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History

Must-See RVA! — Virginia Commission for the Blind

A look into the history of Richmond places that are still part of our landscape.

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April 2020
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  • AKA, The Parkwood
  • 3003 Parkwood Avenue
  • Built, 1940-1941, 1958
  • Architects, J. Binford Walford (1940), O. Pendleton Wright (1958)
  • VDHR 127-6808

And a blind man shall lead them.

(Find A Grave) — Lucian Louis Watts — Virginia Legislature Photograph, Virginia House of Delegates 1928

(Find A Grave) — Lucian Louis Watts — Virginia Legislature Photograph, Virginia House of Delegates 1928

L. L. Watts (1888-1974) was singularly instrumental in the development of services for the blind in the Commonwealth of Virginia and the individual most responsible for the successful construction of the Virginia Commission of the Blind building at 3003 Parkwood Avenue in Richmond.

His work influenced educational and training opportunities for blind Virginians across Virginia for more than 30 years, and his legacy has continued to the present day, making him of statewide significance.

(Virginia School for the Deaf and Blind) — Main Hall, 1900

(Virginia School for the Deaf and Blind) — Main Hall, 1900

Watts was serving as a Superintendent of a railroad construction project when he lost his sight in a dynamite blasting accident in 1913. After recuperating, he attended the Virginia School for the Deaf and Blind in Staunton, Virginia, and graduated in 1917. He became an instructor at the school and in 1919, he sent an invitation to the alumni of the school and friends of the blind to meet in June to form the Virginia Association of Workers for the Blind.

April 2020 — courtyard

April 2020 — courtyard

In 1920, Watts was appointed to a state commission to investigate the conditions of the blind in Virginia. This temporary commission reported its survey findings to the General Assembly with a recommendation that a permanent Virginia Commission for the Blind be established. The Virginia Commission for the Blind was created on March 23, 1922, through an act of the General Assembly and Watts was chosen as the Executive Secretary of the Commission, a position he was to hold for 34 years.

(Newspapers.com) — Des Moines Register, Tuesday, February 3, 1925 — showing left to right, Anne Sullivan Macy, Helen Keller, & Polly Thomas arriving in Iowa for the convention of the American Association of Workers for the Blind

(Newspapers.com) — Des Moines Register, Tuesday, February 3, 1925 — showing left to right, Anne Sullivan Macy, Helen Keller, & Polly Thomas arriving in Iowa for the convention of the American Association of Workers for the Blind

Watts was also involved in the establishment of the American Foundation for the Blind at the convention of the American Association of Workers for the Blind held in Vinton, Iowa, in 1921. The American Foundation for the Blind is the national organization most closely associated with Helen Keller, for which she worked for more than 40 years. Watts, with assistance from the American Foundation for the Blind, arranged for Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan Macy to address a joint session of the Virginia House and Senate as part of a “Three Day’s Educational Campaign” on February 12-14, 1924.

(Newspapers.com) — Helen Keller from the Des Moines Register, Sunday, January 25, 1925

(Newspapers.com) — Helen Keller from the Des Moines Register, Sunday, January 25, 1925

The goal of the campaign was to raise awareness of the work of the fledgling Virginia Commission for the Blind and to convince the General Assembly to increase the state appropriation to further its work. Fourteen industries of the blind exhibited in the course of the campaign, which culminated in Helen Keller’s address on February 14. She appealed for increased appropriations and for the continued independence of the Virginia Commission for the Blind. Governor E. Lee Trinkle reported on the effectiveness of the campaign and the enthusiasm Ms. Keller’s address engendered.

(Newspapers.com) — Richmond Times Dispatch, Tuesday, June 27, 1933

(Newspapers.com) — Richmond Times-Dispatch, Tuesday, June 27, 1933

The Virginia Commission for the Blind hosted the 1933 biennial convention of the American Association of Workers for the Blind in Richmond, where Watts was elected first vice-president of this international organization representing blind workers throughout the United States and Canada. When the president of the organization died in 1934, Watts stepped into the role of the chief executive and was elected president at the next biennial convention in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1935. After the expiration of his term as president, Watts continued to serve on the Board of Directors and as chair of the legislative committee.

(ProQuest® Sanborn Maps Geo Edition™) — Sanborn Insurance Maps of Richmond (1925) — Plate 437 — showing former Gould frame house at 3003 Parkwood

(ProQuest® Sanborn Maps Geo Edition™) — Sanborn Insurance Maps of Richmond (1925) — Plate 437 — showing former Gould frame house at 3003 Parkwood

The offices of the Commission were initially in Charlottesville but relocated to 1228 East Broad Street in Richmond in 1924. In 1931 the administrative offices moved to a frame residence at 3003 Parkwood Avenue. The use of this property was donated to the Virginia Association of Workers for the Blind by Edwin J. Gould of New York. In 1938, the Association was able to purchase the property from the Gould Foundation, on favorable terms, and in December deeded it to the Commonwealth to be used by the Commission for the Blind.

April 2020 — note the absence of the urn ornament on the pedestal at center top that appears in the VDHR nomination photo below

April 2020 — note the absence of the urn ornament on the pedestal at center top that appears in the VDHR nomination photo below

When the City of Richmond’s Fire Department condemned the frame building early in 1939, Mr. Watts, as Executive Director of the Commission, petitioned Governor James H. Price for assistance in replacing the facility. The Governor approved the construction of a new building and authorized the Commission to borrow $16,000 to add to the General Assembly’s appropriation of $30,000, the Works Progress Administration’s allocation of $24,000 and the $10,000 contributed by the Virginia Association of Workers for the Blind.

(VDHR) — blueprint for 1941 basement floor plan

(VDHR) — blueprint for 1941 basement floor plan

J. Binford Walford (1891-1956) was selected as the architect and in March, 1940, applied for a permit to construct a two-story building with a basement out of concrete, brick, cinder block and wood with a slate roof.

Walford was associated with O. Pendleton Wright from 1946, forming the practice Walford & Wright, Architects. Around the time he was selected in 1940 to design the new facility for the Virginia Commission for the Blind, he had been active in designing additional academic buildings, dormitories, and a stadium for the campus of the College of William and Mary.

(HipPostcard) — E. Lee Trinkle Library, Mary Washington College, Fredricksburg, Va., circa 1940s

(HipPostcard) — E. Lee Trinkle Library, Mary Washington College, Fredricksburg, Va., circa 1940s

He also designed classrooms, dormitories, and the Trinkle Library at Mary Washington College in Fredericksburg, Converse and Cleveland dormitories at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, and Virginia Hall, Lindsey-Montague Hall, Colson Hall, Langston Hall, and the President’s House at Virginia State University in Ettrick, Virginia. These handsome collegiate buildings, in his assured Colonial Revival style, confirm his place in guiding the architectural character of these Virginia campuses.

[VPVH] — Gould residence prior to 1939

[VPVH] — Gould residence prior to 1939

When demolition of the former Gould residence began in 1939, Watts moved his offices to temporary quarters at 3007 Parkwood Avenue; the women’s department relocated to 3154 Ellwood Avenue. Work progressed sufficiently to allow the executive offices and home work department to move into the new building in March 1941. Work continued until the facility was completed in August, 1941.

(VDHR) — 1941 dedication photo — note the urn ornament atop the central pedestal above the door

(VDHR) — 1941 dedication photo — note the urn ornament atop the central pedestal above the door

The new quarters were formally dedicated on September 25, 1941. Among the speakers was R. S. Hummel, State Administrator of the Works Progress Administration, who offered his congratulations to Watts and the Commission, and to the WPA workers, in recognition of the quality of the work.

(Library of Virginia) — Governor J. Lindsay Almond, Jr.

(Library of Virginia) — Governor J. Lindsay Almond, Jr.

In 1958, recognizing the need to expand the facility at 3003 Parkwood Avenue, Governor Almond authorized the expenditure of $193,820 for a major addition that would house a regional Braille lending library to serve the blind residents of Virginia and Maryland. Although Walford had died in 1956, the Commission looked to his firm, Walford & Wright, to guide the expansion.

April 2020 — note the difference in ornamentation of the 1958 entryways & the 1941 entry above

April 2020 — note the difference in ornamentation of the 1958 entryways & the 1941 entry above

The Bass Construction Company applied for a building permit on November 10, 1958, with plans by Walford & Wright, Architects, that would essentially double the size of the building by extending the rear portion of the building and constructing a wing similar in scale and parallel to the portion of the original building fronting on Parkwood Avenue. The addition was designed to be indistinguishable from the original portion, but with simpler treatment of the doors and entrances, and with an exterior basement entrance.

April 2020 — courtyard entryway

April 2020 — courtyard entryway

In 1980, the Virginia Commission for the Blind became the Virginia Department for the Visually Handicapped and relocated to the current offices on Azalea Avenue in Henrico County. The facility at 3003 Parkwood Avenue was sold into private ownership. Plans from 1983 illustrate its conversion to Parkwood Manor, a retirement home. The potential new owner plans to preserve and rehabilitate the former Commission for the Blind as an apartment building. (VDHR)

April 2020

April 2020

A prediction that came true! The former Commission building is known by the moniker The Parkwood, offering luxury apartments for rent.

(Virginia Commission for the Blind is part of the Atlas RVA! Project)


Print Sources

  • [VPVH] Virginia’s Program for the Visually Handicapped. John. B. Cunningham. 1940.

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History

New book on Lewis Ginter is a fictionalized take on his real-world love affair with a younger man

Ginter’s naming of a street that intersects Hermitage Road in the Lakeside neighborhood “Pope” was perhaps the only visible sign of his affection during his living years.

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Lewis Ginter has often been referenced as “the greatest Richmonder of all time.” That attribution speaks to the man’s accomplishments, having built a thriving Tobacco business after the Civil War and set the Virginia Economy on a path toward prosperity and acclaim for decades to come. Among his ‘firsts’ were the introduction of Trading Cards, the employment of women, and a cooperative mindset for local suppliers to reduce costs for both parties.

His other achievements included several infrastructure projects that created neighborhoods, parks, and churches. He was the initial investor in what became Virginia Power, and his trolley system was the first continually operating public transport of its kind in North America. He financed and built the only five-star hotel in Richmond: The Jefferson. He named it for his childhood idol.

Despite all of his successes, he refused to have any statues of himself and would not allow his name to be used for any of his projects. During his lifetime, there were no streets, buildings, neighborhoods, or parks named for him. His one tribute was the naming of a street that intersects Hermitage Road in the Lakeside neighborhood: Pope.

This simple gesture is the only public indication that Lewis was in fact head over heels in love with a younger man. After having met John Pope in Manhattan, Lewis expended a lot of effort to find the young man and convince the teenager’s family to allow John a chance of success in Richmond. From the time they connected as colleagues, they were also beginning a decades-long romantic ‘friendship’ that we now understand as love.

A new local book series is hoping to shed light on some of his more personal details. Ginter’s Pope, local author John Musgrove’s first novel, is a detailed accounting of their relationship. While it is Historical Fiction, the saga is based on the true-life events that made their love story a touching, heartbreaking tale of two men that loved one another in a time when there were no words for such a relationship. This is book one in the Reticent Richmond series.

This book is the first in a planned series of four. The next volume, Mary’s Grace will expand upon Grace Arents (Ginter’s Niece and heir) and her girlfriend, Mary Garland Smith. Book three, Garland’s Legacy details the forty years of patronage that Garland lavished on Richmond. The last book, George’s Race, tells the story of George Arents, a racecar driver that left his wife for a man that stole his heart on the racetrack. All are based on real-life people, events, and sagas from the same family.

The author, John Musgrove, is an information security analyst at the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond. He has graduated five times from VCU, holding a BS and MS in Information Systems, and Post Baccalaureate Certificates in Instructional Technology, Nonprofit Management, and Geospatial Information Systems. He served as a Navy Corpsman, supporting the Marine Corps and did a tour of duty for Desert Storm. 

Ginter’s Pope is available through most retailers in paperback, eBook, and audiobook formats. Click here to learn more.

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Arts & Entertainment

University of Richmond Museums present three new exhibitions

For the first time since early spring 2020, University of Richmond Museums is presenting three new exhibitions, all of which are open to the public. Museums reopened to the community in March 2022.

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For the first time since early spring 2020, University of Richmond Museums is presenting three new exhibitions, all of which are open to the public. Museums reopened to the community in March 2022.

“We’re delighted to welcome the campus and the greater Richmond communities back to our spaces, with a slate of exhibitions and programs that showcase student scholarship and creativity and artistic innovators of our time,” said Elizabeth Schlatter, interim executive director. “We will also welcome numerous faculty and students to our exhibitions this semester as part of their course work in our continuing efforts to advance the educational mission of the University.”

The three new exhibitions, which open to the public next week include:

  • Duane Michals: The Portraitist
  • Therefore I Am: Portraits from the Joel and Lila Harnett Print Study Center
  • Annual Student Exhibition

University of Richmond Museums are free and open to the public, no appointment necessary. Hours of operation are Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. and Thursday from 1-7 p.m. For more information about directions, exhibitions, and programs, visits museums.richmond.edu.

Exhibition details include:

Duane Michals: The Portraitist is on view in the Harnett Museum of Art, located in the Modlin Center for the Arts, Aug. 24 through Nov. 18.

The exhibition presents the first comprehensive overview of inventive photographic portraits by one of the medium’s most influential artists. Best known as a pioneer who broke away from established traditions of documentary photography in the 1960s, Michals is widely recognized for his ability to navigate between imposing his style and allowing his sitters to express themselves, and for the sequences he assembles to convey personal visual narratives, often adding handwritten messages and poems on the photographic print surface.

More than 125 portraits are included in the exhibition, many of which were recently discovered in a workroom in his brownstone building in New York City. Frequently commissioned to create portraits of actors, writers, musicians, and others, among the wide-ranging selection for the exhibition are images of artist Andy Warhol with his mother Julia Warhola, musicians Benny Goodman and Branford Marsalis, the original cast of “Saturday Night Live”, and actors Meryl Streep and Tilda Swinton.

Therefore I Am: Portraits from the Joel and Lila Harnett Print Study Center is on view in the Modlin Center for the Arts Atrium and Booker Hall Aug. 24 through July 7, 2023.

The exhibition presents a selection of portraits spanning six centuries and examines the various roles that portraiture has played in portraying the identity of the sitter. Historically, portraiture has been used by society’s elite to communicate messages of power, prosperity, and beauty. With recent advances in technology such as digital cameras and smartphones, portraiture has become omnipresent in society today. The exhibition encourages the viewer to think about how we consume and interact with portraiture in our everyday lives, whether it be scrolling through group photos on social media or taking a selfie.

Highlighted artworks include Reigning Queens (Queen Beatrix) by Andy Warhol, a portrait of Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands that belongs to a screen print series featuring four ruling queens of the 1980s. Reigning Queens, with its bold color blocks and larger than life composition, exemplifies the allure of the celebrity portrait in a Pop Art style.

The Annual Student Exhibition will be on view Aug. 24 through Sept. 22 in the Harnett Museum of Art. Selected by the visual arts faculty, the exhibition features work by visual media and arts students during the University’s 2021-22 academic year. About 30 artworks are in the exhibition, which range from mixed media and video to sculpture and printmaking.

Exhibits that remain on view include:

Gee’s Bend Prints: From Quilts to Prints is on view through July 7, 2023 in the Modlin Center Booth Lobby.

The prints in this exhibition are inspired by the quilts of Gee’s Bend, Alabama. African American women of this remote community have created hundreds of quilts for more than a century. The quilts have been recognized as “some of the most miraculous works of modern art America has produced,” as noted by Michael Kimmelman, The New York Times art critic.

Several of the younger generations of quilters have made etchings based on small-scaled maquette quilts. Collaborating with master printers at Paulson Fontaine Press in Berkeley, California, the artists used innovative techniques to transfer the quilt design to an etching that highlights the strong patterns, textures, and compositions of traditional Gee’s Bend quilts. The artists featured in the exhibition include Louisiana Bendolph, Loretta Pettway, Mary Lee Bendolph, and Essie Bendolph Pettway.

Cabinet of Curiosity Reimagined: Museum Studies Seminar is on view through May 5, 2023, in the Department of Art & Art History.

Cabinets of curiosity, or “wunderkammer,” were the primary mode of displaying collections among European royals and aristocrats from the mid-16th through mid-18th centuries, showcasing natural specimens, cultural artifacts, and works of art. These cabinets fell out of fashion with the advent of scientific classification and museum development in the 18th and 19th centuries. In response to the resurgence of the cabinet display format in the modern museum world, this exhibition examines the purpose and power of museums –– their developing methods of collection and curation over time, often controversial acquisition of objects, and ability to inspire and influence audiences.

The cabinet features selected works of art and natural specimens from the collections of the Lora Robins Gallery.

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Arts & Entertainment

14th-century Japanese hanging scroll conserved at VMFA with grant from the Sumitomo Foundation

Newly-restored ancient scroll returns to public viewing for the first time in more than a decade

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The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts has announced that conservation of a 14th-century Japanese scroll painting in the museum’s collection, Standing Arhat, has been completed with grant support from the Sumitomo Foundation in Japan. The Sumitomo Foundation grant awarded to the museum is specifically intended for the protection, preservation and restoration of cultural properties outside Japan.

“Standing Arhat is one of the earliest and most important Buddhist paintings in our permanent collection. It is essential that the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts preserves such great works of art so that they can be enjoyed for generations to come,” said VMFA’s Director and CEO Alex Nyerges. “We appreciate the generous support from the Sumitomo Foundation for this conservation project.”

The painting on silk portrays an arhat, an enlightened follower of Shakyamuni Buddha, standing with his hands clasped in prayer, and his facial expression conveying inner spirit, sincerity and devotion. The arhat’s youthful face suggests that he represents Ananda, a great disciple of Shakyamuni, the founder of Buddhism, who lived in India in the 6th century BC. This painting is a rare, surviving image of Ananda.

“The fine brushwork and the floral pattern on the lining of the monk’s mantle reveal the Chinese prototype of 14th-century imagery and textile design,” said Li Jian, VMFA’s E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Curator of East Asian Art. “Such depiction reflects the cross-cultural influence and exchange between Japan and China in the early 14th century.”

Standing Arhat was acquired from an art dealer in Kyoto in 1962 by Virginia architect and art collector Albert Hinckley Jr., who gifted it to VMFA ten years later, in 1972. Due to its fragile and unstable condition, this scroll has not been exhibited in the museum’s East Asian gallery for more than a decade. During the past 20 years, VMFA has invited conservators and scholars to examine the painting, document its condition and propose conservation treatment methods.

The funding from the Sumitomo Foundation provided for the cleaning, restoration and remounting of the painting, work performed by Nishio Conservation Studio in consultation with Debbie Linn, Interim Chief Conservator, and other conservators in VMFA’s Susan and David Goode Center for Advanced Study in Art Conservation over the past year. With the completion of the project, Standing Arhat has returned to the museum and is back on public view in the museum’s Japanese gallery. With the painted scroll displayed alongside Buddhist sculptures and objects, VMFA is able to tell a more comprehensive story of Japanese art and culture.

The digitized image of Standing Arhat is also available worldwide for viewing and research in the museum’s online collection archive on the museum’s website at www.VMFA.museum.

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