Covert Cabinets

Dec 11, 2013

Hidden cabinets in the Harvard Art Museums’ Naumburg Room. Photos: Zak Jensen.

If you press the right spot on a particular strip of wainscoting in our Naumburg Room, you’ll hear a latch click, revealing a secret cabinet that opens from the wood paneling. There are three such compartments in this room—all of which have been reinstalled precisely as they were over 90 years ago in Nettie and Aaron Naumburg’s New York City home at the Hotel des Artistes.

When hidden compartments are opened in literature and film, protagonists often discover a portal to an alternate universe or a pile of gems. But it’s unlikely that the Naumburgs used their living room’s concealed shelving to store their priceless treasures (after all, they already had works by artists such as Rembrandt hanging on the walls of this very room). Instead, it’s probable that in an effort to keep their common area uncluttered, they used the shallow cabinets in the main hall for storing items like wine glasses and the larger concealed storage unit under the stairs for storing their oversized crockery, just as our own staff once did for the various celebrations we’ve hosted here. And when our new facility opens in fall 2014, the stairway cabinet will house the audiovisual equipment that will be used for meetings and classes in this space.

Like the message in a bottle that was found in our historic facility, the hidden compartments in the Naumburg Room continue to spark our imagination. We can’t help but wonder what the Naumburgs hid in these covert cabinets in the 1920s . . .

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