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Hamptons Life

Jul 2, 2018 12:30 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Restored Moran House And Studio Reopens Under East Hampton Historical Society Stewardship

The rear of the Moran House after renovation.  ANNE SURCHIN
Jul 2, 2018 12:43 PM

Eclectic, eccentric, episodic and charming aren’t adjectives normally used to describe architecture, but nothing could be a more apt characterization of the Thomas and Mary Nimmo Moran Studio located in East Hampton’s Main Street Historic District. The studio, dilapidated and on the brink of collapse after Hurricane Sandy, has been brought back to its original state with exquisite care and workmanship. As a result, the Moran project is yet another gem added to East Hampton’s preservation crown.

After 12 years of fundraising, including the purchase of a conservation easement by the village to obtain $500,000 from the Community Preservation Fund, and planning for the restoration, the Moran Studio will have its opening celebration on Friday, July 6, for the benefit of the East Hampton Historical Society, the new stewards for this historic homestead.

Thomas Moran (1837-1926) a printmaker, illustrator and American painter of national significance, was associated with the Hudson River School in New York. In the 1860s he became the top illustrator at Scribner’s Monthly, which helped launch his career as a landscape painter, especially noted for his paintings of the American West. In 1871, as an illustrator for the U.S. Geological Survey, Moran traveled to Yellowstone where he sketched the landscape and produced a series of watercolor paintings. His monumental panoramic, the 7-foot-by-12-foot 1872 painting of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and his interpretation of the Western landscape was instrumental for inspiring Congress to establish the National Park System and the preservation of the splendors of our continent.

Mary Nimmo Moran (1842-1899), also a painter, was renowned for her landscape etchings, which included settings from England, Scotland, New Jersey, Florida, Pennsylvania and Long Island. In 1881 she became the first woman fellow elected to London’s Royal Society of Painters-Etchers.

Thomas Moran originally visited East Hampton in 1878 with members of the Tile Club. In 1884 he designed the studio. A time capsule, discovered during the restoration at the corner stone, dates the house to September 30, 1884. The Morans entertained often—using their studio space for dinner parties as their home became a social epicenter for the artist colony and cultural creatives.

The Moran Studio space itself is two stories high with tall, rounded windows on the north wall, and a caddy-cornered fireplace with dainty Queen Anne wood panels above the mantel. The area below the mantel is composed of patterned wood and pilasters sitting under a wood surround containing paintings inset in small round and diamond-shaped openings. Pitchers belonging to Mary sit on the mantel and plates are mounted on the wall above it. On the south side a staircase leads up to the balcony overlooking the entire two-story space. Moran also collected Queen Anne newel posts for his stairs, each a little different from one another. A low bay widow overlooks Main Street and the front porch and entry doors have been lovingly reproduced. Based on historic photographs, many artifacts and fine art objects have been obtained locally to match the decorative elements the Morans used in their home.

Five years after the initial construction, a breezeway was added linking the existing house to the kitchen. The bedrooms sit over the studio and service wing, which also contains a room on the third story.

The exterior of the house facing the village green and Town Pond is a quirky affair with an intact turret topped by a whale weathervane. Views for the bedrooms come from bay windows piercing the roof, and an oriel window. A six-course band of clip-edge shingles also turns the corner to fill up the jerkinhead gable on the north wall. This coursing is beige while all of the straight shingles below are done in a taupe that’s just a shade darker.

The back of the house features all of the rear-end additions that often accrue over the years including a one-story addition painted blue next to the back entry porch. According to curator Richard Barons, the exterior colors were replicated to the 1899 color scheme, the year Mary Nimmo Moran died. The paints used on the house were linseed oil based with dense pigments. This high-gloss paint was typical for the era and unlike anything seen on today’s houses.

The building has been fitted with a new foundation, partial basement and crawl space. The new, energy efficient mechanical system housed there employs temperature and humidity controls which keep the relative humidity in the building to museum standards for the display of art.

The property is accessed along the side of the property where there had been a path originally. Beside the path along the edge of the property is a newly recast flower garden. There are also several outbuildings on the property including a renovated bathhouse. Moran also owned a 36-foot long gondola from Venice, which he placed up at Hook Pond in order to paint scenes of Italy.

The Thomas Moran House was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1965. A National Historic Landmark, not to be confused with the National Register of Historic Places, is recognized by the United States government for its outstanding historical significance. While there are more than 90,000 places listed on the National Register, there are only 2,500 National Historic Landmarks recognized in the country.

With the opening of the Thomas and Mary Nimmo Moran Studio, East Hampton Village will have a cultural resource that can be used educationally to allow visitors to experience the power of this place in terms of art, architecture, landscape design and history. The property also reflects the beginnings of the summer colony as well as the artist as preservationist.

The 2018 events planned for the studio will include, in the main space, an introduction to the “World of Moran” with videos, photos, artifacts and textiles. Additionally, a special exhibition, “Acid & Ink: The Etchings of Thomas and Mary Nimmo Moran” will fill the balcony and gallery adjacent to the studio room with 50 original prints documenting their travels. Also on display is a late 19th-century etching press with an original copper printing plate use by Moran.

The pond, the cemetery and the village green provide the iconic setting for East Hampton. With the Moran Studio now open under the stewardship of the Historical Society the heart of the village can only be enriched by its presence.

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