Restoration progress

Two new gates were installed at Belmont in late November, 2016.  Different in style and age, both are replicas of gates that were part of the landscape that Gari and Corinne Melchers created.


The gate that separated the barn yard from the pasture was not just a simple farm gate, but a gate of a distinctive and elegant design. We know from our records that both Gari and Corinne were actively engaged in the planning of the gardens and grounds, and a sketch he made for a gate and fence on the back of an envelope in 1919 is one of many examples of their involvement with creating their country home and farm. The gate may have been designed by an artist, but the building technique was decidedly vernacular. It was likely built on site by one of the farm hands, put together with simple joints, wire nails and bolts. Both the design and building techniques were copied for this reproduction, allowing our visitors to distinguish the various levels of workmanship displayed on the estate. The green paint, based on paint analyzes, showcases the beautiful design. This project was executed by Habalis Construction Inc. of Fredericksburg, with support from the Duff McDuff Green, Jr. Fund of The Community Foundation and the Fredericksburg Savings Charitable Foundation.

The second gate installed is quite different from the pasture gate. Gari and Corinne Melchers mounted two beautiful old gates in the stone walls that enclose the gardens. They are of unknown provenance, but almost identical in design. The pegged mortise and tenon joinery combined with the delicately carved acorn topped spindles indicates outstanding workmanship of an earlier era.acorn-gate

Oaks were important in the Ficklen landscape and several large white oaks (Quecrus Alba) survive from the pre-Civil War period at Belmont. Andrew Jackson Downing in his book A treatise on the theory and practice of Landscape Gardening, adapted to North America, (1859) called the white oak America’s National Tree, and believed that as it more nearly approached the English Oak in appearance, it was highly sought after for refined landscapes. The acorn has been perceived from Druid times as a sacred seed that symbolizes potential, longevity, humble beginnings, patience, faith, power, and endurance. The oak is even today seen as a symbol of longevity, strength and durability. It is possible then, that the gates are remnants of the gardens Joseph B. Ficklen created in the 1850’s when he added to his house, built the porches, stairs and laid out his lawn and Long Walk. He would have had some kind of gates to mark the entrances to his gardens, and our acorn gates would have fit the bill. Gari and Corinne Melchers could have re-purposed them, finding a new home for the gates in the stone walls they built.

The carvings and the mortise and tenon construction have been carefully replicated by Gaston and Wyatt of Charlottesville. The Garden Club of Virginia funded this reproduction project.

The newly restored gates were an important element of the farm complex built in the early 1920s. The cow barn, smoke house, stable, and three gates with fences have all been restored. The remaining elements of the compound that still need restoration are the run-in shed, and the gate and fence that run between the visitor center and the stable office.

envelope-gate-drawing-bel-652The 1919 envelope sketch mentioned above is of a gate, posts and fence. The design was changed slightly during the execution; the arched top was dropped, and tulip shaped finials were added to the stiles.


img_3839In addition to finding funds to restore this gate and the run-in shed, we also hope to repair the remaining acorn gate and our main gates with the lion-topped posts. The buildings and grounds are always in a state of restoration; our work to preserve Belmont for the pleasure of future visitors is never ending.



Alien Invasion or Picturesque Nostalgia?

Recently docent Trudy Hardcastle escorted a native Dutchwoman through Belmont who shared interesting information about George Hitchcock’s painting in the hall, The Annunciation.  She explained that the head ornaments on the Madonna are pictorial “code” for wealth. That inspired Trudy to dig a little deeper into the background of some of these strange and archaic forms of Dutch regional costume.

Trudy discovered an interesting site that helped us to identify the costume detail in Hitchcock’s painting as a traditional OORIJZER,  literally ear iron, or metal headgear,  worn on special occasions in conjunction with Dutch linen or lace caps, and passed down from generation to generation.   Pronounce it  Ōar īzer.  Many regions in Holland sport their own very distinctive costumes, including caps, cap pendants, jewelry and varying iterations of the oorijzer, which is usually worn mostly out of sight,  gripping the head under the cap, except for the terminals that are visible around the face.

Hitchcock’s  Madonna is wearing an oorijzer with silver rectangular plates representative of South Beveland, Zeeland. These ornaments helped to fasten the cap to the head with pins at the terminal knobs, but more importantly, are indicative of a woman’s economic status, and in some cases, her religious affiliation, that is, Protestant or Catholic. Hitchcock’s Madonna wears a silver rather than a gold oorijzer, which is appropriate for Mary, who the Bible tells us, was but a humble girl. Hitchcock was probably unwilling to accessorize his Madonna with the truly humble materials of copper, brass or iron that the really poor womenfolk of Holland might wear.  Hitchcock found the costumes of Holland very picturesque and rightly surmised that the more stereotypical elements he included in his pictures of Dutch life, the more marketable they would be.

Gari Melchers, on the other hand, was less interested in including the odd, sometimes helmet-like oorijzers than utilizing only the more feminine and decorative caps.  Off hand, the only instance in which I can remember him employing an oorijzer in a model’s costume was in his painting The Coral Necklace, which pictures an example of both the spiral wire curls and trefoil dangle of Middleburg, Holland. Honestly, some of these oorijzers look like radio antennaes!  Notice that the model in this painting also wears a showy gold and blood coral necklace common to many regions of Holland.





Dinosaur prints to be included in the Smithsonian collection.

Dr. Robert E. Weems, a retired research geologist with the United States Geological Survey, returned to Belmont in October to make four molds of some of the prints he discovered during a visit to Belmont during the summer of 2015. The prints he selected for mold-making were based on size, clarity and/or scientific interest. A large crocodile print was one of the molds made.  Another large-sized specimen included for the study is a partial Brontopodus forefoot print. A partial print from a large bipedal predator, the Acrocanthosaurus, was also chosen for casting.

Hypsiloichnus mold and print

Hypsiloichnus mold and print

The smallest print selected for molding was Hypsiloichnus, which is the track made by a small herbivorous dinosaur similar or identical to Zephyrosaurus. See this link for more information about this dinosaur.

Unfortunately, the crocodile print mold did not sufficiently dry before it was pulled up and thus failed to create an non-distorted copy of the foot shape.  The other three print molds were successfully made.  Dr. Weems will return next spring when the weather warms back up to try again to make a copy of the crocodile print, which is the best and largest crocodile print so far found in these rocks.

Dr. Weems applies a layer of latex to a Brontopodus dinosaur print

Dr. Weems applies the first layer of latex to a partial Brontopodus print.

The process of making the molds is quite involved and interesting. Three layers of latex were applied to clean stone, followed by two layers of cheese cloth and latex which was overlaid with a plastic barrier.

Cheese cloth adds strenght to the latext mold.

Cheese cloth adds strength to the latex mold.

Plaster of Paris strips are laid down over plastic to create a "cradle" for transporting the molds to the lab.

Plaster of Paris strips are laid down over plastic to create a “cradle” for transporting the molds to the lab.




Plaster of Paris strips were laid down on the plastic to create a solid backing for the molds to prevent stretching and distortion. Each layer had to dry between applications making it a time consuming endeavor.

The molds were transported to Dr. Weems lab where they will be cast with plaster of Paris, creating exact copies of the prints. Eventually, the casts will be placed in the Smithsonian dinosaur print collection. Dr. Weems wants to make further studies of the Cretaceous period prints found in our garden paths and they may show up in future papers he hopes to write about Virginia dinosaur activity.

Transporting dinosaur mold to lab for casting.

Transporting mold to lab for casting.

Emily Garrett, University of Mary Washington geography student is creating a map of the prints found in the stonework at Belmont. Look for this at the end of the fall 2016 semester!



Looking for Pearls: ‘One Hundred Years of Harmony’ a soothing light at the Jepson

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On the third floor, in a small gallery, are eight Impressionist paintings of great tranquility. Paintings by Gari Melchers who himself was the art adviser to the Telfair a century ago. The intimate exhibition is titled “One Hundred Years of Harmony.”  More

barn yard restoration

Barn yard restoration efforts continue

barn yard restorationThe barnyard restoration efforts moved forward recently with the installation of the restored gate and replicated fence running between the stable and cow barn.

The fence is a replica of a surviving section of Melchers period fencing.  It is tight to the ground to prevent chickens and other small animals from running under the fence into the main garden.

barn yard restorationWe retained as much original material as possible, which allowed us to leave in place a picket that has years of wear from the chain used to keep the gates to the yard closed.  A surprise awaited underneath one of the gate posts attached to the barn. When it was removed for repairs the original green corner board color was revealed. Our faithful volunteer, Ken McFarland, took on the task of restoring the original paint scheme.

The project was executed by Habalis Construction Inc. with support from the Duff McDuff Green, Jr. Fund and the Fredericksburg Savings Charitable Foundation. We hope to restore the large pasture gate and run-in shed next, completing the barn yard as it was when Gari and Corinne Melchers lived at Belmont.

barn yard restoration

Old and Young

Premier Melchers Painting Featured at Belmont

Old and Young

Old and Young

Old and Young, a painting executed by Fredericksburg artist Gari Melchers in 1890, will be featured in a spotlight exhibition at Gari Melchers Home and Studio starting Saturday, Sept. 3. The painting has not been seen at Belmont since 1977.

Made possible by a generous loan from private collectors, the painting will be on display through Sunday, Dec. 11, 2016. Set in Melchers’ studio on the North Sea dunes of Holland, the painting depicts a fisherman cuddling a sleeping child in his lap while a female figure hovers in the shadows of a hearth in the far corner of the room. The painting also shows a Dutch ship model sitting on a nearby table, a model of which will be included in the exhibition.

The painting was created after Melchers settled in North Holland in 1884. For the next 30 years, he maintained studios in the area, drawn to its rustic inhabitants whose lives centered on work, worship and family. Wholesome images of working class families, with a frequent focus on age juxtaposed with youth, were popular themes in the art of the period. Such images became Melchers’ special domain.

Gari Melchers Home and Studio at Belmont, both a Virginia Historic Landmark and a National Historic Landmark, is located at 224 Washington St. in Falmouth, across the Rappahannock River from Fredericksburg. Public hours are Monday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

For directions and more information, call (540) 654-1015, or visit the museum website at