Tuesday, June 28, 2016

OAK ALLEY PLANTATION: Bon Sejour: Review by Polly Guerin

Oak Alley Plantations Live Oak Tree Allee,: View from the Mississippi River
As the great Irish poet, William Butler Yeats, might have written "A Cruel Beauty" best describes the amazing, monumental Live Oak Trees at Oak Alley Plantation. Massive tendrils reach out from the trunks of these 300 year old Virginia Live Oaks; a strong testaments to the lasting legacy of a bygone era. With their twisted and gnarly branches dipping into the land they form a French Allee, an invitation to the large Greek revival antebellum mansion, Bon Sejour.
      If those ancient oaks could speak what would they say? "Planted in the 1700s by an unknown settler, the double row of 28 evenly spaced trees were there at Oak Alley Plantation, long before the majestic, present house was built." The awesome Allee or tree avenue invites visitors to Oak Alley Plantation with a sweeping panorama that leads to the mansion creating a stunning vista from the direction of the Mississippi River. The site is located in the community of Vacherie, St. James Parrish, Louisiana on the west bank of the Mississippi River.
      The Bon Sejour (Good Visit) Plantation as Oak Alley was originally named, was established to grow sugar cane, by the pioneer French entrepreneur, Valcour Aime, who purchased the land in 1830. The history of Oak Alley Plantation is an American romantic epic as equal in importance as Downton Abbey. It is surprising, to me, that no film producer has seen the potential to make Oak Alley's eventful history into a television series.  Instead, Bon Sejour has been deemed worthy enough to be the location for numerous productions filmed in part or entirely on location; including Primary Colors, NightRider, Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte, Days of our Lives, and others.     
Bon Sejour Living Room where Celina Enertained
      In the halcyon days of  Bon Sejour Monsieur Valcour Aime was one of the wealthiest men in the South and reigned in society as the "King of Sugar." He must have enjoyed the fruits of his labor so much that he wanted to downsize and in 1836, Valcour exchanged this piece of property with his brother-in-law, Jacques Telesphore Roman for a property owned by Roman.             Thus begins another phase in the management of the land and the dream of an antebellum mansion.The impressive maison that Jacques built, entirely with enslaved labor, was completed in 1839. One interesting story involves the slave, named Antoine. who is listed in the estate's records as gardener, expert grafter of pecan trees." Antoine was a master of grafting and perfected a pecan variety that won a prize at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. The trees may still be found throughout southern Louisiana, where the pecan was once a cash crop.
      Jacques, had become, like Aime, a wealthy sugar cane planter, but he had a good reason to erect the mansion, and like a Romance Novel, the story was motivated by Love.  At this time his young socialite bride, Marie Therese Josephine 'Celina' Pilie Roman, was enjoying the privileges of French New Orlean's high society balls and entertainments.  It was a daunting task but Jacques wanted to entice Celina away from the allure and pleasures of New Orleans' city life to live on the plantation where she could indulge in her social commitments and entertain friends and family in the grand style that she was accustomed to. Jacques had the tenacity of persuasion succeeded in this endeavor by providing Celina with an elegant mansion
Dining Room's Lyre Fly Swatter
for her social entertainments, that long, long ago were the epitome of southern hospitality. In the impressive dining room it is worth noting that one of the slaves would come in and using a pulley system, he would pull the big Music Lyre fan over the table, moving it back and forth to keep the air circulating and flies away from the table. Such luxuries are discussed by guides in period costumes who remind us how difficult life was without the slave counterparts who made it possible to live so luxuriously in the Old South. The pleasures of life in the elegant mansion lasted for nearly a decade, and then the halcyon days faded.

       Sadly, when Jacques Roman died, in 1848, Celina did not have a skill for managing a sugar plantation and her heavy spending nearly bankrupt the estate. In 1859, her son Henri, took control to turn things around but in 1866 the crisis of mounting debt, brought his uncle, Valcour Aime to the rescue and with Jacques' sisters,  the plantation was put up for auction and it was sold to John Armstrong.
The Master Bedroom with Regal Accoutrements
     As with the plight of so many Mississippi mansions, successive owners could not afford the cost of upkeep and by the 1920s, Bon Sejour mansion had fallen into the dust of history, and magnificent antebellum mansion unrecognizable. Then in 1925 along came Andrew Stewart, another romantic, who bought the mansion as a gift to his wife, Josephine.  She had a far sighted vision and recognized the mansion's  historical significance and began an extensive restoration and modernization of the house. 
The Stewarts were the last owners to live in in the residence.  When Josephine Stewart died she left the historic house and grounds to the Oak Alley Foundation, which opened in 1972 to the public as a tourist attraction and site for corporate events, weddings and private parties. The property was designated a National Historic Landmark for its architecture and landscaping, and for the agricultural innovation of grafting pecan tress, performed here in 1846-47 by Antoine, the enslaved gardener.  If you want to experience Southern hospitality the estate's overnight cottages are available for rental. For culinary indulgences there is a cafe/ice cream parlor and a restaurant recognized for its creole/cajun cuisine. In addition to films made at Oak Alley, there have also been a number of commercials, fashion location shoots and magazine articles which have appeared in almost every category of media coverage.
     It is also interesting to note that the 300 year old Virginia Live Oak trees on the Alley were inducted into the Live Oak Society in 1905 and each tree was registered and given a name.
    For further information visit www.OakAlleyPlantation.com or call 1-800-44ALLEY.
     Ta Ta darlings!!! Fan is mail always welcome, please send your comments to POLLY at pollytalknyc@gmail.com.  Visit Polly's Blogs at www.pollytalk.com on fashion, visionary men, women determined to succeed and poetry.

Friday, June 24, 2016

BILL WIEMUTH/LAURA SABLE: Mississippi River Entertainers: Review by Polly Guerin

Bill and Laura Channeling George Burns & Gracie Allen
What is it about the Mississippi River? Stories, songs, sentiments about the great river continue to capture the collective imagination of paddleboat river cruise travelers. 
     On a recent trip I met a storyteller of remarkable diversity. Bill Wiemuth is not your ordinary entertainer nor is his wife, Laura Sable, who I have dubbed the Mississippi Songbird. 
       These two individualistic entertainers are a Tuneful Twosome not only on riverboat cruises but in corporate and theatrical venues. 
       However, I cannot talk about Bill without giving Laura equal billing, but first let me indulge in poetic license and say a few words about Bill.
I know what it takes to do archival research as my historical books in 2012 and 20l5 attest to this fact. So I appreciate that Bill's professional oeuvre is spread over several disciplines and like a theatrical impresario he wears several hats---show producer, musician, storyteller, magician, historian and author. 
       Bill's archival history makes his storytelling a unique, educational and entertaining experience. He says, "I have researched, written, and lectured about United States rivers for the last fifteen years.  It's been a rewarding journey." 
       Indeed, Bill's entertaining lectures keep guests riveted to their seats as he enchants them with historical information that they never knew they needed.  For an afternoon's diversion Bill, the quintessential showman, also delivers an entertainment, "10 Amazing Card Tricks Anyone Can Do."
      Bill continues, "I have traveled aboard more than 300 United States riverboat cruises and delivered close to 2,000 lectures. And I've loved every minute! I lecture to 180 cruise guests a week, but I want to make a bigger impact and get more Americans fascinated with our country's historical past."
Bill Wiemuth, the Quintessential Showman/Magician
 This multi-faceted entertainer is not just a showman, his archival research illustrates his genuine respect for America's glory days, and his website www.riverhistory.com is so interesting, I am sure you will want to visit it time and again. He shares brief and fascinating gems of historical data and says that he "hopes to inspire a fascination for America's past to ensure the potential of its future." Quite frankly, in my school days, I wish the teachers had taught history using Bill Wiemuth's method, it would have been more interesting and the facts more memorable. 

         Bill has created a River History Audio Series, and offers 15 CDs, including Mark Twain and the River, Early Days of Steamboating and The Louisiana Purchase: to order contact Bill@RiverHistory.com. You can also find Bill on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Linkedin.
     Bill works with his wife, co-producer and performing partner, Laura Sable, and they share a passion for the historical past, which is reflected in their performances. Laura ranks high among the 'Ladies Chanteuses" who captivate their audience, not only by their glorious voice, but with storytelling. For instance, dressed for the part with cowboy hat and Western boots, her interpretation of Patsy Cline tells Cline's fascinating life story intertwined with her timeless hit songs.
      Laura is a diversified entertainer and also performs, besides Patsy Cline, a collection of hits from the great ladies of song including Barbra Streisand and Judy Garland. 
Mind you when I closed my eyes for just a tiny second, Laura's interpretation was extremely convincing. Many a gentleman in the audience surely had a twinkle in their eye as they gazed on the lovely songstress.  The Laura Sable Musical CD of this memorable evening can be purchased: Send an email to the following: Bill@RiverHistory.com. Or visit Laura's home page on htttp://www.laurasable.com. 
    Laura is not only a long time riverboat, corporate and special event entertainer but, like Bill, she also has strong ties to the theater.  However, before this handsome couple got together, Laura and Bill were on separate riverboats and a romantic courtship proved to be difficult, to say the least.  However, fate brought them together and romance ensued and now as husband and wife, they are a not-to-be-missed Tuneful Twosome, an entertaining couple par excellence.      
       Through the diversity of historical subject matter, popular music and old-time favorites, Laura and Bill's wide variety of delightful entertainments make the languid days of riverboat travel filled with unforgettable memories.
      Ta Ta Darlings!!! I love to hear from my readers at pollytalknyc@gmail.com.  Also, don't forget to click www.riverhistory.com for the latest on riverboat history and travel or contact Bill and Laura directly at Bill@RiverHistorycom.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

ROSEDOWN PLANTATION: Grand Dame on the River Road: By Polly Guerin

This is the second in the series featuring ports of call on Pollytalk's recent Mississippi River Cruise:

Rosedown Plantation at Christmas
"A Thing of Beauty is a Joy Forever; its loveliness increases; it will never pass into nothingness." John Keats' romantic poem aptly describes, Rosedown Plantation, one of the grandest 19th century estates on the Mississippi River Road in St. Francisville, Louisiana---renowned for its magnificent gardens. "It is one of the most intact, documented examples of a domestic plantation in the South." (According to the National Park Service)

     There was a time in the grand lady's history, however, when Rosedown nearly went to ruin and withered in the dust of history; her gardens overgrown in despair. Alas that is worth telling but first a soupcon of history.
     In 1835 Martha Barrow Turnbull and her husband Daniel Turnbull, a cotton planter built their plantation home of the eastern shore of the Mississippi at St. Francisville. The young couple called their home, Rosedown, after a play they had enjoyed on their honeymoon in which the artistic background of the mansion in this production inspired the name for their future home. The home was furnished with the finest furniture and accoutrements and many original pieces are on display at Rosedown to this day.
One of Rosedown's Fomal Gardens
 In its golden years the plantation encompassed 3,455 acres at its height of cotton production and Martha, an avid horticulturalist, would create, on the grounds of her Louisiana wilderness home, a vast garden of nnmatched grandeur in the French style of the 17th century, to complement the mansion and estate grounds. As early as 1836, camellias, azaleas, and other luscious plants, fauna and ferns,  flowering shrubs grew out from the house and would transform the land to cover approximately 28 acres.  In the 19th century, Rosedown was the only privately maintained private garden of this scope in the United States, and today visitors are invited to enjoy its splendor.
     The Turnbull's were especially proud of their Rosedown furnishings. The elegance of the interior rooms and furnishings attests to the Turnbull's refined taste and the grand scale of entertainments that must have taken place there.  As I ventured into the Entrance Hall, the scenic wallpaper, a blue panoramic design by French craftsman Charles Velay depicts a portion of the Itialian epic poem Orlando Funiouso. 
      John Belter, the eminent cabinetmaker in old New York is credited with the ornately carved chairs with elaborate openwork in the card room; and is he only set of furniture that is not oritinal o the house. 
     Rich gold and blue, characterize the Music Room with its Chickering piano and above the piano the portrait, attributed to John James Audubon, the great artist-naturalist, is of Eliza P. Bowman, mother to James Bowman, Sarah Turnbull's husband. The Master Bedroom with its imposing half-tester rosewood bed dominates the room; a double armoire, bureau and single commode complete the set. Other original furnishings include the Bowman family's original Rocco Revival sewing table.
An elegant setting for Tea with ruby red furnishings
       In the spring of 1956, Catherine Fondren Underwood of Houston, Texas, first saw Rosedown when heirs of the original builders placed the plantation on the market. At this time, after the ravages of the Civil War and probable difficulty to maintain the property, the house was in a state of decline and the gardens were choked with jungle-like growth. However,  Mrs. Underwood, an enthusiastic horticulturalist, glimpsed signs of their original beauty. The ancient flowers and flowering trees still thriving on the grounds compelled her to buy Rosedown and begin an eight-year historic restoration of the house and formal gardens.  A benefactor with a compelling vision Mrs. Underwood not only saved the great Grand Dame Mansion and magnificent gardens of the 19th century but restored the plantation to its former glory for generations to come. As the poet wrote: "A thing of beauty is a joy forever."
    Rosedown continues to be operated as one of the South's most distinguished museum houses, preserving one of the nation's most important historic gardens.  Rosedown Plantation, 12501 Highway 10, St. Francisvile, LA 70775. For more information about open dates and tours, call 225-635-3332.
Ta Ta Darlings!!! The magnificent gardens at Rosedown still hold a beautiful image in my mind as do the exquisite furnishings in the mansion. Fan mail welcome, I love to hear from my readers: pollytalknyc.gmail.com. Visit Polly's Blogs at www.pollytalk.com and click in the left hand column to the links to fashion, amazingwomen, visionary men and poetry. 

Sunday, June 12, 2016

HOUMAS HOUSE: Crown Jewel of Louisiana's River Road By Polly Guerin

This is the first in a series featuring ports of call on Pollytalk's recent Mississippi River Cruise:
What would  Mark Twain, the celebrated Mississippi storyteller, say about Houmas House plantation----the first port of call on a river cruise that plied its way from New Orleans up the Mississippi River delta to Darrow, Louisiana?     
      "Well my dear," he might say. "The first owners of the plantation were the indigenous Houmas Indians, hence the name for the grand home, which during its halcyon heyday was called "The Sugar Palace.

       Legend has it that when the mansion was completed in 1828, Houmas House  began to build its sugar plantation and continued to increase its land holdings which ultimately grew to 300,000 acres.
     My introduction to this magnificent 19th Century Greek Revival mansion had grace of  ante bellum authenticity. The charming and engaging historical interpreter, a Miss Susan Harris Forman greeted the assembled guests like a real Southern belle, wearing the most beguiling large white straw, wide brimmed sun hat adorned with a cluster of red flowers to protect her complexion. and her hoop skirt costume completed the Southern Belle ensemble.  Her historical repartee was captivating and the humor that she sugar coated her commentary made the visit to Houmas house memorable. "You all, come on in," she said.
       Once inside the house there was a treasure-trove of antique period furniture, Waterford crystal, the original Houmas china, the large imposing fly swatter over the dining table, that in the old days a servant would pull back and forth to provide a whiff of air over the dining table. It was a peek into the way a sugar Baron lived.   
Houmas House with its authenticity and historical settings has been featured in a number of films, television shows and even in the soap opera, "All My Children." 
     One of the most interesting bedrooms is the room where Bette Davis stayed during the filming of "Hush..Hush, Sweet Charlotte." This movie was shot on the plantation in 1963 
      It is interesting to mention John Burnside who bought the plantation in 1857 and increased production of sugar until Houmas House was the largest sugar producer in the country. Then there was Col William Porcher Miles under whom the plantation was producing a monumental 29 million pounds of sugar each year.

Most impressive was the architectural marvel, a remarkable three-story circular stairway

that Miss Forman scaled with us in pursuit and then there was the requisite Gentlemen's Parlour were Southern gentlemen retreated after dinner to discuss business over brandy and cigars. "Now ladies," Miss Forman said, Remember, it was a male dominated society. The women also retreated as well to The Ladies' Parlour" where a grand piano provided entertainment and the polite gossip of the day conducted in a more genteel setting."
      In 2003 Kevin Kelly, a visionary man acquired the plantation and fulfilled the dream of owning an important Louisiana plantation.  He transformed the place with magnificently landscaped lush gardens, restored the mansion to most of its former glory, as well as---- the two Garconnierre, where in the old South men in he family or male guests were housed away from the mansion to seemingly thwart encounters with the females in the mansion.
    The amenities of formal dining are another addition Kelly made plus a tavern housed in one of the former Garconnierres. The latest addition, the Wedding Pavilion, is the site of modern day celebrations. HOUMAS HOUSE,  is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, located at River Road Burnside, Darrow, LA 760725. For additional information, call 225.473.9380.
     Ta Ta Darlings!!!  I do declare I've acquired a slight Southern drawl, what will my New York friends think?  Fan mail welcome at pollytalknyc@gmail.com.  Visit PollyTalk's Blogs including www.pollytalkfromnewyork.blogspot.com and contact www.pollytalk.com links in the left-hand column on subjects as diverse as fashion, visionary men, women determined to succeed and poetry. 

Monday, June 6, 2016

Traditional Home's SOUTHERN STYLE SHOWHOUSE: New Orleans: Review by Polly Guerin

The mansion magnificent Uptown Garden District of New Orleans is a breathtaking excursion to take preference on your sightseeing list, but recently the magazine, Traditional Home presented the 2016 inaugural Southern Style Now Designer ShowHouse at 7618 St. Charles Avenue, to benefit the Preservation Resource Center of New Orleans. "This Showhouse has special meaning," said Caroline Christman, who graciously greeted me. "We haven't had a Showhouse in several years and I anticipate that others will follow."
     Despite the fact that the New Orleans ShowHouse enters its final week in the Southern Style Now Design Festival, which ends June 12th, I would like to recap on some of the participating designers and artists, all originally with roots from the South, but now many are engaged in businesses from coast to coast. These inspired creators lent their contemporary vision to the 15-room showhouse while also incorporating traditional southern design to their oeuvre.
Historical Tidbit
      The 2016 showhouse, an exquisite Queen Anne Victorian built in 1895, is located in the Uptown District on one of the city's revered streets, Charles Avenue. The house is a bijoux, a jewel trimmed with white painted wrought iron and embellished with stained glass windows and beveled glass doors A French Quarter-style courtyard off the house leads to a guest cottage. The oldest continuously operating streetcar in the world, the St. Charles line, passes by the house as it makes its way from Canal Street in the Central Business district through the oldest and most majestic sections of New Orleans. 
THE SOUTHERN STYLE NOW DESIGNER SHOWHOUSE: The parlor captivated my attention. In this room Los Angeles-based designer, Reagan Hayes called on works with local bloodlines. "I started thinking of my Southern upbringing and the types of materials, textures, and design details that made me feel at home. But the design isn't just history with a soft touch. There is an edginess that is core to my personal design aesthetic." A bold graphic patterned sofa, a grand piano focal point adds eye-catching detail. Also important is art. "Every room needs a killer piece of art."Hayes says. "It adds instant drama, instant emotion, inspires conversation, and helps to elevate the entire space. That doesn't mean that it has to be expensive, but it needs to be origi8nal and needs to make a statement. Raegan's handmade furnishings are available through her eponymous showrooms in New York, Los Angeles and Dallas.
     Denise McGaha Interiors, Dallas, created a powder room that is a statement in femininity. Soft rose trims this bath, while a dramatic floral wall covering from Ashley Woodson Bailey covers the walls and ceiling--its reminiscent of the Garden District that has become synonymous with this beautiful city. 
The custom Roman shade is acid green finished with a modern take on Greek key trim, while original photography adorns the walls and offers a sophisticated finish to McGaha's powder room design.
     Ware M. Porter, Ware took on the task of the master bedroom and balcony. He began with a custom wool dhurrie carpet from Lisa Fine and Richard Keith Langham. An Empire bed from Bunny Williams and fabrics from Quadrille's archives were carefully chosen to work with the rug. "Tonal striped walls and custom-made lampshades deliver a sophisticated space that works the way people live today," he said.  The designer's firm is based in Birmingham, Alabama where he crafts his fresh takes on traditional design "infused with sophistication and happiness."
      Though this is just a sampling of Southern Style inquiries about other showstopper designers by contacting traditiionalhome.com/neworleansshowhouse.
      Ta Ta Darlings!!! After this Southern Style Show I think I need a total  house makeover. Fan mail welcome at pollytalknyc@gmail.com. Visit Polly's Blogs at www.pollytalk.com and click on the line to the Blogs in the left hand column to fashion, visionary men, determined women, and poetry.