Thursday, February 24, 2011

Winter Gardens

The study gardens have been very active this winter. Since the first of December, the icicle gardens have flourished. Every other week, it seems, a winter weather advisory has been issued. The snow and ice have taken over the grounds. An ice storm left 5.5 inches of ice, to be later covered with 6 inches of snow. A drift between the buildings, after snow removal, left ice 7 inches deep, and had to be chipped away layer by layer. Just late week, the ice and snow melted over most of the grounds, leaving piles in the parking areas.
Many varieties of icicles have grown this winter. The padlock freezing icicles, short and fragile, made life difficult getting into the museum. The eaves icicles have taken over the Carriage House, seeming to grow by the hour.
The gigantic furnace vent icicle grew in huge proportions! The constant dripping from the vent created a stalagmite near the basement entrance. Standing approximately 4 feet tall and 5 inches diameter, the icicle grew and grew. Finally last week, the weather turned 50 for 2 days and all the icicles melted.

Another storm is predicted to bring rain, sleet and snow. It great to see that the crocus and daffodils are starting to emerge from the frozen ground. Mother nature at her best!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Art of Lew Wallace: Over the Deadline

1865 was a year of events and activity for Lew Wallace. Early in the year he was sent to Mexico to prevent Mexican support of the dying Confederacy. While in Mexico he learned of the end of the Civil War and the death of Abraham Lincoln. Upon his return to Washington, D.C. he served on the tribunal that tried the Lincoln conspirators and he was the presiding judge of the tribunal that tried Commander Henry Wirz for war crimes. Wirz was in charge of the infamous Civil War prison camp in Andersonville, Georgia. After a two month trial, Wirz was found guilty on eleven of thirteen counts of murder and sentenced to death. On November 10, 1865, Wirz was hanged on the site that is now occupied by United States Supreme Court.

During the trial of the Lincoln conspirators Lew Wallace made small pencil sketches to pass the time. During the Wirz trial he also spent time sketching. As the trial unfolded one story in particular haunted the general. He heard stories of the deadline—a line within the stockade which the prisoners were forbidden to cross. Just beyond the deadline was a small stream. In gripping testimony the court heard about a prisoner of war stretching his emaciated arm toward the stream, his hand holding a tin cup. When his hand crossed the deadline, he was shot and killed by one of the Confederate prison guards.

Wallace sketched a vivid image of this unnamed man in tattered pants lying in the mud with his outstretched hand over the stream. This sketch survives, but the whereabouts of a painting based on the sketch is not known. The finished painting was exhibited in Chicago in 1867, in Boston in 1873 and in Indianapolis in 1878. The painting was generally praised for its boldness of conception, technical skill and somberness—although the Boston Advertiser did find it too “horribly realistic.”

Sometime after its exhibition in Indianapolis, the painting disappeared. Whether Wallace retained ownership of the painting and gave it to a friend, whether it was damaged and discarded by family, or perhaps was given to an association or museum and resides deep in a vault somewhere has been lost to history. While the fate of the painting and the name of the subject are both shrouded in mystery, we are fortunate that the sketch survives to convey both the extent of the General’s talent and the personal side of the trauma of the Civil War still so fresh in 1865.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Has It Weathered Well?

The theme for the year is Agents of Deterioration, and believe it or not the Study roof has already begun to deteriorate! Not in the sense of leaking like a sieve the way it used to, but the shiny new copper has already begun to look not quite so new.

In November, the copper on the east side just shone on a bright sunny day.

After a winter of snow, rain, and sleet, this same side doesn't look quite so shiny three months later!

Interestingly,historic photos from Lew Wallace's time (this one is courtesy of the Crawfordsville District Public Library) seem to show the Study roof as bright and reflective. So, if you want to see the Study as Lew Wallace originally intended, you might want to plan a trip here soon! We offer guided tours of the exterior while construction finishes, and the grounds are open and free until 5:00 p.m. every day.

Friday, February 11, 2011

An Industrial Floor for an Industrious Man

If you've visited the Study any time after 1976, you've seen the carpet covering the floor of the main room.
Brightly colored and made to withstand a lot of foot traffic, the carpet made the room warmer and quieter but did not present an authentic appearance.
In historic photos, we can see the concrete floor that Lew Wallace installed in the Study. During colder months, he put down area rugs, and during warmer months he rolled up the rugs and stashed them along the walls. We concluded from this that Wallace did not intend for the floor to be covered completely and so...
...we took out the carpet! As part of the Study Restoration Project, local flooring experts removed the carpet and the sub-floor that it was glued to and revealed Wallace's original concrete floor. Fortunately, that additional flooring made little impact on the concrete, and the Study interior now looks much more like it did when Wallace enjoyed the building. It looks a little "unfinished" or "industrial" to some of us, but it's a step closer to being restored to the appearance Lew Wallace wanted for his Study.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

If These Walls Could Talk...

...they would tell us what color they were originally! A grant from the Montgomery County Community Foundation has funded a paint analysis of the Study interior, and specialist Matthew Mosca flew in from Washington, DC, to peel back the layers of paint and tell us what the General's Study looked like when he used the building.

The walls in the inglenook by the fireplace were a dark shade of blue-green - very similar to the current color of the lower parts of the walls.

The walls above the bookcases were a shade of green, as was the plaster frieze molded into the shape of flowers.

The walls in the vestibule were a display of rich jewel tones and gold in a variety of patterns.

The part of the building that may interest the most people, the dome, is proving to be the most difficult. The top layers of paint were not coming off easily, and more analysis needs to be done to ascertain what colors lie underneath. If it's half as interesting as the rest of the building, we are in for a big surprise!

The big question is what do we do with all this information? As the final analysis results show the different shades of different parts of the building, we will see the scope of what it would take to restore the General's Study to its original appearance. Even if it's only one part of the building at a time, we would like for visitors to see the Study as Lew Wallace did!