Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Nella Fontaine Binckley: "Odds and Ends from an Artist's Life," Chapter VI, Part 1

Alleghany Springs, Virginia, National Register of Historic Places. Photos by Skye Marthaler, 2013. (Wiki Commons)
[Nella Fontaine Binckley, "Odds and Ends from an Artist's Life," Chapter VI, part 1. From a transcription annotated by Patricia D'Arcy Binckley of typewritten original, February 25, 2005. Original "written some time after 1941 by Nellie F. Binckley, 1860-1950 or 51." Notes in brackets are mine, unless followed by the initials "P.D.B." Occasionally, additional paragraph breaks inserted for easier reading. 

Many thanks to William Myers, Mary Davy, Sally Young and Sue Davis for their ongoing research collaboration; specifically to William for providing a scan of the original document, and in turn many thanks to Peter Binckley and Patricia D'Arcy "Trish" Binckley (1951-2007), at the source.]

That [circa 1880] summer [Grandmother] and Aunt Sue took me to Alleghany Springs [Montgomery County, Virginia]. I was still in my teens and it was my first visit to a watering place. I enjoyed the hotel life immensely. The scenery was lovely and I made sketches.

I had not had my art education which Dad had planned. But I had worked hard by myself, studied good pictures, and learned to paint. 

When the proprietor of the Springs saw some of my sketches, he told me I could use a small room over one end of the bowling alley on the grounds for a studio. An outside stairway led up to it. That was delightful! My very first studio! And the guests began buying my little pictures.

It was hot and everybody used palm leaf fans. I painted some goldenrod on mine, and a lady asked me to paint one like it for her. Then I had a lot of orders for fans. A  gentleman wanted me to paint a portrait of his dog. I love dogs, and understand them, so it was a success. Another man wanted his beautiful pointer painted. And so it went. I was a professional artist after all. I never taught school again.

Meantime I was having a glorious time socially. Dancing in the ballroom every night (except Sundays, of course) and walks and talks with various gentlemen during the days. I always liked older men best. Dad had spoiled me for commonplace men. But I loved to dance, and as the dancing men were mostly youngsters I had to put up with them, but seldom wasted time on them in daylight.

General Jubal Early was there and was with Grandmother a great deal. He and Grandfather had been intimate friends. And he was also very fond of my great uncle, General Johnston. There were a great many Richmond people at the Springs, and among them were John S. Wise and his wife. They were almost ostracized as Mr. Wise was a Readjuster. I knew nothing of politics, and cared less.  So I had only a dim impression that there were some people -- mostly Republicans it seemed -- who wanted to readjust the State debt, whatever that meant. We were all Democrats, of course. Loosely speaking, most nice people in the South are Democrats, while most nice people in the North are Republicans. Six of one, and half dozen of the other.

One day Mr. Wise came up to my studio saying he had seen my portraits of the dogs and liked them very much. He was a great dog fancier, judge at dog shows, etc. He picked up a sketching board and on it drew a setter and showed me all the points. I remember he said the tail should have the curve of Saladin's scimitar. He was so nice and interesting that I forgot he was a Readjuster.

When I told Grandmother and Aunt Sue about it, they were shocked that "Johnny Wise" had come to see me. Bit I reminded them that a studio was really a public place. Anybody could come. I was desperately afraid, however, that if he came again and old General Early, who climbed up to my studio now and then should find him there, the fiery old general would probably throw him down the steps. But luckily Mr. Wise returned to Richmond [the] next day. The dog he sketched I named Readjuster.

One day I was out on a road near the Springs with my sketch box, looking for something to paint when along the road came a half grown darkey boy in the raggedest rags I had ever seen on any human creature. I showed him a quarter and told him I'd give it to him if he'd let me paint him. [He] looked longingly at the quarter but hesitated. Finally he say doubtfully, "What color you gwine paint me?" I hastened to assure him that I had no intention of whitewashing him or anything like that. When I made this clear, he joyfully consented.

There was a family at the hotel named Lamar, from Georgia. The two pretty daughters, one blonde, one brunette, had the most extraordinarily long hair down to the hem of their skirts -- which in those days meant down to the ground. We had a costume ball and they wore their hair loose, and were the sensation of the evening. I painted a small portrait of the blonde one with her hair down for Mrs. Lamar. They had peculiar names -- Elmira Edwita and Alberta Isolene. A married daughter was named Vallie Valeria. 

One of the guests was a cattle king from Texas named Colonel Spaight. He was said to own a million head of cattle. He had been coming to the Springs for years, and he was seventy but a very spry old gentleman, and even waltzed quite frequently and very well too, though there was a slight hitch now and then. Stiffness of the joints, I suppose. When we had the big ball of the season the General invited me to lead the Grand March with him. 

[Ellen/Nellie/Nella Fontaine Binckley (September 1, 1860-April 27, 1951). Family names and dates were whimsically tweaked by their owners during their lifetime, adding mystery and sometimes causing confusion. For Binckley's "Artist's Life," I'm opting for the full artist's signature name, Nella Fontaine Binckley.

Grandmother = Jane Johnston Mitchell/Michel (1811-1892).
Aunt Sue = Sue Henry Mitchell/Michel Taliaferro (1845-1940).
Dad = John Milton Binckley (circa 1831-1878).
Jubal Early (1816-1904) = hyper-racist proponent of "Lost Cause" mythology.   
Great Uncle Joe = Joseph Eggleston Johnston (1807-1891).
John S. Wise = John Sergeant Wise (1846-1913).
Lamar = most likely the family of Henry James Lamar (1925-1896) and Valeria Bethsheba Jones Lamar (1832-1895), which included daughters Valerie Lamar (1855-1916), Alberta Lamar (1865-1887) and Wileyna Lamar (1861-1927).
Colonel Spaight = probably Colonel Joseph Warren Speight (1825-1888).]

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