Monday, December 10, 2018

Blair House Rug Resides in the Knight Fine Arts Center at Western Reserve Academy

Many years ago, the State Department in Washington, D.C., commissioned Jane Fitch of Robin Hill Ltd. in Hudson, OH, to furnish a room at Blair House, the exclusive official guest house across Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House. For more than two years, Jane worked on this project, and the centerpiece was a needlepoint rug designed by Anne Hopkins Burnham, a Hudson artist. For months a group of women (and one man) met weekly at Anne Burnham’s house in Hudson, the Nathan P. Seymour House on Prospect Street, which has been owned by Western Reserve Academy since 1994.
Blair House Rug, housed in the Knight Fine Arts Center
The beautiful rug, featuring birds and flowers of Ohio and the Midwest, was finally finished and installed at Blair House in 1970, where it remained in use until 1987, when the rug was put into storage and was finally rescued by Brad Burnham in order for it to be part of an art retrospective for his late wife, Anne Hopkins Burnham. That show was held at the Moos Gallery on our campus and the Blair House Rug (as it came to be known) was released and dedicated at a special reception on November 11, 1994.

Sometime around 1980, when George H. W. Bush was running for Vice President on the ticket with Ronald Reagan, his wife Barbara Bush was at Blair House and saw the Anne Burnham-designed rug. It so inspired her that she decided to create a needlework rug of her own that would also feature wildflowers and radiant colors. Mrs. Bush worked on this rug for nearly nine years and when it was done, it was taken to the private quarters of the White House (Bush had been elected President in 1988) where it graced one of the living rooms, as noted in an article in Good Housekeeping magazine.

In December, 2018, an inquiry was fielded to the Western Reserve Academy Archives about the possible location of this historic rug, which had once been in Blair House and had inspired the rug created by Barbara Bush. It seems that a book was being planned about First Ladies and needlework, and even the Curator at Blair House was not sure what had become of that rug. Fortunately, we knew that the rug was here at WRA in our Knight Fine Arts Center, where it had been on display for all these years. 
Blair House, official guest quarters of The White House
That inquiry set off a flurry of interest in our rug, especially when the television and print media kept mentioning that George and Laura Bush and all their family were staying at Blair House during the rites for former President George H.W. Bush. 

Postcard, purchased in 1989 as a part of the
Bicentennial Inauguration Packet

WRA College Counseling Office Manager Betsy Barry also sent along a picture of a postcard featuring Blair House, which she purchased in 1989 as a part of the Bicentennial Inauguration packet. Even President Trump and Melania greeted George and Laura Bush in front of Blair House, then went inside for a visit prior to the tour of the White House later that day.  

With all the members of the Bush family gathered at Blair House, perhaps one of them mentioned how the late Barbara Bush was so inspired by the Ohio-woven rug in that guest room that she made her own rug that took more than eight years to finish. It should be a matter of some pride that Western Reserve Academy owns the original.