Anyone who knows me, knows that I love color. My masters’ thesis was about symbolism in color. I drive a metallic pink Vespa. I love my Pantone guide. And I am not afraid to embrace the fact that “pink is my signature color.”
You could say that because I am the Designer/Visual Communications Officer at the VHS, color is “my thing.” When I first heard about the book Fifty Shades of Grey, I thought that is was a new design book (whether you spell it gray or grey, we all know that grey is the new beige). I knew I was missing something…I could not figure out why I kept seeing people standing in line at the library to add their name to the wait list to read a book about color (I’m guessing that I’m probably not the only designer who was confused about the subject matter of the book). I eventually figured out that Fifty Shades of Grey is a very colorful book, but not the type of color I was expecting. Since I spend so much time surrounded by and thinking about color every day, I thought I would show you a random selection of objects from the VHS collections that include the color grey. So, I invite you to enjoy fifty shades of grey from the VHS.
Hand-colored mezzotint engraving, “Homme et Femme de Virginie,” by T. G. St. Sauveur, 1806. Several details in the image appear Virginian in origin, such as the bow and arrow, the bead necklaces, and the loincloths (though they have tassels instead of a fringe). The headdresses might be vaguely based on Virginia imagery, but the milled-lumber house is unmistakably European.
Sheet music, “Never Swap Horses When You’re Crossing a Stream” by Harold Robe, music by Jesse Winne, 1916. Campaign songs reached their height in popularity during the Tin Pan Alley era of music publishing. This piece of sheet music, published during President Woodrow Wilson’s bid for reelection, urged the voters “Don’t overlook the facts for the promise that’s new, Let Wilson and Marshall keep haulin’ you through, Just stick to their backs, that’s a sensible scheme, And never swap horses when you’re crossin’ a stream.” (VHS sheet music: Never Swap Horses When You’re Crossing a Stream)
Equal Suffrage League of Richmond float in 1918 Liberty Bond Parade, Richmond Virginia(VHS accession number: 2002.226.1). This print shows a costumed group of eleven people posing in a car that has been draped and decorated to make a parade float. Ralph Harvie Wormeley (1904-1958), the only individual identified in the photograph, is dressed like Uncle Sam. A few women are dressed to represent liberty, the goddess Athena, the French Marianne figure and a Red Cross nurses. One sign reads “Libert Loan.” Two women stand in front of the float and hold a large banner reading “Equal Suffrage League of Virginia” between them.
“This is a Valentine.” Dugald Stewart Walker (1883–1937) was a well-known Richmond illustrator and bookplate designer. He also applied his pen and ink to personal cards, such as this unusual card that he sent in 1931 to Kate and Thomas Jeffress of Chesterfield County. He wrote on the card that it was a Valentine “even if it is all black and gray.” (VHS call number: Mss2 W1517 b)
Streetcar, Richmond (VHS accession number: 2000.186.586.b). This photographic print shows a streetcar parked next to a stop on the Main Street line in Richmond, Virginia. A sign on the front of the streetcar reads “VA. LEAGUE / BASEBALL / TODAY / ISLAND PARK,” and one painted on the streetcar indicates that the fare is six cents. Two women are sitting on the streetcar. A driver and conductor are also on board the streetcar. Two additional conductors, one seated and one standing, are to the left.
The Granbury’s (VHS accession number: 0000. 274)
“The Resurrection of Henry ‘Box’ Brown in Philadelphia, ” by Samuel Rowse. The VHS print is one of only a few known originals. Brown’s portrait is from life, and many other likenesses of him were based directly or indirectly on it. (VHS accession number: 2005.149)
Photograph taken of Harold Leazer (fifth from left) and his crew three months before their plane was shot down over Austria. (VHS call number: Mss1 L4895 a)
Photograph, ” Leonie Helen Holmes,” 1909. In this photograph, Leonie Helen Holmes holds a diploma while a second, framed diploma sits at her feet. The diploma on the floor is her diploma from Richmond Colored Normal and High School; the one in her hand is probably a diploma from a six- to eight-week summer “normal”—a special program designed to train teachers. Summer normals were instituted around 1906 as part of the state’s efforts to reform public schools by establishing standards for teachers. (VHS accession number: 2003.298.29 a)
“Elizabeth Randolph,” about 1755, by John Wollaston. At the time she sat for John Wollaston, Elizabeth Randolph (born c. 1750–died before 1773) was just beginning to learn genteel behavior, for she was probably not much more than five or six years of age. Nonetheless, she already could dress in the manner of and assume the bearing of a lady. Elizabeth Randolph would marry Philip Ludwell Grymes. Like her older sister Anne, she tragically died in her early twenties. (Gift of Kate Brander Mayo Skipwith Williams; VHS accession number: 1947.71)
Craddock-Terry Shoe Corp. 1949 Annual Report cover.
Confederate States bond owned by the Virginia Historical Society. (VHS call number: Folio H6a 1862)
Tredegar Iron Works envelope. Detail from envelope depicting Tredegar Iron Works; the other side of this hand-stamped envelope is postmarked Richmond June 15, 1861. By then, Virginia has seceded but did not yet have its own postage. The first Confederate adhesive stamp would appear in October 1861. (VHS accession number: 1997.174)
“Making the Virginia Twist” was painted by John Durkin for an 1887 magazine article about the tobacco industry in Richmond and Danville. In Virginia, twist chewing tobacco was made by twisting leaves into a tight rope sold by the foot or yard. Short workers stood on rollers to bring them to a comfortable and productive height. (VHS accession number: 1990.15)
Broadside advertising the Kline Kar (VHS Call number: Broadsides 191– :10. The Kline Kar company relocated to Richmond from York, Pennsylvania, in 1912, and produced about 2,500 vehicles before it closed in 1923.
Surrender of the English army at Yorktown Reddition de L’ Armee Angloises Paris, ca. 1781. Colored engraving depicting the surrender of the English Army at Yorktown. The surrender at Yorktown was known in Paris by December 1781, and prints of the scene were hastily produced by artists who had never seen Yorktown or even America. The town appears as a medieval walled city and the French army and navy dominate the scene. (VHS accession number: 1993.213)
Booker T. Washington. Photograph by the Scurlock Studio, Washington, D.C.. Booker T. Washington (1856–1915) was born enslaved in Franklin County, Virginia. After emancipation, he lived for a time in West Virginia before attending Hampton Institute from 1872 to 1875. (VHS accession number: 2006.200)
Sword and scabbard, Ames Manufacturing Company, 1848. (Gift of Judith E. and Fanny C. Thomas; VHS accession number: 1900.1.A-C)
Ellen Glasgow (1873–1945), one of the founding members of the Equal Suffrage League, won a Pulitzer in 1942 for In This Our Life. Her novels attacked the Old Dominion’s “coloured spectacles of evasive idealism.” (VHS accession number: 1946.30)
French playing card. Playing card depicting a Virginia Indian, printed in Paris in 1644 as part of “games devised for the instruction of Louis XIV as a child.” The text explains that Virginia is next to new France. (VHS accession number: 1985.127)
Brochure. The cover of this 1955 NAACP Freedom Day brochure, “Remember May 17th, Fight Segregation with Freedom Dollars,” depicts the hand of the Statue of Liberty holding a torch. The brochure was printed to promote membership in NAACP in observance of the first anniversary of the May 17, 1954, Supreme Court decision which held public school segregation unconstitutional. The back cover of the brochure features a photo of the U.S. Supreme Court. (VHS accession number: 2003.234.5)
Broadside, “L. Douglas Wilder.” This was a campaign poster for Wilder’s state senate run. (VHS call number: Broadside o.s. 1969:9)
“Pocahontas” by Simon Van de Passe. The only life portrait of Pocahontas (1595–1617) and the only credible image of her, was engraved by Simon Van de Passe in 1616 while she was in England, and was published in John Smith’s Generall Historie of Virginia in 1624. She appears stiff in Jacobean court attire, but the costume probably hid tattooing and provided the chaste image wanted by the Virginia Company, which sponsored her trip and probably commissioned the print. (VHS accession number 1992.40)
“Martha (Dandridge) Custis Washington,” Charles Wilson Polk, about 1795. (VHS accession number: 1857.3)
“Robert E. Lee.” When Virginia left the Union in April 1861, Gen. Winfield Scott offered Lee principal command of the U.S. Army, but Lee maintained that he could not bear arms against his native Virginia. He submitted his resignation and became the commander-in-chief of the military and naval forces of Virginia. Lee was given command of the Army of Northern Virginia in June 1862 and from then until the summer of 1863, he led the army in a series of brilliant campaigns. After suffering defeat at the battle of Gettysburg in July 1863, he adopted a largely defensive strategy. In 1864, Lee tried desperately to hold a larger Union army at bay in a series of bloody battles from the Wilderness to Petersburg. The end came when his weakened forces surrendered to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s army at Appomattox on April 9, 1865. After the war, he devoted the rest of his life to serving as president of Washington College in Lexington, Virginia. He died in October 1870. (VHS accession number: 1957.29)
Silver badge made by order of the Virginia General Assembly c.1662, engraved “Ye King of” on one side and the other engraved with the name of the tribe, “Patomeck” [Potomac]. Badges served as passports for Indians visiting English settlements. They were fashioned of copper for warriors and silver for chiefs. This and the “Machotick” [Machodoc] medals were found on the same Caroline County farm, the Potomac badge in 1832 and the Machodoc badge in 1964. (VHS accession number 1842.1)
“The Blender Newsletter,” (VHS call number: TP1101. B647)
Postcard, “St. Marys Catholic Church.” St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception was the first Roman Catholic church established in Virginia. A small chapel built in 1794 by refugees from the French Revolution gave way later to a neoclassical structure called St. Patrick’s. After it burned in 1856, perhaps because it held integrated services, the present structure was erected in 1858. Its stained glass windows are renowned. (VHS accession number: 2005.6.111)
“James Armistead Lafayette,” James Armistead Lafayette was manumitted by the Commonwealth of Virginia for his services as a double agent during the Yorktown campaign. This engraving couples his portrait by John Blennerhassett Martin with a facsimile testimonial by the Marquis de Lafayette. (VHS accession number: 1993.215)
“George Washington,” Charles Peale Polk, about 1790. This depiction of George Washington (1732–1799) as commander of the Continental army was derived from portraits taken from life by Polk’s more famous uncle, Charles Willson Peale. Washington was keenly aware of physical appearance and paid considerable attention to both proper dress and proper demeanor. He said, “nothing adds more to the appearance of a man than dress.” Washington concerned himself with the buttons, trimmings, and all manner of details of his uniform. He even powdered his hair to enhance the sense of dignity. (VHS accession number: 1905.10)
Lithograph, “The Fifteenth Amendment, Celebrated May 19 1870” by James C. Beard, late 19th century. This hand-colored lithography was published by Thomas Kelly in New York and shows a central image with sixteen smaller images and text from the Fifteenth Amendment and the Declaration of Independence. (VHS accession number: 2003.435)
“Writing the Declaration of Independence, 1776,” by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris. Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin were named to a committee to prepare a declaration of independence. Jefferson (standing) did the actual writing because he was known as a good writer. Congress deleted Jefferson’s most extravagant rhetoric and accusations. (VHS accession number: 1996.49.15)
Funeral fan from the J. M. Wilkerson Funeral Establishment in Petersburg, Virginia (Virginia Historical Society, Accession no. 2011.95)
“Virginia Opossum from the Viviparous Quadrapeds of North America,” Audubon imagined the surprise felt when Europeans saw their first opossum: “Here was a strange animal, with the head and ears of a pig, sometimes hanging on the limb of a tree, occasionally swinging like a monkey by the tail.” “The astonished traveler approaches this extraordinary compound of an animal and touches it gently with a stick. Instantly it seems to be struck with a mortal disease . . . and appears dead! He adds a new term to the vocabulary, that of ‘playing possum.'” This native species of marsupial is found in all Virginia counties. (VHS call number: Rare Books QL715 A916 1845 folio)
This broadside includes a photograph of Duke Ellington. Reflecting the broad appeal of the performance, tickets were to be sold in predominantly African American Jackson Ward at Barky’s Records and Anderson’s Grill, but also at the white-owned department stores Thalhimers and Miller & Rhoads. (VHS call number: Broadside 1968: 7)
“Llana of Gathol and John Carter of Mars (1977)” First published as short stories in 1941, this novel featured Lllana, the granddaughter of John Carter and Dejah Thoris. Carter was captured by the inhabitants of Horz and sent to the slave pits under their city where he discovered a lost race frozen in suspended animation. Carter freed this race of the living dead and rescued his beautiful granddaughter. Llana of Gathol and John Carter of Mars was the 10th in the series and the last one published in Burrough’s lifetime. (VHS call number: PS 3503 U687 L79 1977)
“Battle of Malvern Hill, Va., 1 July 1862,” Robert Knox Sneden.
The Summer Mural portrays a fictitious gathering of Confederate commanders with Gen. Robert E. Lee in the mots prominent position.
“Battle between the Monitor and the Merrimack,” Xanthus Smith, about 1880. (Lora Robins Collection of Virginia Art, VHS accession number: 1998.53_2)
The Kirksmith Sisters (VHS accession numbers: 1991.1.28574). Part of the Kirksmith sisters’ appeal might have been their physical appearance on stage, their youth and beauty being enhanced by fashionable gowns and the latest of coiffures.
“A Wintry March” (VHS accession number: 2008.139.114)
“The Hanging of John Brown,” 1860. John Hugo. Observers were conflicted in their judgment of a man who had invaded an American town. Most white southerners denounced John Brown as a lunatic and criminal. In the same way, many in the North rejected his violence, but other whites there eulogized a martyr whose death opened the way to emancipation. (VHS call number: E451 H89)
Diplomat and president and benefactor of the Virginia Historical Society, Alexander Wilbourne Weddell’s (1876–1948) bookplates reflect different stages in his life. One plate was presumably used when he was a young man, and he had another plate designed later for his personal library (shown here). A third plate was used for the extensive library he assembled at his home, Virginia House. (VHS accession number: 2012.1.5 [Wellford Collection])
Toaster, about 1925, Hotpoint (Virginia Historical Society, Accession number: 1996.153.9, Gift of Stefan Osdene)
Painting, “Elizabeth Harris,” by Umana Mendez and Rafael Alfonso, mid-20th century. (VHS accession number: 2008.52.5)
Two Men Conversing at a Counter. Gouache on board. (Virginia Historical Society ACE 9)
Watercolor, “James River, Richmond, VA,” by Lefevre J. Cranstone, around 1860. This watercolor painting shows the James River at night. (VHS accession number: 1991.18.2)
Charcoal and gouache drawing, “‘Light Horse’ Harry Lee’s Legion at the Battle of Guilford Court House,” by Alonzo Chappel, 19th century. This drawing depicts “Light Horse” Harry Lee’s legion skirmishing at the Battle of Guilford Court House. (VHS accession number: 1992.147)
Do you see any pieces that you like? Visit the VHS website to learn about purchasing a digital reproduction of items from the VHS collection.
Color is all around us and as I am sitting at my desk editing this post, I can see multiple shades of grey in the objects on my desk. So as a bonus photo, here is my non-staged desk. How many shades of grey can you spot?
How many shades of grey can you spot in this picture?
Jennifer Rohrbaugh Nesossis is the Designer/Visual Communications Officer at the VHS. Read more posts from Jennifer.