French Heritage Society preserves the “patrimoine” of France and highlights French-American friendship


On December 1, 2010 in recognition of its exemplary support of the protection of French patrimony, French Heritage Society received the high distinction of Grand Mécène de la Culture from Frédéric Mitterrand, French Minister of Culture. French Heritage Society was represented at the ceremony by Chairman Elizabeth Stribling, President Denis de Kergorlay, Founding President Michèle le Menestrel-Ullrich and other dedicated FHS staff and volunteers.

JPEGe-Toile: Mrs. Stribling , you are the Chairman of the Board of French Heritage Society and, alongside Robert Sterling who is the Chairman of the Palm Chapter. Would you mind explaining to us in a few words the purpose of this organization?

French Heritage Society: French Heritage Society (FHS) is an American 501 c (3) not-for-profit organization created in 1982.

The intention behind creating FHS was to provide a two-way street for American and French people to have the opportunity for cultural exchange through their mutual interest in historic preservation.

Their financial support allows FHS to make grants to preserve the “patrimoine” of France and buildings in the U.S. with significant French architectural, historical or cultural origins or influences.

FHS also promotes the knowledge surrounding preservation by organizing internships for students in the field, a seminar program for academics and professionals in architecture and art history and preservation, and a French-American program for a transatlantic architect exchange, known as the Richard Morris Hunt Fellowship, named after the first American architect to study at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris.

We have 13 Chapters in the US and one in Paris.

Our chapters are comprised of FHS members and volunteers who work in their respective cities to raise monies for our grants as well as for FHS’s mission. In order to do this, chapters hold special events, and one of our most important events is our upcoming Gala Dinner in Palm Beach where we will have a wonderful talk on the legendary Château de Fontainebleau where FHS will hold a grand Gala Ball to celebrate our 30th Anniversary this coming October 13th!

e-Toile: Going through your latest brochure, the first words that come to my mind are: how generous! Just to name a few grants from the last two years: $10,000 for the restoration of Château de Haroué ( Lorraine ) and $20,000 for Château de Brissac (Pays de Loire), $10,000 for the Parc Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Oise, Picardie) as well as $60,000 for the restoration of architectural elements in the French Eglise Saint Vincent de Paul in New York and $10,000 for Saint Anthony’s Garden in New Orleans, which now, thanks in part to FHS’s funding, has been restored and is open to the public.

How do you select the projects? How do you gather the funds?

French Heritage Society: For our grant projects in France, we work with three French preservation associations: Les Vieilles Maisons Françaises, La Demeure Historique, and Le Comité des Parcs et Jardins de France who receive requests for support for specific restorations from the owners and/or custodians of historical monuments.

These partners present several of these projects to FHS each spring from which we make our selections based on the merit of the project and the criteria FHS sets forth (requiring the monument be open to the public and find other sources of funds to match our grant funds, among other stipulations)

In the U.S., our projects are varied in nature, but all have an important link to France through their history, architecture or some important French-American story of its past ownership that distinctly links our two countries.

Preservation is at the core of French Heritage Society’s mission.

FHS has awarded nearly 500 grants, amounting to more than $17,500,000, which include matching funds.
While fulfilling its mission, the fellowship among members and the friendship between the two nations remain at the heart of the association.

e-Toile: I understand that the Palm Beach Chapter is very active in organizing a Gala Dinner each February, whose proceeds contribute greatly to the achievements of the Society. Can you provide some details?

French Heritage Society: Our gala dinner in Palm Beach usually takes place during the first week of February at the lovely Club Colette.

Each year we have a distinguished guest who speaks on a theme related to preservation, French history or personal Franco-American experiences.

This year at our Gala on February 2nd, an acclaimed lecturer from New York, David Garrard Lowe, will speak on the fascinating and broad-spanning Château de Fontainebleau, reviewing with beautiful imagery the architectural and decorative imprint each French monarch, and two emperors, left on this colossal and stunning royal house over the centuries.

e-Toile: In 2010 the organization received from the hands of the French Minister of Culture, Mr Frédéric Mitterrand, the award of "Grand Mécène de la Culture" (Grand Patron of Culture). From your viewpoint, does culture have the same meaning in Europe and in the US ?

French Heritage Society: The sense of a cultural heritage is intrinsic in the daily lives of Europeans as their countries have hundreds or even thousands of years of ongoing history.

Towns and cities are filled with ancient buildings, medieval cathedrals or nearby Renaissance chateaux. There is a pride of place as well as an emphasis on family as guardians of the past for the future.

For Europeans, national heritage is also their own identity. In America, we are blessed to be a country of individuals who have arrived on our shores at different epochs and from different countries.

We have forged together a democracy where all can succeed and prosper. We have created a country based on freedom and opportunity, and a culture of open expression.

French Heritage Society is proud to support and celebrate the architectural glory of France which has served as a model for many of our own architectural accomplishments as well as urban and rural spaces.

e-Toile: You will celebrate the 30th Anniversary of FHS in 2012. Can we have an idea of the program of celebrations?

French Heritage Society: In October 2012, French Heritage Society will celebrate its 30th Anniversary with a week of festivities in France.

From October 8-12th, participants will enjoy an extraordinary trip through Gascony - following the path of Louis XIV and the both literary and historical figures of D’Artagnan and the legendary Three Musketeers.

The trip will take participants from Toulouse to the Basque Coast, mixing literary legend with the true historic facts to make for a fabulous voyage of discovery! Our itinerary traces the journey of Louis XIV as he was escorted by the real-life D’Artagnan through Gascony in 1660 to arrive at the Basque Coast for his wedding with Maria-Theresa, Infanta of Spain.

Our program includes four wonderful destinations: Toulouse and the surrounding area, the Gers, the Landes, and the Basque Coast.

We will be received by the owners of the most beautiful private châteaux of these regions to share in their quintessential way of life – this region is very rich in time-honored traditions!

After our trip to Gascony, we will return to Paris.

On Saturday October 13th, we will be received in the magnificent Salle des Fêtes of the Hôtel de Ville for an official lunch with government officials and other notables and distinguished guests.

And that evening, we will all travel to Château de Fontainebleau for a Gala Dinner and Ball, complete with dancing and a magnificent fireworks show. Funds raised through these celebrations will go to support the mission of French Heritage Society.

e-Toile: Fostering Franco-American friendship and better understanding of both cultures is one of your main missions. To this goal, how do you reconcile our increasingly digital world and preservation of architectural legacy?

More specifically, what the Society does in the field of education, based on the fact that the Society is well known for the restoration of historic buildings (architectural legacy) with the support of older generations whereas the younger generation is generally more interested in digital content.

French Heritage Society: We have made considerable efforts over the past couple of years to remain pertinent in today’s high tech and extremely busy world!

We just re-launched our newly designed website, last month!

Both our NY and Paris offices work diligently to create attractive and informative communications materials and to increase online content that works in tandem with our publications.

The website has been greatly improved and has become more sophisticated in terms of newly added interactive features and video content, including interviews and subjects linked to current and future FHS projects and programs.

We are excited about the site’s new and improved ability to make information on historic preservation and FHS’s own efforts to sustain the French built heritage available to the general public.

We have been increasing our digital communications with our donors and affiliates through a significantly-increased number of announcements and invitations sent via email, as well as a new eNewsletter that will be launched this month.

All of these efforts to broaden our communications via the internet have been the collective product of our entire team as well as great input from our Board, volunteers, Chapters and their members.

Our goal is to make sure we are meeting the needs and demands of the digital realities of today and meeting those needs for our constituents.

Another way we contribute to the next generation of preservationists is through our education programs.

Since 1985, French Heritage Society has sponsored and organized a successful transatlantic Student Intern Program which has allowed more than 300 French and American students to take part in summer internships at prestigious cultural organizations in France and the United States. Students benefit from hands-on practical experience in each other’s countries for students in the fields of architecture, cultural management, art history, preservation and horticulture.

French students serve as interns at FHS sponsored projects, museums or cultural institutions in the United States, while their American counterparts work at French museums, châteaux or historic buildings; develop cultural exchanges in the field of historic preservation.

Last modified on 19/01/2012

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