As a non-librarian at the Library of Virginia, I am constantly grateful for both the depth of our collections and the knowledge of our archival and reference staff. My job is to help look after Virginia’s State Art Collection, which consists of artworks owned by the Commonwealth on display in public buildings in the Capitol Square area. As part of my job, I do research on state art objects in response to inquiries from the public and in order to flesh out catalog files.
The works in the State Art Collection are mostly what you would expect – portraits of public officials, statues and busts of presidents, and the occasional scenic Virginia landscape. Paintings of private individuals have also become part of the collection over the years, either through association with a notable Virginian, or as a gift to the state. In some instances, as with this portrait of a World War I era soldier, the identity of the subject and the way the piece was acquired have been forgotten, and we are left with a mystery.
As with any piece of material culture, the best place to start is the object itself. There are a few clues in the painting: the signature indicates that it was painted in 1920 by local artist John Pleasants Walker (1855-1932), and the uniform insignia shows that our … read more »
One of my Sunday pleasures is reading David Segal’s bi-weekly “The Haggler” column in the New York Times. “The Haggler” tries to resolve reader-submitted 21st century horror stories of bad customer service. Virginia’s War History Commission could have used “The Haggler” in 1920 as they battled the Hooven Automatic Typewriter Company to repair their machine.
Created in 1919 by Governor Westmoreland Davis, the Virginia War History Commission’s goal was “to complete an accurate and complete history of Virginia’s military, economic and political participation in the World War.” The Commission consisted of sixteen leading citizens appointed by the governor including: Reverend Collins Denny; Brigadier General Jo Lane Stern, Adjutant General of Virginia; Douglas Southall Freeman, editor of the Richmond News-Leader; State Librarian Henry R. McIlwaine; and Colonel Charles R. Keiley, Executive Secretary of the Second Virginia Council of Defense. Arthur Kyle Davis, president of Southern Female College in Petersburg, was named chairman of the commission. Local branches were created to collect records of their community’s military and civilian activities. The commission needed a machine to create form letters for all of their correspondence with branch members. However, they wanted each letter to appear to be an “original” – not a mimeograph or carbon. After witnessing a demonstration of such a machine, Keiley purchased a Hooven Automatic Typewriter in February 1920 for … read more »
These are some examples of how soldiers at Camp Lee, Virginia, celebrated Christmas in 1918. The records of the Virginia War History Commission have been processed and are open to researchers.
-Roger Christman, Senior State Records Archivist… read more »
Created in 1919 by Governor Westmoreland Davis, the World War I History Commission’s task was to collect, edit, and publish source material concerning Virginia’s participation in the Great War. The Commission also conducted a survey of World War I veterans in Virginia using a printed questionnaire mailed to each soldier or nurse by local branches of the Commission. The soldier or a family member completed and returned the questionnaire to the local branch, which forwarded a copy to the Commission’s Richmond office. In June 1928, the Commission disbanded, transferring all records to the Virginia State Library (now the Library of Virginia). An invaluable source of genealogical and military information on Virginians who served in World War I, this collection of nearly 14,800 questionnaires was processed and microfilmed in 1996 and digitized in 1998.
When I joined the State Records section in 1999, I began processing the remaining records of the World War I History Commission. Much to my surprise, I discovered additional questionnaires filed separately, which had not been filmed or included in the digital collection. As it turned out, staff of the Commission had set these records apart from the remainder of the collection by design.
In preparation for its first source volume, Virginians of Distinguished Service of the World War, published in 1923, the World War I History … read more »