Happy Holidays, Hermitage Style

Feeling a little blue now that the holidays are over? Stop everything and watch the Hermitage holiday lip-sync, brought to you by the [occasionally outrageous] Hermitage staff.

Credit goes to Megan Frost, our Membership and Development Manager, for shooting and editing this inspired take on Perry Como’s classic. Thanks, Megan! Happy Holidays everybody!

PS: Colin and I are doing the dougie in the painting gallery… although not very well.


2011: A Year in Review

I’m feeling unusually festive this holiday season. Not sure why, but it might have something to do with the staff Christmas party being set up downstairs as we speak. A pot-luck feast!

I turn now to our fearless leader, Melanie Mathewes, who has a holiday message to share with our readers:

2011 was anything but typical. I asked staff to share the top five (or so) things accomplished in each department this past year.  The list is below. Art people are not known for the ability to count, so the first time around the list was a bit long – I never thought in my wildest imagination that I would have to edit such a compilation.

If you have recently visited me in my office you know I have taken it upon myself to reorganize the files amassed over the past seven years.  As I revisit the days of yore, I am reminded of how far we have come. In my sorting I came across a feasibility study from 1992 conducted by the Kellogg Organization. I read over the stated strengths and weaknesses of the Hermitage. The one weakness to strike a chord with me was, “No one knows a damn thing about the Hermitage.” (By the way that is a direct quote.) I do think that in 2011 we fixed that.

We are amazing – I mean really amazing! This is a magical time for the Hermitage and in 2012 we usher in our 75th year as a museum. Forgive me, but as I look back on 2011 I am very impressed. Recently, I was asked to explain the museum’s work plan and describe our organizational chart.  I was asked if we are a tree or a pyramid. I explained that we are a sphere. They politely corrected me to say a Venn Diagram.  In truth, flat circles on a page do not capture the interconnectedness producing the energy and excitement of the Hermitage. Simply stated, we are amazing!

Happy holidays,   Melanie



  • Makeover of the West Gallery to include small bronzes by Harriet Frishmuth, sketches by F. Luis Mora, paintings and drawings by Douglas Volk, mosaic paintings by Edwin Blashfield, and a custom designed and built archival display case.
  • Timeline exhibit drew the largest crowd of any permanent collection exhibit yet.
  • The bedroom ceiling was conserved, at last! The broken HVAC actually helped us resolve the leak that caused the damage in the first place.
  • Completed the first total inventory of Collections storage AND archives.
  • Many new gallery arrangements throughout the museum; just about in every room.
  • Admission to the museum is up 20 percent overall, and our peak months were better than ever.
  • Ushered in a new era of large group tours (Norfolk Sister Cities, NATO, ODU student groups, etc).
  • We’re ready to go self-guided in 2012!

Membership & Development

  • Membership grew to include over 1,000 current members
  • Successful season of Sunset concerts
  • Most profitable All Hallows Eve to date
  • Growing partnerships with local Garden Clubs and VA Arts Festival
  • Launched HVAC capital campaign with a $25,000 lead gift

Gardens & Grounds

  • Awarded, for the second year, the Virginia Horticultural Foundation Grant
  • Obtained permits and grants to restore the wetlands on the west side of the Hermitage property
  • Irrigation for the East Garden installed thanks to a donation from the Redwood Junior Garden Club
  • The Garden Club of Norfolk supported the installation of a Rain Garden through their achievement of The Bessie Bocock Carter Award
  • Fifth year to be recognized as a Sustained Distinguished Performance Model Level River Star by the Elizabeth River Project
  • 400 local school children enjoyed the Wetlands Environmental Tour (WET)
  • Participated in the Home & Flower show – 15,000 visitors
  • Hosted the April and October tours for the Norfolk Sister City Exchange


  • Docent classes have seen larger attendance numbers.
  • Volunteer numbers continue to grow, as well as numbers for internship applications and those accepted.
  • Specialized tours have been written and put into practice, which include Children, Asian and Curatorial based tours.
  • Research on the Asian collection has led to the development of a permanent gallery space to house the artwork.
  • One of our Asian pieces was recognized as being among the top ten endangered artifacts in the state.


  • Worked with BCF to create dynamic new website for the Hermitage
  • Expanded rack card distribution to include all Welcome Centers in VA (including listings in digital kiosks) as well as rest areas along I-95 and I-64
  • Achieved highest web traffic in the organization’s history in the month of October.
  • Publicity: Hermitage to be featured on the cover of VOW Bride magazine (spring 2012) and the cover of the 2012 Historic Garden Week book
  • Notable Designs: Hermitage Visitor Guide brochure/map to be used for self-guided tours, new Weddings brochure, new Visual Arts Studio brochure, Reclamation exhibit gallery guide

Public Programs

  • Produced the most successful Summer Art Camp to date.
  • Introduced Young Artists Summer Camp for 11-13 year olds, running 4 successful weeks
  • Created a detailed plan for improvements to the Visual Arts Studio building in a collaborative effort between the Education & Public Programs Committee and the Buildings & Grounds Committee
  • Produced most successful Fall and Holiday sessions of VAS classes on record in the past 3 years
  • Attracted record numbers to exhibition openings (5 exhibitions)


  • New exterior lighting at the VAS.
  • UV glass installed on all Morning Room Windows.
  • Completely renovated the West Gallery by painting the ceiling and walls, remodeled the now Bronze display area, and added track lighting in the display area and the gallery itself.
  • Silver display case in Music Room was re-done including the addition of a moisture barrier between the back and sides of the case and the exterior walls.
  • Secured Colonial Webb Contractors to install new HVAC system for the Museum.
  • HVAC install – DONE


  • Completed 22 events. Double the amount of 2010.
  • Had booths at 3 bridal shows
  • Became a part of the International Special Event Society
  • Completed 50% of the projected budget for 11-12 fiscal year – yes already!
  • Created an information request form and photo gallery for the new website which has created a lot of leads and bookings.
  • Surpassed revenue goal by 20% for fiscal year 10-11

 Actually that is 51… but like I said, art people can’t count.

Have a wonderful, restorative holiday. We’ll see you next week!

Get out the MAP!

I am delighted to announce that the Hermitage has been accepted into the Museum Assessment Program (or MAP) for 2012!

MAP is run by the American Association of Museums (or AAM) and is a great way for museums to grow and achieve excellence. The year-long program includes a self-study by museum staff, an onsite consultation with a peer reviewer, and a final “implementation period” when staff uses the reviewer’s suggestions for short- and long-term planning.  You can apply for one of three MAP assessments: Organizational, Collections Stewardship, or Community Engagement. We applied for Organizational, which means that basically everything is under scrutiny.

My long-term goal is to roll right into the accreditation process. Is this boring you? I’m sorry. Colin only wears a wetsuit so many days of the year.

To learn more about what’s in store for Hermitage staff in the upcoming year, click here to read on. Let me know if you have any questions.

In the meantime, I’ll be humming this:

Get out the Map – Indigo Girls

There’s No Place Like the Herm for the Holidays

Picture round-up! Here we go:

This happened today. Yes, that’s Colin in a westsuit. I am watching to make sure he doesn’t drown. I can’t tell you why as I have been SWORN TO SECRECY, but rest assured that you will be rewarded for your patience on this matter. And how.

I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s go back a few months:

We enjoyed some rather spectacular sunsets this fall. Cheers, nature.

Inside the house… what was filthy and failing was made right:

Stephen, our plaster conservator, got busy in the bedroom and finally completed restoring the ceiling. It looks beautiful. The bits of blue tape  indicate the places he took moisture readings.

As pristine a plaster ceiling as I’ve ever seen.

Our new HVAC system was installed recently. BIG NEWS. I plan on dedicating a separate post to that momentous event. The morning after the system was up and running, Colin and I went through the house removing dehumidifiers from their various hiding spots.

This is just the first cull — we have at least four more of these babies lurking in dark corners. Can you believe we had to empty these by hand every. single. day. during the summer? Sometimes three or four times? First world problems, I know. In other news, we recently made a donation of two beautiful display cases to the Hampton University Museum. The cases don’t work with our plan for the Great Hall and since we have very little storage space and fifty million objects (exaggeration? NOPE) the cases had to go. Two capable fellows arrived in the early morning to collect them and Colin and I about had a heart attack watching them hoist these mothers into a moving van. It does my heart good knowing they went to a happy home. 

Moving those gigantic cases from the Great Hall really opens up the space — miles and piles of gorgeous teak floorboards! Colin and I have been hard at work preparing the space for a new installation of the Asian collection. With over 450 pieces to choose from we’ve got quite a long road ahead, but we’re hoping to have everything ship-shape by April. Fang dings and snuff bottles as far as the eye can see, I tell you.

If you’re planning on attending our Members Holiday Party tomorrow night, be sure to stop in the Great Hall and have a look around. Twirl around with your arms stretched out, we don’t care! Speaking of the holiday party… I did a little seasonal curating to celebrate the festive occasion:The painting above the mantelpiece usually hangs in our painting gallery; it is Eugene Savage’s first study for his larger work entitled Recessional, now in the permanent collection at LACMA. I moved it downstairs temporarily to recreate this archival photo of the same mantel, taken in 1950:The only things missing are live greenery, the stockings, and a working fireplace. Try to light a fire these days and you’ll burn this fool house down. “Merry Christmas OHMYGOD RUN THE HOUSE IS ON FIIIIRE!”

What else is going on? Work continues apace, with very few of us getting on each other’s nerves. Actually, it’s kind of a love fest around here. I mean, look at these nerds:

Speaking of love-fests, look who came to visit me when I worked over the weekend!

Turns out he’s a HUGE fan of faux waddle and daub:

So am I, kid. So am I.