Who was Gari Melchers
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Who was Gari Melchers?

Listen to Belmont Curator Joanna Catron explain why the modern art world has seemingly forgotten Gari Melchers in a talk she gave at the Bellarmine Museum in Fairfield, Connecticut in conjunction with the the exhibition, “Gari Melchers: An American Impressionist at Home and Abroad.  Catron claims its his own doing.

eastern bluebird

The Joy of Eastern Bluebirds

Michelle Crow-Dolby:

Belmont has partnered with the Virginia Bluebird Society to place and monitor four bluebird boxes on our property. Volunteers (scroll down for newsletter article) begin checking the boxes in early March and track the nest building cycle: egg laying, incubating, hatching, and fledging. We love our little bluebirds!

Originally posted on Native Seedling:

eastern bluebird eastern bluebird

When you visit Adkins Arboretum, you’ll see a bluebird trail of nesting boxes that are monitored by a volunteer.

Bluebirds can have up to three broods in a season extending from April to early September. Bluebirds are secondary cavity nesters, meaning that they use holes already created by woodpeckers since their beaks are not made for excavating a hole on their own. Through the creation of bluebird trails, bluebird populations increased by 2 percent per year between 1966 and 2010.

What can you do in your own backyard for our beautiful bluebird populations? You can provide fall and winter food sources with berry-producing native plants such as dogwood, viburnum, holly, eastern red cedar, and chokeberry. You can erect nesting boxes on your property to provide proper nesting in summer and shelter in winter, when bluebirds use the boxes as roosting places to keep warm. Remember that bluebirds love to…

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bridal shower collage

Tulips, Mimosas, & the Bride-to-Be

bridal shower collageThe coral, white, and gold themed bridal shower held recently in the pavilion reminded everyone that spring is officially here! The florist (also the maid of honor) laid tulips on each guest’s table setting to go along with the spring theme. The bride-to-be, Ashley, had the event catered by Dori Farrell who provided interactive pasta and mimosa bars. Shower attendees were able to walk up to the mimosa bar throughout the three-hour shower and choose between orange or very berry juice and a colorful array of fresh berries.

Lunch included a custom pasta station with toppings such as mushrooms, tomatoes, chicken, strawberry salad, and rolls. I was lucky enough to sneak some leftovers and was amazed by the delicious fare. For dessert guests indulged in cupcakes, strawberry cake from The Icing, and cookies.

Ashley opening gifts.Ashley rented a white couch to sit on while she opened presents. It really tied the whole room together with the white and gold chiavari chairs from Memorable Moments. The entire shower was beautiful and we wish Ashley and her fiancé the best! Thanks for letting us share this special event with you.

For more information on Belmont’s Studio Pavilion and the awesome events we hold there, please visit our rentals website or watch our wedding video.

Gator

A Gardener’s Favorite Things

These are a few of my favorite things…

Felco pruners and holster

Felco pruners and holster

Most gardeners have a few favorite tools they reach for over and over again. For me, the most important tool I have is my Felco #8 pruning shears. These are bypass pruners that I carry with me in the garden in a leather clip-on holster. It is in constant use, or some days, abuse! The pruners are perfect for clipping stems, but I have also been known to use them to pry open stubborn bottle caps, cut wire, scrape away soil on a root-bound plant and use it in all sorts of ways not intended by the manufacturer. My constant abuse dulls the blade of course, but I have a nifty little sharpener that can smooth out nicks and makes the blade sharp again with a few quick swipes.

A sharp blade makes a clean cut which is better for the plants and easier on your hands. Here are the two simple steps to follow to maintain a sharp blade:

step one

Step One

Hold the pruning shear flat in the left hand and sharpen the blade using a sharpening stone (beveling angle 23°).

Sharpen in one direction only, from inside
to the tip in two or three swipes.

 

 

Step Two

Step Two

Turn the pruning shear over to remove burring from the blade. To do this, set the ceramic stone to a sharpening angle of 5°.

 

 

 

A spritz of WD-40 before sharpening removes soil and plant sap and prevents gunk build-up. I also carry alcohol swabs to sterilize blades if I have been working with diseased material. Over time, the blade will become too damaged to be repaired. Thankfully, Felco has a blade replacement kit that makes it easy to install brand new blades. My pruners are now 15 years old, and they are a constant garden companion.

Boston Weeder

Boston Weeder

Another tool I reach for time and again is this hand weeder. The 90 degree angle of the head, combined with a sharp edge and the pointed end, makes it the perfect tool for weeding. It slices off roots with ease and gets into nooks and crannies where regular tools just can’t go. Once you try it you will be sold! I have multiples of these since I am always misplacing them and then rediscovering them in various places in the garden.

 

 

A brand new pair of gloves

A brand new pair of gloves

Gloves are very important as they protect hands from scratches and cuts. After many trials and errors I now exclusively use the “Touch” glove. It is strong enough to protect my hands, but thin enough that I can feel stems and roots or pick up seeds and other small items. Another bonus is that they are made from nitrile making them safe for people with latex allergies.

Hunter boots

Hunter boots

 

Feet need protection too, and for muddy and wet conditions I rely on my tall Hunter rain boots. In cold weather I add a pair of thick wool socks leaving my feet warm and dry all day long.

 

 

 

 

 

Gator

Gator

The best tool of all however is the John Deere gator we bought a few years back. It hauls, it dumps and it saves me miles of walking every day, I don’t know how we managed before!

Happy gardening!

Spring Garden

Springtime at Belmont

Spring GardenSpringtime has always been a magical time at Belmont. The gardens are always at their peak around Easter, and Corinne Melchers made sure that her plantings were both colorful and plenty. With the help of the Garden Club of Virginia, we are fortunate to have been able to restore her garden plan and selections to their original variety and beauty.

St George's Church

St George’s Church

Early Spring Landscape

Early Spring Landscape

Gari Melchers also saw springtime as one of his favorite times for painting outdoors, especially at Belmont and the environs of Falmouth and Fredericksburg.

The brilliant colors of St. George’ s Church and Early Spring Landscape embody his late career impressionist delight in breezy landscapes that are among his most popular today.

More party goersOne of the traditions that Gari and Corinne followed was holding an Easter Egg Hunt on the grounds for the children of their friends and neighbors. They included a Punch and Judy puppet show in the large main hall of the house, where the children could sit on the floor and thrill at the adventures of the hand held characters that we have heard were maneuvered by Corinne herself!

In the spirit of the Melcherses, we have tried to schedule springtime events and activities over the years that attract those who, like Corinne’s flowers, are trying to revive from the dormant winter months.

1992 Egg Hunt  carsDuring the last few years we have hosted a free community spring open house, attracting up to 500 visitors each year. But that number pales when compared to the largest crowd ever to overwhelm Belmont – our 1992 Easter Egg Hunt.

Held in cooperation with the Stafford County Parks and Recreation Department, the April, 1992 event included all that could attract parents and their children: a petting zoo, hay wagon rides, an outdoor puppet show, house and studio tours, and of course an egg hunt for different age groups.

lots of peopleWe estimated a turn-out of a couple of hundred children and their families. But bright sunshine and 90 degree temperatures brought out the hordes. The final count was over 700 children and another 1500 adults on the property, and monumental traffic jams on Route 17 and Washington Street. Hundreds more were turned away, and we ran out of eggs (Beware the wrath of a mother whose child did not find an egg!). But we shared Belmont and the Melcherses’ Easter tradition with guests who still remember that day when they visit now with their own families (especially if they found an egg).

While our site still can’t handle the numbers like that Easter event 23 years ago, we have tried to continue the Melcherses’ traditions in other ways.

We are currently preparing to host our Fourth Annual Beeping Egg Hunt for blind and visually impaired children, which reflects not only the historic Belmont egg hunts (see related blog post), but Corinne Melchers’ lifelong support of community services. Throughout her years at Belmont, she led historic preservation efforts (Kenmore Plantation), held Red Cross fundraisers at Belmont, sold war bonds, and volunteered distributing vitamins in the schools for the Stafford County Health Department (some remember her as “the vitamin lady”).

It is fitting that today we help children and families experience Belmont in ways that we think Corinne and Gari would have approved.

Cottage in Snow

Gari Melchers Exhibition Opening in Fairfield, Conn.

We are very excited to be opening the exhibition, “Gari Melchers: An American Impressionist at Home and Abroad,” in just a few short weeks here at the Bellarmine Museum of Art (BMA) at Fairfield University. The show opens on Thursday, March 5th with a lecture by Belmont Curator Joanna Catron at 5:00 p.m. and a wine and cheese reception from 6:00-8:00 p.m. Watch Ms. Catron’s talk.

This exhibition represents several years of planning. The former director and chief curator of the University Museums at Fairfield University was Dr. Jill Deupi. She happens to have grown up in Fredericksburg, Va., and was very familiar with Melchers’ work and Belmont, from numerous visits there over the years. She and Joanna Catron collaborated on laying the groundwork for this loan, and for creating the checklist for this exhibition, and after Dr. Deupi’s departure I took over the joyful task of bringing this exhibition to life.

The BMA was founded in the Fall of 2010, and is committed to preserving, studying, and exhibiting those objects entrusted to its care, while never losing sight of its obligation to educate and inspire its many audiences, for the greater enrichment of all. The BMA has shared this mission with the over 18,000 visitors it has welcomed through its doors since its opening, breathing life into its commitment to excellence and education in the visual arts through the mindful stewardship of its permanent collection, the presentation of several dynamic temporary exhibitions each year and the implementation of vigorous – and invigorating – outreach and educational initiatives. Critical in this regard is the museum’s capacity to mount temporary exhibitions of the highest possible caliber, exposing its audiences to objects, and to cultures, to which they might not otherwise have access.

This show, the first of Melchers’ work in the northeast in 25 years, is a wonderful example of this type of exceptional exhibition.  The colorful exhibition brochure provides an exhibition checklist as well as an artist chronology.

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The artworks on view will survey more than a half-century of Melchers’ career with key examples of the genres he favored, including landscape, genre scenes and portraiture. The exhibition is comprised of 23 works in oil, pastel, watercolor, gouache and charcoal. If you find yourself in CT or NYC (we are just over 1 hour by train) we hope you will come and visit the BMA, and this exciting show of Melchers’ works in a new setting.

Crimson Rambler

Another Ramblin’ Rose Graces Belmont

Crimson Rambler

Crimson Rambler

For a renowned figure painter like Gari Melchers, it was out of the ordinary to devote an entire canvas to the view of an empty garden, but the vision of a flourishing rose outside his own backdoor proved irresistible. The painting, which he titled The Crimson Rambler, will make a special appearance here at Belmont beginning February 28 through June 7, 2015, thanks to a generous loan from private collectors.

Gari Melchers painted The Crimson Rambler at his residence in Holland sometime around 1915. A rose arbor and a neighboring tree are the principal features of a cultivated garden setting.  Less prominent, but strategically placed at compositional center, is a statue at the far end of the lawn. The arbor is slightly off center, enhancing the illusion that given a few more steps one should pass directly into the garden through the arbor path. The arbor and tree served as frameworks upon which Melchers built up chromatically intensifying layers of pure, vibrating color, resulting in the “sensation” of a garden rather than the literal rendering of one, a key impressionist objective.

The Crimson Rambler is the first and only instance in which Melchers painted a pure garden piece. It’s a wonder that he didn’t paint the floral environment more often.  For an artist bent on painting in the language of impressionism, with its emphasis on rich color and open air painting to render the transitory effects of sunlight, what better subject than the lush variety of form and color offered by a garden.

Tea in the Garden

Tea in the Garden

But Melchers’ first love was the figure, and happily, he gave us equally pleasing glimpses into gardens adorned with fashionable ladies, probably the most popular impressionist motif of all. In his Tea in the Garden (private collection), a genteel group of women gather out-of-doors to enjoy their refreshment under the shelter of trees.  This isn’t a portrait of a garden per se, but it echoes the prevailing vogue for pictures of fresh air, sunlight and the beauties of nature in harmony with the beauty of womanhood.

Impressionism’s success among American artists was due in part to the emerging popularity of flower gardening and the Colonial garden revival movement that permeated American culture. In the many gardening publications that appeared, it was asserted that gardening and painting were parallel arts, so it’s not surprising to read of celebrated painters who designed their own gardens, if you will, as living canvases. That Melchers himself didn’t garden was immaterial. Living in Holland, Melchers was surrounded by a heavily cultivated natural world.  His wife was mad for playing in the dirt, an avocation begun in the early years of their married life when she tended roses, strawberry clumps, and fruit trees in their backyard.  And some of Melchers’ artist friends cultivated enchanting gardens, like the American painter of Dutch tulip fields, George Hitchcock, at his historic home called Schuylenburg.

Hitchcock's Putto

Hitchcock’s Putto

It was in Hitchcock’s garden that a moss-covered statue of a nude boy or “putto” presided over an old pond, a setting that so charmed Melchers he sat down to paint it on at least two occasions. In Lily Pond (private collection) two women in old-fashioned dress stand in a sunlit glade of trees at the far side of the pond. The picture consists of broadly painted touches of muted, atmospheric color that give the ladies, and the reflection their figures cast in the nearby pond, a phantom-like appearance suggestive of the property’s storied past. Lily Pond had just the kind of nostalgic overtones to suit the current taste for old gardens.

In My Garden

In My Garden

In My Garden (Butler Institute, Youngstown, Ohio), another view of the pond looking towards the gable end of the house at Schuylenburg, pictures three maids pausing in their duties to converse on the lawn.  Images of domestics at work in affluent settings connoted the prosperous lifestyle so valued by Americans in the Gilded Age.  The textured surface of the painting and its prismatic pattern of dappled sunlight evoke a rich tapestry effect characteristic of the best impressionist canvases.

House Under the Trees

House Under the Trees

Pictures reflecting the ease and idle hours of the leisure class had a ready market. Building on his successes in this vein, Melchers stepped into the front garden of Schuylenburg to paint another maid and his wife at play with her terrier under a glittering canopy of filtered sunlight.  They are surrounded by what appears to be an extravagance of flowering bushes, but whether or not they are in bloom is impossible to discern for the only surviving image I have in our archives is a black and white photograph of the canvas, entitled House under the Trees.  If anyone knows the whereabouts of the original, go ahead, make my day!

Putto

Putto

Melchers turned to the setting of his own backyard for inspiration. There Gari and Corinne Melchers installed their own painted wooden putto in the center of the lawn, in alignment with the arbor over which Mrs. Melchers trained the multiflora rose Turner’s Crimson Rambler, featured in the painting of the same name. Mrs. Melchers was justifiably proud of her crimson rambler, which probably explains why it served to frame a photograph of her in the garden with her terrier and the putto. Gari Melchers saw the possibilities presented by the photograph that undeniably led him to paint The Crimson Rambler.

Woman Reading by a Window

Woman Reading by a Window

The dog, his mistress and the profusely covered rose arbor served as the shimmering backdrop in another felicitous icon of domestic tranquility, Woman Reading by a Window (private collection).  Incidentally, if you didn’t already know, the couple brought the putto with them to Belmont where it survives today, though a bit worse for wear.  In 2010 it was faithfully copied in bronze and restored to its original location on the lawn by the Garden Club of Virginia.

The Unpretentious Garden

The Unpretentious Garden

In The Unpretentious Garden (Telfair Museum of Art, Savannah, GA), the rear elevation of Melchers’ seventeenth-century Dutch cottage shares the stage with the figure of a maid watering the rose arbor and neighboring herbaceous border.  Mrs. Melchers is seated in a wicker chair in the foreground of the lawn, her fashionably shaded head bent over her sewing. She is an emblem of the era’s cult of female beauty, as decorous as the flowers in her garden. The rose arbor is centered in the composition, symbolizing as one art historian conjectured, nature and woman as beautiful, balanced and tamed.  Pictures like these were guaranteed commercial success, and the wide appeal of their well-developed Victorian message, not to mention Melchers’ preference for the human figure, might explain why he abandoned intimate views into gardens devoid of people and other distractions.

Once he returned to the United States, Melchers found much to appreciate in the gardens of Virginia, but from then on he only reproduced gardens in concert with the people who tended them or the buildings the gardens beautified. One example, owned by Belmont, The Grape Arbor, No. 1, will be displayed alongside The Crimson Rambler this spring.

The Grape Arbor, No. 1

The Grape Arbor, No. 1