Crowninshield Garden Discoveries: Part One

Monday, April 19, 2021

When people ask me what a Museum Registrar does, I say that instead of managing people's records like a Patient Registrar or School Registrar does, I manage object records. And as a registrar, periodically, it is best practice to go through our files, whether person or object and weed out extraneous papers. I have been working my way through the paper files for the 60,000+ objects in our collection, and I want to tell you about a small gem of a discovery that I recently made.

The file folder is labeled “Crowninshield Garden,” even though there were only three documents and no pictures in the file, I could have easily passed it by. However, it piqued my interest, given that I have recently been on a tour of the now cleared out Crowninshield garden. I have subsequently been learning all I can about how the garden was created, its evolution over the years, and our plans to resurrect it going forward. This is what I found...

This watercolor was not where we usually store watercolors, and no one had seen it since it came into the collection in 1986. Crowninshield Garden was painted and donated by Eleanor Forman (Mrs. P.T. Foreman), who was a former tour guide at Hagley and an art student of Frank Schoonover’s. It shows a corner of the now destroyed Bath House that once stood on the banks of the Brandywine Creek in the lower part of the Crowninshield Garden.

I could not locate any information about the artist besides the few details I found in the file, and so I do not know if she painted this as a part of a class or later on her own. We do have images in our archives of Schoonover’s classes working en plein-air (outdoors) as seen here:

Frank Schoonover was a local artist and is best known as an illustrator and for his figurative portraits and landscapes of western scenes. He also founded a small art school here in Wilmington in 1942 and was instrumental in founding the Delaware Art Museum. We have one drawing by him in the collection entitled Birkenhead Roll Mill, which can be seen on our website in the Museum Collection section. [The library also has a collection of Schoonover negatives available through our digital archives:

Crowninshield Garden is a ca. 1920s neoclassical “ruined” garden built on the terraced remains of the Eleutherian Mills, the first du Pont industrial site. It is a provocative combination of classical ruins, industrial ruins, and the ruins of time. We are working towards bringing the garden back to life as it was originally envisioned by Louise du Pont Crowninshield and her husband, Frank Crowninshield, over the next couple of years.

I hope to bring you more stories of objects and art we discover from and about the garden over the next few months.

Jennifer Johns is Hagley’s Museum Registrar/Collections Database Manager​.