Founded in at the end of 19th century by Mann S. Valentine, the Valentine Museum is dedicated to collecting, preserving and interpreting the materials of the life and history of Richmond, Virginia. The Valentine’s largest artifact is the 1812 Wickham House, a neoclassical building built by attorney John Wickham and designed by Massachusetts architect Alexander Parris in the Federal style popular in the early 19th century. As the museum has the largest collection of primary source material (over 40,000 objects) for interpreting the life and history of Richmond I have talked with David Voelkel, Elise H. Wright Curator of the General Collection and Kristen Stewart, Nathalie L. Klaus Curator of Costumes & Textiles about Valentine’s defining moments.
The Valentine Richmond History Center located in the historic downtown of Richmond, Virginia, it is oldest museum in Richmond. Could you be so kind to us how this institution was founded?
David Voelkel : In 1892 Mann S. Valentine II, a Richmond businessman and private collector willed his collection and the Wickham House to his family with the direction that it be opened as a public museum for the benefit of Richmond residents
What are the defining moments in the development of the museum?
David Voelkel : The Valentine has undergone several phases of development over the last century plus. The initial creation of the private family collections gathered by Mann Valentine II of his father’s pieces form the core of the original holdings which were expanded in the 1880’s with the inheritance of artwork and historical pieces gathered by William Winston Valentine and Mann’s other siblings. Following the opening of the museum to the public in 1898 the organization expanded into neighboring row houses and became known as “the Smithsonian of the South”.
Richmond ownes a lot to Edward Valentine and his brother Mann S. Valentine. Can you tell us more about their story and contribution to city memory?
David Voelkel : Mann Valentine was the visionary behind the creation of The Valentine Museum and following his death his surviving younger brother, the noted sculptor Edward “Ned” Valentine was a tireless supporter of realizing the dream working alongside of his nephews. The Valentine family remains among our largest supporters to the current day serving on our governing board and donating funds.
How did the museum evolve over the time?
David Voelkel : Following construction in 1812 the house remained remarkable intact until the mid-1850’s when it was purchased by new owners and updated to reflect changing tastes. When the last private owner, Mann Valentine II purchased the property he respected the integrity of the house and filled it with his large collection of international fine and decorative art, archaeological specimens, and family pieces. The Valentine Museum established in 1892 by Mann Valentine grew over time and now spreads from 10th to 11th along one side of Clay Street in the historic Court End neighborhood of Richmond.
What about the Wickham House? Who was John Wickham and what are the most representative items for the House?
David Voelkel : The 1812 Wickham House was designed by the noted New England architect Alexander Parris and is considered to be one of the finest surviving early 19th c. neo-classical town houses in the United States. John Wickham was a successful lawyer and property owner and developer in early Richmond and his most famous client was Aaron Burr. Among the important pieces of furniture in the house are the original New York neo-classical card tables by Charles- Honore Lannuier in the Drawing Room and the pair of dwarf New York mahogany marble top bookcases in the Library.
How would you describe the organization of the exhibit itself? Can you walk us through some of the Valentine’s major highlights?
Kristen E. Stewart: In addition to the 1812 Wickham House installation, there are four full exhibitions in the museum galleries at this time and several small installations. The two exhibitions scheduled to run the longest are “This is Richmond, VA,” the Valentine’s core exhibition, and “Classical Allure: Richmond Style,” the first of an annual rotation of costume and textiles exhibitions to be presented in the new Nathalie L. Klaus and Reynolds Family Galleries.
David Voelkel: “This is Richmond, VA,” the Valentine’s new core exhibition is structured around five humanities themes. Each theme is explored through objects and the stories that these pieces illuminate for the viewer. Important artifacts include a section of the Woolworth’s lunch counter from the 1960 Civil Rights sit in that took place weeks after the first such demonstration in North Carolina; the dug out boat retrieved in the 1800’s from the banks of the James River, and the monumental portrait of the Marquis de la Fayette painted to commemorate his historic visit to the city in 1824 as the Nation’s Guest.
Kristen E. Stewart: “Classical Allure: Richmond Style,” which will runfrom May 3, 2015– January 31, 2016, introduces classically inspired treasures from the Valentine’s remarkable collection of costume and textiles. The exhibition explores themes personified by Libertas, Ceres, Virtus, and Aeternitas, the four Roman goddesses that adorn the Virginia state seal, in an examination of the classical forms that endure in Richmond fashion. As demonstrated by the Valentine’s vast Costume and Textiles Collection, the influence of Greek and Roman culture impacts design from the haute couture to ready-to-wear. Garments created by important designers and fashions worn by prominent and culturally-significant Richmond women are on view in evocative displays. Visitors will see dresses by Mariano Fortuny, Mary McFadden, and Dorothy McNab, as well as dresses designed by Halston and Stephen Burrows. Garments sold by the high-end boutiques found in legendary Richmond department stores Miller & Rhoads, Thalhimers, and Greentree’s are also on display. Complementing the costume and textiles objects is a rich selection of material from the Archives and General Collections.
To be continued …