Thursday, July 28, 2011

Sweet Silhouettes Have a Bit of History!

       One of the items we took to the Antiques Roadshow was a pair of silhouettes that I found at an auction in Missouri.  I was after a pair of penguin scissor cuts, cute little fellows that no one else was showing any interest in.  (OK...I love the movie "Happy Feet"!!)  When the auctioneer got to them he picked up 2 more framed pieces and said that these would sell as one item.  No problem...I got the penguins plus a silhouette of a young Thomas Jefferson ("by Nan Maury Lightfoot" printed at the bottom)  and of Elizabeth Monroe, the fifth president's wife ("by Marietta Minnegerode Andrews" at the bottom).    My thought was "that's nice" and we took them home.
        It wasn't until that evening that I looked at the brown paper backs...they were old and crumbly, both written on in a barely legible script:  

                                                     Lenore Cornwell

                                                    Jefferson Memorial Pilgrimage
                                                    Paris 1925

                                                   Marietta Minnegerode Andrews

                 That made me curious enough to forget the little penguins for awhile!

                 First of all I looked up the name "Minnegerode".  First up was Charles Minnegerode, who had emigrated from Germany and become the minister of a large congregation in Richmond, VA.  Wildly popular, he attracted many dignitaries, most notably Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis, and stayed Davis' confidant during the Civil War and his subsequent imprisonment.
                Then came Marietta, Charles' granddaughter, who became quite an accomplished and recognized artist in several media as well as a poet, illustrator, and author.   She had quite a dignified career, lived in Washington, DC, but that's as far as I got.

                On to Lenore Cornwell.  All I could find on her at first was that she had graduated from high school in St. John, Kansas and college in South Dakota.  Her father was a newspaperman; her mother encouraged her girls to study music...Lenore sang and played the piano and cello.    The only other mention was her being in the ensemble of "Castles in the Air" on Broadway.
               When I decided to take the silhouettes,  I decided at the last minute to do a little further research on my two mystery women.  I had really wondered how a young girl from Kansas and an established artist in Washington, DC could have crossed paths.  That night was "pay dirt"!!!  It's amazing how new material from archives and such, when made available on the internet, can help!  This time I found a series of newspaper articles on Lenore.

               It seems that there was a movement in the early 1920's to buy and restore a fading Monticello (oh, boy!...I'm hooked now...Jefferson is one of my heroes!!).  One of the fund-raising ideas was to have a person or group "sponsor" a girl and to get people to "vote" for her at 10 cents a vote.  Arthur Hammerstein (uncle of Oscar) sponsored Lenore with his Broadway cast of "Rose Marie" behind her; Senator Capper of Kansas endorsed her as well.   It seems that the top vote getters would make the Jefferson Memorial Pilgrimage to Paris!

              She was a winner (her native Kansas contributed a lot!), sailed to Paris, was even interviewed by a newspaper there.  One article mentions that she had a further career:  singing Mimi in a production of "La Boheme" and the lead in the debut of Xenia...... so she must have had a great deal of talent and a beautiful voice!

              The information on Nan Maury Lightfoot who did the silhouette of the young Thomas Jefferson is still scanty at best outside of the fact that she married John B.Lightfoot of the Lightfoot family of Civil War fame and wrote the article on the Bloomfield plantation garden in a book "The Historic Gardens of Virginia."  She lived during the same period as Andrews.

              Back to Marietta:  the Revolutionary War Collection in U. of Virginia Archives lists silhouettes she did of various notables of that period:  the Washingtons, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe.   Elizabeth isn't mentioned.   I wonder if she did Elizabeth Monroe as a special item for Jefferson's centennial?  Still a question there.  (I love the silhouette of Elizabeth...the tiny lorgnette is so perfect!). 
              Is it possible these 2 silhouettes were created just for and presented to the "Jefferson Memorial Girls", as they were called, when they made their Paris trip? 
             At least this gives a little something that could tie the two women together, even if indirectly...the common ground of the Jefferson fund-raising and pilgrimage?   Or with a common background in the arts, did their paths cross to the extent they became friends?  We don't know.
              The last entry that I found for Lenore was that she (and either her sister or mother) endowed music scholarships in Kansas State University.   She obviously stayed with her love of music throughout her life and was financially able to create a legacy at KSU!  Brava!

              What I finally found was two women in the past whom I would have loved to have known...both artists and both leaving a legacy of excellent work behind them.  I think there's more to both their stories, so I'll keep looking.   I'm delighted that these two little "pieces of the past" found their way to me to cherish!  As a musician and a writer I can appreciate both of their accomplishments, so they couldn't have found a better home!     
             For now... to Lenore, who was a beautiful young and talented soprano who participated in a historical undertaking, and to Marietta, who devoted her extensive artistic talents to so many areas and obviously participated somehow in this same undertaking... a  warm thank you from me....almost 100 years later!

            PS:  The appraiser at the Roadshow didn't even look at the short provenance that I'd written out for him, but he appraised these two charmers quite nicely...enough to make me smile!! 

            And that's good enough!!  

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