Julienne Foster takes over at Liberty Hall

By Helen Bragg Clery/Past Board President, Liberty Hall Historic Site, Published:

A Frankfort native, Julienne Foster received her M.A. in Museum Administration from the University of Nebraska. She has more than 15 years experience working in museums, including such institutions as the Guggenheim Museum (New York), The University of Kentucky Art Museum, The Nebraska History Museum, The Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery (Nebraska), The Wiregrass Museum of Art (Alabama) and The Valentine Museum of Richmond History (Virginia).

For many years as a registrar she was in charge of the collections at the Kentucky Historical Society in Frankfort. She also has a great deal of grants management experience – a plus for non-profit organizations – having worked for the University of Kentucky administering grants and contracts. Foster’s particular expertise, however, lies in museum collections management and Kentucky costume and textile history.

Foster recounts that, as a little girl, she visited Liberty Hall. Somewhere buried in a family album are photos of her in a sunbonnet standing in the famous “Gray Lady’s” bedroom. Indeed, it may have been the inspiration of Liberty Hall’s otherworldliness that prompted her lifelong passion for preservation and history.

“The beauty of historic house museums is that the imagination is triggered, as you are enveloped in a world that is similar, yet also very different than that of your own experience,” Foster said. “History can become real and personal in these intimate spaces. At Liberty Hall, the experience includes the serenity of wandering through the largest public garden in Frankfort.”

It is precisely this personal connection to the site and her passion that makes Foster a good fit for the position. Her deep family roots in the Frankfort community, dating back to Sen. John Brown’s era, provide her with a compelling reason to give back to the community in which she grew up and loves.

INITIAL REACTIONS

Given that Foster has now been on the job a few weeks at Liberty Hall, the board felt it would be interesting to hear her initial reactions and share them.

She is excited about the continued restoration of the rooms of the first floor of Liberty Hall and the research the staff is undergoing to tell the story of the Brown family and of life in early Kentucky. Since taking over as director, a paid intern has been hired to continue research on the room settings and decorations. And already, work has begun on the interpretation and use of the second floor of Liberty Hall.

There are approximately 2,000 books in the Brown family collection as well as hundreds of original manuscripts. As funding is acquired, Foster plans to open a library on the second floor available by appointment. She indicates that “it will be similar to a rare books room, available for scholarly research and we hope it will be an asset for the Frankfort community as well as the state at large.”

Foster also has set a goal of creating a dynamic exhibit space on the second floor which will carry forward the site’s mission to serve as a learning center which engages the public in exploring the history, politics, and social and cultural life in early Kentucky.

The exhibit will take time to develop and fund, but when brought to fruition, will feature treasured items from the Brown family collection such as John Brown’s original copy of the constitution, the family’s silver and decorative arts, and examples of early Kentucky furniture, some believed to have been made in Frankfort.

DEVELOP PROGRAMMING

More than anything, Foster wants to develop programming that resonates with the Frankfort community. She sees much potential for involvement through partnerships and educational opportunities.

New ideas being explored include offering Spanish-speaking tours of Liberty Hall, conducting downtown walking tours highlighting architectural history, and expanding the museum store as a unique shopping destination.

Foster has been working with Elmwood Inn Fine Teas in Danville to create a private label tea called “Liberty Hall House Blend.” The tea, now for sale in the store, harkens back to an era when Margaretta Brown entertained guests by offering tea, which at the time, was still very much a luxury item.

She is also working on marketing materials including a new rack card for tourists and some creative branding for the site. To assist with this effort she is seeking an experienced marketing volunteer to help promote events and programs. The position would be 10 hours a week and the person work with the staff on raising the visibility of Liberty Hall Historic Site.

A new spring fundraiser has also been created under Foster’s leadership. “Bourbon & Browns” will take place on April 12 at the Orlando Brown House and will feature bourbon, hot browns and live American roots music. Visit the website for ticket information: www.libertyhall.org.

The Board feels that Liberty Hall will surely benefit from the new ideas, fresh perspective and incredible energy Julienne Foster, also known as “Jules,” brings to this “jewel” of Frankfort. In her words:

“The site is a hidden gem. Within our community we have this amazing historical resource and, as a community, we have the privilege of preserving it as one of the earliest and finest examples of Georgian architecture west of the Alleghenies.

“It was the home of the state’s first senator. A man who helped Kentucky attain statehood. A man who sought council from James Madison and Thomas Jefferson, and who, at the time of his death in 1837, was the last surviving member of the Continental Congress.

Yet few people know Brown. My goal is to increase his profile, and the profile of his family, locally and nationally, through exhibitions, scholarly research, publications, and educational programming.”

On the job less than two months, Julienne Foster already feels right at home at Liberty Hall. Under her leadership, we believe the gem that is Liberty Hall will shine and dazzle.

LHHS HOSTING SPRING FUNDRAISER

Liberty Hall Historic Site is hosting bourbon, hot browns and music, 6:30 p.m. April 12 at the Orlando Brown House. The event is called “Bourbon and Browns” and will feature a bourbon tasting, showcasing fine Kentucky spirits produced by Frankfort’s own Buffalo Trace Distillery.

Buffalo Trace bourbon specialists will be on hand to present the samples, along with keepsake glasses. Capital Cellars will provide wine and hot brown hors d’oeuvres created exclusively for this event by Tina Emrick of Sage Garden Café.

The evening will be complemented by Kentucky roots and bluegrass music by Hot Chocolate & the MarshMellows, featuring old time mandolin, banjo and guitar.

The cost is $75/person. Reservations are required and may be made by calling 227-2560.

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