Please Touch! Historic House Tours

Keeping historic house tours engaging for visitors can be a challenge, especially children’s tours. The traditional “Listen, don’t touch” guided tour is simply not appealing to youth in today’s digital world.  The authors of the ground-breaking manifesto, the Anarchist’s Guide to Historic House Museums, are calling for historic sites to create a more visitor-centered paradigm.

I’ve recently re-imagined our house tour for younger audiences.  The new experience engages all five senses and utilizes the Socratic, or inquiry-based, teaching method. I believe these qualities make the tour a dynamic, interactive, and tactile experience.  Students are required to use their critical thinking skills to answer the questions guides pose.

Instead of docents telling students everything we think is important, they now use objects from the education collection, including full scale 3D printed replicas and carefully selected vintage material, as learning prompts.  The prompts are followed up with related archival photographs and a particular set of questions designed to lead students to an idea. Our younger guests become active participants in the tour as opposed to passive recipients of information which is a well-documented way to facilitate retention and promote deeper interest.

Screen Shot 2018-05-28 at 9.01.30 AM

New material gleaned from our archives being shared during the tour include information about the couple’s beloved dogs, Corinne Melchers’ Scarlet Macaw, Polly, and the staff and servants the Melchers’ employed to help run their household, garden, and grounds. Life without the Internet and television is also discussed.

Early feedback, from both teachers and docents, has been positive.  My staff and I look forward to giving our original “Please Touch!” tour to this summer’s field trips and the many engaging conversations along the way.







A piece of history lost

Belmont lost a piece of history when Bartlett Tree Company took down one of our old cedar trees. The Eastern Redcedar –Juniperus virginiana, was damaged in the high wind event we had earlier in the month. A large section split off from the trunk rendering it unsalvageable.


The tree pre-dates the period of Gari and Corinne Melchers’ recidency, so we know it was more than one hundred years old when it came down.

A “straight range of trees” was a concept landscape gardener Bernard McMahon, friend of Thomas Jefferson, promoted as “proper” in his 1806 book American Gardener’s Calendar. A “range” of trees means a trees planted in a line, usually along walks and drives to provide shade. Cedar allées were popular in the South and are seen in many old landscapes in the Fredericksburg area.

The cedar that was damaged was part of a line of trees that border the stairs running from the house down to the lower pasture in front of the house. The exact planting date is not known, but some of our cedars could pre-date the Civil War period as seen in this drawing circa 1865.

belmont civil war detail

Civil War view of cedar trees and decidious trees

The Eastern Redcedar is a long lived tree that grows moderately fast until it reaches maturity after which it maintains its size almost indefinitely. The U.S. Forest service reports that on average, trees aged 26 to 30 years are 18 to 26 feet tall, expressing a growth rate of approximately 7 inches to 1 foot per year. Mature trees aged 50 and older are usually 40 to 50 feet tall though they may reach 120 feet. Thus, growth rates slow considerably after the first 30 years of a specimen’s life. The cedar at Belmont was about 50 feet tall, meaning it had matured and stopped growing in height.


Circa 1940 view of cedar

The picture above dates to circa 1940, and we can see that the size of the tree is more or less the same as when it was damaged this year. From this we can assume that the tree was fully mature, meaning more than 50 years old, at the time when the photograph was taken. I speculate that Mr. J. B. Ficklen, owner of Belmont from 1824-1874, planted this cedar when he created the stairs to Falmouth, the boxwood lined “Long Walk,” and the horse-shoe shaped stairs in conjunction with expanding his house around 1850. We are leaving the stump in place for now, so bring your magnifying glass and come count the tree rings!

The Bartlett crew took a great panoramic picture from up high in their bucket truck. What a wonderful perspective on Belmont and our old trees.


Panoramic view of Belmont

9 inspiring artists’ studios you can visit

Via The Spaces

Artists’ studios are unfailingly fascinating, never more so than when left untouched after their passing. While some studios have the good fortune of being lovingly recreated – Brancusi’s Paris atelier was transported from the nondescript Impasse Ronsin to the Centre Pompidou by Renzo Piano in 1997 – it’s the ones that remain in their original spots that exert the strongest pull.  MORE…


Corinne Melchers Featured in ’10 Women Who Influenced Historic Artists’ Homes’

Women artists have historically been trailblazers in their chosen forms, prospering from their considerable talent and perseverance during a time when it was difficult for women to sustain themselves financially at all. Other women, many of whom where underappreciated artists in their own right, have worked tirelessly to preserve the works and homes of those they loved most. See below for a list of 10 women who greatly impacted Historic Artists’ Homes and Studios (HAHS), and who are receiving much-needed recognition for their many contributions to the world of art.  More…

New Melchers Comes to Light

Little Green House, The Melchers

The Little Green House

A painting entirely new to me by Gari Melchers entitled The Little Green House has surfaced, and is to be sold at auction in Sotheby’s American Art sale scheduled for March 28, 2018. The signed oil on canvas measuring 18 ½ x 15 1/8 inches has been assigned a presale estimate of $10,000-15,000. Based on comparable examples, I would date the canvas to about 1910.

Melchers found an inexhaustible supply of old world charm in both the people and landscapes of Holland. In his first twenty years there, Melchers made the North Sea’s dunescapes the primary setting for his paintings of Dutch fisher folk.  Next he turned inland to reproduce farmsteads, humble cottages, townhouses with their distinctive stepped and bell-shaped gables and picturesque summer homes perched along the banks of canals or in the setting of gentile gardens.

In my Garden

In My Garden

Many of these paintings began life as modestly sized, sketchy renderings produced from a boat or from the other side of a canal.  Some were worked up into major easel paintings, such as In My Garden, from the Butler Art Institute, while others the artist developed no further.  The Little Green House, with its wonky two story cottage and cursory execution, might be just such an example. I don’t recognize the building in any other known work by Melchers, but the formula is characteristic for him as seen in House with Green Gables at the University of Washington, Little House in Egmond, Holland, privately owned, and Old Houses, Slotweg, also privately owned.

house with green gables   House with Green Gables                            Little House in Egmond, Holland   Little House in Egmond, Holland

Old Houses, Slotweg    Old Houses, Slotweg


2018 Schedule of Events


Preschool Palette Classes

Guided Woodland Hikes
Last Sunday of each month, 2 pm
Conducted by Virginia Master Naturalists, these informative walks cover a mile of trails in both woodlands and fields and also touch on the historic ruins of Belmont’s past. Please wear sturdy footwear. Meet outside the Visitor Center.


Public Programs

Sunday, February 25, 2 pm
Curator’s Tour
The public is invited to a behind the scenes tour of the museum operation at Gari Melchers Home and Studio led by 35 year veteran at the property, Joanna Catron.

Members free, non-members $5. Limited to 12. Reservations required.
Contact: Meghan Pcsolyar at 540 654-1848

Thursday, March 8, 6-7 pm
Crow’s Nest: An Ecological Gem in Stafford County
An illustrated presentation by Mike Lott, Regional Supervisor/Northern Region Steward

Free admission. Pavilion at Gari Melchers Home and Studio.
Contact: Michelle Crow-Dolby at 540-654-1851

Sunday, March 25, 2-4 pm
Family Event
7th Annual Beeping Egg Hunt

This event provides an opportunity for visually impaired and blind children, along with their families, to participate in an audible egg hunt.

Free admission. Families are asked to RSVP to Michelle Crow-Dolby at 540-654-1851 by Friday, March 23.

Saturday, April 7, 8:30-4 pm
Sixth Annual Living in the Garden Symposium: Historic Trees and Gardens of Virginia
A day-long symposium presented by the Extension Master Gardeners of the Central Rappahannock Area featuring the topics: Gari Melchers’ garden restoration at Belmont by Beate Ankjaer-Jensen; a tribute to Virginia’s most significant trees by Nancy Ross Hugo; Jefferson’s botanical laboratory at Monticello by Peggy Cornett and antique roses by Connie Hilker.

MGACRA Members and Friends of Belmont $50/non-members $60 Includes light breakfast, lunch and tours.
Contact: Laura Westermeier at 540 479-3835

Saturday, April 7, 7:30 pm
Concert in the Studio
UMW Chamber Music Festival
The UMW Music Department presents an evening of chamber music featuring faculty members Andrew Kraus on the piano and Doug Gately, flute, performing the Suite for Flute and Jazz Piano by Claude Bolling.

Free admission. Seating limited. Reservations beginning March 19 for FOB and UMW Friends of Music, March 23 for the general public.
Contact: Meghan Pcsolyar at 540 654-1848

Sunday, April 8, 4 pm
UMW Chamber Music Festival
The UMW Music Department presents an afternoon of music featuring the Faculty Jazz Combo under the direction of Doug Gately and another program tbd.

Free admission. Seating limited. Reservations beginning March 19 for FOB and UMW Friends of Music, March 23 for the general public.
Contact: Meghan Pcsolyar at 540 654-1848

Sunday, April 22, 10 am – 5 pm
Spring Open House
The public is invited to tour the house, studio and galleries of the famous American painter Gari Melchers (1860-1932). Stroll the restored gardens and woodland trails, visit the Fannie Roots House on the property to hear about the latest restoration efforts between 12 and 3 pm, join a preschool palette class in the kitchen classroom between 11 am and 4 pm, and explore the museum shop.

Wednesday, April 25, 7 pm
UMW Flute and Guitar Ensembles
In celebration of National Guitar Month and National Jazz Appreciation Month, the UMW Guitar Ensemble will present a spring concert featuring arrangements of Classical, Jazz and Contemporary works under the direction of Bruce Middle. The UMW Flute Ensemble will perform selections from the Baroque to the Contemporary, including Latin American selections, under the direction of Doug Gately.

Free admission. Seating limited. Reservations required.
Contact: Meghan Pcsolyar at 540 654-1848

Free admission. Contact: Buffy Knappenberger at 540 654-1843

Thursday, May 17, 6 to 8 pm
Concert on the Lawn
Art after Hours
Join us for another toe-tapping evening of live music in the beautiful spring setting of our lawn and gardens. Enjoy beer and wine from Stafford County’s 6 Bears & a Goat Brewing Company and Potomac Point Winery. Two food trucks will be selling their delicious fare. Visit the studio and galleries of American artist Gari Melchers.

Free admission. Tickets for beer/wine $5 and food trucks accept cash or credit. To reserve your spot, contact Meghan Pcsolyar at (540) 654-1848.

Sunday, June 10, 2 pm
Talk and Tour
Architectural History Tour
Back by popular demand! Cultural Resource Manager Beate Ankjaer-Jensen will present a brief lecture followed by a tour of the historic house at Belmont. We will explore the building inside and out, decoding its architectural fabric to reveal how the building evolved over time.

Friends of Belmont $5, Non-members $10. Limited to 20 guests. Meets at Pavilion.
Contact Beate Ankjaer-Jensen at 540 654-1839

Sunday, September 9, 2 pm
The 92-minute film explores the many environmental and agricultural issues facing us today and examines solutions that are being applied using the ecological design process called “Permaculture,” which uses the principles found in ecosystems to help shift our impact from destructive to regenerative. Focusing mostly on the Northeastern and Midwestern regions of the US, Inhabit provides an intimate look at permaculture peoples and practices across the rural, suburban and urban landscapes.

Free admission. Pavilion at GMHS. Contact: Joanna Catron at 540 654-1841

October 5 through December 2
Spotlight Exhibition
Gossips by Gari Melchers
Gossips, a circa 1925 era painting by Gari Melchers reproducing a setting and personalities long familiar to Falmouth, Virginia, natives will make a first time special appearance at the Gari Melchers Home and Studio, thanks to a generous loan from a private collector.

Included with Museum admission. Contact: Joanna Catron at 540 654-1841

Sunday, November 11, 2 pm
The Long Shadow of J.S. Bach
UMW musicologist Brooks Kuykendall will consider examples across the 19th and 20th centuries demonstrating the towering influence of the 18th century German master.

Free admission. Contact: Joanna Catron at 540 654-1841

November 23 through December 30
Home for the Holidays
Enjoy the house decorated for the holidays in the spirit and style of American painter Gari Melchers and his talented artist-wife Corinne.

Included with museum admission during regular hours. Contact: Buffy Knappenberger at 540 654-1843.

Tapestry and Vase In One!

For the first time in 1000 years it looks like the famed Bayeux Tapestry will be allowed to travel for exhibition to England, the country whose early history it so evocatively recounts.

“In a sensational stroke of cultural diplomacy,” writes the Washington Post, French President Emmanuel Macron, made the announcement at a bilateral meeting in which the French were pressuring Britain to help pay for the cross channel border patrol.  The loan of this fragile masterpiece is not scheduled to take place until 2022 so that conservators can stabilize the 20” x 70 yard wool-embroidered linen panel.

The priceless tapestry depicts, in a continuous narrative, the crushing defeat of England by William the Conqueror. The Battle of Hastings is the centerpiece of the embroidered history, beginning with the story of Harold, Earl of Wessex, who briefly took the throne after the death of Edward the Confessor, only to be defeated just months into his reign by William, Duke of Normandy.

The tapestry’s archaic, yet richly colored drawings in wool inspired the designs of the late nineteenth century French ceramicist Louis-Etienne Desmant (1844-1902). Desmant’s Bayeux series of pottery, an example of which was acquired by Gari and Corinne Melchers, was fabricated out of  earthenware and glazed in a distinctive red and iridescent lustre spatter in the Hispano-Moorish tradition.

The Belmont piece is a superlative example by the Desmant pottery. It is an unusually large vase with a pair of rustic handles, the whole in pristine condition. The vase, signed Desmant, dates to around 1900-10 and is either the work of Desmant or his son Lucien, as the work of both artists is difficult to differentiate. The images featured on either side of the vase were drawn directly from the original tapestry, an enthroned image of Widdo (Latin for Guy) who apprehended Harold on behalf of William of Normandy and two of William’s soldiers on horseback.

Bel 3452 Desmant Vase with Widdo enthroned

Bel 3452 Desmant Vase with Willimas soldiers