Va-area artifacts vie for 'endangered' designation

AP News
Posted: Aug 02, 2013 5:23 PM
Va-area artifacts vie for 'endangered' designation

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — At the William King Museum in the heart of Appalachia, a panel of 16 small paintings depicting water mills along the region's landscape is deteriorating, and along with it, important chronicles of southwest Virginia's rural culture.

The series of canvases taped to flimsy wood paneling is flaking, and curators at the Abingdon museum are hoping to conserve it through a program has helped some of those previously involved apply for grants and help with fundraising efforts.

The untitled painting by self-taught folk artist Minnie Ma Scyphers from the 1970s is among the nominees for Virginia's Top 10 Endangered Artifacts, a program designed to create awareness of the importance of preserving artifacts throughout the state and at museums and archives in the District of Columbia. The program sponsored by the Virginia Association of Museums is raising attention for some of the region's most unique relics.

"I'm grateful for the attention that it will draw to her story and her perseverance as a woman from southwest Virginia that grew up in poverty and remained in poverty but was also very resourceful and creative," Leila Cartier, curator at the William King Museum, said of Scyphers. The artist created about 600 paintings before her death in 1990 at age 92, despite only having started painting in her mid-70s. "Minnie Ma's pieces are sort of a record of pastoral life. ... These are back-country artisans that are rarely sought after, and rarely even attempt to be discovered."

About 190 million objects held by archives, historical societies, libraries, museums and scientific organizations in the U.S. are in need of conservation treatment, according to the Heritage Health Index study. The study was done by Heritage Preservation with funding from the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services.

In Virginia, an independent panel of experts will select the region's top artifacts in mid-September through the program, which was created last year and is expected to take place annually. The panel will use input from public online voting that runs through the end of August.

Other nominees for this year's designation include: a battalion flag flown on D-Day in 1944; a lead plaque marking French territory in colonial Virginia from 1749; a water works map of Roanoke from 1888; the Rev. Robert Rose monument at St. John's Church in Richmond from 1751; illustrations for Edgar Allen Poe's "The Raven" from 1884; and a traditional Chesapeake Bay fishing boat from 1925 built in Mathews.


Michael Felberbaum can be reached at .