B. June Hutchinson has been honored with the second annual Rose Standish Nichols Award by Beacon Hill’s Nichols House Museum for for her dedication to landscape design, her research and writings about 55 Mt Vernon Street and the Nichols family, and her service to the Museum and community at large.
The RSN award was created to recognize individuals of outstanding achievement who embody the spirit of Rose Nichols. A noted landscape designer and author, 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.
Like Nichols, Hutchinson was a writer and landscape designer before her recent retirement. “Every morning when I woke up, I had a bevy of things to do to move forward a project that would better an institution or advance my writing,” said Hutchinson recently. And those projects were many, all executed with thorough research into the past and a clear vision of the future.
Unlike Rose Nichols, who was only 23 years old when she became a landscape designer, Hutchinson began at midlife. She enrolled in Radcliff’s program in landscape architecture and, with Ann Steinberg, founded Private Gardens in Weston, a landscape design firm that specialized in creating period gardens, most often of the early Federal and Queen Anne Victorian styles.
Hutchinson designed these gardens only after thoughtful research into the historical and cultural periods they represent. It is the same approach she executed during her many years on the Museum’s Board of Governors, including her stint as president from 2004-2007.
As she began her tenure, she recognized that the Museum’s future success depended on the use of professional management tools. Therefore, she set out to learn as much as she could about the field of museum management in part by attending workshops sponsored by the New England Museum Association and other groups.
Consequently she was able to initiate many significant projects such as laying groundwork for the successful pursuit of grants for furniture treatment, collection cataloguing and interpretation. Under her guidance, the Museum received its first major preservation grant from the Massachusetts Historical Commission.
It was Hutchinson who from the very beginning recognized the importance of the museum being accredited by the American Alliance of Museums. She took the lead with executive director Flavia Cigliano to accomplish this and officially received the accreditation in February 2017.
Early on she also saw the importance of transcribing the Nichols family letters, which she did herself by spending hours over a period of several years. Her work enabled the Museum’s staff to bring many aspects of the Nichols’ lives into their exhibitions and interpretations.
For example Hutchinson learned that Rose and her sisters Marian and Margaret Nichols were suffragettes. Each had her own unique way of furthering the movement and subsequently the three devoted their lives to three distinct causes: pacifism, anti-corruption, and the defense of civil liberties.
So Hutchinson decided to stage a dinner party with a suffragette theme. The dining table was set with linens and the meal began with champagne and oysters, just as the family would have done. But this time ‘Vote for Women’ signs appeared throughout the Museum, even on the Christmas tree in the courtyard.
In the family letters Hutchinson also discovered detailed descriptions of the family’s holiday traditions, prompting her to bring them back to the Nichols House. Each year she, Jim Borden and Anne Conner would spend months in preparation to assure the festive decorations and stories they told were authentic. It is a festive time still enjoyed by the Museum’s many patrons and friends.
Rose’s father, Dr. Arthur H. Nichols, was known for his dining enjoyment. In his day ladies would leave for the living room when the meal was complete while the gentlemen remained at the table enjoying their cigars and brandy. Following their lead, Hutchinson would stage similar dinner parties at the museum.
The information Hutchinson discovered through her years of research ultimately led her to author ‘At Home on Beacon Hill: Rose Standish Nichols and her family’, which was published by the Museum in 2011.
Last year’s award went to Elizabeth ‘Biddy’ Owens at a formal celebratory event. This year due to the pandemic, the Museum has elected not to hold such an event to present Hutchinson the Rose Standish Nichols Award.