Katelyn Combs - CVAD Student Project Award recipient

Katy Combs during her two weeks in London visited Kedleston Hall and studied its housekeeper Mary GarnettReceiving $2,000 to complete your dream project is something most students are only able dream about, but Katelyn Combs, Master of Art alumna (2014) in Art History with a graduate certificate in Art Museum Education, actually did it. Combs was awarded $2024 in Spring 2014 from the CVAD Student Project Award Fund to travel to London to study Kedleston Hall and its housekeeper, Mrs. Mary Garnett who lived from 1724 until 1809.

Combs used the information that she learned during her summer 2014 trip to London to write her master’s thesis that allowed her to graduate from CVAD this month. It all started when Combs read a book for pleasure titled, “Up and Down Stairs: The History of the Country House Servant.” She came across a brief paragraph that spoke about a housekeeper named Mrs. Garnett and her role as a tour guide for the Hall. The book mentioned that people described Mrs. Garnett as an exemplary speaker and that she was a very well-spoken woman.

Combs explained that Mrs. Garnett molded the way people felt about the lord of the house, Lord George Curzon of Kedleston. She portrayed the lord as an educated member of the enlightened elite. Garnett believed, according to Combs, that the lord was the paternal guardian of the home and that he was the “Lord” of the manor, so to speak. He was portrayed as a father-like figure watching over his people. This was enough to spark Comb’s interest. She started reading everything she could about the role of the housekeeper in early 19th century homes and found that a number of housekeepers also fulfilled the role of tour guide for their homes.

Katy Combs stands next to the portrait painted in 1800 of the housekeeper of Kedleston Hall, Mary Garnett

Combs was able to speak to Ffion George, the current Collections Manager at Kedleston, about the home and George explained that the home (built in 1297) is predominantly unchanged since the 18th century and it has stayed in the family the entire time. The family lives in a family wing on the premises but the hall is now owned by the National Trust for Places of Historic Interest of Natural Beauty. Combs was able to tour the home extensively as part of group tours as well as on her own. In addition, Combs toured several other estates in London as comparison for her paper.

Garnett was perceived as an important member of the household as shown by the portrait painted of her by Thomas Barber the elder in 1800. That portrait is now on display in the Marble Hall at Kedleston. She is also buried in the chapel cemetery located on the grounds of Kedleston Hall in the prestigious position to the right of the door to the chapel.

Since leaving London, Combs has found a permanent position as the education specialist for the Arkansas Art Center. Combs travels each week with the Artmobile bringing an art gallery to schools across Arkansas.