"Of all the historic houses in Berkshire County, the only one in which I feel the presence of non-ghostly inhabitants is the Frelinghuysen Morris House & Studio in Lenox," writes Berkshire Eagle reporter Milton Bass. "The art that George L.K. Morris and his wife, Suzy Frelinghuysen, incorporated into the very essence of their home gives you the feeling that at any moment one of them may step in from an adjoining room.
Both George and Suzy were culminations of America's social and moneyed elite. George was descended from General Lewis Morris, one of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence. Suzy was the granddaughter of Frederick T. Frelinghuysen, Secretary of State for President Chester A. Arthur. George's family was fabulously wealthy, while Suzy's was comfortably wealthy. One of the most interesting things about them is that their luxurious life style did not deaden their seriousness about their artistic endeavors.
George knew early that he wanted to be an artist and studied at the Art Students League in New York after graduation from Yale. He then went on to Paris, where he studied with Fernand Leger and Amadee Ozenfant at the Academie Moderne. Cubism then became the base on which his personal art grew and flourished.
Suzy's background was more musical than any other discipline. It wasn't until her marriage to George in 1935 that she began painting under his tutelage. She started with Cubist collages in which she inserted carefully torn pages of opera programs and scores.
Old habits die hard, however, and in 1947 she returned to her first love, music, and won the title role in the New York City Opera's production of "Ariadne auf Naxos." The critics were wildly enthusiastic, especially after she performed the title role in "Tosca." However, she never lost her painterly zeal and returned to it full bore upon her musical retirement in 1951.
George never lost sight of his grail of "purity," and his works extended his abstractions despite the negative assessments by the leading art critics in the 1930s and 1940s.
George had built his studio in Lenox near his parents' great house, Brookhurst, on returning from his studies in Paris. It was the first modern architecture seen in New England. In 1941, he and Suzy decided to spend more time in the Berkshires and they commissioned Stockbridge architect John Butler Swann to design a house that would impeccably attach to the studio. Swann, who had spent time in Arizona and New Mexico, came up with a two-story stucco and glass block house that catches your attention no matter how many modern structures you have encountered. George created a large mural across the wall connecting the house and garage.
Meanwhile, Suzy and George attended the Art Students League in New York, where they studied the medieval art of fresco. George installed his frescoes in the living room, and Suzy did hers for the dining room. Encountering these frescoes today is like entering one of the Egyptian tombs in the Valley of the Kings where the bright colors dazzle your eyes and you know the drawings will never be too old to amaze.
Going through the Frelinghuysen Morris house gives you the same feeling, as you encounter exciting visual experiences one after another room after room.
The exhibition this year is profusely titled "Faces of Modern Art -- Vintage photographs of the artists from the Collection paired with their art work."
George was not only an artist but also a collector and he was equally creative at both. The house has works by Leger, Picasso, Matisse, Miro and Braque, and with each painting is a photograph taken by George or Suzy during visits to the artists in France. Missing from the collection is a Picasso painting titled "The Poet." Rich as he was, Morris ran into cost overruns while building his house, and his trust fund was at a limit. Consequently, he sold the Picasso to heiress Peggy Guggenheim for $4,500, to go in her new museum in Venice.
Along with the exhibitions at the museum, there is covey of lectures planned for July weekends dealing with modern paintings, furniture and architecture.
Well-trained guides, sometimes including Director Kinney Frelinghuysen, Suzy's nephew, conduct the tours of the house and studio. There is also a beautifully produced, hour-long video that gives perspective on the famous couple and their lifestyle. It is shown in the adjacent office and archive building.
George Morris was killed in an automobile accident in Lenox in 1975, and Suzy died in 1988. Her will stated that their house and art collection were to be used for an educational purpose. That has come true in all aspects. But there is also the added joy of spending time with two incredible people and the art they created."