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NOTES ON JEFFERSON’S MONTICELLO & MADISON’S MONTPELIER

Trust members gathered on the steps of Monticello before breaking into small groups for tours of the house interiors, architecture, gardens, outbuildings, archaeological sites and finally to meet on the north terrace for Madeira.

We should have called the Charlottesville Symposium the Ultra V.I.P. symposium, because Trust members were treated like honored dignitaries everywhere they went! The fall symposium, Jefferson’s Monticello & Madison’s Montpelier, was brilliant. Susan Stein, the Richard Gilder Senior Curator and Vice President for Museum Programs for the Thomas Jefferson Foundation (overseers of Monticello) and a Governor of The Decorative Arts Trust, created a day of Jefferson with lectures and behind the scenes tours that would exceed the wishes of any Jefferson addict (as in, you can’t get enough of this incredibly interesting man!). Decorative Arts Trust dignitaries of that day would certainly applaud Susan’s good work.

Bill Beiswanger, the Robert H. Smith Director of Restoration at Monticello, explaining details of changes made to Jefferson’s garden room.

William Beiswanger, speaking on restoring Monticello, said that Jefferson was a man of ideas, and one has to decide “what is an idea and what is executed.” He mentioned Fiske Kimbell, who, when taking on some of this restoration work, said that the roof was the most complicated roof in America at the time, and that “Trustees who wear suspenders and a belt” would have to take a chance. Beiswanger welcomed Trust members to the beautifully restored Monticello later that afternoon.

Dewey Lee Curtis Scholars for the symposium were Madelyn Korengold (l.) a recent grad of Middlebury College, and Kathleen Koehrsen who is currently a student at the Smithsonian-Corcoran M. A. in the History of Decorative Arts in Washington, DC. (www.Smithsonian Associates.org or www.Corcoran.edu)

Fraser Neiman, explained that through archaeology at Monticello, they have been able to determine and verify the development phases of the farm and how slave housing reflects those changes. In the 17th century, when work was just starting, the farm had a close farm center. By the 18th century, there were 100+ slaves and the quarter farm layout existed and spread the farm use further. From 1740 to 1793 tobacco was dominant. From 1793 to 1826, wheat took over, it being more valuable. Tobacco is a gang labor crop with everybody working at the same time. Wheat needs permanent fields, crop rotation, draft animals with slaves to take care of them, and fields to produce animal fodder. Wheat requires much smaller task groups performing different tasks. The excavation of slave houses at Monticello shows a progression from large room cabins to cabins with several smaller rooms. These smaller rooms had fewer dugout safes than did the large room cabins, suggesting a changing slave society.

After supper in the carriage house, Trust members have a good look around the Kluge estate, which has been given to UVA along with hundreds of acres of land. Helen Scott Reed, Trust officer, has had a hand in outfitting the house for visiting scholars and dignitaries.

Elizabeth Chew, curator, told us about the Martha Jefferson American Memory website that has ten years of Martha Jefferson’s writings at Monticello. Go to http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/collections/jefferson_papers/mtjabout.html, type Martha Jefferson in the search box and a long list of her correspondence will be available to you. The letters are not transcribed but after reading a few you become adjusted to her handwriting. That’s a nice thing.

Mary Lou Seilheimer takes groups of Trust members (Janet Lindgren, Chevy Chase, MD, to her right) through the lovely Italianate garden rooms at Mount Sharon Farm.

Robert Self spoke to us about furniture made at Monticello. James Dinsmore, an Irishman cabinetmaker from Philadelphia, came to Monticello in 1798. John Hemmings, an enslaved African American, apprenticed under him until Dinsmore left in 1809 to work on James Madison’s Montpelier. One of the Dinsmore pieces is a round table on a square frame made for Poplar Forest, Jefferson’s retreat.

The design on the table top, which turns, comes from the parquet floor in the grand room at Monticello. Another interesting piece Self showed us was copied from a sketch Thomas Jefferson made in France of a drop-leaf table that folded down to four inches wide. A diagram of the house by one of Jefferson’s granddaughters denoting where furnishings were placed shows this table folded down and placed against the wall next to the serving board in Monticello’s dining room. Self also described interesting joinery techniques used at Monticello.

Leslie Bowman, new Director of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, welcomes Trust members with a Madeira toast on the north terrace of Monticello.

After savoring a “period” luncheon of fried chicken and cornbread at historic Michie tavern, Trust members made their way to the new Visitors Center at Monticello. Can a visitors center really make a difference? Yes, is the unanimous answer for this new addition. The attractive quad construction harmonizes with its woodland setting and offers visitors the conveniences of easy tour planning, food, drink, dreamy introductory films, a spacious gift shop and garden center and, saving the best for last, a fabulous museum gallery with wonderful objects and a fascinating interactive digital presentation. This presentation fills a room and takes you on a journey from Revolution to Constitution, providing insights that allow a thinking person to get from the Founders’ intentions to our world today. It is an intelligent, thoughtful, exciting, and enjoyable experience. There is also a digital display that will quickly and easily take you through the various building phases of Monticello—heretofore a rather confusing path!

Beautifully planned afternoon activities included archaeology discussions of displayed material, a garden tour with Gabriele Rausse, a dependencies tour with Justin Sarafin, a plantation tour led by Gary Sandling, and an architectural tour by Bill Beiswanger. Trust members could also have chosen a lecture. Diane Ehrenpreis gave a collections lecture where she mentioned that the South Pavilion is being reassessed. It is known that Martha Jefferson gave birth to a daughter there and perhaps another baby, so the pavilion is now furnished with a bed with hangings, and venetian blinds have been ordered. From 5:00 to 6:30 p.m., the grand treat—Trust members explored Monticello, the house. Going through every room and every object in every room, we made our way to the very top where Bill Beiswanger explained the intricate details of Jefferson’s dome room. Coming down the narrow stairs in the lowering light of evening, we made our way to the North Terrace for a hardy and happy Madeira (TJ’s favorite) toast to Jefferson and his Monticello.

Bruce Perkins, Trust President, chats with Barbara Bailey, Houston, TX, during private house visit.

Saturday, Trust members traveled to Orange, Virginia, to see Montpelier, home of James and Dolley Madison. On our way we stopped to visit Mount Sharon Farm, home of Charles and Mary Lou Seilheimer. This beautiful five-part stone house with magnificent interiors was surrounded by extensive Italianate gardens furnished with the perfect sculpture, rose draped pergolas, boxwood parterres, architectural arbors, and unrivaled views. Charlie talked about his collections and Mary Lou took us through the gardens. It was a delicious visit for Trust members.

Entering the grounds of Montpelier was yummy as well, as this was a renowned thoroughbred farm and race course. We seemed to follow the steeplechase course right to the Montpelier Visitors Center. Michael Quinn, President of the Montpelier Foundation, greeted us as we found our seats in the beautiful reconstruction of Marian duPont Scott’s favorite room, complete with proper fireplace surrounds, chandeliers, window dressings—it was elegant. Mike told us of the decision to take the greatly enlarged duPont mansion back to the original Madison house of 1810. James Dinsmore, who had worked at Monticello and Bremo, left a forty-page invoice that was invaluable to the restoration. Further evidence of the original house included an 1837 fire policy listing all the buildings, a sketch of the house and grounds drawn by a Civil War soldier, and some 1880s photographs. Add to this several years of discovery, cutting holes in walls, finding doors and windows moved to other places in the house, advanced architectural sleuthing and 25 million dollars and, voilá, Madison’s house of 1810 with three large roof terraces, geothermal heating and ac, and 36 sensors for temperature, has arrived. And, it is fantastic.

Professor Richard Guy Wilson leading a detailed architectural tour of Mr. Jefferson’s Academical Village, the “lawn” at UVA.

Furnishing the house is now the challenge and main focus of Lynn Hastings, Vice President for Museum Programs at Montpelier. When Madison died in 1836 he left no inventory; however. Dolley made a list of things in the dining room. In mice nests found in the walls they retrieved scraps of paper with red filaments that suggested red flocked wallpaper for the dining room, which would be appropriate for that time. The Madisons had Venetian rugs, Brewster carpets and painted floor cloths. Thirty-two painted chairs, a sofa and a settee came from the White House. They bought French chairs that George Washington sold in New York City in 1797 and they bought from William Worthington, cabinetmaker. These clues plus lots of research and discovery over the next few years will inform the furnishing decisions.

Bruce Perkins, President of The Decorative Arts Trust, has a good laugh with Richard Guy Wilson, leading expert on Jefferson’s Academical Village.

Grant Quertermous is keeping a database of Madison things. He has 1300 objects already entered including a translated French inventory, shards found at Montpelier, cut glass decanters from Pittsburgh and a list of books sent to Madison by Jefferson in Paris. After Madison’s death, Dolley returned to the District of Columbia and settled on Lafayette Square in the Cutts-Madison House. There are two inventories of this house mentioning things moved from Montpelier. Since 2006 Lance Humphries has been doing a fascinating job trying to establish what artwork hung in Montpelier’s drawing room. There is a list of fifty oil paintings that were at Montpelier, but where? Pictures were hung by rings on top of frames, so this and dimensions of the pictures are clues helping to solve this mystery. If you’d like to know more about discoveries at Montpelier, go to www.montpelier.org/blog.

Charles Seilheimer talks to Trust members (Muriel Nachman, Shaker Heights, OH, to his right) about his collections at Mount Sharon Farm.

Sunday was dedicated to Mr. Jefferson’s university. Bruce Boucher, the new director at the University of Virginia Art Museum, gave an overview of Palladio’s life and work, focusing on details and historical facts that may have informed Jefferson. Richard Guy Wilson, the Commonwealth Professor of Architectural History at UVA, and curator of the exhibit, Thomas Jefferson’s Academical Village: The Creation of an Architectural Masterpiece, 1817–1824, talked to us about the formative experiences of Jefferson leading to the design for the university. The first portrait of Jefferson was done in London in 1786, ten years after the Declaration of Independence. The last was in 1822 by Sully—an eight foot tall portrait now at West Point. Jefferson lived in a construction zone his entire adult life. He remodeled rooms in Philadelphia and in France. As Secretary of State he oversaw the design of DC, although L’Enfant’s great design prevailed over Jefferson’s small town plan. The Academical Village was a forty year campaign for Jefferson. As Virginia governor in 1779, he proposed that the state be responsible for education. In 1814, while attending a meeting to try to establish the Albemarle Academy, he drew a U-shaped plan of nine large structures, which later became the UVA plan. In 1817 he writes Latrobe asking for advice, who says to try a domed building. And so the buildings on the lawn are designed in the ancient Classical fashion, and planned to be part of the education of the students. The capitals of Villa VIII were carved in Italy, shipped to Norfolk but no duty was charged because Jefferson argued they were educational instruments! Today we see a colonnaded lawn that unifies a group of diverse villas. After lunch at Farmington Country Club in the two story room Jefferson designed, we toured the Academical Village exhibit at the UVA Art Museum and walked to the Lawn to tour the Rotunda and all the villas with the master, Professor Wilson.

Our four-day meeting ended with drinks in the yard at Cloverfields, a private 18th century farm with house, outbuildings, and gardens in original configuration, tenderly cared for by Trust member Sara Lee Barnes.

Thursday Optional Tour

Thursday’s Optional Tour with Ralph Harvard to Greenwood, Virginia, took us to five houses of great provenance, important interiors, and breathtaking gardens and landscapes.

Rossie Fisher explaining the history of Royal Orchard to Trust members on the Thursday Optional Tour.


Rossie Fisher leading our tour through Royal Orchard. Outstanding fireplace in the John Russell Pope interior.

 

(l. to r.) Kurt Liljedahl, Hunting Valley, OH, Howard Hall, Duxbury, MA, and Harry Lankenau, owner of Ramsey, the 19th century estate where this Colonial Revival cottage was built for the original “Gibson Girl,” Irene Langhorne Gibson.

 

Blue Ridge Farm owner, Chuck Cory, chats with Trust vice president Dean Failey, Sr. V.P. Americana, Christie’s.

 

Trust members approaching Casa Maria with its extensive gardens by Charles Gillette, c. 1920.

 

Trust members arriving at Piedmont, which has been in the Wallace family continuously since its construction in 1732.

 

After cider and delicious homemade scones, Trust members gathered around the tree for a talk about Piedmont, c. 1732, by Ralph Harvard and Barbara Wallace Chakmakian.

 

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