“A Lifetime of Collecting”

March 14, 2024 by Sara Falligant

Docents’ gift of pottery and art glass to Evergreen will help tell the story of John Work and Alice Warder Garrett

Johns Hopkins Evergreen Museum and Library docents Mumtaz Kammerer and Richard Messick smile together in front of a waterfall
Mumtaz Kammerer (left) and Richard Messick have been docents at the Evergreen Museum & Library since 2016. They say they were “very happy and surprised Evergreen accepted so much” of their personal collection.

It’s not unusual for Mumtaz Kammerer, Bus ’93 (MAS), A&S ’97 (MLA), and Richard Messick to finish a tour of Evergreen Museum & Library and receive a round of visitor applause.

“Not to brag,” Messick quips.

“It happens,” Kammerer agrees.

The two have been frequent visitors to Evergreen since its renovation in the 1990s and became docents in 2016. They are there at least twice weekly, ready to give tours. During the pandemic, they kept the museum’s group of docents engaged through virtual presentations. And once normal operations resumed, Kammerer and Messick jumped right back in, training future docents and Johns Hopkins University students to give tours.

“Mumtaz and Richard’s devotion to Evergreen is remarkable,” says Lori Beth Finkelstein, director of the Johns Hopkins University Museums, which includes not just Evergreen, but Homewood Museum on the Homewood campus, as well. “They are the kind of docents any museum would be lucky to have, and we are very grateful that they have chosen to focus their time and attention on Evergreen.”

For their part, Kammerer and Messick say they have great fun and enjoy sharing the house museum with visitors.

“It’s filled with all these beautiful things — decorative arts, fine arts, crafts, and then the wonderful stories of the family related to Baltimore, Maryland, and U.S. history,” Kammerer says.

alienware pottery given by evergreen docents mumtaz kammerer and richard messick
Alienware, created in 1920s Czechoslovakia by Ditmar Urbach pottery, will help tell the story of John Work Garrett at Evergreen.

Now, items from their personal collection will help tell those stories, thanks to a gift of dozens of pieces of pottery and art glass. Kammerer and Messick built the collection by visiting craft shows and small-town shops, identifying artists they liked and could support. Longtime fans of the Arts and Crafts movement, they abide by founder William Morris’ advice to “have nothing in your home that you don’t consider beautiful or useful.”

“It’s a lifetime of collecting,” explains Michelle Fitzgerald, curator of collections for Evergreen Museum & Library and Homewood Museum. “Receiving a gift of a collection that has been built out of love, personal relationships, and personal stories is not something that happens often.”

The collection is especially strong in 20th century Eastern European ceramics, Bohemian glass, and American pieces, Fitzgerald explains. While she’s tagged some pieces for future exhibitions, some are already on display, including a number of alienware pieces, made by Czechoslovakian pottery Ditmar Urbach in the 1920s.

“The Garretts weren’t collecting just what was popular,” explains Fitzgerald, referring to the family that lived at Evergreen from 1878 until 1952. “They were collecting something that spoke to them. They already had a collection of Eastern European ceramics, and we’re expanding it with the alienware, which intentionally look like spaceships. It’s just totally funky.”

The American pieces — which include a Wings of Victory vase made in Benton, Arkansas, by the Niloak Pottery to celebrate the Allies’ victory in WWII — will help tell John Work Garrett’s story at Evergreen. Garrett had an extensive diplomatic career, with postings in far-flung destinations including France, Germany, Luxembourg, Argentina, and Venezuela. His career culminated as ambassador to Italy from 1929 to 1933, right in the middle of Mussolini’s rule.

“These are just great pieces that are going to help us build out his story,” Fitzgerald adds.

Kammerer and Messick say they were surprised and very happy the museum accepted so many pieces. And though they’ll let visitors know an item they gifted “used to live at my house,” Kammerer says, both agree picking a favorite from Evergreen’s existing collection is nearly impossible.

books by jane comstock donated by richard messick and mumtaz kammerer
Kammerer and Messick have also given a collection of books by Jane Comstock, a poet in 1930s Hawaii, to the Johns Hopkins Sheridan Libraries.

“It’s like asking us to pick a favorite child,” Messick says, admitting he’s fond of the Shakespeare folio thanks to his time as an actor. “I have a series of just silly little things that I always enjoy when I’m going on a tour.”

He cites the signed thank-you photos from high-society personalities that line the second-floor hallway, including one from Queen Margherita of Italy and Linda Lee Porter, the wife of composer Cole Porter. And Messick says he makes sure to show visitors an “ancient artifact” in the kitchen — a gas-powered iron.

For Kammerer, the second-floor cabinet filled with American art pottery is a favorite, along with an Andre Derain still life in the drawing room and the reading room’s 13th century Persian ceramic of a Mongol warrior.

“I overhear them doing tours. They’re so passionate about everything in the house,” Fitzgerald says. “They’re always thinking about Evergreen, and it’s a very genuine, rare sort of love that someone has for a house museum.”

Along with their gift to Evergreen, the couple has gifted books to the Johns Hopkins Sheridan Libraries, including a collection by Jane Comstock, a poet in 1930s Hawaii and Kammerer’s distant relative, and a miniature almanac from 1898.

They say being able to share their collections and love of Evergreen is the perfect way to spend their retirement.

“It had actually been a dream of mine to be a docent at Evergreen, so it’s a dream come true,” says Kammerer, whose career in management culminated with 26 years at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

Messick, who retired after a career in graphic design, couldn’t agree more.

“We’re living the dream.”

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Topics: Alumni, Faculty and Staff, Sheridan Libraries and University Museums, Fuel Discovery, Strengthening Partnerships