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Boston History Series: Discovering an American Masterpiece in a Beacon Hill Basement

Tuesday, August 7, 2018 - 12:00pm to 1:00pm
Registration is NOT required
Members Free and Non-members Free with admission ($10)

Discovering an American Masterpiece in a Beacon Hill Basement

Heidi Pribell

Interior Designer Heidi Pribell was in the basement of a client’s Boston brownstone in 1999 when she stumbled upon a mantelpiece in a pile of rubble. The marble structure was about to be hauled off, but Pribell recognized it as something exquisite; thus began an architectural odyssey for the intrepid designer. Pribell’s research of the caryatid mantelpiece led her to encounter fascinating personalities from America’s first generation of citizens. These included the Cambridge-born visionary Thomas Appleton (1763-1840), a member of Jefferson’s inner circle, who designed the mantelpiece.

Appleton was intent upon defining an “American Aesthetic” and Pribell makes a compelling case for him as America’s first art dealer. As a result of Pribell’s scholarship and perseverance, the mantelpiece that spent 200 years on Beacon Hill and was almost lost will be installed at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts as part of its 150th anniversary in 2020. Pribell’s engaging presentation on the riddle of the caryatids, how it impassioned her scholarship, and her journey from Revolutionary America to Paris and back has delighted audiences who appreciate art, architecture, and history.

Heidi Pribell is nationally-recognized for her exquisite eye, expert knowledge and imaginative use of art and antiques. This masterful approach distinguishes each project at Heidi Pribell Interior Design, founded in 1996. Pribell has placed fine and decorative art in distinguished museums and collections across the country including The Los Angeles County Museum, The Museum of Fine Arts Boston, The Peabody Essex Museum, and The Rhode Island School of Design Museum. Pribell was educated at Harvard College, attended The New York School of Interior Design, and worked independently as an antiques and fine art dealer.

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Most programs held in the Bayard Henry Long Room on the Athenaeum's first floor are amplified and assistive listening devices are available for patron use.

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To request ASL interpretation services for any of the Athenaeum's programs, please contact Hannah Weisman at 617-720-7617 or