James Madison's Montpelier

James Madison's Montpelier

James Madison's view of the Blue Ridge Mountains

It is always exciting to sell an antique item. It is especially exciting to sell a piece to an institution because we know that many more people will have the opportunity to observe an important piece of history.

Noonmark Antiques had within its collection, a pair of matching fan back  brace back Windsor chairs by Philadelphia maker William Cox. The chairs were in superb condition and one was branded “Cox” underneath the seat.

A few years ago, we received a call from Grant Quertermous, then Assistant Curator at Montpelier, James Madison’s home in Virginia. Grant  purchased the fan back Windsor chairs for Montpelier. Since that time, we have been curious to see the chairs in their new home. Our trip to Virginia provided us the opportunity to see the chairs. Charlie and I were very excited and could not wait to begin the tour. We went through the downstairs, room by room, no chairs. I began to steel myself for disappointment as I made my way to the second floor. Maybe the chairs were not part of the exhibition. But then, in “Mr. Madison’s Room,” right beside the bed where he uttered his last words, was one of the fan back chairs! What a special honor it was to see our chair here in James Madison’s room.

We continued on with the tour into Mr. Madison’s library and there was the other fan back Windsor, in front of the fireplace. I had the urge to rearrange it, after all I knew this chair so well and wanted to show off its lovely proportions. But, I resisted and finished the tour.

Our guide offered a very comprehensive explanation of Madison’s life, maybe because there were fewer people here than at the other two mansions we saw. Montpelier has only been open to the public since 2008.

Back porch

Dolley Madison was a larger than life figure in my young mind when I first read about her as a young child. It was certainly an honor to see her beautiful home.

Montpelier had several owners before it became open to the public. William DuPont purchased the home in 1901. Extensive renovations were made to the house only to be demolished when the home was purchased to be displayed in its original form.



Thomas Jefferson's Monticello

When I was 8 years old, I read biographies that I found in the school library of famous Americans. Thomas Jefferson's story always resonated with me. I was intrigued by his inventions and the stone tunnel that ran underneath his home, Monticello. I finally fulfilled a bucket list dream and took a visit to Virginia and Monticello.

 A shuttle bus climbs the hill to bring us to our destination.  No photos permitted inside the house, I am sorry to say. I was hoping to hear in detail and to see the many inventions Jefferson created. On this particular day, our docent focused on the enslaved people who worked on the plantation. I will need to find a book on Jefferson's prolific genius to learn more.

This post card by photographer Charles Shoffner shows the entry hall to receive guests. The guests would have been startled, as I was, at the hanging dispaly of Natve American artifacts, maps, paintings, and tables with dinosaur bones for them to examine.

We toured the house and heard cursory explanations of some of the inventions. Once the upper house tour was complete we were urged to continue our visit on the grounds and photography was then permitted. This is the underground kitchen.

Thomas Jefferson's kitchen contained a stew stove. A brick counter with 8 openings over charcoal fires enabled the cooks to more carefully tend to the French delicacies they created here.

The celebrated dumb waiter. An invention I have waited a lifetime to see! It is a narrow wood lined opening that runs up the fireplace wall into the dining room from the wine cellar. It is just wide enough for a wine bottle. A trusted servant loaded the wine and the butler or family member retrieved the bottle.

The ice house is 16 feet deep. It enabled the Jefferson staff to preserve food or create ice cream, a French creation.

The underground tunnel/passage which runs directly beneath the house and out to the wings where the servants worked. It was quite cool in the tunnel and I found myself retreating there several times throughout our visit. It was a hive of activety at one time.

Window in the underground tunnel.

The vista from Monticello. The mansion is perched on a little hill and has stunning views of the valley below.

There were 2 other tours we could have joined. One was the garden tour and the other dealt with slavery issues. The day was very hot so we declined. If I return, I would visit in the Spring. There is a good bit of walking involved. I could spend an entire day here. I do not recommend bringing small children.Strollers are not permitted in the house. Children ages 8 and older would probably enjoy the tours and grounds.


George Washington's Mount Vernon

George Washington was a personal hero for me. I grew up not far from Valley Forge Park. My parents took my brother and I there when I was about five years old and we saw the log cabins, headquarters, and frothy white dogwood trees. When I was in High School, I performed the Ballad of Valley Forge in 1976 on a well maintained lawn within the Park with the Pottstown Symphony. As I looked out from my spot on stage while holding my viola, I wondered what it might have been like during Washington’s time.

Later, I learned, George Washington led a rag tag group of men on retreat from the Battle of Brandywine, right through the very neighborhood where I grew up and reconnoitered at the Antes Farm in New Hanover, Pennsylvania.

I was thrilled by Washington’s heroic crossing of the Delaware and his defeat of the British at Trenton. Later, as an antiques dealer, I was intrigued by his relationship with Richard Stockton and poet wife Annis Boudinot, the owners of Morven in Princeton, New Jersey. This was due to a painting of their son Richard Stockton which I had on consignment. I also bought and sold through Noonmark Antiques a painting of the Hasbrouck House, Washington’s headquarters at Newburgh, New York.

To me, George Washington belonged to our region – the Philadelphia, Valley Forge, Trenton areas. But, I knew, he had a home in Virginia and I decided it was time for me to see where his heart belonged.

Before we made the trip to Mount Vernon, I looked up the Mount Vernon website. Spoiler alert. You can see a virtual tour of the entire interior of the house. It really is quite helpful especially since I later learned, no photography permitted within the house and we spent less than five minutes in each room.

The virtual tour helped prepare me for the bold colors in some of the rooms. Washington’s favorite color was green and the brilliant verdigris dining room took my breath away. Another room is painted bright robin’s egg blue. These colors were the actual original colors of the rooms. Bright colors were a sign of wealth. Since Washington was a wealthy farmer and he actually owned five farms, his color choices are understandable.

Photographs of post cards by Hal Conroy

The tours at Mount Vernon are well organized. Visitors are assigned a tour time. There are kind helpful guides with cheery attitudes in spite of the heat and humidity to direct you to your destination. Each room had its own docent and although brief, the presentations were succinct and knowledgeable. There is an opportunity mid tour to stand on the back porch and gaze at the mighty Potomac River. Mount Vernon is perfectly situated to gain the best vantage point. After the tour, there was a choice- wander the grounds or join more tours. We chose to wander separately. I walked down the terraced steps to the wharf and enjoyed the cool breeze off the Potomac.

Then, I made my way to the Washington burial site, the inspiration for many early needlework samplers.

If you go, wear comfortable shoes and bring drinking water. There is a lot of walking. I did 13,000 steps that day. Children ages 5 and over may enjoy this trip. Children under 5 may get tired of the walk and strollers are not permitted in the mansion tour. There were many visitors even on a very hot day in 90 + temperatures. I would return in the Spring and allow 2 days for my visit next time. There is a muesum, 6-8 theatres that show related films, a distillery and grist mill, and the grounds themselves which include gardens, beside the mansion tour.

Found this fellow as I descended the stairs to the wharf.

A painting of Mount Vernon at the Whitney Museum in NYC, by Herman Trunk, Jr. 1932.






The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Part 2

I had a few free hours so I took a quick subway ride to the Met. This time, my plan was to try to see every room in the American Wing. Ha! I did not get very far. I spent too much time reading the description cards, which are really interesting. Most folks fly through the rooms but I want to learn while I am there, so I take my time. When I was a child and teeneager, I loved opulent things. Our High School American Culture Seminar took a trip to Boston back in 1975 and I was intrigued by the beautiful items in the various house museums. I would have loved  the trip I took to the Met this time. Here is a sample of the beauty:

Grecian Sofa, American Wing circa 1820-1825

Look at these legs! Imagine having this incredible sofa in your living room!

Lannuier Sideboard, American Wing, circa 1812-1819

Always good to examine a piece by Lannuier up close and personal.

Herter Brothers Arm Chair, American Wing, 1875

This stunning chair needs to be seen in person. An identical pair of chairs were placed in the White House during Ulysses S. Grant's term in 1875.

Severin Roesen, "Still Life of Fruit" circa 1855, American Wing

Astonishing display of fruit available in America during this time. Always good to study Roesen's style,technique, and breathtaking lovliness.





The Metropolitan Museum of Art , Part 1

Well, Noonmark Antiques became a member of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It made sense. Requested donations at the door are $25. a person ( although, you may pay anything you like, really!!! so there's no reason not to go!) I paid $50. for my daughter and I on Monday, and after a few days I  decided, "Why not become a member?" For a $100. membership, you get all kinds of benefits. You can bring a guest for free and get discounts in the restauarants and gift shops. Well alrighty then!

I went specifically on Thursday to become a member and then, with my newly gained sense of belonging, I decided to just wander around in rooms I had never seen instead of making a bee line for the Americana Wing and visible storage area, like I always do. Below are a few examples of remarkable objects and rooms within the Met Museum.

Tin Glazed Instand of Apollo and the Muses, 1584

Tin Glazed Inkstand of a Madman Distilling His Brains, c. 1600

Sampling of a Period Room

Remarkable marble console table. There were a pair.

Drop Front Desk ,circa 1787, attirbuted to no less than six artisans including Wedgwood and Sevres.

to be continued........