September 27, 2021

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.

Gari Melchers Home & Studio Offers Digital Learning for All Ages

Gari Melchers Home & Studio (GMHS) is one of the best-preserved artist homes and working studios in the country. Although it is currently closed to the public in an effort to help reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus, it is looking for new ways to engage the public.

GMHS is responding to rapidly changing times by compiling existing online material and creating new experiences under their new LEARN webpage found here at, which was featured in a recent Free Lance-Star article.

Included on LEARN are links to Preschool Palette and Picturing New Connection lesson plans, activities based on the museum’s collection, videos, printable coloring pages, popular blog posts, and a virtual tour of the museum’s wedding and reception event space.

Education and Communications Manager Michelle Crow-Dolby, inspired by the global #MuseumfromHome movement, ramped up the museum’s social media presence by sharing posts meant to educate, stimulate, and inspire. Gari Melchers’ many floral still life paintings star in #MuseumBouquet while the artist’s atmospheric paintings star in #MuseumMomentofZen.

Assistant Director and Curator Joanna Catron practiced proper social distancing while recording her Facebook private studio tour.

“Our mission is founded on preservation and education,” adds Scott Harris, executive director of University of Mary Washington Museums. “During this virus emergency, as we ensure the safety and integrity of our museum and its collections, we’re striving to fulfill our educational mission creatively online.”

Gari and Corinne Melchers lived through another worldwide virus crisis, the Influenza Pandemic of 1918-1919. The couple was familiar with quarantines, the wearing of protective gear, social distancing, and other aspects of life during a pandemic we face today. Watch the video.

Follow GMHS on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, and Pinterest.

UMW Chamber Music Festival Marks Third Year at Belmont

U.S. Army Woodwind Quintet

U.S. Army Woodwind Quintet

Gari Melchers Home and Studio and the University of Mary Washington Music Department present a Chamber Music Festival on March 14 and 15 in the intimate setting of the Pavilion at Belmont.

The musicians will perform a richly varied program against the backdrop of Belmont, a late eighteenth-century estate picturesquely situated above the Rappahannock River in Falmouth, Virginia.

“Gari Melchers, the famed American who lived and painted here, enjoyed a friendship with the French composer Camille Saint-Saens, and I know he readily would endorse the making of music at his old haunts,” says Assistant Director and Curator Joanna Catron.

The Festival opens on Saturday evening, March 14 at 7 p.m. with a performance of New American Classics for Wind Quintet performed by the U.S. Army Woodwind Quintet under the direction of MSG Robert Aughtry. The performance will include works by Valerie Coleman, Arne Running, Charles Rochester Young, Lalao Schifrin, and Reena Esmail.

The Sunday, March 15 offering begins at 2 p.m. with an eclectic chamber program featuring works by Hayden, Beethoven, Schubert, Mozart and others, performed by the UMW Flute Ensemble, Guitar Ensemble and Woodwind Trio, comprised of faculty, students and guest musicians under the direction of Professors of Music Doug Gately and Bruce Middle.

Admission is free, but seating is limited. Pavilion, Gari Melchers Home and Studio.

Contact: Joanna D. Catron at or 540-654-1841

Belmont Hosts Loan from National Arts Club

Study, by Gari Melchers

A striking portrait of a woman of color entitled Study by Gari Melchers will be featured in an upcoming spotlight exhibition scheduled for October 25 through January 5, 2020. The loan is made possible thanks to the generosity of The National Arts Club, New York. The painting appears for the first time at Gari Melchers Home and Studio.

When it came to subjects of his own choosing, Melchers usually rejected conventional standards of beauty in favor of working-class types, but this well-turned-out woman, with her handsome and serene bearing, is an exception. Joanna Catron, who curates the show, says that “although Study was executed in the era of women’s suffrageit represents a class of American Impressionist painting that perpetuates an old-fashioned view of woman as an object of beauty, or in this case, a ‘study’ in beauty, with no attempt to individualize personality.” The identity and nationality of the black model is unknown, and this is the only known instance in which she sat for the painter.

The mission of The National Arts Club is to foster public interest in the fine arts. It was founded in 1898 by a group of distinguished artists and patrons who conceived the clubhouse as a gathering place to welcome artists of all kinds, as well as art lovers. The National Arts Club took as its residence the historic Samuel Tilden Mansion at Grammercy Park, New York.

In order to build a stellar collection of American art, esteemed artists were invited to submit a representative example of their work in return for a life membership. Melchers was invited to join the NAC in 1917, which he readily accepted with his submission of Study. As the majority of the painter members of the NAC were American Impressionists, Melchers chose an example of singular beauty that could compete with the best.

The exhibition is Included with Museum admission. Contact: Joanna Catron at or 540 654-1841

Heritage tourism sites in Fredericksburg area ponder their future (The Free Lance-Star)