Menokin’s Original Presentation Drawing

The Foundation recently purchased a high resolution copy of the original presentation drawing for Menokin from the Virginia Historical Society.

This beautiful image is so well scanned that you can see the creases in the paper, and clearly make out the handsome handwriting outlining the intended use for each room. Though the drawing is not signed, handwriting analysis suggests that John Tayloe II was its creator.

Pen and Ink Plan for Menokin c. 1769. Courtesy of the Virginia Historical Society.
Pen and Ink Plan for Menokin c. 1769. Courtesy of the Virginia Historical Society.

The story of how this drawing came to be the property of the VHS is an interesting one. An collection of oral history events surrounding Menokin, that was created in the Foundation’s early years, tells the story like this:

On that same day in 1964 that the last of three maiden Tayloe aunts moved out of Mt. Airy, Polly Montague Tayloe moved in. Because her husband, Colonel H. Gwynne Tayloe, Jr., was stationed at Fort Monroe, she was alone in the great stone house, the home of Rebecca Tayloe Lee before her marriage, nearly 200 years earlier.

Without immediate neighbors, and not yet knowing the people of Warsaw, Mrs. Tayloe spent her days in the relative warmth of the dining room sorting Tayloe papers into three wicker clothesbaskets. The first basket held piles of papers from cabinets beneath window seats. The second and third were for things to keep and things to discard.

“They had every letter in the world,” said Mrs. Tayloe. “I thought most of it was important enough to keep. I found the bill for the church communion service. It was 100 years old.”

What she found as well was the original 1769 presentation  drawing of Menokin, prepared not as a blueprint, but as an appealing pen-and-ink illustration of the proposed finished residence. Although Mrs. Tayloe had never seen Menokin, she was aware of its existence and recognized the drawing immediately by its similarity to the wings at Mount Airy.

Subsequently, after finding a trunk filled with more family papers, she phone John Jennings, then Executive Director of the Virginia Historical Society, to see if he’d like to visit some day to peruse the collection. He arrived one hour later.

“I showed him the Menokin drawing,” said Mrs. Tayloe, “and he nearly fell over.” He took that and other family papers back to the Historical Society. “There were 52,000 pieces in all,” said Mrs. Tayloe, “and some were dated in the 1600s.”

“The odds of locating that drawing were a million to one,” said Taliaferro (Harry “Tuck” Taliaferro III, founding Menokin Trustee and current Honorary Trustee). “Mount Airy was gutted by fire in the 19th century. When Mrs. Tayloe found the drawing, people flipped.”

It is one of the only original presentation drawing from colonial Virginia to survive.

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