Reynolda House Museum of American Art Launches Visitor App
‘Reynolda Revealed’ will present the past and present of Reynolda in a new way;
App will debut Saturday, June 2, at free festival
Winston-Salem, N.C.—Reynolda House Museum of American Art will introduce an app this summer that brings the museum’s esteemed art and the history and splendor of its setting into the palm of every visitor’s hand. Incorporating abundant video, archival audio, and period and contemporary photographs, the app delivers a remarkable narrative of one of America’s founding industrial families, the R. J. Reynolds family, and their historic estate, now home to an exceptional collection of American art. Fittingly called “Reynolda Revealed,” the app, the museum’s first, provides information never publicly shared, gleaned from the museum’s extensive Reynolds family archives.
“Reynolda Revealed enables us to divulge the multi-layers of stories that makes Reynolda such a unique place,” says Allison Perkins, executive director of Reynolda House Museum of American Art and Wake Forest University associate provost for Reynolda House and Reynolda Gardens. “The vivid storytelling that is the star of this app will enliven the setting and illuminate the art in an exhilarating way. Even those visitors ‘arriving at’ the museum on the Web via the app now have greater access to Reynolda’s rich past as well as its collections.”
The app will launch on Reynolda Revealed Community Day, the museum’s annual free festival, Saturday, June 2. The event will take place from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and will include art activities, live performances, lawn games, free admission to the museum and walking tours of the Reynolda grounds. Community partners Triad Cultural Arts, African American Archive, Kaleideum, New Winston Museum, Museum of Anthropology at Wake Forest University and Associated Artists will join Reynolda in the celebration and offer art and educational activities. Reynolda House is grateful for the support of Reynolda Revealed Community Day from Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Carolinas Realty, the City of Winston-Salem, and Forsyth County
Reynolda Revealed makes excellent use of oral histories recorded during the 1980s and 1990s. Its 10 video and 35 audio clips feature Reynolds descendants, relatives, and estate employees and their children recalling anecdotes of life in the South during the early half of the 20th century. The app takes users behind the scenes of the grand 64-room manor house and introduces the masters of architecture, interior decoration, and landscape and garden design whose collaboration created the stunning property, now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Text and audio provide background on the origin of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company and its enormous success. Considerable content is offered on Reynolda Gardens, the original formal gardens designed by Thomas Sears; the impressive Lord & Burnham glass conservatory; and the surrounding 125 acres of native meadows, woodlands, and wetlands.
The mobile-based tour offers a rare opportunity to meet the museum’s founder: Barbara Babcock Millhouse, granddaughter of R.J. and Katharine Reynolds. On video recorded in February of this year, Millhouse reminisces about the genesis of the famed art collection and her goal to showcase “fine American art in a fine American residence.” The collection she assembled now numbers 200 outstanding works, dating from 1755 to present day.
“We worked on these paintings for about 30, 40 years and they still evolved,” Millhouse remembers. “That’s what was most interesting to me. They did not go dead. That’s what, I think, an important painting is. It’s a painting that lends itself to multiple interpretations. They are all correct.”
On the formation of the art collection Millhouse says: “…Part of the motivation, on my part anyway, for the art collection other than the fact that the house direly needed a basis for an educational program, is that it took the focus away from tobacco to Frederic Church, to great art, and it worked. People said, ‘Oh, yeah.’ Instead of saying, ‘That’s the home of R.J. Reynolds,’ they would say, ‘Well that’s the home of Frederic Church. That’s where that great Frederic Church is.’ That made me very pleased.”
Reynolda Revealed will be available in English and Spanish from the Apple Store and on Google Play. It can be downloaded in advance, during or after a visit and also accessed online at reynolda.oncell.com. The museum will have 20 iPads available each day for visitors without a mobile phone or who prefer a larger screen. The iPads are made possible by the grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services that funded the app’s development. The IMLS award was the largest federal grant in the museum’s 50-year history.
Bari Helms, director of archives and library, and Phil Archer, the Betsy Main Babcock Director of Program and Interpretation, longtime members of the staff of Reynolda House Museum of American Art, led the development of the mobile tour. Perkins says their passion for Reynolda and all of its stories greatly enhanced the project.
“It is so satisfying to share the stories that those of us working here have gathered or absorbed over the years,” says Helms. “A visit to Reynolda is not only to enjoy significant art; it is to step inside a magnificent house and glorious gardens, and get to know an influential and caring family that shaped the modern South and a young woman who fulfilled her grand idea to preserve all of this for the public.”
Below is a selection of oral history recordings featured on Reynolda Revealed:
*Nancy Reynolds, the third of the four children of R. J. and Katharine Reynolds, spoke about her parents’ courtship:
“When my father was courting her she had lots of beaus, and one would send her chocolate candy, and one would send flowers — and my father sent her milk. She believed that that indicated he was more interested in her health than any of the others. We wouldn’t think that today, would we? She just had better sense than we have today.”
*Katharine Reynolds came from a family of readers, and her daughter Nancy carried on the tradition. While still only a teenager, Nancy collected first editions of books. She discovered one by her favorite author, John Galsworthy:
“I like to collect books—well I was collecting Galsworthy, that was my specialty about that age, 16 or 17 years old. First editions. So I had a lot of fun in London because I could go to all the little bookstores and poke around. I’ve got a complete collection. And one of the books came out by Scribners, and I’m—ashamed to tell you—it was eleven hundred dollars. Well, my allowance would never have covered anything like that. It was one of Galsworthy’s very early books. So the bill came in, and Uncle Will called me up and he said, ‘Nancy, we’ve got a bill here for a book—eleven dollars.’ And he said, ‘What kind of book is it that’s so expensive?’ And I said, ‘Uncle Will, it’s not eleven dollars. It’s eleven hundred dollars. It’s a first edition.’ And he said, ‘Couldn’t you wait until the second one came out?’”
*In the 1980s, several members of the domestic staff were interviewed about their experiences living at Reynolda. When asked about their relationship with the Babcocks, Rosalie Miller, the upstairs maid, recalled:
“It wasn’t like just sticking you off in a little corner or something—we had what they had. That was one thing, and eating—we ate what they did. It wasn’t just fixing something for them, and fixing us a different kind of stuff. You felt good about that, because I know so many that said they did—they fixed something for them and then they had to have something else different.”
*While a student at Bennett College in Greensboro, N.C., Elizabeth Wade started work in the laundry where her skills at ironing caught the attention of Katharine, who wanted to hire her permanently. Instead, Wade decided to finish college and did not return to work until after she had her family. Wade operated the Reynolda switchboard for a time and, in later years, served as a nanny for the children of Dick Reynolds (R.J. and Katharine’s older son). As a light-skinned African American, Elizabeth Wade was in a unique position to navigate life on both sides of the Jim Crow South.
“No, I never passed but one time. I was going to Mississippi, and the weather was like it is now. I left Winston and it was 100, and I got in that Jim Crow car and thought I’d die. When I got to Asheville, I got in that air-conditioned car and stayed there. But that’s the only time I ever did, but honey, I was about to die. It was nasty, with the cinders coming back…And I had on a blue suit, and I had the coat on my arm. I had on a white blouse, and when I got in that other car, that air-conditioned car, I put that coat on and it stayed there until I got to Mississippi. When we got to Memphis, they had a bus to carry the white people—you had to change terminals. They had a bus that carried white people to the other station, I got right on it and went right on with them. And stayed there as if I was just as white as they were. A lot of times people don’t ask you. They think you are, and I don’t stop to tell them.”
*Wade had similar experiences in other areas of the South while working for Dick Reynolds and his family:
“Now, the better portion of my life has been thrown with white people, and it really didn’t hit me like it did some folk. Anywhere I’d go they were nice to me. Now it may be because of my color, and I have been with the Reynoldses to Miami Beach (and sure enough black folks couldn’t go to the beach) and Mr. Reynolds [Dick] would tell me, now you know you’re not black, you’re white. I had to pass, I had the children, in a lot of places we went. Now in Sea Island, Georgia, they didn’t care who you worked for—if you was black, you just couldn’t come in. We stayed at the Shoremead Hotel, and there were a lot of people from Winston who knew us, like maybe Mrs.____ I can’t think of her name. But they knew what was happening, and it was all right with them. But Mr. Reynolds, when we’d go to get on a plane, he’d say, now remember, you’re not black now—we didn’t say that then, we said colored. He’d say, remember, you’re not colored.”
*It took many hands to maintain the landscape and gardens at Reynolda, and landscape supervisor Robert Conrad formed a close working relationship with Katharine Reynolds. He left a significant impact on Reynolda’s landscape. Conrad came to work at the greenhouse after graduating from City High School in 1913. His son, Robert Conrad, Jr. recalled that:
“(My) grandfather wanted my daddy to be a dentist. But he told me one time that he went up to his father’s office in the O’Hanlon Building, and they’d just come out with this new kind of thing called Novocain. My grandfather didn’t believe in Novocain. You sat in the dentist chair and you took it. And for a long time, dad would hear that screaming and hollering going on up there and he would run down the steps, out in the street and go home, which was North Spring Street at that time. He couldn’t stand it. So some way or another, he heard about Mrs. Reynolds and went out there and she hired him in the greenhouse. And that is when he got his start, at the greenhouse, at Reynolda. He rode his bicycle out there. It was a gravel, dirt, mud road. Every morning, he went to work in the greenhouse. And he thought she hung the moon. She was wonderful. But that’s the way he got his beginning at Reynolda.”
Repurposed during the 1970s to accommodate shops (now part of Reynolda Village, the estate’s original buildings now containing more than 25 restaurants, galleries and shops), the cattle shed once housed Reynolda’s pedigreed Jersey show herd. After an appeal from local agricultural associations to upgrade the area’s livestock, the Reynoldses selected the Jersey breed because the milk they provided was rich and high in butterfat, believed at the time to be essential for good health. R.J. Reynolds traveled to Lexington, Ky., with dairyman Thomas Monroe to purchase a selection of championship bulls. According to his son, Monroe had his first proper cocktail on the trip:
“He said that it was the first time he’d ever had a drink that wasn’t white lightning. He had a mixed drink with Mr. Reynolds somewhere in Lexington, Kentucky. It was the thrill of his lifetime—he had an Old Fashioned.” In 1921, a show herd of 17 Jerseys made a two-month tour of the Southeastern fair circuit, bringing home 142 ribbons and averaging more than 20 per fair.”
Reynolda, in Winston-Salem, N.C., is a rare gem among the nation’s cultural institutions and historic greenspaces. The 50-year-old museum at the center of Reynolda’s 180 acres, Reynolda House Museum of American Art, presents a renowned art collection in a historic and incomparable setting: the original 1917 interiors of the country manor of R. J. Reynolds. Spanning 250 years, the collection is an uncompromisingly selective one, a chronology of American art, with each artist represented by one work of major significance. Highlights are: Albert Bierstadt, Mary Cassatt, William Merritt Chase, Frederic Edwin Church, Stuart Davis, Martin Johnson Heade, Alex Katz, Lee Krasner, Jacob Lawrence, Georgia O’Keeffe, John Singer Sargent and Grant Wood. The collection was assembled by the unerring eye of Barbara Babcock Millhouse, granddaughter of R. J. and Katharine Reynolds. The Reynolda experience includes a free app called Reynolda Revealed; touring exhibitions in the museum’s Mary and Charlie Babcock Wing; formal gardens, conservatory and walking trails of Reynolda Gardens; and more than 25 of the estate’s original buildings repurposed as shops and restaurants in Reynolda Village. Reynolda, located at 2250 Reynolda Road, is adjacent to Wake Forest University. For more information, please visit reynolda.org. Connect at facebook.com/rhmaaand @CurateReynolda.