By Sarah Pope
Executive Director, The Menokin Foundation
Away from the quiet fields of Menokin, I traveled to bustling Cambridge, Massachusetts on May 5 for a much anticipated day at the Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD). Twelve architecture graduate students in Professor Jorge Silvetti’s studio, “Ruins, Memory and the Imagination,” would be presenting their individual projects for a Conservation Research Laboratory; a Visitors Center; and Visitors Waterside Harbor at Menokin, as well as the design of all elements necessary to structure and present the Menokin site narratives to the visitor.
The students had been working on their projects for several months, following a weekend-long site visit in February to Menokin and the Northern Neck. The Menokin Foundation provided the opportunity for these students to explore contemporary architectural design solutions to tell the story of our historic site.
We’re planning for a future curated exhibit and publication that presents the Harvard students’ innovative ideas to the public. More details will be forthcoming, but in the meantime, here are themes and associated designs that floated to the top for me as I watched the project presentations:
1) Designing for flexibility: one student designed very cool mobile archaeological stations or pods that can be moved around the site as we continue our investigations.
2) Finding inspiration in painting and fine arts: another student found inspiration from the lines he saw on the Menokin landscape, and his proposed Visitors Center evoked the work of artist Marco Migani.
3) The changing terrain of the site: plateau and ravine, water and woods, open and enclosed: I was particularly enamored by one student’s design of a bridge and attached Visitors Center that spans a ravine to the south of the Menokin house site.
4) Siting and perspective-relationship of new buildings to Menokin: Some students anchored their Visitors Center to the Menokin house—at certain corners of the house or on its central axis—that created a visible dialog between the historic and contemporary structures. Others tucked their new facilities away from the house site into the tree line of our expansive woods, reinforcing the flat, openness of the plateau surrounding the house site.
Above all, the interpersonal, human aspect of this studio—meeting the students, getting to know them and enjoying their unique perspectives on Menokin—was extremely fulfilling to me, as well as to our Trustees, staff, and friends who met the students in February.
This past Saturday was the 10th annual Menokin Music Festival. This music festival has morphed over the years into a simple afternoon of pick nicking, music and fun, all in the shade of the beautiful walnut trees surrounding the Menokin ruin.
So, where does the bourbon come in? Here was the weather forecast for last Saturday…70% chance of scattered showers and thunderstorms, some severe, with a chance of hail and high winds. Oh, and let’s not forget about the Brood II – the 17-year cicadas that were scheduled to appear by the millions at any moment.
Several skeptical folks called ahead to make sure we hadn’t decided to cancel the whole thing. Nope. No way. Rain or shine. Hail or locusts. If the Egyptians could handle it, so could we. What the Egyptians didn’t have was bourbon. Buried safe in the ground on the site of the festival exactly one month prior to the day. Wild Turkey to be on the safe side. It’s a Southern thing. Guarantees good weather for your event. Every good Virginia bride knows this old trick.
The day dawned gloomy and blustery, with thick scary clouds laughing at us from the sky. Reports were rolling in of heavy rain to the north and south of Menokin. And to be fair, we did get about 18 drops of rain just about the time the first band cranked up. But by the end of the day? Blue skies, fluffy non-sarcastic clouds and calm, cool breezes. Said one band member,”You have made a buried bourbon bottle believer out of me!”
You’re welcome. Enjoy the pics.
Excitement was high last week when, at the end of a day of surveying flora in the woods at Menokin, the master naturalists came in to report that they had found what they suspected to be a fairly uncommon orchid growing in the woods.
Master Naturalist Earline Dickinson contacted local botany expert, Ellis Squires, to see if he could make a visit to Menokin to confirm their speculation. The two of them arrived early the following morning, ready to take the trek down the trail to see the orchid.
I decided to tag along and take some pictures. I don’t know if you’ve ever taken a walk through the woods with two botanists. Here’s how it goes. You walk about five feet and then you stop while they identify five varieties of fern, spout out Latin and common names, other sites where these plants have been sighted and friendly explanations of why they are what they are, grow where they grow and are called what they are called so us “non-botanists” don’t feel left out. It was fascinating. I loved every minute of it.
About thirty species later we arrived at the place where the orchid had been found. Sure enough, there it was, nestled in the brown leaves, being as delicate and green and purpley-pink as it could in this unusually cool spring weather. Ellis confirmed immediately that we indeed have the uncommon Galearis spectabilis – or Showy Orchis – growing in the woods at Menokin. This plant is fairly uncommon in the area, so the find was a good one.
Also known as the purple-hooded orchis, the flowers are hooded and the namesake of the plant due to the showy, typically bicolored lavender and white flowers. The lavender hood is formed from three fused sepals. Two petals are tucked inside the hood and the labellum (third petal) is longer and white. Plants are slow growing and will form clumps overtime via crown offshoots from the rhizome.
The Showy Orchis is not the only uncommon plant identified that day. Check back for more posts about the other unique and interesting flora that make their home at Menokin.