HARTFORD — The Mark Twain House & Museum in Hartford has appointed Pieter Nicholson Roos as its new executive director, it was announced Thursday. The appointment comes six months after Cindy Lovell resigned as the director of the historic home of the legendary writer. Roos will begin at the Twain House on July 5.
In February, Roos left his position as executive director of Newport Restoration Foundation in Rhode Island, which he held for 18 years. NRF was founded by heiress Doris Duke to preserve historic architecture in Newport and its environs, including Duke's Gilded Age mansion Rough Point. Under Roos' leadership, Rough Point was
transformed from a private home into a house museum. Roos is also credited for spearheading the refurbishing of Newport's Queen Anne Square park, with a design by Maya Lin, who created the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, in Washington, D.C.
Upon Roos' departure from NRF, board Chairman Roger Mandle said Roos' tenure "transformed the NRF from a sleepy preservation entity with few staff whose main focus was as a rental agency of historic residences, into a museum and preservation organization that has earned recognition and respect on a regional and national scale," according to a news release on newportrestoration.org.
Before NRF, Roos worked at Newport Historical Society and the Morris Countypark commission in New Jersey. He has a bachelor's in anthropology from Drew University in Madison, N.J., and a master's in history museum studies from the Cooperstown Graduate Program at SUNY Oneonta. He has taught museum-studies courses at Brown and Harvard .
In a phone interview, Roos, 57, said he was attracted to the job because it's Mark Twain's house.
"He's such a transcendent figure in American history and literature, not only a great writer but a character so luminous," he said. "As a museum director you're always looking for great subject matter. It's difficult to look back at American history and find somebody as fascinating as Mark Twain is."
Roos, who grew up in West Nyack, N.Y., first visited the Twain house when he was "12 or 13" years old and his grandparents lived in Southbury. His ancestors on his mother's side, he said, were surnamed Sanford and settled near what is now Bethlehem in 1638.
"I will be the 13th generation on my mother's side of the family to live in Connecticut," he said.
He and his wife, Barbara, and their high school-aged daughter, Annika, are shopping for a home in the Hartford area. Their older daughter is in college.
Joel Freedman, chairman of the board of directors of the Twain House, said, "Pieter brings the whole package. He is familiar with infrastructure and buildings and running a historical house and running programs."
Freedman said Roos was chosen from about 40 applicants.
Lovell was hired to lead the Twain House in February 2013, after leading the Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum in Hannibal, Mo. She succeeded Jeff Nichols, who left to direct Poplar Forest, Thomas Jefferson's plantation retreat in Virginia. Lovell resigned in December 2016, saying she wanted to spend more time with her family in Florida, where she now lives. Amy Gallent, retired senior vice president of Hartford Insurance Group, has been interim director since December.
Roos is confident in his future at the Twain. "Out of the last 18 years at Newport Restoration Foundation, we ran at a surplus, 13 or 14 of them. We ran even in all of the rest except for two years," he said.
The Twain House has been financially strained for years, primarily as a result of the embezzlement, between 2002 and 2010, of more than $1 million by a former employee. In 2006, the House restructured its debt on the museum center and got a $3.5 million state grant to avoid bankruptcy. Still, the house laid off 33 of its 50 employees in 2008.
In November 2015, it was discovered that mold had tainted 5,000 of the museum's 16,000 historical artifacts stored in the museum center. The damage was a result of a malfunctioning heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system and a roof leak, which caused unsafe levels of relative humidity in the storage areas. A mold-remediation project began in February and is expected to be completed in the summer. The mold project was financed by a $223,900 grant from the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving. The HVAC system and roof leak repair, estimated at $750,000, was financed by a state bond.
The Twain House has an annual budget of $2.7 million and a staff of 21 full-time and 47 part-time workers, according to fiscal 2017 records. A new revenue stream will open up in September with the publication of "The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine," a children's book based on a text fragment of Twain's. The Twain House will receive a portion of the book's profits.