Interview with Rachel Delphia, the Alan G. and Jane A. Lehman Curator of Decorative Arts and Design at Carnegie Museum of Art

Colonial Williamsburg

Curator Rachel Delphia shares her perspective on travel, design, and our upcoming Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh trip: Colonial Williamsburg: The Forging of a Nation with Monticello and Montpelier.  This April, Rachel will accompany our travelers on insider tours of James Madison’s Montpelier and UNESCO World Heritage Site Monticello,  President Thomas Jefferson’s self-designed estate,  join them in experiencing the early roots of America in historic Colonial Williamsburg, and on an exclusive tour of the decorative arts collection at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.  Read on to learn more about Rachel’s thoughts on the trip and more!

Rachel Delphia-3
Rachel Delphia, the Alan G. and Jane A. Lehman Curator of Decorative Arts and Design at the Carnegie Museum of Art
  1. Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you came to be associated with Carnegie Museums…  
    I was born and raised in Columbus, OH, but as a kid I visited the dinosaurs with my Pittsburgh cousins. I remember the flickering lights, the thunder sound effects, and Dippy’s tail on the floor. Years later, when I was a student at Carnegie Mellon, CMOA’s great exhibition Aluminum By Design: Jewelry to Jets compelled me to pursue a museum career. I have been part of the decorative arts and design department at the Carnegie since 2005.
  2. What are you looking forward to most about this upcoming Carnegie Museums trip? Why?
    I am excited to revisit early American history. It was such a fascinating period, and I love the way history comes to life at historic houses and Colonial Williamsburg. On the other end of the spectrum, the art nouveau and art deco collections at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts are some of my personal favorites. The collectors, Sydney and Frances Lewis, had great taste, and they left an amazing legacy. Also, you cannot really go wrong with spring in Virginia. Did I mention it is “Garden Week,” statewide?
  3. Do you have any past experience with this travel location?  
    Yes, growing up in the Midwest, Virginia sat squarely between my family home and the South Carolina beaches where we vacationed. We made numerous stops in Virginia, especially to see historic sites. I have been back to Charlottesville and Williamsburg as a professional, but it has been a long time for the other locations.

    Colonial Williamsburg
  4. What do you think will surprise people about Charlottesville and Williamsburg who have never been there?  
    Thomas Jefferson’s design for UVA is truly something to behold. Private quarters for faculty and students, arranged around the central lawn, create an atmosphere for collegial exchange and respite. (Actually, the architect Henry Hornbostel based the overall proportions of the mall at Carnegie Mellon on Jefferson’s masterpiece). At Williamsburg I think people might be surprised to learn how meticulously researched everything is—from the architecture to the way the tradespeople practice their crafts.
  5. Where is the last place you traveled and why?  
    New York, for the Winter Antiques Show. I made the jaunt out to the Queens Museum to see an exhibition called Never Built New York. It’s what it sounds like—architectural concepts that were never realized, from a Buckminster Fuller glass dome to a crazy Brutalist concrete tunnel by Paul Rudolph that would have cut across lower Manhattan. What really lured me there, though, was an architectural bouncy castle based on Eliot Noyes’s concept for the Westinghouse Pavilion at the 1964 New York World’s Fair. I think the world could use more architect-designed bouncy castles. Local families were lining up for a free jump.
  6. What is your favorite place to travel to around the world?
    To relax? Pawley’s Island, SC. Cities? New York, Amsterdam, or Munich.
  7. If there were one famous person dead or alive that you could travel with, who would it be and why?
    Ha, Mark Twain. I love his travel writing. I’d take the Innocents Abroad tour.
  8. Do you have a dream travel location that you haven’t been to yet?
    Japan or Scandinavia
  9. Do you speak any other languages besides English?  
    My Spanish is so-so. I wish I spoke Dutch or German.
  10. What type of music do you listen to while traveling? 
    Whatever is emanating from local establishments. I don’t do portable music players.
  11. What is a must-bring item for you when traveling?
    A printed map. I like navigating and exploring on paper. Also, a camera.
  12. Any books that you would recommend reading before taking this trip?
    I’m starting with re-reading David McCullough’s 1776.
  13. Any general travel tips for our readers? 
    Read up before you go so that you make sure to see the things that are most important to you. But, don’t schedule every second of the trip. I like to allow some time for unexpected discoveries!


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