SBC News

'From Morning to Night' Exhibit Opens Sept. 30 with Reception, Lecture, Tours
September 22, 2006

"From Morning to Night: Domestic Service in the Gilded Age South," a traveling exhibition interpreting domestic servitude in the turn-of-the-century South, will open Saturday, Sept. 30 with a reception, dinner lecture and tours of Sweet Briar House.

The opening reception will be held from 3 to 5 p.m. at the museum; tours of Sweet Briar House will be offered at 3:30, 4 and 4:30 p.m.

A dinner lecture by Dianne-Swann Wright, curator of the Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers Maritime Park in Baltimore, will be held at 6 p.m. in Josey Dining Room. Her lecture is titled "Other Folk's Children and Things: Black Women's Work Traditions in Virginia."

The cost of dinner is $5.

Organized by the Maymont Foundation in Richmond, the exhibition is funded in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities. The College also had the endorsement of the Virginia Association of Museums and partnered with the Legacy Museum of African-American History in Lynchburg for the exhibition and related activities.

Swann-Wright is guest curator for the Legacy Museum's exhibit "Deep in My Heart: The Rise of Jim Crow in Virginia, 1865-1954."

For the exhibit, the Maymont Foundation supplies large information panels including photographs and historical descriptions. Each venue, however, was responsible for collecting artifacts to augment the display. To that end, a committee from the Legacy Museum gathered many domestic service-related items from the Central Virginia area.

"They have been incredibly generous in finding things for this exhibition," Sweet Briar Museum director Christian Carr said during the planning stages of the exhibit. "There's really a fantastic partnership between these two smaller museums. It's sort of informal at this point, but we're looking forward to strengthening it."

When one thinks of the Gilded Age (ca. 1880-1910), Edith Wharton-esque images come to mind - magnificent candelabras, 75-piece place settings complete with asparagus and fruit forks, and Tiffany windows. "It was a feast for the eyes," Carr said. "An explosion in the population of the world of goods. ... Everything had a specific purpose [and] it was a badge of honor to know how to use them. It separated one class from another."

What isn't always considered, however, is who was polishing all of that silver. In the Northeast, domestic workers were primarily new immigrants, such as the Irish, Carr explained. "In the South, by and large, they were black former slaves. ... Being paid for their work was a new way to navigate. [It was] very specific to the Southern experience. We had that experience here at Sweet Briar."

Maymont, a 100-acre Gilded Age estate in Richmond, is home of the permanent exhibition, "In Service and Beyond: Domestic Work and Life in a Gilded Age Mansion." The 3,000-square foot display depicts what it was like for domestic servants to work in the home of Virginia railroad magnate James Dooley and his wife, Sallie. For more information about Maymont, visit www.maymont.org .

Museum hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Admission is free. For more information about the Sweet Briar exhibit, contact Carr at (434) 381-6246 or ccarr@sbc.edu .

- By Suzanne Ramsey, SBC staff writer