Beyond Stairs and Stanchions

Our 1790s historic house museum is fairly typical in not having an elevator to access its upper levels.  For years, guests who opted out of climbing sixteen stairs to reach the second floor were given a printed tour with pictures and descriptions to peruse.  Not a bad solution, but not great either.

Stairs stanchions








While researching possible alternatives, I looked for an easy, elegant, and enhanced touring alternative/interpretive tool.  I also hoped to provide a “beyond the stanchions” look at our collection, spaces, and views.  An iPad video kiosk seemed to be the answer.  The museum community regularly uses iPads to complement programming and engage people through the use of apps, music, digital labels, videos and zoom-able images, surveys, touch-screen kiosks, and even robotic tours.  Why not use a tablet to show a second floor video?

video kiosk

Video Kiosk

I found a stand that works well in our tight space. It has a weighted bottom, a telescoping, adjustable pole and a bendable neck.  The iPad can be locked in place so theft is not a worry.

The process of making the video was challenging and fun.  Basically, I strove to highlight things our guests love best or wish they had access to.  I secured project funding through Stafford County Tourism, wrote a script, worked with a local production crew on lighting and filming, and selected background music (not as easy as it sounds!).  After editing and more editing, the video was ready to share with the public. Apple’s Education Customer Service representatives provided friendly step-by-step instructions on how to upload the video file to the iPad so WiFi wouldn’t be an required. Training staff was a breeze due to the iPad’s user-friendly interface design.

Initial feedback from guests has been overwhelmingly positive. One weary visitor who chose to watch the video instead of climbing the stairs ended up re-joining her group upstairs minutes later because it looked so interesting! An unintended consequence, but hopefully now you can more fully experience Belmont, even from the first floor.


Gari Melchers: Left or Right Handed?

Very often visitors to Belmont will see the many Gari Melchers self-portraits and paintings of him by other artists, as well as historical photographs, and ask us whether he painted with his left or right hand.

For many artists of earlier generations, before the advent of photography or whose self-portraits were limited to head and shoulders views, their  handedness  has been determined (as much as possible) through analysis of handwriting or the direction of brush strokes, or even by the shape and location of the thumb holes or paint remnants on surviving palettes.

Gari Melchers painting in his New York Studio
For Gari Melchers, who came of age during the expansion of popular photography in the late 19th century, the question is easy to answer.  Looking at a photo of Gari in his New York studio he is holding his brush in his right hand.



Portrait of an Artist in Profile, by Fritz Strobentz The Model, by Corinne Melchers

The same is true of two paintings of Gari by other artists.  Fritz Strobentz  painted a young Gari in a Dutch church and his wife Corinne painted him working at Belmont.



Self-Portrait with Hugo ReisingerThe one image that seems to confuse visitors is the painting currently on loan to Belmont from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, In the Studio, Hugo Reisinger and Gari Melchers.  In this painting, Gari seems to be painting with his left hand.  However, we must realize that he painted himself while looking in a mirror! Thus the orientation is reversed, as it is in all self-portraits painted from life (as opposed to using a photograph, which would show the correct orientation).

Gari Melchers was right handed.


Virginia Living interior

Art, Great & Small

In the August 2015 issue of Virginia Living Magazine, our site was touted as one of Virginia’s leading niche museums whose “dedication to their mission makes them well worth the visit.”  We share this honor with the William King Museum of Art in Abington, The Marine Raider Museum in Quantico, the Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection in Charlottesville, and the Essex County Museum & Historical Society in Tappahannock.

Pick up your copy today!

Virginia Living interior

Virginia Living cover

Fall 2015 Schedule of Events Exhibition: Julius Melchers’ Captain Jack
September 12, 2015-January 3, 2016

For the first time at Belmont, one of the celebrated cigar store Indian figures carved by Gari Melchers’ father and mentor will be on view in the Studio, included with museum admission. Press Release

Director’s Tour for Members
Sunday, September 20, 2 p.m.
Behind the scenes tour led by Director David Berreth. Open to Friends of Belmont and guests. Space limited. Reservations 540/654-1840, free for Friends. To join: 540/654-1842

Art, Corks, Brews and Blues/UMW Alumni Night
Thursday, September 24, 5:30-7:30 p.m.
A casual evening for University of Mary Washington graduates and friends to visit Belmont and enjoy the offerings of Stafford County’s Adventure Brewing Company and Potomac Point Winery. Studio galleries will be open. Live music by The Acoustic Onion. Reservations 540/654-1830, Free Admission; Cash Bar

No Space HiddenAfrican American Gardens and Memories
Sunday, October 11, 2 p.m.
When the novelist Alice Walker wrote her essay “In Search of our Mothers’ Gardens” she was interested in both actual gardens and the ways that gardens symbolize the lives of the African American women from the past. Grey Gundaker, Professor of American Studies and Anthropology at the College of William and Mary, will examine the legacy Ms. Fannie Roots left through her garden in an illustrated talk that will discuss African American gardening traditions, the philosophical principles that underpin them, and the contributions of African American gardeners to the landscapes of the southeastern US.
The Roots house will be open for tours from 12-1:45.    Free

Julius Melchers: Detroit’s Master Sculptor
Sunday, October 25, 2 p.m.
Ralph Sessions, Director of Special Projects at New York’s DC Moore Gallery, and former Chief Curator of the Museum of American Folk Art, will highlight the contributions to Detroit by Gari’s father Julius Melchers (1829-1908), and place his celebrated cigar store Indians in the larger context of 19th century American figure carving.

Julius Theodore Melchers, father of Gari, was an accomplished artist in his own right. Trained in Germany and France, he operated a workshop in Detroit for over forty years, creating a wide range of architectural sculpture, interior carvings for churches and other buildings, figureheads and maritime work, and shop and cigar store figures. This talk will highlight Melchers’ many contributions to Detroit, and place his celebrated cigar store Indians in the larger context of nineteenth century American figurecarving in wood.  Free

Cool FlowersGrowing Great Spring Flowers
Sunday, November 1, 2 p.m. 
Lisa Zeigler of The Gardener’s Workshop presents a workshop inspired by her new book, Cool Flowers. Lisa introduces the cool-season concept, when and what to plant, where to locate for the earliest blooming, setting it up for low maintenance and how to keep the blooms coming into summer. Free. Includes a pop-up shop with gardening and flower arranging tools, supplies and flower seeds.

40th Anniversary Celebration
Sunday, November 15, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
Join us in marking the opening of the museum 40 years ago with 1975 admission rates and refreshments, 75 cents for adults and 50 cents for children under 18.

ChristmasHome for the Holidays 2015
November 27, 2015- January 3, 2016
Enjoy seasonal house decorations inspired by the Melchers’ stylish hospitality, included with museum admission. Although artist Gari Melchers divided his time between his commercial headquarters in New York City and his Virginia retreat at Belmont, neighbors could always count on finding him at home over the holidays, where he was sure to have dragged along friends and family from the city for an old fashioned Christmas feast, with fresh turkey, raised at Belmont and Maryland crab soup, specified by his Baltimore – born wife.

Friends of Belmont Holiday Reception
Wednesday, December 9, 6-8 p.m.
Enjoy holiday decorations, music, tours, refreshments and good cheer.   Friends of Belmont free/Non-members $10;    Reservations 540/654-1848

Photo Booth

Johnna & Scott Tie the Knot

Saturday, June 13th was unusually hot for an early summer wedding but that didn’t keep the Lees from having a gorgeous outside ceremony. Their ceremony began at 5:30 p.m. and was short and sweet! When the newlyweds were announced, they joyfully walked down the aisle to I Feel Good by James Brown, which definitely gave guests the hint to put on their dancing shoes for the reception inside the pavilion.

The couple had the galleries open during the cocktail hour. The guests casually strolled through the studio from 5:45-6:45 as the wedding party took photos. At 6:45 the bride and groom were announced and the celebrating began.

floral decorationsJan Williams provided the floral arrangements which were absolutely stunning. The centerpieces weren’t identical which gave the room a nice variety and allowed the sparkly table numbers to really pop. R&R from Springfield, catered the reception and set up a lovely buffet which included Petite Tenderloin Medallions, Chicken Piccata, Roasted Vegetable Tortellini, Garlic Smashed Potatoes, and Green Beans.

I always like to see how the bride and groom make the wedding unique to them and Johnna and Scott had some really cute ideas! As the guests walked into the lobby they were greeted by the gift table which had their new mailbox, painted on it “The Lees, EST: June 13, 2015” and people placed their cards inside of it. The couple decided to have a canvas for guests to sign instead of a mailboxguestbook. Painted on the canvas was a brown haired man and a blonde haired lady who just so happened to look a lot like Johnna and Scott (oh and their dog too) holding a bunch of pink and blue balloons for their guests to sign inside of. I thought this was a great idea because Johnna and Scott can hang this in their home and always be reminded of who was there to help them celebrate on their special day! Their creativity didn’t stop there though; the party favors were decks of cards with their new monogram printed on the front. What a fun gift for all ages!

My favorite thing about the wedding was the photo booth. We don’t see this a whole lot here at Gari Melchers Home & Studio but it’s becoming a popular feature to have at weddings and parties and this proved to be true at Johnna and Scott’s, it was a huge hit! Photobam, based in Woodbridge, provided the photo booth and hilarious props such as hats, sunglasses, boas, signs, and even a Duck Dynasty beard! I of course had to jump in and give it a try, and I give it two thumbs up! Now I mustache you a question… will you be booking Photobam for your next event at Belmont?
Photo Booth
They even provided a memory album with a copy of each guest’s photo booth pictures along with a written message. What an awesome thing to have and be able to look at years down the road.

Thank you Johnna and Scott for having your special day here at Belmont and we wish you the best!

To book your wedding or next event call (540) 654-1848 or visit our website for more details.

Couple in a Dutch Kitchen

Another Conundrum of Connoisseurship!

Recently a gentleman from the Netherlands asked me to look at an untitled watercolor he purchased from a gallery in Maine.  Clearly the subject of the painting is Dutch.  In a humble kitchen interior a costumed woman attends the table of a man who stretches his stocking feet before an open fire.  An accomplished and insightful bit of old-world charm, to be sure, but the gallery couldn’t make out the signature of the creator, and without a reliable attribution, a dealer can’t always realize the best price, so the picture was had for a song. The sharp-eyed purchaser thought the signature looked a lot like “Melchers,” which is what led him to me.

At first glance the resemblance of the image to Gari Melchers’ early body of work in Holland, even to George Hitchcock, Melchers’ American colleague in Holland, was striking, but the signature, “J. G. Melches” not only misspelled the artist’s name, it was in no way consistent with the manner in which Melchers signed his pieces.

Did someone else forge the signature, seeing the strong affinity with Melchers, but knowing that a signed example pays better than an unsigned? I think this is the most likely explanation, but unfortunately, whether the watercolor is by Melchers or not, adding the unschooled signature had the opposite result in that it only casts a spurious shadow over any attribution.

Moreover, it is doubly difficult to assign an attribution to the 14 x 24 inch watercolor because a whole group of international painters was working in this same style in Holland in the early 1880s.  For instance, the watercolor might be taken for the work of any number of native Hague School painters, with its primitive Dutch interior and blue/grey palette.  Then again it could be the work of other Americans working in Holland, like Walter MacEwen, George Boughton, or Edwin Austen Abbey.

On the other hand, there are a few things that have led me to narrow down my attribution to either Melchers or Hitchcock. One very obvious factor is the interior setting.  I recognize it as the Egmond, Holland, studio shared by Gari Melchers and George Hitchcock- with its beamed ceiling, fireplace, the distinctive profile of the mantle and the configuration of the room- the fact that the mantle is backlit by a window just out of view to the far right of the composition.

Last Supper Lamplight

Last Supper Lamplight

This room is the very same setting for Gari Melchers’ Last Supper series, Christ and His Disciples at Emmaus and his Old and Young (with a few minor differences to allow for artistic license). And because Melchers shared this studio with Hitchcock, it’s not surprising to see that Hitchcock sketched details of the same setting for an article he authored and illustrated for Scribner’s in 1898, entitled “The Picturesque Quality of Holland: Interiors and Bric-a-brac.”   The caption Hitchcock provided for that sketch is “Fireplace in a Dutch Studio.”   I’m betting that studio was the one he shared with Melchers and which serves as the backdrop for the watercolor in question.

Hitchcock Scribners 89 article fireplace in a Dutch studio

Early in their careers, Melchers and Hitchcock were attracted to many of the same subjects, one of which was the homey peasant interiors traditionally favored by the Old Dutch Masters. The topic was a lucrative one in the burgeoning industrial age, when nostalgia for a pre-modern culture was the rage among art collectors.  By a comparison of their images, it becomes clear that Melchers and Hitchcock were not only seeking out similar themes, they were even sitting down together to record the same people and villages surrounding their studio, with the unhappy result being that if they didn’t trouble themselves to sign every picture, they were sometimes too similar in style and subject to tell each artist apart. This is what we have here. The watercolor could be from George’s hand or Gari’s.

Here’s something else that makes it difficult to assign the piece to Melchers; two pieces of furniture in the mystery watercolor are similar to pieces reproduced by Hitchcock- a very similar chair appears in a sketch he produced of his studio for the magazine, Art Amateur in 1890, and the trestle table is similar, if not identical, to one he depicted in another sketch for the Scribners article.

Kitchen Madonna

Kitchen Madonna

Polishing a Tray

Polishing a Tray

Further complicating the attribution is the strong kinship the watercolor has with George Hitchcock’s Kitchen Madonna, here at Belmont, but it also resembles in style and subject Melchers’ Polishing a Tray, Peasant Girl and Grandfather and Baby. I don’t know if I can narrow it down to one artist over the other until I find more concrete evidence.

Meanwhile, the owner has generously agreed to lend Belmont the painting for exhibition in order for our audiences to admire it, examine it and state their own case for or against Gari Melchers.


East Porch

Restored Period Planters Return to Belmont Garden

Dillon in driveThe restoration of the gardens at Belmont is an ongoing adventure and the latest undertaking focused on restoration of five planters that belonged to Gari and Corinne Melchers. Dave Ludeker, Belmont’s Maintenance Manager, restored and painted the wooden plant boxes to match the historic paint scheme. The planters were originally custom built for Mrs. Melchers garden, and she used them for her much beloved geraniums, as seen in this 1920’s picture.

Porches were important living spaces before air-conditioning was installed in homes, and they served as outdoor “rooms” where one could catch a breeze to escape the stifling Virginia heat. These outdoor places were furnished with comfortable chairs, benches or swings and ornamented with flowers, blurring the line between indoor and outdoor living spaces. It was common to take indoor plants outside for the summer which further enhanced the feeling of being in a living room.

Several photographs show the planters on the main porch, and these have been planted with geraniums once again; the others are filled with annuals, herbs and interesting specimens such as the Crested Euphorbia. Be sure to come sit and enjoy the breeze and the flowers next time you visit Belmont.