Located in Richmond, Virginia, The Valentine is a private museum dedicated to detailing the urban and social history of the Richmond region, with exhibits focusing on costumes, textiles, decorative arts, and architecture. The Valentine is Richmond's oldest private museum, opened in 1898 as a repository for the extensive collections of Mann S. Valentine II, the inventor of Valentine's Meat Juice health tonic.
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Upon his death in 1893, he bequeathed his collections of art, archaeological, and anthropological holdings, along with a $50,000 endowment and the historic John Wickham House property, for the creation of a museum. His early collections contained a large number of casts of ancient sculptures, along with important documents, furniture, and other memorabilia of the area.
The museum was located inside the Wickham House until 1924, when three rowhouses adjacent to the property were purchased to display the collection's holdings and the historic house was renovated into a living history museum. The mission of the museum was refocused in the 1950s to emphasize the cultural history of Richmond, and in 1985, under the leadership of Frank Jewell, revitalized its exhibits to reflect social issues in the city's history, such as racism. Two name changes in the early 2000s, first to the Valentine Richmond History Center and then to The Valentine with the subtitle "Richmond Stories," further reflect the museum's reputation as Richmond's premier history center.
Permanent Collections and Exhibits
The Valentine holds a permanent collection of more than 900,000 objects, including fine arts works, decorative objects, and industrial artifacts that reflect Richmond's social and urban history. Traveling exhibitions focus on highlighting the stories of the diverse cultures of the region.
With over 30,000 dress, textile, and accessory items, the museum's internationally renowned Costume and Textile Collection is the largest holding of its kind in the American South. The collection includes a survey of private and social clothing worn by Virginians of a variety of socioeconomic classes, including military uniforms, designer garments distributed by Richmond companies, and notable couture worn by local politicians, artists, and performers. Textile holdings include important commemorative quilts, flags, and samplers tied to major events in the city's history. In addition to the objects from this collection on view in permanent exhibitions, select objects can be viewed as part of an annual special exhibition or by appointment to researchers.
The Decorative Arts Collection comprises more than 25,000 pieces of furniture, glasswork, ceramics, and silver. Much of the furniture in the collection was made by Richmond designers or housed within prominent Richmond estates, such as the pair of 19th-century Lannuier card tables on display, which were part of the original furnishings of the Wickham House. An Industrial Artifacts Collection spans the history of Richmond's innovation, with items manufactured by the city's most notable corporations, including its large tobacco industry. A Fine Arts Collection showcases works by local and international artists from the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries, including pieces by Raphaelle Peal, Laurence Sully, and Margaret Dashiell. A sculpture studio also houses the work of Edward V. Valentine, the brother of the museum's founder.
The museum's print archives include a collection of documents connected to local families, businesses, and institutions as well as nearly one million photographs chronicling the history of Richmond civic life. Rare books and manuscripts are preserved from personal collections, including original holdings from Valentine and Wickham's collections. An ephemera collection documents the city's social history through a variety of print materials, including postcards, menus, and playbills, while an oversized materials collection includes more than 150 maps and architectural drawings. Archival material not on display in exhibits is available in the museum's research library.
In addition to the main museum facility, The Valentine owns and operates the historic Wickham House, a National Historic Landmark that serves as a living history museum and is available for tours. As of 2015, the museum also owns and operates the First Freedom Center, located in the historic Shockoe Slip neighborhood. A 2,200-square-foot exhibition hall, the center's exhibits detail the history of American religious freedom, from European ideological origins through the present day.
Ongoing Programs and Education
From April through October, The Valentine offers a variety of guided city history tours, including walking, bicycling, and bus tours through important historical sites. Docent-led tours are available for K-12 and college students, focusing on curriculum integration and historical appreciation. The popular Downtown Discoveries series offers themed programming on weekdays throughout the year that public schools are out of session, encouraging families to explore the museum's educational resources. Interactive history programs offer audiovisual experiences for adults to learn more about items from the museum's permanent collection, and periodic speaker and panel events foster conversation about the city's past, present, and future.
1015 E Clay St, Richmond, VA 23219, Phone: 804-649-0711