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May 27, 2020 Laurie Nivison

Historic Deerfield President and CEO Philip Zea to Retire in Spring 2021

Deerfield, Massachusetts (May 27, 2020) — Historic Deerfield, Inc., announced today that its President and Chief Executive Officer, Philip Zea, intends to step down and retire in the Spring of 2021. Zea has led Historic Deerfield since 2003. He also served Historic Deerfield for 18 years earlier in his career, from 1981 to 1999, concluding as Deputy Director and Chief Curator.

“I am so fortunate to have had the chance to work at Historic Deerfield not once but twice, first on the ‘content’ side as Chief Curator and now as CEO,” said Philip Zea. “I love the dual jobs of advancing and preserving Deerfield’s authenticity and national significance as both a great institution and an important place in American history. If you value cultural history, sense of place, deep documentation, natural beauty, name recognition, and collegiality, Deerfield is the place to be!”

Historic Deerfield, which maintains more than 50 historic structures in Old Deerfield, Massachusetts, focuses on the significance of small-town America to the national culture. Founded in 1952, the museum includes 12 historic houses dating from 1730 to 1850, which are regularly open to the public as well as the exhibition building, the Flynt Center of Early New England Life. It stewards a nationally significant collection of approximately 28,000 fine and decorative arts objects and household artifacts, both rare and common – including furniture, metalwares, textiles, needlework, ceramics, and more – many with documented histories of ownership or manufacture. These authentic objects document the stories and founding years of our nation, and through them, visitors learn the stories of generations of real people whose beliefs, belongings, lifestyles, conflicts, economy, and technology unlock the door to the past and help us to better understand today.  Historic Deerfield offers a full calendar of events to the public, including museum house tours, self-guided tours, special exhibitions, and over 75 annual public programs.  Additionally, Historic Deerfield has sponsored, since 1956, the annual Summer Fellowship Program for college undergraduates seeking to enter the museum field.

The museum’s Board of Trustees has formed a search committee and will engage an executive search firm to launch a nationwide search for its next President and CEO.

“Historic Deerfield, as an institution, has flourished under Philip Zea’s leadership.  Phil has been a superb President and CEO and as he begins his long-planned and much-deserved retirement, he leaves Historic Deerfield at a high point in its history.  We are deeply appreciative to Phil for his many contributions and his extraordinary leadership of Historic Deerfield over a significant period of time.  Though indeed he leaves very big shoes to fill, we look forward to the opportunity to identify a successor who can help us take Historic Deerfield to the next level of success and impact in the field.  We thank Phil for everything he has done to promote and develop our beloved institution and we remind him that he will always be a part of the Historic Deerfield family, ” said Historic Deerfield Board of Trustees Chair, Joseph P. Gromacki, of Chicago, Illinois.

Under Zea’s leadership, the museum has achieved several noteworthy accomplishments and has gained national prominence, where the town’s significance in the story of America’s history has captured the imaginations of visitors from across the country and around the world. Some highlights include:

  • the acquisition of the renowned William H. Guthman Collection of American Engraved Powder Horns in 2005.

  • the ADA/Historic Deerfield Antiques Show on the campus of Deerfield Academy.

  • the restoration and redevelopment of the Deerfield Inn and Champney’s Restaurant, an Historic Deerfield property, following the devastating flood of Tropical Storm Irene in 2011.

  • the construction of the Joseph Peter Spang III Rare Book Room at the Memorial Libraries in Deerfield in 2010;

  • the restoration of Barnard Tavern, scheduled to open in 2021, an 18th-century tavern at the heart of village life where locals and travelers shared meals and news, or met to do business. In the upstairs assembly room, Deerfield Academy was founded in 1797 with the inaugural meeting of its trustees.

  • the acquisition of key properties for Historic Deerfield, including the 2019 acquisition of the historic Creelman House on The Street.

  • the establishment of the Historic Deerfield Collectors Guild, which began with the 2014 acquisition of the Boston tall clock made by Aaron Willard for Asa Stebbins that stood among the original furnishings of his 1799 brick house now owned by the museum. In eleven days, 61 donors pledged $300,000 to assure that the clock would return to its original home.

  • the museum’s full sponsorship of the Dublin Seminar for New England Folklife, the annual series of educational programs and publications, beginning in 1976.

  • the featured 2014 loan exhibition of the Philadelphia Antiques Show, the first time a museum outside of Pennsylvania had been invited to participate in the nation’s premier Americana antiques show, reinforcing Historic Deerfield’s position as one of America’s top museums of American decorative arts and history.

  • the current $10 million capital campaign, America’s Town, America’s Story: The Campaign for Historic Deerfield, for historic preservation of the museum’s buildings, including the restoration of the Stebbins House, and for visitor engagement, to help grow the museum’s programs for diverse audiences.

Prior to his time at Historic Deerfield, Zea held positions with the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities (now Historic New England), where he served as Vice President for Museums and Collections; Colonial Williamsburg, as Curator of Furniture; and the New Hampshire Historical Society. He serves on the board of the New Hampshire Historical Society and has been a consultant to many museums on the topics of early furniture, clocks, engraved powder horns and historical interpretation.

Zea received the 2009 Award of Merit from the Antiques Dealers’ Association of America (ADA) and the 2017 President’s Award at Old Sturbridge Village, where he began his career in 1974.

Zea is a former board member of Old Salem Museum and Gardens in North Carolina, the Decorative Arts Trust, and the George Washington Foundation in Fredericksburg, VA. He has lectured and written widely, including Clock Making in New England, 1725-1825: An Interpretation of the Old Sturbridge Village Collection (1992), with Robert C. Cheney; The Dunlap Cabinetmakers: A Tradition in Craftsmanship (1994), with Donald Dunlap; and most recently with Jean Burks for the Shelburne Museum, Rich and Tasty: Vermont Furniture to 1850 (2015), which won the 2016 Honor Book Award from Historic New England.

A New Hampshire native, Zea holds degrees from Wesleyan University and the Winterthur Program in Early American Culture at the University of Delaware. He and his wife, Betsy, live in Norwich, VT.


About Historic Deerfield, Inc.

Historic Deerfield is a museum of early American life situated in an authentic 18th-century New England village in the Connecticut River Valley of Massachusetts. Its historic houses and world-famous collection of early American decorative arts open doors to new perspectives that inspire people to seek a deeper understanding of themselves, their communities, and the world.