simmons

Souvenir of the Fair

Back in 2014 I wrote about all the images in our collection that pictured Gari Melchers and the artists who created them. The identity of one in particular, who sketched a funny caricature of a dapper Gari Melchers, remained elusive until today, when I stumbled on a clue in the archives of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Chicago’s World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, a fair organized to commemorate Christopher Columbus’ landfall in the New World, and to showcase the technological, cultural and artistic prowess of the nation, brought together scores of artists, sculptors, architects and decorators in the planning of the site and exhibitions. Somewhere in the process of their work, a small group of artists decided to amuse themselves by drawing caricatures of several committee members.

Two caricatures (pictured here) of Gari Melchers, who served on the selection committee

Robert Reid

Robert Reid

Edward Simmons

Edward Simmons

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

of the American Art display, and whose murals decorated one of the exhibition halls, were produced by the American artists Robert Reid and Edward Simmons. Melchers is recognizable in these caricatures, drawings today contained in the Art Institute’s Daniel H. Burnham Collection of Papers. (Burnham was the architect of the Beau-Arts style fair buildings.)

Also contained in that collection is Burnham’s numbered list of the principal caricaturists and their subjects.

List of 1893 caricatures

List of 1893 caricatures

Number 53 lists a third rendition of Melchers, by Charles Yardley Turner, but that example is not in the Burnham Collection because Melchers himself walked away with the caricature. It resides today at Belmont, its creator now identified, thanks to the annotation  “53” in the upper left corner.

Bel 261 Melchers by C.Y. Turner

 

Visit Belmont for holiday decor with an artist’s touch – Fredericksburg Virginia

The Christmas season is a special time to visit Gari Melchers’ Home and Studio at Belmont.

Source: Visit Belmont for holiday decor with an artist’s touch – Fredericksburg Virginia

MWC president Prince Woodard giving remarks at Belmont opening day Oct. 19 1975 Director Dick Reid sitting

Forty Years on the Hill

MWC president Prince Woodard giving remarks at Belmont on opening day Oct. 19 1975. Director Dick Reid is sitting.

MWC president Prince Woodard giving remarks at Belmont’s opening day on Oct. 19, 1975. Director Dick Reid is sitting.

On October 19, 1975, Mary Washington College President Prince Woodard presided over the public opening of the Gari Melchers Memorial Gallery, making the artist’s Belmont home and painting studio available to the public on a regular schedule for the first time.

The opening of the museum took over twenty years to accomplish, in the face of numerous governance decisions by the Virginia General Assembly, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, the University of Virginia and finally Mary Washington College, all of which had involvement in the winding road of acceptance and implementation of Corinne Melchers’ wishes as outlined in her 1942 gift to the Commonwealth, which was effective at her death in 1955.

Gari and Corinne Melchers purchased Belmont in 1916, finding a pleasant country retreat similar to what they had enjoyed for many years in Egmond, Holland, where Gari was able to concentrate on his work away from the distractions of Paris, where his professional life was centered. After leaving Europe during the turmoil of the war years, Gari established a studio in New York City, but again longed for a rural retreat that he found at Belmont.

During his sixteen years in Virginia, Gari Melchers involved himself in the cultural life of his adopted state, eventually being named chair of the Virginia Arts Commission in 1932. From that post he oversaw the refurbishment of the state capitol building decorations and statuary, and began the development of what was to become the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. After his death later that year, Corinne was appointed to his position on the commission and became one of the founding trustees of the VMFA when it opened in 1935. She had developed a close relationship with Thomas Colt, the museum’s first curator and director, and spurred by a VMFA memorial exhibition of Gari’s work in 1938, by 1942 had worked out a plan to deed Belmont and its collections to the museum at her death.

By the time of Corinne’s passing in 1955, and the subsequent transfer of the property and art collections to the Commonwealth, the administration of the VMFA and the reputation of Gari Melchers in art circles had changed considerably. No longer was Melchers considered an important American artist, and his Falmouth home had become run down and in need of major repairs. The VMFA board almost immediately sought to be relieved of the burden of supporting what they saw as a white elephant fifty miles from Richmond. Fredericksburg’s Mary Washington College, then part of the University of Virginia, was approached and accepted the responsibility for overseeing the site, but could not provide funding for either staff or major improvements that would allow public use. It was not until 1975, under a new college administration that was committed to opening the site as a public museum, that Corinne’s wishes were finally carried out.

Since that autumn day forty years ago, the museum now known as Gari Melchers Home and Studio has kept alive Mrs. Melchers’ goal of preserving and celebrating the now revived artistic legacy of her accomplished husband, and providing a public setting in which to enjoy his art and the historic locale that they so lovingly maintained.

In the early years under Belmont’s first director, Richard Reid, only the first floor of the house and the studio were open a few days a week, staffed by volunteers. In 1984, under the guidance of Reid, an important illustrated reference book, Gari Melchers: His Works in the Belmont Collection, was published by MWC professor Joseph Dreiss. By the mid-1980s hours had expanded to seven days a week, and Reid’s successor Peter Grover leveraged state and private funds to restore the original house and modernize the utilities to both preserve the collections and increase the comfort of visitors. It was at this time that a major retrospective exhibition of Gari Melchers’ best work traveled the country, reviving public and critical interest in his place in American painting.

In the early 90s, under current director David Berreth, the formal gardens were restored with the help of the Garden Club of Virginia, which has continued to support the restoration of the estate’s landscape based on the voluminous photographs and records saved by Mrs. Melchers. In 1995 a former garage was converted into a visitor center and museum shop to welcome guests and increase revenues. The building now also serves as the official Stafford County Visitor Center, promoting regional tourism and the study of local history.

By 2001 the original studio building was fully restored to provide a safe, climate controlled facility in which to house a rotating display over 500 works by Gari Melchers. This thoroughly professional venue allows the museum to borrow major works and exhibitions from other museums around the country. And in 2006 a new public event pavilion and collection storage facility was completed, allowing the museum to host a wide variety of public educational programs, concerts, and workshops, along with private events like wedding receptions and business retreats. All of this work was accomplished through combinations of private and state funding, which demonstrated the depth of support from the now University of Mary Washington, and a cadre of local donors and private foundations focused on historic preservation.

Today, Gari Melchers Home and Studio hosts visitors from every corner of the world, and is a regular stop for local residents and regional guests. Corinne Melchers’ dream has been realized, and we celebrate her vision and dedication to art and its ability to endure and inspire, as it has for over forty years on the hill overlooking Falmouth.

 

Puzzler of a Painting No More!

Dutch Bachelor at His Breakfast

Dutch Bachelor at His Breakfast

I’m delighted to provide an update to my earlier post Another Conundrum of Connoisseurship! regarding a painting, Dutch Bachelor at His Breakfast, sent to me for inspection this past June.  An art collector sent me a watercolor to examine, at that time untitled.  I‘d never laid eyes on the painting before, but it has all the hallmarks of an early Melchers.  What perplexed me was the signature it bears: “ J. G. Melches.”  Not only is it missing the “r”, but it bears no resemblance to Melchers’ bona fide autograph.

Why would a genuine Melchers have a “bad” signature?  Occasionally Melchers failed to sign his works. If this was the case with Dutch Bachelor, did someone later forge the signature to eliminate doubt?  Well that backfired!  The inconsistency of an artist’s known signature always casts doubt on a piece.

There was still another possibility to consider.   Despite the attempt at a Melchers signature, the picture could easily pass as the work of Melchers’ American colleague in Holland, George Hitchcock, of which Belmont has several examples.

Admittedly, I was stymied. Certainly it had to be by one or the other artist, for the setting of the painting was the studio the two shared in Holland, but their subjects and styles were so interchangeable at this stage of their careers that I wasn’t sure I could ever reach a proof positive attribution.

The watercolor is such a charming evocation of “old Holland” that its owner thought it would be best appreciated in a museum in the Netherlands.  When the various parties showed no interest in the piece, perhaps put off by the spurious signature, the owner offered it to Belmont, if for no other reason than to serve as a study piece! We accepted with gratitude.  Now I was really motivated to nail down the attribution!

Happily, that day came this week when I followed a lead to an article published in an obscure journal dating to 1885, The Art Amateur.  It was too much to hope for, but buried in an extensive review of an American Watercolor Society exhibition was a description of the very same painting I had sitting on my desk!

It reads:

We point, in illustration, to “A Dutch Bachelor’s Breakfast” (686), by J. G. Melchers, an exceedingly clever Hollander. . . .  Pure wash is the rule. Wherever the white of the paper will serve a useful purpose it is retained. Notice the masterly way in which it is made to do service in giving the light to the tea-cup the bachelor holds in his hand. What substance there is in the figure of the picturesquely attired servant girl who is doing the offices of the breakfast-table; how well balanced in color and composition is the entire picture!

With that came the solution to the mystery and a valuable addition to our collection!  As for the signature, it’s certainly a deliberate forgery.

Town Talk
Julius Melchers' 'Captain Jack'

Julius Melchers and Figurecarving in 19th Century America

Julius Melchers' 'Captain Jack,' now on display at Gari Melchers Home & Studio at Belmont

Julius Melchers’ ‘Captain Jack,’ now on display at Gari Melchers Home & Studio at Belmont

In 1886, a New York journalist noted that, “Few objects, policemen and lampposts excepted, are more familiar to the public than the cigar store wooden Indian.” To his readers, particularly those living in cities along the East Coast and in the Midwest, this was stating the obvious. Countless numbers of wooden figures were carved in the United States in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Most served as ship figureheads or shop signs, but they were used for many other purposes as well, including as architectural elements, garden statuary, and commemorative figures for parades and civic ceremonies.

During the more than four decades that Julius Theodore Melchers, father of Gari, operated a workshop in Detroit, he created all of these types of figures and more. Born in 1829 in Soest, Westphalia, Prussia, he was a sculptor and craftsman of the old school, who trained in the traditional German workshop system and then in Paris. He settled in Detroit in the mid-1850s, where he at first found his opportunities somewhat limited, but eventually adapted to his new environment and made many important contributions to Detroit’s emerging artistic community.

Melchers created many outstanding shop and cigar store figures during his long career, but the vast majority of them were done by shipcarvers, the men responsible for making figureheads and other types of ship decorations. A tightly knit group of professional carvers bound by family ties and master-apprentice relationships, they operated through a network of workshops in port cities and towns along the East Coast and, to a lesser extent, the Great Lakes.

The figurehead tradition had descended from antiquity, and continued to be popular until the end of the era of wooden-hulled sailing ships in the late nineteenth century. As for shop figures, the earliest examples in both Europe and America were usually either about half-lifesize or were designed to be small enough to place on counters in the interior of stores. During the decade of the 1840s, a new, larger figure emerged in the United States that came to be known as a show figure. By merging the tradition of full-size figureheads with that of the generally smaller shop figures, the carvers created an imposing sculptural form that was readily adaptable to the rapidly expanding and increasingly competitive American business environment.

Many of the most innovative developments came from New York City, which was the leading shipbuilding center in the United States from about 1820 until after the Civil War. Naturally enough, the city supported an active group of shipcarvers. Even so, they were never very numerous, as their work required great skill and a long apprenticeship, but paid very little. In the 1880s, a carver told a reporter that even at the height of the shipbuilding era in the 1850s, there were never more than a dozen master carvers in New York at any one time, and that at that moment there were no more than six. Over the course of three generations, most of these men worked in a similar style, and aided by a good number of apprentices, they produced thousands upon thousands of figures.

Fanciful images of Native Americans were by far the most popular, but especially after about 1860, any character that caught the public’s imagination could and would be skillfully personified, from the more traditional Turks and Scotsmen to up-to-date baseball players and fashionable women. As Melchers once noted,

I carved all sorts of Indians. Big Indians, little Indians, chiefs, and Indian queens. Sometimes the images represented real characters but they were oftener ideal figures. I made Blackhawks, Pontiacs, Hiawathas and Pocahontases.

… Sometimes a cigar dealer wanted a classical figure instead of an Indian. We carved several of them, with slight variations to indicate the cigar business. A statue of Pomona with a handful of cigars instead of apples, or Ceres, holding a bunch of tobacco leaves, instead of wheat, was a striking sign, and indicated classical proclivities on the part of the proprietor. Sometimes a patriotic fellow wanted a Goddess of Liberty or Uncle Sam. I have made several Bother Jonathans for customers with strong Yankee sentiments.

As products of a shared cultural and artistic imagination, figureheads and cigar store figures speak volumes about several important aspects of American social history, including racial and gender stereotyping, and the emergence of a national popular culture. Based on contemporary perceptions, they resonate with meaning, embodying traditional values while at the same time reflecting the attitudes, prejudices and trends of a rapidly developing society.

Drink in the Creativity

paint

On Thursday, August 20th, PB Mares, a regional accounting and business consulting firm, held a retreat for its administrative staff. In the morning they had a conference and after lunch, they decided to do a Wine & Design event. This is the first one we have held here at Gari Melchers Home & Studio, but hopefully not the last! If you’ve never heard of Wine & Design, it’s a popular new party idea. “Our wine and paint parties are designed to offer you a chance to peek into your creative side during a fun night out on the town. We provide almost everything you’ll need: paint, canvases, brushes, corkscrews and cups. All you have to bring is an open mind and your favorite beverage.”

New LocationWine and Design On Wheels can bring the party to any private venues such as houses, corporate offices, event centers, and more. They can also host the party at restaurants, bars, and wineries! They offer private parties and public parties where anyone can sign up! In a few weeks we will actually be neighbors with their new studio! Michelle Flynn, the owner of Wine & Design Fredericksburg is opening a studio on Washington Street (down the street from us) where you can hold your party or sign up for one of theirs!

I have been seeing my friends posting pictures of themselves at different restaurants with wine glasses and their surprisingly, very good, painted canvases of sunsets, crabs, umbrellas, and flowers. Now, I’m not saying that my friends aren’t capable of painting these subjects, but attending an all-women’s college, we all dabbled in arts and crafts quite a bit, and I know some of those ladies can’t paint THAT well. This is why I was so excited when the women of PB Mares told us they wanted to host a Wine & Design party here! I wanted to see how this was all done and how my not so artsy friends, were somehow now painting like Gari Melchers 🙂

PaintMichelle, the instructor Jayme, and her helper, Timmy all arrived at Belmont with 21 canvases, brushes, and paint. The canvases already had sunflowers sketched on them with a pencil, so that the party goers had an outline to follow. Timmy came around and squirted paint on everyone’s plates. The paint bottles looked like water bottles which make it really simple and mess free! Whenever someone needed more paint or a different color, she would just raise her paint brush and Timmy would go over and squirt some more paint on her plate!

collageJayme had a finished sunflower painting on an easel for the women to look at, as well as painting one with them! She would talk them through the painting, explaining what strokes to make with the paint brush and what color to use, step by step. If anyone had any questions or needed any help, Jayme and Timmy were right there! I noticed that they didn’t squirt all the colors onto the plates at the start of the lesson; they waited until they are actually needed. I’m guessing this helps ensure that the paint doesn’t dry on the plate and it helps eager artists to not get too far ahead without instructions from the teacher.

Group Shot

The whole party took about 2 hours, which Timmy said is about the average time depending on the size of the group and the difficulty of the painting. When the PB Mares women were all finished, they went outside and took a group photo. Look how beautiful their sunflowers are. Everyone kept remarking on how much fun they had and how easy Wine & Design makes it. If you’re looking to have a team building retreat or a fun girl’s night, Wine & Design is a great option. And we can hold it for you right here at Gari Melchers Home & Studio, call (540) 654-1848 for more details about renting our pavilion!