June 29, 2022

Harris, Catron Interviewed for Article on Belmont Staircase

The horseshoe staircase at Belmont, home of Gari Melchers.

The horseshoe staircase at Belmont, home of Gari Melchers.

UMW Museums Executive Director Scott Harris and Belmont Assistant Director and Curator Joanna Catron were interviewed for an article in The Free Lance-Star about the restoration of the “horseshoe staircase” at Belmont.

Some stories are quick turnarounds I can share mere hours after learning the details.

Today’s story—about the removal and restoration of the “horseshoe staircase” at the front of Gari Melchers Home and Studio in Falmouth—is not one of those. That’s partly due to COVID-19 delays, but also because of having to digest more than a century of history.

The staircase was likely commissioned in Philadelphia around 1850. The company doing the restoration, Keswick-based Stokes of England, has done work for Prince Charles, the sultan of Oman and Patricia Kluge.

In an earlier column, I mentioned that a restored steamboat pilothouse in the Northern Neck had been voted one of Virginia’s most endangered artifacts. That brought a message from Scott Harris, the executive director of museums at the University of Mary Washington. He said the horseshoe staircase railing at Belmont was among the first artifacts to get that designation a decade or so ago.

I joined Harris and Joanna Catron, the assistant director and curator at Belmont, to examine the staircase. The wrought-iron railing was most likely installed in about 1850 by Joseph Burwell Ficklen, the owner of the estate at that time. Read more.

Harris Discusses UMW Museums on “Town Talk”

University of Mary Washington Museums Executive Director Scott Harris

University of Mary Washington Museums Executive Director Scott Harris

UMW Museums Executive Director Scott Harris appeared on “Town Talk with Ted Schubel” to discuss the challenges that museums are facing during COVID-19 and the virtual events planned in the coming months for Gari Melchers Home and Studio and the James Monroe Museum. Listen here.

Gari Melchers Home and Studio Announces Belmont Horseshoe Staircase Restoration

Restoration of an iconic exterior staircase at Belmont, the historic house at Gari Melchers Home and Studio, began this week with removal of an architecturally-significant iron railing for conservation treatment.

The Horseshoe Staircase at Belmont was included in the inaugural list of Virginia’s Top 10 Endangered Artifacts designated by the Virginia Association of Museums in 2011. It dates to ca. 1845, when Belmont’s owner Joseph B. Ficklen expanded the house and its gardens. The railing is stylistically similar to examples characteristic of Philadelphia, an ironworking center where Joseph Ficklen had business ties. Construction of the stone steps, which consist of a mix of granite, brick, marble, and Aquia sandstone, likely involved the Ficklens’ enslaved workforce.

The staircase’s railing is a superb example of wrought iron craftsmanship combined with emerging cast iron technology of mid-19th century America. As an architectural feature of historical significance with no equal in the greater Fredericksburg region, and perhaps even in the whole of Virginia, this artifact not only helps tell the story of Belmont’s white owners’ prosperity, but also stories of the enslaved black people who are integral to understanding the site’s history.

Significant rust corrosion has defaced much of the wrought iron, and the brass knobs have deteriorated badly. Numerous paint layers have obscured the details of applied cast iron rosettes and improper repairs in the past now threaten the artifact’s integrity.

Stokes of England, a blacksmith with extensive experience in historic restorations, removed the iron railing from the Belmont staircase on Wednesday, January 6. Restoration at the blacksmith’s Keswick, Virginia facility will take approximately four months. A stonemason is being selected to address structural and aesthetic issues with the stairs.

Completion of the restoration project is anticipated in April or May of this year. The roughly $60,000 cost is covered entirely by private donations.

Gari Melchers Home and Studio is a 28-acre estate and former residence of the artist Gari Melchers and his wife Corinne. The property, which is operated by the University of Mary Washington, is both a Virginia Historic Landmark and a National Historic Landmark. Located at 224 Washington St. in Falmouth, Virginia. For more information visit www.garimelchers.org.

University of Mary Washington Museums Temporarily Closing

Gari Melchers Home and Studio and the James Monroe Museum will close to the public beginning Monday, November 23, 2020, and remain closed until Monday, January 4, 2021. This corresponds to the time period during which most University of Mary Washington facilities will be closed or operating with limited public access.

The Stafford County Tourist Information Center, administered by Gari Melchers Home and Studio, will also be closed to the public during this period. For information on Stafford County attractions, please visit https://www.tourstaffordva.com/.

The temporary closing is a precautionary measure taken in response to actual and potential increases in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in Virginia and nationally, especially during the forthcoming holidays. Prior to January 4, University Museums leadership, in conjunction with the UMW administration, will decide whether remaining closed beyond January 4 is warranted. Such decisions will be closely aligned with the general public health situation, including any applicable local, state, or federal directives.

University of Mary Washington Museums offer a wide array of online educational resources, which may be accessed at the following sites:

Gari Melchers Home and Studio “Learn” page: https://www.garimelchers.org/education/learn/.

James Monroe Museum “Hands-On History” page: https://jamesmonroemuseum.umw.edu/about-james-monroe/hands-on-history/.

Papers of James Monroe “COVID-19 Resources” page: https://academics.umw.edu/jamesmonroepapers/covid-19-resources/.

The University of Mary Washington Museums, comprising Gari Melchers Home and Studio, the James Monroe Museum, and the Papers of James Monroe, support and enhance the educational mission of the University. In accordance with their respective missions, the component sites and programs of UMW Museums collect, preserve, and interpret artistic, cultural, and historic resources; promote scholarship and the diffusion of knowledge; provide experiential learning opportunities for UMW students; and support economic development through heritage tourism.

FBI Returns Gari Melchers Painting Stolen by Nazis to Owner’s Heirs

A version of the original Skaters, owned by PAFA, is on display.

A version of the original Skaters, owned by PAFA, is on display.

A Gari Melchers’ painting, “Winter,” originally owned by the Mosse family in Berlin, Germany, and looted by the Nazis when they fled the country, has been repatriated to the owner’s heirs. As reported in a 2019 media release, the FBI seized the painting from the Arkell Museum in Canajoharie, New York, who was unaware of its origins.

The painting’s successful restitution has been widely covered in the press. Here is an article sampling.

Gari Melchers painting stolen by Nazis is returned to family of original owners (The Free Lance-Star, October 16, 2020)

Painting returned 87 years after Nazis stole it from a Jewish family in Berlin (CNN, October 16, 2020)

Jewish family’s painting looted by Nazis in 1933 is returned (Associated Press, October 15, 2020)

United States Secures Return of Artwork 87 Years After Nazis Looted it from Jewish Family in Berlin (United States Department of Justice, October 15, 2020)

FBI returns painting stolen by Nazis to owners heirs (Houston Chronicle, October 15, 2020)

Gari Melchers cribbed from his original oil painting Skaters (owned by the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, or PAFA) to create our watercolor version by the same name. The stolen Winter is a related version.

Museum Partners to Create Virtual Content

Image of Gari Melchers Home & Studio Events - Arts and Flowers, Floral Design, Preschool Palette's I Am Yoga book, and Michelle Crow-Dolby.Although Gari Melchers Home & Studio, Belmont, reopened to the public on September 14, the museum’s education department continues to produce online content. GMHS Education and Communications Manager Michelle Crow-Dolby is partnering with community members to deliver diverse online educational products.

Two of the most recent initiatives focus on museum programs that currently cannot be offered in person due to COVID-19 concerns:  Preschool Palette and Picturing New Connections. The popular long-running Preschool Palette classes introduce children ages 2-5 to art galleries and process art projects. Since finding art supplies might be challenging for some households, Crow-Dolby opted for a different route for the online offering. She joined forces with children’s yoga instructor and Lafayette Upper Elementary School teacher Christine Garman to produce a video about yoga for children. In the video, Crow-Dolby first reads the book I Am Yoga in Belmont’s Summer House, then Garman leads an engaging yoga class in the Studio room.

Working with Lori Meyers, Regional Director, Fredericksburg Office, Alzheimer’s Association Greater Richmond, VA, Crow-Dolby also presented a recorded Zoom version of Picturing New Connections, a program for people with memory loss, their families, and care partners. Art, photography, music, and taste were all used to explore the theme of visiting county fairs.

In addition, when the garden was in full bloom, local floral and landscape designer Carolyn Helfrich helped create two videos. Helfrich artfully taught viewers the basics of floral arranging as well as how to interpret a painting through flowers.

“While we are thrilled to once again offer on-site tours, I am grateful to my collaborators for sharing their talents and expertise to generate much needed virtual experiences,” summarizes Crow-Dolby. Visit the museum’s LEARN page to explore all their online offerings.

Gari Melchers Painting Stolen by Nazis Finally Returned to Family

"Winter" by Gari Melchers.

“Winter” by Gari Melchers.

A painting by Gari Melchers that was looted by the Nazis 87 years ago was returned to the heirs of the Jewish family to whom it belonged, according to an Associated Press article. The painting, “Winter,” was among more than 1,000 pieces of art and artifacts stolen in 1933 from the Mosse family, prominent Berlin residents who were persecuted and forced to flee from Germany. The work bears a stunning resemblance to a Melchers’ painting, entitled “Skaters,” that is in the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts’ (PAFA) permanent collection. “Winter” was later auctioned off in New York City to Bartlett Arkell, the founder of the Beech-Nut Packing Co., who in turn, donated it to his museum in upstate New York, where it remained until recently. Read more.

Study for Iconic Melchers on View

In the Dunes by Gari Melchers

In the Dunes by Gari Melchers

A painting entitled In the Dunes is on display at Gari Melchers Home and Studio, Belmont, as a companion to Melchers’ monumental In Holland through January 3, 2021, thanks to a generous loan by the Sue C. Lang Family Trust.

In 1887, Gari Melchers began experimenting with the concept of rustic figures meeting on the dunes of Holland. The survival of several sketches in Belmont’s archives indicates that Melchers produced numerous iterations for what would become his iconic painting In Holland. In the Dunes is just such an example, an almost exact replica of In Holland though on a far smaller scale. In the Dunes was unknown to experts until it resurfaced in a private auction in Hamburg, Germany, in 2018 and sold to a local Fredericksburg collector. Because of its cursory application of paint it presumably started life as a small-scale study for In Holland, but the artist probably returned to it later, giving it enough finish to stand on its own as an easel painting.

University of Mary Washington Museums to Reopen September 14

Two museums administered by the University of Mary Washington will reopen to the public on Monday, September 14, 2020 after a six-month shutdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gari Melchers Home and Studio at 224 Washington Street in Falmouth is a National Historic Landmark that interprets the legacy of American impressionist painter Gari Melchers (1860-1932) and the 18th-century Belmont estate he and his wife, Corinne Lawton Melchers (1880-1955), purchased in 1916. Melchers was a widely-respected and prolific artist whose work included portraits of prominent figures in business and politics, as well as landscapes and figure paintings. The property was bequeathed to the Commonwealth of Virginia by Corinne Melchers and opened to the public in 1975. It features a furnished house, Melchers’ spacious studio, and galleries showcasing the world’s largest collection of his works. The 27-acre site includes a pavilion for programs and rental events, ornamental landscaping, and woodland walking trails. The museum store and visitor center building serves as the Stafford County Tourist Information Center. For more information, including policies related to COVID-19, visit www.garimelchers.org.

The James Monroe Museum at 908 Charles Street in Fredericksburg is a National Historic Landmark that interprets the life and legacy of James Monroe (1758-1831), a soldier, statesman, diplomat, and fifth president of the United States. Monroe’s fifty-year career included negotiation of the Louisiana Purchase Treaty, influential involvement in securing the Missouri Compromise, and the 1823 foreign policy statement that bears his name, the Monroe Doctrine. The museum, located on the site of Monroe’s law office, exhibits furniture, household items, paintings, and other decorative arts objects, many with a history of White House use. For more information, including policies related to COVID-19, visit www.jamesmonroemuseum.org.

Both museums will be open to general visitors only, with no public programs or facility rentals through the end of 2020. They will operate with physical and policy adaptations to mitigate the effects of COVID-19 as required under Forward Virginia Phase 3 and #ForwardUMW. Measures include increased cleaning, provision of hand sanitizer stations for visitors, limitations in group size, and adjusted traffic flows. Visitors will be required to wear masks inside museum buildings and practice social distancing. Specific COVID-related details are noted on the museums’ websites.

“All of our staff members are eager to welcome visitors back to our museums,” observed Scott Harris, Executive Director of UMW Museums. “We significantly increased our online educational content during the shutdown, and will continue to provide these resources, but nothing equals the thrill and impact of visiting in person.”

UMW Museums Receive Grant and Debut 3D Virtual Tours

Gari Melchers Home and Studio 3-D and virtual tour imageIn May, the University of Mary Washington Museums received a $5,480 Community Relief Fund grant from the Community Foundation of the Rappahannock River Region to increase online educational content. 

Both the James Monroe Museum (JMM) and Gari Melchers Home & Studio (GMHS) are pleased to announce the launch of their interactive and immersive 3D Virtual Tours. These 3D models, or “digital twins,” provide a real world, walk-through experience from the comfort of home. Explore the museums using either the Dollhouse or Floor-by-Floor layout experience. Event rental clients will benefit from the Measurement Mode option that allows users to take and share property measurements with a simple click. 

The tours are further enhanced by videos, high-resolution photography, and artifact information, plus links to blog posts, lesson plans, and online museum stores.  

Gari Melchers Home and Studio’s 3D Virtual Studio, Galleries, Pavilion, Historic House Museum, and Museum Store Tours 

James Monroe Museum’s 3D Virtual Tour 

Questions? Contact JMM’s Assistant Director/Curator Jarod Kearney at jkearney@umw.edu or GMHS’s Education and Communications Manager Michelle Crow-Dolby at mdolby@umw.edu.