Artist Andrea Arroyo unveils ‘Women Unbound’ in the historic Washington Heights mansion, used as a headquarters by Washington during the Revolutionary War.
Andrea Arroyo was rummaging through the Morris-Jumel Mansion attic and came across a bit of brass bearing the following inscription: “A Madame EB Jumel, Paris, 1815, Napoleon.”
“Napoleon” is, of course Napoleon Bonaparte, Emperor of France who, by that date, had been exiled to Elba. Madame Eliza Bowen Jumel, a Boston-born, rumored lady of the evening who nevertheless rose to be, among many things, a prominent Manhattan businesswoman and mistress of the palatial mansion that still overlooks the Harlem River between 160th and 162nd Sts. in Washington Heights.
Arroyo is a Mexican-born artist and Washington Heights resident whose work appears in the Smithsonian Institute, the Library of Congress and in public and private collections around the world.
She came across the brass in the Morris-Jumel attic earlier this year looking for “period” pieces — things people of that day used in ordinary life — stored there she could use in an exhibit, “Women Unbound,” on display at the Morris-Jumel Mansion museum now through Jan. 7.
Arroyo’s work appears with but independent of a collection of humorous drawings by her husband, illustrator Felipe Galindo Feggo, titled “George Washington Revisits Washington Heights,” which shows the father of our country trying to figure out the subway and crossing the bridge that bears his name.
Arroyo said 95% of her exhibit was created especially for the mansion show, which is intended to “create a conversation between the past and the present” and connect contemporary women with Eliza Jumel and Mary Morris, her predecessor as lady of the mansion.
“I was going to make a series of paintings and just put them in the rooms,” Arroyo said. “But the more I came to the house the more I fell in love with the tiny details of the objects.”
Much of Arroyo’s work focuses on women and how they relate to, cope with and make their place in the world. She found the Morris-Jumel Mansion women fascinating.
“I heard the story of the women of the mansion, and I wanted to integrate my work with it,” Arroyo said. “Instead of just bringing in my paintings, I wanted to pay homage to the history of the house. I wanted to use the history of the house to pay tribute to all women.
“I came back to the mansion, I don’t know, a hundred times,” Arroyo said. “I wanted to use the objects in the house, but I didn’t want to intrude. You know, like when you’re a guest in a place? You want to belong.”
A little abridged history: Built by Roger Morris in 1765, the Morris-Jumel Mansion museum is the oldest house in Manhattan. At different times during the Revolutionary War both Colonial General Washington and British General William Howe used the mansion as their headquarters.
Stephen and Eliza Jumel bought the mansion in 1810. When Stephen died Eliza married the former American Vice President (and duelist killer of Alexander Hamilton) Aaron Burr. Burr and Eliza separated after four months, he died on Sept. 14, 1836. Eliza lived in the house until her death in 1865.
Eliza Jumel’s, Burr’s and Washington’s bedrooms, each full of furniture they used, are on display at the museum. Arroyo, with the blessings of museum executive director Ken Moss and Carol Ward, director of education and public programs, set her pieces inside the rooms and hallways, often in surprising ways.
“Historic house museums in and of themselves can be a slightly static environment,” Moss said. “Exhibitions like this give a people a reason to come back to the museum, and they also advance our mission, which is to make people think about how people lived then and now. We want people to think about social issues, about the role of women in society.”
“Martha’s Dreams,” an ink-on-lace portrait of a reclining nude woman, lies coyly across Washington’s bed, the graceful, flowing lines of her sketched form at home among the period furniture surrounding it.
“Dreams and Aspirations” is a brilliant construction; yards of fabric flowing out of an open mahogany jewelry box next to Eliza Jumel’s bed — a dream set free.
“I was thinking of the bedroom as a sacred space where you can really be yourself,” Arroyo said. “I wondered who these women were when they were alone, when they were inside behind closed doors.”
I won’t say what Arroyo did with the Napoleonic gift, which is actually the base of a clock Napoleon gave Eliza Jumel while she was traveling in France with her daughters.
Arroyo’s piece, which sits in what was Burr’s bedroom, is called “Daphne,” a reference to the woman in Greek mythology who tranformed into a tree to escape the smitten god Apollo’s amorous intent.
“That story is about women’s capability for adaptation, surviving, doing whatever you need to do to survive,” Arroyo said. “I fell in love with that base.”
For more on the exhibit and the Morris-Jumel Mansion, see the website, www.morrisjumel.org. Arroyo’s website is www.andreaarroyo.com.
Read more: http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/uptown/harlem-artist-mounts-exhibit-morris-jumel-mansion-uptown-george-washington-slept-article-1.1168677?pgno=1#ixzz27mPGeK2v