Mentor: Dr. Christopher Carlsmith
Email Contact: Christopher_Carlsmith@uml.edu
Name: Save Venice
Founded in December 1971 by a small group of professors and curators in the Boston area, Save Venice Inc. (SVI) has restored more than 400 works of art in Venice. Many of these works were damaged by the catastrophic flood in November 1966 that inundated Venice (and Florence) with record high water; other Venetian artwork has been threatened by air and water pollution, increased salinization, propeller wash, and rising sea levels. Led by Professor John McAndrew of Wellesley College and Sydney Freedberg of Harvard University, Save Venice Inc. hosted an array of masked balls, art sales, educational trips, cocktail parties, and other fund-raising events in the USA (and later in Venice) from the 1970s forward. These were complemented by a series of educational lectures, newsletters, and scholarly publications aimed at raising awareness about the perilous state of Venetian buildings and artwork, as well as cutting-edge research and restoration of artwork made of canvas, stone, brick, and marble. Over the past four decades, SVI has raised more than $25 million dollars to preserve the artistic and architectural heritage of Venice. It is the largest and most visible of more than thirty private national committees founded to protect Venetian cultural patrimony.
During the past two years (2014-16) I have been engaged in systematically collecting documents and oral histories pertaining to the history of Save Venice Inc. For an organization dedicated to preserving the past, it is ironic that SVI has no formal archive of its own. Donor files, newsletters, and recent financial statements are conserved in the New York headquarters, and technical restoration files have always been kept in the Venice office. I have consulted the papers of John McAndrew and Sydney Freedberg at Wellesley and Harvard, respectively. The bulk of SVI documents, however, were scattered in garages and attics of early SVI members in the Boston area. I have now collected ca. 22 boxes of documents from those early members, as well as more than a dozen oral histories. The documents include correspondence, budgets, publications, invitations, photographs, by-laws, meeting minutes, and other administrative paperwork. Three undergraduate students at UMass Lowell (Noah Thompson, Jacob Strout, Megan Shea) have assisted me in cataloguing those documents and in compiling a comprehensive Finding Aid, as well as digitizing several hundred of the most important documents.
In Fall 2016 I drafted an essay of about 35,000 words that narrates the history of Save Venice Inc. from 1966 to 1986. It examines the individuals, mission, achievements, failures, and organizational structure of SVI, and offers comparisons to similar organizations such as the International Fund for Monuments or Venice-in-Peril. During the Fall I also commenced additional interviews with early officers of SVI, including its original attorney Thomas J. Kelly and its original secretary, Elena Vandervroot. The preliminary draft was reviewed by several historians and museum curators familiar with Venice and with Save Venice Inc., who have enthusiastically offered suggestions for further development.
I plan to write the second half of the history of SVI, covering the period 1986-2016, prior to the organizations’ 50th anniversary in 2020-21. That will entail reading the minutes, newsletters, and other archival material already gathered in the Boston area, as well as additional financial material available at SVI’s headquarters in New York City. Eventually I hope to obtain outside funding for a short trip to the Venice office of SVI, where some early papers as well as all techincal files, are preserved.
In 1986 SVI Chairman Rollin van Nostrand Hadley wrote a two-page overview of the 1966 flood and the response of Save Venice. In 2005 John Berendt devoted one chapter of his non-fiction work The City of Falling Angels to a description of SVI and the controversy that enveloped its Chairman and the Board in the late 1990s during a tumultuous meeting in Venice. In 2009 Wellesley College professor Peter Fergusson wrote a six-page history of the organization that was distributed privately to SVI members. In my view, the organization deserves a more comprehensive institutional history.
The student and I would work closely together to identify the scope of this project and to create a realistic work schedule for 2017-18, based upon the work completed to date. Student tasks would likely include the following:
- Become familiar with Save Venice, Inc. by studying its website and major publications;
- Assist with collection and summary of oral histories from senior members of Save Venice, Inc in Boston and in New York;
- Visit the NYC office for 2-3 days to analyze archival materials held there especially Board meeting minutes;
- Compile lists of individual documents and files produced by Save Venice from 1971-2013 (these files are currently held at UMass Lowell);
- Review published sources on Save Venice Inc;
- Identify additional primary sources to be analyzed for the history, mission, structure, and current activities of Save Venice, Inc.;
- Consult with Prof. Carlsmith re: best approach to writing essays about the history of Save Venice, Inc: i.e., a chronological approach, a thematic history, a collective biography, or some combination of the three methodologies;
- Assist with outlining, writing, editing, and proofing the manuscript;
- Assist with selection of images to accompany the manuscript.
The research assistant chosen for this project must observe the guidelines set forth by the program (i.e., devote TBA hrs/week to the project, respond promptly to emails, complete assignments or required training on time, etc). An important skill for this project is the ability to write clearly and concisely. S/he should be generally familiar with the study of history and (ideally) with historical methodology; an interest in art history or restoration is desirable but not required. The student must be able to keep track of his/her own calendar and to manage overlapping projects simultaneously. Initiative and a willingness to engage with members of Save Venice are necessary. S/he must be proficient with email and MS Word; I will provide necessary training in archival sciences, digital scanning, etc.
 Rollin van N. Hadley, “Venice Celebrates 20 years Since the Flood,” SVI Newsletter (Autumn 1986), 2-3, in SVNY-Newsletters.
 John Berendt, The City of Falling Angels (New York: Penguin, 2005), 287-330.
 Peter Fergusson, “Save Venice: The First Forty Years” (Boston: Save Venice, Inc., 2009), 1-6.