Museum artifact recognized in state program

The Virginia Association of Museums named the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley's portrait of the Rev. Nathan Cook Brackett as the 2015 People's Choice Honoree . It had 11,820 votes. Photo courtesy of MSV/Rick Foster

A portrait from Museum of the Shenandoah Valley received the People’s Choice Award among honorees on the Virginia Association of Museum’s Top 10 Endangered Artifacts list.

The portrait is that of Reverend Nathan Cook Brackett, the founder of Storer College, the first black college in West Virginia. His wife, Louise Wood Brackett, painted the portrait between 1875 and 1900 and the museum acquired it in 2009 from Brackett’s descendants.

Virginia Association of Museums started the Top 10 program in 2011 as an advocacy initiative to further public awareness of the preservation and conservation process.

Registrar and Collections Manager Kyle Bryner said that Brackett’s portrait requires cleaning and conservation efforts that would cost up to $950.

Deputy Director of Community Relations Julie Armel said that the support of patrons and this year’s title has brought forth a donor for those efforts.

“We’ve received funds to conserve the artifact so we’re thrilled that we can move forward with the conservation,” she said.

While on display at the museum, a “Vote For Me!” sign hung next to the portrait so that museum-goers and volunteers could show their support for an artifact from the Shenandoah Valley. It paid off – the artifact received 11,820 votes before the Aug. 23 cut-off date.

This is the second year that the MSV submitted an artifact in the competition. Last year, a miniature portrait of Winchester silversmith Thomas Boyle Campbell was on the top 10 list of honorees.

Armel said that submission of the Brackett portrait fit perfectly with the museum’s initiative to build its Shenandoah Valley collection because of the piece’s connection with black history in the area.

“We always try to take care to pick an object with a story to tell,” she said. “It also has a connection or a tie to the end of the civil war and the beginning of Reconstruction.”

The portrait will be on view in the Shenandoah Valley Gallery at the museum for another month before it will head off for conservation. Afterward, it will be back on display to share Brackett’s role in the Reconstruction and freedman’s era of the Valley.

Given the support MSV has received for its artifact submissions so far, it will continue to select one of its more than 11,000 articles for the annual program.

Contact staff writer Rachel Mahoney at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rmahoney@nvdaily.com