Few other museums carry as rich a mother lode of drama and dysfunction as Reynolda House, a sprawling and richly impractical 64-room bungalow built between 1912 and 1917, during the height of the Jazz Age, as a showcase homestead by tobacco tycoon R. J. Reynolds and his beautiful and charismatic young wife, Katharine. At the time of its construction, it was the centerpiece of what was intended to be a productive country estate of 1,065 acres. But with the early deaths of R. J. and Katharine (in 1918 and 1924, respectively), and in the wake of a scandal associated with the untimely suicide (or was it murder?) of one of their sons in 1922, in which nightclub chanteuse Libby Holman was implicated, the house sank into neglect, acreage was sold off, and radical adjustments were made to its public areas. All of that changed in 1967, when the heirs to the estate reconfigured the house, its artworks, and its furnishings into a museum. In 2004, plans were finalized for a massive expansion of the original premises with the construction of a postmodern, mostly glass-sided new wing, and Reynolda House, in cooperation with nearby Wake Forest University, embarked on a new and potentially controversial era as one of central North Carolina's most radically innovative museums.
The museum's permanent collection includes American art from the colonial era to the present. Charmingly, about 90% of Katharine Reynolds' original furnishings from 1917 (many of them purchased from Wanamaker's department store in Philadelphia) have been restored and/or replaced, and these, in contrast with the modern and contemporary art, make for some very interesting museum-watching. Katharine's formal gardens, to the left of the main house as you face it, are spectacular.
- © Frommer's 2013
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- Recommended 2010