Monday, December 10, 2018

Blair House Rug Resides in the Knight Fine Arts Center at Western Reserve Academy


Many years ago, the State Department in Washington, D.C., commissioned Jane Fitch of Robin Hill Ltd. in Hudson, OH, to furnish a room at Blair House, the exclusive official guest house across Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House. For more than two years, Jane worked on this project, and the centerpiece was a needlepoint rug designed by Anne Hopkins Burnham, a Hudson artist. For months a group of women (and one man) met weekly at Anne Burnham’s house in Hudson, the Nathan P. Seymour House on Prospect Street, which has been owned by Western Reserve Academy since 1994.
Blair House Rug, housed in the Knight Fine Arts Center
The beautiful rug, featuring birds and flowers of Ohio and the Midwest, was finally finished and installed at Blair House in 1970, where it remained in use until 1987, when the rug was put into storage and was finally rescued by Brad Burnham in order for it to be part of an art retrospective for his late wife, Anne Hopkins Burnham. That show was held at the Moos Gallery on our campus and the Blair House Rug (as it came to be known) was released and dedicated at a special reception on November 11, 1994.

Sometime around 1980, when George H. W. Bush was running for Vice President on the ticket with Ronald Reagan, his wife Barbara Bush was at Blair House and saw the Anne Burnham-designed rug. It so inspired her that she decided to create a needlework rug of her own that would also feature wildflowers and radiant colors. Mrs. Bush worked on this rug for nearly nine years and when it was done, it was taken to the private quarters of the White House (Bush had been elected President in 1988) where it graced one of the living rooms, as noted in an article in Good Housekeeping magazine.

In December, 2018, an inquiry was fielded to the Western Reserve Academy Archives about the possible location of this historic rug, which had once been in Blair House and had inspired the rug created by Barbara Bush. It seems that a book was being planned about First Ladies and needlework, and even the Curator at Blair House was not sure what had become of that rug. Fortunately, we knew that the rug was here at WRA in our Knight Fine Arts Center, where it had been on display for all these years. 
Blair House, official guest quarters of The White House
That inquiry set off a flurry of interest in our rug, especially when the television and print media kept mentioning that George and Laura Bush and all their family were staying at Blair House during the rites for former President George H.W. Bush. 

Postcard, purchased in 1989 as a part of the
Bicentennial Inauguration Packet

WRA College Counseling Office Manager Betsy Barry also sent along a picture of a postcard featuring Blair House, which she purchased in 1989 as a part of the Bicentennial Inauguration packet. Even President Trump and Melania greeted George and Laura Bush in front of Blair House, then went inside for a visit prior to the tour of the White House later that day.  

With all the members of the Bush family gathered at Blair House, perhaps one of them mentioned how the late Barbara Bush was so inspired by the Ohio-woven rug in that guest room that she made her own rug that took more than eight years to finish. It should be a matter of some pride that Western Reserve Academy owns the original.

Monday, December 03, 2018

Remembering Kelly Reynolds '54



Kelly Reynolds gesturing during his Henry Plant program at WRA Chapel, 2004
Although he was raised on the east coast and attended Eaglebrook School at Deerfield, Massachusetts, Kelly Reynolds moved to Hudson in 1949 when his parents bought the Nathan P. Seymour House on Prospect Street, the house that has been owned by Western Reserve Academy since 1994. His father, Clarence Reynolds, was a DuPont executive, while his mother, Juanita Walker Reynolds, was a native of Mississippi, related to President James Knox Polk, and had an interest in the arts which she seems to have passed along to her son, Kelly. There were also two daughters in the family, one of whom attended Laurel School.

The Nathan B. Seymour House at 15 Prospect Street
where the Reynolds family lived, 1949-1964
While at Western Reserve Academy, Kelly was described as “one of Reserve’s colorful characters” and regularly appeared in various Christmas plays and dramas, such as they were in the 1950’s. He played young Abe Lincoln in “A Story Told in Indiana” in 1954, a play directed by Mrs. Hallowell (wife of the Headmaster) and featuring Andrew C. Ford ‘55 as Johnny Appleseed. The summer before his senior year Kelly went on a hitch-hiking tour of the west, had an appendectomy in El Paso, and had to be sent home on a train. He ignored the school regulations and took a car full of fellow students to a game at University School in Shaker Heights, and got into deep trouble with the administration, an episode recorded in his essay, “Confessions of a Day Boy” in Without Reserve, the book published in 2005.

Kelly Reynolds as a senior
at Western Reserve Academy, 1954
Kelly went on to Stanford where he studied drama, but earned his B.A. at San Francisco State where he majored in English literature which he later taught in Florida. After spending about six years as a social worker in New York City (where his widowed father lived), he went to Florida in 1970 with his wife, Reda, and their young son to live in Bradenton where he spent the rest of his life. He taught at St. Stephen’s Episcopal School and later at the University of South Florida. He became interested in the life of Henry Plant, a pioneer railroad builder, who opened the west coast of Florida to development. Kelly had already portrayed Sen. Claude Pepper from the FDR era, and in the late 1990’s brought Henry Plant to life as a character and traveled around the state portraying the Gilded Age millionaire empire builder. 
Kelly Reynolds as Henry Plant,
the Gilded Age Florida millionaire

 His show was a popular attraction from Key West to Hilton Head (and all the places in between) and he even brought a shortened version to WRA one year for Reunion. A book followed, published by the Florida Historical Society, and can be found in the John D. Ong Library. In later years, Kelly and Reda raised whippet dogs for racing on their six-acre farm near Bradenton.  Kelly died in late 2018 at age 83.

His mother, Juanita, was very interested in the arts and was somehow a friend of noted book artist, Tasha Tudor (1915-2008) who visited the Reynolds house in Hudson in 1964, just before the house was sold to the Burnham family. A charming Christmas card was done by artist Tudor featuring the stairway of the house and the entrance hall decked out with a tree and other ornaments and enjoyed by a number of children coming down the stairway. I believe that Hudson children may have posed for this card which was shown in a story about a visit to the Reynolds house in the Indianapolis Star paper. A group from the Indianapolis Museum of Art had been visitors to the house. Interesting to note that Wilbur D. Peat, a former Head of that museum, had once taught art at Western Reserve Academy.
Tasha Tudor’s Christmas card showing the hallway and stairway at the Nathan P. Seymour House when it was owned by the Reynolds family; card dates from 1963 or '64