That day maybe seven or eight years ago I'd probably even made a disclaimer to my parents before we walked over to the museum: "It's kind of small. I mean, it's not the Philadelphia art museum or anything."
That museum, with its Picassos and Duchamps and Cezannes tucked into every crevice, was what my parents, and I too, thought of as an art museum. How could the VMFA remotely compare to that prestigious institution with its breathtaking collections?
My father continued: "You're not rushed. You can take your time and really look at things." And he was, really and truly, connecting with the art carefully examining Mary Cassatt's brush strokes, taking a good, absorbing look at just about everything. He wasn't standing shoulder to shoulder in a kind of silent, shuffling chorus line simply viewing something just to say he saw it. The last time I visited the Philadelphia art museum I practically had to stand in line to see Van Gogh mugs in the gift shop.
Watching my father so thoroughly enjoy this visit to the Virginia Museum was one of those little moments in which I am given the gift of seeing Richmond through the eyes of a visitor the same way I saw it for the first time. I've had it happen all over Richmond in Carytown and Maymont and Church Hill and even at a Richmond Braves game things I may have begun to take for granted which suddenly, almost miraculously, look brand spanking new all over again.
I remember coming down here for the first time in the summer of 1992. My husband got a job at The Martin Agency and he moved down first. I stayed up in Philadelphia to sell our house and came down one Friday so we could start the hunt over the weekend for a place to live. I can vividly see myself driving east on Monument Avenue in the West End having just turned from Horsepen. It was a glorious, cloudless day and the sheer width of Monument Avenue urged my car forward and faster. Everything looked so clean and open; there seemed to be so much space. More, in fact, growing between my car and the cars behind me I can still see the distance between my car and the few that were getting smaller in my rearview mirror. I looked at the speedometer and saw I was going almost 60 on that 45 mph stretch of road. I slowed myself down to the speed limit and still there was plenty of space around me, plenty of opportunity to absorb the beauty of the day.
"You're not rushed. You can take your time and really look at things."
I still connect what my father said that day at the museum with moments like that one as I took my first drive on my first day in Richmond. What I sensed about it was that Richmond was a town where I could breathe, where I could go at my own pace, whatever that might be. It was what I loved first and still love best about Richmond the idea that bigger isn't always better, that smaller and slower just might be the way to truly experience the beauty in life, whether it's a minor-league ballpark, a river view at sunset or the brushstrokes of a Mary Cassatt. S