Four museums from the Roanoke Valley and its surrounding counties have landed on a prominent Top 10 list.
The list in question is Virginia’s Top 10 Endangered Artifacts, an annual promotion from the Virginia Association of Museums designed to draw attention to objects in museum collections that are in need of funds for conservation.
The association announced the 2016 list at the end of September, marking the “first time four area museums have been on the list,” said National D-Day Memorial Director of Education John Long.
Aside from the D-Day Memorial in Bedford, the Botetourt County Historical Society and Museum in Fincastle and the History Museum of Western Virginia and the Taubman Museum of Art in Roanoke all made the list. Though a “People’s Choice” artifact is chosen from the many nominees by popular vote, the Top 10 list is selected by a panel of collections care experts.
National D-Day Memorial
Roanoke native and D-Day veteran Bob Slaughter, the driving force behind the founding of the D-Day Memorial, kept a moving memento of his wartime service that the nonprofit seeks to preserve. U.S. Gen. Dwight Eisenhower sent an Order of the Day to troops prior to the invasion. It begins, “You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you.”
Slaughter had 75 of his comrades-in-arms sign his copy of the letter. Within hours, 11 of those men were killed during the landing at Normandy, and four more died in the days that followed. Slaughter managed to save the letter and had it framed after he came home. After his death in 2012 at age 87, his family found it among his papers. “In a way, this was his D-Day memorial before he built the D-Day Memorial,” Long said.
Removing the deteriorating document from its frame without damaging it would require a professional conservator and cost thousands of dollars, Long said.
Taubman Museum of Art
The Taubman Museum appeared on the list for the first time with the Macdowell-Eakins archive of 350 photographs and negatives.
The Peggy Macdowell Thomas Collection forms the core of the Taubman’s archive of American art. Peggy Macdowell Thomas, who died in 2001 at age 89, bequeathed her art collection to the museum, and that collection included portraits by Thomas Eakins, considered one of America’s greatest painters, and his wife, Susan Eakins. The Eakinses were Macdowell Thomas’ aunt and uncle. The Macdowell family was also involved in the founding of the Norfolk and Western Railway in Roanoke.
The photographs, which include family portraits, were used as painting aids by Eakins, his wife and his students. At present stored in freezer conditions, they need to be stabilized and also need to have reproductions made so the public can see them, museum officials said.
Botetourt County Historical Society and Museum
The Botetourt County museum has highlighted an embroidered sampler from 1830. The sampler was discovered in a Staunton attic, said Susan Hayes, the Botetourt County Historical Society’s secretary.
An alphabet sampler typical of the era, the year, 1830, and the words “Botetourt County” were actually sewn into the cloth, as was the name of the girl who made it, Nancy Snider. Hayes said the society believes her to be the same Nancy Jane Snider who married a William P. Brown in Botetourt County in 1848, making her one of the county’s earliest settlers. “We wonder what happened to Nancy and her family and where she went from here,” Hayes said.
The sampler has become discolored and damaged over time, and as with Slaughter’s letter, preservation involves removing it from its frame, a process that would cost at least $1,000, Hayes said.
History Museum of Western Virginia
The history museum’s artifact might be familiar to recent visitors, as it was displayed as part of the “Happily Ever After” exhibition of antique wedding dresses. The elegant red and black striped silk dress from 1858 was worn for a wedding in New York, and then likely worn again as a day dress, as only the wealthiest of families could afford to purchase a dress for one-time use. The dress shows evidence of damage that required repairs. Like the sampler, it was discovered stored in an attic, this time in the New River Valley.