Visiting ‘The Maier’

Today, I visited the Maier Museum of Art.

It’s only a few miles from my home, in the Rivermont historic district. The museum is owned by Randolph College, which was founded as Randolph-Macon Woman’s College in 1891. My mother-in-law, Mary Wells Ramsey (then Ridley), went there in the 1960s.

Maier Front
The Maier Museum of Art

“The Maier,” as it’s known around town, has an interesting history. It was built 1951, during the Cold War, as a safe repository for works from the National Gallery of Art, should they need to be evacuated from Washington, D.C.

The arrangement was called “Project Y” and continued officially until 2001. In return, the college (and those of us who live in Lynchburg) got a great little art museum.

The Maier specializes in American art of the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries. Admission is free, which is pretty great, considering the quality of the art hanging inside. My favorite piece is “Through the Arroyo,” by E. Martin Hennings, which also has an interesting history at the Maier.

Among many well-known artists, the Maier’s collection also includes work by Thomas Hart Benton, Edward Hopper and Georgia O’Keeffe.

O’Keeffe’s “Yellow Cactus” is another of my favorites at the Maier. My sister, Theresa, gave me a paperweight with Yellow Cactus on it. I’ve also been to the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico, several times.

And, there’s a poster of O’Keeffe, sitting astride a motorcycle in 1944, on the wall of my office. Yes, I’m a fan — not only of O’Keeffe’s art but of the way she lived on her own terms. She also got to live in New Mexico, which makes me a little jealous.

Georgia O'Keeffe & Mary Wells Ridley - 1967
Georgia O’Keeffe looks at my mother-in-law’s painting, 1967.

In 1967, O’Keeffe visited Randolph-Macon Woman’s College to receive an honorary degree. At the same time, my mother-in-law was a senior art major, and her work was being exhibited in a student show at the Maier.

In this photo (right), Georgia O’Keeffe looks at my mother-in-law’s painting, as my mother-in-law looks on. I can only imagine what both were thinking at the time.

According to O’Keeffe’s bio on the Maier’s website, the famous artist spent some of her childhood in Chatham, Virginia, which is about an hour south of Lynchburg.

Soon, John and I will travel to Chatham’s Pittsylvania County Courthouse, where we’ll look for records pertaining to both of our families.

John’s dad’s family was in Pittsylvania County from the 1700s well into the 20th century, while my mother’s family migrated through the area from eastern Virginia in the late-1700/early-1800s, en route to Southeastern Kentucky.

I wonder if any of our kinfolk married each other. I’ll let you know if they did.

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