St. Louis Post-Dispatch from St. Louis, Missouri on May 18, 1986 · Page 589
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St. Louis Post-Dispatch from St. Louis, Missouri · Page 589

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St. Louis, Missouri
Issue Date:
Sunday, May 18, 1986
Page:
Page 589
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CLEMENT E. CONGER America's Grand Acquisitor Clement E. Conger stands in the John Quincy Adams State Drawing Room in front of one of a pair of rare 18th-century arm chairs by Thomas Affleck of Philadelphia. The George Washington portrait was painted by Rembrandt Peale about 1804. (All photos courtesy of the U.S. Department of State or the White House) His aggressive collecting has built an impressive collection of Americana I '-hi-: fs 1 By Barbara B. Buchholz WASHINGTON NE T u e s d a morning last March, a group of visitors was beginning to tout tice, Benjamin Hanks, inspires another humorous Conger comment He says its period tunes are the "hit parade of "76." Any of these items would make a museum curator or serious collector drool. Together, they do far more than that. The White House collection is considered one of the preeminent groupings of 19th-century Americana. That time period is important. Conger says, because the mansion was opened in 1800 and then reopened in 1817. Assigning a monetary value to the collection, Conger added, is impossible. The State Department collection, worth "upwards" oi $30 million, is viewed as the fourth or fifth best collection of 18th- and 19th-century American furniture and decorative arts in the world. It ranks behind those at Win- For example, a mahogany desk in the John Quincy Adams State Drawing Room was designed and used by Thomas Jefferson in his Philadelphia apartment to draft portions of the Declaration of Independence. Conger's choice of certain objects also reflects his wit. The Landing of the Pilgrims" (1803) by the Neapolitan painter Michele Felice Corne shows the early settlers arriving in a British naval vessel, rather than on the Mayflower, and with a contingent of British Redcoats. Indians line the Massachusetts shore, although history makes no mention of their being present. "It's a charming interpretation." says one guide, repeating her boss' punch line. An elegant musical tall clock dating from 1776 by Thomas Harland's appren longevity in a government job in the transient capital. He began his curatorial duties at the State Department 25 years ago. After eight years there, he added the White House collections to his responsibilities. And 10 years ago, he took on Blair House. (Recently, he was asked to relinquish the White House cu-ratorship by President and Mrs. Ronald Reagan. Conger described Mrs. Reagan's support for refurbishing the White House as "very disappointing.") During his tenure, he has built from scratch and without one cent of taxpayers' money two of the country's most outstanding collections of late 18th and early 19th century Americana. Besides their elegant lines, rich patinas and elaborate details, most of the artifacts add interesting footnotes to the country's history. elevators and into the crowded room. "Ladies." she said, somewhat flustered, "we're very-lucky. We have with us Mr. Clement Conger, curator ol the White House. State Department and Blair House antique collections." Thinking that Conger's failure to proceed meant that he wanted to comment, she graciously deferred. "Mr. Conger, would you like to add something?" "Not at all." Conger replied. "Just say that I'm also one of the antiques." The wisecrack was a typical display of the quick wit and charm that has made Conger a favorite of seven presidents from Dwight D. Eisenhower to Ronald Reagan. It has also made his "Congerisms" legendary. Although 73 years old. Conger is "an antique" not by virtue of age. but because of his May '8. 1986 the State Department's eighth-floor diplomatic reception rooms. The 1") magnificently fur-m-hed rooms are used by the secretary of state and othei high-ranking officials to en-lertam about 45.000 guests annually. For many on pressing schedules, it is their only ie of fine American furnishings. A guide began telling the tour group about a 1T': Boston bombe secretary desk tiuilt by either the senior or ninior Benjamin Froth-ingham in the entrance hall. Suddenly, she stopped talking: a tall, dapper gentleman hiid wandered off the nearbv 6 PD - S loun Port Dispatch. Sunday

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