The Piedmont Virginian's Blog

Serving and Celebrating America's Historic Heart

Author: Morgan Hensley (page 2 of 3)

Acclaimed PBS Civil War Miniseries Stars Piedmont Actress

In the above photo, Emma Green (Hannah James), the beautiful Southern belle and daughter of James Green, Sr. (Gary Cole), owner of the Mansion House, a luxury hotel now turned into a Civil War hospital, Mansion House Hospital, watches as Dr. Jedidiah Foster. (Josh Radnor) helps a patient. Dr. Foster is the son of a slave-owning tobacco plantation owner in Maryland. His loyalties are with the Union. He is a contract surgeon who will decide to wear the blue as a military surgeon.

In the above photo, Emma Green (Hannah James), the beautiful Southern belle and daughter of James Green, Sr. (Gary Cole), owner of the Mansion House, a luxury hotel now turned into a Civil War hospital, Mansion House Hospital, watches as Dr. Jedidiah Foster. (Josh Radnor) helps a patient. Dr. Foster is the son of a slave-owning tobacco plantation owner in Maryland. His loyalties are with the Union. He is a contract surgeon who will decide to wear the blue as a military surgeon.

Depictions of the Civil War are often limited to the frontlines and generals’ quarters. However, much of the bloodshed and drama occurred off the battlefields, in hospitals such as the Mansion House Hospital in Alexandria, the setting of PBS’s new six-episode miniseries Mercy Street.

The period-drama, PBS’s first series set in America in nearly a decade, subverts traditional war narratives, generally told by male soldiers, and instead casts the spotlight on two female nurses, one on each side of the conflict.

Executive Producer and Co-creator Lisa Wolfinger conceived of the Civil War medical drama five years ago. She portrays the nurses that the series highlights as “strong female protagonists, feisty ladies.” In an interview with Nancy Olds for Civil War News, she described her brainchild as “M.A.S.H meets Gone with the Wind” and all-encompassing: “[Mercy Street] is about love, about war, about medicine . . . It’s about how the experience of war brings out the very best and the very worst in people.”

MERCY-ST.-ALEX.46 – L-R: -Sandra Wilson is a member of FREED (Female RE-Enactors of Distinction) a group of African American women representing distinguished African American women from the Civil War. Wilson has portrayed Dr. Rebecca Davis Lee Cumpler, the first African American woman to earn a medical degree in the United States. Cumpler became a physician who also served freed slaves in Richmond, Va. She wrote Book of Medical Discourses about at home medical and health care for women and their families -Hannah James, the actress who portrays Emma Green, the lovely 19 year-old daughter of Alexandria’s prominent family who owns the Mansion House and the girlfriend of Frank Stringfellow, a Confederate scout. James is a native Virginian who grew up in Charlottesville.

Hannah James with Sandra Wilson, a member of FREED (Female RE-Enactors of Distinction), a group of African American women representing distinguished African, American women from the Civil War.

Mary Phinney (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is a recent widow and ardent abolitionist who has come down to Alexandria, a Union-occupied city in a Confederate state, to disseminate modern medical knowledge as well as her then-liberal beliefs. Her foil is Emma Green (Hannah James), a Southern belle and advocate for wounded Confederates. Dr. Jedediah Foster (How I Met Your Mother‘s Josh Radnor), a progressive physician with a morphine habit and mixed feelings regarding slavery, serves as a catalyst for drama while Samuel Diggs (McKinley Belcher III), a free black man with extensive medical knowledge, helps to move medical science and racial expectations forward simultaneously, and perhaps, inextricably.

The dazzling Hannah James grew up in Madison County, Virginia. A recent graduate of the Guilford School of Acting in England, the young actress masterfully handles the difficult role of a Confederate sympathizer with a profound sense of empathy. Understanding historical dramas requires a suspension of disbelief, as it’s easy to forget that what we view as commonsense human rights were once borderline radical. I look forward to watching her character’s development.

If the aim of historical potboilers is to highlight how far society has progressed, and yet how much the human condition has stayed the same (often questioning whether our nature is at all mutable), then the new series succeeds admirably, if not boldly considering the strong feminine characters and points of view. Whether you are a armchair historian, Civil War buff, period-piece fanatic, or maybe even just a little too tired to change the channel after Downton Abbey, you do not want to miss Mercy Street which premieres this Sunday, January 17th at 10 p.m. on PBS-WETA.

Also, see for preview and trailers

1796573_10202889919310186_4960203201090092007_nMorgan Hensley is a recent graduate of William & Mary where he studied English and creative writing with an emphasis on poetry. He is the Assistant Editor of the Piedmont Virginian and enjoys writing about music and the arts.

In the Gingko Grove at Blandy Experimental Farm

1447172893482Thousands of leaves, all the color of the sun as it slips behind the Blue Ridge Mountains. Blue sky shone through bare branches. The breeze has gathered leaves into drifts, swept together like the tips of hair at a barbershop. I was standing in the Gingko Grove at Blandy when that atrocious simile came to me. The inadequacy, whimsicality, borderline absurdity of the phrase bothered me, so I stood, my attention fixed on the yellow fallen leaves, waiting for some clever aphorism to happen upon me, until I realized that perhaps this was not meant to be described. I was doing just fine, reflecting on this golden panorama, experienced wordlessly, in appreciation of the almost-silence, day after day as the ground is littered with leaves.

Everything was motionless. Wading through leaves slick with rain, I had the feeling that I was late. Fallen leaves are still slick with yesterday’s rain. The ground was slippery,  like trudging through snow and stepping on a patch of ice. It was easier to remain still. The air was sodden with the heavy sticky scent of gingko. My breaths were weighed down and my attention drawn the movement of air through me. Perhaps that is why Chinese monks in adorned their temples with the ancient trees: a way to foster mindfulness during meditation.

Some of these gingko trees have shed and regrown their leaves eighty times or more, ever since Dr. Orlando E. White, the first director of Blandy, planted a sapling in Boyce soil in 1929. Soon thereafter, students helped to plant nearly six-hundred more trees, thus seeding what would grow into the grove in which I stood.

The tree has a history far outdating Blandy, civilization, and humanity. Gingko is the “living fossil,” and records trace its existence back 270 million years. Gingko canopies shaded the Jurassic era forests, casting shadows onto the creatures whose bones we admire in disbelief and wonder at museums. The tree’s history is contained in the shape of its leaf: a tadpole, a flame. It is unchanging, atavistic, and essenti1447172775463al. Maybe it is this agelessness, this permanence, that lends credence to those who attest to the memory-enhancing benefits of the leaf. Perhaps it is a placebo, although there is something poetic about the ancient tree’s ties to memory, a  remembrance of time that far precedes us.

Without realizing it, yellow shadows have darkened as the sun sets between peaks. Golden, with beams that radiate like veins, it casts a shadow over the thousands of small setting suns that have fallen to the ground.



Artists in Middleburg: An Inspiring Gallery and Classroom for Local Artists

We are looking forward to — and working hard on — covering arts in the Piedmont for our fall issue, but here’s a follow up on a Middleburg gallery we covered in our summer issue.

By Sandy Danielson

Artists in Middleburg: A multi-faceted “Artists’ Gallery right in the heart of Middleburg. 


“A Loosey Goosey Picnic” By Debbie Hunt

AiM represents a wide variety of artists working in an equally wide variety of media; sculptures in recycled materials, ceramics, photography, and paintings in watercolor, oil, acrylic, and tempera. What really sets AiM apart from other galleries is the “hands on” involvement of all the artists in developing the direction and growth of the organization. All artists creating, exhibiting and selling their art through the gallery work there as well, greeting visitors, keeping the gallery open, and giving lectures and demonstrations. So much more than just an art gallery,  says Sandy Danielson, “At AiM, we teach,  we paint, we educate, we are a voice for art in the community, we are a place where artists can thrive and patrons can explore and invest in professional art and artists.” And AiM has something for all echelons of patrons; the cost of the art represented varies greatly from small token oils and painted ceramics to oils on large scale canvases.

AiM Gallery has its sights set much farther than being a first-rate gallery to local artists. The ultimate mission of the organization is to develop, organize, and strengthen the local arts community in Middleburg and the Piedmont with the goal of developing the area into an arts community and destination, thereby increasing the economic vitality and base for all involved.

The gallery plans to transition into a 501c3 nonprofit soon. Every day is a step forward, and to echo Van Gogh, “We are seeking. We are striving. We are in it with all our hearts.”


Barbara Sharp

Profiles of AiM Artists Barbara Sharp and Debbie Hunt

At left, AiM member artist Barbara Sharp, landscape and floral artist, working on a sketch while at the gallery. Since member artists actually work at the gallery, visitors can speak to the artists about the art and their process, and even watch them as they work on a personal project.


“A Winter Adventure” By Debbie Hunt


“A Very Peculiar Meeting Place”
By Debbie Hunt

Also displayed are images of acrylic paintings by another  member artist, Debbie Hunt. Debbie paints whimsical images of landscapes and colorful characters. People who see her paintings at the gallery  love the enchanting tales they convey. Debbie has studied with respected northern Virginia artist Judith Thompson, who has greatly influenced Debbie’s painting.

These are just a few samplings of the many wonderful artists to discover at AIM Gallery!

102 W. Washington St., Middleburg



Oatlands Spring Gala

Spring Gala to Celebrate the Extraordinary 1965 Gift of Oatlands to the Nation

50th Anniversary Spring Gala on April 25th to Honor the Eustis Family for its Donation of Oatlands to the National Trust for Historic Preservation

 Oatlands Historic House & Gardens announced that its Spring Gala on April 25 will honor the Eustis Family for the extraordinary gift of Oatlands to the National Trust for Historic Preservation 50 years ago.  In 1965, Margaret Eustis Finley and Anne Eustis Emmet donated Oatlands including its magnificent 1804 mansion, 19th century greenhouse, terraced gardens and more than 414 acres of beautiful fields to the National Trust for future generations to explore, experience and appreciate.

Margaret Finley and Anne Emmet in the garden “It is with a special sense of deep gratitude that we honor the Eustis Family at our Spring Gala on April 25,” commented Andrea McGimsey, executive director of Oatlands.  McGimsey continued, “Because of the Eustis Family’s extraordinary gift to the nation, we in Northern Virginia have been able to enjoy a truly beautiful and remarkable place unlike any other historic property.  Fifty years later, we remain forever grateful for the generosity of the Eustis family.”

On April 25, 2015 beginning at 7pm, residents from across the National Capital Region will gather for an evening of elegance and celebration to support Oatlands Historic House & Gardens and its mission of historic preservation, land conservation research, education and community outreach. Gala Committee Co-Chairs Jill Beach and Sally Travis are leading the 50th Anniversary Spring Gala preparation efforts for the evening which will include dinner, dancing, a live and silent auction and much more.

Special corporate sponsorships are being sought to celebrate this special occasion and table and individual reservations are also available. Ticket and reservation information is available online at contact Development Director Matt Kraycinovich at 703-777-3174 or via email at

Photo: Margaret Eustis Finley and Anne Eustis Emmet in the Gardens at Oatlands, c. 1965

 About Oatlands Historic House & Gardens: Oatlands is a 414-acre self-supporting National Trust Historic Site and National Historic Landmark.  The mission of Oatlands focuses on historic preservation, land conservation, research, education, and community outreach.  The site features a stunning landscape with magnificent gardens, an 1804 mansion and 19th century brick dependencies, including the Oatlands greenhouse, the second oldest greenhouse in the nation.  For more information, visit or call 703-777-3174.  Oatlands is located six miles south of the Town of Leesburg on US Route 15.

Looking at Art in a New Way with Online Galleries

In The Same Boat, 24 x 30, Oil.

In The Same Boat, 24 x 30, Oil.

By Nancy Wallace

Technology is always changing; it seems like whatever skill I’ve acquired becomes obsolete by the time I get proficient at it. For example, blogs like this one are replacing websites as the go to place for up to date information.

Galleries are changing too. Artists can now easily take excellent photos of their work, post the images immediately, and even put their work into auctions on sites such as eBay,, and

The movement towards selling art online has picked up speed in the last ten years. In 2004, a fellow from Richmond, VA,  Duane Keiser, started posting a new painting every day on eBay with a few words about his process.  His success was contagious, and many other artists joined the “painting a day” challenge, posting on their blogs and sending  their work out for the world to see.

Beach Conversation, 14 x 18, Oil

Beach Conversation, 14 x 18, Oil

A benefit of galleries in cyberspace is that artists are able to keep their prices lower without the burden of steep gallery commissions. Because daily paintings are usually small (under 8 x 10 inches), many collectors will buy more than one painting.

For the buyer, a visit to any of these sites provides an array of work to choose from with easy to use built in filters to narrow the search. Looking for landcapes of a certain area, in a given price range? Click and browse. No obligation and lots of time to think it over.   For collectors, it can be entertaining and enlightening to read the blog post that provides a few sentences of information about making a particular painting. And it’s more personal; visiting an artist’s blog every day reveals who is behind the art.

I recently signed on to the the “painting a day” challenge and created a blog, (they’re free!) to go with it.  Visit my blog and my website.  Browse the online gallery daily at paintworks, and check out Charlottesville artist Paul Charlton.

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