Making Your Own Piece of History: The Virginia Floor Cloth and Textile Company

January is a quiet, yet busy month here on Blankenbaker Lane. Locust Grove staff and volunteers are cleaning the house and visitors’ center, performing necessary maintenance, taking store inventory, and planning our calendar of the events for the upcoming year. Stay tuned for our complete 2016 calendar, but I am excited to announce that our first workshop of the year has been scheduled and is taking reservations! Virginia Tucker of the Virginia Floor Cloth and Textiles Company will present a two-day Painted Floor Cloth Workshop on February 6 and 7, from 10-4PM each day. Participants will be trained in the lost art of creating an 18th Century-style painted black and white floor cloth. A 24″ x 30″ floor cloth will be the result of the weekend’s workshop. All supplies will be provided and will be included in the $135 fee. Virginia and her husband Randolph have been involved with Locust Grove for 12 years, so I thought it was high time they were profiled for the blog. Read on to learn more about them and their work!
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Virginia Tucker outside her booth at the 2015 Market Fair. 

Virginia Tucker and her husband Randolph own the Virginia Floor Cloth & Textiles Company,  located in Louisville, KY. They are living historians and have a shop that travels to historic events in the Mid West and to the East Coast. Virginia has  been creating handmade floor cloths for over 16 years, and began hand dying and block printing scarves and fabric for the last 8 years. The Tuckers are constantly researching to provide as much authenticity to their product as possible.
How did you get started with historic floor cloths and textiles?
 In 1999 I was invited by a friend Angela Burnley of Burnley and Trowbridge fabrics to come to an event in Goodlettsville, TN called Manskers Station. She said bring the children and I will provide you with clothing to wear. That was all it took for me to become a lover of history and historic items. This is where I saw my first floor cloth.
How would floor cloths have been used? Why are they still practical?
Floor cloths go back as far as 1700. They were used in a variety of ways. Hall ways to entire rooms. We believe that initially they were created from the sail cloth that ships changed after they had been torn and were no longer able to be used as sails. They were then cut to make smaller floor cloths. They became very popular with the middle class as a way to move into a higher standard because they could be made to look like marble, or a wool rug which were very expensive. Now they are popular because they are easy care, hypoallergenic and can be created to a person’s personal specifications.
What training or background do you have?
I have not had formal training. All of my training has been through my love of history and research, which is always ongoing.
What is the most difficult part of your work?
Researching to find accurate information regarding patterns that were used during the 18th century.
What is your favorite part of your work?
Teaching our 3 different workshops. No two classes are alike but they are all fun to do and we meet wonderful people.
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Printing blocks used to make floor cloths on display in the Locust Grove Museum Store. 

What are some of the big projects you have undertaken?
 I have done some floor cloths for Locust Grove, including a 12×12 that is a view of Locust Grove that they use for school trips and the door mats in the house.  I have done some for some smaller historic sites as well.
What should workshop participants expect?
In our level 1 floor cloth class students will be provided with some of the history of floor cloths and we will teach the math on how to measure the spaces within a floor cloth, finishing , sealing and care once done. We will also teach different techniques of marbleizing. They will be given 3 different patterns to choose from: 9 diamonds, checkerboard, or medallion with border.
in progress floor cloth

An in-progress floor cloth. Photo courtesy of the Virginia Floor Cloth and Textile Company. 

What do you wish people knew about historic textiles and floor cloths?
 We wish that the general public knew that in the 18th century the colors were as vibrant  as today and that the patterns in the material and the floor cloths were as complex as patterns made today.
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Virginia’s floor cloths are on sale in the Locust Grove Museum Store. 

The motto of the Virginia Floor Cloth and Textiles company is a floor cloth in every home whether we make it for them or we teach them how to make one themselves.
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Randolph and Virginia Tucker. Photograph courtesy of the Virginia Floor Cloth and Textile Company. 

Make a reservation for the Painted Floor Cloth workshop today and have a floor  cloth for your very own home or the home of a friend! Pre-paid reservations of $135 are required, and the workshop is limited to 25 participants. Please call 502.897.9845 to make a reservation. We’ll happily put down our January brooms to take your call. And mark your calendars now–Locust Grove will reopen for tours and the 2016 season on February 1! We can’t wait to see you.
Paintily yours,
Hannah

How to Visit a Historic House (Especially Locust Grove!)

One of the great pleasures of working at a historic house is the opportunity to welcome visitors from all over the world. During our very busy summer, our guests came to Locust Grove from as far away as Australia and as nearby as just across Blankenbaker Lane. We are always overjoyed to see you, whether it’s your first visit or your seventeenth, and we look forward to making you part of our family and showing off our house. If you stay with us long enough, we will tell you everything we know about the Croghans and Clarks, lives of Locust Grove’s enslaved people, Louisville’s growth as  a city, Kentucky’s significance as a state, and the work that has gone into restoring and preserving the house and grounds for you and future generations to enjoy. Many of our visitors are veterans of historic house tours, but some may be unfamiliar with the ways a historic house is different from a more traditional museum, including the students on school field trips who will file through the halls this fall.  When it comes to our house tours, our staff, desk volunteers, and docents who act as our tour guides want to make sure you feel welcome from the moment you walk in the door until the moment you take your leave. It’s especially important to us to give you the best experience we can! I asked our wonderful volunteers and staff members for their suggestions on how to make the most of a visit to a historic house like Locust Grove. Here’s what they had to say.

Rosalind and Lynn, two of the friendly faces who might greet you when you arrive!

Rosalind and Lynn, two of the friendly faces who might greet you when you arrive!

  1. If you are on a schedule, let us know when you arrive. Ask how long the tour will last, and tell us if you need to leave by a certain time. This will allow us to tailor your visit to you, and will also alert your docent to your time constraints so you can enjoy the tour and not be checking your watch. If it looks like you might not be able to go on the tour, we are happy to direct you to our museum gallery, set up a viewing of the film, and provide you with a map of our grounds and outbuildings so you can see everything but the house before you have to hit the road.
Our volunteers, like Tim and Nancy, are always happy to help!

Our volunteers, like Tim and Nancy, are always happy to help!

2.Call ahead if you are bringing a big group or may need special accommodations. Locust Grove is a three-story brick house built in 1792. Some of the rooms are small, and the only way to access the upper floors is climbing a staircase that shows the quirks of its age. If you are concerned about accessing the house, please call us so we can talk you through a visit to Locust Grove and tell you what a visit will entail so you can be informed. Our visitor’s center is fully accessible, and we are happy to provide assistance in any way we can. If you take the tour, but choose to stay on the first floor of the house, we are prepared to offer you photographs of the upper floors and to talk you through the rest of the tour. If you are bringing a group of ten or more, we ask that you call ahead to schedule your visit in advance so we can provide adequate docents to make your visit as pleasant as possible. No one wants to be crammed uncomfortably into one of the smaller rooms straining to hear! At Locust Grove, we endeavor to provide a personal, engaging experience, and we will do everything in our power to make that happen!

This August, Alba celebrated 15 years of working as a weekend manager at Locust Grove! Congratulations, Alba! We are so fortunate to count you as a part of our family!

This August, Alba celebrated 15 years of working as a weekend manager at Locust Grove! Congratulations, Alba! We are so fortunate to count you as a part of our family!

3. Speak up and ask questions! If you have something you’re just itching to ask, please do! Want to know about the purpose of the fancy copper basin in the master bedroom? Confused about why only six places are set in the dining room for a family of ten? Wondering about the significance of preserving the house in the first place? Ask us, ask us! Our most frequently asked question is, “Where is the bathroom?”, and we’re always happy to answer anything you might want to know, from what an enslaved person’s daily life might entail or where you can buy wallpaper like the pattern in the Grand Parlor. Although we hope you’ll return to visit, this might be your only chance to visit Locust Grove, and we’d hate for you to leave with lingering questions, even if they seem mundane to you. Tell your docent if you have a particular interest in something so your tour can be tailored to you. If we don’t know the answer, we’ll look it up! 

Rodger is one of our newest docents. Welcome Rodger!

Rodger is one of our newest docents. Welcome Rodger!

4. This is someone else’s house. One of the biggest differences between a historic house and a more traditional museum is the way we display our collection of items from the past. At Locust Grove, every building, every inch of carpet, wallpaper, and woodwork, and every item displayed in the house, from a thimble in the parlor to the punkah in the dining room is a part of our collection, and should be treated gently and with the utmost respect. You guessed it–this means please don’t touch. The furnishings in the house all date to the time period during which the Croghans were living at Locust Grove, all the woodwork is original, and the carpets and wallpapers have been carefully designed and produced to evoke those of times gone by. If your docent hands you some soap or a ball made from a pig’s bladder, consider it an invitation and by all means, touch! Otherwise, we ask you to keep your hands to yourselves and be aware of the age of your surroundings. For this reason, it’s especially important for you to stay with your tour guide. We welcome you to take photographs of anything you’d like to remember–just please turn off the flash. Thank you!

Bob Boone and Bob Pilkington always bring their sense of fun to work.

Bob B. and Bob P. always bring their sense of fun to work.

5. Keep an open mind. All of our docents have worked very hard to perfect their tours, and each of them have their own personal flair. The one thing each docent has in common is a desire to spark your imagination so you can understand the life lived at Locust Grove before any of us ever stepped over the doorstep. Be prepared to hear something new! Each docent’s tour is different, and even in history, we are constantly learning new things, so information is updated. Your curiosity by coming to visit and asking questions absolutely helps us to learn more about the place we love.

Our volunteers come from all ages and backgrounds, and often have special skills.

Our volunteers come from all ages and backgrounds, and often have special skills. Here, Carol, Kelli, Jocelyn, Heather, and Noah demonstrate an 18th century game.

Irene often interprets the crafts of dyeing, spinning, and weaving for school visits.

Irene often interprets the crafts of dyeing, spinning, and weaving for school visits.

Visitors like you are the reason we preserve and interpret Locust Grove and share the stories of all the people who lived here. We welcome your compliments, your suggestions, your concerns, and of course, your questions. Please stay in touch with us! I like to tell my tour guests that the reasons for using the back door are twofold. One: The front door sticks. Two: The back door was the door commonly used by members of the family and household. After you visit Locust Grove, we consider you part of our family and our story, so we encourage you to take ownership of your visit to Locust Grove. We cannot wait to see you again this fall!

With my sincere good wishes,

Hannah

P.S. To receive updates on all the goings-on at Locust Grove, why not join our e-mailing list? Sign-up HERE to receive monthly updates! Or if you foresee numerous visits to Locust Grove in your future, why not become a member? Friends of Locust Grove receive free admission, invitations to members-only events, a 10% discount in the Museum Store, a copy of our quarterly newsletter, The Grove Gazette and much, much more! More information can be found HERE.

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