Since June 2011, the Virginia Historical Society—with the help of the Richmond Conservation Studio—has been conserving its largest artifact the Charles Hoffbauer Memorial Military Murals. Nearly 100 years ago, Hoffbauer was commissioned by the Confederate Memorial Association (CMA) to create a series of murals reflecting Southern heroism during the American Civil War for the newly constructed Battle Abbey (The CMA headquarters building.)
But a century has taken its toll on the grand murals; dirt, grime, and environmental factors have weakened the paint and the canvas. Treating the murals is urgent, but the conservation team and VHS staff both agreed that researching the murals and Hoffbauer’s process would be an essential part of the project.
In February VHS volunteer Lee Ball and I went to the Archives of American Art in Washington, D.C., to investigate a collection of Hoffbauer’s papers. Items in the VHS archives had answered many questions about Hoffbauer’s time in Richmond, and Cleo Mullins, lead conservator on the project, was hopeful that the Archives in Washington would offer even more insight.
I will hand our research trip narrative over to my travel companion Lee Ball.
One of our objectives in reviewing records at the Archives was to find information that might assist Cleo, who was interested in areas such as the materials Hoffbauer used, painting techniques, and changes made to the murals. Elaine found a 1952 letter from a Richmond artist to Hoffbauer asking about the mural painting materials. There was no response in the Archives files, but later we located the response letter in the VHS files and passed it along to Cleo (Mss2 H6753b).
Although I found little specific information about the murals, the Archives files have a large amount of correspondence that adds detail about Hoffbauer’s life and his acquaintances. There are a series of letters to Hoffbauer from the architect of the CMA that discuss construction of his studio ($350, no plumbing), selection of the woodwork color for the mural gallery (“to harmonize with the effect of your paintings”), and a concern about the “Entrance Hall” (“the pink and butter effect must be very awful”). We were not quite sure what the architect meant by “pink and butter effect?”
While a soldier during World War I (completion of the murals was interrupted when he returned to France to fight for his native country), Hoffbauer received several letters from J. Taylor Ellyson, the CMA president (and Lieutenant Governor of Virginia) and Mrs. Ellyson. Mr. Ellyson often inquired about the war and in one letter wrote that his grandson “says don’t forget to bring him some relics.” Mrs. Ellyson wrote about conditions in wartime Richmond (“we have wheatless days and meatless days”).
When Hoffbauer was preparing to return to repair some damage to the murals, Dr. Douglas Southall Freeman, longtime editor of the Richmond News Leader and an Association trustee, wrote,“(Y)ou must not think of going to the hotel. . . take a taxicab directly to our house.” And a friend of Hoffbauer’s asked for a $500 loan “when your big check comes in.” The “big check” (we think this is the mural payment) must have come in. Hoffbauer made the loan and was repaid three months later! This visit to the Archives may not have answered many of Cleo’s questions, but it helped Elaine and me get to know the man behind the murals.
I completely agree with Lee. This trip has enabled us to tell a more complete story of Hoffbauer and his experience in Richmond while creating our Memorial Military Murals.
The Mural project is more than halfway complete! The conservation team is focusing on the large Autumn and Winter murals and their smaller, flanking panels. There is still plenty of time to visit the VHS and see the incredible work being done to bring these murals back to life. You can also keep up with the murals’ progress at http://www.vahistorical.org/hoffbauer/.
Elaine Hagy is the Senior Grants Officer for the Virginia Historical Society. Lee Ball volunteers for the Advancement Division. They are on a mission to educate Virginians about Charles Hoffbauer.
The primary objective of the HistoryConnects program was to combine the VHS’s successful outreach education programs with twenty-first-century technologies, and be able to deliver an enhanced educational experience to students around both Virginia and the United States. We’ve seen a lot of success with this over the first year and a half of the program. Over the 2012–13 school year, we will deliver more than 200 programs to fifteen states.
An unanticipated area of success has been the connection we’ve established with retirement communities, providing programming for lifelong learners. We’ve had a total of fourteen programs with retirement communities in Maryland, North Carolina, and Ohio. These include examinations of Pocahontas and the Powhatan Indians, the Civil War, and changes in twentieth-century Virginia as seen through photographs.
The majority of our programs for lifelong learners have been with the Menorah Park Center for Senior Living in Cleveland, Ohio. Menorah Park is a campus with four buildings (a skilled nursing facility, an independent living apartment building, and two assisted living residences), each equipped with its own videoconferencing center. It was one of the first retirement communities to become involved with distance learning, starting in October of 2007.
Earlier this month we connected with two of the buildings on the Menorah Park campus and had fantastic turnouts. Afterward, I asked LeAnne Stuver, the director for Lifelong Learning, if she could tell me what these opportunities meant to their residents. “This type of programming has ‘opened the world’ to our residents. Even though they may no longer be able to [physically] travel . . . they can travel the country and the world through this wonderful technology.”
LeAnne was also willing to share with us some of the resident’s reactions to distance learning opportunities. Ida Kaufman, an independent living resident shared: “I enjoy these programs because they give me a chance to see and learn about things that I otherwise wouldn’t be able to experience.”
She is not alone in her feelings. Irene Kurtz, an assisted living resident said: “I get so much out of Distance learning. It broadens my brain. It allows me to visit places I’ve never been and am not likely to get to visit. It’s important to learn something new every day, even if it’s something you’ve never even heard of before. Distance learning allows me to do that without having to travel. These opportunities enrich my life. When I see one on the daily schedule, I’m excited and can’t wait to come to the program!”
Making these connections with lifelong learners in retirement communities across the country has been a wonderful bonus to the HistoryConnects outreach education initiative. They have been some of our most memorable programs, and we are looking forward to many more!
Evan Liddiard is Senior Education Specialist at the Virginia Historical Society.
We are honored to have Alexis Leon as our guest author. Alexis has been interning with our Advancement division since January 2013. She’s a student at Virginia Commonwealth University.
I’m not entirely sure where or when my fascination with the Clintons began. Maybe it could have something to with the fact that President Bill Clinton was the first U.S. president I have an actual memory and awareness of. Or maybe it’s a result of hearing both Bill and Hillary speak in person on two different occasions, both times moving me nearly to tears.
I won’t bore you with the endless “or maybe” list, but whether you support my passion for the power couple that is Bill and Hillary Clinton, or whether you think I’m wrong on every level for drinking the Clinton Kool-aid, the point I’m trying to make is that I think every contemporary president has resonated somewhere deep and personally within the nation they have lead.
Every president from John F. Kennedy to Barack Obama has become a modern icon, if not forever, for at least the time they sat in the oval office. Lacking in royal traditions and a historic monarchy, the president of the United States is as close to the personification of freedom and liberty and all that the country represents as the American people can possibly get. But rarely do we ever get to see through the gates of the White House past the stoic and dignified façade of POTUS and the first family.
That is until now. National Geographic’s The President’s Photographer: Fifty Years Inside the Oval Office exhibition began its three-month stay at the Virginia Historical Society on March 4th. Museum visitors get an unprecedented look into the personal lives of our modern presidents. Documented by official presidential photographers, almost fifty iconic historical moments and figures are displayed in the show.
Each presidential photographer since 1963 has had a unique relationship with the respective presidents whose private and public lives they documented. It is not too shocking that Nixon’s photographer had limited access to his personal life, but visitors will be surprised by the range of behind-the-scenes images they can see on display.
My favorite photograph in the collection is a black and white shot of Bill and Hillary (surprise) taken while they were listening to a briefing while on board Air Force One. The emotional depth and concern shown on both their faces as Hilary stands behind a seated Bill reflects their simultaneously strong and expressive demeanor. One can only imagine the news being delivered as they wince and cover their mouths with their hands.
All through the collection, visitors are treated to the chance to connect emotionally with their favorite presidents and obtain a human association to the president and the first family so often seen only from an objective point of view.
The Virginia Historical Society offers free admission to this exhibition and the once in a lifetime chance to take a walk through contemporary presidential history filled with vivid and endearing imagery. But don’t wait too long to come and see it. The exhibition closes on July 8. 2013.
Periodically the Virginia Historical Society will post content created by guest writers. The opinions expressed are theirs alone and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Virginia Historical Society, its members, or its staff. The Virginia Historical Society encourages discussion; however, we reserve the right to remove comments that are offensive, threatening, or insulting.
A Conversation with Jack Jeffers: How will viewers 300 years from now perceive the photography of Jack Jeffers?
End of an Era: The Photography of Jack Jeffers continues at the Virginia Historical Society with a new selection of images on view through May 26. My conversation with Jack Jeffers ends here. I was fascinated with his endeavors in creating archival prints. I love to think of people in the future seeing his images, which will be well intact, and pondering that bygone world that he illustrates. I asked Mr. Jeffers how people 300 years from now might perceive his work, long after we are both gone.
I can remember back during the early seventies when I was pondering over the life expectancy of a black and white photograph. Paintings last for hundreds of years, but traditional color photographs, during my early days of photography, were limited to maybe fifteen or twenty years before the fading became obvious. In other words, the life of a color print was short. So, I wrote to Eastman Kodak and asked them the big question about black and white. Black and white had always been my love and joy. Kodak sent me a small booklet regarding the archival qualities of black and white images. In that pamphlet, there was a quote that I well remember: “With proper care and processing, a black and white silver gelatin print should last a thousand years or more.” I have remembered that statement to this day.
To further stabilize the silver image, I took it one step further by chemically combining sulfur with the metallic silver; thus producing a silver sulfide image. This was a perfect combination for my work because the sepia toner added an extra warmth and visual dimension to my art. Plus, the addition of sulfur added an extra degree of permanence to the image. I call it “pre-aging.” Later on, I started to mount my images to 100 percent rag and that also added to the archival presentation.
Based on many of the positive comments that I have received over the years, I feel certain that my work and subject matter will live on through the ages. My images of mountain people and Appalachian Byways are said to be “timeless.”
You would be amazed at how many people have taken the time and trouble to contact me personally as a result of the exhibition on display at the Virginia Historical Society. People, in general, relate to the subject matter and the way it is presented.
I would like to think that future generations would still be able to relate to my traditional style and approach to my subject matter. Traditional subjects in oils, watercolors, and other media are “timeless.” Walk into most any gallery today and you will quickly observe that traditional subject matter dominates the gallery walls. The traditional, classic, and romantic style still holds its own in the art world. Galleries are in business to make money, and the public’s taste dictates what most galleries sell. Sure, there is abstract and some pretty wild stuff being produced by today’s artists, but traditional work still outsells abstract, and what I often refer to as “shock art.”
If my art draws an emotional response today, it should well stand the test of time and be appreciated by future generations. If I had to pick one landscape that might stand above all the rest, it would be West Virginia Barn 1972. All of the elements were just perfect including the mood and time of day. I can remember standing there for some time while a light breeze blew through the high grass. This scene was like a great musical composition and all I had to do was record it. I returned to the site a couple of years later because it had become like an old friend. All that remained of this old sentinel was a pile of old worn out lumber covered by honeysuckle.
Lizzie Oglesby is the Member and Visitor Services Officer at the Virginia Historical Society.
The Virginia Historical Society received a wonderful addition to its collection in December 2012 that I had the great pleasure of preparing and presenting to the VHS board of trustees in January. During the board luncheon I showed off the uniform, overcoat, and other items belonging to Private Charles Sanford Hopkins of Company B of the 5th New York Volunteer Infantry, also known as “Duryée’s Zouaves.”
This donation is from a collection of Hopkins’s personal effects, which were returned to his family after his death on April 28, 1862, in Virginia.
The distinctive Zouave (pronounced Zoo’-ahv) uniform that Hopkins wore, and that I presented to the board, consisted of a blue wool jacket, red wool pantaloons (trousers), a red fez with yellow tassel and unit insignia “5 B,” a red sash, canvas leggings, and a U.S. regulation overcoat.
I also displayed a tinted salt-print photograph (shown above) of Hopkins wearing the colorful uniform, a second red fez with an upturned brim and yellow tassel, two additional pairs of canvas leggings, a pair of leather jambieres (shin guards), his pepperbox pocket revolver, and a fragile two-piece leather knapsack.
As if those items aren’t enough. The collection also includes correspondence between Charles, his brother William, and their parents. One of Charles’s letters is written on 5th New York Infantry stationary. In a letter dated February 9, 1862, Hopkins reported to his parents that he was in good health, but sometime between then and late April, Hopkins contracted pneumonia. He died on April 28, 1862, at Chesapeake General Hospital in Hampton, Virginia.
The donor of this wonderful collection, M. Cricket Bauer, shared some background with me about the uniform and explained its significance to her. Cricket’s husband, Brian C. Pohanka, was a noted historian and avid researcher of the 5th New York. Sadly, he passed away in 2005. The uniform was offered at auction in late 2006. Bauer shared, “I purchased the uniform a year after Brian passed, with the intention of keeping it for research purposes. Brian researched the unit for thirty years, but the documented examples of uniforms worn by 5th New Yorkers is small, and this lot was particularly complete. It presented a unique opportunity for me and other researchers, including the current 5th N.Y. reenactment groups, to examine the “real thing.”
Cricket always intended to eventually donate it to an institution that would benefit by its acquisition and also take good care of it. She continued, “at the point I was ready to let it go, I examined all possible institutions that would fit my criteria, and the Virginia Historical Society was the best fit. It also was particularly meaningful to me since both Brian and I consider Virginia to be, though not the place of our births, the home of our hearts.”
The VHS is particularly proud and honored to have this uniform in its collection. If you’re interested in learning more about Company B of the 5th New York Volunteer Infantry (“Duryée’s Zouaves”), you should check out www.zouave.org and the newly published book, Vortex of Hell: History of the Fifth New York Volunteer Infantry 1861–1863, a detailed history of the unit by Brian C. Pohanka.
The uniform will be on display at the VHS this coming Saturday, April 6, 2013, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. as part of the society’s participation in this year’s Civil War and Emancipation Day events.
When VHS staff developed a funding proposal to the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) in 2010, we were seeking support for archivists to work with fourteen collections of records relating to modern businesses in Virginia, all of which had a national or global reach during their existences.
On the surface, the chance to make these records accessible to researchers suggested great opportunity for advancing our understanding of Virginia’s economic and commercial history. Beyond that, we had long been saying that “business history is more than the history of business,” so we likewise anticipated insights into the society and culture of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
Little did we know what a much closer look at these records might reveal.
Processing thirteen volumes that make up records from the formative years of the Life Insurance Company of Virginia was my first task on this project. Exploring these apparently routine books became an extraordinary experience for this veteran archivist. The evidence they disclose about a broad cross-section of Virginians dealing with the aftermath of a huge and devastating conflict is both unexpected and invaluable.
The majority of the volumes are registers, indicating to whom life insurance policies were sold and for what premium and benefit amounts. The Life Insurance Company of Virginia, founded in Petersburg in 1871 and known familiarly as “Life of Virginia” in the twentieth century, recorded an extraordinary amount of information about its policyholders here besides just names and policy amounts—date and place of birth, race, occupation, age, and beneficiaries, for instance.
I was frankly amazed to see the range of policyholders. I had expected the strong showing of Petersburg and Richmond merchants and professionals; I found, too, a liberal smattering of artisans, laborers, domestics, and householders. Judy Batte of Hicksford, Virginia, a “house servant,” was the first African American to secure a policy, in February 1872, and she was followed by a fairly steady stream of men and women of her race. In fact, as the company grew and its client base became more national in scope, women made up an increasing percentage of policyholders.
So, what does all this raise in the archivist’s mind? Well, to me it challenges some of our ideas about Virginia’s economy in the immediate postwar period. Did the end of Reconstruction have a direct economic benefit? Was there sufficient expendable income across Virginia society to encourage investment in life insurance when necessities might exercise an equally strong draw on limited funds? Did the experience of war make people even more aware of the fragility of life and spur them to make arrangements in the event of an unexpected demise?
Archivists work with volumes like these with great regularity. We try to understand them, place them in context, call attention to them so they can be used. But we leave it to our researchers to interpret the evidence they so wonderfully provide to us.
With these Life Insurance Company of Virginia records, I believe we have a resource that promises much, and I am anxious to see what researchers make of it all.
We are grateful to Genworth Financial of North America, successor to the Life Insurance Company of Virginia, for placing the above-referenced collection with the VHS in 2010. It was processed through a grant from the National Historic Publications and Records Commission of the U.S. National Archives.
E. Lee Shepard is the Vice President for Collections and Sallie and William B. Thalhimer III Senior Archivist at the Virginia Historical Society.
End of an Era: The Photography of Jack Jeffers continues at the Virginia Historical Society with a new selection of images on view through May 26. My conversation with Jack Jeffers continues here as well. I asked Mr. Jeffers why he was so drawn to photography.
Simply put: It fell right into my lap. I was a natural. I can remember when I was in grade school, and I enjoyed drawing trees and other subjects relating to nature with a pencil. But what drove me to photography was an old Kodak Brownie box camera that my mother gave me way back when. Late forties maybe. Perhaps a little earlier. And this was a true box, with an up-down, open-and-shut shutter release. Now that was a tongue twister, but I used that camera for some years following grade school, and I literally wore it out. But I learned the basics of what made a camera work, and I had a chance to do some very primitive printing in Dad’s old work shed. I could only work on dark nights, because of the open windows and cracks between the boards.
I made my first self portrait with this old relic and here it is.
At some point during my mother’s college days, she studied photography, and she not only had that old box camera, but an old wooden tripod and a lot of primitive lab equipment as well. I took to it like a pickup-truck in red clay.
I can still remember this day and the details behind the making of this self portrait beside the old pump house next to our country home near Kingsville, VA. That dot in the map is five miles south of Farmville along Rt. 15.
I set the camera and tripod up and ran a length of binders twine from the shutter release down to the ground and through a forked stick that I had stuck in the soil to hold the line in place while I made my exposure by pulling on the string behind me. This way you could not see my hand holding it, but you can make out the string as it passes by my left foot. That was my first creative photograph and I still have it. Now it is preserved as a digital image. Oh yes, we kids went barefooted in those days. Even to school.
You might say that this was the beginning of a long and interesting life with photography. For some years it was merely a serious hobby and about thirty years passed before I became fully involved with the medium. I actually resigned from my position as an advertising manager at General Electric in Waynesboro and went full time as a working artist. That included commercial illustrations as well as my fine art photography. And it was during this time when I was working on my Appalachian portfolio. The rest is history. I hung up my forty pound camera pack in 2005 and shifted to digital.
I have always been interested in other media. I took a couple of courses at Longwood in art and it was purely for the enjoyment. General Science was my major. After moving west in 1997, I became seriously interested in hand-coloring some of my western images with transparent oils. I had played with oils while living in the Shenandoah Valley, but it was purely for the satisfaction of learning to mix oils and how to use a brush. In Wyoming I took it seriously and here is one of my hand-colored images from my desert series. The western landscape was a natural for transparent oils.
Lizzie Oglesby is the Member and Visitor Services Officer at the Virginia Historical Society.