- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 4, 2006

The story of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley is told through oral history, crafts, textiles, pictures and artifacts at the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley in Winchester.

It is an area rich in history, so naturally, there is a lot to see.

The museum opened its $20 million building, designed by famed architect Michael Graves, in April 2005. The structure gives the collection a grand presence amid the country atmosphere.

“We want to help people understand and appreciate the Shenandoah Valley,” says Jennifer Esler, the museum’s executive director. “The biggest message here is the more things change, the more they stay the same.”

The museum is divided into several sections, each with a different collection and message. A visit starts with the orientation room, where a short movie about the valley’s history and people is shown.

Next stop is the Shenandoah Valley Gallery. This gallery uses a variety of mediums — among them touch screens with recordings of personal stories, maps, photos and reproductions — to show the valley’s cultural and natural history.

One section of the Shenandoah Valley Gallery explains the timeline of people in the area, from Indians living there 13,000 years before European settlers arrived through relatively modern times. Displays are set up to show how different valley homes might have looked. There is a cabin from the 1830s with a hearth and spinning wheel, as well as a Depression-era farm kitchen.

Smaller displays explain the economy of the valley, which historically has relied on wheat, apples and livestock rather than the tobacco crops found farther south. The settlers’ experience is shown through the stories of four families — black, Anglo-Virginian, Scottish-Irish and German — as they made their homes in the valley in the 19th century.

There are plenty of hands-on activities that will appeal to elementary-age schoolchildren, especially those who are history buffs. Visitors can flip through housewife manuals from the 1800s and the 1930s to see how difficult housekeeping was. They can use wooden models to try to design a home in one of several styles popular as the valley grew in the 1800s.

The Shenandoah Valley Gallery also features a Civil War room where visitors can watch a film on how the war affected the area. There is a bank of computers where visitors can search through newspaper clips, letters, diaries and public records pertaining to the Civil War.

Art and handicrafts have a huge presence at the museum. Adjacent to the Shenandoah Gallery are the Decorative Arts Rooms, where examples of local craftsmanship through time are displayed. Everything from woven baskets and folk art to furniture, ceramics and rifles can be seen there.

More artwork is on display in the Julian Wood Glass Jr. Gallery. Mr. Glass’ family owned the property on which the museum, as well as the historic Glen Burnie House, stand. Mr. Glass died in 1992, and his vast art collection is on display in the museum. The collection includes oil and watercolor paintings, pastel drawings and decorative arts. Many famous artists are represented, including Gilbert Stuart, Thomas Gainsborough and William Merritt Chase.

The collection of another local man is showcased in the museum’s R. Lee Taylor Miniature Gallery. Mr. Taylor’s collection began as a hobby in the 1970s, and by the time of his death in 2000, he had assembled 14 houses or rooms in precise detail. The rooms contain more than 4,000 objects.

Anyone who has ever spent time with a dollhouse will appreciate the incredible detail of the miniatures collection. There are upholstered chairs, a wine cellar and a replica of Scarlett O’Hara’s home, Tara. The latter features a tiny portrait of the “Gone With the Wind” heroine over the fireplace as well as the green velvet drapes immortalized in the movie.

“Miniatures are not just child’s play,” materials at the exhibit explain. “These artists work on a scale of one inch equals one foot. They use dental tools, magnifying glasses and paintbrushes with just a few hairs” to create the works.

The Changing Exhibitions Gallery holds “Pieced in Time: Shenandoah Valley Quilts,” which will run through Jan. 14.

The temporary exhibit — featuring quilts from the Virginia Quilt Museum in Harrisonburg as well as the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley’s own collection — shows examples of different types of quilt designs over the past 150 years. Eleven of the 18 quilts date to the mid- to late 1800s.

In addition to displaying the beautiful quilts, the exhibit explains the process of quilt making, including applique work and different stitches.

“Quilts are creations of different intents,” cards at the exhibit explain. “Sometimes a quilter wants to replace a worn bedcover. Other times, she might be seeking a blue ribbon at the county fair or making a special present. Sometimes the greatest intent is the action of connecting and quilting with friends.”

The exhibit also explains how a quilt mirrors its place and time. One of the best examples of this is a 1930s string comforter on display. The quilt consists of a series of 2-inch blocks made from whatever scraps of cloth were available. The blocks were sewn into squares. In some squares, 11 pieces of cloth are sewn together to make the square, which shows the resourcefulness of Depression-era quilters.

When you go:

Location: The Museum of the Shenandoah Valley is at 901 Amherst St. in Winchester, Va.

Directions: From the Beltway, take Interstate 66 west to Interstate 81. Follow I-81 to Exit 310. Follow signs for Route 37 north. Take Route 37 to Route 50 (Winchester/Romney exit). Turn right onto Route 50/Amherst Street. The museum will be on the right after about a mile.

Hours: The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. It is closed on major holidays. The Glen Burnie Historic House and Gardens, located on the same property, is open from March 1 through Nov. 30.

Admission: $8 for adults, $6 for seniors and children ages 7 to 18; children younger than 6 are admitted free. The historic house and gardens require an additional fee, but combination packages are available.

Parking: Free parking in lot.

More information: 540/662-1473 or www.shenandoah museum.org

Notes:

The Museum of the Shenandoah Valley, which opened in April 2005, features artifacts and examples that tell the story of the valley’s people, economy, art and architecture. The museum comprises four main galleries, each with a different set of collections. The Changing Exhibitions Gallery is presenting “Pieced in Time: Shenandoah Valley Quilts” through Jan. 14.

The museum has a tearoom for lunch, featuring a variety of specialty teas, lunch items and desserts.

The museum shop has a wide variety of local crafts, books and food items. It will hold an open house from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Nov. 11 and 12, with local artisan demonstrations, book signings and food tastings.

Though the Historic Glen Burnie House, on the grounds of the museum, closes for the season Nov. 30, it will be decorated for the holidays and open for tours the first three weekends in December.

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