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.

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

Paul Neyron

Winter Gardening

Winter is a good time to settle down with seed and plant catalogs and a nice cup of hot tea. The weather is freezing and gardeners are hiding inside, out of the wind and cold. We can still garden however, at least in our heads.

Mailboxes, both digital and physical, are filled with seed and plant catalogs that allow us to dream and plan for spring. I prefer the paper version for browsing since I can dog ear or use a post-it to mark my selections, but I like to order on-line as it will let you know instantly if the seeds you want are available. Many catalogs offer seedlings as well, this is a great option if you only want a few plants or if you can not be bothered with growing your own plants from seeds.

I try to plant what I know Corinne Melchers used in the garden, or at least the variety of plants that were available to her during the period she gardened at Belmont, 1916-1955. This means I purchase a lot of heirloom plants, and I have found that this has many benefits. Some, though not all, heirloom seeds that are available for sale are Open Pollinated (OP) seeds and these will grow true from the seeds they produce, meaning you can save their seeds year to year and get the same plant that you initially purchased.

Paul Neyron

The fragrant Paul Neyron rose

Another benefit of heirloom plants is that they usually are much more fragrant than their modern hybrids, and this is the benefit I enjoy the most, just one deep whiff of an old rose is enough to make you a convert. Many of the old varieties are quite disease resistant and tough survivors, this is especially true of roses and peonies. Some of these plants have been around for hundreds of years and growing them is a wonderful way to connect with the past.

Here are some of my favorite catalogs, have fun!

Select Seeds
Seed Savers Exchange
The Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants at Monticello
John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds
Old House Gardens
The Antique Rose Emporium

Crimson Rambler

Announcing Winter/Spring Events

Wedding SamplerA Wedding Sampler
Sunday, January 18, 1-4 pm. $10 includes Studio admission

Meet the area’s most respected and popular caterers, photographers, and wedding specialists for a fun and informative afternoon. Pre-registration suggested: 540/654-1848 or blabar@umw.edu.

Sweetheart Wine Pairing Dinner
Saturday, February 14, 5:30 pm. Members $75/non-members $95

Celebrate this special day with a four-course dinner catered by Dori Farrell, featuring wines chosen for each course by Ingleside Winery. Reservations required by February 7: 540/654-1848 or blabar@umw.edu.

Rappahannock River‘Rappahannock’ Film Screening
Sunday, February 15, 2 pm. Free

Belmont is partnering with Friends of the Rappahannock (FOR) for a showing of FOR’s new film, ‘Rappahannock.’ This historic and cultural film about the Rappahannock River is produced by Oscar-nominated Bailey Silleck. John Odenkirk of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries will give a short presentation about the river’s health in our area and the impact of the Embrey Dam removal; a Q&A will follow. This is a family-friendly, free event.

Crimson RamblerSpotlight Exhibition: Melchers’ The Crimson Rambler
February 28-June 7. Included with museum admission

Gari Melchers built a reputation painting the human figure, but in the second half of his career he sometimes ventured into landscape painting. The Crimson Rambler, on loan from a private collection, exemplifies how the garden as subject matter was ideally suited to Melchers’ adoption of impressionistic painting.

Director’s Tour for Members
Sunday, March 1, 2 pm. Free

Behind-the-scenes tour led by Director David Berreth. Open to Friends of Belmont and guests. Space limited. Reservations required: 540/654-1840 or dberreth@umw.edu.

Use 1Beeping Egg Hunt
Sunday, March 29, 2-4 pm. Free

Belmont’s fourth annual Beeping Easter Egg Hunt for visually impaired or blind children and their families. For information contact Education and Communications Manager Michelle Crow-Dolby at 540/654-1851.

Spring Open House
Sunday, April 12, 10 am-5 pm. Free

Enjoy the restored gardens in bloom, the art of Gari Melchers and the history of Belmont. The Spring Open House is a great opportunity to share Belmont with family and friends.

Belmont ExteriorThe Colonial Revival Movement
Sunday, April 26, 2 pm. Free

Belmont Site Preservation Manager Beate Jensen traces the Colonial Revival from its emergence in the 1870s. The movement profoundly influenced American architecture and decorative arts as well as landscape and garden design. The illustrated presentation focuses on the influence the Colonial Revival had on Gari and Corinne Melchers and how it is expressed in Belmont’s house and gardens.

The Painted Garden: A Favorite Motif in American Impressionism
Sunday, May 3, 2 pm. Free

An illustrated presentation by Belmont Curator Joanna Catron shows how early 20th century American impressionist painters demonstrated a preference for gardens as subjects, as well as an appreciation for the art of gardening itself. The talk will survey the many talented artists, including Gari Melchers, who left us an enduring legacy of American Garden craft.

Studio Decorated for Holidays

25 Years of Holidays

Studio Decorated for HolidaysThe upcoming December 10 Holiday Open House marks the 25th such event that I have overseen as Director of Gari Melchers Home and Studio.  The event has evolved from a free community-wide evening packing as many as 500 visitors into a fast-paced 2 hours, to a more intimate invitational event thanking our loyal Friends of Belmont for their annual support. This year’s Holiday event is again open to the public for a nominal charge to defer expenses (Friends of Belmont are still free).

When I arrived in Fredericksburg in November of 1990, the first event I was drawn into was the Holiday Open House, which had been organized by Curator Joanna Catron since the early 1980s.  Joanna was assisted by only 5 docents at the time, who all worked several days per week giving tours (today we spread the hours among over 20 docents who average a day a week or a weekend a month).

The exterior decorations were, like today, rotated among the seven clubs of the Fredericksburg Area Council of Garden Clubs, and the interior house decorations were overseen by Joanna and often created by the docents themselves.  Fresh natural trees and greens were still used inside those days, before the concern for pest infestation and damage to the collections was as pronounced.

In 1990, we had no visitor center or museum shop, and the parking lot was a third the size of today.  Depending on the severity of the weather in mid-December, our then caretaker Bill Chandler and his wife Maxine would station themselves with flashlights to direct traffic, and if wet or snowy, Bill often had to have his old Farmall tractor out and poised to pull stuck cars out of the quickly muddy grass field that was used for overflow parking (tow trucks had to be called on more than one occasion).  We sometimes had to have the Sheriff direct traffic for us. And always in the dark—no spotlights or floodlights for visitors or cars to find their way!

Some years we had school music groups perform in the old studio, or choral groups stand on the second floor house porch to serenade visitors.  We provided cookies and punch for visitors, but learned very quickly that the cookies lasted in inverse proportion to the number of student musicians, and rarely lasted through the first hour!

Before the visitor center was opened in 1995 (and even after) waiting lines often stretched from the house porch out to the parking lot, in below-freezing temperatures, year after year.  Joanna and I would take turns bundled up as the front door greeters and marshals, letting in only as many visitors as had just left.

In 2000 we had a very special guest just before the Holiday Open House.  Willard Scott, famed television weatherman, sat himself in the parlor amidst specially installed decorations by local designer Ken Kroko to tape narration for an HGTV special called “Christmas across America.”  The filming took three days, during which all the docents got their turn chatting with the charming host, and for authenticity real fires where lit in the fireplaces for the first time in decades (with a fire marshall on duty throughout!).  Oh, and Joanna got to sit on Willard’s lap (just kidding, but many photos were taken)!

Joanna Catron and Willard Scott

Today Belmont is much changed, but the Melchers’ home remains as welcoming and festive at the holidays as it was 25 years ago.  I look forward to welcoming the community again as we celebrate the season in style!

 

 

Video

A Plein Air Artist’s Paradise

Artists of all types and ages are encouraged to use Belmont as the backdrop for their artistic pursuits.

Gari Melchers enjoyed plein air painting his entire career.  Of special note to us are the pictures he produced at or around Belmont, his Virginia country home from 1916 to 1932.  In some cases, the views he transferred to canvas are remarkably unchanged today.