Tag Archives: Katherine Smith Reynolds

Reynolda House Costume Collection

When I first started documenting my visits to costume collections and exhibitions in 2003, the first place I visited was the Reynolda House in Winston-Salem. Reynolda was built by the RJ Reynolds family, who had made a fortune in tobacco. RJ’s wife, Katherine Smith Reynolds, was actually the driving force behind Reynolda. She bought the land as a working farm and later planned a sixty room house for the family.

Before falling in love with Katherine (who was his personal secretary, second cousin, and 30 years younger than he) RJ had long been Winston-Salem’s most eligible bachelor. Katherine was a good example of the “New Woman” of the turn of the 20th century. She was educated, earning a degree in English in 1902. She taught for a while, and then went to work for RJ Reynolds. In February, 1905, the two were married.

Reynolda House stayed within the family until 1964, when the estate was incorporated as a nonprofit dedicated to art and education. In 1967 the house was opened as a museum of American art. The Reynolds family had not been big collectors of art, but it was a good time to be buying art and the collection was able to grow.

In 1972 many articles of clothing belonging to the Reynolds family were found stored away in the attic of the house. After conservation, the clothing collection was put on display in the attic, where special cases were built. Because most of the original wearers of the clothes were then deceased, the curators used family stories, photographic evidence, and the house archives to figure out who wore each item. Some are still not entirely attributed.

The dress above is an example. It was most likely worn by Katherine Smith before her marriage. The style is very much what a young woman would have worn around the time she graduated from college in 1902.

According to family interviews taken when the clothes were found, Katherine was an accomplished seamstress. Even though she came from a privileged background, it is likely that fancy hand sewing was part of her education. This negligee was said to have been made by her for her honeymoon.

Her wedding suit still exists, but I’ve only seen photos of it. Some of the articles are too fragile to display, or it could be that I’ve just missed it as the clothes are rotated from time to time. Again, family tradition holds that she made her suit, but she would have to have been a real expert as it is quite elaborate.

For their honeymoon, RJ and Katherine did what rich people usually did – they went on a tour of Europe. While in Paris, Katherine commissioned two gowns from the couture house, Compagnie Lyonnaise. The one here is made from crepe de Chine, and is decorated with multiple lace medallions, silk embroidery, and tiny buttons.

All those ovals are inset lace, and I wish you could better see the embroidery. Quite nice!

Here’s a very fancy sleeve, and a tiny taste of the back detail.

The couple first lived in Winston-Salem, but in 1912 Katherine’s house in the country was begun. It was finally finished in 1917, but unfortunately, by that time RJ was seriously ill. He died in 1918, having lived in the new house for only a few months. Katherine and their four children remained at the house. She quietly remarried in 1921, the groom being the principal of the estate’s school, and a much younger man.

This dress belonged to Katherine, and was made for her by New York dressmakers, Frances and Co, around 1922.

Without a doubt, this cape is my favorite of the pieces currently on display. It from Paris design house, Boué Soeurs, who were known for their use of constructed flower ornamentation.

I love how the tie ends are pulled through the wreath of fabric flowers.

Sad to say, but Katherine died in 1924, after giving birth at the age of 44. The four Reynolds children were put under the trust of relatives and continued to live at Reynolda. I didn’t take photos, but one section of the attic is devoted to their toys.

There are also some clothes that belonged to Katherine’s daughters.  This stunning gown and mantle was made by New York designer Jesse Franklin Turner for Mary Reynolds Babcock. The dress is a rich satin, and the mantle is velvet. There is a 1937 portrait of Mary wearing this dress on the Reynolda website.

This Hattie Carnegie gown with matching jacket was worn by Katherine’s daughter Nancy Susan Reynolds Bagley. It dates to the mid 1950s.

Horrible photo, but you get the idea, right?

The attic also contains lots of hats and accessories. These were probably worn by Katherine. Note the transparency of the lace hat on the left. So beautiful!

There are also some very nice hats from the 1930s and 40s that belonged to the Reynolds daughters.

I first visited Reynolda House in 1971 while on a class trip to see the historical highlights of the state. The clothes had not yet been found, but I remember so much from that first visit. Since then I’ve been back several times, and each visit brings new discoveries. Even without that lovely attic, the house is worth a visit. There is the best miniature Calder mobile, and one of my favorite Grant Wood paintings, and the most exquisite Maurice Prendergast painting.

And to make it even better, right now they have a special exhibition, Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern. Because I was going anyway to see the Georgia O’Keeffe show, I requested permission to take photos in the attic and was thrilled when I was granted permission.  So this is a rare glimpse of a truly stunning collection. My thanks to the publicity office at Reynolda.

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Reynolda House Museum of American Art

Reynolda House Museum of American Art © Reynolda House Museum of American Art

On a recent trip to Winston-Salem, we took a bit of time to visit Reynolda House.  I’ve been there several times, but there was an exhibition of Ansel Adams photographs that I wanted to see, and Tim had never seen the house.  It just seemed like the right thing to do.

Reynolda is the story of three women – Katherine Smith Reynolds, her daughter Mary Reynolds Babcock, and granddaughter Barbara Babcock Millhouse.  Even more interesting is that the main character in this story in times past was R.J. Reynolds, Katherine’s husband, and the owner of Reynolds Tobacco.  But this house is so much more than the house of a wealthy industrialist.  It was a home created by the Reynolds women.

To be fair to RJ, he only lived there a very short time before he died.  The house was finished in 1917, and he died in 1918, but it did become the family home in every sense.

In 1905, RJ married his cousin and much-younger secretary, Katherine Smith.  He was pretty much a confirmed bachelor, and I’m sure all of Winston-Salem was a bit taken aback by the wedding.  Smith was an accomplished woman for the times, having not only graduated college and having moved from the family home to the city to work, but she was also an expert seamstress who made much of her trousseau.  Over the next few years she had four children.

The family lived in Winston-Salem, but Katherine bought large tracts of land a few miles north of the city.  That is where Reynolda and its supporting farm and village were built.  As you can see, the exterior of the house was rather plain.

The Reception Hall at Reynolda House © Reynolda House Museum of American Art

But as you stepped into the front reception hall, you knew this was no ordinary country home.  This was a house to be lived in, but it was also built for entertaining.

After RJ died, Katherine and their children continued on at Reynolda.  In 1921 she remarried, and unfortunately, she died following the birth of a fifth child in 1924.  Eventually, in 1934, daughter Mary Babcock became the owner of the estate.  Her own children were in part reared in the house, which Mary and her husband updated after moving there in the 1930s.

Art Deco Bar at Reynolda House © Reynolda House Museum of American Art

While the main part of the house was left intact, Mary turned the basement into a recreation center, complete with bar, bowling alley, and indoor swimming pool.  Her family lived there through the 1950s, when it was becoming increasingly hard to maintain such a huge house and estate.  In the 1960s the property was made into a non-profit that was to further arts education.

Mary’s daughter Barbara Babcock Millhouse became the next woman to shape Reynolda.  She had become interested in American art in a time when there was not much interest in it, and so she was able to start a collection that became the nucleus of the Reynolda House Museum today.  She had a simple strategy for collecting – to buy the best example she could find of who she considered to be the American masters.

The house opened to the public in 1967, and as a high school junior I visited it in the fall of 1971 as part of a statewide tour my class got to take.  I can remember that we all compared it unfavorably to the Biltmore House in Asheville, but one classmate pointed out that it was more like a home than was the Biltmore.  And he was right.

One thing of interest to the fashion lovers among us is that Katherine Smith Reynolds loved clothes, and she used a big room on the third floor of the house as her huge closet.  Over the years, the other men and women of Reynolda used this area as clothing storage, and in 1972 the room was “rediscovered” and found to be full of the clothing of three generations of the family.  Despite the fact that the room had been used by the children as a source for dress-up play, the clothes were in good condition.  Today, the attic is a display space for a rotating exhibit of the Reynolds family clothing.

After my first visit to the house in 1971, I did not make it there again until 2003.  I went because I’d read that the Reynolds clothing was on exhibit, so I went and spent an entire afternoon sketching the collection.  I can’t remember if there was a photography policy, but at the time I was so into drawing that I probably would not have taken them any way.

On this trip, I did notice the policy (Oh, now Instagram has changed things!) and photos are allowed in only two areas inside the house.  I’m sure this is a compromise to satisfy the selfie generation as the two areas are great photo opps.  Still I found myself wanting to photograph the details of the clothing, as with a husband along, the time for sketching just was not there.

But I was even more surprised later when I reread the list of rules and found that one must have permission before sketching in the house.  I really do not understand why an art museum would want to limit sketching.

I do understand the photography rule though, and like it or not, I will admit that our visit was enhanced by the knowledge that I could not whip out the phone and start snapping.  It was a quiet afternoon at the museum, and we had the little audio tour devices which told not only about the house and the Reynolds family, but about most of the works of art on display.  Still, I’d have loved some detail shots of that Boue Soeurs cape.

Click for more about Reynolda House, including some shots of the clothing.

Sightseeing hint:  As a former teacher, I know that school groups have to be at a site early, and they usually have to return to school before it closes between 2:30 and 3:00 pm.  So late afternoon is a quieter time to visit many museums that are popular with groups of school kids.

 

 

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