Published: January 4, 2011
Joseph Howard Hennage, Washington printer, publisher and American antiques collector, died in Williamsburg on Wednesday, December 29, 2010, just days before his 90th birthday. He is survived by his wife of 63 years, June Stedman Hennage.
Hennage was born in Washington, D.C., on January 2, 1921. After serving in the United States Navy for four years during World War II, he returned to the Nation’s Capital and founded Hennage Creative Printers in 1945.
The privately held company that was located for decades at 9th and H Streets, NW, in Washington, and later moved to 500 North Henry Street in Alexandria, Va. He married June Elizabeth Stedman in 1947, and over the course of a distinguished printing, antiques collection and philanthropic career in the arts and publishing, their marriage was a model full partnership in every aspect of the business and in their quest and promotion of the best in the public realm of the arts and humanities.
What distinguished Joe Hennage in his professional career as a printer and in his achievements as an antiquarian and collector was his enthusiasm, knowledge and passion. He held numerous offices and received many honors in the printing trades. In the late 1960s he served as president of the Master Printers of America, and shortly thereafter became chairman of the Printing Industries of America. Both of these organizations subsequently recognized his contributions to the field by naming him “Man of the Year.” He also served as president of the Printing Industry of Metropolitan Washington and the Creative Printers of America. Throughout Mr Hennage’s 50-year professional career, he also served on the advisory boards of the American Security and Trust Company and George Washington University. He also served as director of graphic arts for the Mutual Insurance Company and director of the Washington Board of Trade.
He had an intense admiration for the founding father of printing in colonial America †Benjamin Franklin. During the Bicentennial year, Hennage wrote and published an article in Graphics Arts Monthly entitled “America’s Patriot Printers Catalysts for Freedom,” where he identified himself as an “unabashed fan” of Franklin and the editor noted in a headnote to his article that “for years Joe Hennage made an annual event of laying a wreath at Franklin’s statue at 10th and Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C.” The cover illustration of this monthly trade magazine shows Hennage presenting to then-President Gerald Ford as a gift to the White House collection a marble bust of Franklin by the French sculptor Jean-Jacques Caffieri, completed by the artist while Franklin was the envoy to France during the American Revolution.
The early passion of the Hennages for American fine arts and decorative arts was apparent in their membership circle of the National Gallery of Art; the Henry Francis DuPont Collectors Circle at Winterthur in Delaware; and in his work as a trustee at the Baltimore Museum of Fine Art. From 1965 to 1996, Hennage was a member and sometime chairman of the Fine Arts Committee of the Department of State Diplomatic Reception Rooms, created by the renowned Clement Conger. During the Nixon presidency the Hennages were instrumental in the furnishing of period rooms in the Federal style at the Diplomatic Reception Rooms of the State Department, as well as at the National Archives and the Supreme Court. During the tenure of Chief Justice Warren Burger Hennage served as a trustee of the Supreme Court Historical Society.
Hennage was the paragon of a collector and a true connoisseur who valued the things of beauty with which he surrounded himself, whether furniture, silverware, china, prints, or paintings. In his carefully selected purchases he brought to bear not only his extreme knowledge, but also his sense of fitness, harmony and beauty. Neither Joe nor June Hennage saw themselves as the “owners” of the collection of antiques, but as the custodians, who in the course of time would hand them over for safekeeping by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.
Therefore, in 1988 the Hennages relocated their residence from Chevy Chase, Md., to a new Georgian-style home they built in Williamsburg †Hennage House. Elizabeth Stillinger has written a scholarly, in-depth book on the house, collectors and the superb quality of this collection in American Antiques: The Hennage Collection, which the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation published in 1990.
The Hennages have been generous supporters of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation and because of their largesse in 1985 the Hennage Auditorium at the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum was named in their honor. Hennage was also a founding member of the Raleigh Tavern Society, the foundation’s highest annual giving group and a member of the President’s Council. In 1994 Joe Hennage, along with his wife June, received the Churchill Bell Award, the foundation’s most prestigious award, for their unparalleled service and generosity.
The stunning achievement of Joe Hennage as a printer was acquiring the publishing rights to Williams MacPherson Hornor’s monumental, but very rare, Blue Book: Philadelphia Furniture, William Penn to George Washington (1935), in 1969, founding his own Highland House Publishers, in Washington, and republishing the classic in 1977.
Hennage never lost his patriotic faith in history, in the use of the past to instruct the present and improve the future. His life was one long succession of enterprises about which he cared passionately. Schooled in the old-fashioned standard of doing well by doing good, he authentically took that paradigm to heart.
Joe Hennage, A ‘Great Friend’ To Colonial Williamsburg
Joe Hennage has been a leading member of the Colonial Williamsburg family for more than 60 years. He and June were founding members of the President’s Council, the Raleigh Tavern Society, the Goodwin Society and the Friends of Colonial Williamsburg Collections.
In the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum, the Hennage Auditorium, one of their generous gifts to the foundation, was named in their honor. Joe was a passionate and astute collector of Eighteenth Century furniture and decorative arts. He and June contributed generously to the Colonial Williamsburg collection.
In 1994 they were awarded Colonial Williamsburg’s Churchill Bell, the foundation’s highest honor ‘for unselfish devotion to high purpose’ and in recognition of ‘their ambitious endeavors, high ideals and timeless values.’
Joe was a great friend to many of us at Colonial Williamsburg. He loved collecting and sharing his finds. He loved the wonderful home that he and June designed and built in Williamsburg. He loved celebrating with friends from near and far. He loved his country and welcomed opportunities to say so. He loved June, his partner in all things, beyond measure. He will be greatly missed and his extraordinary legacy at Colonial Williamsburg will be a cause for unending gratitude.
⁃olin G. Campbell, president of The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation
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