|Our new squirrel, sitting on a windowsill|
at Darlington House
Given our fondness for the squirrels, and our propensity to
|A vintage postcard of Stratford Hall from the 1930s|
As I wrote in that post, we are rather discriminating in our collecting of squirrel figures. Although we are fond of them, we don't want to become people known for their squirrel collection, fearing that we could find ourselves overrun with them. My worst nightmare is to wake up one day and find myself living among a collection of cute little figurines covering every flat surface in the house, like the bed and breakfast I once stayed in years ago where the proprietors had a thing for mushrooms. It was awful.
So I am very picky when it comes to adding a new squirrel figure to our collection. In order even to be considered, it had better be a good one.
|The family crest of the Lees of Virginia|
(note squirrel at top)
Over Memorial Day weekend we attended an antiques show in Rhinebeck, New York, where we came across the cast iron squirrel shown in the photograph at the top of this essay. I was drawn to it because of the subject, because it is made out of cast iron (a medium that I like), and because it appeared to have been made in the Colonial Revival style favored in the first half of the twentieth century (a style that I find appealing). When I looked at the squirrel more closely I was curious to find that it had "Stratford Hall" upon its base, in raised lettering. The dealer saw me examining it and came over and told me that he had done some research on it and found that the crest of the Lee family, who built Stratford Hall, features a squirrel in it.
I had to own it.
Stratford Hall is one of America's great early plantations and sits on a bluff in Westmoreland County, Virginia, overlooking the Potomac River. It was built in 1725-1730 by Thomas Lee (1690-1750), the acting Governor of the (then) colony and a member of one of this country's most illustrious families, the Lees of Virginia. Thomas Lee was an ancestor of General Robert E. Lee (1807-1870), who was born in the house. Stratford Hall was rescued from near ruin in 1929 when it was purchased by the good ladies of the Robert E. Lee Memorial Foundation, who restored and furnished it in the 1930s in high Colonial Revival style. I suspect that my cast iron squirrel dates from that period and was sold in the plantation's gift shop as a souvenir.
Growing up in Washington, D.C., I visited many of the area's plantations as a boy, and I have happy memories of doing so. One of the plantations I visited was Stratford Hall, where long ago someone else visited before me and came away with the squirrel that I now own.
Another vintage postcard of Stratford Hall,
probably from the 1940s
I believe my squirrel was likely intended to be a door stop for a modest-size door (he stands only six inches high). Or perhaps it is a piece of porchiana, which is a term to describe objects specifically made to be used on screened porches and which is the subject of a future post of mine. My squirrel would do a fine job of keeping a pile of newspapers and magazines from flying around in a breeze.
I am more than pleased to have this little fellow join our squirrel collection at Darlington House, where he provides an element of much-needed Southern gentility among his far less well-mannered Yankee cousins.
Photograph by Boy Fenwick; vintage postcards courtesy of US GenWeb; Lee family crest courtesy of the Robert E. Lee Association