Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Fireside in Virginia: An Excellent Adventure

I found out through a Google Alert for the Fenimore Art Museum that one of the artists in our folk art collection recently received a posthumous honor. Queena Stovall (1887 - 1980) was inducted into the Library of Virginia’s Women in History program in late March, joining a distinguished group of honorees from politics, business, and the arts.

The notice brought back memories of an offbeat and inspired trip in the Spring of 1995. We had received word that several important Queena Stovall paintings were to be auctioned at a small gallery in her hometown of Lynchburg, Virginia. I had always wanted one of her detailed and colorful paintings for the collection, at least since I first heard about her in the Cooperstown Graduate Program when I took the acclaimed folk art course taught by Louis C. and Agnes Halsey Jones. They knew her well, and had visited her in Virginia during their trip across the United States documenting folk art in the early 1970s. We had even had an exhibition of her work at the Fenimore Art Museum in 1974 (she brought a huge baked Virginia ham to the opening!) and one of our graduate students, Claudine Weatherford, had written her thesis and a book on Queena.

The question was how to get to Lynchburg. When I mentioned the auction to Aggie Jones, then Lou’s widow, the look of excitement and adventure on her face was palpable. She not only wanted to go, but she offered to drive us to Virginia in the Jones’ van: the very one that took them across the US more than 20 years before!

I wish I could describe the look on the auctioneer’s face when we pulled up to the gallery in the old van and asked to hook up to the gallery’s power supply. Bemused? Or simply confused? At any rate, Aggie charmed her way into free electricity and we were there in plenty of time for the auction.

The painting I wanted was “Fireside in Virginia,” (done in 1950 and measuring 18” x 24”) clearly the best and most evocative of the lot. It depicts two women (including Queena’s daughter Judy and her friend) raising their skirts by the fire to warm themselves on a chilly November day. I managed to get the painting for $25,000, just about what I was authorized to spend.

What I didn’t expect was the next item on the block, a pair of fireplace andirons the artist made of the two girls lifting their skirts! How could I resist? The auctioneer made a plea for my bid, knowing that these andirons simply had to go with the painting, and I obliged, getting the andirons for about $900. Afterward, the “Aggie Wagon” managed to get us back safely to Cooperstown, ending a delightful and memorable adventure in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Years later, Queena’s daughter Judy visited us in the museum and saw the painting with the andirons on display. Honestly, she didn’t look any older than when she was painted by her mother nearly 50 years before. She told me, “if you reproduce those andirons every Southern woman would want a pair. We still warm ourselves that way.”


  1. Great post! Love the painting and those andirons are fantastic. Good buy!

  2. Thanks, Gary. Always good to hear from you!


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