Sunday, June 28, 2009

Vanderpool House at Pikermi

I have been thinking about writing an essay called "The House that Archaeology Built" that reviews architectural patronage by foreign archaeologists in Greece. From Heinrich Schliemann's house in Athens to Fred Cooper's house in Neohori, archaeologist houses present a fascinating type of home-making. The architecture of foreign archaeologists illustrate a physical, spiritual and scholarly connection with their newly adopted home. Construction proceeds from the ground to the roof in reverse order from the process of excavation. Some of the most interesting archaeologist houses, therefore, address the paradoxical relationship between the past (the very reason to come to Greece), the present (the home that shelters research) and the future (the masonry that will outlive its occupant). The archaeologists of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA) have used different strategies to deal with the paradox of building-dwelling-thinking. One unique example is the house of Eugene Vanderpool at Pikermi, Attica, 12 miles outside of Athens.

Antiquated Vagaries (April 3, May 14, May 22, 2009) has posted a great oral history project, the interview of Pierre MacKay on the ASCSA of 1959-60. Discussing Eugene Vanderpool, MacKay echoes a comment that I have heard repeated by other Vanderpool students: "The Vanderpools had a place at Pikermi. They kept themselves to themselves, very much outside the world of the school. I've never seen the place out in Pikermi, one or two special students of Vanderpool have, but basically he and she [Mr. and Mrs. Vanderpool] wanted to have two separate lives and this was respected." I have asked dozens of ASCSA members of that generation about the Pikermi house but no one had seen it. A good source might be John Camp and, of course, Cathy Vanderpool. In an earlier posting, Art Deco Beauty (Dec. 2, 2007), I discussed the rich cultural life of Joan Bush Vanderpool, inspired by seeing her 1929 portrait by Tamara de Lempicka. Since then, I've been collecting more information about Joan Vanderpool's friendships with contemporary Greek intellectuals. I thank Artemis Leontis for sharing with me her research on the friendship between Mrs. Vanderpool and Eva Palmer Sikelianos. Letters from the 1930s also refer to a house in Xylokastro, Corinthia, where some of the ASCSA students met the Vanderpools (Alison Frantz correspondence).

But what about the house at Pikermi? As it turns out, the house was not a secret, but treated like a celebrity house in the Greek architectural press. I came across the first reference to the house in Demetris Philippides, Athens Suburbs and Countryside in the 1930s (Athens, 2006), p. 92. This is a great book documenting the development of suburbs like Psychiko and Philothei and their innovative architectural expressions. The Pikermi house is unique because it was built around an abandoned monastery. In 1956, the Vanderpools converted a 16th-century monastery into a house. I find this to be a fantastic proposition, especially in relationship to Rhys Carpenter's Folly at Ancient Corinth (see, Hesperia article). No other archaeologist house incorporates so fundamentally the sensibilities of living in ruins. The house at Pikermi also belongs to a distinctively American preoccupation regarding restoration, renovation, cloisters and the medieval past.

The Vanderpools were one of the most influential figures in the history of the ASCSA both in terms of the School's academic and extracurricular cultural life. Unlike many other faculty, they maintained a healthy separation between family and academic life. Although they guarded their private life in Pikermi, they were not guarded about the building itself. In 1958, Greece's leading architecture journal featured an article on the house, by Associated Press correspondant Vasos Mingos, "Ένα σπίτι 400 ετών υιοθετείται από Αμερικανική οικογένεια (A 400-Year Old House in Attika is Adopted by an American Family)" Αρχιτεκτονική 7 (1958), pp. 16-21. The article includes a sketch map drawn by Eugene Vanderpool himself, showing the exact location of the house, and an architectural plan (above). The original 16th-c building, the "cloister" is stippled and the additions are shaded in the plan (above). Some 18 photographs show interiors and exteriors, along with Mrs. Vanderpool and her young daughter Ann, "a Bryn Mawr student." The article summarizes the building's history, architectural features (including Mr. Vanderpool's research for comperanda) and Spanish furnishing. The visual juxtaposition of Spanish antiques within a medieval Greek space illustrates a dominant 30s aesthetic of a Mediterranean style. Objects such as a sculpture of Catherine of Aragon were acquired by Mrs. Vanderpool's father, through the American ambassador of Spain. The Spanish interior is also interesting considering the ASCSA's interests in Crusader Greece, including the Catalan and Aragonese towers of Attica.

I do not know what has happened to the Vanderpool house. It would be easy to learn about its state of ownership and preservation. In my mind, it is an architectural landmark. Its publication in Αρχιτεκτονική marks it as a celebrity house. Unlike Greek architecture journals today, the bilingual Αρχιτεκτονική (1957-67) was widely read internationally. Greek modernist were in the forefront of architectural debates (CIAM, Athens Charter, Doxiadis, etc.) Most good architecture libraries subscribed to it, including 70 libraries in the U.S. -- I first read the journal at Clemson University's Art and Architecture library, for example. The house in Pikermi was an internationally celebrated domestic space that marks a timely intersection between archaeology and design.

There are many houses connected to the lives of ASCSA luminaries, and each one offers unique notions. The list of great houses would include Schliemann's house in Athens (designed by Ernst Ziller, 1878), Villia Ilissia (designed by Kleanthes, 1838, for Philadelphia philhelene, now Byzantine Museum), the first American School Building (1878, by W. R. Ware) and Loring Hall (1929), the Duncan House at Kopanos (1903), a series of houses designed by Piet de Jong in Macedonia (1917, built 1930, I have oral histories for a specific home in Herakleia), the Rhys Carpenter folly in Corinth (1930), Oakley House in Corinth designed by Richard Stillwell (1920s), Hill House in Corinth designed by Charles Williams (1972, after original burned down, along with Mr. Williams' dissertation manuscript), the Shear House in Corinth, the Broneer House in Corinth (1950s, currently James Herbst and Ioulia Tzonou Herbst house), the Sanders house in Corinth (1990s, on-going restoration project), the Hill-Blegen House in Athens (Ploutarchou 8), the Alison Frantz/Lucy Tacott apartment in Athens, Hill House in Athens (1920s), James Merrill's House in Athens (donated to the ASCSA and now John Camp's house), Frederick Cooper's experimental house in Neohori (1960s), the Kalligas House in Monemvasia (1980s). I'm sure there are plenty more archaeologist houses of interest and I would love to hear about them. A collective study of all these works, would also need to consider the architecture of the foreign schools more broadly, from

A model for innovative domestic scholarship that combines architecture and social history is Alice Friedman's, Women and the Making of the Modern House: A Social and Architectural History (New York, 1998).

1 comment:

Katie said...

I wish I'd seen this earlier, and had the address. It would have been another great excursion!

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Kostis Kourelis

Philadelphia, PA, United States