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May 13, 2011

Program at the Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg Discusses the Extensive Detective Work That Solved One of the Most Elusive Folk Art Puzzles of the Past 75 Years

The program, “The Old Plantation: The Artist Revealed,” illustrates how the identity of the artist was uncovered through a panel discussion at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, May 19 at the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum. Colonial Williamsburg historian Taylor Stoermer leads the panel discussion.

Other panelists are Barbara Luck, Colonial Williamsburg curator of paintings, and Susan Shames, Colonial Williamsburg decorative arts librarian. Shames used her superb skills as a genealogist and researcher to follow the clues and unearth the history of the drawing, including the identity of the artist.

Using primary documents and reanalyzing existing scholarship, Shames drew on a lifetime of expertise in material culture, genealogy and research methodology to trace the painting’s history to its creation more than 200 years ago.

The lecture is being held in conjunction with the exhibition, “The Old Plantation: The Artist Revealed,” at the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum. The centerpiece of the display is an 18th-century watercolor depicting a group of 12 slaves at their leisure. The unsigned painting perplexed scholars, historians and art enthusiasts since Abby Aldrich Rockefeller first acquired it in 1935. Since then, the 18th-century work has been widely reproduced in textbooks and scholarly publications, providing a valuable tool for anyone studying slave life, music, dance and society.

Shames narrates the fascinating story of her quest and the details of Rose’s life in a handsomely illustrated 80-page book published by The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. Printed on acid-free paper in hardcover, “The Old Plantation: The Artist Revealed” is available at the Museum Store for $24.95. Publication was made possible by a generous grant from the Nicholas and Eleanor Chabraja Foundation. The Chabrajas of Lake Forest, Ill., have supported Colonial Williamsburg more than 30 years and are members of the Colonial Williamsburg Associates.

A Colonial Williamsburg admissions ticket, museum pass or Good Neighbor Card provides access to this lecture.

Programs and exhibitions at The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation’s DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum are supported by the DeWitt Wallace Endowment Fund.

The Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg include the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum and the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum. The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum is home to the nation’s premier collection of American folk art, with more than 5,000 folk art objects made during the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. The DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum exhibits the best in British and American decorative arts from 1670–1830.

The Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg are located at the intersection of Francis and South Henry Streets in Williamsburg, Va., and are entered through the Public Hospital of 1773. Museum hours are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. For museum program information, telephone (757) 220-7724.

The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation is the not-for-profit educational and cultural organization that preserves and operates the restored 18th-century Revolutionary capital of Virginia as a town-sized living history museum, telling the inspirational stories of our nation’s founding men and women. Williamsburg is located in Virginia’s Tidewater region, 20 minutes from Newport News, within an hour’s drive of Richmond and Norfolk, and 150 miles south of Washington, D.C., off Interstate 64. For more information about Colonial Williamsburg, call 1-800-HISTORY or visit Colonial Williamsburg’s website at

Media Contact:
Penna Rogers
(757) 220-7121