Art House


Professor Diana L. Eck stands in front of an ornate trousseau chest in the living room of her home, the Lowell House Masters’ residence. “About six years ago, when they were renovating Baker Library over at the Business School, it had sat on one of the grand staircases, I guess. The renovation took place during the summer, and I was home, and they emailed all the House Masters, saying, ‘Does anyone have room for a big chest?’ And I emailed right back and said, ‘How big?’”

The chest, which is covered in wood carvings depicting ships and kneeling angels, is large and deep, with an open space partially filled with books about religion and back issues of The Chronicle of Higher Education. “And I said, ‘Sure, we’d love to have it––I’ll be right over in my van.’ And it’s so huge and heavy that there’s no way I could get it in the back of my Odyssey van.” The chest did make it back, however, and now sits in the corner of a room filled with other pieces of antique furniture, oil paintings, and objects Eck brought back from trips to India.

While it is uncommon for House Masters to acquire Harvard artifacts in this way––Eck says this has happened once in her entire tenure––the story of how the chest was acquired betrays the agency the House Masters have in the ongoing relationship between a House and its artifacts. As we talked to the Masters of Cabot, Pforzheimer, and Lowell, it became clear that the House Master role can be as different as the Masters themselves. However, a common ground among all of them is the position the House Masters fill as the keepers of the Houses’ traditions and history.



While House communities might feel permanent––a static landscape we enter into as sophomores and depart from as seniors––they are, like Harvard itself, continually evolving. One of the greatest spurs of this evolution is changes in House Masters. Along with her husband, Dr. John R. Durant, and their nine-year-old son, Jamie, History of Science professor Anne Harrington ’82 is just about to complete her first academic year living in the squat, modern Pforzheimer Masters’ residence. “We’re pretty new,” Harrington explains several times as we walk through Pfoho’s many different rooms, though the friendly, familiar interactions between her and the various Pfoho students we encounter hardly betrays this newness.

In contrast, Eck and Reverend Dorothy A. Austin have served as Lowell’s House Masters for almost 16 years. For several generations of Harvard students, Lowell’s identity has been completely intertwined with the elegant pair of women who preside over its community. “Being House Master is in part being a curator of the history and tradition of the House, but also an innovator,” Eck tells us, standing in one of the many stately rooms within the red brick, ivy-covered Lowell Masters’ residence.

Eck is clearly enthusiastic about embodying this role of House curator, proudly showing us the 20-page booklet she produced entitled “Hanging around Lowell House,” which explains the life stories behind the many portraits adorning Lowell’s walls. Talking to Eck and Harrington respectively, it becomes clear that this intimate knowledge of the House’s multifarious artifacts is something that grows and accumulates over time. “There might be treasures no one has told us about,” Harrington says. “But I don’t think we have any.”

Future dean of Harvard College Professor Rakesh Khurana and his wife, Stephanie R. Khurana, fall comfortably in the middle of this process. With nearly four years as Cabot House Masters under their belts, the two are simultaneously full of stories of Radcliffe and its history and eager to learn and acquire more.

“For whatever reason, in the process of merging between Harvard and Radcliffe, I think a really important part of the history of Radcliffe was lost,” says Rakesh Khurana, who will take over as dean of Harvard College in July. Part of both his and his wife’s project as House Masters has been to revive that history by collecting photographs, taking Radcliffe yearbooks out of Schlesinger Library, and, in the future dean’s case, spending hours on eBay trying to track down various old Radcliffe artifacts. The Khuranas seem to have a sense of their role as caretakers for these artifacts, be they handed down or reclaimed. “Part of it is somebody took the care to preserve it, and somebody took the care to donate it, and somebody took the care to make sure it got passed on, so you feel this responsibility to care for it,” Rakesh Khurana says.


Along with preserving and curating the history and culture of the Houses, Masters must also oversee the renovations necessary to keep House life vibrant and relevant to contemporary student life. Yet while certain levels of renovation will always be necessary, the extent and manner to which this is approached is often at the Masters’ discretion.

{shortcode-daf081e9892bfd4471b586aecd3f7c3fb80d2ccc} Discussing renovations to Bertram Hall and Briggs Common Room, the Khuranas explain that they use old photographs of what these spaces looked like in Radcliffe days as inspiration for the remodelling process. “It’s the idea that drawing on the richness of the past is a strong foundation,” Stephanie Khurana explains, adding that she believes in “learning from the past and seeing what’s valuable in a very open and transparent way.”


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