Introduction: Permanent Collections of the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley
The Museum of the Shenandoah Valley (MSV), in Winchester, Virginia, tells the story of the great region for which it is named. The museum, which first opened in the spring of 2005, helps visitors better understand the rich art, history, and culture of the Shenandoah Valley. It also provides context for the individual stories told by the MSV's own Glen Burnie Historic House and the many other historic sites located throughout the Valley.
The MSV has three levels, with collections care and storage spaces and galleries located on the second level. Interpretive exhibitions in eleven gallery rooms comprise four main galleries: the Shenandoah Valley Gallery; the R. Lee Taylor Miniatures Gallery; the Julian Wood Glass Jr. Gallery, and the Changing Exhibitions Gallery.
The Shenandoah Valley Gallery, comprised of six rooms, explores a broad sweep of Valley history. This interpretive experience includes two video rooms with, respectively, an orientation to the Valley, and a presentation about the Civil War. Video touch screens and other interactive elements are incorporated in all exhibition sections presented in the main gallery room. Three adjacent rooms display the MSV’s young but impressive collection of Valley decorative arts.
Two other galleries on this level present two different Valley collections. The Julian Wood Glass Jr. Gallery’s three rooms display the fine and decorative arts collection assembled by the gallery’s namesake, who was the last Wood/Glass family descendant to live in the Glen Burnie Historic House. This collection includes furniture, decorative objects, and paintings by such artists as Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788), Sir Thomas Lawrence (1769-1830) and Sir William Beechey (1753-1839). Nearby, the R. Lee Taylor Miniatures Gallery presents the collection of furnished miniature houses and rooms assembled in the Valley by R. Lee Taylor, the late Glen Burnie Curator of Gardens. At the MSV, these tiny treasures are on permanent display for the first time. Finally, the Changing Exhibitions Gallery completes the interpretive experience presented by the MSV. Here a variety of exhibitions explore relevant topics on a continually changing basis.
The Shenandoah Valley Gallery: The History Rooms
The broad sweep of Valley prehistory and history is explored in three Shenandoah Valley Gallery rooms. A number of different techniques introduce the Valley story, and include audio and video presentations, images, maps, tableaus, interactive elements, and display of objects. Illustrative images come from nearly one hundred different sources. More than thirty scholars played a role in developing the gallery’s storyline, which is informed by significant original research.
To begin their experience, visitors are guided into the Orientation Room, where a brief video selection presents the sights and sounds of the Valley. In the timber-framed main gallery room, the section Oh, Shenandoah then explains the Valley’s geography and natural resources. Next, the Valley’s First People recounts the prehistory of Indian groups that have lived in or moved through the Valley. A replica of a rock shelter, an early type of shelter used by some Valley Indians, is included here. Settling in the Valley includes a replica of an early settler’s cabin, based on the first recorded probate inventory in Frederick County, Virginia. The Claiming and Defending exhibit next probes the challenges of living in the Valley in the mid-eighteenth century. A Surveyor’s Compass (c.1785-1821) by Goldsmith Chandlee (1751-1821) and lively interactive video presentation tell the story of surveying in the eighteenth century.
Nearby, the stories of Four Valley Families are told; they represent, respectively, early African-American, Anglo-Virginian, German, and Scots-Irish families in the Valley. Other exhibition highlights include recreations of two Valley kitchens, one of the 1830s, the other of the 1930s. Dwelling on the Past provides an overview of the Valley’s architecture, while The Land Provides does the same about its agriculture. The latter includes display of a whiskey still, and an interactive element that invites visitors to play a tune on animal bells. Close to this, in the Civil War room, a powerful video presentation explains the war’s impact on the Valley home front. Next, Everyone’s Valley explores issues affecting life in the Valley today, including immigration and conservation. The gallery’s final stop consists of a computer bank, linked to the Internet, where visitors can access the Valley of the Shadow Project and explore thousands of letters, diaries, newspapers, and other records detailing life during the Civil War. Before leaving the computer, visitors are invited to record their own Valley memories and stories.
In addition to these gallery highlights, seven triangular-shaped displays in this room present video touch screens where history comes alive in the words of those who experienced it. Recorded memories of many Valley residents may be accessed on these displays, which also offer listings and locations of other sites throughout the Valley where visitors may learn more about related topics.
The Shenandoah Valley Gallery: The Decorative Arts Rooms
The Shenandoah Valley Gallery includes three gallery rooms where objects made in the Valley from the middle of the eighteenth century onward are displayed. In these rooms, objects are presented simply in cases or on platforms. Interpretive panels provide a brief introduction to each category of objects. Individual captions provide additional information about the pieces and artisans.
Major categories of objects presented here include: furniture; ceramics; fraktur; iron, silver and other metals; baskets; textiles, and folk art. There is also a wall panel that explores the theme of Valley long rifles, and another that addresses Valley painting; an early Valley long rifle illustrates the former, while several paintings, including a fine portrait by Edward Caledon Bruce (1825-1900), illustrate the latter. Another wall panel explores the theme of the Valley’s gravestone folk art. Finally, one panel lists some other locations-both in the Shenandoah Valley and beyond-where visitors may view other collections of Valley decorative arts.
The Shenandoah Valley is widely known for its ceramics tradition, and visitors interested in this theme will be pleased to see the work of the Bell and Eberly Families of potters represented, as well as that of Anthony Weis Bacher (1824-1889). Particularly noteworthy objects on display include Bacher’s signed earthenware Watch Stand dated 1853, and John Bell’s (1800-1880) Ink Stand, dated 1825. The latter is the first documented tin-glazed ceramic object made in America, now in the MSV collection. Also on display is one of the original copies of the 1893 World’s Fair Vase created by the Eberly Family of potters; the copies were sold at the fair by that pottery.
Noteworthy furniture here includes: Clocks ranging in date from 1775 to 1790 by Goldsmith Chandlee (1751-1821) and Jacob Fry (active 1798-1814); a Sideboard, c. 1819, by George Kreps (active 1811-1820); a Drop-Leaf Table, c. 1820, by John and George Weber (active 1820-1830), and, of more recent date, a Slat-Backed Armchair, c. 1916, attributed to Samuel Wagner (1857-1942). Several distinguished loans will help fill out the museum’s young collection; at the time of the museum’s April 2005 opening, these include a Bookcase On Stand, c. 1795, attributed to the Frye-Martin Group (active 1795-1815), and a Slant Front Desk, 1818, by the eccentric cabinet maker John Shearer (active 1790-1820).
Throughout these gallery rooms, there are many other noteworthy objects. These include an early Valley Zither of unusual design. Edward Beyer’s (1820-1865) important painting, View of Winchester, Virginia, 1856, should also not be missed here.
The Julian Wood Glass Jr. Gallery
Julian Wood Glass Jr. (1910-1992) transformed the Glen Burnie Historic House into the home visitors see today. In addition to the collection with which Glass furnished his ancestral home, he also collected for his New York apartment and Oklahoma home. That collection, which is mostly European in origin, is now on display in the MSV and includes oil paintings, watercolors, pastels, pencil drawings, furniture, and decorative objects from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Objects presented in three gallery rooms explore the themes of the arts of landscape and portraiture, and the Grand Tour. In the portrait gallery, fine American portraiture of the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries are presented; the work of Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828), John Singleton Copley (1738-1815), and William Merritt Chase (1849-1916) is included. The work of British school artists is also presented, and includes, among many others, Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788), Sir Thomas Lawrence (1769-1830), and Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792). In addition to paintings and decorative objects, furniture is displayed, including American Federal furniture made by Thomas Seymour (active in Boston 1793-1848) and Langley Boardman (1774-1833), as well as British Georgian and Regency period furniture.
The Miniatures Collection: The Valley’s Tiny Treasures
Glen Burnie Curator of Gardens R. Lee Taylor (1924-2000) was assembling his impressive decorative arts collection in the Valley at the same time Julian Wood Glass Jr. was assembling his. But there was one big difference, or, more accurately stated, one tiny difference: the objects in Taylor’s collection are on a scale of one inch to one foot. Taylor’s collection began as a hobby in the 1970s, to occupy time over the winter months when garden tasks were at a halt. The hobby turned into a passion with a goal to own at least one object by every major miniatures artist. By the time of his death, R. Lee Taylor had assembled fourteen houses or rooms, all furnished in exact detail. The entire collection contains more than 4,000 objects, and represents the work of more than seventy individual artisans. This gallery displays the best of the collection, and includes houses and shadowboxes; all presented on permanent public display for the first time. The centerpiece of the gallery is Lee Hall, the collector’s masterpiece that represents the ideal country house he always wanted. Taylor commissioned many of the fine furnishings in this miniature tour de force; the crystal chandeliers really work, the tiny silver objects are sterling, even the wine in the miniature wine bottle is the real vintage of its label. Other features in this gallery include a short video presentation about R. Lee Taylor. The miniatures gallery also presents four miniature shadowboxes by the late Valley miniatures artist William P. Massey (active late 1930s to late 1940s). Past temporary venues for display of the rooms have included The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Center. Farley Massey has given her father’s collection to the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley, where it is now on first-time permanent display.