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Art Appreciation


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?


“Fragment with a Woman’s Head”, Charcoal on paper, Evidence of insect damage; artwork has been rehoused for preservation (Virginia Historical Society, ACE 205)

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.

"Selling Watermelons", Charcoal, ACE 60

“Selling Watermelons”, Charcoal,(Virginia Historical Society ACE 60)

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.


“Fountain in Shockoe Slip” by Adèle Clark, Charcoal on paper, (Virginia Historical Society, AC 67)


“Mother and Daughter at Soda Fountain”, Pencil and paper, (Virginia Historical Society, ACE 267)

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. 

2 Comments leave one →
  1. William Brunot permalink
    03/29/2013 8:52 am

    Please contact me. I left a comment on Rebecca’s blog – see them.

    Bill Brunot, cousin of Adele, and an old student of hers. I have many of her artifacts.


  2. William Brunot permalink
    03/29/2013 8:59 am

    I also have a couple of unpublished letters (originals) from Crazy Betsy Van Lew, since she was also a cousin of ours. I asked Adele if she had ever heard of Betsy Van Lew once. She said she had never met her, but had heard that she was well known, and hated in Richmond, because she had been a Northern spy. Adele said that Betsy used to write on her letters (after the War) that “Taxation without representation is tyranny”, referring to women’s suffrage. The Van Lew house on Church Hill was torn down, but Hilary Baker’s House is still up there, I think – also a cousin of ours.

    Bill Brunot.
    415-468 0854


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