John Harrisson, the Oxford-educated Englishman who currently directs the New York-based campaign fund for the Freud Museum, acknowledges that he came to the job with “if not a healthy skepticism, at least a blank slate” on psychology and psychoanalysis.
But Harrisson, who was at the recent UCLA conference on “The Century of Freud,” has become something of an overnight expert on Sigmund Freud as he pursues his goal of raising $2 million before July 28 when Princess Alexandra, Queen Elizabeth’s cousin, will officially open the museum at 20 Maresfield Gardens, London.
The museum, in London’s Hampstead section, traditionally a haven for writers, artists and others of the avant garde, is the house in which Freud died, in September, 1939, not much more than a year after he fled his native Vienna to avoid Nazi persecution.
In London, Harrisson said, Freud found “contentment” and fulfillment of a childhood fantasy--"He’d always wanted to go to London and live the life of an English gentleman.” In view of this, Harrisson believes it entirely appropriate that the most important Freud museum (there is a small one in Vienna) be located in England.
Not Just a Shrine
The centerpiece of the London museum will be Freud’s study in which is to be found his hallowed couch, as well as his desk and extensive library. But, Harrisson emphasized, the museum will not be simply “a shrine to Freud nor a center for members of the profession.”
Rather, he speaks of it as a research and educational center for the broader public as well as a vehicle for “introducing visitors to Freud” (they hope for 25,000 visitors a year) and “explaining some of the main theories of psychoanalysis and some of the differences that exist within the field.”
And he is delighted to be able to report that Jungian analysts are among those who have supported the project.
Harrisson, who left his native Great Britain in 1978 to take a position as a labor economist at Columbia University, quickly “developed a secondary career in fund raising” at the university.
In early 1984, when he signed on for this campaign, Harrisson met with about 100 leading psychoanalysts in this country for advice and, he said, was told, “You’d be making a big mistake if you only went to the analysts,” the most pro-Freudian group, for money, as “there’s a vast number of psychologists who feel Freud belongs to them.”
Harrisson acknowledged that “America is where we expect to raise a majority of our funds,” because it has the largest number of professionals in the field and a history of philanthropic giving.
California Events Planned
With $650,000 raised to date, he recognizes that the campaign “has a significant way to go,” but he hopes for a boost from foundations and corporations (the Sheuer Foundation in New York has given $50,000); there are plans, too, for a continuing series of fund-raisers, such as a concert--the music of Freud’s Vienna--in Philadelphia in March that netted $30,000. An event is planned at UC San Diego in the fall and, Harrisson said, “We’re hoping for something in Los Angeles.”
About $700,000 of the needed $2 million will go for extensive renovation of the Queen Anne Revival- style house, which needed new wiring and plumbing as well as a security system. Another $800,000 is earmarked for an endowment fund which, together with admission fees, would make the museum self-sufficient. Another $500,000 is for start-up expenses for the museum and its programs.
Harrisson isn’t saying that he’ll have the $2 million by July but, he said, “We have certainly raised enough money to date to ensure the museum will open.”
When he came to the fund-raising task, Harrisson said, smiling, “It was rather necessary to find out what psychoanalysis is all about.” Today, he talks knowledgeably on the subject and has formed the opinion that “Freud was undoubtedly one of the greatest intellects of all time. He ranks alongside Einstein in originality.”
‘A Certain Presence’
And he wants the Freud Museum to be “a major museum, a really first-rate museum” that can be a significant resource as well as a place for reflection. When he first visited the Freud house in 1983, he said, “I was very deeply moved. There’s a certain presence about the house,” a feeling that someone important lived there.
The Sigmund Freud Archives and the New-Land Foundation of New York are partners in the museum project; establishment of the museum is in keeping with the wishes of Anna Freud, Sigmund Freud’s daughter, who lived there until her death in 1982. Harrisson describes her as a woman with a “keen preservationist instinct” who for 44 years kept the house pretty much as her father had left it, furnishings and all. The New-Land Foundation bought the house in 1979 and gave it to the Sigmund Freud Archives.
(The archives, a nonprofit New York corporation formed 35 years ago, has collected and donated a number of Freud documents--letters, manuscripts, photographs and tape recordings--to the Library of Congress but that collection is, controversially, not open to the public.)
However, the London house is “the true repository of Sigmund Freud’s spirit,” Harrisson told the UCLA conference; it was the place where Freud, terminally ill with cancer, “spent a lot of his last months sitting out in the garden.” Freud wrote that he was then in “a little island of pain floating on a sea of indifference.”
Harrisson emphasized that the museum will be more than a memorial; if it fulfills its promise, it will make “a major contribution to the understanding of mental health.” Under consideration, for example, is a research fellowship in residence for the purpose of documenting notations made by Freud in his library books.