Marjorie Merriweather Post (March 15, 1887 – September 12, 1973) was an American businesswoman, socialite, and philanthropist. She was also the owner of General Foods Corporation. (Wikipedia) She had an Estate here in Washington called “Hillwood,” where she lived, entertained, maintained beautiful gardens, and collected incredible art from Europe. This “Art Look” is an overview of a recent visit we made for the first time to Hillwood.
A Trip to the Hillwood Estate
Our friend was visiting from Atlanta, and we we filling our “dance card” with interesting things to do around town. Sondra blundered into the Hillwood Estate on the internet, which was boasting beautiful gardens, great art collections, and a special show titled “Determined Women,” one of featured women artists and designers represented in the Hillwood Collection. We took our Lyft ride up there on a cool and cloudy Tuesday, a May morning of unusually drab weather, to meet our friend. We would rendezvous to have lunch together, and check out the collection that was deemed the most extensive grouping of Russian art this side of Saint Petersburg.
Our first stop was the Hillwood Mansion. I was only mildly surprised to see a Bouguereau inside the coat check room of the main mansion, one of a voluptuous and bare breasted sprite floating upward, forthright and erect, watching over our coats and hats and satchels of whatnot. The coat check person pointed out it was a favorite of visiting men to see such a sensuous guardian of the coats so present in one’s first act of entry. Coming out of that little room, in the grand foyer, I was further awestruck by the extensiveness of Ms. Post’s collection of high Rococo and Late Renaissance art. Hanging above the first set of winding stairs to the second floor was this portrait of Catherine the Great, who ruled Russia at the close of the 18th century—during our founding of the United States and our War of Independence. I must say, Marjorie Merriweather Post herself seemed like Royalty, that particular version of American bred women of society who rise up through the ranks of inheriting a commercial fixture that brings them a wealth beyond imagining. Post was the inheritor of Grape Nuts Cereal and Post Toasties that eventually morphed into Birdseye Frozen Foods and the General Foods Corporation that bestowed on her unthinkable wealth.
Not a place I would usually peruse
I seldom imagine myself attracted to the opulence of the uber extravagant who are obsessed with the conspicuous consumption of wealth in the collections they amass over lifetimes. But left to posterity, Mrs. Post was a generous sort with a joie de vivre who wanted people to feel good. She took great care of her guests, a care she extended as well to her staff, it seems, paying them 30% more than the going rates, and caring for them in kind as part of her greater family. During the Vietnam War she would hold parties for returning veterans who had suffered serious injury in service to their country. I began to melt a bit when I read these anecdotes about Marjorie Post. But something else took me over in my perusal of her estate and collections—I was mesmerized by her alone. Her portraits were captivating. Her aura exuded kindness. Her beauty was regal and patronly, but also made me gaze long and hard to ponder, “who was this elegant lady?”
One could hardly reject this kind of elegance. Bejeweled as she was, there lives a simplicity of authenticity coming through the overall nature of her being. When in Russia with her newly appointed ambassador husband in the 1930s, she sought out to acquire art from the stockpile of Russian treasures that were undervalued by the Revolutionaries. Stalin was seeking to industrialize and raise funds from Western allies. Art was not on the high list of his ambitious agenda, so he was selling off vast tracts of Russian treasures to finance his programs to industrialize. Priceless paintings and objects were strewn on warehouse floors. An opportunity was at hand. Mrs. Post asked Stalin to “give her a ballpark figure for the whole lot.” He did and she said, “I’ll take it.” Done deal. This is how Marjorie ended up with the most extensive collection of Russian art outside of St. Petersburg.
There is always something to see anew
I was never into the decorative arts too much. Furniture and fine china and object d’art of the more domestic variety did not pull my interests. Marjorie Post was fully immersed in these things—collectibles of the highest orders, from the finest craft producing houses in Europe. She loved ceramics, china, and decorative figurines. These priceless pieces of tableware she would use to serve her guests. It did not matter that Catherine the Great had eaten off of them and plates like these were irreplaceable. The staff would serve on these pieces of historical china as though they were the everyday ware of the usual household workings. I had to see all these things anew. Especially the scores of porcelain figurines Mrs. Post had displayed in glass doored cabinets in what seemed like every room.
While meandering through the rooms of the house that were filled to the brim with antique furniture, ceramic treasures, and semi precious stone topped tables, I became aware of the obsession Marjorie Post had for the exquisitely crafted hand-made world. She loved this domain of well constructed things. The presence these objects exude into the rooms of her Hillwood Home Estate puts one in another atmosphere not normally experienced. I had to flow and adapt into the frequency of this opulence and abundance. Post was never superfluous in her acquisition of fine crafted and exquisitely beautiful things; yet she was still just being herself, not necessarily trying to impress anyone. She actually loved this stuff! I got the sense she was a reincarnation of a Royal Figure herself, and perhaps this made her so natural in her unique role as an unexpected “queenly matriarch” of American Nobility. And her collection somehow proves and approves that unique place she held in the history of American aristocrats coming to power on the world stage of the 20thy century. Indeed she did, and that fact is well known and demonstrated at Hillwood.
Decoration over the top
One can be hypnotized by design and embellishment. Not one square inch is left untouched at Hillwood by the obsession of Marjorie Post to fill a space with fine arts and craft. Hillwood is a kind of decorative smorgasbord of finely crafted stuff that gets us to look at our propensity to “make beautiful” with decoration over the top. Bejeweled, this lady of European sensibilities was determined to make a statement on the extravagant side of interior design to enthrall us with opulent detail. Now Hillwood is a museum in which we encounter this visual feast. But remember, this lady lived amongst these things and considered them natural. Why not? She had all the means fit for a Queen to lavish herself with beauty as she beheld it. And others could not resist her charm and generosity to share this collection of decorative nirvana.
The time investment paid to craft these works of art is beyond our belief. But time and money were not an object in the decisions to decorate Hillwood. Human possibility, when taken to the n’th degree, considers not the limitation but the unlimited possibility. And this consideration has all the power it needs to manifest anything. Beauty is in the action itself of this determined and sustained attention to create something as remarkable as Hillwood.
We moved into the gardens and were amazed
It was a mid-Spring day in May when we visited Post’s Estate. We were under a gray overcast sky, expecting rain, but nevertheless we went and were glad we took the weather risk. The azaleas were at the end of their blooming cycle, the tulips were spent, but the gardens were still worthy of a perusal. We traveled down to the lunch pavilion and had a wonderful mid-day repast, then meandered through the gardens to further digest the purport of Marjorie Post’s contribution to high culture in our age.
Because she had spent years in Russia, she developed a love for Russian things. A cottage built in the Russian Style sat in the rear of the grounds, and housed a show of paintings and artifacts crafted all by women. “Determined Women” was the title of this small collection presented in the Russian Cottage.
The portrait of Marie Antoinette was tender. There were other objects in the Determined Women show that were notable. This Terra cotta bust of Marjorie Post touched me as softhearted.
There is a calmness in the energy field of Mrs. Post. To me it was undeniably present in all of her portraits, but also in the energy field of the Hillwood estate. A person could come into the estate a certain way, perhaps with stresses from their daily concerns, and walk out of here blissed out and ready for a nap. I rest in God when I am seeing something this consciously committed to bringing beauty of the man-made kind into our human world.
The mystery is always creating
As we wandered through the extensive gardens, coming to the close of our outing, we came to the French Garden that was visible from the high vantage point of Mrs Post’s bedroom window. Walking through it was no less delightful. The mist was beginning to form into small droplets of rain, prompting us to consider soon catching our Lyft home. But always there is a mystery creating itself—calling us to continue our search and retrieval of the sublime. In the French garden, near the fountain placed on the end wall of the mansion, there sat on either side two feminine Sphinxes. Madonnas of sorts, for both carried a budding cherub on their backs, it was as if the Mystery of Feminine Power was standing guardian of this unique and giving Hillwood Estate.
We cannot know the full extent of the mystery, but we can follow and be led into an encounter with greater and greater perfections. Fortunately for us, there are beings along the way such as Marjorie Merriweather Post, who have taken their wherewithal to create such a stunning piece of this mystery. Mystery is always creating itself, and revealing a small piece of itself to us through these acts of passion, great and small. The female Sphinx gazes into a bright and verdant future. We gaze as well with her. This is an Art POST of a different nature. It opens the possibilities for our transformation. It places us just before the gates of Heaven, that we can easily walk through them. It gives us hope that Beauty will prevail in the world, and we shall all rise in our ascension toward a unique age of enlightenment, which expresses itself in our own present version.