house was built, at some point somebody who lived in the big house ran into some hard times and decided to sell that little lot, and somebody built a fairly cheap house over there, relatively cheap, and that was the guard house. And it should be taken down really. I think that they used it only for the police. It was very musty and it had lots of leaks, lots of spores and was suitable only for – only the one space where the cops actually sat was really useful.
JC: So a lot of building activity, acquisition and planning and rebuilding, all of which – if I remember correctly – came in on time and at budget or under budget, certainly not over budget.
NK: Yeah, that’s certainly – that’s Mike Steen’s achievement, I really think. I suppose I spent some time yapping at people’s heels, but it was. It was on time and on budget, and I think I have to thank Mike and Bill Whiting for that. And with the exception, you may remember, there was a delay with the ceiling of the Music Room. That was the only over-budget aspect.
JC: You eventually folded that into the capital –
NK: It was eventually found that we had under spent elsewhere and we were able to do it, but –
JC: – all’s well that ends well.
NK: That’s right.
JC: And that was a significant achievement.
JK: It ended very well. Yeah, it ended very well.
JC: Whether it was over budget or not it was –
NK: Yeah. Well, you know, I think that Jeremy Knowles, who was Dean at the time, had an appreciation of the desirability of that commitment. And he – I don’t know if you’ve been in Cambridge recently, but if you look at Memorial Hall, for example, the grand hall in Memorial Hall, the big old freshman dining room, that was done – oh, and the bell tower, the clock tower – was done very well and that was Jeremy’s – and it was Bob Venturi who did that – and it was Jeremy who actually went out and flogged alumni for the money for that. But he had, you see, unlike others whom we might name, Jeremy was a very cultivated, civilized person. May he rest in peace. He was a perfect example of the bridge between the two cultures, and he understood what Dumbarton Oaks was about, and to a certain extent Neil did, but when it stopped – Larry didn’t obviously, I think. And Larry actually wanted – I had been reporting to Neil regularly, going up to Cambridge to see him, and Larry didn’t want to spend his time on Dumbarton Oaks. And that was all right. I didn’t want to spend time with him.
JK: It turned out to be a godsend.
NK: Yeah, well, Larry’s people are still there.
JK: But you dealt with them pretty –
NK: Yeah, but Bill quit.
JK: But for most of that period he was the – and he was in charge.
NK: And Bill Kirby – I don’t know whether I told you about my relations with Bill. I hired Bill, actually. I was chairman of the history department when I invited him, and it was hard to get him away. He had been very successful at Washington University in St. Louis and had run some kind of East Asian center and was being invited at the University of Washington, which has a very big Orient-looking operation, and he had been invited out there. Was it the Jackson School? Is that what it’s called?
JK: I think the Jackson School came later. I don’t know.
NK: No, they were founding the Jackson School, and Bill was invited to go out there. And I got him to come to Cambridge. And then when, I guess it was 9/11, I had been going to Cambridge regularly on weekends because Judy was there, and I would spend all day Monday teaching. I stacked all my classes up on Mondays and I would teach all day Monday and then come down here on Monday night or Tuesday. And after I had been doing that for a while, I realized that I wasn’t really using my study in Widener. And those are studies for which people die.
NK: Yeah, to die for. It’s on the top floor in the murderers’ row corridor, and I had inherited it from John Finley who had been there until he was 85. I remember thinking –when he finally failed and his family took all his stuff out, and I was on the top of the list, and I had been on that list since 1968. So anyway, I realized that I wasn’t using it all that much, coming down here, and you can share these offices and so I said to Bill – who obviously had no chance of ever getting to the top of that list – would he like it. I had hired him, and I guess I was chairman. No, I wasn’t chairman at the time; I was down here. But at some point I realized that I wasn’t using it and I had to – I thought I should share it. And I thought, well, I’ll share it with Bill, not knowing that he was about to become Dean and little suspecting that he was going to renovate the whole office – everything – I mean, I had a very old run-down, down-at-the-heels, typical professor’s office. And he renovated the thing. Everything! Everything was top of the line, new book cases, new rugs, new furniture, new air conditioning, all the rest. And so that’s the study I use now in Widener, fortunately. It’s still nominally his, but he never uses it.
JC: Let’s turn to the intellectual activities at Dumbarton Oaks while you were Director. What are your memories? Did you have any agenda?
NK: Yeah. Well it’s not for me really to judge what really was accomplished. My inclination, I guess, not from the start but growing, was to try to balance the programs. Frankly, it struck me that Byzantine Studies was a little bit archaic so to speak in substance and in sociology – it’s essentially a kind of Victorian artifact – and that there were somewhat more interesting things happening in Pre-Columbian and even in Garden Studies, especially with Michel. You know, Michel was a great innovator and had all kinds of theoretical, very French, advanced ideas. And so I suppose over time I attempted to encourage the Pre-Columbians to strengthen that program and also to keep absolute balance and parity in all of the programs and that – I guess, that’s – I don’t know what Judy might say.
JK: Which is hard because there – in any given year the number of Pre-Columbian Junior Fellows and the Garden and Landscape Junior Fellows combined are about the same as the number of the Byzantine program.
NK: – as the number of Byzantine Fellows.
JK: So, there’s a disproportionate – among the Junior Fellows.
NK: Yeah, that was true. And that was pretty much unchangeable, and I don’t think it changed very much in my time. But a part of that has to do with the fact that the Byzantine Senior Fellows resisted very hard, and I wasn’t inclined to beat in their roof particularly. And it was – I mean, after all, if you look at the library and the conception in the outer world of Dumbarton Oaks, people think of it as a Byzantine center. But I think – look at that poster [pointing to a Pre-Columbian Studies poster on the wall]. The Pre-Columbian stuff, the Pre-Columbian wing is really quite smashing. I mean we have more – and as you can see, Gudrun has done a wonderful job with the lighting show and so on or other things, but the quality and importance of the Pre-Columbian stuff is really quite something.
JC: Do you remember any symposia or publications or public speakers that stuck out or were important?
NK: Oh sure. Well, I think among the speakers, I mean they were all good.
JK: There was wonderful young man at MIT who spoke on Inka –
NK: That’s right. That was downtown.
JK: – on the construction, yes, that’s right.
NK: It was during the reconstruction period.
JK: I remember a couple from that period one was the – and he’s since received a MacArthur Fellowship. But I thought that was absolutely wonderful. And then there was one – and I forget who the lecturer was – about prison gardens, essentially. And he talked about the Japanese who were interned during World War II.
NK: Yeah, what was his name? He was originally from New York and he was, I think, from someplace in the northwest.
JK: I think so, yeah. And I don’t remember his name. But it was an introduction to thinking about gardens that had never occurred to me.
NK: He talked about urban gardens, you know –
JK: – prison gardens –
NK: – and prison gardens, and the gardens that people in the ghetto and people in the Japanese internment camps in the west and in central America grew, and made a very good case – as you may remember this – that there’s something ineffable about the urge to create a garden.
JC: While I think of it, speaking of offsite activities while construction was ongoing, how did you find the offsite symposia, the various Pre-Columbian tours? You both made it on that –
NK: Well, actually, what really attracted me about them was we saved money on those.
JK: Well, that’s not the only thing.
NK: It’s not the only thing.
JC: That’s hard to believe.
NK: No, it’s not hard to believe because we were bringing people from Central America for the Pre-Columbian things, and bringing them from all over Europe for Byzantine things, and it cost a hell of a lot to run a symposium here by the time you paid for the tent and the food and everything else. And then the question is: what do you charge to yourself and your budget for the housing of people that come for the symposium? Or, frankly, let’s say, what do you – how do you carry the cost of meals at the Director’s House, at the refectory? Those meals, I mean we charge – what is it we charge now for fellows? Something like five dollars? Those probably cost us 30 dollars a meal, when you put it all together – Hector’s wage, and the materials, and some kind of ad hoc figure for the space and rent and whatever. And we’ve just left it at five dollars. I mean Marlene and I have spent hours talking about this. Fortunately, I have never talked to anyone in Cambridge about it, and they’re going to get after that because they’ve got some sharp teeth up there now. And all the – I mean we never really costed out, let’s say for example, the expense of this place. I mean, should we make a transfer of 25 dollars for our use of this space now? It would probably be, if you were going to rent this space, and you would probably charge. And should we charge for the rental of the equipment and so on? It’s –
JK: But leaving aside the cost question –
NK: You can’t.
JK: There were – well, we can for a minute – I guess it was fall of 2006, the symposium was held in Mexico City. And then Joanne very generously invited us to come to the symposium in 2007, which was in Antigua, Guatemala. From my different, not particularly scholarly point of view when it comes to Pre-Columbian questions, it was very interesting because there is something kind of counterintuitive about having a Pre-Columbian symposium over the Columbus Day weekend. But this put the symposium on the home ground of the subject. And I know Ned spent a lot of time preparing opening remarks in Spanish which were received not only very happily, but people were very moved that this was not strictly an American, essentially an American –
NK: They didn’t realize how much money I was saving.
JK: Ned was worried about money; I was more interested in the general climate, and there were many more Mesoamerican participants.
NK: You see, when we have a Pre-Columbian symposium we bring everybody from Montevideo and God knows where – Mexico City. And they arrive here, we have to shuttle them in and we take care of them and all that – that becomes – when you have a symposium in Mexico City – you pay for a few a handful of airfares from here to there, but that’s it. And they live at home, you don’t have to provide housing for them, and they’re hospitable, and they want to provide for the reception and the dinner and all that. So, it turns out it’s – I mean, we did it largely because we couldn’t do it here, but it also turned out to be a blessing in disguise, I think. But, well it was, I think we both enjoyed it very much at Dumbarton Oaks. We don’t look back with any – well, we were busy, and there were lots of little problems, and I certainly don’t regret having left. When I was leaving I really had to – I started beating on Neil about my leaving. I wanted to retire in 2007, which I eventually did and something like a year and a half before that, when Neil was still president –
JK: He was gone by then. Larry was appointed in that period, before –
NK: No, before – No. Larry, that’s right. It was Larry. It was Bill Kirby.
NK: And by this time, I was reporting to Bill Kirby, not to the president. And I had insisted to Bill – and the record is there in the letters – that I was out of here, and he shouldn’t ask me to stay another year or something like that.
JK: Actually, we delayed a little bit because I wanted to stay through the end of Paul Sarbanes’ term, so there was some adjustment with –
NK: Right. No, but we discussed that. You and I discussed that. And June-July 2007 just made perfect sense. And then Jeremy – and eventually Jeremy became dean and I reported to him. And he perfectly, understandably, rationally did not want to waste one of his better faculty members on Dumbarton Oaks, because he’s losing somebody, and he – so I suggested Jan from the beginning. I knew Jan’s father. We were deans of the graduate schools together and so on, and I think I probably have known Jan since before he came to Harvard. And I – but Jeremy resisted and said, “He’s only, what, 52 years old?”
JK: He was chairman of the Classics – just become chairman of the Classics Department.
NK: He had just become chairman of Classics. And Jeremy was being very rational, and so he offered it to a bunch of other people who fortunately turned him down – but finally realized that I was right.
JK: I have something to add about the Pre-Columbians actually. Ned went to all the sessions of the symposium in Mexico City. I did not. And Joanne’s husband, Ned, and I went off on a hike, and it was a wonderful opportunity to visit various museums I believe, and the anthropological museum, every place. But the place that particularly caught my fancy was the Trotsky Museum and –
JC: What is the Trotsky Museum?
NK: It’s in Mexico City.
JK: And I made a second trip back because I knew that Ned would love it. When Trotsky had to leave the Soviet Union he was essentially stateless, and he wandered around and finally found refuge in Mexico City where he was eventually assassinated. But the house in which he lived has been preserved as a museum. And going into it you feel really as though, when you walk into the –
NK: It’s a shrine for left-wing Mexicans.
JK: And lots of young people are left thinking that Trotsky is living alive and well in Mexico. And we should say something too about the 2007 symposium in Antigua, which gave us an opportunity afterwards – a number of the fellows went on to Copán with Bill and Barbara Fash, and it gave us an opportunity to see what was their lives’ work.
JC: And I heard that was very exciting and very successful.
JK: Oh, it was.
NK: Oh, it was.
JK: And Antigua was a revelation. I really knew nothing about it. When Ned first said we were going to Antigua –
NK: It’s not the island Antigua but the city.
JK: – “When are we going to Antigua?” But there were two archdioceses in Central America in the Spanish empire: Mexico City and then the rest of Mexico, and then the rest of – and the seat of that archdiocese was Antigua until the earthquake. And that was marvelous, simply marvelous.
JC: Let me end by asking you both what you would, I guess in the best of all possible worlds, like to see Dumbarton Oaks achieve in – fill in the blank – 20, 50 years? Should it stay the course or –?
NK: Well, you go ahead.
JK: Well, I will say what was most wonderful for me, being almost completely ignorant of the three fields, the scholarly fields at Dumbarton Oaks, having only the sketchiest idea of Byzantine studies, Pre-Columbian studies, of garden and landscape history, was the opportunity to meet young scholars in the three fields, since the hope of the future is with young people. It’s certainly true in politics, and it’s true in scholarship also. And for it to continue to be a magnet for young scholars from all over the world – I hope that will never change.
NK: I took your question as a camouflage version of something that has been coming from Cambridge for years and which I’ve always resisted. They want mission statements. I always refused to do one even though you could farm it out and say, “All right, Michel do a mission statement, paragraph, and Alice-Mary do one,” and so on and so forth. It just strikes me that if an institution like this has to sit around talking about its mission – it has its mission. What I would like to see, probably – although there are difficulties therein – a little more collaboration with the various programs in Cambridge. It’s hard because they don’t know where we are, and we don’t know them and all the efforts that I have made in that have been, essentially, failures. I think, you know, we have to keep Byzantine studies going because otherwise it’s going to go off the edge of any university’s plate. You know, recently, I guess at the last meeting of the Byzantine Studies Association, whatever it was I went to, of course even by then – this was probably 2006 – the job situation for Byzantinists was really grim. And at the session, I think pretty much spontaneously organized, there was a panel on jobs and there were people – I remember our colleague Duffy was in the chair, I think – Alice-Mary was there and there were some people and there were younger people who had gotten jobs and then there were chairmen of departments and so on, so it was a big panel. And the audience was – it was the best-attended meeting at that session, and there were probably seventy or eighty people there, and it was certainly the best attendance. And there was a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth and so on and so forth about the job market. And I realized – I think there was some kind of roster of the participants in the conference – that almost every one of them had had a Fellowship at Dumbarton Oaks, and that in fact, without Dumbarton Oaks, Byzantine studies would have died in America – how should we say? – much sooner than it has.
JK: Well, that also has to do with the Dumbarton Oaks professors at various institutions.
NK: Yeah, we’ve tried that. We’ve tried that. And of course most – you know that we sponsor Dumbarton Oaks professors in various places, and I have been very disappointed in that in those programs, mostly because we make holy alliances with these deans and institutions to the effect that we’ll pay half of the cost of a junior appointment if they pick up the cost when the person becomes a senior person. And that was our way of embedding Byzantine studies in all kinds of places. They have all stiffed us, almost all. I think it’s now true that there’s not a single former Dumbarton Oaks junior professor serving at any of the universities where they began.
JC: Do you think the position they held has also dried up?
JK: Yes. Dumbarton Oaks can plant the seed but it can’t cultivate it –
NK: It’s got to be watered. And you know, even – I mean, the most successful from my point of view in my time was Paul Stevenson, whom you may have encountered, who was at Wisconsin but has now gone back to England. I think he’s gone to Swansea or someplace in England. And Wisconsin made a fuss asking us whether we would send somebody, pay for somebody else, but I said – because the thing is they didn’t match the offer that he got and couldn’t, and within their department it’s not going to happen. And it’s true at Brown, it’s true at Rutgers, it’s true in all kinds of places where – certainly out here in Maryland. Basically, we tried both Byzantine studies and Pre-Columbian studies with them and signed all kinds of oaths, pledges. And they stiffed us, frankly.
JC: Do you think the reputation in America of pre-Columbian studies and garden and landscape architecture studies has also been enhanced because of Dumbarton Oaks?
NK: Oh yes.
JC: Equal to the phenomenon in Byzantine?
NK: I would say certainly in pre-Columbian studies and in part because of Dumbarton Oaks’ support of pre-Columbian studies in Cambridge, but also because of – it’s just I think, frankly a more dynamic field at the moment. And it’s –
JC: Do you think Dumbarton Oaks led to that dynamism or –?
NK: No. Probably what led to that dynamism was, kind of, heritage enrollments. You know, you get a bunch of kids who want to study their “ancestors.” It’s –
JK: There are not a whole lot of Mayan kids.
NK: No. They’re Hispanic obviously. And they – it’s coming.
JK: No, no. I think –
NK: Mark my words. All these Hispanic kids are going to discover that they’re really Mayans.
JK: But, it’s part – and many of them are much more Mayan than they were raised to believe –
NK: Oh yeah.
JK: – but it’s part of a general interest in ethnology –
NK: No, in your grannies.
JK: You see it in every field. But I think the pre-Columbian scholars whom I know from D.O. all feel that Dumbarton Oaks has been critical. And their inviting us to the symposium in the fall of 2007 in Antigua after Ned left was really in recognition of the progress they felt has been made in the strengthening of the position of pre-Columbian studies, largely by the efforts of Dumbarton Oaks.
JC: But there was something of a stepchild relationship with Garden and Landscape Studies –
NK: Oh yeah.
JC: – and Pre-Columbian Studies, and it came later – they get their names on the plaque.
NK: Yeah. Well I think Michel’s appointment, which is Angeliki’s achievement – and of course I reappointed him – but he really made a big difference in landscape things. And frankly it used to be posies, and now it’s about the place, the relation of humans to gardens, to plants and garden spaces to culture and all that kind of thing.
JK: Actually, this reminds me of a couple of lectures that I will always remember. One of them was quite early, it was a young woman talking about urban gardens – you know, the kind of community gardens, not the traditional landscape gardens that you think of – but how people today garden in cities. Another was a symposium that was held jointly with the Museum of Natural History, which brought together, to their amazement and delight, apparently for the first time, horticulturalists and botanists. And that was quite beautiful.
NK: I’m sure that Mrs. Bliss, who was a great lover of gardens, would roll over in her grave if she knew what we were up to.
JC: Do you think so?
JK: I think –
JC: She was cranky as an octogenarian, but I think that she was – this is the woman who commissioned Stravinsky and got Philip Johnson to build the glass pavilion and other things. She worked outside of her –
NK: Well, yeah, I think you’re right, except that she probably wasn’t really much interested in the sociology and social studies aspect of gardens.
JK: But, for instance –
JC: I think she would’ve listened –
NK: She would have listened. No, you know, she would have listened. The other thing that struck me very much about Dumbarton Oaks was that it – basically, her gardens, her buildings are essentially western European: English, French, Italian, there’s elements of all of those, although some of them come via English. The English copied the Italians and the French as well. But Michel is in China.
JK: But something significant is – Kathy Gill once pointed out to me, because we of course now live in an area of rural Maine where – actually very close by Beatrix Farrand did some of her first gardens – but where gardening is very important, both landscape gardening and food – garden food.
NK: Vegetable gardens.
JK: Kathy pointed out that Dumbarton Oaks has no perennial gardens. All of the gardens are annuals because the Blisses were not here year round, and that’s –
NK: Well, they had gardens elsewhere. They had gardens in California, and they had gardens in –
JK: They had gardens in different seasons, but the whole conception of the gardens here –and this is very unusual– is they have annual plantings rather than perennials, with the obvious exception of trees and shrubs. But the other thing that impresses me of course was the decision to plant an organic vegetable garden this year, because that is clearly what is – there is a back-to-the-earth movement, partly for ecological reasons, partly for economic reasons. And I think Mrs. Bliss would have been in tune –
JC: And she had a vegetable garden.
JC: And I’ve always been curious where those vegetables went. I’ve never been able to find out. I mean, I’m sure someone put them by, but the acreage was too big –
NK: She probably gave them away.
JC: I think you’re probably right.
NK: Now, do you remember where the vegetable garden was?
JC: It’s exactly– well, it was two places.
NK: Down here [pointing outside the Guest House].
JC: It was exactly where Gail is replanting. They had this garden where the peonies now grow. And down here [pointing outside the Guest House], there was a victory garden –
NK: Down here [pointing outside the Guest House].
JC: – during the Second World War, right down here to the south when it was still called the Fellows Building.
NK: Well it’s – we look back with fondness upon Dumbarton Oaks I would say.
JK: Oh, more than fondness.
NK: But we’re quite happy where we are. I certainly don’t –
JC: You stay year round in Maine, is that right?
NK: Oh yeah.
JK: And actually one of my favorite mementos from D.O. is your Christmas card that shows the gardens – very odd – that shows the gardens in the snow, very uncharacteristic amount of snow for –
NK: We have snow on the ground right now.
JK: Well, maybe not. We don’t know.
NK: Well, it’s supposed to snow this week.
JC: Thank you both very much!
NK: Well, thank you.