FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 7, 2005
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VIRGINIA HISTORICAL SOCIETY OPENS TWO NEW EXHIBITIONS
Two exhibitions open in December:
The Virginia Manufactory of Arms Collection
In Jefferson's Shadow: The Architecture of Thomas Blackburn
Richmond, VA – The Virginia Historical Society (VHS) announces the opening of two new exhibitions. The first is a long-term installation, The Virginia Manufactory of Arms Collection, showcasing a collection acquired by the VHS with the generous support of Floyd D. Gottwald and Nancy and Bruce Gottwald. The exhibition presents weapons made in Richmond from 1802 through 1821. Born of the anti-federalist suspicion of a national military establishment, the state manufactory supplied the Virginia militia with flintlock muskets, pistols, swords, and rifles – examples of each will be on display. In the aftermath of the Revolutionary War, a newly independent United States was aware of a significant debt of gratitude to France for supplying the armaments that were a key component of American victory. Vowing to never again be so dependent upon a foreign nation for its defense, the new federal government began to manufacture arms to ensure an indigenous supply of weapons should a conflict arise. In 1806, John Clarke, the superintendent of the manufactory wrote, "Our pacific and friendly disposition towards foreign nations will not defend us from their plunder and oppression. Our safety and happiness depend upon arms for our defense."
Virginia, however, took this call for independence a step further. Rather than rely on the federal government for weapons, it established its own manufactory, the products of which are now on display in this new exhibition. Some of the arms likely defended Virginia during the British campaigns on the Chesapeake Bay in 1813–1814. "This is truly a significant collection," says Jeffrey Ruggles, exhibition curator. "Included are First Model muskets engraved for county units, elegant Second Model pistols, period accoutrements, and, from a later phase of the armory, an 1861 Richmond rifle-musket." This collection is not only important as an impressive display of weaponry, but it also reflects evidence of a key component in the evolution of state and national interests in the early American government: suspicion of tyranny and preparations to defend against it.
The second exhibition offers a rare glimpse into the life and works of previously little-known architect Thomas Blackburn. In Jefferson's Shadow: The Architecture of Thomas Blackburn opens December 10, 2005, and runs through May 28, 2006. In 1999, the VHS discovered and acquired three bound volumes of architectural documents produced by Blackburn (1795–1867). It was an important discovery for the modern scholarship of architectural history, as Blackburn, a protégé of Thomas Jefferson, was largely unknown despite a prolific career. The drawings date between 1821 and 1858 and provide a unique window to view both the professional and the profession.
Thomas Blackburn emerged in 1821 as a young carpenter employed by Thomas Jefferson in the massive project to construct the University of Virginia. Engaged in building portions of the West Range of the campus, Blackburn embarked on an ambitious study of architectural drawing under the tutelage of Jefferson himself. At the close of the project, Blackburn translated the skills he obtained into a new career as an architect, designing and helping to construct several well-known homes in Albemarle County. These designs, built for clients in Jefferson's inner circle, strongly suggest Jefferson's support of the young architect's career and are reflective of Jeffersonian architectural style.
By far, Blackburn's most significant accomplishment can be found in the city of Staunton. Specifically, the majority of the Western Lunatic Asylum was constructed under Blackburn's supervision.
The Blackburn collection is one of only two known southern collections of antebellum architectural drawings and contains the earliest known sketch of James Madison's home Montpelier. This exhibition was made possible by the generous support of the Center for Palladian Studies in America and the Mutual Assurance Society of Virginia Fund of The Community Foundation.
The Virginia Historical Society is located at 428 N. Boulevard. The Story of Virginia, An American Experience,
a 10,000-square-foot exhibition with more than a thousand objects covering all of Virginia history from prehistoric
times to the present is featured in the Robins Center for Virginia History. Hours: Monday-Saturday 10am - 5pm
and Sunday 1pm - 5pm (Museum Galleries only). Admission: $5/adults, $4/seniors 55+ ($2/Tuesdays–galleries
only), $3/children and students, free/members. Admission to the galleries is free on Sundays. For group tour
information, call (804) 342-9652. For more information, please call (804) 358-4901 or visit