From an early age, I knew that I wasn’t an artist. I don’t have the ability or talent my sister possesses to express oneself with paint or other mediums. But that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate art. It just means I appreciate art from a different perspective—the historical perspective. What is interesting to me is the time period in which the artist lived, where the artist lived, whether the artist was a man or a woman, and what were his or her political, religious, and social views? And how did all of these circumstances affect the art?
This appreciation leads me to my involvement with a collection of unframed canvases and several boxes and drawers of artwork by two Richmond artists, Adèle Goodman Clark (1882–1983) and her best friend, Eleanora “Nora” Houston (1883–1942), found by VHS registrar Rebecca Rose in May 2012. Normally, as senior grants officer for the VHS, I would not go behind the scenes and help inventory and catalog a collection. But I am currently enrolled in the Virginia Association of Museums (VAM) Certificate of Museum Management, and as part of that, I am required to conduct a final project to complete my certification.
My two favorite manuscript collections at the VHS have always been the Adèle Goodman Clark papers (Mss1 C5472 a FA2) and the Houston family papers (Mss1 H8185 a FA2), so I knew who Adèle and Nora were and about their impact on the Richmond community before I began my project. When I heard Rebecca had uncovered some unprocessed artwork, I knew right away that helping her make this collection accessible to the public would make the perfect VAM final project.
As Rebecca mentioned in her blog “Finding Adèle . . . ,” we have been researching, cataloging, and re-housing the more than 500-piece collection. My project has consisted of working with 150 pieces from the Adèle Clark Estate (ACE) collection. I’ve found portraits, landscapes, studies, and scenes of city life. Some have been signed by Adèle, but most are unsigned. There are a few pieces with specific titles or the model in the portrait has been identified.
The pieces of artwork that I find most interesting are the scenes of city life. I could only find one piece in my collection that specifically identifies the city scene as being located in Richmond, Virginia. There are several buildings or studies of buildings in the collection that are located in Richmond but not many clearly identified scenes. Maybe all the city scenes were of Richmond and did not need to be identified by the artist, or maybe they aren’t Richmond. In any case, what these scenes give us is a glimpse into the artist’s world. For Adèle and Nora, this was the early to mid-twentieth century.
As you can tell, there are still a lot of questions to be answered about this collection. Who were the models, and what are the locales in the artwork? Where are the finished artworks that were done from the studies? Adèle and Nora taught students in their home art studio. Who were they, and did any of them go on to be artists in their own right?
If you’re interested in learning more about Adèle and Nora, you can always come by the VHS research library (open Monday–Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.), or you can check out these Richmond Magazine articles by Harry Kollatz, Jr., about Adèle and Nora’s impact on Richmond’s art community.
Richmond’s Own Greenwich Village – Sept 2005
An Artist’s Creation – June 2011
Elaine Hagy is the Senior Grants Officer for the Virginia Historical Society.