Arts & Artisans
Reynolda, From Farm To Country Estate To Museum
Farming was fashionable among the wealthy in the fledgling years of the 20th century when R.J. and Katharine Reynolds began acquiring land three miles outside of Winston-Salem. Their Reynolds Farm was to be a self-sufficient community that incorporated the latest agricultural advances and served as a teaching facility for local farmers.
It became that and more: a 1,067-acre estate with villages, churches, formal gardens, a post office, smoke house, power plant, greenhouse, dairy, golf course, and of course, Reynolda House. Katharine Reynolds referred to the house and the 136 acres surrounding it as “the home place.” A cozy little place it was, complete with a four-story main section, two wings, and a residential pipe organ. The Reynolds, rich but unpretentious, often called it a “bungalow.”
Today, its official name is Reynolda House Museum of American Art, and it is a showplace for portraits and landscapes as well as fashion and decorative arts. The art collection reflects American art history from 1755 to the present. John Wilmerding, art historian at Princeton University, called it “the finest collection of American art in a public collection south of Washington.”
Works by Georgia O'Keeffe and Stuart Davis are featured. Cubist Jacob Lawrence conveys the African American experience. You can see vintage clothing of the Reynolds family, including Katharine's handsewn wedding dress and the Paris gowns purchased on her honeymoon. Some of the most interesting items are in the the decorative arts collections that include metalwork and wrought iron, tiles and art pottery, and textiles and silver.
Who were R.J. and Katharine Reynolds?
Tobacco tycoon Richard Joshua “R.J.” Reynolds grew up in the hills of Virginia. Katharine Smith grew up in Mt. Airy, NC, about 40 miles away from her second cousin R.J.
R.J. and Katharine had much in common despite the 30 years difference in their ages. Their fathers – Hardin W. Reynolds and Zachary Taylor Smith – were best friends. Both tobacco men were comfortable, if not Rockefeller wealthy. People described the cousins using the same terms: down-to-earth, organized, commanding presence.
R.J., a 52-year-old bachelor, wrote to his young cousin in 1903, chiding her for not attending his mother’s funeral. Less than a week later, he and Katharine met in New York. The millionaire soon hired her as a secretary. In 1905, they were married. After a European honeymoon by rail, they set up housekeeping in the town of Winston, which had not yet been united with Salem.
Four children came in rapid succession: Richard Joshua Jr., 1906; Mary, 1908; Nancy, 1910; and Zachary Smith, 1911. The couple began buying acreage in 1906, and continued to buy contiguous land until they had amassed more than 1,000 acres in 1923. On this land they built their planned community and Reynolda House.
The home was finished in 1917. R.J. died in 1918, just seven months after moving in. Katharine remarried, became pregnant at the age of 43, and delivered Edward Johnston Jr. in 1924. She died from an embolism a few days after childbirth.
added: December 18, 2008
updated: December 22, 2008