Montpelier is excited to announce a new exhibition titled “Secrets of Montpelier“ that will run from May 8-22 in Montpelier Visitor Center’s Grand Salon.
The exhibit displays the work of advanced digital photographers participating in a one-of-a-kind photography course designed by Montpelier in partnership with the University of Virginia School of Continuing and Professional Studies. The exhibit is FREE and open to the public.
We interviewed Caroline Godfrey, Assistant Director of Communications at Montpelier, to learn more about Montpelier and the exhibit.
Could you tell us about the recent changes you’ve seen or been a part of at Montpelier?
Over the last two years, Montpelier has embarked upon a new chapter in its development under the leadership of Kat Imhoff, president and CEO of The Montpelier Foundation. To highlight a few our favorite successes, we restored James Madison’s library, received a $10 million lead gift from patriotic philanthropist David Rubenstein, and partnered with the U.S. State Department on its Young African Leadership Initiative. Most recently, we broke ground to begin the reconstruction of the South Yard, the enslaved community site adjacent to the mansion where the Madisons’ domestic slaves lived and worked.
For the last decade, Montpelier has been working to bring James Madison back to Montpelier by restoring the mansion and landscape to its 1817 appearance. The restoration of James Madison’s library, unveiled on Presidents’ Day 2014, marked a milestone in this effort. What was an empty space is now complete with books, work desks, a telescope, and personal effects that help our visitors envision James Madison’s work on the U.S. Constitution and lifelong dedication to securing democracy in America.
Restoration efforts at Montpelier will accelerate considerably in the coming years, thanks to Mr. Rubenstein, co-founder and co-CEO of The Carlyle Group. His monumental gift is supporting the curatorial research needed to continue the ongoing refurnishing of the mansion, as well as the reconstruction that will transform the South Yard. These projects will significantly enhance the visitor experience by bringing to life the home and landscape that Madison knew, including the experiences of Montpelier’s enslaved people.
Place is a powerful instrument in helping people imagine the past, but also the future. Montpelier is thus uniquely positioned to to extend James Madison’s continuing impact through programs at the Robert H. Smith Center for the Constitution, located on-site at Montpelier. Last July, the Center welcomed 25 young African Fellows for a constitutional studies program as part of its collaboration with the U.S. State Department’s Young African Leaders Initiative and the Presidential Precinct. Working with Montpelier staff and scholars from leading universities, the Fellows deepened their understanding of democratic government and considered how constitutional reforms in their own nations could propel economic growth, prosperity, and democracy in Africa.
It is easy to believe that the historic landscape at Montpelier is as old as James Madison himself, who would be 264 this year if he were with us today. Yet, as a public museum and educational resource about Madison, constitutionalism, and self-government, Montpelier is only 14 years old — a teenager compared to sister sites like Mount Vernon and Monticello. With this youth comes vigor, innovation, and just the right amount of wide-eyed wonder, which makes Montpelier such a fun, dynamic, and future-oriented organization — and one that is making great strides.
Can you tell us more about the partnership behind the “Secrets of Montpelier” exhibit?
“Secrets of Montpelier” displays the work of advanced digital photographers participating in a one-of-a-kind photography course designed by Montpelier in partnership with the University of Virginia School of Continuing and Professional Studies. The course was designed to do to things: provide a curriculum that would cover a swath of technical skills while offering an immersive, behind-the-scenes experience at Montpelier.
Thus, the 4-week course was a composite of educational lectures on select techniques in photography led by award-winning photographer John Hulburt, and field trips to Montpelier, where students tested their learning and talent against the backdrop a one of America’s most important historic homes.
Through custom tours, behind-the-scenes access, and John’s enthusiastic instruction, the class captured the character, quirks, and stories of James Madison’s Montpelier, as well its present-day “residents” whose dedicated work continues to make Montpelier a place of enduring education, inspiration, and beauty.
The exhibit is on display now in the duPont Grand Salon in the Montpelier Visitor Center through May 22. It is free and open to the public during regular business hours (Monday-Friday, 9:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.). All art work is for sale with the written consent of The Montpelier Foundation.
How does the exhibit relate to the larger changes that Montpelier is currently undergoing?
“Secrets of Montpelier” was designed to give students an all-access opportunity to learn about the history of Montpelier and about the people who called it home, from James and Dolley, to the slaves that made their lives possible, to the duPonts who owned Montpelier from 1901 to 1983. Montpelier’s history is complex, as were the times when a slave-holding nation declared all men were created equal. There is so much to learn about America’s history in these 2,650 acres, and it was exciting to see the students come away with a new insight or perspective after each field trip.
At the same time, the course offered a view into the people and operations that are required to keep Montpelier running. Many of the students commented on how welcomed and inspired they felt by the Montpelier staff. It’s important that our supporters and visitors feel connected and engaged when they come to Montpelier, whether it is through a mansion tour, through the James Madison Trails, by taking an online course on the Constitution, or by digging alongside our archaeologists on an expedition.
Madison was about “we the people,” and so is Montpelier today. The grounds are free and open to the public during regular business hours, dogs are welcome (on leashes), and our hands-on kid activities are expanding. Madison found energy and inspiration from this landscape, and we encourages visitors to not only come to Montpelier to learn more about Madison but also to come here to renew their own energies, creativities, and passions.
Lastly, are there any more upcoming events either at or sponsored by Montpelier that the community can get excited about?
Congress designated September 17 as National Constitution Day, and each year, we invite the public to celebrate this anniversary with us at our own Constitution Day Celebration. This is again a family-friendly event complete with mansion tours, live music, children’s games, and the third annual Taste of Freedom Wine Festival. This year, Montpelier’s Constitution Day Celebration will take place on Saturday, September 19. This event is FREE and open to the public.
Image Credit: Larry Bouterie, courtesy of The Montpelier Foundation