Museum Director and Archivist Gino Francesconi (not pictured at left) explains how one of Carnegie Hall's oldest, most delicate, and most valuable items was restored and conserved as part of Carnegie Hall's Digital Archives Project.
Last summer, we watched like nervous parents as boxes containing some of the oldest items in Carnegie Hall’s archival collections were packed into vans and taken to the Northeast Document Conservation Center in Andover, Massachusetts, to be conserved and digitized. What a wonderful feeling of achievement (and relief) when, this month, these treasured materials that took years to collect were returned cleaned, deacidified, mended, rehoused, and digitized. Numbering in the thousands, these items had been generously donated by people from all over the world who often kept them, unwittingly, in less than optimum conditions. Seeing them now is a marvel. Many look as if they were printed this year rather than the 1890s; cleansed of more than 100 years of dirt, smudges, glue, tears, tape, tight bindings, and acidic paper.
Among the recently returned items is one of our most valuable: an 1889 architectural drawing of Carnegie Hall by the original architect, William Burnet Tuthill. It depicts a cross-section of the interior looking east from Seventh Avenue. The fine pencil detailing is exquisite; made all the more visible by the patient and diligent work of the conservators.
Tuthill's drawing shown before (left) and after (right) cleaning and conservation.
Though badly abused along the way, the drawing survived a 124-year journey that began at Tuthill’s office. It was passed to Carnegie Hall’s engineers, then the architect’s son, and to his granddaughter who donated it to Isaac Stern, Carnegie Hall’s president from 1960 to 2001. Isaac bestowed it upon the executive director’s office where it hung until Carnegie Hall’s Archives was established. When the Rose Museum opened in 1991, the drawing became part of the permanent display. Experts cautioned against any type of conservation unless it could be given the appropriate and necessary attention, one square inch at a time. It was eventually removed from the museum exhibit, carefully wrapped, and kept in the dark until our recent digitization grants allowed for proper treatment.
When discussing the architect on Carnegie Hall tours, William Burnet Tuthill’s name is often followed by, “Who?” even though he designed more than 70 buildings during his lifetime, including the Schinasi Mansion, the Demarest Building, and one of the most famous concert halls in the world.
Tuthill was born in Hoboken, New Jersey, in 1855 and studied architecture with the distinguished Richard Morris Hunt, who designed the façade and grand hall of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the base of the Statue of Liberty. He was an excellent cellist, performed regularly in a string quartet, and for 35 years was secretary of the Oratorio Society—the group that initially inspired the creation of the Hall. What’s interesting is that Andrew Carnegie could have chosen any architect in the United States. He chose the 34-year-old Tuthill because of his musical background. Though he had no experience designing concert halls, he made a quick study of some of the best-known of the day.
Tuthill’s granddaughter said that when the architect died in 1929 at the age of 74, his office was closed and much of its contents were simply thrown out. We remain hopeful that missing Tuthill drawings of Carnegie Hall will be found one day, but for now we are grateful to have this beautiful example, given an extended life by caring hands.
A detailed view of the restored drawing.
View additional images of the restoration process.
Learn more about Carnegie Hall's Digital Archives Project.