Freer House

About Freer House  |  Membership  |  History  |  Exhibits  |  News  |  Donate  |  Events  |  Restoration Projects  


Charles Lang Freer, Chinese Art, and the Making of Global Detroit

Online Lecture Held February 23, 2023
Presented by
Ian Shin, PhD, Assistant Professor, Departments of History and American Culture University of Michigan
Co-sponsored by Friends of Asian Arts & Cultures, Detroit Institute of Arts


In the first decades of the 20th century, art collector and philanthropist Charles Lang Freer helped make Michigan–especially Detroit and Ann Arbor–into a global hub for the collecting and study of Chinese art. How did Freer, founder of the Freer Gallery of Art (National Museum of Asian Art, Smithsonian), connect Detroit with people, institutions, and artworks across both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans? And how did these cultural networks relate to and amplify the rising political and economic power of the United States in the early 20th century?

Ian Shin, Assistant Professor of History and American Culture, University of Michigan, discussed how Freer's genuine desire to learn about and care for Chinese art and antiquities positioned Michigan in the vanguard of what foreign policymakers today call "America's Pacific Century." 

The Peacock Room in Detroit 1904-1919

Online Lecture Held December 8, 2020

Thank you so much for joining us for Dr. Diana Greenwold's excellent lecture, The Peacock Room in Detroit, 1904-1919. We received a great response to the event and hope you will enjoy the recording of last evening's program here.


We also hope you will enjoy this brief and beautifully produced BONUS VIDEO from the Smithsonian about how the Freer Gallery of Art has reinterpreted the Peacock Room to look as it did in Freer's home in Detroit, circa 1906-1919.

For more information on the Peacock Room, please see our handy LECTURE REFERENCE GUIDE.

The Late Dr. Brunk's Pewabic Pottery Chosen as a 2022 Michigan Notable Book!
The Michigan Notable Book award is bestowed by the Library of Michigan annually since 1991. Each year, the list features 20 books published during the previous year in any genre. The only criteria: Books that are chosen must be set in Michigan or by a Michigan author.
Tim Gleisner, head of collections at the Library of Michigan, says the selection committee — about a dozen folks from the academic, publishing and library worlds — pores over upward of 400 titles to figure out "the best of the best" books that honor the state. "We live and work in such a geographically diverse state, from Detroit to one of the last remaining wildernesses," he notes.
The above text was excerpted from a Detroit Free Press article from January 2, 2022.
Freer House scholar, author, and board member, the late Dr. Thomas W. Brunk, was also the noted authority on the history of Pewabic Pottery. Dr. Brunk authored a detailed book on the subject, including an entire chapter devoted to Freer's significant patronage of Pewabic and friendship with its founder Mary Chase Perry. Sadly, Dr. Brunk's untimely passing in 2018 took place before his completed manuscript could be published. Thanks to the efforts of Freer House board member, John Douglas Peters, and Project Editor, Amanda Frost, this extraordinary book was released by Michigan State Press and can be purchased at The Freer House is honored to have helped shepherd this project to assure that Dr. Brunk's exceptional scholarship and devotion to the history of Detroit's own Pewabic Pottery will be available for future generations.

A House and its History

Built by industrialist and art collector, Charles Lang Freer, in 1892; the Freer House is a masterpiece of American shingle-style architecture and the birthplace of the Freer Gallery of Art (NMAA, Smithsonian) in Washington D.C. As an early champion of American, Asian, and Middle Eastern art, Freer's legacy of multi-culturalism is celebrated in the house's mission and programming today. These bonds to our nation's capital and much of the world make the Freer House an ambassador of Detroit's unique cultural heritage.

The Freer House is also recognized for its role in child and family development. In 1920, the Freer House became the home of the Merrill-Palmer Institute, which evolved into the renowned Merrill Palmer Skillman Institute (MPSI). Today, the Freer House is the location for MPSI's faculty offices and meeting room facilities.

Although the Freer House's structure and finishes have evolved to suit institutional needs, much of its original grandeur and architectural character remain. The Freer House is open periodically to the public for lectures, receptions, exhibits, and guided tours. Please visit our Events page for more information on how to plan your visit.  

Click HERE to take a virtual tour of the Main Hall of the Freer House! Our sincere thanks to John Boros and Flythroo for producing this 3D tour!

The Freer House Garden Revitalization project was a 6 year endeavor with the goal of creating a garden that revitalizes the garden that Freer once had.  Over the course of these 6 years and with the support of our many generous donors, we were successfully able to complete the garden in the summer of 2018.  The garden has been dedicated in honor of Phebe Goldstein and in memory of Denise Little. Located on the west side of the house, the courtyard garden is open daily to the public.

Click HERE to view a short video documenting the garden transformation process created by Freer House volunteer, Natalie Miller.

During Freer's life, he and his guests could wander from the Main Hall and be transported into the exotic Peacock Room. The Peacock Room was originally decorated by James McNeill Whistler in England. Freer purchased the room and had it installed in his former Carriage House. Upon Freer's death, the Peacock Room was once again dismantled and reinstalled at the Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., where it is on permanent display. Please visit our History page for more information and resources on this artistic treasure. 

Co-founder of the Friends of the Freer House and longtime Board of Visitors member of MPSI, Phebe Goldstein, sadly passed away in January 2020. Click HERE to read more about this extraordinary friend and supporter of the Freer House. 

Freer scholar, Freer House Board Member, and longtime friend to the Freer House, Dr. Thomas W. Brunk, sadly passed away in late 2018. Click HERE to read more about this esteemed scholar and the vital role he played in both documenting and helping to preserve the historic Freer House.

The Freer House membership organization works to preserve the Freer House through public events, tours, and fundraising for restoration. Please visit our Membership page to begin a rewarding role in historic preservation today!