JC: I’m James Carder, and I’m at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University with Giles Constable. It’s February the 23rd, 2009. Giles was Director at Dumbarton Oaks between 1977 and 1984, and, among many other things, he is generally credited with putting the institution on a firm administrative footing and, incidentally, on a firm architectural footing, as the physical property was not in the best condition when he arrived. So, Giles, why don’t we start with the summer of 1977 when you first arrived? What were your expectations about Dumbarton Oaks, and what was the reality that you found when you got there?
GC: Well, my expectations and concerns were not at first immediately focused on the intellectual level—and we may want to return to some of the academic staffing at D.O. – they were very much on the financial level. That was the issue that the Trustees at that time were concerned about, that we were, frankly, going into the red. We were spending more than at that time they were allowing us from the endowment. And, therefore, I was going to have to find some things to save. At the same time, I was having to do a fair amount of spending, above all on the building, although at the time I was not quite aware how much really needed doing. I might, incidentally, say this was no fault of my predecessors, really. I remember being told about the sort of good building syndrome, buildings that are very well and expensively built, and beyond doubt Dumbarton Oaks was, and often don’t need repair for fifty years, and people begin to think they don’t need repair. The kind of building you and I have needs repair every ten years – and rather urgently when we’re aware that the roof is leaking or something like that – but D.O., even that thick copper began to wear out, and this is why I became aware fairly soon that there were real needs. Also that there was no air conditioning in the main building, and I was concerned partly for the people who were working there – though they could probably put up with it; I could – but that I was more concerned for the books, because how we air conditioned was opening the windows, and that let in damp, dusty, Washington air, which was certainly disastrous, both for the collections you now take care of and, above all, for the books, since they couldn’t come out and bathe in the pool. And so I realized that we were going to have to have a fairly major building campaign. Do you want me to speak about the intellectual aspects too at this moment?
JC: Let’s follow up just for a moment on that.
JC: I remember that there was a Proctor Report. Mary Proctor did some study as to the, I guess, financial health of the organization. Was that under your directorship?
GC: Yes, it must have been. I must admit I forget, really, although Mary Proctor is indeed a friend and a professional acquaintance, too.
JC: And she became a senior advisor or at least some administrative member.
GC: Yes. She was on the Board of Advisors, I think.
JC: So, there was double-digit inflation, there was a lot of infrastructure need. You once, I think, wrote that buildings have a menopause.
GC: Yes, that’s, of course, in a way what I was getting at.
JC: Yes, and it’s a phrase that I really liked. So, what was the solution, in addition to putting in air conditioning? How did the threat of deficit spending ease and become an on-going positive cash-flow for the institution?
GC: Well, one was economies, and certainly one of the major economies – and two were the most controversial ones – was that we, essentially, gave up the field work program. Bill Tyler had already given up the apartment in Istanbul – that was an extravagance. And field work, as you may know, had never been something that the Blisses had foreseen that Dumbarton Oaks would do. That was a result after the death of Tom Whittemore, when D.O. took over some of the projects that he had promoted in Turkey – at Santa Sophia, at the Kalenderhane, at Cyprus, and other places. And we had to pull in our horns very strongly on that, though we still did a certain amount of field surveys and made individual explicit grants for that. But that was one area. The other was – and this reaches more into the area of the intellectual life of D.O. – that, fundamentally, we no longer had a permanent faculty. We had Senior Fellows, an organization we may want to discuss later. But we did not have five or six permanent faculty members, which was obviously a very great expense. And I think that much of the decision to give that up had already been made when I went there, but it needed implementation. The faculty was down to a very low level, but that was another area where economies could be made without, – and we’ll come back to this – really, I think, undermining in any way the intellectual life of Dumbarton Oaks. And under these circumstances, the Trustees were willing that a fair amount of money be spent on the buildings, even though that looks rather as if – as our present president is doing – that you have to spend more before you can save, and, in fact, this is not very common.
JC: It was a wise road to take, I think.
GC: Well I think it proved to be, yes. And I said, “I’m going to leave a good job for my successor.” And I hope, without too much self flattery, that I did. At least D.O. was physically and financially in pretty good shape, and my successors had pretty good sense, at least two of them were fairly conservative in this respect. I have never seen the books, but I believe that it’s well in the black.
JC: You mentioned in, I think, your first biannual report that some of the – and this gets us into the area to a degree of the intellectual needs of the institution –
JC: – You mentioned that in this post-patron era, the post-Bliss era, there were still lingering elements of elitism —
GC: Oh yes.
JC: – that some of the senior scholars either had moved on or had died, and there was a need to re-infuse the organization. And there was beginning to be a kind of step-child – and I’m using my own words here – a step-child relationship between the two newer programs in Pre-Columbian Studies and Landscape Architecture Studies and the longer-established Byzantine Studies program. Can you speak a little bit about that and how, through the course of your tenure, those issues were discussed or, perhaps, solved?
GC: Well, I doubt if they’ll ever be permanently solved, I think, the way you have three such different programs, not to mention the physical side of the garden and the museum. I don’t think that people often realize that D.O., although a fairly small institution, is an immensely complicated one with very different interests in these three fields which, inevitably to some extent, are jockeying for position with each other. And I think that there all I could do, and I hope did do, was at least to establish a certain pattern. Now, the subsequent Directors and the Trustees may have changed the allocation of the resources among the three because, except for the gardens, the Blisses left no instructions. There is no question that they wanted each program, and the Pre-Columbian Collection was Mr. Bliss’s interest, as you know, and the Garden Library was Mrs. Bliss’s – and I think to some extent she wanted something because he was involved in the pre-Columbian – and they both were involved in the Byzantine. But what the balance should be, and there was always the difficulty, as you correctly point out, they were junior programs, that is in a chronological sense. They’d been added; the Byzantine was the senior program, the one that really appears on the inscription outside. And the Byzantinists, not only at D.O. itself but throughout the world, have always thought of it really as a Byzantine Institution and that most of the resources should be going there. Any cut-back they saw as very much at their expense, and it is certainly fair to say, for instance, that field work was something that was a Byzantine program or had become a part of it that we did cut back on. But also there were – well, in the Pre-Columbian there were a few personnel difficulties, but they were rather rapidly solved. We got Senior Fellows for each group. But you now know better than I would, James. One of my few merits is that I don’t keep in as close touch with institutions as I did previously. I mean someone like my colleague, Glen Bowersock, here knows everything that is going on at Harvard – more than if he were still there, I think – whereas I – I hear from time to time, and of course I’ve got friends, but I don’t have any idea what the distribution of numbers of Fellows or anything like that is at D.O.
JC: You know, I really think it remained more or less the same – let’s not talk absolute numbers, but percentages – and I think the administrative pattern that you established is the one that has survived –
GC: I got that feeling.
JC: – and has been successful. The big change is, to a degree, the centralization of the library, which brought the library into one physical space and removed duplicity in cataloguing and so forth. But short of that, I think that the model that you established in the seventies and eighties is actually the current model.
GC: I got that feeling without having ever really inquired. And I hope that if it has lasted for now twenty-five years, that it’s working at least moderately well.
JC: And as to the elitism that you sensed and which there may be, to a degree, a certain vestige of it always, I don’t believe that it was as strong by the eighties/nineties as it might have been formerly. I remember that privileges of eating in the Fellows Building –
JC: – changed. And I remember your wife, Evhy, being very gracious and having cakes and pizzas and staff gatherings and so forth. There was a real sense of camaraderie. Could you speak on how that “ivory tower” elitism, I think perhaps especially in the Byzantine community perhaps more so than in the others, slowly dissipated? Or maybe that’s not your impression.
GC: No, I hope it is. And I think it did dissipate to a great extent. Of course, when I went there, the memory of Mrs. Bliss serving tea and Sirarpie Der Nersessian presiding at the lunch table and ringing the bell for the servants to come in was still there. I mean, she no longer did – and Sirarpie wasn’t alive either – but there was the memory. And there was this rather strong and not altogether bad sense of being one large family with a number of family retainers. But that is not the basis upon which a serious scholarly institution can run. And on the straight-forward level, as you mention, one of my first initiatives was to open up the Fellows Building. But even so, the feelings of resentment were so great that some of the staff would never come to lunch. Above all, Irene Vaslef, who is my dear friend, still is – you must know Irene pretty well —
GC: — I mean, she absolutely refused to come to lunch because she had so bitterly resented being kept out for so many years. And I absolutely sympathized with that. Now another thing that Irene did – one of the most controversial things that I did was to have a picture board. I’ve actually discussed this with sociologists. I did many genuinely controversial things, and it didn’t seem to me that the picture board was that controversial. But the fact is that between the Fellows and the staff there were over one hundred people around D.O. at that time, and we just didn’t know each other. The idea was that we would. But among the older members, Irene refused flat to put her picture on the board. And I said, “Fine, if you don’t want to, that’s your affair, and I’m not going to force you to. But we are going to have a picture board, none the less!” And particularly I think that many of the Fellows at D.O. didn’t know any of the housemen. And the housemen were fully aware that these young people were being paid, by their standards, to do nothing! Well they did realize, technically, that they were doing scholarly work. But there was a built-in tension there, and a little bit of friendliness would make an enormous difference. But these people, particularly the younger Fellows, often came from institutions where they kept a very, very low profile, and didn’t even say “hello” and “good-bye” to the people in the library and that sort of thing because they really were rather low on that pecking order there. Whereas at D.O. they were the sinecure, and that’s what we exist for, for these people. And I tried that they would know the name, that they would say “hello, Antonio” or whoever it was when they went out or came in. Because I know that the housemen keenly resented it. One of the most interesting, I think it’s worth saying – do you remember John Callahan?
GC: John came in rather late, usually for lunch time, and then he worked through until one or two in the morning. He was a textual editor and was comparing texts. And one of the housemen, someone I loved dearly – I don’t mind telling you his name: Tony, because if he were here, I’d say the same – he felt it his duty, on one occasion, to come and tell me that there was one senior associate who really only worked about half a day – because Tony left at five – and he never had any rubbish in his waste basket! Tony judged his scholarly work by this standard. Tony was – you must remember him? —
GC: — a very, very intelligent man, who, if he’d had some education, would have been in a very good position. I liked him very much, and I just tried to explain to Tony that John Callahan, in fact, worked harder than any other person there, but he did it on a rather different schedule and in a rather different way than what Tony considered a nine-to-five job. And to try to bridge these relationships in a small institution – in a very big institution these don’t matter too much. I mean, at Harvard if the housemen don’t understand what the professors are doing, it probably just has to be. But in a small place with all these different functions – the gardeners, the housemen, and everybody – I wanted to try to bring them together to some extent. And for some it wasn’t possible. For instance, it was fairly late, you know, when we appointed our first female gardener, and it was really a great issue, and I don’t think that even Don Smith himself favored it very much, but he was just given instructions. Two or three of the gardeners misbehaved quite seriously and had to be disciplined, which didn’t make either Judy Siggins or myself particularly popular with them. I mean, now they are integrated perfectly; they have female gardeners just like male, don’t they?
JC: They do. And the Director of Gardens and Grounds is a woman.
GC: Yes. There you are. It was a very traditional institution, and perfectly rightly when it belonged to the Blisses. They could run it the way they wanted to run it, as sort of a family household over which the Blisses presided. And she, after all, until her death wrote a check at the end of the year for any outstanding money that needed paying. I mean, Jack, I think, just went to her and said, “We need seventy-nine thousand dollars,” or whatever, and she wrote it out. So, there was some reason she felt this way, but that’s not a way that you can continue afterwards when you’re a public institution and part of a great university.
JC: I might say just for the record that the photo board still exists, only it’s been duplicated so that there isn’t a building that doesn’t have one. And the good news, of course, with the electronic age is that photos can be easily reproduced so that it’s now a less time-consuming issue. Let’s move over to the intellectual side of the organization.
GC: Yes. Good.
JC: I mentioned that one of things you had said was that the old guard of illustrious scholars were moving on or had moved on and that one of your interests was to replenish the stock. I remember in that period Alexander Kazhdan came.
GC: Yes. Indeed.
JC: Can you speak about him and how he came and about others and how they were appointed and, perhaps, why and what their projects were when they came to Dumbarton Oaks?
GC: Sure. Maybe I should just step back and at first say that by the time I came, as I mentioned earlier, the elitist faculty had more or less dissipated. Ihor had gone to Harvard, Cyril to Oxford, Glanville Downey had left for Indiana, I think; Romilly Jenkins committed suicide, as you probably know, and Bill Loerke had not been renewed as Director of Studies. So, among senior permanent faculty there – and that in and of itself is probably something that you will want to go into as to whether faculty at D.O. were faculty at Harvard too. They thought they were, and Harvard thought they weren’t. And Betty MacDougall’s appointment was explicit – made before I came – explicit that she was a Professor at D.O., and to that extent she was a genuine Harvard, if you will, professor, but she couldn’t transfer to Harvard. And Cyril wanted to and was not allowed to. And so, for one reason or another, this group had more or less dissipated. It left a very few senior people: Bob Van Nice, of course, whom you probably remember.
GC: And Bob had his own project, and quite an expensive one too, I might say. But not one that we were going to cut back on because, even though I suspect that it’s a work that everybody admires but very few consult, it was a magnificent achievement in its own way. So, how to put together a group of senior, not necessarily very senior but more advanced people who would be there to consult with the Fellows and to conduct projects of their own of one sort or another but yet would not have that particular role of the faculty, which was really too small to choose all the Fellows. And, frankly, as you probably know, they had been fairly cantankerous among themselves. Certainly Glanville’s departure was partly on account of this, and people say that Romilly, whom I knew quite well from Harvard when he came up there but didn’t know from D.O. days, had not been at all happy, and this had contributed to his unhappiness. And so the decision was to appoint a certain number of people we called Senior Research Associates, I think, who were, essentially, tenured, but who weren’t faculty, they weren’t running the institution in any way. That was in the hands of the Senior Fellows who already existed – I’d been a member of the Senior Fellows – whose role was enhanced in the choice of the Fellows and that sort of thing, and the Senior Associates played in a rather different world. Among them was Peter Topping, Callahan, and, above all, Alexander Kazhdan, and there we were enormously fortunate. Alexander was without doubt – you remember him, don’t you? —
GC: — the most distinguished living Byzantinist, a very, very outstanding figure. And when we knew that he wanted to leave Russia – and I won’t say he had to, he wouldn’t have starved or anything, but he couldn’t get his work published – and we immediately said that we would create a position for him. And I then went to Vienna to see him when he came out. He effectively came out to go to Israel, and I was a little bit alarmed as about one hundred fifty parcels of books arrived addressed to Dumbarton Oaks. And I said to him, “Alexander, how can they possibly allow this? They’ll know you’re not really going to Israel.” And he said, “Oh, the post office will never tell them.” And he was quite right. The post office here wouldn’t dream of telling the Department of State. In a great massive bureaucratic government, you can do things where the left hand has no idea what the right hand or any other hand is doing. And there was some problem. He stayed in Geneva for awhile as there was a problem getting him a visa. And this I discussed with the Trustees at some length, and he and his son – you know his son was Professor at Harvard in mathematics, a very distinguished man too – felt that we should lean more heavily on the State Department, and Derek was very unwilling to do that unless it really became necessary. If he had got the impression that Alexander for any reason was not getting a visa for some reason other than just the bureaucratic time it took to get a visa, he would have leaned, and Harvard and even D.O. in its own small way has a certain amount of leaning power, but doesn’t want to over use it. And fortunately it did come through, and I think after about nine months he arrived, and he was an unmitigated advantage. He really was a polymath in the field. The only thing was that his standards were extraordinarily high, as you may well remember, and when Mike McCormick was helping me with the Fellows, he’d sometimes have to come between, because Alexander was apt to say, “Oh, but that is rubbish. Why are you working on that?” But these people were all the students of distinguished Byzantinists around the country who didn’t want to hear that from Kazhdan, and we had to say, “Now, Alexander, these people aren’t doing their theses under you but under whomever it is and you need to give them advice, help them, steer them in the right direction, but don’t tell them that their topic is not worth doing.” But that said he was marvelous in all ways. And then, of course, he did the Dumbarton Oaks dictionary, and this was his thanks to America, really. I don’t think it was necessarily something he wanted to do. And one of the reasons I promoted this was that he was the editor-and-chief, and I knew perfectly well that if any article weren’t written, he would write it and very well. And he did. If some articles didn’t come in on time, which is always what happens with dictionaries like that, Alexander wrote them. And if the person then sent it in, he said, “Too late!” Of course it was finished after I left. He was really an intellectual power. But then so too were the others, John, Peter and others were available, but without having that sort of – it was much less hieratical than with the faculty, and above all they did not have the power of choosing the Fellows which is the one thing that created considerable ill-will in the broader Byzantine community as they were all brilliant scholars – I mean Ihor, Cyril, you can’t do better – but they had their preferences obviously. And, coincidentally, Kurt Weitzman – whom I knew pretty well and got to know still better when I was here – Kurt felt that he could never have a student go to D.O. because he felt that Kitzinger would keep him out. Now I don’t think that that was necessarily true, but that was the perception, and that perception was not a good perception. And so the elitism outside D.O. as well as the elitism in, I think, were both against its best interests as a vital intellectual community. Now the disadvantage may be that there has been rather less intellectual leadership than there had been. And now there are really no Senior Associates, are there?
GC: And in a way that’s a good thing, it’s more like here in some respects. The Members/Fellows come and do their own thing. You see we have no pre-doctoral Members, and I do think that the Fellows at D.O. do need a certain amount of, I wouldn’t say direction, but of people they can consult with in addition to themselves. And that was the role – getting back to your real question – that Alexander supremely fulfilled.
JC: One of the happy outcomes of the air-conditioning retrofit was that the institution could be open twelve months a year.
GC: Absolutely. I’m glad you say “happy,” I wasn’t quite sure what you were prepared to say about the summer program, that again was a very controversial decision. As you suggested, it partly depended upon the air-conditioning to make it really possible to be open, though it was technically open – the staff was still there – but we had no Fellows. And yet it was symptomatic of what was one of the most difficult choices, whether the – I would put it perhaps in a rather prejudicial way – the intellectual mission of D.O. or its institutional one prevailed, if you can divide those, and I think one can to some extent. I well remember that Julia Warner, whom you remember, came to me on one occasion. She was sort of the head of a staff group – a self-constituted group but a perfectly reasonable one – and she said to me, “You know, Giles, if you had to put the interests of the staff or the Fellows first, which would you do?” And I’m certain she expected me to say, “staff.” She thought of me as an administrator. But I’m afraid I unhesitatingly answered, “The Fellows and the Senior Associates.” That was the disadvantage of getting a professor rather than an administrator into that job, and I think and hope that that attitude doesn’t always mean that one prefers one over the other, if one is really thinking that is. And this is why the summer program was extremely unpopular with the staff, and quite reasonably. I mean, they were still there, but they used to go down to the pool in the afternoon, and it really was a summer vacation for them. That was why the Blisses left Washington, and they could leave if they wanted to; if they wanted to stay, they could. And it was a very relaxed and, I think, quite cheap holiday, from their point of view and, frankly, I think it would have been from mine too. And similarly, they closed, I think, from before Christmas until well into January, and it opened again in the week after Christmas, which was deeply unpopular. But there were many scholars who had that time free and could come for four or five days to do work. And in the middle of summer, an occasion when scholars could come, was when the institution was traditionally closed. I think they’ve forgotten all that now, but it was quite a controversial thing, you can imagine, and not a very popular decision with the staff. But once it got going I think everybody genuinely, to some extent, welcomed it, and certainly there were people like Irene who were very service-oriented. So was Julia, really. But obviously it did cut into the way of life that they had traditionally had.
JC: Am I correct in remembering that in addition to the Summer Fellows that the number of Fellows per annum actually also increased.
CG: I think it did.
JC: And there was a renaming also in that period. The names that we use today conventionally: Junior Fellow and Fellow became cemented.
GC: Could be.
JC: So, there were more Fellows, and there were fewer Research Associates, is that right, as compared to the former faculty?
GC: I think, yes, we called them Senior Research Associates, and I forget, actually, the nomenclature of the Fellows, but, obviously the abolition or, at least, the suspension of the faculty left a fair amount of money for the intellectual purposes that could go into the Fellows program. Now here again one of the big issues was – my impression is that we paid the professorship of Ihor, and I’m not certain that we still don’t. Do you know whether he’s paid out of D.O. funds? He certainly is a Dumbarton Oaks Professor or was.
JC: I assume that we do, although I don’t know that, although I know we pay Ioli Kalavrezou in the art history department, –
GC: There you are.
JC: – and we paid Angeliki Laiou, until her recent death.
JC: And so, we continue the Dumbarton Oaks Professorships.
GC: Yes. That was certainly my assumption. Now I realized and it is my bet that with every Director that’s come from Harvard that their attitude changes. I am somebody who understands Thomas Becket very well. People say that he changed his view when he became Archbishop after having been Chancellor. And I think people get up to the position they’re in. When he was Chancellor, he worked for the king, and when he was Archbishop, he worked for the Church. And that this is not a question of his views changing or anything. So, likewise, when I was at Harvard, I fought for whatever Dumbarton Oaks could do for us, because I sat on that committee that Kitzinger chaired in the early seventies. And when I reached D.O., I was more interested in preserving the interests of Dumbarton Oaks. And it led to some rather interesting occasions. There was a garden book that we wanted to sell – a seventeenth-century book, not really related to the Garden Library – Betty wanted to buy something, and Houghton said that they would gladly take it, and after all it was Harvard’s. And this had to go to the Trustees. And they decided that it was D.O.’s. And that Houghton could buy it, but we did not have to just hand it over, and the same as with our pictures. Obviously when we sold the Matisse with the proceeds of which we bought the St. Peter icon, the Fogg would gladly have taken that. But the Trustees, on the whole, took the position that the resources of Dumbarton Oaks were for Dumbarton Oaks, and I certainly supported that position very strongly—when I was there! And probably if I were there now, I would want to chip away on the professorships. I would say that Harvard could support its professors, and we have to do other things. But that was part of the deal that was worked out, and I think it does promote Byzantine studies in the broader sense and that the Blisses certainly would not oppose that in any way. Although I do think that they really did intend, fairly strictly, that their money should promote the Washington institution. That may be a question that we would want to get into, although it’s a very complicated one. Ioli was appointed after I was there, but possibly Angeliki and certainly Ihor were D.O. Professors. But I refused to pay for a research assistant for Ihor, and Ihor was not very happy about that. It wasn’t that I didn’t want him to have a research assistant, but I wanted to have the chance to have another Fellow at Dumbarton Oaks.
JC: While you were Director, were there joint appointments? I can’t remember.
GC: Oh, yes. If I say so myself, I initiated those for the institution. Absolutely. And they still continue, don’t they?
GC: Yes, we had a number of them. John Thomas, for example. The commitment being that the institution making the appointment – and they didn’t always actually honor this – would consider the person for tenure at the end of the time. It was to get younger people – as there was a great dearth of jobs for younger people – into institutions that would at least seriously look them over. We obviously couldn’t get them to commit themselves to tenure – that was their affair. But they weren’t just term positions, by definition. And those were instituted, I would say, about half-way through. And we had a number of them. And on the whole I think they worked out fairly well. We started out just trying to have them in the Washington area, at first, because then they could come and go and be part of the D.O. community too. I think now they spend about half the year at D.O. and half the year away?
JC: Yes. That’s a typical arrangement.
GC: It’s obviously quite favorable for them as they get research time and a position, although it doesn’t always turn into a tenured one.
JC: Among the other important intellectual activities of the organization are the symposia that are offered each year. Do you have any reflections on the symposia of your directorship?
GC: Well, they continued probably less changed than most other aspects of the intellectual tradition. That was one of the things that was very much in the charge of the Senior Fellows, that they would choose what they called the symposiarch. And then the symposiarch would take over. The only thing, again somewhat, I fear, to the regret of the symposiarch, was that I limited the budget quite a bit. It had been a very, very expensive thing, and Ridgewells came and did the meals very lavishly. And I like dining as much as the next man, but we were going to go into the red. And Judy Siggins and I really had to work hard on it. But that’s a minor thing, and intellectually, I think, and in its basic formation and subsequent publication, from the point of view of the outsider, it changed comparatively little, but you may have differing views on that.
JC: No. I agree completely with that. And speaking of publications, what was the typical interest of the organization in the seventies and eighties to sponsor or to bring to publication scholarly work?
GC: Absolutely. Now here, and I don’t think the Trustees would have been so pleased if they’d known, my view was, still is, that D.O. should publish works that no one else will publish in the field of Byzantine studies and pre-Columbian and garden, although I had less to do with that. That is why, really to my great grief, we did not publish Otto Demus’s great book on San Marco because Chicago was willing to do it. It would have occupied not only our entire budget for publications for three years but our entire personnel for three years and would have meant that we probably couldn’t have published ten other works that no other university press would publish. So, very reluctantly – well, both reluctantly but gladly – we decided that Chicago should do that. And I think we always tried to farm out with very much reduced costs, for instance, the D.O.P., which was published by Augustin in Locust Valley – very beautifully. It is still pretty nicely produced. I don’t think that people now would be aware, although at the time people sensed that there was some decline, and that was above all—who was the head of publications?
JC: Glen Ruby.
GC: Yes. And Glen did a very, very good job, I think, in that sort of way. He kept up the quality but made it more business-like. I also was much, much firmer than Julia had been. People would send in works with literally a third of the notes unwritten, asking the editors at D.O. to do it. And I just said, “Absolutely not, Julia, we’re not doing that sort of work for people. They can come here and do them, if this is the only place they can be done, but the staff of Dumbarton Oaks is not here to complete the footnotes.”
JC: But until that decision, it was amazing in that publications department how meticulously they went over text and footnotes and filled in the lacunae, and –
GC: Well, I was glad of that, and they needed to fulfill their editorial function but not do the work that was the job of the author.
JC: Exactly. But I think they did up to a point, and their research especially by –
JC: Yes, Fanny Bonaiuto, benefitted many articles and publications –
GC: Oh hugely.
JC: – and were probably uncredited.
GC: But the net result was we could publish less.
JC: True. Because it was time consuming.
GC: Yes, immensely time consuming. But these are the sort of details that were the working out of things that were not fundamental, and it was just a matter of getting it, again as I said, onto a somewhat more business-like basis.
JC: The Collection, or Museum as it’s now called, began to open in the summer as well after air-conditioning, which was better conditioning for the objects, and I believe Gary Vikan came in that period –
GC: He did indeed.
JC: – as Associate Curator and started doing special exhibitions.
GC: He did.
JC: I’m not sure that had happened before.
GC: It had not.
JC: Can you speak a little about that and, maybe, about some of the acquisitions, such as the St. Peter icon.
GC: Well, why don’t I start with the last, because on the whole we didn’t make a great many acquisitions. We tried to with some things, which I’ll come back to. But the St. Peter icon was the great acquisition, and I actually went to Holland to go and see it. And as the Archivist you may know yourself that the Trustees – very properly in my opinion because we did not know where it came from – made the sale a conditional sale, with the money in escrow, that if any claim were brought against it, and we were the judges whether it was a legitimate claim or not, the seller would return the money. And so the Trustees sold the Matisse to pay for it. But it was by far the biggest acquisition. I had always felt when I came that the biggest gap was in the area of icons. The Blisses themselves didn’t terribly much like icons.
JC: That’s right.
GC: Although they liked those miniature-mosaic icons which are almost like jewelry.
JC: You know the Forty Martyrs icon had been offered to them in the late 20s or early 30s, and they turned it down. It was only through Hayford Peirce’s widow’s collection that they finally acquired it. So, I don’t think they liked very much any kind of icon of any variety.
GC: No. And I always thought that if a cultivated Byzantine individual of the twelfth or thirteenth century would have turned up, he would have said, “Well you’ve got some very beautiful silver things and some fine jewelry, and fine this and that, but where are the Byzantine things!” So, I felt that was the biggest hole, and I wanted to concentrate on it, although we did bid on one or two things at the von Hirsch sale, and Jack Thacher actually offered to help us, and he felt very badly. Jack had cultivated Von Hirsch for years in the confidence that the ivory would be left to us, but it was not, and it went well above what we were prepared – I forget what it was – but we were prepared to go to seven or eight hundred thousand, and it went for a million three or something. But there again, although it would have been wonderful to have, it’s an area where D.O. does have pretty good ivories. And the truth is that there were not a very great number of pieces that we wanted, that Sue wanted, although we made incidental small acquisitions. Now going on to the exhibitions, I favored this very much. And I, actually – and I regret it that I could never induce the curator – think that we should have exhibited some fakes – all museums worth their salt, including D.O., have fakes, often very good ones – because sometimes they’re resuscitated and sometime they’re not. But with an expert opinion – and we did do this for one or two things with Gary and Ernst. And with one piece, Gary thought it was fake and Ernst did not, and to have their opinions for the public to see I think educates their eye – certainly mine. And it also excites their curiosity a bit that the experts disagree about whether or not it’s an authentic object. With most museums, as soon as something is thought to be a fake, into the cellar it goes, and they try to hide the fact that they have it. Or they think they’re not doing their duty if they don’t. They shouldn’t get too many, but a few, I think is inevitable if you’re being adventurous in your buying. So Gary helped organize these. And he left fairly shortly afterwards. But we did continue having some exhibitions. And what’s more, although Gary principally organized internal exhibitions, we had the Bulgarian jewelry exhibition. And I don’t think that tradition has continued too much, has it?
JC: No. Partly, as you know, lending has tightened for any number of reasons—security, cost.
GC: Yes. They’re expensive.
JC: I believe the institution is in a much better shape now to revisit that question.
GC: There’s a new gallery, isn’t there?
JC: There’s a new temporary exhibition gallery that has museum standards, and on the forms that are inevitably sent out to tell lenders that their objects will be well taken care of, we can now convince them of that. But it’s unclear with the recent decline in the economy and, perhaps, budget constraints similar to those that you faced, if loan exhibitions can be arranged.
GC: The Bulgarian exhibition, fortunately, wasn’t a very expensive one, because the items are very small. And I went to Bulgaria several times, and they were very pleased with this initiative. But there was one difficulty that we ran into that sort of became part of the institution’s intellectual history. Sue and I – and Sue particularly – realized that at some point the Bulgarian curators who had come were not happy with something, and we didn’t quite know what. But in any case, to cut a long story fairly short, we realized that in the tendency of Byzantine art historians, all the best pieces were described as Constantinopolitan, and all the others were provincial! And whether this is true of not I think is an interesting question – and I’m not certain that the Byzantinists are right that everything of very high quality was always produced in Constantinople, but that’s, in a way, what they believed – but the Bulgarians obviously didn’t like that! And once we changed some of the labels, they cheered up no end! And, yes, the exhibition was quite a success, and I got to know the Bulgarian Ambassador very well. We gave a party, and we had a Bulgarian who’s now probably dead, who gave a concert, and all the Bulgarians turned up. I remember that at the concert itself, we were rather late in beginning. And there were a number of people coming in. And I said to the Ambassador, “What should we do?” And he looked back and said, “They’re all from the Embassy. The concert can begin.” He was in charge of this. We arranged our concerts a year to a year and a half in advance. This was arranged about a week in advance. But because this was a dictatorship, when they told her – I forget her name; she was a very nice person who knew my mother, had travelled on a plane with her she told me – when she was told to go to Washington, she went to Washington, whereas no American musician would dream of being bossed around that way. But it was a very good concert. Now, the other major exhibition that you’ve probably come in contact with was the Aztec exhibition, a joint one. And that was a much bigger operation and involvement for me, rather personally, and for Elizabeth too. It was, I think, the first major exhibition of pre-Columbian art held in an art museum. America is still, I think, disgraceful that nine tenths of pre-Columbian art is considered third world and you’ll find it in the natural history museum –
JC: Or anthropological.
GC: Yes. And D.O. always stood – and Mr. Bliss himself stood – fairly strongly for the fact, and very rightly I think, that this was in the fine arts tradition, and that these cultures were producing beautiful things when Greece was still primitive. They had beautiful techniques. The Aztecs, of course, were later, but it’s all part of that particular tradition. There again, I went down to Mexico and did most of the negotiation. And oddly enough, while the Mexican government in some ways was pleased, because it was in the National Gallery, and this gave a recognition to pre-Columbian and Aztec art there, we’d probably have gotten yet more things if we’d been in Newark, New Jersey, because there was the idea that Washington snaps its fingers and Mexico dances the tune and lends whatever is wanted that did not please them. We still got many fine objects, you know, and yet many that we didn’t get was because they didn’t want to be pushed around by the National Gallery. But the exhibition was a great success.
JC: Was the idea of the exhibition initiated by Dumbarton Oaks?
GC: Yes. Absolutely.
JC: That certainly started a long and successful tradition at the National Gallery of focusing on pre-Columbian –
GC: Oh yes. And I think it was the very first big exhibition that they had, and, absolutely, it was initiated by us. But it was much, much bigger than we could handle. And I think that Elizabeth and I would have liked to do it, but it was out of the question; we didn’t have the gallery space. And, of course, we didn’t have the money or the tradition of a heavily insured and very expensive exhibition. But it was, as I say, rather fun. And, again, I think played a role in D.O.’s history that was an individual episode but an important one.
JC: Let’s talk a little about the issue of repatriation which was becoming an issue in the seventies and when certainly laws about what could cross over borders were tightening which, of course, caused problems for museums that had to deal with objects that were procured before that time and often without good documentation. How did you handle that during your tenure?
GC: Well, I spent a great deal of time on both issues, with the pre-Columbian and with the Sion silver. And in both cases the Trustees were extremely supportive. I had a fairly elaborate scheme with the then-head of the international union, or whatever it’s called.
JC: The Organization of American States?
GC: Yes. And they were going to become the technical possessors and administrators of the collection which would remain at Dumbarton Oaks, needless to say. I am a great believer that for a museum, technical ownership is not what matters; we don’t want to sell the things, what matters is to be able to exhibit and study the objects. And the Trustees were much pleased by the idea that the OAS – yes, the Organization of American States, and this got quite high with them – would basically assume the title of the cache with the understanding that it would stay at Dumbarton Oaks. And then they would pay the expenses of it too and assist in acquiring things. And that would have solved any number of problems for the future as well as for the past. And much to my surprise, there has never been a rumble from any of the places from which many of those objects undoubtedly illegally came, above all Mexico. But unlike Turkey, they never raised any question. But then the trouble was that whatever his name was – Mr. Ortega, I think, or I may have gotten it wrong – got into some troubles with the OAS, and the whole issue fell through. I think it would have been a very interesting idea. But I spent nothing like as much time as I did on the Turkish, and there I don’t know how much of the literature you’ve gone into on that.
JC: I’ve seen it.
GC: Yes. Well, I came up – and I will say “I” although it was done at every step with the full approval of the Trustees – with the idea, basically, that the title to the silver would be returned to Turkey; it would be theirs, given back to them, on the understanding that there would be a joint restoration – because one of the troubles of the Sion treasure is that part of it is still in Turkey and parts of the same piece, which they, very rightly, won’t even show us. I can see they don’t terribly want to collaborate. But the idea was that we would have paid for that, for the restoration program. And then it would have been exhibited on a rotation to be agreed upon, at Dumbarton Oaks and in Turkey. And when it was in Turkey, they would have lent us things from their museums to be exhibited at Dumbarton Oaks. And, frankly, I still believe that this is a brilliant suggestion. And that is why my relationship with Mr. Elekdag improved rapidly, and I think he very much regrets that they didn’t go ahead with this.
JC: And who is he?
GC: Mr. Elekdag was the Ambassador. But I got as high as the Minister of Culture. But the difficulty is – if I’d stayed longer it might have gone through, I don’t know – but Turkey had very strict laws that no object that belonged to the Republic of Turkey can be exhibited outside. It came with a Turkish exhibition in the seventies or sixties when objects got badly damaged, and they passed laws that nothing could be lent from Turkey. And I think this was a great mistake. Because it means that the Greeks, who, of course, exhibit freely outside, encourage the impression that Greece is the cultivated, traditional highly civilized world, and Turkey is just barbaric – which is ridiculous. They have marvelous museums and a very great tradition of works of art. But it probably would have had to go to the President of Turkey. And it was my conviction and that of those who advised me most, that if we could have ever got fifteen minutes to explain what the program was, he would have approved it. But that’s a very difficult thing to do for a very busy man.
JC: So the sticking point was truly the exhibition embargo?
GC: That I believe. There were other small sticking points. They wanted the restoration work to be done in Turkey. And the truth is that they did not have, at that time, sufficiently skilled people. I think we could have overcome that. If need be, we would have sent people to train them. There were always going to be Turkish craftsmen involved, but we hoped to do it at the British Museum which has the best tradition of metal restoration – or possibly at the Fogg. But there was always going to be Turks, and so they would have gone back and would have established a first-rate tradition. And I think we could have done that. But, no, the thing was it would have required, basically, a brave politician to say that Turkish objects could be exhibited and live outside Turkey. Now I was assured, and I believe it because the Turks have a long diplomatic tradition, that if they had signed the agreement, they would have honored it. And other people say, “Well, how do you know? They would have kept the collection after exhibiting it and say, ‘We won’t return it.’” And the entire corpus of Turkish scholars said they just wouldn’t do that. If they solemnly agreed to it – but it would have to be solemnly agreed to and signed and sealed by all their people as well as our Trustees – they would honor it. And even then, it wouldn’t have been a huge deal. We’d have got the collection in storage. We would have exhibited it for whatever rotation period we’d agreed to: one year off, two years on; five years on-off. And I think this would be a wonderful thing to bring to D.O. from Turkey Byzantine objects that otherwise would never be seen outside Turkey. And I really believe that both the Minister of Culture and, above all, Mr. Elekdag regretted that they didn’t press it more firmly. I told them that I was leaving, and I knew very well that Robert would take no interest whatsoever. And I don’t think since Angeliki the matter has been revived at all. Has it?
JC: I believe that when she was Director the Turks came and paid another visit.
GC: But just claiming it?
JC: Right. Yes, not to discuss reciprocation. My read of this, which is unfortunate, is that our interests were scholarship- and preservation-oriented and that you had to deal with politicians interested in the law –
JC: – whereas if you could have dealt with academics, the issue of reciprocity would have been clearer and more easily agreed to.
GC: But they could never have made the decision.
JC: Perhaps the Nezih Firatli’s of –
GC: Nezih-Bey, I was thinking of him. Of course, he had died by then, but had he lived, I think Nezih-Bey would have been very helpful. And I notice that more and more museums are moving in this direction, they have agreements precisely of this nature.
JC: The recent unhappiness in the museum world about repatriation – and whether its right or wrong we don’t need to get into – but much of the interest, it seems to me if for lawyers and politicians to make a name for themselves –
JC: – to become heroes in their lands because they are able to get the Elgin Marbles back. And the real interests – keeping the objects safe, putting them on public display, publishing them –
GC: Where they can work for the culture.
JC: – yes, is omitted from the discussion, and their bottom line is if the objects left illegally they need to come back, or nothing.
GC: Yes. I quite agree with you. The Elgin Marbles have been the best Ambassador of Greece that’s ever been. I think it’s fair to say that Western Europe, certainly England would not have supported Greece in rebellion if it hadn’t been for the feeling for Greek culture that they created. Now, I changed my view about 1960. The things the Blisses got previously under the old dispensation, they don’t bother me. But I would very strongly – and I did in the American Association of Museum Directors – oppose buying illegally. And at that time, I was scoffed. They said, “Oh, Giles, that only applies to antiquities.” Of course, it doesn’t, it applies to all things. It’s a different tune now, but that was back in the seventies, but it gave me a feeling of what the old regime was like.
JC: Let’s revisit an old rumor, which I never understood how it started or what –
GC: I suspect I know what’s coming!
JC: – was that Dumbarton Oaks, because of double-digit inflation and in view of possible deficit spending, might have to go back to Harvard – the physical real estate of Harvard.
JC: How did that come about, and what transpired in that period when that rumor was afloat?
GC: Well, it created a lot of bother for me!
JC: I’m sure it did!
GC: It was there well before I went. But it was greatly enhanced by my going because I was the first Harvard professor. It is my genuine belief – and I’ve never looked, of course, at the records of the Trustees, i.e. the Corporation – that it was never seriously considered.
JC: I’ve never found any evidence of a “white-paper” position. It’s always been gossip.
GC: Both the Corporation and the Trustees, who, of course, were the same people wearing different hats, would have been horrified of thinking of trying to do it, quite apart from the Trust that was involved. I don’t know whether Mr. Tyler felt this at all himself, but certainly there was great nervousness at D.O. when I went there, partly because of the departure of the faculty, which had mostly taken place already – I mean, Ihor had gone to Harvard; we’ve discussed that already. And I think that the whole institution was very nervous. And they knew, I believe, that somewhere in the Deed of Trust, Harvard does have the right to move it. But I know that the very first time I went out there and met with the entire staff – we met in the Music Room and I was introduced – Mr. Tyler himself asked me that question, and I replied, perfectly true then and true now, that I didn’t think there was a word of truth in it. That it was one of those rogue rumors that was almost in its nature a middle- and lower-level rumor rather than one from those who were really making these decisions. But one of the troubles of being in that position, which I realized – and it was interesting for me as an institutional historian – that I was damned if I did and damned if I didn’t. I mean, if I denied that there was such a rumor or such a possibility, I was a skillful liar. If I really didn’t know, I was very ignorant! And I talked to people in Washington, years afterwards, who told me the most extraordinary things about Dumbarton Oaks. And if I tried to say there’s absolutely no truth in this whatsoever, they either thought that I was denying it on policy, or worse that I was ignorant. The same thing happened when I was a Trustee at Radcliffe. People told me the most extraordinary things about what Radcliffe was planning, which just from the few years that I was a Trustee, I knew what was going on. And I really did know, and I knew Polly Bunting pretty well, and I did know that some things were and some things weren’t. But they absolutely wouldn’t believe it. And if somebody who should know denies it, it shows that either they don’t know or they’re good liars or bad liars, for all I know. But I just think – and I’m interested that you’ve discovered absolutely nothing – I think that it was actually the product – and I’ve never really thought about this – of a display of Dumbarton Oaks’s own nervousness for its future, a feeling that the old regime was passing and Mr. Tyler was the last representative of the old regime and that changes were coming – financial and administrative – in its relation to Harvard – and that somebody got this idea. I won’t say that there weren’t people – I mean, Ihor, when he moved to Harvard, would have liked to get more of Dumbarton Oaks’s resources up there and may have said so, for all I know. And Bobby Wolff was, as you probably know and for reasons I never quite understood, quite anti-D.O. But they wouldn’t have known what to do with it. I mean they would have to have kept the house and the gardens. I think legally that there would be no question that they would. They probably could have moved the scholarly activities. And maybe in the 1960s it could have been as good an institution, possibly more so, if it were in Cambridge with the scholarly activities and the Fellows and the library. Indeed, one of the troubles with D.O. is that it’s intellectually rather isolated. But that’s the way they founded it, and I believe very strongly that people have a right to spend their money the way they want to, provided it’s one that isn’t very bad for society or something that shouldn’t be done. It’s perfectly reasonable. As I say, I don’t believe the Trustees ever seriously considered it. If we’d gotten into a worse financial condition, however, I don’t know what they would have done.
JC: Let’s return to the question of what, in fact, is the nature of the relationship between Dumbarton Oaks and Harvard.
GC: Yes. I remember soon after I went there, or maybe even before, David Wright – who is an old friend and knew Dumbarton Oaks pretty well and we were classmates way, way back – he said one of the difficulties is that Harvard is, how did he put it: it’s rich, it’s powerful, and it’s distant. And I think it is and has been hard for D.O. to be governed by an institution that is far away, that has an interest, but not one that is really very friendly. And this can lead to a certain amount of demonization, particularly, I think, when times were a little difficult, as they were in the mid-seventies – and quite unjustified, but perhaps the very lack of interest that Harvard took and takes to some extent – I mean, for me, the Trustees were absolutely ideal, so long as we were in the black, they really didn’t bother very much. And on individual things like the plans with the OAS or the Turkish Government I found Derek extremely supportive and the Trustees too. I mean, there was no problem whatsoever. And my friends who are directors of institutions who have trustees that took a keen interest in them envied me. This worked very well when the institution’s going well, not so well when the institution’s in trouble. And I think this probably fostered the sort of feelings of suspicion that were not justified but which were natural and understandable in a group of people who were bothered about the future of the institution that they cared for and worked for and where they really weren’t quite sure what was going on. I once suggested, largely for the sake of D.O., that the Trustees should meet at D.O. When I say largely for the sake, I mean so that the people there could see that they are perfectly reasonable people. But they said, “Giles, you have no idea how busy the Corporation is. There is absolutely no question about ever meeting at Dumbarton Oaks.” The most he allowed me was that one member of the Corporation, Andrew Heiskell, was allowed to attend all our advisory committee meetings. I liked Andrew very much, and he was very useful, and he was at least a link with the Trustees. I think you know that in the original plans of the Blisses there were to be two extra Trustees for D.O. alone, but they were never appointed.
JC: Not even once, right?
GC: No. Not even once. No, it was a difficult period, and so they are exactly the same people, though I believe that the Secretary of the Corporation has to say, “Gentlemen” or “Ladies and gentlemen, you are sitting as the Trustees for Dumbarton Oaks.” And that any business that they do for Dumbarton Oaks has to be in that capacity, even though they don’t even get up from their chairs! I think it would have been very good if there had been two extra Trustees. Joe Alsop, as you might know, took a great interest. Joe was to us an extraordinarily useful advisor because he was very useful in the Washington community. But I have no doubt that he had suspicions of Harvard. Many people do. It’s because of what David said, and not only at D.O., but rich, powerful, distant institutions invite certain suspicion, even if it’s not justified. Joe was extremely shrewd and very experienced, and he minded very much when Dumbarton Oaks’s funds were unitized. And he felt that, and I think he may have been right, it was certainly done for Harvard’s administrative simplicity and not necessarily with Dumbarton Oaks’s interests in mind. It was before my time. But it has probably simplified life for D.O. too. But it encouraged the belief, which was certainly wide-spread in Washington, that all Harvard really wanted to do was to lay its hands on D.O.’s money and that they would fulfill a minimum of the obligation. I think that was totally untrue. But if the little guys at Dumbarton Oaks believed this, if the more powerful guys in Georgetown –. And, of course, I was absolutely forbidden to raise money for D.O. Derek was absolutely explicit. But if I had sat next to somebody at dinner who’d said that he wanted to endow another fellowship or to give something, I wouldn’t have to say no. But I was absolutely not allowed.
JC: And that was because you would be competing for –
GC: Funds. This is something that I think Bill Tyler didn’t fully realize, poor man. And this is another aspect of these suspicions, that Harvard did not fully support him in the plans for the Library under the North Vista. When it came down to it, the Georgetown giving community was counted as much or more in Harvard’s book as D.O. was. Now mind you, I think there were reasons against that plan. I myself would not have wanted to change the plans. I don’t think the North Vista should become two rather than three levels. But that is an aesthetic decision on my part. But you may know that when Derek came down during that great brouhaha, which certainly fostered suspicions of Harvard both in the Georgetown community and at D.O. when they refused permission for that building, he was picketed, and as a labor lawyer he was not the sort of man to like that. And I was told, and I have no reason to doubt that it’s true, that one Georgetown madam came, and her maid walked behind her carrying the sign, and when she reached the picket line, she took the sign and walked around with her friends. Then when she went home, she gave the sign back to the maid so that she didn’t have to walk around the streets of Georgetown carrying the picket sign! But Derek didn’t like crossing the picket line. And influential people were opposed to the building. I, of course, was not in on that decision at all. But I’m certain that Bill minded very much, indeed, as it was very much his brain child and was done, he felt, very much in the best interests of D.O. – they did need more library space – and I’m certain, again, that this fostered the belief that Harvard was not supportive. Now does this fit in with anything you’ve read in the Archives?
JC: What I’ve read is that the official conclusion was that Harvard didn’t want to face such unpleasant and possibly litigious actions on the part of those concerned with the gardens of Dumbarton Oaks. And that in the mid-seventies building costs were escalating and the value of the dollar was worsening and it really was a losing proposition –
GC: It wasn’t the time to do it.
JC: Exactly. But that’s the official explanation, that’s the conclusion. What was said in back rooms I don’t think was recorded.
GC: Actually, that interests me because I think that in the Georgetown community, the aesthetic consideration would have weighed even more, if they had said that they did not want to change Beatrix Farrand’s plan. That would have done Dumbarton Oaks a great deal of good.
JC: I agree.
GC: And as I say, that’s actually a position I would have taken myself. But the fact that it was abandoned for financial or institutional reasons would not have carried such weight with the Georgetown community. Or, at least, they could have added the aesthetic reason that the garden is somewhat sacrosanct and certainly was to the Blisses. Nobody would believe – they knew there was an individual endowment for the gardens, but it covers only a fraction of the cost of the garden, and we always supported the garden out of unrestricted funds – but we couldn’t get the old ladies of Georgetown to believe that! They thought that every penny was being squeezed out for the scholarly program. But in reality, the gardens meant a great deal. Bill was a great supporter of the gardens, and he was a great supporter of their being open too. He said that there shouldn’t be just ladies’ and gents’ hours, so that people who came home from work could go. But he was quite nice when we instituted a fee; he supported that too.
JC: Let’s change the topic slightly and move to a question of just how medieval or what kind of medieval Dumbarton Oaks is or was when it started out. There’s clearly a Byzantine identification.
JC: And yet some of the wording says “Mediterranean tradition” and perhaps the word Latin gets used occasionally in some of the paper work. What was your impression as to how Byzantine-centric the Blisses intended the studies program to be – or the early administrators – and how much of the peripheral cultures – the Islamic and Latin West, for example – were meant to be part of the intellectual center?
GC: Well, I believe strongly that the Blisses did intend some non-Byzantine aspects to be included. I mean, I think it actually says on that inscription “medieval and Byzantine,” doesn’t it? Or is it “Byzantine and medieval?” Anyway, there’s the word “medieval.” I think it’s “Byzantine and medieval.”
JC: Yes, I think it’s “scholarship in the Byzantine and medieval humanities.”
GC: It is my firm belief – my parents say I knew the Blisses; I’m not sure I did!; they did; and I certainly never discussed this sort of thing with them – that they wanted to show the centrality of Byzantium in a larger medieval world, meaning both east and west and north and south. And I genuinely believe that they felt that that would enhance Byzantine studies – that it would show both with the Islamic world and, south and west, with the Latin world, and going back, of course, into late antiquity. That we’ve always done; that’s always been part of it. I personally feel that fairly early, largely due to the faculty appointments they made, they took a rather narrow Byzantine point-of-view. And Byzantinists are people who tend to believe that theirs is a world surrounded by a wall, through the gates of which the Byzantines perhaps do go from time to time but through which other people don’t go all that frequently and certainly not to influence Byzantium. Years and years ago a man named Jean-Louis Charles – whom I still know, still living, he lives not far from us in France, in fact – who was really a great scholar, and at the seventy-two conference, I think it was – we weren’t talking about Dumbarton Oaks but just about Byzantine studies – and he said, “Scratch a Byzantinist and you’ll find some background in the areas of the Byzantine Empire.” And it really is quite true that an astonishing number – not all – are either Greek or Bulgarian or, of course, Turkish. And to them, these people who come from these modern national traditions, Byzantine is to them their great period. And they want to see it magnified and preserved. I think that the western medievalists – well, most of the western European countries have done fairly well on the whole since the Middle Ages; I mean, France, England, Spain, and Italy – they don’t need to glorify their medieval past or need to preserve and foster it in the same way. I actually think for the Byzantinists that it would enhance the importance and interest to put it in the broader setting, like, if you will, the diamond in the middle of a ring. (I’ve never used this simile before, it occurs to me!) But with bright diamonds around it too, reflecting on it and it on them. And I truly believe that this is what the Blisses wanted. And I think that their wording supports this. But always with a centrality of Byzantium; there was no question about that.
JC: I agree with that. Certainly the library that they had – the fourteen thousand volume library, the titles of which we know – and the objects of the collection that they acquired support this theory.
GC: But I think that this is another reason that I represented a threat, as a western medievalist.
JC: That’s what I was going to get to next.
GC: I thought so. But all these things, if they were feeling at all paranoid, and I think they had reasons to, and I don’t say this in a pejorative sense whatsoever, indicated that clearly a time of change was coming. That people who had that sort of mentality could see a plan which wasn’t there, but that frightened and alarmed them. And it’s a little nerve grinding the way that rumors can be destructive, particularly again in small institutions. I learned a great deal about this with medieval abbeys. But at Harvard, corridor complaining doesn’t bother too much. I mean, you can say, “This place is going to the dogs, and the Humanities are never going to survive!” At D.O. it’s a small place, and this can really change things. I used to speak to people about this. And they’d say, “Oh, we don’t really mean that.” And I’d say, “Well then don’t talk about it.” But in monasteries you are forbidden to complain about the food. If you want to complain about the food, you have to go to the cook, the monk who’s in charge of it. But you can’t just say, “Not Brussels sprouts again!” But these little complaints can create a more serious atmosphere. But I think that’s changed. I think it’s a fairly happy institution now, isn’t it?
JC: I believe so.
GC: Well, you’ve been there twenty years now, so you should know!
JC: Yes, in my view it is a happy institution – especially due to both the restructuring and the physical rebuilding of the campus – because we’d hit another menopausal moment –
GC: Yes! And getting that apartment building.
JC: Yes. There were some missing pieces that became realities, although the physical real estate of library space will be an on-going problem, at least until the digital age makes it obsolete. But you could hear a collective exhaling of breath when all of this wonderful additional shelving space was inaugurated. And there were proper offices and ample desks. I believe that you had started the tradition of having outside readers.
JC: And outside readers were –
GC: – hard-pressed to find a place. Yes. And the Fellows have offices, don’t they?
GC: Which, of course, earlier all we could give them was a desk because we had to use every inch in the building for books. That was the only way I could stave off new building. Oh and yes – this was great fun – the movable stacks down in what had been Mrs. Bliss’s exercise room. Peter who was the senior professor there – I mean, not at D.O. but outside – said, “I’ll test them.” And he went in and pushed back, and it stopped – because people were afraid, as they are here with these [he points to movable stacks in his office], that they would be crushed like flies when they closed. But really I don’t think there have been many accidents either here or elsewhere with movable stacks. But still it represented a sort of change in that we’d never had this sort of thing before. But I knew that another library building was going to have to come, but just what it would be would be another matter and that it would come after my time.
JC: And where it could be was, I guess, the critical issue.
GC: Yes. Absolutely – because there, again, you run into the Georgetown community – and to some extent properly. I mean, Dumbarton Oaks is a jewel and not something that should be lightly messed around with. And our reconstruction both inside the building and, above all, in the Orangery which was really in very bad shape, and I think that most people don’t know now that those beams are concrete, they’re so covered with vines when I last saw it.
JC: And even when you see them without the vines, it’s a very good fakery.
GC: Yes. And, of course, I was there when the real oaks began to go. But I think we were very wise and planted new ones in other places. Although I would rather have liked to have the trees where they were – there was a horse chestnut on the North Vista, and a little bit of lack of balance I wouldn’t have objected to. Is there an advisor to the garden in addition to the head gardener?
GC: It was Diane Maguire in my time. And they followed the Plant Book which was published in my time, and I promoted it very strongly to give some guidance. Because sometimes I would say to people, “What is the most fragile object at Dumbarton Oaks?” And they’d sort of think, well maybe the El Greco or the Riemenschneider or something. But I think you could put the El Greco in the attic, and it would be all right fifty years from now. But it you neglected the garden for three years, it would be irreparably changed.
JC: As is evidenced with the Dumbarton Oaks Park.
GC: Yes. You do know that they would have liked to give it back to us, but the Trustees said, “No.”
JC: I did not know that.
GC: Yes. But we could never have taken on the responsibility. No, they could have restored it.
JC: And do you know, by chance, because I’ve tried to find this out and I think I’m satisfied with the answer that I have, do you know was it always the Blisses’ idea to divide the property between Harvard and the Park Service?
GC: No, I don’t know, although it has always been my assumption, but no, not with any documentary basis.
JC: Someone once told me that it was first the Blisses’ intention to give the fifty plus acres to Harvard. But I think this was unfounded rumor. And that Harvard said, “No, that is too much to maintain unless the endowment is much bigger.” And therefore there had to be a compromise. But I’ve never found a document that even discusses this.
GC: No, it was always my assumption that they wanted to give the more formal area and the architecture, and there was something of a closure down there, although there was an opening. But if you had asked me, I would have said that the Blisses wanted the rest to go to the public, because they really were very public-spirited people. And they probably would have realized that it wouldn’t have made sense for D.O. the institution, but it would make sense for Washington. But I simply don’t know that.
JC: Giles, let me ask you one last question.
GC: Oh, of course. We’ve still got time.
JC: And this is somewhat more personal. Since your tenure, it’s become tradition for a Harvard professor to be appointed as Director of Dumbarton Oaks, often for five or ten years. How was it for you, leaving a faculty position and students and an active scholarly life? I don’t know if you were working on monasticism at the time –
GC: Oh yes.
JC: – how was it for you, and what advice would you give future Harvard professors who might choose to take this position? You know, it’s not always been easy to fill this position.
GC: Oh no.
JC: Possibly because it changes the direction of one’s career.
GC: Yes. Well, of course, you can always go back, and I knew that I could and so you don’t feel trapped in the position, if you are an appointed Harvard professor – which would be different if they ever wanted to reach out to someone outside the Harvard community, which may be something that someday they will want to consider. But thank God, I’m not making those decisions!
JC: They appointed Joe Connors at I Tatti, although he worked out a Harvard appointment.
GC: Yes, but they’ve had non-Harvard people at I Tatti, and that’s a permanent position, isn’t it?
JC: I didn’t know that, although it may very well be.
GC: I think it is, yes. And it would be something they would have to negotiate with the institution, obviously, whether the person could go back. I think few people are going to want to give up not only tenure but also, as you say, the teaching and the faculty. I favor what they’re doing at D.O., although as I say, at the time it was, then, rather threatening for D.O. But I think that it’s meant that they’ve had a series of serious scholars as Directors, which Jack and Tyler – I mean, they both had Ph.D.s – but they were not scholars in the same sense. They were both very remarkable men, and they did very well by D.O. during that transition period, especially when the Blisses were still living. But for me, it was, frankly, fun. Well – not always, there were moments when it was not! But I think that Evhy and I, and the children, really did enjoy it. It gave us a glimpse of a world that we otherwise wouldn’t have known. And I think that that would serve for any of the people who’ve been there. Some are, I think, more into it, and some less, and that’s up to them. I left simply because I had the invitation to give the Trevelyan lectures at Cambridge, and I knew that I could never write them while still being Director. I never took, you see, any leave, barely took a vacation. I mean, I did go away for periods, but it partly was my own damn fault, by opening up the institution in the summer! And we sold our house in the country when we moved to D.O. because we just simply couldn’t get up there for enough time. And as I’ve commented to you before, it was an institution that didn’t necessarily need me but needed somebody. I once drew up an organizational chart at D.O. – it’s probably somewhere in your files – and it occasioned much laughter at Harvard, with good reason, because the lines of reporting were so stretched. They liked to see a chart with director, assistant director, curators and all. But not at D.O., it looked like a cardinal’s hat! Spread way out with any number of people reporting to me. And that, of course, is one of the difficulties in making the appointments. At Harvard, if you go as a young librarian and you do well, there are countless libraries they can promote you to. I had to tell people when I made them an appointment as assistant librarian, there isn’t another opening, and you can do the best job in the world, and I probably cannot promote you. I can raise your salary from time to time. But there is only one librarian, or there was then for the Byzantine Library, of course, and only one curator. That is why we really couldn’t have both Sue and Gary. It’s too small of an institution, although it’s a very good step on the ladder for a young scholar, and I would advise a Director to encourage a young scholar to take it but plan to move on to be a curator of a collection at another institution, which is actually what Gary did. But keeping the morale up, where positions are closed, can be difficult, and it is something that a Director should pay attention to. I forget who was then the director of personnel at Harvard, but he was a very nice man who gave me some wise advice on these sorts of things. We were at some points there too closely bound to the Washington hierarchy. I mean, Bill Tyler and I think Jack Thacher too, at least Bill when he had a new appointment to make, he went straight to the State Department pool, and they are compartmentalized to a fantastic degree. I had this problem. Mike Dziedzic, whom you probably don’t remember, who was the head houseman, and I had to make a bargain with him. I carried books around myself; I liked to. And it offended Mike deeply because it suggested that he and his housemen weren’t doing their job if the Director was carrying around books himself. And so I bargained with Mike, which he enjoyed too, that I would carry around three books, but no more. And if I had five books to carry, I had to tell Mike who would tell one of the housemen to go and get them and carry them down to my office! And that’s what happens in Washington, it happens in the State Department. I mean, if you had a letter to be delivered next door, to the next office, you couldn’t take it round yourself, or even send your secretary. Oh, no. But I think that all went. I told people, “It’s a small institution, and we all have to do everything ourselves.” And what needs to be done is the question, not what’s in your job description or not. And on the whole, especially the housemen, we had a splendid group. They were wonderful men whom I both respected and really loved. They did an excellent job. And I think the gardeners did too, although they did have this deeply sexist attitude. But I think for the time being it’s worked out, getting back to your original question. But you would have better views than I. You’ve been there for the last twenty years under several Directors, which I wasn’t. I think for some better, for some worse. And I knew this, that under Robert there was a calming period, and I think that was probably necessary. He is naturally a rather conservative man, and I knew this – that he wasn’t going to undertake any major changes; there’d been a number of them, and things needed to settle down a bit. And then things took off particularly with Ned again, and I imagine they will with Jan. What is the best permanent model to have? I really don’t know. But if it works –. But what would your feeling be, and I don’t mean for you to criticize anybody.
JC: My feeling is that those Directors who come with some expectation to continue their scholarship have to squeeze the time for this out of their days –
GC: Oh, yes. It’s a much busier job than they think.
JC: – and that could be somewhat frustrating, I suppose. I guess you have to be ready for the change, as you seem to have been in 1977.
GC: I’d been at Harvard a long time and rather wanted a break. And remember, I did teach when I was at D.O., at both Georgetown, at Catholic U., and I taught two courses, I think, at Dumbarton Oaks with Ihor on hagiography, a comparative course. I did Latin and he did Greek hagiography. And that, therefore, kept my teaching interests.
JC: And subsequent Directors have done similar things.
GC: I wasn’t quite sure.
JC: I know that several have done at least one seminar a term at Harvard.
GC: Ah, yes, but not in Washington?
GC: I felt rather strongly about doing it in Washington. I didn’t want to continue teaching at Harvard. That I could have done. But I wanted to root Dumbarton Oaks more firmly in Washington. And to some extent the joint appointments were to do that. Washington is peculiar in that it has some very good universities but it doesn’t have any of the great universities of the country. And that is in a way rather surprising partly because Washington is a political center and always has been and it’s no great surprise that two of the universities – Georgetown and Catholic – are Catholic universities, and they were the ones that I taught at. And they’re both very good institutions, but they wouldn’t rank probably in the top dozen or fifteen of the country. But I wanted to do this. And I also organized, purely informally, a Washington-area medieval conference of the medievalists. And we just met at our houses and gave papers to each other. And I think that’s died out now. But it was an effort to try to – and this comes back to the elitism in D.O. as many of the Washington institutions think of D.O. as having its head and nose fairly high! I mean just to look at it, it looks somewhat fortress-like. And the Harvard association here probably doesn’t do it any good too. And I think that the Hellenic Center too is not considered really part of the intellectual scene, which it should be. The music is the only thing that mixes in, but that too is fairly elitist and expensive.
JC: There was the Washington Collegium for the Humanities –
GC: Yes, back in my day too.
JC: – but that has disbanded.
GC: Yes. In fact, I saw Hank Millen last weekend, who was head of CASVA when I was there, and we had discussed trying to get an apartment building which would serve all the Washington research institutions, because they have even a greater difficulty than we do – the ones on the Mall – in getting apartments. And we actually did some looking, but it never quite worked out. But this was all in an effort to draw the intellectual life in D.C. – in the Woodrow Wilson Center, in CASVA and others – together, but I don’t think anything has ever come of it.
GC: [GC finds and gives JC a collection of Friends of Music programs and a copy of John Thacher’s book on the Friends of Music] But the music is something we really haven’t discussed much. Do you run that too?
GC: No. Who does?
JC: Valerie Staines serves as the impresario, in a way, and Cindy Greene has a more administrative role.
GC: Because towards the end we seriously debated giving up the music program. That, again, was not part of the Blisses’ plan – and rather explicitly, although they didn’t oppose it, but it was Jack’s plan. And the ideal always was that it would be self-supporting. The Blisses did not actually want their money, as I understand it, used for that. But now, it’s way far from self-supporting. Mind you, it’s not a very expensive program, but it does use unrestricted funds. And I think it was the third such program, I might be wrong, correct me, in Washington. The Library of Congress had one that was first, and then there was one other. But when I left there were over a hundred chamber orchestra groups and music programs. And an argument could have been made that it had played a greater role in Washington cultural life, but that that role was now being filled by others. We didn’t, as you know – we continued it. But I remember discussing this with Robert because it would have been something that if the finances had proved worse was like the field work program, perhaps even less so – not intrinsically a part of the institution. The Blisses loved music, of course, and they had the Music Room. But they did not necessarily foresee an ongoing program, and I am fairly sure of that.
JC: Yes, the correspondence between Mildred Bliss and Jack Thacher is very interesting on this point in the early forties when they are setting up the Friends of Music program. Thacher asked Mildred Bliss if Stravinsky might not write another piece for Dumbarton Oaks, and she wrote back very strongly saying that Stravinsky was a very expensive luxury!
GC: I was going to say –
JC: But money always plays an important part in this correspondence about what becomes the Friends of Music program. And I don’t think she ever comes out and says that it’s unwise or will prove too costly, but she’s always stepping it down a bit. And she always has some favorite players and groups, people who before 1940 she was supporting, having them perform at her house, and when they were short of funds she would support them. And I think that in this “maternalistic” sense she may have seen the Friends of Music helping out struggling musicians. But under Jack Thacher it took on a life of its own, which I don’t think she would have objected to.
GC: No, no.
JC: And it began to present performers who turned out to be of stellar quality.
GC: Well, with that I was thinking that Jack himself was very musical, and he went to concerts in New York and was in touch with the musical world. And there hasn’t been a Director since him who could do that, and they’ve all delegated. And Jack certainly did get really remarkable people, and one of my frustrations was that we tried to get some of them back, and they were all by that time way too expensive. And they always wept crocodile tears and said their agents wouldn’t allow them to. I mean, Serkin said he would love to play at Dumbarton Oaks again but his agent wouldn’t allow him to do it under twenty-five thousand dollars or whatever, which was our entire music budget for that year! Personally I think that if he really had wanted to he could have bullied his agent, but that’s another matter. But it was a baby of Jack’s and a very wonderful baby that he knew how to foster and had the knowledge and the contacts, which I, frankly, really don’t, and I don’t think any successive Director has taken a deep personal interest. I did in some things. You know Joan Southcote-Aston did it. I should say something about Joan, and Seka, and Irene.
GC: Because Evhy and I, and they knew it, we called them the Three Graces. And we loved them dearly. And they were very traditional D.O.ers, and they were, as far as I know, absolutely supportive of us. It wasn’t that everybody was opposed to changes; far from it. I think it was partly that they were personally fond of us. Did you know Joan at all?
GC: I hope you liked her; not everybody liked her! And I could never understand why. I think she was a very remarkable person. But it was partly that we had a good personal relationship. And Seka I was devoted to. She was a most remarkable person. And thank God Irene is still around. But Joan did the music, and thank god, I felt at the time, there was a job for her. Because, otherwise, in the new Dumbarton Oaks, she wasn’t a scholar, she was more of the old tradition of a Bliss retainer. But I wouldn’t be too surprised that sometime in the future they decided that the music program wasn’t an intrinsic part of D.O. – perhaps an occasional concert or concerts in the gardens, but not necessarily the full subscription program. The Fellows still get tickets, don’t they?
GC: I wonder if you ever came across anything about the Pritzker Prize?
GC: That was an amusing episode.
JC: They wanted it to become a permanent part of Dumbarton Oaks, didn’t they?
GC: They did. And – I forget his first name – Kreeger, who was the founder of Geico – and there’s a museum at his home now, isn’t there?
JC: Yes. And his house was also designed by Philip Johnson.
GC: Philip Johnson too. And I liked him very much, and he promoted this and thought it would be good for D.O. And he said, “You’ll get some money out of this.” But the Pritzkers wouldn’t give a penny, and he was very disappointed. And the Trustees said, “Well, that’s that!” Because they went into it only because they thought that the Pritzkers would make a contribution.
JC: And rightly so. It wasn’t our mission to honor architects.
GC: Of course not. Indeed, on the whole we were very conservative about outside events. I remember once Bill Moyer wanted to have a program there, and the Trustees said, “No.” And they did allow some program with Harvard professors on oil conservancy or something, and afterwards they said, “Giles, you were right! We won’t ever promote this again.” It was just a huge headache because the institution wasn’t set up. Have you run across the correspondence about having Reagan’s birthday party at D.O?
GC: Oh you’ve really gone through those files, I see! And again the Trustees reluctantly agreed. And I myself supported this, even though I wasn’t a Reagan supporter at all, but he was the President of the United States. But they began to take over more and more, and I was allowed to put some restrictions on, that they would only have certain parts of the gardens. But it ended up that there would be sharp shooters on the roof. So, they just withdrew because we created difficulties, and we withdrew because they created difficulties! And I don’t know what was right and what was wrong. But on the whole, we resisted.
JC: If you open those gates a few times, then it becomes tradition, and it becomes harder to deny people access.
GC: I always said that people were perfectly free to get married in the gardens, but don’t tell me about it! You know if you had twenty-five people and went to one of the corners to get married. A number of people told me that they were married in the gardens at Dumbarton Oaks, and I gave them a kiss and said, “Congratulations!”
JC: Is there anything else that we haven’t thought to cover?
GC: Well, you’re the boss.
JC: Well, I’ve gotten through my notes, and I really think that this has been a great interview, and I appreciate it very much.
GC: Well, it interested me to go over memories of twenty-five years ago, but they are very happy memories on the whole – some frustrations, but God knows there should be!
JC: If you can’t think of anything that we’ve omitted, I’m very satisfied with this.
GC: I don’t think that we’ve omitted any major thing. I think that one of the major changes in the business of the Directors is that we, as the successors to Jack and Bill, were still considered very much part of the Washington social scene, which we had to fight off a bit. I think that’s been reduced a great deal. I don’t know that Jan finds himself too much involved.
JC: I don’t know that either, although I believe that Ned and Judy were entertaining quite a lot.
GC: Yes, they did that. But were they entertained? We were asked to a lot of embassy things, and to some extent it was sort of fun, but I wouldn’t want it as a life myself, and we were absolutely resolved that we didn’t want to retire in Washington. Washington is filled with retired people who really were very important people who think that somehow some of that adheres to them. And, I mean, ambassadors and senators – ex-ambassadors and ex-senators – are two for a penny in Washington. And ex-directors are very low!
JC: Do you still have your house in France?
GC: Oh yes, and we’re going there Wednesday. And then we’re going to Budapest; I’m giving some lectures in Budapest. We’ll be back the twenty-second of March.
JC: Well, Giles, thank you very much again.
GC: You’re very much welcome. Thank you.