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Mothers Among Us

Walking through Rough Point on Mother’s Day, I’m particularly aware of the mothers looking on from their gilded-framed perches. Nanaline Holt Inman Duke’s presence via portrait is mere inches away as we walk upstairs to what was her bedroom, now arranged as her daughter, Doris Duke, decorated it and used it a few decades ago. Nanaline Duke was born and raised in Macon, Georgia; a self-possessed beauty, more “steel magnolia” than “Georgia peach.” It was her desire to join the elite families from the south and New York City who summered in Newport that had the family first renting “summer cottages,” and later buying Frederick Vanderbilt’s Rough Point in 1922. Doris, Nanaline’s only daughter, inherited Rough Point upon the death of her father, James Buchanan Duke, in 1925.

Doris’s 1923 portrait by John DaCosta is displayed next to her mother’s, at the top of the stairs. Both mother and daughter are, to borrow from the Sound of Music, “girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes.” Nanaline and Doris’ possessions are interspersed throughout the house: co-existing in the bedroom and adjoining bathroom and highlighting gifts passed from one generation to the next. Hanging in the bathroom are Nanaline’s Chinese watercolors of birds. These predate daughter Doris’ 1958/9 auction purchases of 18th-century hand-painted Chinese wallpapers depicting blossoming peony trees, exotic birds, and butterflies, now on display in the Music Room. On the crystal vanity sits an 18-karat gold Tiffany & Co. dresser set. This fifteen-piece ensemble, likely a gift to her mother, was passed on to Doris. Above Doris’s bed is an embroidered chinoiserie scene on a silk satin panel that once belonged to her mother. Characteristic of Doris’s taste and design sensibilities, practical white cotton eyelet dust ruffle and canopy from J.C. Penney-with price tags in place (!) complement the fancier room accents.

The connection between mother and daughter’s taste in collecting continues throughout the house. The Dining Room features a pair of Brussels Gothic tapestries from the early 16th century on display at either end of the dining table. Nanaline purchased these from Duveen Brothers (their 720 Fifth Avenue gallery was just twenty blocks south of the Duke’s mansion at 1 East 78th Street in Manhattan) in 1923 before leaving on a mother-daughter European sojourn the next day. In 1953 they were donated to Duke University and hung in the reference room of the west campus library. Doris asked for the tapestries back in 1957 and they came to Rough Point that July.

By Kathleen Weathers, Rough Point Tour Guide

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