Some Closing Thoughts On Our Friend, Heather Stivison

My first journey to Craftsman Farms was in 1990, when the roof still leaked and the log walls were painted white. I have followed closely the changes which have taken place in the 23 years since then, and can say that these last six years under the leadership of Heather Stivison have marked the turning point from the “Let’s Save Craftsman Farms” to “Craftsman Farms As a Leader in the Arts and Crafts Revival.” I asked a few individuals who have also witnessed and participated in this transformation to reflect on Heather’s role, including Heather herself, and have included their remarks and observations here. – Bruce Johnson

David Cathers: “I am so sorry that Heather has decided to leave the Farms but I have nothing but good wishes for her and her husband and their new life on the Massachusetts coast. Over the past six years the Stickley Museum at Craftsman Farms has blossomed under Heather’s inspired leadership. I have great respect and true affection for her, and I admire all that she and the museum’s board have created during her too-brief tenure. The S.M.C.F. has sprung to life as it never has before, and much of the credit goes to Heather’s vision and her ability to transform vision into reality.”

David Rudd: “Heather has been a driving force resulting in the success of Craftsman Farms. She has always been positive and supportive anytime we’ve worked together and it has been my pleasure to have worked and become friends with her.”

Ray Stubblebine: “As the longest serving active board member, Bruce has asked me to write some personal thoughts on Heather Stivison. These thoughts should be considered my own, and while I think all our board members feel the same way, I am not authorized to speak for the whole board in any official capacity.

There is a deep sense of personal as well as institutional loss with the happy news that Heather and her husband Doug have decided that the opportunity offered him in Massachusetts is too good to decline. While I thought that we would have Heather with Craftsman Farms for a long time, as did she, life has a way of intruding into all our plans and dreams in unexpected ways.

Her personal attachment to this unique and magical place—Craftsman Farms—will remain forever, that I know. And I know that we will be able to draw on her resources, even as she moves out of the area. She will never be far from us in her heart and I would expect that her involvement will continue in some meaningful way.

What she has accomplished over the last six years has been inspirational. When former board President Davey Willans managed to convince her to leave her position at the Montclair Art Museum to come to us, we were, frankly, struggling. We had a dedicated, harmonious and hard-working group of trustees, but we knew we needed a professional with a strong museum background to lead us into the future.

And lead she did. When I look back at what she has accomplished through leadership and the creation of a crackerjack support staff, I am in awe. And most of her accomplishments came during a time of economic crisis when many of our fellow museums either were forced to close their doors or reduce programming and hours of operation.

Two events occurred within a short time of her arrival: board President Davey Willans was able to negotiate the uniting of the Craftsman Farms Foundation north parcel of the Stickley campus to the Parsippany owned south campus; and she was able to help Davey (to whom she properly gives the lion’s share of the credit) negotiate the Foundation’s long term lease to manage the property with the Township of Parsippany-Troy Hills. These two events were the platform on which her six years of success were built.

On her watch, we went to a five-days-a-week, year-round opening schedule; created outreach programs for the Parsippany community such as our “family days;” created special programming for schools and scouts; assembled education and training materials to support our volunteer docents to give them the tools to provide a great tour; created signage and explanatory materials for the log house and the grounds; finished most of the significant restoration of Stickley’s log house, including the recent completion of the badly needed fire suppression system; supervised the restoration of the North Cottage and the roofing of both North and South cottages; supervised the updating of the Master Plan by the board; supervised our participation with the Newark Museum in the landmark exhibition on Gustav Stickley that traveled to Dallas and San Diego; built the Gala into our biggest fundraiser and led us in exploring other ways to create funding opportunities—all the time while writing a number of successful major grant applications.

It hasn’t been easy for her—the long hours and dedication cannot be repaid except from the sense of accomplishment that I know she rightfully feels—and she certainly didn’t do it all alone. But she has provided the leadership and practical skills to carry out the Board’s vision for The Stickley Museum at Craftsman Farms.

And her legacy to us is that she has taken us to where we need to be, with a professional and dedicated support staff in place, with an excellent functioning organization and with respect for our institution in the New Jersey museum community, if not the country. With so much accomplished and with a major capital campaign already in the planning stages, thanks to major seed money from Parsippany-Troy Hills, the timing—if it had to happen—of her departure comes at a good time.

Our next executive director is not going to have an easy time filling these shoes, but she or he will inherit a pretty well-greased organization and a Stickley Museum at Craftsman Farms that is truly “on the map,” and will be able to “hit the ground” running at full-speed.

I wish Heather and Doug godspeed on this new journey. I am so incredibly thankful to have had the opportunity to know her and work with her and become friends in this shared vision of what Craftsman Farms and the Stickley Museum can be. Thank you Heather, you have left a bright future for us and a legacy that will keep giving and will be hard to beat!”

Mark Weaver: “From the day Heather Stivison arrived at Craftsman Farms she embraced the property as the special place that it is. Under her leadership, the museum has become an institution for learning and enjoyment for all ages, just as Mr. Stickley had originally intended. We look forward to continuing to develop her vision under new leadership. She will be greatly missed.”

Heather Stivison: “Looking back over the years since the spring of 2007, when I first joined the Stickley Museum at Craftsman Farms, makes me smile broadly. Arriving here I anticipated an exciting job with plenty of scope and ways to make a difference. What I didn’t anticipate was that Craftsman Farms itself and the many people I would meet would find their way deep into my heart. I am certain they will remain there always.

I am very proud of the tremendous progress that has taken place during my years here. Beginning with the development of a comprehensive historic site master plan, we (staff, Board, members, volunteers, and friends) have worked together to preserve and protect this historic site through restoration of the master bedroom, master bathroom, and cottage roofs, the creation of the education room, handicap-accessible bathroom and walkways, and many more projects.

Of all the changes that took place while I was here, the one that brings me the most joy is the high quality educational focus that is now at the very heart of everything we do. The Emerging Scholars Symposium, Family Days, the Stickley Design Invitational, Artist-in Residence, and many other excellent programs are now regular parts of our annual public offerings. The Mr. Stickley exhibition series was presented at and accompanied by publications that offered new scholarship in the field. Our successful partnership with Syracuse University on the ambitious fashion exhibition, “Styling an American Family,” is a source of great pride. Other successful collaborations included Kean University, Drew University, Sotheby’s Institute, the Newark Museum, and many more.

It has been wonderful to see our efforts recognized publicly. Our new and revised, “Gustav Stickley’s Craftsman Farms: A Pictorial History,” won a publication award from the League of Historical Societies. A marketing campaign featuring the Log House won the Governor’s Award for Collaborative Tourism. In 2010 we were the only institution to receive an award of excellence from the New Jersey Historical Commission. And it has been wonderful to see more and more people discovering Craftsman Farms. Since 2007, our annual attendance has grown more than 400% and we have raised approximately $4 million in cash and receivables.

The biggest project of my tenure, a complex Log House fire prevention project, is now coming to a close. Last month we were awarded a grant of more than $500,000 to begin the next phase of rehabilitation and utilization of our beautiful historic site. The Craftsman Farms Foundation is strong and led by a committed and passionate Board of Trustees. The Board is just beginning to craft a strategic plan for the next three to five years that will move the organization ever closer to fulfilling its enormous potential. An independent analysis of the site by Heritage Tourism Culture Partners describes Craftsman Farms as a historic site with “world-class potential.” The Stickley Museum has traveled along a path that is bringing it closer to being simply “world-class.” And I am very proud of the small part that I have played in that journey.”

Davey Willans: “My definition of luck has long been “when preparation meets opportunity, you get lucky”. Early in 2007, both the Board of Trustees of the Craftsman Farms Foundation and Heather Stivison got lucky. The Foundation was prepared to hire a “professional executive director” and Heather Stivison was prepared to accept our offer. Neither Heather nor our Board knew how much work needed to be done in order for our Foundation and The Stickley Museum at Craftsman Farms to meet all of the “gold standard” practices that our National Historic Landmark site were worthy of.

When the challenges became clear, it was Heather that charted a course for the Foundation to follow, and even though the waters got pretty choppy, we stayed the course. Today Heather leaves the Craftsman Farms Foundation as an organization that is one of the shinning stars in the museum world. It is now the responsibility of all of our long time supporters to continue to grow the professional image and success of the Stickley Museum at Craftsman Farms.

Thank you Heather for your leadership, and we wish you all of the best of “luck” in the future.

Top Photo: Courtesy of Barbara Weiskittel

Bottom Photo: Courtesy of Doug Stivison