The Valentine Center’s A History Of Richmond In 50 Objects
Friday marks the grand opening of The Valentine Richmond History Center’s exhibit, A History of Richmond in 50 Objects, which explores the history of Richmond, Virginia, through a selection of objects from the Valentine’s collection. Taking heavy influence from a major project from the British Museum (BM) in partnership with BBC radio four in 2010, The History of the World in 100 Objects, the Valentine wished to bring this idea to Richmond as a way to merge the idea of the visual aspect of certain historical objects and the dialogue they share with the past.
The objects were selected from across Richmond’s history and aren’t definitive. “It is not the history of Richmond in 50 Objects, it is a history of Richmond,” said David Voelkel, the center’s curator. He continued, “I was keen to showcase this because we are very interested in knowing what Richmond was, and what it was thought to be, but also where Richmond is going.”
The first piece is the John Smith map–the first depiction of the site that would become Richmond–during the early founding of the colony of Virginia. And the fiftieth object is the gay pride flag the bank donated in June 2011 to the Valentine, which has become one of the newest pieces joining the starch collection. With 1.7 million objects within the Valentine’s collection to draw on, from the interesting, to the quirky, to the bizarre, Voelkel aimed to be balanced and fair across the chronology of Richmond’s history.
Also making an appearance are fan favorites, as well as things that have never been publicly exhibited before. One of the bizarre and never before seen objects is a Shirley Temple doll. She actually represents the fame of Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, who began as child star in Richmond, and was the first African-American to dance on stage with a Caucasian, who happened to be Shirley Temple.
Bill Martin, the Director of The Valentine, commented on the objects and the symbolism behind them. “I don’t think we always talk about the significance of the objects that we are entrusted from the community to maintain and care for. There is this normal way that museums create a narrative and this is less narrative in form,” said Martin. “It’s a way of hooking people in to think about this place, about our collections, what we do, about the city’s history, but also a kind of personal reflection.”
As a curator, Voelkel is interested in understanding “why people save things, why they collect them in the first place, why they choose to donate them to a museum, and why to the Valentine.” Everything housed in the collection of the center, which was opened by the Valentine family in 1892, was originally donated by Richmond residents.
The objects in this exhibit are not laid out chronologically. However, you notice the labels have a shadow number, from one to fifty, these numbers indicate the chronology of each object. David wishes for visitors of the exhibition to know, “that was not possible or desirable. The number is not a ranking. I was concerned that people would think that it was the best.”
“History is messy,” Voelkel explained while discussing one of the exhibit’s more controversial objects, a Confederate sword. Knowing some people will protest certain articles, such as a flogger used for intimidation and punishment of slaves, or possibly even the rainbow flag, he nonetheless feels that he has to be impartial. “History is what it is,” he said. “We don’t have to endorse anything, but you can’t pretend it didn’t happen.”
The History of Richmond in 50 Objects is about knowing where we came from, that we are not just the capital of the Confederacy in the Civil War. As Martin put it, “What we hope to do is reframe that past.” His hope is to show that we are not static, that Richmond has been changing and growing since John Smith set foot on the bank of the James River. “Our History changes every day, our sense of self changes everyday, and this is an opportunity to have a dialogue with one’s self, one’s family… what does it mean to be a Richmonder in the past, present, and future?”
To continue Richmond’s dialogue and add a bit of whimsy, at the end of the exhibition Voelkel installed a 51st case, thus giving Richmonders the opportunity to nominate an object to be included in the exhibit. Patrons can make nominations atthe Valentine’s online form, or by going to their facebook or twitter pages. Domenick Casuccio, the center’s Director of Public Relations & Marketing, explained the reasoning behind leaving the 51st object for the public to choose, “There’s not many exhibits that really make you feel like you are a part of [them]. Really, this is an opportunity where you can feel like you are more a part of it.”
If you are interested to know where this city came from and where it is headed, come out to see The Valentine Museum’s History of 50 Objects at The Valentine Richmond History Center, located at 1015 E. Clay St. The exhibit opens Friday, February 15, and is free for the first weekend. After Sunday, the exhibit will be on display through October 20 at the Center’s normal admission price. For more info, click HERE.
Diversity’s Iridian Gallery reimagines RVA’s historical markers with ‘Truthful History Heals’ exhibit
The Iridian Gallery at Diversity Richmond is hosting the “Truthful History Heals” exhibit, an artistic re-imagining of Monument Avenue and other historical markers into more accurate representations of history. “Truthful History Heals” was curated by Beth Marschak, a life-long LGBTQ activist and Chair of the Board at Diversity Richmond. ”It started out because I was [...]June 9, 2016
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