No Smoking!

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I love this late 1920s candid shot of Gari Melchers posing with his masterpiece The Smithy. The identity of the exhibition and hosting institution is unclear, but it sure does look like something has caught the master’s undivided attention. Do you suppose it is a “No Smoking” sign? Please come by to see the impressive painting, now on loan from the Ross Family collection, through September 4, 2017.  And leave your smokes outside!

“Spotlight” on a Melchers Masterpiece

smithy-the-with-frameLong before the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C.  finally closed its doors in 2014 it was already divesting itself of paintings. One important example which had come to them through the renowned collector Duncan Phillips was The Smithy, painted around 1898 by Gari Melchers. It earned Melchers some of his greatest critical praise, admired most for its sense of actuality in remarks like “[The Smithy] is very strong, very human, and of lively intent. Directly painted, it has almost primitive qualities of truth, simplicity and deep earnestness,” and “Mr. Melchers is a favorite because of his healthy brushwork, robust vision and feeling for the human side of his themes,” and finally “This is one of his great  pictures.”  What artist wouldn’t envy tributes like that?

When The Smithy was acquired by a private collector in 2008 from Christie’s, I asked the auction house to pass on my “To whom” letter of inquiry, asking the new owner to consider contacting me in the hope that we wouldn’t lose track of the important canvas. Not only was I contacted, but I made friends with one of Melchers’ most enthusiastic fans ever! Immediately we began talking about a loan to Belmont. The Ross family agreed to lend the picture as our signature spotlight exhibition piece for summer 2017. What museum wouldn’t envy generous patronage like that?

The Smithy has arrived and has been installed in the company of preparatory and related works from the collection at Gari Melchers Home and Studio.  Come and see a classic Melchers appearing for the first time ever at the artist’s last studio retreat!

View the Gallery Guide

Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly

 

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Pipevine swallowtail on Monarda

The Pipevine Swallowtail, Battus philenor, is a beautiful butterfly that has an upper surface of iridescent blue or blue-green on its hind-wing.  The underside of the hind-wing has a row of 7 round orange spots in an iridescent blue field.

Aristolochia macrophylla – commonly known as Dutchman’s Pipe, is native to the eastern United States and is the primary food for the Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly.

The vine gets its name from the small pipe-like flowers that hide in the dense foliage.

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Pipe-like flowers

 

The beautiful heart shaped leaves grow on old wood, and when the vine is established it will cover a structure providing dense shade.

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Vine growing on Pavilion

It grows at Belmont on the arbor by the Pavilion where the “pipes” and the larva are easily viewed.

The adults feed on flowers like Beebalm, Monarda sp., Phlox, Phlox paniculata, and plants in the Verbenaceae family, such as Verbena, Lantana and Purpletop Vervain, all which are abundant in our gardens and native grass fields.

 

 

 

The egg masses have not been spotted on thee vines yet this year, but we are keeping a watch and will report any

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Caterpillar on Pipevine plant summer of 201

sightings to  Butterflies and Moths of North America (BAMONA). This organization has undertaken an ambitious effort to collect, store, and share butterfly species information and occurrence data. You can participate by taking and submitting photographs of butterflies, moths, and caterpillars. 

 

Follow this link to get more information about BAMONA and the work they do: https://www.butterfliesandmoths.org/

Below is a link to a short video that explains the importance of the Pipevine plant to the survival of this gorgeous butterfly.

https://www.facebook.com/HuffPostUK/videos/1170131156387948/

A Village Gateway Steeped in History

Belmont and fieldVisitors who venture up the sidewalk from Falmouth to Belmont find themselves entering our property at the corner of Ingleside Drive and Washington Street, next to the wildlife habitat field in front of the main house. Standing at this vantage point one can understand why someone long ago named the property Belmont. Deriving from the French “belle” – fair, lovely, with “mont” – a hill or mountain, the name indicates a place that is beautifully situated on a hill. The house is certainly a beautiful sight to see, perched on the little “mont” above Falmouth. The first known reference to the estate as “Belmont” was in 1823 when the property was listed in a Virginia Herald advertisement reading in part:

“The healthiness of this beautiful spot, commanding an extensive view of Falmouth, Fredericksburg and the surrounding country; its contiguity to the best society and good schools, makes it a most desirable residence.”

The description is just as valid today as when it was written almost two hundred years ago; we still enjoy a commanding view from our little hill and the property is a beautiful spot to take a healthful walk in our gardens and along our trails.

At the time of the Virginia Herald advertisement, however, the land in front of Belmont along Ingleside Drive was not part of the estate. The house and lot covered just one acre, as the original lot was a narrow strip of land on either side of the house that ran from Washington Street to about mid-way down the current lawn. Joseph B. Ficklen purchased Belmont around 1825 and in 1828 he started expanding his estate by purchasing the land where our visitor center, stable, and smoke house are located today. In 1831 he purchased the lot in front of Belmont, which at that time contained a building identified in an 1874 document as a “Store and Warehouse.”

“…that said Store and Warehouse were for very many years used by the testator (Joseph B. Ficklen) as his place of business, in which he carried on a very large Mercantile business, sometimes on his own account, and again with one or another of his Nephews as a partner…”

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The windowless wall allowed for long shelves to display wares.

The construction date of the “Store and Warehouse” is not known, but photographs dating to the 1960’s reveal the classic form of early stores: long walls with windows only at the back to give light to a heated office space accommodated shelves, and a deep cellar below was used for storage. When built, the road bed was much higher, and the store-front faced what is known today as Washington Street.

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Note the substantial chimney.

The building was already on the property when Ficklen purchased the land in 1831, and he used it as a base to run a “Mercantile” (a general store or some other kind of commercial trade) business with his nephew. He dissolved his partnership with his nephew in 1851, a few years after his 1847 marriage to Anna Eliza Fitzhugh.

That union spurred him to expand his house by adding two rooms downstairs and upstairs on the southern side of his house, and making extensive changes to the garden, also described in the same document quoted above:“…said Warehouse was turned into a carriage house, in which the Testator kept his carriage – and said Store house was used as a general lumber room and store-room for supplies for the use of the Bellmont family …, that said lot is situated immediately in front of the Bellmont house & …– that it is now and has been for many year under the same enclosure with said house and grounds…– that a very large part, if not the whole, of said lot was used by the Testator for family purposes, being cultivated as a garden and planted with fruit trees, …it was also connected with the house.”

1807 MAP detail

1807 Mutual Assurance Policy sketch showing location of smoke house and kitchen just south of the main building. Location of Long Walk and stairs are approximate.

The changes to the garden were partly dictated by the expansion of the house. The addition created a center hall plan with porches on either end. On the side towards Falmouth, the porch sits at the top of a terrace with a horse shoe shaped stair that goes down a short “fall”, or slope, to the “Long Walk,” the boxwood lined path that runs along the top of the hill. To create the slope, Ficklen moved the kitchen and smoke house from their original location just south of the house, as seen in this Mutual Assurance drawing dated 1807, to their location today on the west side of the house.

On one end the Long Walk terminates at top of the stairs that lead to Falmouth. They are likely the “connection with the house” mentioned above, and we estimate that the stairs date to circa 1850, the period when the house and gardens were expanded and improved. The stairs are bordered with lilacs and old cedars that could both date to the period before the Civil War. The common lilac (Syringa vulgaris) is a long-lived plant that is bothered by the lilac borer in our region. The borer will kill off the larger stems which cause suckering thus creating a cycle of new shoots that mature and bloom, and then face death by the borer. Union General John Gibbon became friends of the Ficklen family during the spring of 1862. He stayed at the house as did his wife and son when they came for a visit and stayed with the Ficklen family. Their time at Belmont was a much cherished memory for Gibbon. He wrote to his wife in July of the same year saying: “I[I] miss you so much when I could no longer walk up the lilac walk at Mr. Ficklen’s with the expectation of meeting you or seeing John’s bright eyes peering out thro’ the bushes, the lookout for his dad.”

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Gari changed the “store and warehouse” into a studio. Photograph taken circa 1920.

Gari and Corinne Melchers renovated and added onto the Store and Warehouse building on the corner of Ingleside Drive and Washington Street, turning it into a studio. They added a stone clad porch on the side towards Belmont as seen in this photograph taken just after completion of the work. At the foot of the stairs they added the gate, walls, and fence.

 

 

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Gari and Corinne Melchers with dog in front of Belmont’s lower gate, circa 1920.

The cast iron fence and gate were purchased from Smithsonia in downtown Fredericksburg. Read the story about the fence and gate here: https://garimelchers.wordpress.com/page/3/.

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Photograph by Frances Benjamin Johnston circa 1928.

The stairs are quite steep, and the Melchers built a rustic cedar hand-rail captured in a photograph taken by famous photographer Frances BenjaminJohnston in the 1920s.

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Detail of rustic hand-rail.

Our grounds crew, Dave Ludeker and Daniel Carter, installed a replica of the handrail this winter. We are pleased that Belmont guests can once again walk these old stairs, enjoying safe passage to our wildlife meadow in front of the house or a stroll to and from the historic village of Falmouth. Come walk the historic steps, smell the lilacs, enjoy our gardens and grounds and tour our historic house and studio.

3-D Printing Brings Art to Life

Ever since reading this History Made New article in UVAToday, I’ve been determined to offer full scale 3-D printed replicas at Gari Melchers Home and Studio. And, this week, it became a reality!

Many thanks to University of Virginia Library information visualization specialist Will Rourk who traveled to Fredericksburg with all his gear to scan our artifacts and to Dwight Dart of the UVA School of Engineering and Applied Science’s Rapid Prototyping Lab for printing the finished pieces.

Julius Melchers (1829-1908), Gari’s father, was a sculptor and his son’s first art teacher. I chose Julius’ carved wooden busts to be scanned because they are so intricate and three dimensional.

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The original carved busts are shown with their 3-D printed counterparts.

On the left is Margarethe, 1893, which is probably a portrait of Melchers’ granddaughter Marguerite, born in 1889 to Julius and Hedwig Melchers Stroh.  Bacchus, sculpted by Julius Melchers in 1892, depicts the Roman god of wine.

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Gari Melchers, by Paul Manship, plaster, 1932

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Portrait of Paul Manship by Gari Melchers, 1932

I selected the plaster bas-relief of Gari Melchers, executed in 1932 by sculptor Paul Manship, because I thought it would give the blind and visually impaired children who attend our annual Beeping Egg Hunt an excellent way to tactilely discover what Gari Melchers looked like.

Manship and Melchers were friends and members of the New Society of Artists in New York City. Their friendship resulted in Manship’s portrait of Gari and an oil sketch of the sculptor by Melchers in the same year. Historians believe the artists exchanged the two works as gifts.

Most of the artifacts that our guests see cannot be touched or handled. So, I plan to incorporate these plastic facsimiles into all areas of the museum’s educational programming to expand the sensory experiences our guests can enjoy and gain new ways to appreciate art.

I can’t wait!

Melchers’ Tearjerker

 

The 1890s saw the rise of the commercial music industry in the United States.  Sales of sheet music skyrocketed, enabling everyday music lovers to play and sing songs in their own parlors. The song that touched off the sheet music craze was Charles K. Harris’s “After the Ball,” the first “platinum” hit in American music history, ultimately selling over five million copies of sheet music. The song was a romantic favorite, a melodramatic evocation of lost love typical of the Gilded Age.  No doubt Gari Melchers learned a few bars of the tune himself while back home for an extended visit in 1883, for he appropriated the song’s title for beautiful little painting he produced that year.

After the Ball

While visiting his parents that year, Melchers was commissioned to paint the first portraits of his professional career. To mark her coming of age, Melchers set about painting the elegant likeness of Detroit beauty, Helen Lothrop Prall. At one point during the course of a painting session with Miss Prall, Melchers must have allowed her to break from her pose and rest in an out-of-the-way corner of the studio. No doubt the artist was so pleased with the effect of his model’s languor that he took up a pen to capture it, and then followed with oils. The result is After the Ball, with its sentimental and slightly melancholy tone suggested by the symbolism of the daisy on which Prall gloomily meditates and the fallen gloves which have escaped her notice. It’s highly plausible that Melchers painted the picture with the song in mind. Incidentally, today the portrait is a perennial favorite at the Detroit Institute of Art.

Here are the lyrics:

Verse 1

A little maiden climbed an old man’s knee,
Begged for a story – “Do, Uncle, please.
Why are you single; why live alone?
Have you no babies; have you no home?”
“I had a sweetheart years, years ago;
Where she is now pet, you will soon know.
List to the story, I’ll tell it all,
I believed her faithless after the ball.”

Refrain

After the ball is over,
After the break of morn –
After the dancers’ leaving;
After the stars are gone;
Many a heart is aching,
If you could read them all;
Many the hopes that have vanished
After the ball.

Verse 2

Bright lights were flashing in the grand ballroom,
Softly the music playing sweet tunes.
There came my sweetheart, my love, my own –
“I wish some water; leave me alone.”
When I returned dear there stood a man,
Kissing my sweetheart as lovers can.
Down fell the glass pet, broken, that’s all,
Just as my heart was after the ball.

Repeat refrain

Verse 3

Long years have passed child, I’ve never wed.
True to my lost love though she is dead.
She tried to tell me, tried to explain;
I would not listen, pleadings were vain.
One day a letter came from that man,
He was her brother – the letter ran.
That’s why I’m lonely, no home at all;
I broke her heart pet, after the ball.

 

 

 

 

Spring 2017 Events Schedule

A busy spring is in the works here at Belmont!

captureMarch 18- May 21
Belmont Portrayed: Through a Lens

A juried exhibition featuring photographs of the buildings, grounds and gardens of Belmont.  Awards determined by popular vote.  Opening reception for members, artists and guests on Friday, March 17, 6-8 pm.  Included with museum admission.

 

beeping-eggApril 9, 2-4 pm
Beeping Egg Hunt

Gari Melchers Home and Studio at Belmont will host its sixth annual Beeping Egg Hunt on Sunday, April 9. The egg hunt provides an opportunity for visually impaired and blind children, along with their families, to participate in an audible egg hunt.  Families are asked to RSVP to 540 654-1851 or mdolby@umw.edu by Friday, April 7.

April 23, 10 am-5 pm
Spring Open House

Enjoy the beauty of Belmont at the most delightful time of the year. Gather friends and family to take a tour of the historic house and the artist’s studio.  Wander the gardens and hike the woodland trails or find the perfect gift in the Museum Shop. Free.

May 7, 2 pm
Spring Garden Tour for Members

Cultural Resource Manager Beate Ankjaer-Jensen will conduct a private tour of the restored grounds and gardens for Friends of Belmont, including details about the buildings and the historic landscape discovered through her archival research. The outdoor walking tour will last about 1½ hours.  Free for members.  Space is limited, and reservations are required at 540 654-1839 or bjensen@umw.edu. To join the Friends, visit GariMelchers.org or call 540 654-1842.

art-after-hours-2May 11, 6-8 pm
Art after Hours

Music on the lawn, unique refreshments from local vendors and free gallery tours welcome visitors new and old.  Free. Beverage tickets and food purchases are extra. Reservations requested at 540 654-1848 or mpcsolya@umw.edu.

May 21, 2 pm
Spring Director’s Tour for Members

Friends of Belmont get a behind the scenes look at the historic house, studio and art collection with Director David Berreth.  Free for members.  Space is limited and reservations are required at 540 654-1840 or dberreth@umw.edu.  To join the Friends, visit GariMelchers.org or call 540 654-1842.

smithy-the-with-frameJune 10- Sept. 4
Spotlight Exhibition:  Gari Melchers’ The Smithy

Loan courtesy of the Ross Family. Included with museum admission.

June 11, 2 pm
Faces that Linger in the Mind

Curator Joanna Catron uses The Smithy, which makes a special appearance as a summer spotlight exhibition, as the jumping off point for this illustrated presentation about the memorable faces painted by Gari Melchers. Free.