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History is coming back to life in the Fredericksburg area

History is coming back to life in the Fredericksburg area

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The spring garden at Gari Melcher’s Home and Studio at Belmont was its prettiest in years, blooming just as the pandemic gained steam. The public never saw the tulips, roses or redbuds as they unfurled, but this fall, as the leaves begin to change, visitors are being welcomed back to the property.

The museum, along with a few others in the region, are opening up. Gari Melchers Home and Studio and The James Monroe Museum, both administered by the University of Mary Washington, will reopen to the public on Monday. The National Museum of the Marine Corps in Triangle opened Tuesday.

Michelle Crow–Dolby, education and communications manager for Belmont, said it was incredibly disappointing to see the museum’s schedule of events, field trips and classes all grind to a sudden halt.

“It was definitely strange to return to my office after working remotely all that time and see March on my wall calendar and the classroom set up for a Preschool Palette class that never took place,” she said.

But as the museum opens, a new painting by Melchers—depicting surprising humor in its subjects despite a somewhat barren and brown-hued background—is available for visitors to view. “In the Dunes” has been placed on display, and is on loan from Robert and Julie Lang and the Sue C. Lang Family Trust. The painting is a loosely finished, smaller study of Gari Melchers’ “In Holland.”

Both UMW museums will be open to general visitors only, with no public programs or facility rentals through the end of 2020. The UMW Galleries, on the Fredericksburg campus, is not open at this time, but will have online exhibitions this semester.

To ensure safety, Crow–Dolby said the museums have increased daily cleaning regimes, installed hand sanitizer stations, adjusted traffic flows and reduced tour size. Additionally, all staff members are required to take a daily health survey before they report to work and will wear masks and practice physical distancing when interacting with the public.

Visitors will be required to wear a mask while indoors. And visitors are being asked to watch an orientation video online prior to visiting, rather than have them sit together in an enclosed space.

“Our tours won’t be as physically interactive as before, but hopefully just as interesting,” she said.

Likewise, the Marine Corps museum has reworked its safety measures. Museum public affairs chief Gwenn Adams said she hopes people feel comfortable visiting. They have enacted a 250-person limit within the building and are requiring masks for anyone over the age of 6—and strongly recommending them for everyone else. All staff and volunteers will also be wearing face coverings.

They have also installed hand sanitizing stations and increased cleaning efforts. Some interactive exhibits, including the Children’s Gallery, are closed.

“Visitors will see the cleaning crew at work throughout the Museum,” Adams said. “Along with newly implemented health and safety protocols.”

On Tuesday, the museum in Triangle returned to its regular hours, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. By 3 p.m., the museum had seen about 200 visitors.

During the six-month temporary closure, staff worked at getting new exhibits up in the museum, and installed the howitzer that fired the first shot in Desert Storm. New exhibits include the final expansion of the legacy walk—the timeline leading to the exhibit galleries—which opened in early March but was hardly seen due to the shutdown.

In the museum’s combat art gallery, “In the Highest Tradition–WWII Medal of Honor Art: Paintings by Col Charles H. Waterhouse, USMCR (Ret)” is open. The exhibit presents portraits and paintings of World War II Medal of Honor recipients created by Waterhouse.

World War II heroes are also honored in the museum’s expanded Navajo Code Talkers exhibit. It includes interviews with Navajo Code Talkers, an explanation of the spoken code, as well as its importance.

Visitors will also have an opportunity to see both flags that were raised on Iwo Jima’s Mount Suribachi. Both flags will remain on exhibit for about two weeks after the reopening.

The museum will also commemorate the 9/11 terror strikes by displaying rubble from the Pentagon and an I beam from the World Trade Center on Friday.

The museum closed to protect the public and staff from the pandemic on March 14. Adams said it was sad not to see people in the galleries, since April, May and June are prime time for school groups.

But she said the museum stayed engaged through its social media channels, and offered gallery walk-throughs. The videos are still available on YouTube and explain the history of the Marine Corps from its founding in 1775 through the Vietnam War.

The Fredericksburg Area Museum reopened Aug. 1. President and CEO Sara Poore said the museum’s mix of timed tickets, online payments and the one-way exhibit path have all worked well.

The galleries on the main floor are the only ones open, but she plans to open the remainder of the galleries in 2021.

“All museums are evolving as we work to make our spaces safe and remain relevant to our communities,” she said. “FAM is no different. At the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, FAM staff worked diligently to create a virtual presence utilizing social media outlets.”

Along with outdoor lectures series including “A Night of Black Stories” and outdoor and take-home summer camps, the museum’s education staff worked with local teachers to create a package of programs that students could use remotely.

Interacting with Facebook fans was also a key component for the Gari Melchers Home and Studio.

“I think the shutdown’s silver lining is staff had ample time to devote to virtual content creation,” Crow–Dolby said. “We produced everything from stress-reducing digital jigsaw puzzles to lesson plans, collections-based activities, new videos and blog posts, and even a couple of super cool 3D Virtual Tours.”

Even though the museum is open again, they are working on new online content.

But Crow–Dolby said she hopes the museum will be a healing alternative to the computer screen.

“Whether it’s contemplating Gari Melchers’ art, enjoying a quiet picnic lunch, communing with nature in the garden or interacting with family members on the house tour, we’re here for you.”

Lindley Estes: 540/735-1976


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