Wethersfield, Manhattan, and
the Humanist Project
Wethersfield Institute - Lecture Archives
Chauncey Devereux Stillman built the original part of Wethersfield House in 1940, at the close of a long period in which Classicism was the primary idiom of American architectural design. The rambling brick residence, colonial in style with a Greek Revival entry portico, would eventually be enveloped by an Italian Renaissance garden of great distinction.
House and garden together comprise a superb example of humanist place-making. If we turn to the opposite, urban end of the spectrum of human habitats—to the Manhattan that was Mr. Stillman’s primary place of residence for most of his life—we encounter many magnificent vistas that are fruits of that same humanist tradition spanning thousands of years. But we also encounter a great many contemporary Manhattan vistas—buildings and even landscapes—that amount to a forthright, even brutal negation of that tradition. This is what results when cultural movers and shakers come to see beauty and authenticity as antithetical.
Can the humanist tradition flourish anew under these circumstances?
This is the central question discussed by Catesby Leigh in his lecture, originally delivered at the Wethersfield Estate on August 18, 2018.
Catesby Leigh has been writing about public art and architecture for over 20 years. His commentary has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, City Journal, First Things, National Review, Weekly Standard, Claremont Review of Books, Modern Age, Art & Antiques and other publications. Mr. Leigh is co-founder and past chair of the National Civic Art Society, which supports the perpetuation of the classical tradition in the nation’s public realm. Currently an NCAS research fellow, he is working on a book project concerning the nature of monumentality and its American manifestations. He lives in Washington, DC.