October 27, 2020

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. 

Harris Discusses Impact of Pandemic on UMW Museums

University of Mary Washington Museums Executive Director Scott Harris

University of Mary Washington Museums Executive Director Scott Harris

University of Mary Washington Museums Director Scott Harris was interviewed for an article in The Free Lance-Star on the pandemic’s impact on area museums.


Scott Harris, director of the University of Mary Washington Museums—which oversees the James Monroe Museum and the Gari Melchers Home and Studio at Belmont, as well as the Papers of James Monroe—said the loss of admissions and event revenue since March has been “a very large financial hit” for the two museum sites.

“[The financial loss] is only partially offset by savings from not paying hourly wage employees, such as front desk and interpretive staff, and some other savings of on-site costs, such as catering at events, regular trash service, etc … ,” Harris said.

He said membership renewals at both the James Monroe Museum and the Gari Melchers Home and Studio have been “fairly steady” and some members have increased their giving levels.

“It remains to be seen what General Assembly actions will do to our state appropriations,” Harris said. Both UMW museums belong to the state of Virginia and receive funding from the assembly.

Both sites have a “benchmark” reopening date of Sept. 14, when UMW students begin their fall semester, he said. Read more.

Harris Speaks to ‘Town Talk’ about UMW Museums

University of Mary Washington Museums Executive Director Scott Harris

University of Mary Washington Museums Executive Director Scott Harris

University of Mary Washington Museums Executive Director Scott Harris recently spoke to Ted Schubel of ‘Town Talk’ on WFVA 1230 about the impact of the pandemic on the James Monroe Museum and Gari Melchers Home and Studio. Closed since March and unlikely to open until August, both museums are offering new and innovative online programming. Listen here.

Local Children Curate Exhibition at James Monroe Museum

“Curating Ideas,” a new project through the James Monroe Museum, gives Fredericksburg youngsters the opportunity to curate museum exhibitions. During the six-week program, students from Old Town Academy shadowed curator Jarod Kearney to learn how museum exhibitions are curated. Students then chose an object in the museum to research and design their own exhibition around. In an article in The Free Lance-Star, Scott Harris, executive director of University of Mary Washington Museums, said the students’ exhibits showed their understanding of “the importance of objects for telling stories.” Read more. 

Harris Speaks About James Monroe at Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage

UMW Museums Executive Director Scott Harris spoke about James Monroe at Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage on October 1. In addition to surveying Monroe’s public service career, Harris paid particular attention to the president’s visit to Nashville during his 1819 tour of the southern states, which included a stay at The Hermitage. The Museum’s traveling exhibit on the tour, “Your Obedient Servant,” spent most of the last month there and was much enjoyed by visitors.

UMW Museums Featured in Civil War Magazine

University of Mary Washington museums, Gari Melchers Home and Studio and the James Monroe Museum, were both highlighted in the fall quarterly issue of The Civil War Monitor magazine. Read more. 

Jarod Kearney: Monroe Man

Jarod Kearney, assistant director and curator of the James Monroe Museum and Memorial Library. Photo by Jarod Kearney,.

Jarod Kearney, assistant director and curator of the James Monroe Museum and Memorial Library. Photo by Jarod Kearney,.

Presidential resumes are usually impressive, but James Monroe’s takes the cake. The last president of the Virginia dynasty, the Founding Father was also the state’s governor, U.S. senator, ambassador to France and Britain, Secretary of State and Secretary of War, and moved up through the ranks of the Continental Army. Oh yeah, and he practiced law in Fredericksburg, home to the James Monroe Museum and Memorial Library (JMM).

“People would be amazed to learn the sheer amount of public service positions Monroe held during his lifetime,” said Jarod Kearney, JMM’s assistant director and curator, who manages the museum’s collections and exhibitions, as well as day-to-day operations. It’s Kearney’s job to educate the public on the fifth president’s legacy and life, which drew to a close on Independence Day in 1831.

His multiple responsibilities include caring for artifacts; answering visitor questions; supervising staff, guides and interns; scheduling and other administrative tasks – the list goes on. No presidential novice, he previously curated the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library and Museum in Staunton, and he has a bachelor’s degree in history and master’s degree in museum studies from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

But what Kearney loves the most about his job is sharing his passion for history with others, especially Mary Washington students. And he’s proud of the frequent collaborations JMM has with the History and American Studies and Historic Preservation departments.

“It’s rewarding to be able to give them hands-on experience in the field.”


Q: What first sparked your interest in history?
A: I’ve been fascinated by history since I was little, reading Greek mythology, making wood swords and looking for “artifacts” – bottle caps and old toys – in my yard.

Q: What is the most rewarding part of your job?
A: Educating students and visitors.

Q: The most challenging?
A: Being in an old building that needs lots of care.

Q: Most people know of the Monroe Doctrine and Louisiana Purchase. What about the “Era of Good Feelings”?
A: After his first inauguration in 1817, Monroe embarked on an unprecedented tour of the northern states. A Boston newspaper coined the term “Era of Good Feelings” to describe this time of national pride, growth and political unity. JMM collaborated with Associate Professor Cristina Turdean and Historic Preservation students and the Papers of James Monroe to create a dynamic and well-received traveling exhibition on that very tour, titled “In the Spirit of the People,” and a second exhibit on Monroe’s 1819 southern tour.

Q: What’s a JMM must-see for presidential history buffs?
A: The desk where Monroe likely wrote what would become the Monroe Doctrine. It’s pretty cool!

Q: Are there any new exhibitions coming to JMM this year?
A: We have an astounding lineup of events for 2019-20. Please visit https://jamesmonroemuseum.umw.edu/ to learn more!

Q: What would people be surprised to learn about you?
A: I act in films as a hobby.

Q: What do you do in your free time?
A: I have hundreds of Bonsai trees, and in addition to acting, I enjoy photography, pottery and blacksmithing. I won a scholarship through the American Bladesmith Society a couple decades ago, and I’ve been making custom knives and swords ever since.

Scott Harris: Keeping History Alive

Scott Harris graduated from Mary Washington in 1982.

Scott Harris is executive director of the University Museums.

Scott Harris ’83 got firsthand history lessons as a boy growing up in Staunton, Va. His grandmother, who was born in 1898, was a gifted storyteller who could transport Harris to life in Virginia at the turn of the 20th century. Historical sites were all around him. When Harris’ parents took him to the New Market Battlefield State Historical Park at age 9, he never imagined he’d grow up to be its director decades later.

Nor did he foresee returning to his alma mater, from which he received a B.A. with honors in history and historic preservation in 1983.  In 2011 Harris became director of the James Monroe Museum, the world’s largest repository of artifacts and archives related to the nation’s fifth president.  Earlier this year he was named executive director of University Museums, overseeing the James Monroe Museum, the Papers of James Monroe, and the Gari Melchers Home and Studio. In his new role, Harris remains focused on a mission that that has motivated his 30-year museum career: “Our job is to remind people today of the importance of those who went before them.”

Q: Tell us about your new role.

A: I get to advocate for the museums from a broader perspective. I help secure funding to keep the Papers of James Monroe active and figure out how we can best position the museums for the future.

Q: What’s your favorite part of the job?

A: Every day brings a new challenge. I get the opportunity to make a big impact on all these components of University Museums and hopefully help them thrive.

Q: What do the James Monroe Museum and Gari Melchers Home and Studio have in common?

A: James Monroe and Gari Melchers were well known and respected in their times, each at the top of his game, and yet they are not household names today. The challenge is to reintroduce them to the world.

Q: Why are these two people important?

A: James Monroe played a significant role in our early national history, from the Revolutionary War to the generation before the Civil War.  Gari Melchers brought skill and passion not only to his own art, but also to advocacy of the arts generally.  The contributions of both men are useful in providing artistic and cultural content to balance the contemporary emphasis on STEM education.

Q: How do the museums connect to the UMW community?

A: Mary Washington has administered both museums since the 1960s. While both relationships began as “marriages of convenience,” the museums’ affiliation with UMW, and that of the Papers of James Monroe, provide valuable learning labs for our students in history, historic preservation, museum studies, and other fields. Working with these entities allows students to hone practical skills that will help them in the future careers.

Q: What’s your favorite part of the Gari Melchers Home and Studio, and of the James Monroe Museum?

A: Melchers’ studio contains one of my favorite paintings of his, titled “In Holland.”  Painted in 1887, it shows two young women crossing a field, one bearing two heavy buckets on a yoke.  Their expressions convey a wealth of emotions.  Melchers had a knack for making the ordinary extraordinary in his work.  My favorite spot in the James Monroe Museum is in front of his large portrait painted by Rembrandt Peale around 1825.  It shows Monroe at the end of his presidency and political career, and again, the expression on his face speaks volumes.

Q: Any mantras you tell yourself every day?

A: Don’t screw up



Museums Offer Free Holiday Admission

While you are unwinding during the holiday break, bring the whole family for a visit to the James Monroe Museum and to Gari Melchers Home and Studio!

belmont-home-for-the-holidays-2Both sites are extending free admission to include the immediate family members of current University of Mary Washington faculty and staff during the break, from Dec. 17 to Jan. 2. We hope you will take advantage of the opportunity to visit this wonderful pair of cultural resources administered by UMW.

Gari Melchers Home and Studio is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., but will be closed on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. The James Monroe Museum is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and from 1 to 4 p.m. on Sundays, but will be closed Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. Admission for current faculty, staff and students is free throughout the year at both sites, so we hope to see you often! For more information please visit us online at http://garimelchers.umw.edu/ and www.jamesmonroemuseum.org.