Editor's Note: The following is a letter from Wylie Raab, the First Regent of Gunston Hall. It was sent out via email on Thursday, May 3, and highlights the recent firing of Director David Reese and the future of programs at the estate of George Mason.
Regents of Gunston Hall met for their semi-annual meeting over the weekend of April 13-16. With the departure of David Reese as Director, Mark Whatford, who has served as our librarian, archivist, and IT specialist, agreed to step in as Acting Director.
New Jersey Regent-at-Large Sara Hill is heading the search committee which will choose a successor to Mr. Reese. Over the past year the Regents have been working hard at a 360° analysis of Gunston Hall. We have worked closely with the Office of the Secretary of Education and the Commonwealth of Virginia Board of Visitors in an effort to make our work more transparent and understandable to the public. In addition, we have engaged the services of outside professionals in order to understand the issues as objectively as possible. We are happy to share with the community, the legislature, and most particularly the many devoted supporters of Gunston Hall Plantation, initiatives which are well underway.
With unanimous agreement that education is a fundamental component of Gunston Hall’s mission, we and the office of the Secretary of Education recognize that Gunston Hall can strive for a more sophisticated and advanced level of educational programming than ever before. Technology, a focus on STEM education, and a site brimming with opportunities are factors that will guide our search for a qualified Director of Educational Programming. We look forward to the input of our succeeding director in the selection of this person.
Educational Advisory Board
The Board of Regents welcomes and embraces the suggestion of the Board of Visitors that in building new educational programs we include the voices of educators in the community and beyond, who can share the wisdom of their hands-on experience. Input can come from educators in schools as well as other institutions and include government, history, civics, and the arts.
Our Education Committee recognizes economic and logistical obstacles which limit the opportunity of many students and schools to enjoy field trips and onsite education. The Committee is exploring ways in which Gunston Hall can fund transportation, bring programs to the schools, provide distance learning, and find other creative ways to assist.
The Governance Committee is working with the Commonwealth of Virginia and other Virginia museums in order to make available to all employees user-friendly employee handbooks. As the complication of having both Commonwealth and private employees at Gunston Hall has made this a challenge, we are focused on fully addressing the needs and rights of all employees.
There are many events currently on the calendar and we anticipate many more to come. Gunston Hall wants to welcome all who are interested in learning about George Mason and his contribution to the cause of human rights. Employees, Regents, and volunteers cherish and wish to share this magnificent historic site. We look forward to welcoming all who can come on June 12th, George Mason Day, celebrating the anniversary of his signing the Virginia Declaration of Rights.
Many have asked for a new guidebook which will be available in the museum shop shortly. Renowned photographer Steven Brooke, engaged by Director Reese, spent three recent days at Gunston Hall; his remarkable work will be included in the new guidebook as well as other promotional and educational items we can offer.
The finances of Gunston Hall have always been public. However, an inability to easily and accurately access this information has led to false and inaccurate reporting of those finances. We welcome the opportunity for everyone to easily and accurately see the factual reality: that reduction in funding by the Commonwealth of Virginia has been dramatic; that Regents and other private sources have raised inordinate amounts of funds to protect the treasure that is Gunston Hall; and that Director Reese cultivated substantial grant monies resulting in priceless capital improvements.
Board of Advisors:
The Board of Regents can and should benefit from advice offered by individuals with expertise in areas relevant to the Plantation. We look forward to restructuring our advisory committee to include individuals in the areas of historic preservation (particularly architectural), landscape architecture, fine and decorative arts (specifically American), historic site or museum management, American history, African American history, a Mason descendant, an individual with legislative expertise and a member of the local community.
Accreditation by the American Association of Museums is highly coveted and difficult to achieve. Gunston Hall can be proud to have attained and maintained this precious status. As we move forward with new ideas, plans, and initiatives, regard for this most important standard will always be honored.
I would like to pay tribute to the docents, volunteers, and most especially the employees of Gunston Hall. Of the many individuals who have worked diligently for the betterment of this Plantation through difficult times, they deserve huzzahs from all of us for their loyalty, dedication, and generosity of spirit. They are, indeed, the magnificent face of Gunston Hall.
With thanks and appreciation,
Wylie Raab, PA Regent