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Friday, June 12, 2009

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A city of monuments and museums, the former capital of the Confederate States of America, Richmond is saturated with History. American Civil War Center and Civil War Battlefield National Park; St. John’s Church, where Patrick Henry uttered his “Give me liberty or give me death” call for revolution and independence; Virginia State Capitol, designed by Thomas Jefferson; Monument Avenue… and the list goes on, in an embarrassment of riches. Architectural and artistic legacy of the city rivals its historic heritage. Virginia Museum of Fine Arts holds diverse collections, representing 6,000 years of art history, including the largest number of Faberge imperial Easter eggs outside Russia, Art Nouveau, Art Deco, Impressionism, post-Impressionism, Contemporary, American, Classical, Byzantine, African, Egyptian, Chinese, Japanese, Tibetan and Indian art. The ambitious expansion project which will provide the public with a new, five-level glass and stone wing, and a sculpture garden, is currently underway, so not all collections are on view at all times, but the addition of more than 165,000 square feet of gallery and amenities space to the existing 380,000 is well worth waiting. The opening of the new facilities is scheduled for May 1, 2010. Virginia Center for Architecture is fittingly located in a 1919 architectural gem of Tudor-Revival style, designed by John Russell Pope (he also designed Jefferson Memorial) and is now home to exhibitions, forums and lectures on architecture, and a welcome center for historic Monument Avenue.

Agecroft Hall, overlooking the James River, is a real Tudor estate built in Lancashire, England in the late 15th century and transported “over the pond” by a clever Richmonder in 1926 – family portraits and all. Surrounded by 23 acres of formal gardens and landscaped grounds, the museum offers guided tours during which one can learn the real meaning of words “chairman of the board” and “cupboard” among other curious facts from the lives of past generations. There is also Maymont House Museum, a Gilded Age estate of railroad magnate James Dooley and his wife Sallie, who inhabited it in 1893-1925. Preserved in its entirety, with furnishings, dishes, clothes, and household items, this historic landmark offers an unprecedented view into Victorian lifestyle, and fascinating guided tours. Of course, no visit to Richmond would be complete without a visit to Edgar Allan Poe Museum, located in the Old Stone House – the oldest building in Richmond. Not only artifacts and memorabilia (Poe’s childhood bed, and a trunk, left after his death – his only possession at the time) but the very air of the house and the pensive garden behind it seemingly carry the invisible presence of the beloved author of Raven, the inventor of detective genre, the master of horror… A never smiling museum curator, Chris Semtner, has a magic power to evoke the spirit of the dark genius during his solemn yet informative tours, and implements multiple programs and events in celebration of Poe’s bicentennial through the end of this year. More information at:,,,,,,

Photography by Yuri Krasov. 1. Russian collection at VMFA. 2. Dogwood blossom, window at Virginia Center for Architecture. 3. A little angel in the Center garden. 4. Agecroft Estate. 5. A terrace table at Maymont. 6. Poe memorial. 7. Poe museum courtyard. 8. At Poe museum with Curator Chris Semtner and Mrs. Richmond Erin Bagnell.


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