Beyond the quaint center of Lenox, Mass., past Gilded Age Berkshire cottages and down a winding, tree-lined path, a bright white stucco and glass building stands out against the pines: the Frelinghuysen Morris House & Studio. Built 75 years ago, the Bauhaus structure was home to George L.K. Morris and Suzy Frelinghuysen, an artist couple often referred to as “Park Avenue Cubists.” Morris and Frelinghuysen met in 1933 during intermission at the Metropolitan Opera, when Morris hummed arias and challenged Frelinghuysen — who would go on to join the New York City Opera as dramatic soprano in 1947 — to name the tunes. (She guessed each correctly.) In 1935 they married, and in 1941 moved into their Modernist home on a 46-acre Lenox estate, filling each room with works by Picasso, Léger, Braque and Gris, and their own abstract frescoes and paintings.
Open to the public since 1998, the Frelinghuysen Morris Home & Studio is a window into the artists’ lives: their books, clothes, midcentury modern furniture and even their liquor bottles and Frelinghuysen’s hair dryer. A house tour takes guests through a living room with an Argentine leather-upholstered floor and a zebra-print sofa, and down hallways where paintings by Modernist masters hang as casually as if they were family photos. And this summer, visitors can view never-before-seen 16-mm color films taken by Morris and Frelinghuysen during their travels to Latin America and Switzerland between 1936 and 1938. Restored after the House & Studio received a grant from the National Film Preservation Foundation, the films are the last of the couple’s archive to be digitized, and the first in color. (Past black-and-white films have shown Morris’s travels with his brother to India, Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, Bali, Japan, Korea, China and the Philippines.)
In the Latin American films, viewers follow Morris as he turns his camera toward the Duna people on the San Blas Islands off Panama, the Teatro Nacional in Puerto Rico, the towering San Christobal Cathedral in Havana — and on Frelinghuysen, sitting among palm trees dressed in a smart khaki skirt, blazer and bucket hat. In Switzerland, we watch as Frelinghuysen hops in a convertible with Morris’s younger brother Steve and their friend Natalie Merrill, all wearing driving goggles and masks. The Russian avant-garde artist Esphyr Slobotkina joins them in one shot; and in another, they shimmy and laugh their way out of an ice tunnel.
The films will screen on loop in the House’s airy studio, alongside oil and watercolor paintings by Morris, who studied with Léger in Paris in the 1920s, and a selection of paintings from the Frelinghuysen Morris collection. Viewers may find parallels between Morris’s films and his paintings. Kinney Frelinghuysen, the nephew of Suzy Frelinghuysen and the director of the House & Studio, points out that the couple sought new artistic influences wherever they traveled. “Morris would look at touristic sites in a sensitive way, with a mission to see how other cultures handled their aesthetic,” Kinney says. “They were constantly looking for inspiration, and being surprised by it. That’s the spirit of it, and they were having fun at the same time.”