University of Delaware
Office of Public Relations
The Messenger
Vol. 5, No. 1/1995
Museum Director Works To Bring The World To Winterthur

     Nearly 30 years ago, Dwight P. Lanmon, Delaware '68M, left a
successful career in engineering to pursue a graduate degree in
early American culture at the University of Delaware-a switch
from the world of science into the world of art that evolved from
a childhood fascination with Native American artifacts.
     In the 1960s, Lanmon was in Los Angeles-working during the
day as an engineer at the Northrop Corp. and taking, at night,
courses in art history, American history and the decorative arts.
     "After six years, I said to myself, 'My job as an engineer
isn't sufficiently fulfilling'," Lanmon recalls. "What I was
enjoying was the hobby I had. I began to think about changing
     In 1966, Lanmon, who holds a bachelor's degree in physics
from the University of Colorado, was accepted into the
Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Early American
Culture, conducted with the Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur
Museum near Wilmington, Del., a former country estate that houses
a world-renowned collection of 17th-, 18th- and 19th-century
furniture, paintings, silver, ceramics, glass and other
decorative arts.
     In addition to antiques and the arts, Winterthur also boasts
a naturalistic 60-acre garden set against a backdrop of nearly
1,000 acres of woodlands, open fields and rolling hills.
     Once accepted into the program at Winterthur, Lanmon loaded
his clothes, his books and a few antiques into the back of his
Volvo P1800 and drove across the country to Delaware.
     That decision to change careers and coasts brought him,
eventually, to his current position as director of Winterthur's
Museum, Garden and Library.
     To Lanmon, Winterthur provides "a history of Americans, the
unwritten details that survive so seldom in the written word. We
find it exciting that people can learn about their ancestors.
It's also a beautiful collection that they can enjoy from an
artistic standpoint."
     Since 1992, Winterthur has begun to seek out new audiences.
"I felt Winterthur was a very well-kept secret," Lanmon says. "We
have a tremendous regional draw, but we also are a national
institution and we are promoting ourselves as that." Among recent
changes, the facility has opened four galleries and has
instituted a tour of period rooms that does not require advance
     "The rallying cry has been to open up Winterthur," Lanmon
says. "It's always been known to a select group of people as
something extraordinary. I'm a populist. I want everyone to enjoy
     It was Lanmon's interest in Native American art that first
drew him into the world of collections and museums. As a boy
growing up in Denver, he would go out into the prairies and look
for Indian arrowheads. He also searched for pottery and baskets
in the pueblos of New Mexico. Later, he became interested in
antiques and opened a shop in his parents' home, focusing on the
19th century, as well as on glass from the Art Nouveau period.
     When Lanmon was an undergraduate, he viewed collecting
strictly as a hobby. But, when he started working after
graduation, he began checking out local antiques shops and taking
courses to expand his knowledge of antiques.
     He became friends with the curator of decorative arts at the
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Gregor Norman-Wilcox, and his
wife, Grace. Under their tutelage, Lanmon developed an
appreciation for American decorative arts and English glass. He
began to correspond with the Corning Museum of Glass staff and to
visit major museums with decorative arts collections, including
     When Lanmon applied for admission to the Winterthur program,
the committee had concerns that he wasn't serious about his
studies and that the financial rewards of museum work would never
match those of engineering.
     But, Lanmon had found an ally in Charles Hummel,
Winterthur's now retired deputy director of collections, who
asked the committee to give the young engineer a chance. And,
Hummel was proved right: Lanmon thrived at Winterthur.
     "I had a field day," Lanmon recalls. There, he also met the
woman who would become his wife, Ann Lorraine Lanmon, Delaware
'69, a Cornell University human ecology professor who also was
pursuing a degree in the Winterthur program. The two were married
in 1970.
     After graduating, Lanmon joined the Winterthur staff, first
as assistant curator for ceramics and glass, his specialty, and
later as associate curator also in charge of conservation.
     Then, in 1972, an act of nature would alter the course of
his career. Hurricane Agnes wreaked considerable havoc at the
Corning Museum, flooding its galleries and damaging most of the
books in its library, and Lanmon was one of hundreds of museum
professionals who volunteered to assist Corning's staff in the
aftermath of the storm.
     When the position of chief curator and curator of European
glass became available one year later, Corning offered it to
Lanmon. He joined its staff in 1973.
     The storm gave impetus to building a new facility at a
higher level, and as deputy director, Lanmon supervised the
construction of a museum three times larger and about five and a
half feet higher than the former one. The new museum opened in
     Over the years, Lanmon kept in touch with Winterthur, but he
never thought he would return to work there. Then, in 1992, the
search committee contacted him about applying for the director's
     "My dream was that Winterthur would continue to be the best
museum of decorative arts," he says. "But, my world was glass,
and I was director of the greatest museum of glass in the world.
The farthest thing from my mind was to apply."
     But, apply he did, and the search committee embraced
Lanmon's vision that Winterthur "is and should be recognized as
the greatest institution devoted to American decorative arts in
the world with the greatest educational programs for people
interested in museum work and art conservation."
     This fall, Lanmon, a member of the English Glass Circle and
the International Association for the History of Glass, was
honored with the Urban Glass Award for "best historical/academic
glass publication" for the book, Glass in the Robert Lehman
Collection, coauthored with David B. Whitehouse.
                             -Robert DiGiacomo, Delaware '88