Restoration Projects

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  Freer House Window Restoration Project by Terry Dunn, WSU Facilities, Planning, and Management

This summer, thanks to the tremendous efforts and skills of Terry Dunn, journeyman painter, and support from Dave Kuffner, Tim Herr, and Doug O'Brien of Wayne State's Facilities, Planning, and Management Department (FPM/WSU), so far, 26 wood windows have been resurfaced, repaired, and repainted along with the second floor sitting room porch!

Since last summer, thanks to Mr. Dunn and FPM/WSU, a total of 56 historic windows and doors have been restored, greatly improving areasthat had not been repainted in over four decades!

Terry's excellent work has drastically improved the condition and preservation of the exterior of the house, giving new life to windows that were severely deteriorated.

We thank Terry Dunn and FPM/WSU for all of his expert restoration work on this treasured landmark at Wayne State University and Detroit!

James McNeill Whistler's "The Princess from the Land of Porcelain" Officially Installed!

David Brainard, Sarah Burger, Alicia McCullough, and Steve Shaw from the Detroit Institute of Arts, Collections Management team came to the Freer House to officially mount our James McNeill Whistler (1834-1904) Giclee reproduction of "The Princess from the Land of Porcelain" on our newly painted wall above the Pewabic fireplace in the former Peacock Room. The east wall above the fireplace was recently painted to be a similar color as the original Peacock Room in order to help place the painting in its original context.

"The Princess" was done by Whistler in the mid 1860s as part of a series of costume pictures and then purchased by British shipping magnate Frederick R. Leyland around 1867. The painting was hung in his London dining room and displayed with his collection of Chinese blue and white Kangxi porcelain. "The Princess" was then purchased by Glasgow collector William Burrell after Leyland's death in 1892. Freer subsequently purchased the painting in 1903, and soon after acquired the entire Peacock Room for his Detroit home, the year after Whistler's death. The Peacock Room transitioned from Detroit to Washington D.C. together with the rest of Freer's art collection after his passing in 1919 but the house and its history remain!

The original painting now hangs in the Smithsonian's Freer Gallery of Art as a part of their permanent Peacock Room exhibit. The Freer Gallery of Art, kindly provided permission and assistance for the reproduction of this work, along with several others that hang in their original locations in the house.

A big thank you goes to Barbara Heller, Director and Conservator, Special Projects at the DIA, and Freer House member, for her continued support of this Peacock Room project. Her assistance in deciding to paint the east wall color and selecting the color has helped to bring the room to life!

An additional special thanks goes to Freer House Board Member and volunteer John Douglas Peters for his support by crafting and assembling the painting reproduction.

The former Peacock Room looks great with its new additions thanks to all involved!

Group shot (L-R):
Back row - Sarah Burger, John Douglas Peters, Davin Brainard, Steve Shaw
Front row - Alicia McCullough, Barbara Heller

 Replica of Frederick Stuart Church's Original Bronze Doorbell Returns!

 The ornate, sculpted doorbell features a bear with his head cocked as if listening for the bell to ring. Unfortunately, the doorbell was stolen in the 1980's, but was miraculously recovered and returned soon thereafter. Ever since it has been secured in a safe and only brought out for viewing at Freer House events.

 A long-held dream of the late Dr. Thomas W. Brunk, Freer House historian, was to see a replica of the doorbell made and installed outside the Freer House.

 Thanks to the efforts of master metalworker, James Viste of the College for Creative Studies and Edgewise Forge, and support from the Americana Foundation, a beautiful replica of the original doorbell was cast and installed in September.





3 New Giclee Reproductions

The Freer House was excited to install three new giclee reproductions of paintings by the American artist, James McNeill Whistler, originally owned by Charles L. Freer throughout the house. Giclee reproductions involve the use of photo transparencies of art, printed and transferred onto canvas, to give the look and feel of an original painting.  These reproductions for the Freer House or crafted by John Douglas Peters with assistance from Tom Dickinson and supported by our generous donors.

The Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian, kindly provided permission and assistance for the reproductions of these works from their collection, and the Detroit Institute of Arts provided members from its collections management team to hang these beautiful additions to the Freer House.  Each giclee reproduction of paintings that hung in the Freer House has been hung in its origianl location to preserve the authenticity of the house.

Variations in Flesh Colour and Green: The Balcony, 1864-1870 (main hall balcony)

Harmony in Blue and Gold: The Little Blue Girl, 1894-1903 (Whistler Gallery)

The Princess from the Land of Porcelain, 1863-1864 (Peacock Room)
A special thanks to David R. Weinberg, Ph.D., and the Americana Foundation for sponsoring this reproduction

"Flapjacks," 1892 by Frederick Stuart Church, Acquisition (July 2018)

"Flapjacks" is the first and currently only original, Freer owned painting that currently resides at the Freer House!  In 1892, F.S. Church gave this painting to Freer as a gift upon the completion of his new Detroit home.  Unlike most of the works Freer owned, this painting did not go to the Smithsonian.  "Flapjacks" was instead bequeathed to the then British Consul General in Detroit, Howard Graves Meredith, who bequeathed it to the famous and recently restored and reopened, Detroit Club.

Almost 100 years later, the painting was rediscovered at DuMouchelles Auction House in Detroit, where a generous group of donors successfully bid on the painting and donated it back to the Freer House.  We thank all our donors who contributed to the purchasing of this painting as well as Ken Katz at Conservation and Museum Services for his cleaning and conservation work on the painting itself.


Garden Project (Completed, Summer 2018)

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.

The Freer House gives special thanks to David Michener, Ph.D., the associate curator at the University of Michigan (U-M) Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum, Fred Knight of K.C. Runciman Landscapes, Tim McAlister of W.H. Canon Landscape Co., James Viste of Edgewise Forge and the College for Creative Studies, and Matt Walker and Mike Bernal of Wayne State University.

And a special thank you goes to the late Dr. Thomas W. Brunk whose consistent research on Freer and this historic house helped to make this possible.

Click HERE to view a short video documenting the garden transformation process created by College for Creative Studies Student, Natalie Miller. 

Freer House Courtyard Garden Project Brochure

To donate to the garden maintenance fund please contact:
Rose Foster at 313.644.2509 or or William Colburn at

Whistler Gallery

Plans are underway to restore the Whistler Gallery located above the guest house. The gallery has had major alterations beginning in the 1950s and up through the 1990s. The hope is to restore the Whistler Gallery to a space more similar to its original design that can be used as a future meeting space.
View or download Whistler Gallery Restoration Project Flyer

Timeline exhibit Installation "A House and its History" (Completed in 2012)

Set in an arched passageway leading to the rear of the home, the archival photos, captions and quotes reveal Freer House history from construction to modern day. It also includes the intertwined history of Merrill Palmer Institute.
View or download print version of Exhibit