Thursday, February 27, 2014

Fredericksburg & Belmont

On Saturday I met with a group to explore Fredericksburg, a town about an hour from me. They were also planning on visiting a winery on the way back to DC but I wasn't bothered about going there, I have so many on my doorstep. But after I arrived I could see this day was going to go downhill if I stayed with the group. There had been no forward planning and the leader had no clue where to go, so decided they'd walk up and down the main street, then head to the winery. His herd of about 40 all bleated their approval and I knew it was time for me to break off.We'd been hanging around for an hour just chatting. I'd heard a couple of the others complaining that they had wanted to check out some of the antique stores but with such a large group that wouldn't be feasible, so they followed their leader meekly and stayed with the flock. I watched them all move down the street, a huge pack filling the pavement chattering loudly, then I quickly crossed the street and walked in the opposite direction.
I walked up and down some of the back streets finding interesting artwork on walls and signs, and an interesting drain which had me scratching my head as the bucket was above ground level. I'd heard the doors in Fredericksburg are supposed to be interesting but I only found this one that caught my eye. I think Old Town Alexandria has prettier doors.
 I guess this wouldn't be seen down in D.C. I assumed the driver was shopping for sand or gravel.
I'd read about the old apothecary shop in the town so went in search of that. I was very fortunate to find it nearly empty, just a couple of others were on the tour with me. This is a very interesting shop with 2 members of staff in eighteenth century dress who talk to you in the old fashioned tongue from their time. Many methods of treatments and medicines were explained with small jars passed around so that we could sniff. Some were pretty bad, and for some reason the fact that cobwebs, if packed onto a wound can help healing, stayed in my mind. I don't think I'll ever put that to the test though.
We were also shown objects of toture that had once been used to remove teeth or limbs but what really caught my attention were the leeches. They were bloody enormous, at least fifty times bigger than I'd thought they would be, but I was fascinated. I asked if I could hold one but after a moment's hesitation the lady said no. Fair enough, but she did let me stroke one. As soon as my finger touched his wet back, the creature suddenly constricted to a third of its width and quadrupled its length, it was amazing. It was quite obvious that this elderly lady doted on her strange pets and I had plenty of questions. They only need to be fed about once in every 6 months but she spoils hers and they get fed every 2 - 3 months. They are fed fresh congealed blood which she collects from her local butcher. I'd  had to ask where she got it from as I had a mental image of her sitting in her armchair in front of the fire with a couple of leeches latched on to each arm and a cat in her lap!
I spent nearly an hour in the store, it was so interesting and visual, and then felt incredibly guilty when on the way out I spotted a 'no photography' sign, but neither of the staff members had said anything so oh well....
I wasn't that bothered about looking through antique stores this afternoon, and there were a lot of them so I walked back to the car and decided to check out a place called Belmont, which I'd read about in the visitor center.
An odd window that I passed when leaving the town.
Belmont looked an interesting house but while parking I drove too far onto the soggy grass and got bogged down. Stuart's wheels were spinning and even with rocking back and forth I was stuck. I had cat litter in the car and threw that down to no avail but then a really nice guy came over and pushed me out backwards. I was petrified that he would get covered with mud spraying up from the car as the wheels struggled to get a purchase but thankfully I made it back onto the gravel and he walked away clean
Belmont was the home of famous artist Gari Melchers and his wife Corinne. Melchers was in demand for his portrait work in the 1890's for the likes of Vanderbilt and Roosevelt, and worked closely in Holland with George Hitchcock, another artist. His motto was true and clear, a trait seen in his paintings.
The detail in his work is meticulous and I relished being able to get up close to his paintings to study his brush strokes and technique. His art is inside the house and also in a studio across the lawn. 1677 of his paintings and drawings are housed on the property but his paintings are also in museums worldwide. There are 2 murals in the Library of Congress, of War and of Peace that he painted.
The house and gardens are beautiful here, even in winter time. Snowdrops and Christmas Roses are scattered amongst rocks in the flower beds and I have seen enough photos from Spring to know I'll be back here again. We weren't allowed to take photos inside the house for obvious reasons but the gardens had enough to keep me busy. When Corinne died, after Gari, she left the house and all its contents to the National Trust. All their treasures, furniture and rugs collected on their travels are on display, and the property has been described as being the best house and studio on display of any painter in America.
Here are a couple of links showing the interior and flower gardens.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Beauty & the Book, The Library of Congress, D.C.

At 8 o'clock Monday morning I was standing, freezing cold, on the steps of the Library of Congress, wishing them to open their doors and let me into the wonderfully warm temperatures inside where I could see guard strolling in just a shirt and light jacket. And trousers, of course. I was here with a couple of other die-hards early so we could get inside and take photographs before the hordes arrived. Today was one of 2 days a year when the Reading Room is open to photographers although no tripods are allowed. We could explore the rest of the building beforehand and then be ready to rush the Reading Room as soon as it opened.
The Library of Congress first existed in The Capitol in 1800, as a few volumes bought from Philadelphia, and then occupied various spaces throughout the building until the British burned it down in 1814. Thomas Jefferson offered to sell his own personal library so this was purchased in 1815. A second fire on Christmas Eve 1851 destroyed two thirds of the 6487 books so it was decided a new building had to be found. The Jefferson Building was completed in 1897 with its 23 carat gold plated dome and a guidebook for visitors. It was dubbed the" largest, costliest and safest" library in the world. It was a state of the art structure, using latest technology, and a Temple of the Arts.
The building underwent a huge restoration in 1986. Above shows the Reading Room before work started, and during. The Reading Room reopened in 1991. The Adams Building was built next door to join on to the Jefferson and this was completed in 1939, and then a third building was completed in 1981, the James Madison Memorial Building.
When we were finally allowed in after stringent security checks, like going through an airport, we were free to look around. At first I didn't move because I was spellbound. I've never seen such ornate or extravagant decoration in a building before, or so much intricacy. The color and sculpture, just the vast amount of work that had gone into this building almost bowled me over. I really didn't know which way to walk first or where to point my camera. It is stunningly beautiful. I could go into depth about the various methods of artistic decoration in here but this link will explain much plus additional images.
And here - On These Walls.
A lot of my time was spent looking up, there wasn't a square inch of the building that wasn't decorated with paint, sculpture or mosaics. Marble columns and floors were throughout the building and beautiful lamps or chandeliers hung from the ceilings. Most of my photos are really just documenting what I saw, I could have spent another whole day trying to just take artistic shots. But I only had the morning off work so as soon as the Reading Room was opened I headed for there.
Looking down before we were allowed in.
This decoration was on the carpet throughout the room.
The archives, rows and rows of cards in wooden boxes.
A spiral staircase going to I don't know where, admission was denied.
Around the outside of the circular room were alcoves, many linked by doorways.
Part of the decoration on the domed ceiling. After a couple of hours I was feeling a little burned out. Many more people had arrived including large groups of school kids. The awestruck silence in the beginning gradually grew to loud whispering but now had escalated to hundreds of shrill and chattering voices, not a noise often heard in this majestic room I suppose. This had been an amazing morning and it all felt a little surreal as I walked back to my car.
Just by chance I spotted this perspective of the Capitol and had to snap the photo. Not a view seen too often!