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Welcoming a New Era on the Boulevard


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January 8, 1913, photograph of a partially finished Confederate Memorial Institute (2010.1.65)

I’m always struck by how barren our neighborhood looks in this January 1913 photograph. It shows ongoing construction of the Confederate Memorial Institute one year after the groundbreaking. Only the best (luckiest) prognosticators of the day could have imagined that the area now known as the Museum District would become one of Richmond’s most fashionable neighborhoods. Home to thousands of residents, many coffee shops and restaurants, and two world-class museums, the corner of Kensington and Boulevard is part of a bustling neighborhood. As the VHS reopens its newly transformed galleries, the exterior of our Boulevard entrance also experienced a major renovation as part of our $38-million Story of Virginia Campaign.

The core portion of our building, known by many native Richmonders as the Battle Abbey, is both historic and monumental. Its massive, monolithic, limestone walls can also be a bit intimidating to passers-by. Our new landscaping doesn’t detract from the building’s unique architecture, but has been softened by new planting beds and a pedestrian friendly plaza that is far more inviting to our guests.

Today the Boulevard is frequently traveled by pedestrians.

Today the Boulevard is frequented by pedestrians, bikers, and even the occasional Segway. (VHS Collection)

Where there was once a small parking area that served relatively few guests, we’ve installed usable green space on the Boulevard. This not only allows us to offer displays and events along our very visible Boulevard front, but it also offers a space that our neighbors can enjoy even when the building isn’t open.

The plantings, designed by Glavé & Holmes Architecture and  Stewart/HG and provided by James River Nurseries, feature varieties—some of which are native to Virginia—that will bloom throughout the year. I noticed that the PowWow White Cone Flowers (echinacea purpurea) were in bloom today. I also learned that echinacea comes from the Greek word echinos meaning hedgehog, which makes sense when you see them.

The War Horse also received a bit of attention with a newly painted fence that better blends into the facade of the building.

We plan to reopen the VHS’s Boulevard entrance on Saturday, August 8, along with many of our signature exhibitions. In the meantime, feel free to come on by and enjoy a cool summer evening on our front lawn.

Meet the Staff: Meg Eastman


From answering phone inquiries to photographing new acquisitions, the staff at the VHS have a wide range of talents that help make our collections accessible to the world. Who are the talented men and women of the VHS? In a series of “Meet the Staff” blog posts, we will introduce you to the people who work behind the scenes to collect, preserve, and interpret Virginia history.

Meet the Staff Meg Eastman graphic

What is your job title?

Digital Collections Manager

When did you begin working at the VHS?

I began working at the VHS in October 2006. I started as the Visual Resources Manager, fulfilling photo orders (with film!) and scanning documents for grants. Technology and the VHS have come a long way since then.

What are your job duties?

I am the VHS’s photographer. I create, store, and distribute images of collection items. The photos I take are used to improve access to the VHS collections and end up being used in VHS publications, on our website, online catalog, social media, exhibitions, presentations, etc. I also provide photography to fulfill photo requests and shoot many of the VHS programs and events.

How did you become interested in history?

I didn’t really. I’ve always been into art. I received my degree in studio art and art history from the University of Richmond. I spent a few years working with art conservation at the National Gallery of Art and at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, always with photography mixed in my job duties somewhere. I took the job at the VHS and history found me. I didn’t grow up in Virginia, but I like to say that working at the VHS puts you on the fast track to becoming a Virginian. I’ve learned more about our commonwealth than I ever thought I would know. The best part about being the VHS photographer is that it’s usually the really cool stuff that needs to be photographed. I get to hold history in my hands so it’s hard not to get interested when you’re that close. 

What is the favorite part of your job?

The favorite part of my job at the VHS is that I get to use my artistic side and stay involved in new technology. I don’t always get to shoot at home and I don’t always get to shoot at work, but between the two, a camera is never far from my hands and I love that.

Also, every once in a while I get to go to Virginia House and photograph the gardens. There’s nothing better than getting to walk among the blossoms and create art while on the job. 

Photo of Virginia House

A photo from one of my recent photo shoots at Virginia House.

What has been your most memorable moment at the VHS?

On January 25, 2013 a big snow storm passed through in the afternoon. The snow fell fast and I knew it wouldn’t take long before we were all told to go home early. I grabbed the camera and rushed to the front of Battle Abbey to catch some winter shots that could potentially be used on the VHS website. The snow was coming down too quickly to take the equipment out in the elements, so I stayed on the portico and got this shot.

Image of the War Horse in the snow on January 25, 2013.

A snowy January day at the VHS

What is your favorite item in your office? Why?

I have four wonderful paintings in my office, each very different from the next. My favorite is probably the portrait of the activist Irene Langhorne Gibson painted by her husband Charles Dana Gibson, creator of the “Gibson Girl.” It shows a quiet moment of an otherwise busy and influential woman. I like that she has found the time to practice her art—needlework in this case. Aside from the painting being beautiful on its own, it brings me some peace and reminds me that I too can find quiet moments to create.

Painting of Irene Langhorne Gibson by Charles Dana Gibson (VHS accession number: 1993.144)

Painting of Irene Langhorne Gibson by Charles Dana Gibson (VHS accession number: 1993.144)

What is your favorite collection piece at the VHS?

I really like the stereo daguerreotype of Thomas Goode Tucker (VHS accession number: 1975.25). It’s the only one of its kind that I’ve ever seen. Combining two cool photographic techniques—stereoscopy and daguerreotype—it makes for one really unique viewing experience. And it doesn’t hurt that the subject is Edgar Allan Poe’s friend and classmate from UVA.

Photograph of the stereo daguerreotype of Thomas Goode Tucker (VHS accession number: 1975.25)

Here is the Mascher stereo daguerreotype of Thomas Goode Tucker (VHS accession number: 1975.25)

What is your favorite historical period?

My favorite historical period is the early 20th century—art nouveau was in vogue, photography was becoming mainstream, and suffragettes were on the prowl.

What are your hobbies?

My hobbies include photography (yes, even on my time off) and reading children’s books—these things I actually get to do. Then there are all of the other things that I like to do but haven’t done in years—canoeing, quilting, traveling, gardening, hiking…

If you did not work at the VHS, what would you be doing?

Caring for my three beautiful children, taking their pictures, and finding other things to photograph.

Read more blog posts written by Meg.

Welcoming a New Era for the Memorial Military Murals



What’s the largest piece of artwork in the Virginia Historical Society collection? The answer is easy. It’s Charles Hoffbauer’s Memorial Military Murals, known by many by their nickname, “The Four Seasons of the Confederacy.” The French artist Charles Hoffbauer began work on them in 1913, and they’ve been on display in the historic core of our building since 1921. For generations of Richmonders, they have been synonymous with the VHS.

Before conservation began in 2011, this small square around this soldier's face offered a glimpse of the artist's original work.

Before conservation began in 2011, this small square around this soldier’s face offered the only glimpse of the artist’s true colors.

Ever since I’ve been VHS president, the murals have been a stop on any tour of the building that I give. I always used to point to a 12-inch square around the face of a soldier in the center of the Infantry (Spring) mural. That one little square foot, a tiny island amid more than 1,500 square feet of painted surface, had been cleaned to reveal the vibrant colors and subtle details hiding beneath decades of dirt and discoloration. My colleagues and I hoped that some day in the future we might be able to secure funding and complete the Herculean task of cleaning not just a small section but all the murals.

Happily, that day has come. Thanks to a Save America’s Treasures grant awarded by a partnership between the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Park Service, Department of the Interior as well as hundreds of donors, I’m happy to say that as of Wednesday, May 6, 2015, our restoration of the murals and the gallery that contains them is complete.

Today, when you stand in the lobby of our Boulevard entrance, the mural of Gen. Robert E. Lee and his generals seems to glow. Lee, or really Traveller, looks as if he could step right out of the painting and into the middle of the room, and the moonlight that shines down on John Singleton Mosby seems to shimmer.

It’s been my pleasure during the past four years to watch the conservation of these remarkable paintings and to learn more about the artist and the process by which they were made. Every time I look at these images now, I see new details that were previously obscured. I now realize that what I thought was a rock, or perhaps a pile of equipment, in the lower left-hand corner of the Infantry (Spring) mural was in fact the body of a fallen Union soldier. Another favorite detail is the soldiers in the background of the Lee and His Generals (Summer) mural. Now that they are cleaned, you can see them drinking from their canteens and leaning wearily on their rifles.

In addition to cleaning the murals, part of our Story of Virginia Campaign included restoring the stunning original parquet floor, installing dramatic lighting, and adding interpretive panels that highlight some of the details found in the images.

Come and see for yourself. The murals are now on display Monday through Saturday from 10:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. Let me know what you’ve been able to see in the murals that you hadn’t noticed before.

Meet the Staff: Elaine McFadden


From answering phone inquiries to photographing new acquisitions, the staff at the VHS have a wide range of talents that help make our collections accessible to the world. Who are the talented men and women of the VHS? In a series of “Meet the Staff” blog posts, we will introduce you to the people who work behind the scenes to collect, preserve, and interpret Virginia history.

Meet the Staff - Elaine McFadden headshot graphic

What is your job title?

Senior Grants Officer

When did you begin working at the VHS?

I started fresh out of college in 2008 working as a library clerk in our beautiful research library.

What are your job duties?

My main duties are as follows:

  • oversees and conducts the process of researching, conceptualization, writing, submission, and reporting for government and private grants;
  • manages and reports on the Society’s restricted funds;
  • receives all pledges and donations (cash, checks, stock gifts) that come to the Society for restricted projects

Read more…

The Seasons of a Garden


Working in the Virginia House gardens is a lesson in change and tradition simultaneously. Working here as the Site Program Assistant for almost two years has taught me so many lessons about interacting with the public, be they tour guests, guests at a private event, or Girl Scouts of all ages; about archival research and management; about good museum practices; and it has shown me how a historic site is constantly pulled between two equal and opposite forces: preserving the past and incorporating the present. Nowhere is this more evident than in the almost seven acres of gardens and grounds that we maintain and cultivate.

View of gardens from Mr. Weddell's bedroom

View of gardens from Mr. Weddell’s bedroom

When Mr. and Mrs. Weddell bought the Warwick Priory in England in 1925 and began construction on their private home here in Richmond that same year, they were planning for the future. They were thinking not only of their future together as Ambassador to Argentina and Spain but also of their eventual retirement in this new home and of the eventual donation of Virginia House to the Virginia Historical Society. The Weddells took the best from the past and the best the present had to give them. This continued in their plans for the gardens.

Looking out onto the grounds from the back terrace, you admire the vast, sprawling area that is the gardens.

Landscape architect Charles Gillette’s plan for the gardens included a sunken garden with a round and square pool connected by a rill, a pergola, a bowling green, a tea garden, a baptismal font, and a sundial. All these structures remain, though the flora which surrounds them has undergone numerous transformations over the last ninety years.

The round pool:

The square pool:

The tea garden:

The bowling green with sundial:

The baptismal font:

As the seasons change throughout the year, so does Virginia House and so do its plants and flowers. What took pride of place last year at our annual Garden Party for VHS members may give way to another favorite this year. Though the flowers may change, their color and beauty never does.

Now: VHS's annual Garden Party

VHS’s annual Garden Party

The gardens have served, and continue to serve, numerous purposes. Garden Party is our unofficial start to spring, but we – and often eager young Girl Scouts – are planting, weeding, and mulching long before and long after April 25th.

Girl Scouts working in the garden

Girl Scouts working in the garden

Girl Scouts learn about sustainability in our Victory Garden and about invasive and noninvasive plants and animals whenever we see deer, chipmunks, gophers, hawks, and even (occasionally) snakes.

V is for Victory (and vegetables) in our garden

V is for Victory (and vegetables) in our garden

We celebrate the milestones and anniversaries of many organizations.

And, my personal favorite, we help create the perfect backdrop for when two people make their love for one another official through beautiful, intimate wedding ceremonies.

Virginia House is the backdrop for small and intimate weddings

Virginia House is the backdrop for small and intimate weddings

Each Garden Party, each program, each wedding is different, but they are all enhanced by the beauty found in nature and by the careful planning started by the Weddells and Gillette, and furthered by all who work and volunteer their time here at Virginia House.

square 2013.4.19_VAHouse_038e_fountain

View of the fountain in the square pool looking out onto Gillette’s sunken garden

Elizabeth Darling is the Site Program Assistant at Virginia House.

Welcoming a New Era for the Robins Family Forum


Welcoming a New Era for the Robins Family Forum

Anyone who knows me knows that I love movies. Among my favorite movies are Chariots of Fire and Goodfellas—how’s that for range? A number of years ago I organized a few film classes at the VHS, but at that time I couldn’t have imagined that I would ever be involved in the production of a movie. Virginia Voices was created during the past eighteen months and provides a snapshot of contemporary Virginia and its inhabitants through personal stories told by them and, in many cases, filmed by them. While fellow Virginians were submitting their responses, and our producer was traveling around the state collecting footage, back at the VHS we were busy upgrading the Robins Family Forum to prepare that space to provide the best film-going experience possible. It was really exciting when we premiered the film in the Robins Family Forum on March 17.

Today, the Forum boasts a 2K projector that provides high-definition images as crisp and clear as the best movie theaters, 5:1 surround sound so you hear rain falling and wind rushing around you, and an impressive 20-foot by 10-foot screen. Having watched my fair share of movies in the Forum over the years, the experience today engages one’s senses in a way that the previous equipment just didn’t allow. What you might not notice is that in the booth is a digital media server that frees us from relying on physical DVD and Blu-Ray disks. We also installed a 10,000 BTU air conditioning unit that will keep all of the equipment—and our projectionist—cool.

The feed from the Forum is also digitally connected to the Harry M. Bluford Classroom in the Carole and Marcus Weinstein Learning Center and the Halsey Family Lecture Hall, allowing us to send video and audio between the three rooms, linking the programming spaces of our entire complex together.

We’re looking forward to screening Virginia Voices on a daily basis later this year. If you’re interested in seeing all of the submissions to the film project, you can go to where they are archived.

If you’d like to experience the improved theater experience in the Forum, you can join us for the first film in our Created Equal film series, The March, on Thursday, April 23, at 6:00 p.m.

Dr. Paul A. Levengood is President and CEO of the Virginia Historical Society.

Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History


Oftentimes when we think of history we recall the great names, the daring deeds, the larger narratives, and the accomplishments and achievements that fill our history books. And we usually think of the men who made history. Women, however, have also made history. When they’ve stepped outside of the proscribed roles that relegated them to supportive but essential responsibilities, they were considered unusual and sometimes unwomanly. They were not “well behaved” in the eyes of many. Women who drove cars, remained single by choice, dressed differently, and pursued higher education and/or careers were labeled nonconformists and sometimes considered a threat. The suffragists, for example, believed they should have the right to vote; they mounted campaigns to bring attention to their cause. War and the quest to locate a prisoner of war led one woman to mount a campaign during the Vietnam War. The Red Cross became a haven for women who desired leadership roles while still providing for the relief of the distressed. Business owners were an anomaly and faced obstacles yet persevered. The material culture that helps us remember these women and the history they left now resides in our museums. Celebrate Women’s History Month on Saturday, March 28, 2015, from 10:30 to 12:00, with a Behind-the-Scenes tour highlighting selected artifacts about women’s history in American culture.

Dr. Lauranett Lee is Curator of African American History at the Virginia Historical Society. She will be leading Saturday’s tour with Paige Newman, Associate Archivist for Collections Processing, and Rebecca Rose, Registrar.   Read more posts by Lauranett, Paige, and Rebecca.


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