Remembering Our Summer Burn at the Herm

This week feels like the perfect opportunity to recap some major things that happened at the Hermitage in 2017, for one reason in particular– this weekend is the anticipated opening of our friends at the Renwick’s No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man exhibit in Washington, D.C. (March 30, 2018-January 21, 2019).  For those of you who visited recently or follow the Hermitage’s social media, you may recall that we hosted an out of the ordinary exhibit last summer called, The Art of Burning Man.  And guys, it was EPIC.

The exhibit certainly left its impact on the community here, well after the lingering days of the Virginia summer.  Whenever I meet someone new and tell them where I work, their first reaction is, “Oh! I wish I had/I attended that Burning Man opening/closing party!”   It was and continues to be the talk of the town and we all still feel so proud to have been part of bringing that special magic of Burning Man to Norfolk, in a setting like the Hermitage.  And we’re excited that even afterwards, some of artists we befriended will be featured at the Renwick’s own exhibit this year.

If you would love a hard-copy record of the exhibit with stunning professional photos, we do still have the exhibit catalog available from our museum gift shop! They are $25 + tax and museum members get a 10% discount!

And now, a brief write-up about the exhibit by colleague Carrie Spencer:

Exhibit photos captured by Yuzhu Zheng

What I learned about the art of Burning Man:

At first glance, the Hermitage Museum & Gardens, a small Arts and Crafts-style estate located in Norfolk, Virginia, is an unlikely venue to host artwork once displayed at Burning Man; however, ‘out-of the-ordinary’ ideas are what drive Hermitage programming and exhibitions. We are known for the unusual and for offering unique arts and cultural experiences in the region, making Burning Man a perfect fit. As we wrap up The Art of Burning Man exhibition at the Hermitage Museum & Gardens I begin to reflect on our accomplishments and all that we have learned. We were optimistic about how the show would be received but have been blown away by the incredible response and are thrilled with how the exhibition and its programming evolved. Being a small and nimble museum allowed us the necessary flexibility in curating a community driven, collaborative exhibition.

Our Executive Director, along with staff, began developing the exhibition idea in early 2016. During this process, I was fortunate enough to attend Burning Man and a regional Burning Man event which helped me gain a much better understanding of the culture and community of Burning Man; something I could never have gained simply by researching the artists and artwork. Through this invaluable experience that I brought back to the museum we realized that the art from Burning Man cannot be separate from the culture of Burning Man. It became important to us to incorporate aspects of the culture and the event in our nearly 5-month long exhibition.

Installing the large-scale artworks on our 12 acres of waterfront gardens and grounds was the easy part, relatively speaking. How we could incorporate the culture of Burning Man and convey that to the public was the greater challenge. Having the artwork simply sit on our property for 4.5 months would not truly embody Burning Man. We needed more. We asked ourselves “How can we convey Burning Man to our visitors? How can we integrate our community with the Burning Man community? How can we educate the public about this artwork, the artists, and about Burning Man?”

There were three things that were essential in our attempt to answer these questions.

  • Theme Camps: A big takeaway from my experience attending Burning Man were the community contributions that occur in the form of theme camps; whether the camp offers hair washing, omelets for breakfast, workshops, or art-making activities these camps each contribute to providing meaningful experiences to the community as their gift. I found, in my own experience, theme camps to be just as essential as the sculptures at Burning Man. Visiting various camps provided me opportunities to connect with others, collaborate, learn new things, and at times simply have fun. To integrate this aspect into the exhibition programming we invited community members, organizations, and Burners to offer contributions during our evening exhibition hours.

We hosted DJs, artist demonstrations, art-making activities, yoga lessons, improv comedy performers, dancers, and much more. All of these individuals and organizations donated their time and talents to our exhibition as a gift to the community, as a way of being a part of something much larger than themselves, and as a means of connecting with others. It allowed the community to become involved with the exhibition, take ownership of it, and share their gift with the public.

  • Volunteerism: We learned early on that volunteerism is heavily encouraged within the Burning

Man community. This aspect was easy for us, as the Hermitage is accustomed to working with volunteers on a regular basis. We recruited volunteers to help with the installation and deinstallation of the artwork, both inside the museum and outside on the grounds. We asked volunteers to serve as docents to help educate the public about the artwork, the artists, and about Burning Man. We created a volunteer group that we referred to as Burning Man Ambassadors and who helped us spread the word throughout the region about this experience coming to Norfolk.

  • The Principles: Incorporating the principles was an obvious aspect of Burning Man culture for us to include in our attempt to embody the ethos of Burning Man. Participation, Communal Effort, Self-Expression, and Inclusion were all emphasized in our programming efforts and aligned well with Hermitage practices.

Incorporating these important components into our exhibition and programming helped us to integrate our community with the Burning Man community. It allowed us to educate the public about the artwork, the artists, and about Burning Man more than museum labels or brochures could. And it enabled us to create interactive, participatory and shared experiences that created a lasting impression on our visitors. In this regard, we were successful. Through this we were able to establish community partnerships, gain community input, and build lasting relationships.

Throughout this experience I learned that Burning Man art is not limited to the art objects. Burning Man moves beyond the idea that there is an artist who creates art and an observer who enjoys it.  This is different from what usually occurs in the traditional museum setting. At Burning Man, the participants (referred to as visitors in the museum world) do not just admire the art, they become a part of it. The artworks are not just objects, they engage participants and demand interaction; they create specific environments and places to visit and pay homage to. Our visitors became participants. They attended our evening programs by gifting contributions to the community and the exhibition. They helped build the artwork alongside the artists during the installation and helped in breaking down the artwork. They continued to come back week after week to care for the artwork. They volunteered as educators and they interacted with the artwork as each artist intended.

At Burning Man and at the Art of Burning Man exhibition, the art objects and the participants play a role in a much larger art experience; an interactive performance between the artists who dedicate a great deal of effort creating the work, the objects that are interactive and engaging, and the participants. This performance between the artist, the object, and the participant is the real work of art, in progress, during the annual event, but also extends beyond the event creating a performance piece in which every aspect of Burning Man helps to shape the art. Burning Man art happens every day, all year long and it happened in Norfolk this summer.

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Carrie Spencer
Curator of Education and Contemporary Art Exhibitions
The Hermitage Museum & Gardens                            Photo by Eleise Theuer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

…..And yes, of course we had a burn at the closing party! Check it out 

 

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The Conservator is In

Despite this recent brush of cold weather, spring appears to be just around the corner in southeastern Virginia.  And that means flowers are waking up, the sun is shining once again, and the museum staff is preparing for all sorts of activities this year.

If you stop by the Hermitage sometime this month, you may notice that one of our large paintings with gorgeous, colorful floral elements is not on view in its usual place.  But don’t worry!  It’s just being conserved.  Work began this past Monday on this large beauty.

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Stephen Reid (1873-1948), Rejoice Greatly, 1922

This work has been slated for conservation since 2010 (see Lauren Northup’s post from June, 2010 on this blog for reference!).

Normally, a conservator would pick up the painting and take it to his/her studio for treatment.  And then they would bring it back to us, magically transformed!  However, since this piece is so large, and the conservator was nice enough to go along with my crazy ideas, we converted what was previously a back gallery (and more recently a Virginia Stage Company “Dream Clinic” set) into a temporary conservator’s studio for the next few weeks.   This presented us with a wonderful opportunity to share the conservation process with our visitors, and to make it an educational moment. You can stop by in the next couple of weeks and peek at the process on-site, 10am-5pm Tuesdays-Fridays until March 30th!

The wonderful Fred Wallace, formerly Head of Conservation at the Mariner’s Museum in Hampton, and more recently, owner and Chief Conservator of Infinity Art Conservation Enterprises, has graciously taken on the project… and he has agreed to make the Hermitage gallery his studio for the next couple of weeks. He will be joined by his colleague, Tom Snyder, a gilt wooden objects conservator, on March 22 to address the frame.

When Florence was alive, this painting hung in the master bedroom in what was a more private space, even when the home opened to the public as a museum by 1942.  Nowadays, when there is not a temporary exhibition going on, it is usually on view in the upstairs painting gallery where it is a major focal point and admired by most of our visitors.

Stephen Reid’s Rejoice Greatly (1922) is a Hermitage visitor-favorite.  It was painted after the Allied victory of World War I in 1918 and features two young girls placing candles in paper lanterns, lighting the way home for returning troops. The figures are positioned amid a garden that features lively, vibrant flowers.  The subjects and details of the painting convey a feeling of deep appreciation for the sacrifices of armed service members returning from war as well as an air of celebration and quiet hope for the future.

The artist’s own daughter, Jessie, often served as a model in many of her father’s paintings, including this one.  According to archival letters from Jessie after her father’s death in 1948, she explained that the setting was based on the artist’s own garden in St. John’s Wood (London). The garden and the house were later destroyed during the second world war.

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Prior to the start of his conservation work, Fred took several preliminary photos and closely observed some of the weak areas of the painting and frame: Since the painting has not undergone prior conservation, there was evidence that surface dust and grime had accumulated over many years.  Aging varnish further contributed to its overall “dingy” appearance.  There were also obvious losses in the frame.  The canvas was visibly loosening from the wooden frame and the canvas itself was beginning to sag, which posed a risk to aged, cracking paint which could continue to lift if not stabilized.

On Monday, Fred and I removed the painting from its frame so that he could begin his first phase, the structural work.

As we looked closely at the back of the painting, there was 1 hand-cut nail (cool!) and a few marks and hand-written notes, one of which read: “117 Abbey Road, London”–presumably the artist’s residence! There was also a hand-written note indicating that this was to be shipped to “William Sloane, Norfolk, Virginia.”

Now, I don’t want to give away too many details about the extent of Fred’s process because

1. I am not a conservator and can’t begin to explain the intricate details of his work with the same clarity and eloquence that Fred can.

2. This post is absolutely intended to be a tease for our upcoming program next week.  So I hope you will join us on Thursday evening, March 22, when Fred and his colleague, Tom Snyder, will talk more about the specific treatment process and considerations for this project.  Reserve your seat for this program here .

Personally, I find conservation to be an absorbingly fascinating field.  I wish I had the scientific skills required for such work.  Because I don’t, it will always be a bit like magic to me.  So I am selfishly excited for this work to be treated on-site so that I can see how the phases of treatment unfold in person every day.  Seeing the pockets of cleaned areas transform in contrast to the grimy areas is immensely satisfying.

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Section of preliminary solvent test

Conservation is extremely important to museums to make sure that we are able to stabilize and care for the objects in our collections in the best ways possible.  Why?  Put simply, so that they may be enjoyed by future generations.  Although we do not have an in-house museum conservation department (maybe in 10 years, right?!?!), we have been extremely fortunate to work with fantastic experts in previous years to help care for many treasured items in our collection.

As you all probably know, the Hermitage began an adopt-an-artwork initiative in 2006 called “Mend our Broken Art” (a play on “heart,” just in time for Valentine’s day that year).  It was a fantastic program that gave the public an insider’s perspective to the  field and encouraged the community to actively participate in the conservation process through their own generous donations.  It created a stronger connection between the community and the objects in our collection and put us in contact with a variety of conservation specialists.  Although the MOBA program is no longer active (we are looking to revamp it in the near future!), conservation absolutely continues to be a priority for us today and we hope that this year’s conservation program emphasizes that.

As one can imagine, it can be expensive to bring in professional conservators for a collection of over 5,000 artworks.  And so while staying aware of current conservation priorities is really important, prevention measures are also especially crucial in order to mitigate the eventual need for conservation.  Of course, that can also be expensive!  And so we always appreciate donations to the museum throughout the year, which help fund such specialized care of our collections.  If you are interested in donating, feel free to stop in, or go online (yes, an admittedly shameless plug).

For those of you who have treasured artworks of your own, if you are interested in having a piece conserved, there are fantastic local resources available through the Virginia Conservation Association.

Hopefully this has enticed you a bit.   If so, please join us on the evening of March 22,  for this fantastic opportunity to hear from Fred Wallace and Tom Snyder about their work!

Event Details

 

 

 

Happy Chinese New Year!

By Trudy Gaba, Curatorial Intern

The Chinese New Year or Spring Festival is China’s biggest and most important holiday. This year, it kicks off on Friday, February 16th and lasts until Sunday Feb. 18th. Today, the current Year of the Rooster will give way to the Year of the Dog. Each new year is marked by the characteristics of one of twelve zodiac animals: the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog and pig. Those who are fortunate enough to be born in the Year of the Dog are often considered to be loyal, honest, and selfless.

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This decorative pottery piece from the Ming Dynasty (14th-17th Century), currently on view in the museum, is commonly referred to as a fu-dog. No, your eyes are not playing tricks on you.  The fu-dog is not actually a dog at all; it’s an Imperial guardian lion. As popular symbols in Chinese Buddhism, the statues of guardian lions traditionally stood in front of Chinese Imperial palaces, homes, tombs, and temples and were believed to have powerful mythic protective benefits. The fu-dogs are symbolic, protective statues, and they are designed in pairs — one is female, the other is male. The female represents yin, and symbolically protects the people dwelling inside the home, while the male statue, representing yang, protects the structure itself.

Tied to the Chinese lunar calendar, the Chinese New Year is traditionally a time to honour household and heavenly deities as well as ancestors.  It is also a time to bring family together for feasting. In preparation for the holiday, houses are thoroughly cleansed to rid the home of any ill-fortunes that may be been collected during the old year. Ritual sacrifices of food and paper coins are also offered to the gods and ancestors. Paper scrolls with lucky messages are also pinned to the windows and gates of homes to bring good fortune and you may on occasion hear a few firecrackers going off, for they are used to frighten way evil spirits. Chinese immigrants brought these old-world traditions and rituals—including Chinese New Year celebrations—to the host country. These old-world rituals served as a link between immigrants and their home countries and created a sense of community in their adopted country.

Want to see more of our collection of Asian objects? Chinese Neolithic jade and archaic ceremonial bronze vessels from the Western Zhou Dynasty (11th Century – 771 BCE) from the permanent collection are also on view in the galleries!

A Valentine’s Day tribute to William Sloane (November 1, 1868-February 14, 1940)

By Trudy Gaba, Curatorial Intern

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Mr. Sloane was born in New York, November 1, 1868 and died in Norfolk on February 14, 1940. Those who knew him best described him as a man of quiet taste and unassuming manners. Although he much preferred to remain in the background, he had a genuine love for the finer things in life and a consuming desire to manifest such cultural values in the City of Norfolk. Mr. Sloane’s love of the arts is evident through the Hermitage Foundation he helped to establish in 1937, alongside his wife Florence. Together, they encouraged the development of arts and crafts and were dedicated to promoting the arts in the community. Upon his death, he made a large provision for the Foundation. In addition to the couple’s idyllic estate, he made it possible to establish a museum to feature the couple’s incredible collection of art and cultural objects, a school for the arts (now our Visual Art School), and a wildflower preserve and bird sanctuary. Mr. Sloane would be proud to see his wishes have reached fruition today and that his legacy and devotion to the fine and allied arts live on at the Hermitage. Join us at the museum or in the gardens this Valentine’s Day.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Spotlight Series # 1: Leave No Trace

Blog Post by Trudy Gaba

pic 1Fearsome Foursome posing around The Throne by Michael Garlington & Natalia Bertotti (located in the Center Hall) 

Leave No Trace is one of the top principles regarded amongst the Burning Community—at the close of an event there should be no physical trace of the activities that took place.  Such a feat is doable in the vast barren lands of the Black Rock desert; however, the captured essence of Burning Man as an art exhibition that was featured on the grounds and in the galleries of the museum left a few traces after its de-installation in mid-October. The Art of Burning Man was the first museum exhibition dedicated to the artwork of the annual event to be held at the Hermitage Museum and Gardens. Running from June 3 – October 14, 2017, guests were able to experience a bit of that magic playa dust through the large-scale sculptures and interactive installations created by fellow members of the Burner community. The Throne by Michael Garlington and Natalia Bertotti was one of the interactive installations which encouraged guests to sit and playfully pose amongst the patterned backdrop. After the final event, the throne was de-installed, leaving several unsightly holes in need of a little TLC.

pic 2Maeve Bristow, Architectural Conservator, gently sanding the surface of a repaired hole.

A couple holes in the wall sounds like no big deal, right?  It’s something many of us as home owners and renters have either encountered or accidentally created at some point. A simple run to Home Depot or a quick Yellow Pages search can easily erase that Do-It-Yourself-Project-Gone-Wrong or if we are being completely honest here, a drunken late-night stumble in which elbow met plaster. But for an early 20th century historic house museum, the remedy is not so simple. Repairing the numerous holes left in the surface of the wall from the de-installation of The Throne requires a special phone call to a highly specialized conservator. Maeve Bristow of Black Creek Workshop was kind enough to answer our call.

As a trained art conservator, specializing in architectural painted surfaces and historic interiors, Maeve ensured that the historic interior walls of the Hermitage House would once again regain their marvellous lustre. Maeve was kind enough to chat with me about this restorative process and the current treatments she will be applying to the wall. Before the painting stage can commence, priming, filling, and sanding any holes and cracks must first occur. This helps to ensure a stable surface on which the paint will later be applied.

pic 3Close up of the treatment applied to fill the holes.

pic 4Maeve applying a textured layer of paint with a cloth.

As the above photos illustrate, the wall consists of several different paints that had been applied with textured applications, so Maeve must determine the right paint samples to use that will blend seamlessly with the original paint. Visual analyse also detected a tinted varnish had been used as a finishing coat, which she will also have to match and reapply. The final result proves why Maeve comes highly recommended. There is no visible trace left from the installation process or the subsequent removal of the artwork.

….WANT TO KNOW MORE ABOUT MAEVE?

Maeve hails from the Isle of Mann (I’ll give you a quick moment to google maps it) and her work in historic preservation can be seen all over Scotland, so the next time you are deciding on your vacation destination, trade in those pants for a Scottish kilt and head on over to Bonny Edinburgh. You can polish off a wee pint and walk on up the Royal Mile to check out the stone conservation work she performed at St. Giles Cathedral as well as on the murals of the Mansfield Traquair Trust, which are often referred to as the “Sistine Chapel” of Scotland.

pic 5Maeve Bristow working on the Phoebe Anna Traquair wall paintings in Mansfield Church, Edinburgh.

If a Trans-Atlantic flight isn’t your cup of tea, there are other local opportunities here in Virginia that showcase her work, so pack up the SUV with the family and road trip on over to Mount Vernon to see her restorations on George Washington’s “New Room,” formerly known as the Large Dining Room.

pic 6Maeve working on the ceiling in the New Room at Mount Vernon

Quick little blurb about the writer who has hijacked the Hermitage’s Collection Blog. My name is Trudy Gaba. I am an alumnus of Norfolk Academy and Virginia Tech (GO H-O-K-I-E-S!), so my fondness for this state runs deep. I’ve recently returned home from a year spent abroad in the UK completing my Master’s Degree in Renaissance and Early Modern Art at the University of Edinburgh. I have a passion for the arts of Asia and Western Europe and will be working at the Hermitage Museum & Gardens as a Curatorial Intern. I’m excited to be collaborating with the head curator, Lindsay Neal, on several upcoming projects she has in the works, so bookmark this page to your favorites and stay tuned for new content and updates!

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Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes

Hello, everyone!  Well, it’s probably about time that I get this post up so that #1 I can let everyone know where Colin has been and #2 I can introduce myself on here.  For those of you who follow this, you know that Colin was an absolutely amazing asset to the Hermitage for more than 5 years.  He accomplished incredible things for the museum, the collections, and community as an Asian art expert.  He was also quite the gifted and witty blogger.   But he is on to greater and greener pastures now…..quite literally.  In August of 2016, Colin went back to Scotland to pursue his PhD at the University of Edinburgh.  Don’t feel too badly for him– I have it on good authority that he is living THE life—travels to beautiful places, plenty of beer in hand to guide his studies, and many sweater vests.  We miss his humor, sarcasm, and infinite knowledge, but in all seriousness, we couldn’t be happier for him as he continues his research.

So who am I?

My name is Lindsay Neal.  Although I have worked at the Hermitage Museum since 2014, I have only been the Curator of Collections since 2016, when Colin departed.  I’m originally from the great Midwestern state of Ohio (Cincinnati, to be exact), moved to Charleston, SC for a brief time after graduate school, and landed in Norfolk, Virginia in 2013.   And now that things are slowing down a bit for the year (I’ll fill you in on all the exciting details in later posts), I thought it was perhaps time I introduce myself on this blog thing.

I will be honest: I spend very little time posting from personal social media accounts these days.  I am just not as savvy as my teen-aged MySpace self used to be (probably for the best).  And so it has been a slow process building up to a blog post.  But anyway, Colin’s advice to me before his departure: “Just don’t screw* it up (*edited for audience).”  No pressure, right?  So I have been trying to live by those words ever since.  They are literally printed on an 8 1/2″ x 11″ piece of paper and pinned to the wall above my desk as my daily reminder.   I have also been intimidated to follow in the blogging footsteps of both Colin and his incredibly inspiring predecessor, Lauren.  There is so much wit and intelligence between the two of them!  This blog has been pure gold thanks to their contributions over the years.  So rather than trying too hard to fill the void of these great people, here is my simple promise to you:   While I ultimately hope I can continue this blog in the spirit of what they started (and maybe even provide an ounce of their wit and wisdom?), I plan to just be me and hope this continues to be interesting to you.   If nothing else, I promise to post pretty pictures and give you a sense of the things I am working on.

I also have some fantastic people volunteering with me throughout the year, so I will have them take over the blog from time to time to share their perspective of the various happenings here.

So, let’s have a go of it, shall we?

DSC_0415Picture of the Herm looking particularly pretty.  Don’t you just want to jump into that festive tree?  Our Diver sure does!    

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Shout out to the amazing Yolima Carr for creating the beautiful wreaths adorning the doors and windows around the museum this season.    

And on that note, happy holidays to everyone!

-Lindsay

The Sloane Collection. A Book….that you read with your eyes and feel with your hands.

For a hot minute I thought it had been two years since I wrote a blog entry. It hasn’t!!! Ha, a 7 month hiatus seems pretty normal for me, and of course the reason I pop back on is to shamelessly promote a new book.

Once again I think we have done a wonderful job. By we I mean photographer Christiana Caro, designer Jennifer Lucy and me, Colin the Great. If you’re worried that we wrote something with lots of words (reading, that chore) find comfort in the fact that there are only 20 pages of typed print. Mind you I nailed those words so hard they could act as the foundation for a new Hermitage….so fear not.

Enough about me for a minute (unless you want to know more?). The real stars of this publishing are the images. Christiana knocked them out !!!! Do you see those four exclamation points? That is 3 X your standard excitement.  She is a master with a camera and you all will fall in love with her work.

The book centers around the collection (obvi) and its place in the home. Its a little bit of everything, a little quirky, a little historical and a lot of fun. The cover is so good looking that you will think you have picked up a magical tome that will guide you through Middle Earth. I am getting Mordor hot just thinking about it.

So…come on over to the Hermitage Museum. Buy a copy for $29.99 (plus tax, because we need to pay teachers more and I want better roads). And then tell me how great we are. If you don’t like it then I will ignore you for the rest of our professional relationship. So no big deal 🙂

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