August 25, 2019

New Interactive Tour Brings Gari Melchers Home & Studio to Life

Gari Melchers Home & Studio has recently turned our traditional historic house tour on its ear.  Led by education and communications manager Michelle Crow-Dolby, the standard 30-minute, guided docent monologue has been torn apart and put back together in a whole new way.

The historic house tour begins with this view looking out over the village of Falmouth and this quote from Gari Melchers, “On my return to Fredericksburg, I walked through the house and opening the back door, looked down the hill across the fields and the river. The beauty of Virginia made me wonder how I could have ever left it even for a winter.”

One of the best preserved artist homes and working studios in the United States, Gari Melchers Home & Studio (GMHS) gives visitors a glimpse back in time when internationally famous painter, Gari Melchers and his wife, Corinne, inhabited their country retreat and gentleman’s farm up the hill in Falmouth overlooking the falls of the Rappahannock River. The elegant 1790s Colonial Revival mansion is crammed with the couple’s belongings. The authentic power of place and creativity found at GMHS is palpable.

“My goal throughout this process was to create a more guest-driven, interactive, exploratory, sensory-rich experience,” explains Crow-Dolby.  “Staff provide the tour’s basic framework and the rest is a collaboration with our visitors who explore what they are drawn to and stories that interest them.” We, in the words of Frank Vagnone, author of the Anarchist’s Guide to Historic House Museums, “Tell a story without someone telling the story for them.”

New tour elements include the addition of ambient sounds (i.e., music, clock ticking, farm noises, dogs barking) that capture what the Melchers would have heard during their residency at Belmont.  Open-ended questions replace rote delivery of dates and facts. Docents and guests spend more time exploring together how Gari and Corinne Melchers made a home that reflected their artistic and eclectic sensibilities. Visitors are given more freedom to explore, enter rooms, snap pictures and engage in conversation. As one veteran docent observed, “Our guests can, in effect, create their own tour.”

“I hope our newly re-imagined house tour will continue to be a work in progress and not a static product,” says Crow-Dolby. “Visitor and staff feedback will continue to inform our process and evolution.”