For Cortona Academy’s seventh field trip, an eager group of students, parents, and staff met bright and early for the car ride into Washington, D.C., to visit the historic Hillwood Estate and Gardens. Hillwood, which was owned by Marjorie Merriweather Post, the heir to the Post Cereal fortune, which she bought in 1955. Over the next 20 years she filled the expansive home with one of the country’s largest collections of Russian Imperial Art, 18th century French decorative art. The home opened as a public museum in 1977. We started our tour inside the home, where our group marveled at the grand staircase lined with examples of many famous paintings, including a large portrait of Catherine the Great. Walking upstairs the tour started with a walk through of Mrs. Post’s immense closet and bedroom. The students were impressed at the collection of French furniture included in her bedroom. Also upstairs was a collection of Russian Sacred Arts, most notably a gold chalice that Catherine the Great commissioned in 1791 as part of a communion set.
Downstairs our group was treated to seeing a collection of wonderful pieces that Mrs. Post had collected throughout her lifetime. This included two Faberge eggs made for the Tsar’s family at Easter, and a chair used by French Queen Marie Antoinette. The students were amazed at the massive marble dining table that the hostess used for lavish parties, which usually concluded in the stunning ballroom with dancing or movies. The group was interested to learn that Mrs. Post bought many other companies she thought were involved with innovating food products, including Birdseye frozen foods; this acquisition put frozen food in many Americans freezers for the first time and brought about the age of frozen food.
After a wonderful art project where the students decorated a gold Faberge style box, we were treated to a healthy and delicious lunch before heading out to see the special exhibit on loan from the Smithsonian of Mrs. Post’s jewelry. The collection was stunning, and many of the students couldn’t believe that the diamonds were real. We concluded our tour with a walk through the beautiful Japanese Garden, through a rose garden where Marjorie Merriweather Post is interred, and past a replica Russian house. The group thoroughly enjoyed the day, remarking that the weather was perfect for a perfect, Cortona adventure.