Aug 18, 2022 - News

Making room in Richmond's attic

An axios illustration
Photo illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios; Photo: Bertrand Guay/Getty Images

The Valentine has been amassing local artifacts since it was founded more than 100 years ago.

State of play: Things were starting to get a bit cluttered.

What's happening: The local history museum, sometimes called "Richmond's attic," is in the midst of its first comprehensive review of a collection that’s grown to more than 1.6 million objects.

  • By the end of the process, the museum's leaders say they expect to reduce its volume by as much as 50%.

Why it matters: The purge will make space for new objects that more completely tell Richmond's story, museum director Bill Martin tells Axios.

Context: Since opening its doors in 1898, The Valentine's collection has skewed heavily toward the interests of the white and wealthy.

  • It was founded by Mann S. Valentine Jr., who made his fortune selling Valentine’s Meat Juice, a once-popular health tonic made by boiling beef.
  • Edward V. Valentine, his brother and the museum's first president, is best known as a sculptor of Confederate statues and memorials.

What they're getting rid of: Items that aren't connected to Richmond, like 18th century clothing, Native American artifacts and photographs of other places.

Where it's going: Much of the material is being transferred to other institutions. A collection of Pamunkey pottery has been returned to the tribe's reservation. An early photo of Lynchburg, Virginia, is now in the hands of the Lynchburg Museum.

  • Items with no logical institutional home are being sold at auction or, in some cases, given to Goodwill, Martin says.

What's next: The museum expects to wrap up its review by the end of next year.

The project is tied to an expansion and modernization of the institution's offices and storage facilities.

A restoration of Edward Valentine's sculpture studio is also in the works, which the museum is using as an opportunity to confront the Lost Cause mythology the institution's first director helped foster.

  • "We are not the place we need to be in Richmond — we know that," Martin says. "And we ask: How do we meet our expectations?"

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