Gary Vikan

Edited Oral History Interview with Gary Vikan, undertaken at the Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore, Maryland by Anna Bonnell-Freidin and Clem Wood on August 12, 2008. At Dumbarton Oaks, Gary Vikan was a Research Fellow in Byzantine Art (1975–1978), Associate Curator of the Byzantine Collection (1979–1981), Associate for Byzantine Art Studies (1981–1983), Senior Associate for Byzantine Art Studies (1983–January 1985) in the Byzantine Studies Program.

ABF: We are Anna Bonnell-Freiden and Clem Wood, and we are here with Gary Vikan, Curator of the Walters Art Museum.

GV: Actually, I am the Director – that’s why I get the fancy office.

ABF: OK – Director – apology –

GV: AKA CEO.

ABF: – CEO, on August 12th, 2008. So, what were your impressions of Dumbarton Oaks before you got an appointment there in 1975?

GV: They weren’t good at all. I don’t think I was alone in this. I had never set foot in the place. I remember being at Princeton. It must have been about the time I finished my generals. I was about to go on this – you know, where you travel around and that stuff. And I think that the people that were at the dinner party – there were faculty plus somebody in town who had been a Fellow at Dumbarton Oaks, I think. I assumed that someday I’d end up there. You know, it was inevitable that if you did Byzantine things someday you’d go there. And it turned out in my case to be true. And this guy, whose name I now forget, was going on and on about the back-biting and the kind of cruelty of the atmosphere, and how Mrs. Bliss would invite special people to have sherry, and not special people didn’t get to have sherry with her, and special people got invited to the symposium and not special people didn’t get invited to the symposium, and I thought, “This must be a terrible place.” That was my impression [laughter]. It made it sound just horrible. That’s the answer to that.

ABF: How have your impressions changed?

GV: Well, I tried to get a Junior Fellowship and was turned down, so that didn’t enhance it at all. It really burned me up, because I was there doing this catalogue of Greek manuscripts at Princeton, and I had the mistaken notion that somehow I was very clever, and much cleverer than anybody else who’d applied for the fellowship. So, when I didn’t get it, I thought, well they’ve really made a stupid mistake. And over time I realized, you know, there were a lot of good people who did get it and I didn’t get it.

ABF: So what year was that?

GV: That would have been 1973. So you see, here I was at Princeton doing this book, which was quite reputable at the time, and I more or less taught myself Greek to read the Greek inscriptions and all that stuff, and I thought, geesh, that’s a pretty good accomplishment for, what was I, twenty-five or something like that. And I didn’t get in! And I thought, well, that’s not fair. But that didn’t last very long – I got a fellowship at the National Gallery, so I was up the street, and I used to go to Dumbarton Oaks. I got over that fairly fast, although I did have a little teeny run-in with somebody who I grew to like very much whose name escapes me – she was very wispy, older woman who ran sort of the downstairs photo archives and a few other things like that. She was kind of a hanger-on from the time it was more family-like and less kind of corporate, and I can’t remember her name, but she had diabetes. And everyday she would feed the lion, which meant to say, she would eat lunch early, because of her diabetes. She had to go feed the lion [laughter]! What the hell was her name? I can’t remember, but I remember using the Christian Index; I don’t know if you know where that is down there, and I was wearing jeans or something. No, I’d gone to the music thing on Monday night, where Alexander Schneider and all these guys used to come there, and she called me in my little cubicle at the National Gallery and said that I’d dressed inappropriately! I had worn jeans to this thing, and I thought, my God! They are invading my life. I didn’t get a fellowship, and now they are telling me how to dress! What was her name? I forget, but I grew to like her very much. I can’t remember her name.

ABF: What were your initial impressions of the art collection?

GV: It was fantastic, I mean, it’s the best – the best. Each piece is exquisite, just amazing.

ABF: Were you very well acquainted with it before?

GV: Probably not. I knew the manuscripts well because that’s what I did. I did Byzantine manuscripts. I only later got into late antiquity and pilgrimage and silver and all the rest of that stuff. So, I can’t tell you – nor ivories, although Weitzmann taught ivories, so I was kind of familiar with the ivories. And the quality of the ivories is just astounding. I don’t think there is anywhere in the world where there’s a higher concentration of first rate Byzantine things than in that really quite tiny collection. It’s great.

ABF: So how did this happen? So, Loerke invited you in 1975? There’s a letter in your dossier, just like a telegram. You were in Bucharest.

GV: That was after I did the National Gallery thing. I don’t know if you all have had this experience, you may well have at some point in your life – where you just string together things. I never really thought I wanted to have a job at that point in my life. And I wasn’t close to finishing a dissertation, because I’d done two exhibition catalogues, the one at Princeton and then the one at the National Gallery. So, by the time I was twenty-five or twenty-six I had done these two things, but hadn’t really done much dissertation stuff. So, I had to figure out what to do. And I’d met I guy at Princeton, who I didn’t know very well, who knew about IREX, which is the International Research and Exchanges Board, which facilitated the exchange of academics between all eastern European, Soviet-communist countries, with the exception of East Germany. I was working on Byzance-aprés Byzance, the Byzantine kind of afterlife after the Fall of Constantinople, and the intellectual scribes – especially the production of fancy books, and that was my dissertation area and topic within that. And so I thought – they were produced in what is now Romania – and so I thought, I’ll go there knowing full well that the books that had been produced in Romania to be sent to the Holy Sepulchre and Moscow, there were very few, if any, still in the country. But anyway, I was there for a year, which I enjoyed very much. I almost never went to the library, but I did type a dissertation on a little bitty typewriter. And I did a lot of that, which was useful. Quite by surprise – I think it was on Valentine’s Day – when I got a telegram. I can’t remember the last telegram I got – that could be it – because every Tuesday we drove to the embassy to get cigarettes – we didn’t smoke, but they were a currency there – and eggs and maybe something else and the mail – and so we got this telegram. You really couldn’t call anybody, and the phones were all tapped. But I got a telegram saying they were offering me a two-year appointment to do a catalogue – this would be my third – on the sculpture collection, which I eventually did, but it took like fifty years or something. It just sort of dribbled and drabbled, and then I became embedded in the life of Dumbarton Oaks, which I liked immensely. I was there ten years, I think. I just did a lot of articles, and it totally changed my focus of academic interest from Middle Byzantine, Late Byzantine, Post Byzantine manuscripts to early Byzantine pilgrimage, relics, piety, icons, silver, and that kind of stuff. And I wrote an article with Duffy, wrote an article with Nesbitt, who’s still around there – Ken Holum, whom you may or may not know, but he was a good friend, a Fellow there, at the University of Maryland. Most of my working friends were not art historian types, but were historians, sigillographers, and stuff like that, and that went on from ‘75 to almost ‘80.

CW: Did you have a sense of the legacy of the Blisses as collectors in the Dumbarton Oaks Collection?

GV: Absolutely. It was very powerful, and I am not really sure I put two and two together, but the Peirce–Tyler connection in Paris in 1930, and the world that they lived in of the kind of Francophile, Helenophile, cosmopolitan world of circa 1930 – that they moved in quite comfortably, he being an ambassador and all this stuff, and being quite interested in this now emerging identity of Byzantine Studies and culture of Byzantium, at the same time that Henry Walters was. And really choosing pieces very carefully, unlike Walters who just bought tons of stuff, and somebody else sorted it out later. I get the sense that both Mr. and Mrs. Bliss – and I think he drove the Byzantine stuff and she drove the Pre-Columbian stuff – I may be wrong –

ABF: It was the other way around.

GV: It was? Live and learn! So, yeah, they were very apparent in the Collection.

ABF: So, it terms of your time when you began in 1975 working on this catalogue, Loerke wrote in a letter that you were going to create the scholarly link between –”

GV: I saw that, yeah. I think that he was just kind of making something up. Bill Loerke, as we called him – Weitzman called him Lörke – this kind of umlauted name, all the rest of us just called him Loerke, you know like lurking around [laughs]. And he had been a Princeton graduate, a student of I forget who – maybe Prince – so it was all part of a very close tradition. He lives out in suburban Baltimore now, and I still see him from time to time – very nice man. My feeling was that they wanted to be nice to me, that they were doing me a favor. Did Weitzmann lean on them a little bit? Perhaps. And I think that this business between making a linkage between the collection – I think that there was a little frustration because – well, I don’t know if they have solved it at this point, but I talked to Keenan a couple of years ago, and he was still struggling with that same thing. You know, here you have a collection, and twenty thousand people a year see it. I mean, can any fewer people possibly go to a museum? It’s first-rate material. It is that stuff and has been the stuff of some real scholarship by some people who actually come from other places to look at it, you know: Weitzmann, Kitzinger, those kind of guys. And in fact, the philosophy of the museum, which was no philosophy at all – but you know you can imagine this – that if the Blisses were alive, they’d have secretarial help, they would buy this stuff, they would talk to these fancy scholars, get advice there – talk to Weitzman, talk to Demus, talk to Kitzinger – buy what they wanted. But the actual taking care of, showing, measuring, that kind of stuff, was the work of a small museum staff that wasn’t academically professional at all in the same way. So there was a disconnect there, and I think the idea was that if you had somebody whose embedded in the collection, creating scholarship that was sort of the same DNA as the Fellows, that they would have more institutional integrity. And every museum that is coupled with an academic institution suffers from that. The Fogg does – it had tremendous problems over the years; Princeton, Yale – where you’ve got strong academic centers of gravity. And this tension that exists between museum leadership and that museum leadership titular that does not have the same academic credentials, does not have tenure, and yet they depend on the academics to provide kind of a larger context. It’s a classic problem. Was he informed about that? Was he really addressing something that has to do with the integrity of the institution? Or was he just being nice to me? I don’t know. I suspect it was the latter that was rationalized by the former. I didn’t know anything about sculpture. I didn’t like sculpture. Manuscripts would make sense. I had done two catalogues for two years. So, I had to learn all this stuff, which began – I forget what the earliest pieces are – Ptolemaic, all the way up to Tillman Riemenschneider. So I know a shitload about German sculpture in the sixteenth century and a shitload about Ptolemaic portraiture, much more about Coptic art than I ever needed to know, and that was quite daunting.

ABF: How do you think that this relationship has developed at Dumbarton Oaks since you first got there between the Byzantine Studies program and the Collection.

GV: I don’t think that there was anything systematic. I don’t know if there is now, but I know that Keenan was looking to create legitimacy, a center of gravity that would be comparable to the Alice-Mary center of gravity which was in Byzantine Studies. These were different – one is a hard asset and one is an intellectual asset – that somehow he as the leader of that place could look down and say, “Well, I’ve got my head, and head of collections and House Collection, and the Pre-Columbian and the Byzantine and the landscape stuff would all converge in somebody who would have a voice in setting policy and providing an agenda which would be crossed with the Fellows and the public, and I don’t know what. It’s a tough mix to find, and it’s a very hard job to fill to get the right mix. And I think Gudrun – at least what I’ve seen of her – she’s very impressive, and that probably has been solved, to the extent that it can be. I mean, we are not in brain science studies, we’re not in astronomy [laughter], it’s not like anything really happens – you know what I’m saying [laughter]?

ABF: I guess – did you see that tension when in the early ‘80s you chose to stay at Dumbarton Oaks rather than go to a possible teaching job at Princeton?

GV: I don’t know. I just saw the list there. I didn’t even think too seriously about going to Princeton. It was a very nice moment for me; I was just sort of doing these little catalogues and doing little shows. And I was mixing around with icons and talking to the people. I just enjoyed the excitement – it was very exciting. And then I’d go up to Princeton and I’d see these kind of doughy people, and I knew that at least half of them didn’t like me, and I knew that I’d have to beg them to stay there, and they probably wouldn’t let me stay there. So, it was probably a combination of timidity on the one hand and a certain dazzlement on the other hand by the wide menu of things that Dumbarton Oaks at that time represented to me. And the fact is that this was the right choice, I think – the right choice for me, as it was eventually the right choice for me to leave there, as I collided with my personal interests in material culture and culture and public mission and an institution that had no public mission at all – too much money, and too little mission. We’ve got too little money and too much mission. It’s very different.

CW: What were the most important relationships that you formed at Dumbarton Oaks, besides Weitzmann I guess, when you came in?

GV: Nesbitt, Holum, Duffy – these were people with whom I spent a lot of time just talking about things. I found it immensely interesting. Philip Grierson – just people who were at the top of their field, very smart – Ševčenko. He wasn’t in the business of trying to make anybody feel stupid, because when you are among the best in a field that is really quite small, they really just behaved well. They were warm and welcoming, Alexander Kazhdan was just wonderful. There were some strong egos – Ihor had an enormous – Cyril did too, although I got to know Ihor very well and never knew Cyril Mango very well. He always seemed kind of remote – brilliant. Both of them seemed very intimidating. In Ihor’s case, he didn’t publish much. But it was that tenor of people – each of them were a bit older than I was, but we happened to be the permanent guys. And there were others who came, too, on a yearly basis and so on, but these people I really enjoyed and wrote articles with them, and Susan Harvey, whose book is sitting on my desk. I met her at Dumbarton Oaks in 1983, and she’s remained a good friend and intellectual partner. So a lot of these things, which I still found very rewarding, even though I don’t see them very often. That was a real plus.

ABF: Did you have lunches under Constable with all these figures?

GV: You know, I really enjoyed that. I enjoyed sitting with Alexander Kazhdan. We were talking about how many people had lived in Constantinople, what was the population of the Byzantine Empire under Justinian. But he had no idea how many people lived in Washington, zero. If I were to say, “five million?” He’d say, “Yeah, that sounds right.” Two hundred and fifty thousand?” “Oh yes, I could believe that.” And oh, there was this wonderful guy – it wasn’t Philip Grierson, was it? I’m blanking. But we got into a conversation over lunch about the word for “orange” in Romanian, portokala, then they would say the word in Turkish, the word in Arabic, and the word in Syriac, the Ethiopian word for it, and they all were variations on the country name for Portugal, because that was the place from which the oranges came, Portakala. And these kinds of conversations were just exhilarating for me, and I would think, “Gee, these guys are smart and so interesting. Then we had a guy named Bob van Nice. Have you ever heard of him? He was not a happy camper. He had spent World War Two with squeegees taking the walls off of Hagia Sophia, he knew everything about that building that there was to know. And he had vast amounts of information, and he wasn’t properly appreciated – in fact, quite under-appreciated. He was paranoid and had some skin disease which gradually made him lose his skin cells, so he had bandages on his face. He hung around with younger guys, because he didn’t feel like the older guys cared about him. He was one of these creatures, really graduate student – he wasn’t an eight-year graduate student or twelve-year graduate student, but really a fifty seven-year graduate student. And there he was somewhere downstairs with these enormous line drawings – and you know they took all of these things with the graffiti, everything – where the floors were worn, everything. He loved that stuff. Years would go by, and he had a helper, and he would just kind of putz around and smoke cigarettes. And he would do a little bit and be angry at the world. He would tell me that he was going to take this stuff – and then he got really angry, I think it was over lunch – on the Fourteenth Street bridge in Washington, and deep six it. Can you imagine that? – with his truck. Throwing out all these damn drawings and rubber things and going over the Fourteenth Street bridge and going out and tossing them over? That is what he said! He was so angry. Van Nice – a strange name, Dutch. He wasn’t un-nice, but angry would have been a better word for it. And then the two guys who made all the mountains underneath, a very nice guy, he had a helper down there. And they were just all by themselves down there, polishing. So of course it was an odd case.

ABF: Did you have a set of goals when you came in as assistant curator?

GV: I had a very public mission. I was doing this arcane sigillography – pilgrimage stuff. I did a lot of inscription stuff and got pretty good at that, which I enjoyed. In the evening, I would go down to the Smithsonian and teach for an adult education, resident association program. People at Dumbarton Oaks were invited to do that, and it was fifty-five bucks for an hour. I mean, if you were invited to talk about Roman Gaul for an hour, and even it you inflated it 3% in 1980, you are up to maybe 110 bucks. So let’s say the typical pay for somebody who is a graduate student in earnest, you’d spend three or four hours getting this God-damned lecture ready, gave it for an hour, half an hour one way, half an hour the other way – that’s six hours to make one hundred ten bucks. That’s twenty bucks an hour. The security officers in there make more than that. Most of the people computed that. I did not. First of all, I wanted the fifty-five dollars. I liked the process, and I just continued. I started in 1977 and did it until 1991. I lost money! Going to teach these people, but I liked them – lot of interesting people. So, intuitively I think I had a strong public sense of engagement. And there were two other things that I did that pissed everybody off. One they treated more or less with benign neglect. I wanted to teach from the Collection, and I formed this little cavalry of misfits, I had already taught these people – some of which are still my friends – probably in their forties. And Hopkins people were very different from Trinity College, GW, and a college which no longer exists, which is Mount Vernon College, kind of for the daughters of Venezuela’s ambassadors, who didn’t want to work too hard, they had a social agenda. So, it was quite a mix of people, from the earnest good bodies up here to the socialites down there, and I had a class of ten or twelve. In the end, I’d just go batty, because I’d try to remember how many things I had taken out, and I’d count and say, geesh, thirteen or twelve? I was wondering if I had mislabeled these things or something. I remember somebody pointing out – well, it’s really not in the mission, do you know what that is?

CW: Is that a Bliss thing?

GV: It’s stuck in the wall.

CW: That inscription?

GV: Oh yes. See if you can make any sense out of that. I think she was in a state of delirium when she wrote that. I mean, figure it out! You tell me.

CW: That one with the Mediterranean –

GV: Yes, what does it say?

CW: It’s about cultivating the Mediterranean vision, the humanities in the Mediterranean sense.

GV: Yeah. Well, that was interpreted to mean, “This is not a place of pedagogy.” In other words, we are not in the business of teaching anybody, we are studying stuff. So, it was what it didn’t say, I guess, that made this kind of a questionable endeavor – which I also supported. It was a way of keeping me entertained or busy. It was benign. Whereas when Cynthia Pinkston walked in one day in 1981 and said, “Let’s start a docent program!” I thought, this is a damn good idea, let’s do that. It was only vaguely that we were aware of what docents were, and it sent everybody into a tizzy. The then director – and I am friends with her now – of the Pre-Columbian Center was incensed that I didn’t consult her. Giles was incensed that she was incensed. Everybody was incensed, miffed, all these kind of prissy English parlor words, you know, that are self-indicating. “I’m incensed that there is something wrong.” You couldn’t actually say what I did wrong, but the very fact that I incensed people was symptomatic of its wrongness. And that’s how I make my living nowadays, but at least I could be, you know, sort of the decider. I mean there, you just kind of had to be beat about the head for a while, and I was very friendly with these folks. I mean we’d go to museums together, I’d invite her to my house, she’d invite me to her house. It was a wonderful group of very sophisticated people who just wanted someone to engage their energy and social commitment. So, I started that. And the third thing I started was exhibitions in the hallway. You know, icons, and my first one was half the size of that cabinet and had 232 objects in it. It was about seals and security. It was very funny. Seals, keys, locks, rings, stamps. I used to type my own labels on a space-adjusted typewriter. I did the whole thing. I loved it. So that’s how I started the exhibition. Well not exactly. I had done two exhibitions, one at Princeton and one at the National Gallery with very sophisticated organizations, and here I was, the conceiver, executor, and typer of docent booklet series, which I edited and typed myself. I edited all of them and wrote one of them, one of which I am redoing right now. In fact, it is right over there. So, it is going to be re-published now after twenty-five, twenty-six, twenty-seven years. But I enjoyed that, and I would take it down over to the printer – it cost three thousand bucks. And I would pick it up from the printer, and I chose the color of the cover. I did that in 1981. I did two myself, and then we did one on sigillography, one on coinage, and that’s when I was part-time hired here in the fall of ’83, at Christmastime. So, that period was probably about three years long. All those programs were going on.

ABF: But there are some programs that stuck, though! They are going strong.

GV: How is that? Oh yes, to the extent that they do exhibitions, and basically the one’s they’ve done have been on the same scale, like watch works. Balance of this watch, parts of one – small in agenda, small in pieces. The icon one I did in ’83, which was the one that got me into mischief here – well, actually it got me into a very good place, but bumpy kind of ride, was the last one. It was in the New York Times. It was the first icon show in the United States. It was the first of four that I did, the last of which was Ethiopian in ‘93. In that ten year period I did that one, one from Greece in the New York Times, one from Russia in the New York Times, and one from Ethiopia – ten years, three shows, each of which was reviewed in the New York Times.

ABF: From your perspective now, how has Dumbarton Oaks changed most now?

GV: Well, you might take the word “most” off. And change is, I guess: you are standing on a glacier and had some time to watch. It is a very conservative institution. And it doesn’t mean I don’t like if for that, but because it is so enormously wealthy, no public mission, is unengaged with students. When I first arrived, there was a period of immense paranoia, as Ševčenko and Mango, who were faculty, were taken up to the fold of Harvard, so that they could be enriched by contact with students. It was the point where Bill was leaving and Giles came, it was a time of fear and paranoia. It was Watergate and all that stuff. So, the idea was, Harvard is going to take the books away, Harvard is going to take the endowment away, and it will denude and emasculate this great place. Out of that crucible of angst grew the Byzantine Studies Conference, and what was and still exists, a liaison, which was a group of people. You can imagine us, in 1977, Nina Garsoian, standing on a table, addressing a hundred guests, one hundred forty-seven people, about Harvard’s screwing over, and Warren Treadgold stands up and George Majeska – these were the firebrands, these were the Kingsville 9, they were manning the barricades, and I never felt that sense. I certainly was part of that general kind of mindset, but I didn’t feel it quite so personally and powerfully as a lot of them did. And out of that crucible of angst grew this annual meeting, this convening of the Director of Dumbarton Oaks who was invited to rationalize, apologize for, and vindicate Harvard’s agenda at Dumbarton Oaks to this kind of junior faculty types. Which was not a very healthy situation, and I don’t think it actually contributed to the betterment of anyone. Can I have a copy of this?

ABF: Yes.

GV: What did Irfan say when you asked him, “How has Dumbarton Oaks changed the most?”

CW: He sort of chose his questions, and that was not really one that he answered. He talked a lot about the library. The library is sort of the biggest, physically manifested change of Dumbarton Oaks. They’ve built this totally new building, modern, clean, which opened about a year ago.

GV: I am aware of that. When I was there in 1975, on the table were drawings for an underground library. I think it is kind of ironic. The building opened in 2007, right?

CW: I think so.

GV: In 1975, there were drawings which would accomplish the same outcome.

CW: Yeah.

GV: For a building that would go underground, which would cause that tree to be taken out, and the neighbors went bananas. And it occurred to me that the reason the neighbors were so angry at poor Dumbarton Oaks about the prospect of a tree on the property of Dumbarton Oaks coming down and the level of the climb off the north vista would be changed, would not go down. If Dumbarton Oaks paid one scintilla of attention to the neighbors, period, the neighbors might have treated Dumbarton Oaks with a little more generosity, which was kind of the subtext of the outreach and teaching and docents. And I felt very strongly that we should rent out the other side.

ABF: You mean for functions?

GV: Yeah, not for money, just for people to be there and experience it. I felt very strongly that given Washington’s position of politics and policy, Dumbarton Oaks should be an advocate for – a beacon and place for Byzantine Studies. This kind of product angst – that somehow this was going to be replaced by a western Medievalist. The Byzantinist is going to be turned into an Africanist. You know, that somehow this great culture, that we alone somehow seem fully aware of, is being maligned, marginalized, and depleted on campuses all over the place. And it was this sense of injustice – actually not a sense of being treated unjustly but a sense of entitlement, you know, not the words, “Since I study it, and since it lasted one thousand years, and since it had a big chunk of western culture while Charlemagne was riding on a horse and the fancy Byzantine emperor sat on a little throne, it deserves – and I deserve by extension – some good treatment in the world!” Well, you don’t deserve a damn thing. You are not entitled to that. You have to earn it. How do you earn it? You have to advocate for it. How do you advocate for it? Here you’ve got a beautiful collection, a most exotic setting, best garbage you could possibly imagine, how do you use that to influence people of influence to insinuate more for Byzantine studies? You know who’s done more for Byzantine studies – has been the Metropolitan Museum in New York with those three exhibitions. Three exhibitions! I mean, we on our scale have done the same thing. But they happen to be in New York City on Fifth Avenue and draw six million people instead of three hundred thousand people. So, that is where you start, so somebody cares about Byzantine studies.

ABF: What you say about outreach made me think of a topic that has come up a lot in these interviews – that there was this movement, right around in the 1970s, very close to when you arrived, to actually move the Center for Byzantine Studies to Harvard, because, I think, there were some people who also – although it was not the same question of, you know, what is the mission of Dumbarton Oaks as a community outreach, but Dumbarton Oaks as an intellectual environment.

GV: Exactly. I would have said that the vitality of people on campus, the give and take of people that are outside the discipline, of a vibrant intellectual community, which Washington still isn’t – I mean nothing like Cambridge – and I think that is all part and parcel of the same thing. I think the world as I described in 1975, ‘76, ‘77 is that thing you described – maybe 1975, when Loerke went, and Giles came up in 1977. And I remember Giles saying – he was talking about ethnic paranoia, and I wondered what he meant by that. He was really talking about the Greeks who were part of that environment. How they were being abused in that little peninsula of theirs. But, in fact the argument for that would make a lot of sense – you know, the library. What does it mean to have that library? At the end of the day, by the time you guys are my age, what do you think that library’s going to be like? A bunch of God-damned books! I mean, there’s lots of other ways to get that stuff that doesn’t involve books and dusting the tops of the books. That’s all going to be digitized, you know. So, what does that mean? What is the core asset of Dumbarton Oaks? Is it sixteen or thirteen acres of beautiful gardens? An aggregate of nice buildings? A tradition of inertia as well as excellence, which cuts both ways? A place where the immigrants went because they had no place else to go? Or the diplomats from those same countries? Nobody wants these days to get posts in Washington – of course nowadays it is a stepping post because of the power of the United States. But it wasn’t a logical place for these émigrés to end up, in this fancy-assed neighborhood, where nobody walks on the sidewalks, where it is 102 degrees in the summertime, where they don’t lay eyes on a student except somebody from GW. You know, there are a lot of good reasons. Mr. Bliss was a diplomat in Washington. They bought a fancy place; made their money in Castor oil – same way that Barnes Foundation guy did. You know, it’s not a natural place for that library to be.  I mean these people – you see I see it now through different eyes. When you are employed there, you lived there, with your kid swimming in the swimming pool, as my kid did – you are kind of the best. But I’m not really the best, you know.

ABF: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

GV: No, I think I covered everything. Probably more than I should of [laughter]!

ABF: Thank you.

GV: My pleasure.

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