Frelinghuysen Morris House and Studio still busy while closed

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LENOX — The Frelinghuysen Morris House and Studio won't open for tours this year, but that doesn't mean you won't be able to see the inside of the home and studio of abstract artists Suzy Frelinghuysen and George L.K. Morris.

Instead, the historic artists' home and studio will host a series of "immersive digital experiences" including a virtual house tour on its website, frelinghuysen.org.

"We've been thinking of ways we can still reach out and satisfy our mission, educationally, with some virtual offerings. We'll be doing the tour in a series of vignettes — 15-minute concentrations on one area of the house. We'll have a video of the foyer, discussing the architectural features and perhaps a couple of paintings," said Director Kinney Frelinghuysen during a recent phone interview. "We're also experimenting with doing some interactive Zoom experiences where we do the cubist drawing exercises [offered as part of the studio tour]."

Postponing the 2020 season, which was to feature solo exhibit on Suzy Frelinghuysen, was a difficult decision for the house museum's administration. In the end, they determined the social distancing mandates and COVID-19 safety requirements set by the Baker Administration were not possible to achieve in the small spaces of the midcentury modern house and studio.

"We thought of different ways to do the tours, such as a one-way march through house," he said. "It seemed like it would make it a difficult experience, especially when you're moving through the house, there's a lot of narrow passages."

The cancellation of tours doesn't mean the house and studio will be dormant during the height of the summer season. Staff will still be preparing works that will go on loan to the Museum of Modern Art in 2021 and at the house museum's postponed show. In addition, preservation work in the house, halted by the coronavirus pandemic, has partially resumed since the relaxation of some state restrictions.

Over the winter months, contractors were finally able to replace wooden wall studs that had rotted out from decades of water infiltration under the marble patio and years of pressure from the house's upper floor, with stainless steel columns. A steel plate above the glass door, bent under the pressure of tours in the room above, was replaced and reinforced with a flitch beam.

Evidence of the structural issues presented itself in 2013 as a giant crack in the sliding glass door connecting the dining room with the outdoor patio. Structural engineers discovered the rotted wooden studs and a bent steel plate over the glass door. Complicating things was the fact that repairs could damage the 80-year-old blue frescoes painted into an adjoining wall by Suzy.

Preservation work halted in March can now resume, Frelinghuysen said, allowing the door's track and glass door to be replaced. Once that is done, an adjoining room with similar issues can be repaired. Conservation work on the frescoes also is expected to begin in the near future.

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