The Valentines, The Wickhams, and Richmond
Posted By Crystal Douglas
Nothing can harm the integrity of a museum if it is rooted in authenticity. Over the past century, The Valentine has been collecting and preserving some of Richmond, Virginia’s finest and most valuable artifacts. These artifacts range from a nineteenth-century Gothic-style stained glass window to a mid-1980s pant suit designed by Richmond patrons, Sydney and Frances Lewis. Within two floors, the museum features exhibitions that expound on 400 years of Richmond history. Founded in 1898, the museum stands as one of Richmond’s first museums.
“This is Richmond, Virginia” is the first exhibit and explores the city’s complex history through rare, local artifacts. As you step into the exhibit, you’ll notice the intricately designed hardwood floor displaying Richmond’s Fall Line through The James River. The city’s Fall Line is where the harder crystalline rock meets the softer sedimentary rock. The James River is the heartbeat of the city. The river has been a vital source in the settlement and operation of Richmond. In this exhibit, you will walk along the “James River” while getting a unique and comprehensive view of antecedent Richmond.
Along the first floor is another exhibit called Nuestras Historias: Latinos in Richmond, that celebrates the lives and culture of Richmond’s fairly large Latino community. The lower floor of the museum features a fashion and textile exhibition, Our Hearts on Our Sleeves, and the Valentine cellar, Jazz artifacts, and other significant pieces of the past and present.
One of the most significant landmarks of a city is its architecture. Inspired by Thomas Jefferson, the Wickham House is a classic nineteenth-century neoclassical beauty, standing in modern Richmond, Virginia. The home is an extended part of The Valentine and can only be experienced through a guided tour. The home was commissioned for John Wickham in 1812 to house him and his family of twenty until 1853. Today the home is modeled after the interpreted interior design of Mr. Wickham. The interiors of the home are displayed with bright and pleasant color palettes as well as subtle hints of the family’s wealth. The home’s majestic qualities extend to the sculpture-laced garden directly behind the home.
The home was owned by Mann S. Valentine from 1882 to 1892. Mr. Valentine admired culture and history. He displayed his passion for archaeology and ethnography by collecting artifacts, art, and textiles. Valentine’s collection has been rumored to have started with arrowheads and then evolved into sculptures, papers, and furniture as time progressed. Valentine never meant to use the home as a living space, rather a place for him to store his collections for private showings. However, after his passing, Mann S. Valentine opened the space to the public. Valentine left instructions in his will to turn the home into a public space to showcase his collections.
Richmond is defined by artifacts. The Valentine has helped maintain the authenticity of the city’s culture. Featured exhibitions allow Richmond natives to engage with the city’s history through objects like vintage benches, and lunch counters where brave individuals once sat to make a difference. Exhibits like Nuestras Historias connect the city’s diverse community with years of Richmond Latino history through objects, interviews, and images. The Wickham house allows visitors to get a glimpse of what life was like in nineteenth-century Richmond, Virginia. The Valentine has been noted to be “the only place to get a great comprehensive history of the city.” Without The Valentine, a lot of the city’s history would simply be lost.
Photo Credits: Crystal Douglas