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Theodore Roosevelt:  "How I Love Sagamore Hill"

     In February 2012, I was commissioned by Sagamore Hill National Historic Site (National Parks Service) to create an artistic photographic collection of Theodore Roosevelt's house in Oyster Bay, Long Island, which was also known as the "Summer White House."  The collection arose from a similar project I created for Weir Farm National Historic Site in Connecticut, which is on exhibit at several locations in that state as well as in Washington, DC.

     The photographs document the interiors in a historically rare condition:  Sagamore Hill appears much as it did in 1887 when the Roosevelts moved in.  The massive and painstaking process of emptying the 22 room mansion of its furnishings, rugs, paintings, trophy heads, books and other mementos from TR’s career was undertaken as part of a 3-year, $7.2 million structural rehabilitation. The house remains closed to the public for the duration of the work.  At the time of the photography, some furnishings remained waiting to be tagged and taken away.  Their presence, displaced from their usual arrangement and settings, was documented as well.

    The photographs in this gallery page highlight details from the first floor of the house:  the North Room, Dining Room, Pantry, Drawing Room, Hall and Library.  The second and third floor rooms appear in the subsequent gallery pages.  The three-digit numbers preceding each caption description correspond to the Room ID numbers of the floor plans created by the National Park Service.  The final page presents a few comparisons with photographs from the Gottscho-Schleisner Collection at the Library of Congress.  This was the last significant body of interior photographs (albeit fully-furnished), which were created in 1966 by Samuel Gottscho.  The photographer may perhaps be best known today for a posthumous exhibit and book entitled "The Mythic City:  Photographs of New York."

    So much of the Roosevelt family's personality is revealed by the house even though its occupants -- and now most of its contents -- are long absent from the premises.  The North Room, for example, is where the character of our 26th President is really showcased, especially in the strong dark lines of the paneling and ceiling, the details on the crown moldings, the hard textures of the wood and stone surfaces and the Rough Rider portrait standing in command in a corner.  The large room was an addition to the house as an impressive space in which to meet with dignitaries.  These features continue into the hall, dining room and library making for a dark and imposing interior.  But rich color and fluid lines are introduced by the dancer sculptures, the patterns on the bright wallpaper, the stained glass windows and yellow privacy glass.  

     In contrast, the photographs also draw attention to how TR's wife and children left their marks on the house -- in some cases, quite literally.  One of TR's boys crudely carved the initial E on the Library door jamb in a scheme to cast the blame on his sister.
The Drawing Room (or "Edith's Room," named after the President's wife) is a splash of color with decorative treatments such as the textured sconce globes.  And, yet, the reflections from these delicate light fixtures still manage to conjure up TR's spirit by creating snakeskin-like patterns on the wall, which evoke his love of the outdoors and his legacy in conservation.

     Some of these details would have been overwhelmed by the furnishings, shrouded in dimly lit areas or simply out of view from a guided tour behind velvet rope barriers.  So there are cases when the same subject appears more than once to explore its beauty under different lighting conditions and angles.  An effort was made to avoid taking the "standard" shots reasonably expected from a tourist's viewpoint.

     This collection of 144 photographs reveals that even though the house is substantially vacant, TR's spirit remains permanently in residence.  It is no surprise that on the day before he passed away, TR wistfully commented to his wife Edith "I wonder if you will ever know how I love Sagamore Hill."

    I hope you can appreciate the photos as presented here.  In my studio, I have the benefit of seeing these images on a large, color-calibrated monitor under subdued lighting.  You can approximate what I see by using the largest monitor you have available (e.g., desktop monitor rather than a laptop) and lowering the lights in the room.  You can also turn down the brightness of your monitor as, by default, they are set too high for viewing photos properly.  Most PC monitors can be lowered by holding the "Fn" button (between the "Ctrl" and "Alt" keys) while tapping the “F6” key.  Afterwards, you can raise your brightness level by holding the "Fn" key and tapping “F7.”  Keep in mind also that my photos are actually a lot warmer in tone than they will appear on your monitors, which are not calibrated and cast a bluish tone by default.


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