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Exhibit Offers Inside Look at W.Va. Governor’s Mansion

August 8, 2010
By LINDA COMINS Life Editor

Visitors to a new exhibit of interior design in Moundsville can get an insider's look of the West Virginia Governor's Mansion, the official home of the West Virginia University president and ambassadors' residences at U.S. embassies around the world.

The exhibit, ''Women of Design: Embassies, Mansions and Stately Homes - Pat Bibbee and Vivien Woofter,'' is now on display in the Delf Norona Museum at Grave Creek Mound Archaeological Complex, 801 Jefferson Ave., Moundsville.

Both women - interior designers Vivien Woofter and Pat Bibbee - attended an opening reception at the state-owned complex and talked about the creative process and their collaboration.

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Woofter, a West Virginia native, and Bibbee, a Mountain State ''transplant'' and longtime resident, worked together on the renovation of the Governor's Mansion in Charleston and the Blaney House on the WVU campus in Morgantown. Woofter's main work over the years, though, has involved U.S. embassy complexes in far-flung locations across the globe.

Bibbee, whose business is located in Charleston, has been designing homes and commercial spaces for more than 25 years. An English major who ''never knew anyone in interior design,'' she began her career by giving free advice to neighbors. Bibbee's work has been featured in Southern Living publications, on ''Homes Across America'' on HGTV and in other venues.

Woofter, a native of Weston, is the U.S. Department of State's heritage conservation officer for the Residential Design Cultural Heritage Office of the Overseas Buildings Operations. Prior to 2004, she was director of the Interior and Furnishings Division where she directed a staff of more than 50 professionals and had responsibility for design, restoration and refurbishing the interiors in ambassadors' residences.

The exhibit itself is filled with photographs and drawings of sites where the pair's artistry has been used to restore and transform these public-private living spaces. Accenting the display panels are fabric swatches, carpet samples, decorative elements, ornamentation and artifacts from the featured design projects.

For example, the section devoted to the Governor's Mansion is complemented by an array of samples - carpet and fabric for the parlor and state dining room, wall covering and fabric for seating and draperies in the sunroom and fabric for chairs, sofas and draperies in the ballroom.

Other portions of the exhibit are devoted to Woofter's work at U.S. embassy properties in Paris, France; London, England; Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; and Buenes Aires, Argentina.

One of Woofter's most recent projects involved the restoration of the Hotel de Talleyrand, built between 1767-77 and now part of the U.S. embassy complex in Paris. Photographs show the state ballroom featuring fabric that was created originally in the18th century. A caption for a photo depicting decorative painting in the hotel explains that ''painted wall decoration has always been a major element of interior design in France.''

A stunning part of the exhibit is a framed copy of a silk scarf that Woofter designed for fundraising efforts to finance the restoration of the Hotel de Talleyrand for the George C. Marshall Center. Framed scarves will be presented to each of the 17 Marshall Plan countries at the center's grand opening this year.

The exhibit includes photos showing Bibbee's current work. Bibbee, a Penn State University graduate, has lived in West Virginia since 1969.

Discussing their joint work on the Governor's Mansion, Bibbee remarked that a decorating project at any public facility involves ''ups and downs.'' Their goal with this particular project, she said, was ''to preserve the integrity and beauty of the Governor's Mansion.''

Bibbee said Gov. Joe Manchin and his wife, Gayle, found the residence to have ''a lot of disrepair.'' Saying there is ''never enough money'' to care adequately for public facilities, Bibbee stressed the importance nonetheless of ''maintenance, maintenance, maintenance.'' The project entailed several structural updates as ''lots of state money went into keeping the house standing.''

As for the interior elements of the mansion, Bibbee said the decoration had been redone during former Gov. Arch Moore's term, and that after 20 years, ''things had faded.'' Not all was lost, though, because ''beautiful rugs that they had had made'' were given new homes in various state buildings, she said.

A driving force behind the designers' decorative decisions, Bibbee said, was to ''present what West Virginia is known for - its flora and fauna'' in the patterns chosen for fabric and other decorative elements. For instance, she said, one pattern they chose featured the ladyslipper, ''the most popular wildflower in West Virginia.''

For the Governor's Mansion, the designers selected ''rich colors that would be timeless for many, many years,'' Bibbee said.

Woofter said they consulted historic preservationists to ensure that the right technique was used for painting walls in the house. She and Bibbee designed a damask look; an Atlanta firm, with employees who were from West Virginia originally, used paint to create shadows and other ''wonderful techniques.''

Bibbee said that while she and Woofter have ''different fortes,'' they ''came together as one person'' for this collaborative effort. Woofter said it was a thrill to work with Bibbee on this assignment.

All of Woofter's work with the State Department is done overseas, and she remarked that she has ''had the privilege of working with leading artisans in so many countries. It is the most wonderful part of my career.''

Woofter's responsibiilities entail the design and furnishing of ambassadors' residences, staff houses and chanceries where embassies' main offices are located.

In addition ot her other duties, Woofter said, ''In 1983, I started identifying the cultural assets that the State Department had. They had no idea what they had.'' To date, appraisals of U.S.-owned cultural assets have been done in 60 countries. She added that 90 percent of the cultural assets at embassies are donated to the U.S. government.

In 2000, Woofter said, a register of culturally significant properties was established; 20 properties are now on the register.

Woofter recalled the major work that was necessary in Buenes Aires to restore the ambassador's residence, which ''was in terrible shape,'' with ''millions of coats of paint, in Pepto-Bismol pink,'' on the walls. Fortunately, an Argentinian man had done 10 years' worth of research on the ambassador's residence and had all of the original drawings.

''The residence is now back as when it was built for the Argentine ambassador who went to France. He brought all the material, workmen and furnishings from France,'' she related.

The house had been designed by one of the leading architects in the world. In another bonus, Woofter related, ''In France, they keep every single record of textiles. They keep the plates. They had all of the original plates except for one of the rooms.''

Now, she said of the residence in Buenes Aires, ''The people are blown away with how beautiful it is.''

Woofter's work in Paris includes restoring 10 rooms in the Hotel de Talleyrand, which is part of the embassy. A grant has been awarded ''to train people who are going to manage it when it is completed,'' she said. Officials of the English National Trust are providing training in proper housekeeping.

Maintenance programs are necessary ''to make these residentces and assets last longer,'' Woofter commented. Oberving that a maintenance budget is essential, she said most hotels are redone every four to seven years, while embassy properties are on a 16- or 17-year schedule for redecorating.

''Women of Design: Embassies, Mansions and Stately Homes - Pat Bibbee and Vivien Woofter'' can be viewed, free of charge, in the Delf Norona Museum from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday.

 
 

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