Dinosaur-Print Guide is here!

Months of planning and work have finally paid off! Since the discovery of the prints in 2015 a lot of work had to be done before we could make our new dinosaur-footprint guide available to our guests. Dr. Weems and other paleontologists found time to make several visits to map and identify the various prints. I was then tasked with pulling together the information needed and to outline each print to make them a little easier to see.

University of Mary Washington Assistant Director of Design Services Maria Schultz did all of the photography and designed this beautiful pamphlet. I hope our visitors have fun hunting for dinosaurs in the gardens. Please stop by the Visitor Center to pick up a copy of the guide.

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Feelin At Home

Recently when my husband and I were visiting our son we spent a pleasurable afternoon in the Seattle Art Museum. They have a wonderful collection.  In anticipation of my upcoming trip to the Hudson River Valley, I paid particular attention to the pioneering examples of American landscape painting produced by the brotherhood of painters known collectively as the Hudson River School.  I wonder if it is too much to expect the same congenial and spirit-filled views of the region’s peace and plenty when visiting the real thing!

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I really felt at home in the museum when I encountered two monumental Dutch cupboards called kasten (kast is the singular, or kas, commonly used by the English), with wide overhanging cornices, deeply beveled paneling and enormous bun-shaped feet to protect the contents from threat of damp in low-lying  Holland (top).  Atop each kast was an impressive garniture set of Dutch Delft earthenware.  Gari Melchers brought back his own pair of seven foot high kasten (one example at bottom), and crates full of Delft, when he returned permanently to the United States in 1915.

Kast

Kasten were popularized in 17th century Netherlands when merchants, enriched by maritime trade with the East, needed tall and roomy cupboards to store valuable household items such as silver, linens, porcelain and Delft .  The massive kasten were usually finished in veneered rosewood and ebony, and were produced in three sections, which must have made moving them a far easier exercise!

The distinctive blue and white earthenware of Holland (the best came out of the city of Delft) was produced in imitation of more expensive Chinese porcelains.  The bodies, though made of clay, and decoration of the best of these wares were prized along with porcelain.

Melchers used the two kasten in his studio for the storage of art supplies, costumes, props and equipment, while Mrs. Melchers hoarded the best Delft and porcelain for display in the couple’s house.

Melchers’ Little Flying Dutchman

An old ship model now hangs aloft in one corner of Gari Melchers’ studio at Belmont. It is the very same model the painter suspended from the ceiling of his studio in Holland years earlier, as documented by a photograph of his studio interior from around 1890/95.

MSW1.25 with detail

The ship model reproduces a three-masted sailing vessel. It is not the typical shallow-drafted fishing botter or bom of the North Sea, with their funny wings (leeboards) that extend out over the water to steady the boat as the nets are worked in the wind. Models reproducing that Dutch type are also on display in the Belmont studio.

Why hang a ship model from the ceiling? Melchers loved all things Dutch and immersed himself in that culture by adopting many of the age-old traditions of his seafaring community. In the region where Melchers once lived and worked, ships models were commonly hung from the ceilings of churches.

Consider the architectural shape and principal features of any Christian church, most notably its vaulting and nave.  Churches have been metaphorically seen as upturned ship’s hulls (the Latin for ship is navis). The imagery of the ship too, has often been viewed as an allegory for the voyage of a Christian life, sometimes navigating through peace, sometimes through storm, to its eventual berth in the Kingdom of God. Several times in the Bible, from Noah’s ark to the miracle of Jesus calming the Sea of Galilee, we read of stories about ships and boats weathering storms with God’s help. So it is not surprising that ship models should appear in churches.

Votive ship models displayed in Western European churches, especially those located in port towns, were common as far back as the Middle Ages. The practice most likely originated out of Denmark, and because of North Holland’s strong trading ties to early Scandinavian sea culture, the tradition proliferated there, exactly where Melchers lived and drew his inspiration.

A church’s ship model might serve as a symbol of a town’s dependence on the sea for its livelihood, presented as a gift by a local shipper’s or fishermen’s guild. The models might also act as reminders of a life or lives lost or as a protection from the perils of the sea for local ships and their crew. Sometimes the ships were gifted in gratitude by sailors who had survived dangerous trips or war at sea.

Gari Melchers’ ship model appeared together with the related painting Old and Young as a Spotlight Exhibition loan in 2016, thanks to Mr. and Mrs. Robert G. Beck, who acquired both pieces in the late 1970s and who have generously presented the ship model as a permanent gift to Gari Melchers Home and Studio.

Fall 2017 Schedule of Events

Thursday, September 14, 6:00-8:00 pm
Concert on the Lawn

Art after Hours

Join us for an evening of live modern folk music by Cabin Creek in the beautiful autumn setting of our lawn and gardens. Enjoy beer and wine from Stafford County’s 6 Bears & a Goat Brewing Company and Potomac Point Winery. The Gourmeltz Food Truck will be selling their delicious sandwiches and the Frufetti Bus will offer Hawaiian ice and other frozen treats.  Visit the Studio and galleries of artist Gari Melchers.

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

Sunday, October 8, 2:00 pm
Film
Look and See, 80 minutes

A cinematically beautiful and powerful voice for environmental activism, Look and See is a new film by Laura Dunn and Jeff Sewell. It showcases the story of 81-year old writer, farmer and conservationist Wendell Berry, whose eloquent poems and essays regarding the decline of family farming and the displacement of small-town farming communities to modern mass agriculture helped earn him the 2016 Sidney Lanier Prize for Southern Literature.  Premiered at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.

Pavilion at GMHS. Free and open to the public. This community screening is made possible by Dickinson Equipment, Inc., Fredericksburg, Virginia

Sunday, October 15, 2:00 pm
Talk and Tour
Architectural History Tour

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.

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

Thursday, October 26,   8:45 am – 4:00 pm    
Bus Trip – National Gallery of Art
Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting: Inspiration and Rivalry

Examines the artistic exchanges between Johannes Vermeer and his contemporaries from 1650 to 1675, the height of their technical ability and pictorial mastery of domestic life. The exhibition brings together some 65 works by Vermeer and his fellow painters of the Dutch Golden Age, demonstrating how they inspired, rivaled, and surpassed each other in artistic achievement.

Open to Friends of Belmont and Staff $60, Non-members $70.  Lunch at the Cascade Café included.  Contact Meghan Pcsolyar  for more information or to reserve a spot.

Sunday, October 29, 10:00 am – 3:00 pm
Art Workshop
Portraits in Charcoal

Discover how a portrait is so much more than simply recording proportions; instead, it can be one of the most expressive images you can create. Identifying the simple patterns and forms that are the basis for a well-designed portrait, students will learn through demonstration to use form, value, and line to develop expression. Students should bring a large photo (at least 8″ x 10″) from which to work. Photos taken in natural light with clear contrast are recommended.  Instructor:  Marjorie Perrin.  Organized by the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and funded, in part, by the Paul Mellon Endowment and the Jean Stafford Camp Memorial Fund.

Age: High school students and older.  Meets in the Pavilion.  $15 per student.
Register online.

Sunday, November 5,   2:00 pm
Studio Talk
Painter’s Point of View with Henry Wingate

Acclaimed Virginia painter Henry Wingate showcases his work in the context of Gari Melchers’ art and Belmont’s spirit of place as important influences on his own personal artistic vision.  

Free with admission. Seating first come, first served.  Info: Joanna Catron

Sunday, November 12, 2:00 pm
Studio Talk
Painter’s Point of View with Marcia Chaves

Celebrated local painter Marcia Chaves showcases her work in the context of Gari Melchers’ art and Belmont’s spirit of place as it informs her own personal artistic vision.

Free with admission. Seating first come, first served. Info: Joanna Catron

Friday, November 24 through January 5, 2018
Holiday Decorations
Home for the Holidays

The House and Studio will be decorated for the season in the tasteful and natural style of its artist homeowners, Gari and Corinne Melchers. Included with museum admission.

Wednesday, December 6,   6:00 – 8:00 pm
Friends of Belmont Open House
Home for the Holidays

House, Studio and Pavilion are the setting for holiday decorations, music and refreshment.  Friends of Belmont. RSVP to Meghan Pcsolyar.

Paint Analysis Reveals Hidden Intentions

In 2013, Belmont hired Susan Buck, Ph.D. to conduct a comprehensive interior paint analysis of the house museum.  Buck is the same conservator who worked on the house’s exterior paint research which was featured in University of Mary Washington’s Today magazine in 2006.

The results, submitted in a 2-inch binder, are exhaustive in scope and cover the house’s entire history.

We are not the first historic site to use paint analysis to give old rooms new looks and more accurate interpretations.  Mount Vernon and Monticello come to mind.   Learn more about restoration projects across the Commonwealth of Virginia by perusing the digital presentation of “Vivid View:  The Art and Science of Paint Analysis,” an exhibition on display at Richmond’s Wilton House Museum from March 31, 2017 to October 31, 2017.

I’d like to share with our blog followers a brief snapshot of the downstairs Melchers-period 1916 paint scheme using modern-day Benjamin Moore paints identified by Dr. Buck.

We are currently trying to identify funding sources to cover the cost of repainting the interior in its original Melchers era paint colors. More than likely, this project will not happen all at once, but on a room-by-room basis.

I am struck by how Susan Buck begins her report:

Belmont is particularly interesting …because the Melchers carefully created interiors to display their artworks and furnishings, and some rooms, such as the dining room, became backdrops for dramatic art installations.” Later in her report she states, “…the Melchers chose to change the house to suit their tastes and to allow them to best display their art and furnishings.

The Melchers’ were a colorful and art-loving couple who wanted their new home to reflect their European aesthetic.

First Floor Hallway

Imagine how this space would have looked with the walls painted  this color!

cappuccino

1916 Wall Color, First Floor Hallway

First-Floor Hallway, 2017

Parlor

The parlor’s walls were first coated with two layers of unpainted wallpaper, which may have been applied by the Melchers to cover cracks and seal the plaster.  This was then covered with a textured light tan colored grasscloth. The grasscloth remained unpainted until after Corinne’s death. There are several layers of paint on top of the grasscloth.  It is still possible to see the textured wall surfaces in raking light.

sepia tan

1916 Grasscloth Color in Parlor

Parlor, 2017

Sun Parlor

The sun-filled parlor would look drastically different sporting this bold color choice.

cherry malt

1916 Sun Porch Wall Color

Sun Parlor, 2017

Dining Room

The colors aren’t too off base in the dining room, but this space is actually where things become interesting.

The dining room was most altered by the Melchers.  Paint archeology revealed that the cupboard to the left of the Frans Snyders painting was a freestanding piece of furniture before it became a fixture in 1916. The Melchers then had a copy of this cupboard made and installed it on the painting’s right.

The Melchers also added the two sconces on either side of the Frans Snyders painting, as well as the chair rail and paneling below, and the wood frame around the paining.

The Melchers consistently installed fiberboard as a quick way of covering old damaged plaster and as an inexpensive way to create new wall surfaces.

The dining room additions were all seemingly made to “frame” the Frans Snyders paining – thus making it the room’s undeniable focal point.

clearspring green

1916 Dining Room Color Scheme

smoke embers

1916 Dining Room Color Scheme

Dining Room, 2017

Library

Comprehensive paint analysis shows that the built-in bookshelves and cupboards on the east wall were installed by the Melchers shortly after they purchased the property in 1916.

The current warm brown color is a good match to the first brown paint on the cupboards, bookshelves, and wainscoting.

The walls below the chair rail were painted brown by the Melchers to simulate wainscoting, and the walls above may have been papered over by the Melchers to cover cracks, and then painted blue.

province blue

1916 Library Color Scheme

stardust

1916 Library Color Scheme

Library, 2017

 

 

A mown path through a meadow with native grasses and wildflowers

Meadows and Gardens A-buzz with Life!

When we made the decision to install two meadows on former pasture land in the year 2000, we were one of the first, if not the first, historic site in Virginia to create native grassland wildlife habitats. You can read more about the many benefits of having native grass fields and the process of creating them in this article I wrote for Magnolia , a publication of the Southern Garden History Society here: Magnolia_Summer_2010

Seventeen years later we are reaping the benefits of two mature fields that are home to a variety of wildlife.

I also try to use in the formal gardens a variety of plants that serve as food for both larva and adult stages of various insects. The pipevine, also known as the Dutchman’s pipe – Aristolochia macrophylla, was featured in a blog-post in June where I discussed how important it is to the survival of Pipevine Swallowtail – Battus philenor.

Pivevine swallowtail caterpillar on a Dutchman's pipes vine.

Photo: Beate Ankjaer-Jensen. Pipevine Swallowtail caterpillar.

I am happy to report that there have been several sightings in the garden this summer of eggs, caterpillars, and the adult butterfly of this species.

Humans enjoy the fields and gardens as well, and wildlife and flower photographers are especially thrilled to have an opportunity for such easy access to so many beautiful flowers and the insects they attract. One of those photographers is Edward Episcopo.

A mown path through a meadow with native grasses and wildflowers

Photo: Edward Episcopo. Paths through the meadows allow you to see plants and insects up close.

Ed is especially interested in macro-photography; this is photography that produces photographs of small items that make them look larger than life-size. He has been coming to our gardens for several years, and has shared some of his photographs with us. I hope you enjoy the following selections and that they inspire you to come visit the meadows and other areas of the grounds where blooms and wildlife abound.

I want to extend a special thank you to Dr. Joella Killian, Biology professor at University of Mary Washington for help with identifying the various insects seen in the pictures.

Close up picture showing a Thick-headed fly with hairs on body and legs visible.

Photo: Edward Episcopo. Thick-headed fly.

This Tachinid fly, Tachinidae, seen here on a clustered mountain mint, – Pycnanthemum muticum, is a fly that lays parasitic eggs on caterpillars. The details seen in the picture is quite astonishing. Who knew that flies were covered in hairy bristles?

Very close-up picture of a wasp. Hair on legs and body are evident.

Photo: Edward Episcopo. Thick-headed fly.

This adult Thick-headed fly, of Conopidae family, is taking nectar from flowers, but the larva are parasites of wasps, bees, ants, crickets, and cockroaches.

Irridecent green and red Dogbane beetle.

Photo: Edward Episcopo. Dogbane beetle.

This beautiful iridescent bug, the Dogbane beetle, Chrysochus auratus, is found across the U.S. continent where it feeds on various plants, including the common milkweed, Asclepias syriaca, which is abundant in our fields.

Adult Midas fly on white flower.

Photo: Edward Episcopo. Mydas fly.

Mydas fly, Mydidae, our largest fly, is enjoying the nectar on the rattlesnake master flower, Eryngium yuccifolium.

Orange, white and black Webworm moth on a milkweed flower

Photo: Edward Episcopo.

The Ailanthus Webworm moth, Atteva punctella – is a pretty little moth enjoying the nectar from a common milkweed, Asclepias syriaca flower. The larval host plant is the paradise tree, Simarouba glauca, native to South Florida and the American tropics.

Another tree, called tree-of-heaven, Ailanthus altissima, originally from China, has been widely introduced and naturalized, and Atteva punctella, now also identified as Atteva aurea, has been able to adapt to this new host plant, giving rise to its common name, the “ailanthus webworm”.

Close up picture of a wet bumblebee

Photo: Edward Episcopo. A wet bumble bee resting on a flower.

This bumble bee, Bombus, got caught in the sprinklers, and water highlights the fuzzy “fur” on the body.

Close up of bumlebee covered in pollen grains.

Photo: Edward Episcopo. Bee covered in pollen grains.

I cropped this image so we can see the individual pollen grains and the pollen sacs on the legs of a bee on the cup-plant, Silphium perfoliatum.

Green June beetle.

Photo: Edward Epicsope. Green June beetle.

The Green June beetle, Cotinis nitida, is seen here on a common milkweed plant, Asclepias syriaca, but their favorite food is fruits of many kinds, including grapes, peaches, raspberry, blackberry, apple, and pear. They also frequently feed on the sap of oak, maple, and other trees, and on the growing ears of corn. The larvae feed on decaying organic matter in the soil or in well-rotted manure or compost piles.

Japanese beetles mating.

Photo: Edward Episcope. Japanese beetles.

Most gardeners will recognize these as Japanese beetles, Popillia japonica. Seen through Edward Episcope’s lens we can for a minute forget their destructiveness and enjoy the beauty of the photograph itself. I shudder to think of the damage the offspring of this mating pair will do to the roses next year.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail.

Photo: Edward Episcope. Eastern Tiger Swallowtail.

The Japanese beetle might be reviled by most, but we can all agree that butterflies are welcome in the garden. This Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Papilo glaucus, enjoying a meal of nectar on Liatris, is Virginia’s official state butterfly.

American Lady butterfly.

Photo: Edward Episcope. American Lady butterfly.

Mr. Episcope captured the face of the American Lady butterfly, Vanessa virginiensis, perfectly in this picture. The American Lady is found over the southern half and eastern half of the US.

Close-up of blue clematis Jackmanii flower with a white center and prominent stamens surrounding the stigma.

Photo: Edward Episcopo. Clematis Jackmanii flower.

Insects love flowers for their pollen and nectar. Edward Episcope uses his camera to capture details that can escape the naked eye.  The petals on this clematis flower are quite showy; their main job is to attract insects to transfer pollen from one flower to another. The lighter color towards the center acts like a magnet to attract the insects to the stamens and stigma in the center, ensuring pollination and seed production.

Orange spotted blackberry-lily.

Photo: Edward Episcopo. Orange Blackberry lily.

Iris domestica, commonly known as Leopard lily, or Blackberry lily, is an ornamental plant in the Iridaceae family. The flowers last just one day, then forming large green seed-pods. When mature the seed-pods open to show a cluster of black shiny “berries.” If you look closely, you can see small bees enjoying nectar and pollen.

Pink Hibiscus flower with red center and long withe and pink stigma.

Photo:  Edward Episcopo. Hibiscus flower.

Hibiscus, Hibiscus mutabilis , flowers are short-lived as well, generally lasting for a day or two in most varieties. The bloom opens in early morning and wilts by late afternoon. The petals drop off, leaving the seed capsule behind. This hardy hibiscus starts blooming in mid-summer and the colorful show goes on until frost.

Close up of a red daylily

Photo: Edward Episcopo. Daylily.

Of all the short-lived flowers, the Day Lily, Hemerocallis, is perhaps the best known, and best loved of them all. There are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of varieties, each flower lasting just one day. This bloom was perfectly captured, frozen in time for us to enjoy whenever we wish.

I hope these pictures have inspired you to come take a closer look in our gardens and meadows. The grounds at Gari Melchers Home and Studio are open during regular museum hours for your enjoyment. Please check in at the Visitor Center when you arrive.

A Blue Chip Painting for Gari Melchers

Reprinted from Sketches, a Newsletter for the Friends of Belmont, Spring/Summer 2005

 

On December 1, 2004, some staggering news from New York may have had Gari Melchers doing flip-flops in his grave; the staff at Belmont certainly met the report with incredulous disbelief. Melchers’ Portrait of Mrs. H had just sold at Sotheby’s for $932,000, nearly 10 times the previous auction record for a work by the painter and well beyond the presale estimate of $80,000 to 120,000 set by Sotheby’s. Even the venerable old auction house, it would appear, was caught off guard.

embroideress, The (2)

The subject of the portrait is Mrs. George Hitchcock, wife of American painter George Hitchcock, a long-time associate of Melchers. Painted in Holland in 1889, the soulful portrait of Mrs. H pictures Mrs. Hitchcock in strict profile, modeling a maternity jacket. In her left hand she holds an embroidery frame, from which the eye follows a fine strand of gold silk to the beautifully rendered fingers of her right hand. An extremely handsome woman in her own right, Melchers’ masterful touch endows Hitchcock’s image with the dramatic power of a Rembrandt. No wonder an early critic described the painting as “arresting.” The canvas earned Melchers some of the best criticism he ever received for portrait work and it must have been a personal favorite, judging by the frequency with which he exhibited it.

But what, exactly, accounts for its recent astronomical sale price? The cachet of ownership. For the past 33 years the portrait was owned by the late Rita and Daniel Fraad, pioneering collectors of American painting of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The Fraad’s was one of the most coveted collections of its kind, with a long list of first-rate paintings collectors long hoped would return to the market.

Last summer, when the Fraad heirs decided to sell the entire collection, 272 lots, a frenzied bidding war over the consignment was waged between auction houses and dealers. Even before Sotheby’s won the consignment, they managed to arrange a separate, private sale of two of the collection’s most prized works, a George Bellows, Shore House and a John Singer Sargent, Venetian Street, for a whopping $35, 000,000. The figure rocked the American art market and stepped up the fevered interest surrounding the upcoming December sale.

The sale of the remaining Fraad collection totaled $65,083,400, the highest ever total for a single-owner sale in this category. As it turns out, the Portrait of Mrs. H went for a rather modest price, if nearly a million dollars can be called that, compared to works that sold by Winslow Homer, members of the Ashcan School and a few others by Sargent. It didn’t hurt either that a photograph of the Melchers portrait as it appeared hanging in the living room of the Fraad’s was prominently reproduced in the catalog of the Sotheby’s sale. Also included was an anecdote that underscores Daniel Fraad’s particular fondness for the Melchers: “Dan was a take no prisoners bidder (once raising his paddle at Sotheby’s and never lowering it until he had successfully purchased the Melchers Portrait of Mrs. H)” in 1972.

The Fraads were extremely selective about which pictures they would allow to be loaned. They agreed to loan the Melchers for the opening of the American wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1980, but would not agree to loan it to the Melchers retrospective organized by the Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg, Florida in 1990. At the Met a critic wrote, “The beauty of the sitter and the accomplished rendering of the subject caused this painting to stand out even in the company of works by well-known artists that were hung on the same wall.”

Even though the Portrait of Mrs. H is the only Melchers to carry the Fraad name, the auction record it achieved raises new interest in the artist, not to mention raising values. In the wake of this blockbuster sale we are likely to see more market activity in Melchers painting, at least for a while. A picture of New York Harbor painted by Melchers around 1906 has just been made available, for instance, by a Palm Beach dealer.

My office is beginning to receive calls from collectors asking whether they need to reappraise the value of their Melchers paintings for insurance purposes. An insurance value is the price set on an object based on the high-end of its retail value, that is, what it might take to replace the object with something better. A good rule of thumb is to double the value at which you bought the item. While many examples by Melchers don’t’ possess the prestige that the Fraad name can give, it probably wouldn’t hurt to ask your insurance company to reevaluate, even if all it accomplishes is to make you feel better.

There’s nothing like the power of money. While the 1990 Melchers retrospective exhibition renewed interest in Gari Melchers, enthusiasm eventually faded. Sotheby’s million dollar price tag just might have accorded Melchers the most significant and enduring boost yet towards restoring his repetition to what it once was.

Addendum: Today the accepted title for the portrait is The Embroideress, and it is owned by the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas.