Rare Bookcase, Newly Restored in Memory of William H. Stuebe, Featured in Coming Home: The Green Collection Inaugural Exhibition

Staff Report From Savannah CEO

Friday, April 14th, 2017

Historic Savannah Foundation and the Green-Meldrim House have teamed up to preserve an important part of the city’s past, bringing to public view an exquisitely crafted New York-made rosewood bookcase of the 19th century, back in its original setting, as part of Coming Home: The Green Collection Inaugural Exhibition. Thanks to the financial support of HSF’s William H. Stuebe Fund, this rare piece was carefully conserved and will be seen in Savannah for the first time since its departure for Paris more than 100 years ago, at an evening reception in the Green-Meldrim House, following the William H. Stuebe Memorial lecture by New York architect Peter Pennoyer at 6 p.m. in Cranmer Hall on April 26.

William H. Stuebe, a native of New York, moved to Savannah with his wife Isabel in 1998. A strong advocate of history, preservation, and his adopted city, Stuebe served his community as a member and supporter of Historic Savannah Foundation, St. John’s Church, the Green-Meldrim House, and many other Savannah institutions. In 2009, he received the Nichola Parker Coe Volunteer Award for his dedication and commitment to HSF’s mission. HSF created the William H. Stuebe Fund in 2015 as a memorial to honor his long-standing support of the organization and Savannah.

“With the conservation of this bookcase, Bill’s legacy will continue to move Savannah’s story forward,” said Daniel G. Carey, president and CEO of HSF.

The massive, yet elegant, bookcase first resided in the Green-Meldrim House as part of the collection of Charles Green, a wealthy cotton merchant, who commissioned the magnificent house and its rich furnishings in 1850.  Forty years later, his son Edward sold the house and moved his family and their belongings, including this piece, to Paris, France. The bookcase and more than 100 other furnishings – as well as numerous family photographs, letters, and documents – recently returned to Savannah from the estate of Julien Green, Edward’s youngest son. Though born and raised in France, Julien, an academician recognized in France as one of the giants of 20th century French literature, revered his American heritage, which he preserved through his writings. In his memoir, Restless Youth, Green wrote about his family’s inherited furniture: “In the little drawing-room…was gathered my grandfather’s violet-coloured, wooden furniture, relics of a time long ago and of a distant land, that unfortunate South which continued to live in our hearts.”

“As stewards of a significant part of Savannah’s architectural and artistic heritage, we at St. John’s Church are pleased to work with another Savannah institution to help preserve such an important piece of Savannah’s history, especially in memory of Bill Stuebe, a faithful parishioner and a man who greatly loved our city,” said Father Gavin Dunbar, Rector of St. John’s Church.

Conservation of the sculpture-like bookcase, made of highly valued Brazilian rosewood (exterior) and satinwood (interior), with secondary woods of mahogany, tulip poplar, and white pine, was handled with utmost care. Conservator Susan Buck, the country’s premier finish expert, conducted microscopic analysis of the wood and finish to inform the work of master cabinetmakers Greg Guenther and Chuck Heydinger. Guenther and Heydinger of Frank Furniture Studios carefully returned the bookcase to its original appearance, with a polished finish that accentuates the delicate fretwork on the upper and lower doors and the rococo revival ornament that tops the piece.

Also noteworthy in the exhibition is the ledger of architect John Norris, which he kept while building the Green home. This significant document provides extensive evidence about the dwelling, as well as the building arts during the mid-19th century. Of particular interest to Savannahians are the signatures of local craftsmen who built the grandest residence in the city in this period.

Other Green family objects in Coming Home include a rosewood and mahogany tilt-topped center table, sofas, chairs, china, silver, and a selection of archival materials. This exhibition of well-loved pieces will finally reunite a unique international story that ends where the saga began, in Savannah’s Green-Meldrim House.

In its entirety, this significant acquisition represents one of Savannah’s most important historical developments in the recent past. From local to international, these objects cover a vast range of American history, including the skilled craftsmen who created the bookcase and other furnishings; the successful English immigrant who purchased the objects; the enslaved hands who cleaned, moved, and cared for the belongings; the Confederate and Union soldiers and freedmen who used the furniture; and the famous French writer and family descendent who preserved these items for posterity.