Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Visitor Center Exhibits Get a Facelift

Gretchen reports:

The Lees of Stratford Gallery has received an update, with the final touches completed just this past Friday. We are very excited to be able to bring new interpretive information and objects into the gallery, which will hopefully please both new and returning visitors.

The update includes new object label text with more stories about the Lees and other residents of Stratford; added screening to our lights to cut down levels near light-sensitive objects; and new object mounts to make sure the artifacts are safe and secure.

Jenn from SurroundArt made over 60 mounts in the course of 5 days! For those counting, that just might be a mount-making record.

Kat Marshall put her skills to work cutting out all the new labels for the gallery.

Carlos from SurroundArt carefully rehangs the Lee family coat of arms on its new mounting system (much better than a single nail).

New objects in the cases include: fragments from a rat’s nest found in the Great House's attic (
see here for my previous post); the original Hall chandelier hook; Arthur Lee’s writing box; a tureen and ladle from the Storke/Stuart period of Stratford ownership; an original pot hook and birdhouse from Stratford; buttons from Robert E. Lee’s uniforms and a vase used to hold flowers at his funeral.

And a big thank you goes to those donors who helped fund this project:
  • 2009 Update Funding Provided In Part By David H. Walker, Tranquillity, Reedville, Virginia
  • Conservation Funding Provided in Part By Mr. and Mrs. Peter Irving Channing Knowles II, Richmond, Virginia

Laura reports:

In addition to all these updates in the Lee Gallery, we added two new temporary exhibits as well. One exhibit showcases fossils from the Miocene era found right here at Stratford Hall, and the other exhibit presents visitors' photographs in front of the Great House. If you have any photographs of friends or family (historic or present-day!), please send them to me at

We did the work on these exhibits in-house, with the help of our collections staff--Gretchen, Sarah, and Kat--and with some mount-making brilliance by Carlos and Jenn at SurroundArt. We're very pleased with the outcome, and we hope you'll come to visit to see the changes in the Lees of Stratford Gallery, and the new temporary exhibits--"The Miocene Era"and "On the Way to Stratford." Let us know what you think.

There are always new things to see at Stratford Hall!

Kat and I figure out photo placement for "On the Way to Stratford." Lots of painters' tape!

A view of the partially-completed exhibit about the Miocene era. Come and see all the great specimens now on display!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Hello! From The New Preservation Intern

I was so excited to be asked to come back to Stratford Hall as an intern after attending a summer field school earlier this year. Having recently completed my Preservation studies at Belmont Technical College in St. Clairesville, OH, this internship has been a great way for me to transition from schooling to more hands-on work...and there is no shortage of hands-on work to do at Stratford Hall!

Coming from a trades-based preservation program, I have been able to easily step into the day-to-day stride around here. We have already worked through a sizable laundry list of projects in the Southwest outbuilding. So as not to repeat too much of Phil's recent update, I'll just touch on the highlights.

After what seems like weeks and weeks of scraping, sanding and patching, we are now completing first and second coats of whitewash and paint in both the main room and paneled room. Phil really has a flair for paint and it has been great hearing his take on the current options to choose from when dealing with historic finishes in a modern market. With the current downfall of oil paint options, preservationists are now looking to new latex paint products offering the same results and consistency that oil paint has historically had. We are both eager to see how they hold up over time.

We are also pleased to report that the SW outbuilding now has all its windows restored and in place! That's quite an achievement around here, as it has been some time since they were last all in. The 16 over 16 pane window sashes are quite a time-consuming project to tackle when doing a total restoration. After a fresh coat of paint on the exterior window and door frames, the old building is really looking great!

The other exciting project has been the rebuilding of the Northwest stair passage in the Great House. The framework is really coming along nicely and it has been a real treat to watch Chuck Rackley and his crew work. We have been photo-documenting their progress as the main supports are going in and the rough appearance of stairs is now taking shape. There is still a long way to go, but everyone around here is buzzing with anticipation now that work has started.

Lastly, Phil and I completed a preliminary conditions assessment of the two slave cabins in front of the Great House in order to work up an estimate for their stabilization. After taking measurements, photos, and materials samples, the main concerns tend to include window refinishing and masonry crack monitoring/repair. We gathered some samples from the current whitewash that is covering the interior masonry to try and determine its composition. After putting the samples through several solvent tests, it was determined that it may indeed be a lime-based whitewash rather than an oil or latex-based product.

Don't worry, its not all work around here, though. Kat, the collections intern, and I, have had some chances to get out and take in the pretty fall weather. Stratford Hall is so lovely this time of year that a long walk down to the beach, or a hike around the pond is always in order. We also had the chance to attend Montross's Fall Festival...munching on corndogs and bbq as we went and taking along a delicious cake from a bake sale. Speaking of food, we have been putting our little hotplate in our cabin through its paces by cooking up a storm during the weekend and taking over the director's house kitchen for more rigorous recipies.

Well, look for more updates as we go, as there is plenty going on here at Stratford Hall!

~Michelle Morrison, Fall Preservation & Restoration Intern

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Fall Collections Management Intern

Following my summer internship, I have returned to help out Sarah with some additional pressing projects in the Collections Management department. Our priority coming into the fall was to deal with the mess the Barn Swallows left behind; however, my first couple of weeks back were spent tending to the parlor in the Great House. Due to the construction in the Northwest stair passage, adjacent to the parlor, we have rearranged the parlor quite a bit; we packed and removed the tabletop objects, placed packing blankets on the floor, moved the furniture to the far side of the room on top of the blankets, and covered windows with black sheets to prevent UV damage to the objects since they are now nested together near the east-facing window. The vibrations caused during construction can have a negative impact on objects so by removing some objects and placing the large pieces on vibration-absorbing blankets, we are protecting the objects from harm.

However, we can’t do all the work when it comes to large, delicate pieces of furniture we can’t move by ourselves. For this, a professional art packing and transport company was brought in to move the larger objects, move and re-hang a portrait painting, and soft-pack a mirror and move it safely into object storage. I have an interest in these types of organizations, so I was enthralled watching them move about and work so quickly, yet carefully, especially while packing the mirror.

Since the parlor movement, we have been able to put our focus on the Slave Quarters. I familiarized myself with research Sarah had done on the health risks of working with bird feces and helped to order supplies and prepare for the object inventory of the buildings. Sometimes the preparation can take as long as the actual project. This is uncharted territory for Sarah and me, so speculating what supplies and equipment we will need is partially a guessing game. Fortunately, we got everything we think we need and two weeks ago we performed the inventory. This was not a normal inventory, like what we did over the summer. In order to protect ourselves from the potential diseases in the bird feces, we wore protective gear, including respirators, Tyvek suits and booties, discarded utensils and equipment used during inventory to prevent contact at a later date, and promptly washed our clothing, even though, theoretically, it did not come in contact with any contaminates because of the Tyvek.

With that part behind us, we are now diligently working to identify the objects inventoried. This proves to be complicated at times though because many of the objects were not properly numbered or documented when they first came to Stratford Hall many years ago. Once completed, it will be decided how to proceed with cleaning objects, packing, and moving them out of the Slave Quarter buildings so the buildings themselves may be cleaned.

- Kathryn “Kat” Marshall, Collections Management Intern