Special to the Times
A community leader who is as likely to be seen pouring tea for guests of the Nichols House Museum as she is guiding its board in strategic planning will be honored this fall for her dedication to historic preservation, outstanding leadership and committed service to the Museum.
The Nichols House Museum has named Elizabeth ‘Biddy’ Owens the first recipient of the Rose Standish Nichols Award, established this year to recognize individuals of outstanding achievement who embody the spirit of Rose Nichols. A noted landscape designer, author and one of the founders of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, Nichols lived in the four-story Bulfinch Federal Period brick townhouse at 55 Mount Vernon Street from 1885 until her death in 1960. As specified in her will, her home has been open to the public as a museum since 1961.
Owens will receive the award at an elegant cocktail reception to be held on October 17, 2019 at the Union Club of Boston. The celebratory event will be held in the Club’s Oak Room which features panoramic views of the Boston Common and beyond. To be held in lieu of the Museum’s annual Spring Fete, proceeds from the event will support the ongoing efforts of the museum.
Those who have had the opportunity to work with Owens say the award is richly deserved.
Like Nichols, who adorned her home with fine art and antiques she collected both domestically and abroad, Owens and her husband Bob have devoted their lives to the preservation of art and furnishings not only in their own home but by helping to conserve the collections in the Nichols House and other historic buildings in the Commonwealth.
The couple furnished their own 1837 Greek Revival row house with American classical furniture crafted between 1805 to 1840. Instead of refinishing and restoring the pieces to their original look, the couple respects the historic lives of the items and often conserves them in the condition they were found, ensuring that they be usable as long as possible.
Owens brought to the Museum her passion for preservation, her experience with other non-profits and a willingness to roll up her sleeves and help – whether it is collecting tickets at the door, organizing a tea party as Rose Nichols would have done, or teaching the board best practices for running a small museum.
For years she has served in leadership roles, include stints as vice-president and then board president of the Museum. She served on the Governance Committee and for years has worked with other curators and preservationists on the Collections Committee that cares for the art and furnishing in the Nichols collection.
Owens is known as a quiet, inspiring, modest yet ambitious leader who leads by example, according to former executive director Flavia Cigliano. June Hutchinson, who followed Owens as board president, said she carries out her role with grace and diligence. “She is such a role model – selfless, never ruffled, never wanting the spotlight. She has big ideas but always listens to what others say.”
The Owens are not only generous supporters of the museum themselves, but she also chaired the museum’s Bicentennial Capital Fund. Under her leadership, the appeal raised funds to restore major portions of the Nichols House to their 19th and early 20th appearance. This restoration returned the original kitchen to its appearance during Rose Nichols’ lifetime and created space for a visitor reception area, exhibits and an expanded gift shop – all important parts of the Museum today.
Most of all, Owens is credited with bringing best practices and professional standards to the museum’s operations. The museum, once used as a clubhouse for its directors, is now operating at the highest level of best practices, said Hutchinson. This led to its accreditation with the American Affiliation of Museums, a rare accomplishment for a very small museum with a limited budget.
For more information about the Rose Standish Award, the October 17 reception at the Union Club and the Nichols House Museum, contact Linda Marshall, executive director, at 617-227-6993 or email [email protected].