The Mount Is A House of Mirth Once More
When Susan Wissler took over as executive director of The Mount last year, the Edith Wharton Estate & Gardens in Lenox was on the brink of foreclosure and we believed The Age of Innocence Was Over. Working tirelessly with board chairman Gordon Travers, Wissler has not only kept The Mount open, she has infused the century-old house and grounds with contemporary energy and excitement, restoring a sense of vitality that had been absent since Shakespeare & Company decamped in 2001 after 23 years in residence.
A former corporate lawyer and landscape gardener, Wissler strolls the grounds with the self assurance of someone who’s found herself in the right place at the right time. Her optimism is fueled by the $1.7 million The Mount has raised in the past year that allowed it to reduce and restructure its debt and by a $750,000 gift from the Alice M. Kaplan Memorial Reserve. While fundraising continues to be a concern, Wissler knows that making The Mount both family-friendly and intellectually stimulating is the only way to keep the historic site relevant and solvent. And she is willing to try just about anything to bring people in. On August 1, under a tent in the courtyard, The Mount will launch its Creative Mavericks series with a production called Why Art Here Now? Toronto Artists Perform at The Mount , an evening of cutting-edge comedy, readings, film and discussion. She is also reestablishing a connection to Shakespeare & Company by bringing back adaptations of Wharton’s work, beginning witn Xingu by Dennis Krausnick (Shakespeare & Company’s director of training), which will be presented in the Drawing Room by The Wharton Salon on August 20 - 23
Weekly Happenings at The Mount
Monday Lecture Series
(through August 31)
Lily Koppel: “The Red Leather Diary: Reclaiming A Life Through the Pages of A Lost Journal”
John Matteson: “Toward the Celestial Country: The Alcotts as a Transcendental Family”
Wharton on Wednesdays
(though August 26)
Actors from Berkshire Theatre Festival read from Edith Wharton’s oeuvre.
Friday Night Frights
(through October 30)
Guided 90-minute tour of the haunted sections of the estate.
Like other cultural institutions in our region, The Mount must simultaneously market itself as an international tourist attraction while maintaining strong ties to the community. In May, The Mount hosted the Lenox High School prom, allowing scores of teenagers to dance and who-knows-what-else in and around the historic house. “The parents and grandparents formed a gauntlet in the courtyard and every couple was formally announced,” Wissler says with great pride. A few weeks later, Wissler welcomed a group of leading French interior designers, who will be returning next May to decorate the mansion’s major rooms for a six-month Salute to French Design, which is being funded by French luxury goods companies. (The designer Andrée Putman‘s firm is participating and, coincidentally, Putman’s grandmother translated The Age of Innocence into French.) Wissler is especially excited by the Patrick Blanc‘s plans for a vertical garden on the facade and hopes Louis Vuitton might do a tower of luggage installation in the elevator cage. “Wharton loved France,” says Wissler, noting that when the novelist sold The Mount in 1911 she moved to France and lived there for the rest of her life. She points to an exhibition, Shaking the Foundations, which opened in May on the third floor of The Mount and chronicles how Wharton aided Parisians during World War I by helping to establish hospitals and hostels for refugees and orphans.
Wissler knows that many visitors thought The Mount had an uptight ambience when it reopened as an historic house museum in 2002, and she is consciously changing the vibe. “We’ve taken down the velvet ropes!” she says. One of the most inviting ways to experience The Mount is during the cocktail hour on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays when admission is free from 5 - 8 p.m.. You can drink wine on the terrace and, on most nights, listen to live music. “It’s family friendly, too,” says Wissler. “Parents can let their kids roll down the hill and catch frogs and keep an eye on them from the terrace. It’s a great thing to do before going to Tanglewood.”
2 Plunkett Street, Lenox MA; 413.551.5551