A terracotta statue of the Roman goddess Diana that once graced the grounds of historic Chatham Manor has been restored and will return to the Stafford County property this month.
The Diana statue will be unveiled in her original location at the site during the Friends of Chatham’s A Walk in the Garden Fun-Raiser, a benefit for the estate’s gardens and grounds, from 4:30–7 p.m. Sept. 29.
“She’s actually returning to her pedestal where she had stood in the garden,” said Nancy Fahy, project chair for Friends of Chatham. “She’s returning to her home. It’s a homecoming. She’s been restored beautifully by Russell Bernabo.”
Fahy said the event will also celebrate the work being done by Scott Blake, the nonprofit’s part-time gardener.
The Diana statue was one of the large, prominent statues that owners Daniel and Helen Devore added to Chatham’s formal walled garden sometime between 1921 and 1927 at the recommendation of Ellen Biddle Shipman, who was America’s foremost female landscape architect and the garden’s primary designer. It is thought to be a copy of Rene Fremin’s “A Companion of Diana” by M. Fernandez French, and the date 1717 appears at its base, according to National Park Service documentation.
John Lee Pratt and his wife, Chatham’s last private owners, donated the statue to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond in 1959. They had a limestone statue of Ceres that had been located elsewhere in the garden installed on the pedestal in her place. When the museum decided to remove the statue, which had been in storage, from its collection in 2017, it was offered to the National Park Service at the Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park, which now owns Chatham.
Superintendent Kirsten Talken–Spaulding agreed, and enlisted the Friends of Chatham to cover the $12,000 cost of repairing numerous cracks and other damage that had occurred over the years, as well as removing any remaining white paint and giving it a new coat of primer and paint. The Friends of Chatham sought the advice of one of Chatham’s curators and the VMFA, and selected Russell Bernabo, a professional restorer in Ashland.
He said once the layers of old paint were removed, he could see where water seeped in through cracks in the statue and rusted its metal skeleton, or armature, which had made the damage worse. He stabilized the armature, repaired all the cracks and restored parts that had broken off, including the statue’s fingers and the feet of the hunting dog at her side. He also used primer and paint recommended by the National Park Service for outdoor objects to return the statue to its former gleaming, white appearance.
“It is now stable and exhibit-able, and reflects its correct intended appearance,” Bernabo said. “It’s something that Chatham can be proud of.”
Bonsai Fine Arts, a Glen Burnie, Md., firm specializing in packing and shipping for museums, will deliver the Diana statue to Chatham Manor, where she’ll be restored to her old home at the garden’s eastern entrance. To make way, the Ceres statue will be moved to the side of the garden facing the Rappahannock River.
In addition to the statue’s unveiling, A Walk in the Garden Fun-Raiser will feature music performed by Patrick A’Hearn, who’s sung on Broadway and is Riverside Dinner Theater’s producing artistic director, and Stafford high school musicians. Celebratory sparkling beverages and hors d’oeuvres by Catering by Dori Farrell will be served, as well.
Tickets are $75, of which $40 is tax deductible, and may be purchased by mailing a check to: A Walk in the Garden, Friends of Chatham, Box 36, Fredericksburg, VA 22404 or by visiting friendsofchatham.org and clicking on the event link to pay via PayPal. Tickets are limited. The venue is handicap accessible.
Friends of Chatham was created in 2012 to support the preservation of Chatham Manor, including its various outbuildings, dependencies and the surrounding historic grounds, through advocacy, financial support and increased community involvement. It promotes public awareness and appreciation of Chatham’s historic legacies primarily by facilitating, sponsoring and participating in fundraising events relating to the foregoing purposes.
Proceeds from the “Fun-Raiser” will support the ongoing mission of the Liz Thompson Memorial Fund for Chatham Gardens and Grounds, a fund created by Friends of Chatham in honor of member Liz Thompson, who was also a past president of The Rappahannock Valley Garden Club.