How the Friends Were Founded

This is an excerpt from an interview with Diana Korzenik, founder and first president of the Friends of the Longfellow House, which appeared in the inaugural issue of the Longfellow House Bulletin. See issue Vol. 1 No. 1 (Dec. 1996) for the full interview.

How did you get the idea of founding a Friend's group?

Diana Korzenik: It was some time after I had published Drawn to Art (University Press of New England, 1985) and in the period when I was contemplating early retirement [from the Massachusetts College of Art]. Out of that book and my work with the Cross family, I thought about the kind of education that took place in that family. I became interested in a more general way in the relationship between mothers and children who grew up to become artists.

Early in 1993 at an art education conference at the Concord Museum, I shared my interest with several people, among them Sally Sapienza, then a museum technician at the Longfellow House. "But you must come to the Longfellow House!" was her sudden exclamation. What she meant was Fanny Longfellow and Fanny's relationship to her son Ernie, who did become an artist. Next thing I knew I was sitting the basement of the house, near the old furnace, looking at journals, letters, and Fanny's sketch book. I began to get a glimmer of how much fascinating material there was for the project that interested me. One day Jim Shea, the Director at the Longfellow National Historic Site, was down there with other staff members unpacking and rearranging Fanny's clothes. Out they came — gowns, shoes, hair pieces, and fans. I couldn't believe my eyes. I was so excited I thought I had made the whole thing up — this was the ultimate grandmother's attic. It electrified my imagination. Perhaps for me the Friends was born at that moment — a conception that I did not know was happening.

Also, I had just left the college. I always felt I was a good administrator, and I felt sure there was another good organizing project in me — maybe this was it. Somehow looking at those gowns and those fans and feeling how vulnerable they were — the whole thing could have been sold off at any time over the past century. And in fact, all of the letters to and from Longfellow did go to Harvard. But the rest, the immediate and extended family's letters, are all still on Brattle Street.

Later in the interview Diana was asked about her hopes for the Friends and the Longfellow House.

...My hope is that the Longfellow House, as it becomes better known and more visited, will never be operated too bureaucratically, nor become a simple five-minute stop on a whirlwind tour of New England. I want it to remain rooted in the local environment with continuous and enthusiastic involvement of the community. I love the way people are drawn to the house now through such things as concerts and poetry readings by local artists.

And I want all that makes up the Longfellow House — the archives, the furniture, the book and photographic collections and the paintings and sculpture, the records of all sorts, the buildings and the gardens — to be protected and enhanced through the kind of social process we have had in the past couple of years, one that is rooted in human warmth.