The Wickham Sideboard Returns
by Christina Keyser Vida
On a lovely September day in Richmond, VA, last fall, members of the Decorative Arts Trust visited the Valentine Museum for tours of the galleries, the Court End neighborhood, and the museum’s Wickham House, built between 1811 and 1814 for John Wickham (1763–1839), his large family, and enslaved workers.
As we wrapped up a catered lunch in the Valentine’s ornamental garden, I was approached by Randy and Kelly Schrimsher from Huntsville, AL. They learned during the program that John Wickham’s eldest son, William Fanning Wickham (1793–1880), was the owner of Hickory Hill, a plantation in Hanover County, today about a 30-minute drive north of the city. Many of John Wickham’s household furnishings had stayed in the family and been relocated to Hickory Hill after the death of John Wickham’s wife, Elizabeth, in 1853. The name “Hickory Hill” had jogged Randy’s memory.
“I think I bought a sideboard from Hickory Hill some years ago,” Randy mentioned, and my curator brain immediately recalled the 2006 sale catalogs still in our files with long lists of Wickham family items that the museum could not afford to acquire at that time. “Let me check on it, and we’ll touch base before the day’s over,” Randy said. We exchanged cards, but I was not fully expecting anything to come of it in the near future.
An hour later, as guests were making their way to depart for tours at the State Capitol, Randy sought me out. He had confirmed their sideboard was from the 2006 sale. He and Kelly needed the space and asked if they could donate it to the Valentine for use in the Wickham House. I am sure affirmative words came out of my mouth, but I cannot vouch for their coherence as my heart soared and my mind filled with the static of the improbable becoming a reality.
John Wickham’s 1839 probate inventory valued “1 sideboard” at $10. In the early 1990s, the Valentine had purchased a sideboard with no Richmond connection to fill the void in the dining room. After the 2006 auction of furnishings from Hickory Hill, Valentine curators—myself included—assumed the Wickham family sideboard would remain in private collections. Unknown to us, Randy and Kelly had restored and cared for the piece for 16 years. We are grateful to them and to the Decorative Arts Trust for fostering the connection to bring John Wickham’s sideboard back home. The Valentine is thrilled to have it on display in the house to help tell the story of dining and the labor involved in early 19th-century Richmond. And while the maker of the sideboard is not yet known, we hope that future research may shed more light on its origin.
Christina Keyser Vida is the Elise H. Wright Curator of General Collections at the Valentine.
For more, read about our Fall Symposium in Richmond and watch Christina Keyser Vida’s lecture.
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Formerly known as the "blog,” the Bulletin features new research and scholarship, travelogues, book reviews, and museum and gallery exhibitions. The Bulletin complements The Magazine of the Decorative Arts Trust, our biannual members publication.
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