Titanic survivor, Helen Churchill Candee and her extraordinary life will be celebrated at the Titanic Centennial Commemoration at the Spring opening of the Lockwood Mathews Mansion Museum, 295 West Avenue, Norwalk, Connecticut, on the evening of April 21, 2012. In her life, she made important contributions to society and to our country. Please see the invitation to the commemoration below.
Much to my surprise, in addition to known first decorator Elsie de Wolf, Helen Churchill Candee fancied herself a decorator during the same era in the early 20thcentury.
The decorators of those years were self-taught and had important, influential connections. Helen had impressive clients that led to her being commissioned by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1907 to advise on the purchase of a set of Louis XVI chairs for the First Lady’s dressing room.
She was admired and well-respected as a decorator and historian. Helen’s specialty was antiques and period decoration. She was critical of manufacturers and department stores that sold cheap imitation furniture. She did not approve of upscale decorators like de Wolfe endorsing good quality reproductions of period pieces for modern interiors. Looking back into history, de Wolf was very well connected and worked for the Vanderbilt’s and others of the same ilk. Society was moving away from the cluttered overstuffed rooms of the mid to late 19th century. De Wolf’s interiors were fresh and uncluttered. This room by Helen is cluttered with antiques in the Victoriana style.
Despite her impressive clientele, Helen Candee’s work as a decorator was intermittent. It was through her writing in books and articles on the history of furniture, textiles and art, that she made an impact on early 20th century interiors.
Candee was a strong feminist, as evidenced by her best-selling first book, How Women May Earn a Living (1900). Candee’s first book on home decor was the profusely illustrated Decorative Styles and Periods , published by Frederick A. Stokes, Co. in November 1906. It was well received and quickly became a standard reference on period furnishings and their modern use.
Readers of Decorative Styles and Periods , a deep green cloth-bound volume with an inset portrait of an Empire room on the cover, were treated to the warmly delicate prose that already distinguished Helen Candee as a novelist and journalist. The book was long and thorough, addressing all major trends and designs, but was also full of human interest and historical sidelights that made it as entertaining as it was instructional.
More than any other book she wrote, Helen’s philosophy of design (and living) can be gleaned from Decorative Styles and Periods .
Authenticity was the prime principle of her credo. Candee was a purist in the extreme, insisting on genuine antiques and unswervingly faithful period atmosphere in the arrangement of rooms. The “perfection of the old,” she said, was all-important, adding that the “best is of the past.”
She along with Edith Wharton wrote books on decoration. Helen wrote about period furnishings and tapestries for various magazines.
Based on my recent research, Helen, in her time, was a strong image as a decorator, antiques consultant and writer. I am delighted to make her acquaintance, thanks to Wikipedia. In the twenty years and more that I taught interior design and architectural history and criticism, I had not heard about this woman, Helen Churchill Candee until now, while working on the Titanic’s epic journey.
Helen, who broke her ankle when jumping into the lifeboat, was together with the unsinkable Molly Brown. They rowed and rowed and rowed. Where were they going?
More to come…
Here’s the invitation for April 21, black tie. Buy a table, buy a ticket, bring guests.