Lagniappe, Audio Tour Track #3001
Lagniappe, Madelyn Cook,1978, 1:12 scale
Lagniappe, located in our museum's Lobby. Built in 1978 and furnished and renovated by Madelyn Cook over a period of many years. The piece was created in 1:12 scale, where one inch in miniature is equivalent to 12 inches in the full scale. There are three audio tracks describing Lagniappe.
Track One: An Introduction to Lagniappe
Lagniappe is a French Creole word meaning "a trifle extra." Similar to the expression "the cherry on top," it is meant to imply playful extravagance. Extravagant is the key word when describing this 18th century Virginia Tidelands mansion. Lagniappe is a pre-Civil War era plantation home. The home's exterior is modeled after George Washington's home, Mount Vernon: it is two and a half stories high with white washed pine board siding, has red wooden tiles on the roof, dark green Board and Batten shutters, a front porch piazza with white pillars, and a hexagonal cupola to combat the heat of a Virginia summer. However, the interior of this home is something altogether different. According to the house's creator, Madelyn Cook, the mythical owner of Lagniappe is a merchant sea captain who sailed the seven seas and made his fortune trading in exotic ports around the world. He now has filled the rooms of his plantation mansion with souvenirs as a tribute to his travels.
The house is comprised of two halves that have been joined together: imagine a narrow rectangle with a then smaller adjoining rectangle pressed against its side. The smaller of these two rectangles contains the open front of the house and piazza and it is this portion which is first visible to our museum guests upon entering the Lobby. Walking around to the back reveals the larger, narrow rectangle which forms the rear of the house, as well as the mansion's outdoor garden and orangerie. To walk the edge of the piece will give a good sense of the magnitude of this miniature house - the circumference is over 27ft in length. All totaled, the mansion features 25 rooms joined by quadrant passageways, or colonnades. Nineteen of the rooms are easily viewed; the remaining six can only be partially viewed through hallways or exterior windows, although Madelyn took the time to completely furnish them.
This complex floor plan took Cook two years of planning. She then created the first portion of the house over a period of 9 months; the following year she added the two wings which comprise the back half of the mansion, and nearly a decade later she spent an additional 1500 hours renovating and updating the structure. The mansion contains well over 1,500 furnishings and accessories, nearly 90% of which Cook created herself.
Lagniappe is a tour de force of period decorating styles from the mid-1700s into the late 1800s. On the front most edge of each room, attached to the floorboards, is a small rectangular brass plaque with the engraved period style of that particular room. Each room is uniquely and elaborately decorated. Cook prides herself on thorough research into a culture or time period, and each room includes miniaturized artifacts of great curiosity, many unrecognizable to our modern-day audiences. There is so much to take in - Lagniappe is an overwhelming feast of the imagination. The bronze weathervane of a schooner perched on the cupola lets our visitors know that they have set sail on a voyage with the captain himself.
To continue your audio tour of Lagniappe, please listen to Track Two.
Track Two: The Front Portion of Lagniappe
We begin our journey with The Great Ivory Hall, decorated in the Palladian style. This is the room that most visitors will use as a starting point, as it is located front and center on the ground floor. The term Palladian implies ivory columns, balustrades, and statuary, all of which are depicted here. Cook designed this room to be an entryway as well as a ballroom to augment the salons on either side. The Ivory Hall is also the only room with people: the young captain himself and his wife are depicted, both in fancy dress. The Captain, with his thick brown curly hair, is wearing a grey silk jacket with a white and blue striped vest with pearl buttons, and white satin trousers. His wife is wearing a light pink gown with white lace trim on the bottom edge of the skirt, the cuffs of her sleeves, and her sweeping low neckline. Her blond sausage curls can be seen poking out from beneath her white lace cap. The family's African-American servant is also shown, standing to the right of the young couple and holding their infant daughter. Taking into consideration the time period of this piece, it is important to note that this woman is most likely a slave. The Captain's young son is kneeling on the floor at their feet, eagerly inspecting a stack of Christmas presents - though perhaps they have arrived early or late, as there is no other sign of Christmas in the house.
There are five other rooms which can be readily admired when facing this front portion of the mansion. On the ground floor are three rooms, with the Great Ivory Hall in between the other two. To the left of The Great Ivory Hall is the Vermeil Dining Room, and to the right of the Hall is the Kirman Salon, which is an open suite of two rooms. In a Colonial take on the English Georgian style, the Vermeil room's walls are a delicate robin's egg blue and feature recessed paneling. The Vermeil room is named for the depicted Vermeil table service consisting of gold plated and solid gold items, which can be seen in the paneled niches of the walls. The tall, narrow windows are draped with floor-to-ceiling royal blue velvet. As a contrast, the Kirman Salon is a suite for relaxing with guests, featuring furniture that spans the Golden Age of English cabinetry, including Queen Anne, Chippendale, Hepplewhite, and Sheraton. There is also lacquered furniture, or Chinoiserie, and a cream-colored harpsichord featuring hand-painted scenery of a ship's voyage. There is an inviting fireplace, and many majestic paintings adorn the walls.
On the second floor directly above these first three rooms are three additional rooms depicting the cultures of Spain, China, and India, from left to right. On the far right, the India-themed room reflects the British influence on the culture. The wallpaper is a Florentine renaissance design of dark greens, browns, and golds in traditional images of repeating flowers and vines. The furniture features elaborate decorative wooden inlay in mesmerizing patterns. Ivory artifacts and wooden statuary add to the exotic feel of this room. On the far left, the Spanish room has been decorated to depict the 16th - 17th century. The room is colored by deep red leather furniture, dark brown walnut wood and black iron, and stark white plaster walls. There is an illuminated manuscript on the wall as well as other Christian artifacts. There is a small fire pit in the center of the room and a Spanish crown and scepter on display. A strong Moorish influence can be seen in the beamed ceiling and tiled baseboard. Between these two rooms, we find the Chinese room, depicting the Ming Dynasty of the 15th - 17th century. The Emperor himself would be at home here. Gold satin lines the walls and painted wooden panels on the back wall display murals of the Chinese countryside. Numerous stoneware figurines are on display on shelves, each no taller than half an inch, recreating scenes of Chinese daily life. The most unusual piece of decor is the Kang table, an ancient and traditional piece of wooden furniture with a dual purpose: it is a raised, cushioned platform with a center desk which can be accessed by a person seated cross-legged on either side; at night the table can be removed and the platform becomes a bed. Cook has set out calligraphy brushes, stamps, and ink pots on the Kang table.
To continue your audio tour of Lagniappe, please listen to Track Three.
Track Three: The Rear Portion of Lagniappe
The rear portion of Lagniappe does not feature other cultures, but rather highlights different time periods, as well as authentically reproducing the various components of a Virginia Tidelands plantation home. We begin with the third floor of the house, which contains the Spinning and Weaving Room. A portion of the home's roof has been removed to reveal the inner workings of this large room. It is a real treat for those who do handwork or tapestry: there are large floor looms with foot pedals, three different styles of spinning wheels, bundles of yarn, stacks of clean linens, and sewing projects in progress. This room suggests that although the mansion may have been founded on the shipping trade, it would have been primarily supported by the cotton industry. The doorways lead out into what would be the Servants' Quarters, although these rooms are not visible.
Moving down to the second floor, starting at the far left we find the William and Mary Room, decorated in the American style of the 17th century, which a touch of Pennsylvania German. Two parallel styles of furniture developed during this short period: the very ornate inlaid, carved and upholstered furniture of the aristocracy; and the simpler forms for the less affluent, or in the case of America, the less talented artisans who made it. This room therefore contains both English and American pieces of the period, since the fictitious owners would have been wealthy enough to have pieces imported. This bedroom suite includes an adjoining room for dressing, containing not only an armoire of clothes but shelves of stacked hat boxes, glove boxes, and gentleman's wigs. The wigs are comprised of white hair with a long braid in the back and side-curls, typical of the men's fashion of the period. The bedroom itself has astonishing fine scale recreations of period armoires and chests the likes of which can now only be found in high-end antique shops or in museums.
On the first floor, directly beneath the William and Mary room, we find the Plantation Office, which is actually more of a mariner's dream. There are dozens of aged world maps rolled and stored vertically in wooden containers, and the Captain's tools can be found in every corner: a telescope, a compass, a sextant, and other navigational tools for measuring longitude at sea. As a sign of the times, there are also long rifles exposed from their hiding place under the floorboards - at the ready should they be needed. The desk is a copy of the one used by George Washington when he first became President and the capitol was New York City. It is apparent that the Captain preferred planning for his next voyage over the tedious details of running his household.
Moving to the right, the Plantation Office leads into the Philadelphia Library, a treasure trove of warm wood paneled walls lined with leather bound books. Intended also as a men's retreat, there are gaming tables for cards, as well as a billiard table. There are miniature reproductions of famous paintings adorning the walls, including a portrait of George Washington himself, in a fitting tribute.
Moving to the right, we find Lagniappe’s outdoor Garden as well as an adjoining Orangerie. Located directly in the center of the rear portion of Lagniappe, the garden is accessible from all four wings of the house and displays tulips, fine topiaries, roses, wisteria, and Greek statuary. The Orangerie is located to the immediate right of the garden, indoors on the first floor, and would be used to winter-over the frail botanical wonders collected by the Captain on his voyages. The Orangerie hosts an abundance of bright natural light, allowing the ladies of the house to paint au plein air; one can find an unfinished painting standing on an easel near artists supplies. There are innumerable potted plants in the room - roses, lilies, and cacti - and a long planter box of bright red geraniums. This room would smell heavenly of orange blossoms and roses, the perfect place for relaxing, gardening, or doing hand-work.
A home of this stature would need a room for a tutor, to teach the boys and the girls of the house, at least until the boys were old enough to board at a private school. Lagniappe answers this necessity with the Windsor Schoolroom, a nickname given by Cook due to her use of the Windsor chair (there is one placed at each of the four student desks in this small classroom). The Windsor Schoolroom is located directly above the Orangerie, on the second floor. Peering into this room, one can almost smell the pencil shavings, chalk dust, and glue. There are shelves filled with toys and games. There are learning tools such as a microscope, a stereoscope, and wooden stilts. On the floor, a broken kite lies waiting to be mended. On the teacher's desk can be seen delicate, hand-written assignments of children - the size of the paper is less than half the size of a postage stamp.
Also on the second floor, to the right of the schoolroom, we find the Ships Quarters and Sheraton Playhouse, the two smallest rooms in the house. The Ships Quarters were built to imitate “below decks" aboard ship including two wooden bunk beds with nautical emblems. These beds were meant to prepare the boys for the family business. There is a desk with a partially assembled miniature model ship, and on the floor lies a box of tin soldiers and a castle with knights on horseback. The Sheraton Playhouse is just below the Ships Quarters, in a split level arrangement. It is a play room for the family's children, filled with a range of toys.
Moving to the right, we find the final room on the second floor, the American Empire Bedroom. In stark contrast to the cramped quarters afforded the young boys of the house, the young daughters are pampered in elegance with this American Empire Bedroom, representing furnishings that would have been popular in the 19th century. Similar to the French Empire style, this room's decor is overtly feminine and delicate. There are two side-by-side small daybeds fitted with satin canopies, a dresser with perfume bottles and lotions, and an elegant harp. The room is swathed in blue trim and white lace and would smell lovely from fresh flower arrangements. The girls of the family of this period would not leave home until they were married, so this room would be shared by the eldest daughters and the youngest.
Located on the first floor to the right of the Orangerie, we find the Cold Pantry, which is adjacent to the kitchen. A home of this size would require a formidable kitchen and Cook has created hers in the style of an 18th century Pennsylvania kitchen. In the kitchen, an apple pie is being made - fresh dough has been rolled out smooth and ready to cover the awaiting tin of apple slices. There are shelves of ingredients, a variety of pots and pans, and an enormous open fireplace with pots at various heights for different intensities of heat. Everything would have been cooked over the massive fire, so Cook took great care in the accuracy of the period kitchen appliances – all of the cooking utensils have long handles designed to be held over the flames from a distance. One of the most interesting pieces of furniture in the entire house is located in the center of the room - nicknamed the Shoo Fly chair, this chair has a foot pedal which when pressed activates a tassel above the sitter's head, which shoos flies away from the person's face. This would be a truly helpful contraption for the cook, who would certainly be bothered by flies in this kitchen, since the windows would need to be open to keep the hot air circulating.
The family’s cook would find anything she needed in the adjoining cold pantry: hanging bunches of garlic, onions, and peppers. Large cones of sugar and hanging legs of beef and lamb. Baskets of eggs, beans, squash, heads of lettuce, potatoes, apples, and lemons. There is a cupboard of fresh bread, jars of molasses, cider and vinegar. There are barrels of wine and jars of sweets. The Captain would have been able to trade in exotic foods, as well as enjoying the crops that would have been grown on his own land.
In the end, it is not the sea captain who is showing off his travels, but rather Madelyn Cook herself. She has gathered small snippets of other cultures and various time periods to represent a lifetime of collecting. Lagniappe is a valuable piece to have in our lobby, as it so adequately typifies our gallery concept of traveling the world through the art of miniatures.