The ISEA Years by Sheila Bingamann

saliisbury guide book cover

The ISEA Years

Each year in the late 1960s the Iowa State Education Association (ISEA) held a convention in Des Moines during October. For those of us in the Des Moines Schools it meant an all-day recess in the beautiful fall weather. During their convention, ISEA opened the Salisbury House for tours by their members. In 1969 as a senior at nearby Roosevelt High School, I was honored to be a student-guide in the House. I recently found my notes from this tour and the Guidebook published by ISEA with a copyright of 1967. These documents record how the house was used by the ISEA.

The First Floor

Only a few rooms on each floor were available to tour. The first floor rooms included the Great Hall, the Common Room and the Library. According to my memory, the Common Room still had its original draperies in 1969. The Library or as the ISEA referred to it the “Rare Books Library” had become the office for the secretary to ISEA’s Executive Secretary. The Dining Room was the Executive Secretary’s office. The breakfast room was work space for two additional secretaries. The kitchen and pantries were office space for the Publications Division of ISEA.

The Second Floor

To access the rooms on the second floor, we merrily went up and down the main staircase on the Wilton Carpet. The only rooms on public view were Mrs. Weeks’s bedroom, Mr. Weeks’s bedroom, the Coachman’s Room and the Queen Anne Room. Mrs. Weeks’s sitting room was the women’s lounge. Mrs. Weeks’s beautiful lavender bathroom was the women’s public toilet (Oh My!). Mr. Weeks’s bathroom served at the men’s public toilet. (Was it during this time that the marble sink was broken?) His bedroom was the ISEA board room with the dining room table used as the board room table. The four boy’s bedrooms were used as office space.

Basement and Third Floor

After the ISEA members were given tours of the first and second floors, the tour continued up the back staircase to the third floor. The third floor was used as offices for the Public Relations and Research Divisions of ISEA. Steel cupboards that had previously been in the kitchen and pantries were relocated to the third floor for storage.

After touring the third floor, the ISEA members proceeded down to the basement level which housed more offices for various ISEA divisions. There is a reference on page 27 of the Guidebook to a gymnasium in the basement. Finally, the Indian Room was used as a conference/dining room with a kitchen/cafeteria next to it.

The Mystery of the Dining Room Table

One of the ongoing debates at Salisbury House was whether the dining room table (circa 1600) was cut down by the Weeks or ISEA. The Guidebook appears to answer that question:

“The board room table was originally the dining table in what is now the executive secretary’s office. It has been refinished and restyled but is still supported by the carved bulbous legs of the original table. The table top is now narrower at one end to give all board members a full view of the chairman.” (page 25)

Pictures and Furniture Moved

A number of pictures and some major pieces of furniture were exhibited in different locations. The Van Dyck portrait of Cardinal Rivarola was displayed in the Common Room. It had been loaned out for an exhibition of Van Dyck’s work at Genoa, Italy (Cardinal Rivarola’s home town). The Guidebook claims that the painting is “one of the three greatest of Van Dyck’s works.” (page 16)

The Warwick Romney (now no longer thought to be a genuine Romney) and George Romney’s portrait of Lady Charlotte Milnes were hung in the Dining Room. Both of these paintings are now in the Common Room.

Two Stella paintings were in the East Passageway. These included the Birth of Venus now in the Great Hall and Tree of My Life which was sold by the ISEA for much needed funding.

Finally the choir stalls from Wimbourne Abbey that are now in the upstairs passageway were located in the Friendship Hall.

I hope you have enjoyed this walk down memory lane. A copy of the Guidebook and my notes are available for perusing.  Feel free to have the admissions desk associate in the Great Hall of the museum to show you these, if you’d like.

Salisbury House Guide book back cover

About salisburyhousemuseum
Salisbury House & Gardens is a historic house museum located in the Salisbury Oaks neighborhood of Des Moines, Iowa. Built in the 1920s by cosmetics magnate Carl Weeks and his wife, Edith, the 42-room estate is modeled after King’s House in Salisbury, England. It was a pioneering sustainable structure in its day, incorporating architectural and structural elements culled from scores of other properties throughout England and Iowa. Carl and Edith Weeks were art and literary collectors of rare taste and refinement, and most of their collections remain in the house to this day. The grounds, house and collections are open for tours through the work of the nonprofit Salisbury House Foundation, founded in 1993 to protect and preserve the property for the educational and cultural benefit of the public.

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