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Behind the Scenes: Diplomatic Reception Rooms

For several weeks each August, the State Department's Diplomatic Reception Rooms are closed to the public to allow conservators to repair and renovate the collection of historic objects. The rooms, which hosted more than 800 events last year, serve as a backdrop to State's diplomatic efforts. (Read related story.)

AUTOPLAY 

State Department Conservator Connie Stromberg cleans a plaster statue of Thomas Jefferson. This statue is located in the Diplomatic Reception Room named for Jefferson.

Read related story.

(Photo by Michael O'Connell/Federal News Radio)
Conservator Victoria Jefferies cleans a piece of porcelain in the Thomas Jefferson Room.

(Photo by Michael O'Connell/Federal News Radio)
A chandelier illuminates one of the State Department's Diplomatic Reception Rooms.

(Photo by Michael O'Connell/Federal News Radio)
A cabinet filled with Chinese porcelain made in the 18th and early 19th century for the American market, including historical pieces owned by Francis Scott Key.

(Photo by Michael O'Connell/Federal News Radio)
This mahogany bombé desk and bookcase, which is usually closed to the public, was made in 1753 by cabinetmaker Benjamin Frothingham Jr., of Charlestown, Mass. He was a friend of George Washington and fought in the American Revolution.

Marcee Craighill, director and curator of the Diplomatic Reception Rooms, called this a 'very important piece of American-made, Chippendale furniture.'

(Photo by Michael O'Connell/Federal News Radio)
This porcelain piece was made in 1780 to commemorate the exchange of treaties between the United States and France.

'It's a wonderful piece that we can share with students to talk about what is protocol, what is diplomacy,' Craighill said. 'How to represent those things historically and in the decorative arts?'

(Photo by Michael O'Connell/Federal News Radio)
Louis XVI and Benjamin Franklin exchange treaties in this commemorative porcelain piece made in 1780.

(Photo by Michael O'Connell/Federal News Radio)
Seals like this one accompanied international treaties until about 1850. Treaties would be rolled up and held together by a silk ribbon and the seal.

(Photo by Michael O'Connell/Federal News Radio)
Michele Felice Cornè, an Italian artist who immigrated to the United States, painted a depiction of the Pilgrims arriving in America.

'A fantastical version,' Craighill said, 'because there were no Redcoats, no natives and no mountains at Plymouth. But, it was commemorating in 1803 a reunion of the descendants of the original Pilgrims. So, it opens up a conversation for students about how do we look back on history? How do we reinvent ourselves and our stories?'

(Photo by Michael O'Connell/Federal News Radio)
The Gentlemen's Lounge contains examples of Western art, such as 'Appeal to the Great Spirit' by Cyrus Dallin. The artist lived with the Ute Indians at the end of the 19th century.

(Photo by Michael O'Connell/Federal News Radio)
The Gentlemen's Lounge contains Western-themed artwork and objects, such as this acoma pot from a pueblo that has been in existence in New Mexico since the 15th century.

(Photo by Michael O'Connell/Federal News Radio)
The gallery contains furniture by the Goddard-Townsend school of craftsmen from Newport, R.I.

(Photo by Michael O'Connell/Federal News Radio)
The State Department's most valuable decorative art piece is this desk, which was signed and labeled by its maker John Townsend of Newport, R.I, in 1765. The piece of furniture is insured for $5 million.

'It becomes the Rosetta Stone of the work of this craftsman,' Craighill said. 'You can compare the dovetails and the carving details and suddenly you can identify the exact work of one man. So, it becomes a really wonderful historical piece of that date, 1765.'

(Photo by Michael O'Connell/Federal News Radio)
American-born artist John Singleton Copley painted this portrait of Frances Tucker Montresor in 1778 in England.

(Photo by Michael O'Connell/Federal News Radio)
As part of the renovation, all of the furniture was removed from the John Quincy Adams Room so that the carpets can be cleaned and mended.

(Photo by Michael O'Connell/Federal News Radio)
Two drawers wait for a touch-up in the Thomas Jefferson Room, which has temporarily been turned into a workshop by the conservators.

(Photo by Michael O'Connell/Federal News Radio)
The Secretary of State is ultimately responsible for maintaining the condition of the collection, which is also for his or her use in entertaining or other diplomatic work.

'Some pieces are so remarkably valuable that we have protected them with tassels, just to gently suggest that they may not be possibly sat upon," Craighill said. 'But, there are other pieces that are, of course, for use.'

(Photo by Michael O'Connell/Federal News Radio)
During the renovation, all of the furniture from the John Quincy Adams Room is being stored in the Benjamin Franklin Room, including the desk on which the Treaty of Paris was signed in 1783.

(Photo by Michael O'Connell/Federal News Radio)
Curator Marcee Craighill called this desk, on which the Treaty of Paris was signed in 1783, one of the State Department's most important historic objects.

'It was a desk that was in Paris in the apartments of David Hartley," she said. 'On the morning of Sept. 3, 1783, the treaty was signed by John Jay, John Adams and Benjamin Franklin. It ended the Revolutionary War.'

(Photo by Michael O'Connell/Federal News Radio)
The annual renovation allows conservators to inspect each object in the State Department's collection. Pieces of silver, like this one here, may have to have their lacquer removed, their spots polished and their surfaces re-lacquered to prevent them from tarnishing.

(Photo by Michael O'Connell/Federal News Radio)
Conservator Scholar Thom Gentle shows a spot at the base of a silver coffee pot that is corroded.

'The coating either fails or when it was coated, we missed that,' he said.

(Photo by Michael O'Connell/Federal News Radio)
Antoinette King is one of two staff members who work daily to clean and maintain the State Department's collection of historic objects.

(Photo by Michael O'Connell/Federal News Radio)
A donor from Chicago bequeathed murals showing a view of the Mall in Washington, D.C. Conservators were able to incorporate them into last summer's renovation of the Henry Clay Dining Room, giving the illusion of windows in an interior room.

(Photo by Michael O'Connell/Federal News Radio)
During last year's renovation, the State Department installed this historic wallpaper in the Henry Clay Dining Room. The wallpaper, dating from around 1820, is similar to the paper that decorates the walls of Andrew Jackson's home, The Hermitage.

(Photo by Michael O'Connell/Federal News Radio)
Marcus Pluntke and Charlie Scheider of Dieter Pluntke Decorating, Inc., refinish the wood paneling in one of the dining rooms used by under secretaries and assistant under secretaries.

'With the generosity of our patrons, we're able to create these beautiful spaces that we can feel proud that our State Department employees and leaders are able to use for the work of our nation,' said Marcee Craighill, the curator and director of the State Department's Diplomatic Reception Rooms.

(Photo by Michael O'Connell/Federal News Radio)
A bust of the Marquis de Lafayette overlooks visitors to the State Department's Diplomatic Reception Rooms.

Read Federal News Radio's related story on the State Department's annual conservation efforts.

(Photo by Michael O'Connell/Federal News Radio)
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