Jack Bentley Hargis: Co-Founder of The Bidwell House Museum

Jack Hargis and David Brush, who owned The Bidwell House from 1960 to 1986, were responsible for uncovering the remarkable history of the house and for meticulously restoring it to its present magnificence. They amassed perhaps the best collection of 18th and early 19th century furnishings in Berkshire County and arranged for the property to become a museum after their deaths.

Peter Murkett interviewed Jack extensively in 1986, some months before he died. He says, “Jack Hargis brought a passion to tradition that was always young in its energy. …. Jack’s conservatism came from the heart, lay in his bones. Art to him began and ended with skills of hand, eye, ear, even of nose and tongue (taste), painstakingly learned from those who had long perfected them, skills acquired slowly, constantly practiced.”

Originally from Texas, Jack attended the Parsons School of Design during World War II, and later taught there. At the time all the schools of the caliber of Parsons emphasized European decorative arts, therefore, he was trained in the high court style of French design. Jack specialized in the design of haute couture dresses. He went to Paris and worked as a designer for the fashion houses of Christian Dior and Jacques Fath, then returned to New York and continued working in the field for 30 years.

Couture hats by Jack Hargis

He attributed his initial interest in American decorative arts to Parson’s having had to suspend their normal practice of extensive European travel because of the war  and instead make field trips to places like Colonial Williamsburg.

Jack strongly disagreed with the way some of the reproductions of early American rooms were done at the major museums, feeling that they operated from a false assumption that people had very little furniture. Whereas the p Reverend Bidwell’s inventory shows that someone who was well-to-do, but not wealthy, and living in a far-away place, had a considerable amount of furniture.

Although both Mr. Hargis and Mr. Brush purchased the house and David played a very important part in the restoration, Jack’s single mindedness and focus were the real driving force behind the project.  The restoration became his piece of art.

Because of the history, age and style of the house, both men developed an interest in American antiques.  Living near highly respected antique dealers like Ginsberg and Levy in New York, Jack was able to acquire quality 18th century pieces to match Reverend Bidwell’s estate inventory and thus furnish the house.

In addition to the restoration, they lavished their attention on the grounds, creating beautiful perennial beds and landscaping the surrounding area.  Jack rebuilt the immense retaining walls stone by stone.

Twenty six years of endless patience and dedication resulted in the gem of a restoration which stands out from all others by its exceptional taste and attention to historic detail.

In the words of Peter Murkett, summing up an interview he held with Jack Hargis, ” … Jack brought a passion to tradition that was always young in its energy. …I thought …that his spirit would carry indefinitely, to inform and inspire those of us who inhabit a slightly more common world because we lack that training, his refined eye, and familiarity with the past.  In the work he leaves, that spirit is alive, and if we in turn do our part to preserve what he left, it will continue to inform and inspire for years to come.”