On Southern Turf

from The Magazine ANTIQUES, January/February 2012 | 

For Mary and Hank Brockman the proper preservation of the South's material culture includes art, architecture, artifacts and the landscape.

Driving through the limestone gateposts of Pontotoc Farm and up the winding lane that leads to Hank and Mary Brockman's Greek revival house, a visitor might understandably assume that the scene has been largely un­touched over the last 160 years.

In fact, the harmonious setting of house and horse farm, stone fences and historic outbuildings, reflects the deliberate hand of two collectors as much as the interior assemblage of American sporting art, southern furniture and paintings, and nineteenth-century agricultural presentation silver.

"Pontotoc," the name chiseled into one of those weathered gateposts, is a Chickasaw Indian word meaning land of hanging grapes, an allusion to the abundance of the land. It was 1992 when the Brockmans fell in love with the 112-acre property nestled into a crook of the Harpeth River just outside Franklin, Tennessee, an ideally lush, level site for Mary's thoroughbreds and Hank's Percherons. There was only one drawback. "I complained that it didn't have an old house," Mary Brockman recalls. "And Hank said ‘That's no problem. I'll find one!' And of course, he did."

The post-and-beam clapboard house with a two-story portico and four Doric columns was built in 1854 but had been unoccupied for three decades when Hank discovered it twenty miles away. It was not on the market, but Hank persuaded the owner to sell. Acting as his own contractor, he arranged to have the house dismantled and reassembled on the new property, tak­ing care to preserve most of the original architectural elements. A rear wing was constructed for additional living space. The limestone gateposts came from prop­erty owned by Mary's aunt. They were all that remained of a house that burned, along with hundreds of other structures, in the Nashville fire of 1916.

Outbuildings salvaged from other sites soon followed, including an 1860s barn in the cantilever style unique to the southern high­lands, and a rare three-seat outhouse (now a garden shed) from Foxland Hall plantation north of Nashville, which Hank recalls rescuing while a bulldozer idled a few feet away. For the Brockmans, the preservation of material culture and its setting is a shared passion. Hank, a banker and businessman, sits on the board of the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts, and Mary, a Williamson County Commissioner, is on the board of the Land Trust for Tennessee, an organization founded to preserve the state's historic landscapes and open spaces. Both have been deeply involved in his­toric preservation efforts in Middle Tennessee, espe­cially in Franklin, founded in 1799 and the site of one of the Civil War's pivotal battles. The town's downtown district has won multiple preservation awards and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

The scenic Zuber et Cie. Vues d'Amerique du Nord wallpaper that lines the Brockmans' front hallway tells visitors at first glance that this is a house where history is honored. But the carved limestone lion in the corner by William Edmondson (the Nashvillian who was the first African American to have a solo exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art) is a reminder that his­tory encompasses much more than a single era. Early nineteenth-century southern furniture appears throughout the house, including two huntboards, three sugar chests, a sugar side­board, and a sugar desk, these last recalling a time and place where a pound of sugar could cost more than an acre of land.1 They mingle comfortably with paintings by late nineteenth- and twentieth-century southern artists such as John McCrady of Louisiana, William Gilbert Gaul of Tennessee, and Elizabeth O'Neill Verner of South Carolina. While some of the Tennessee furniture de­scended in Mary's family, most of the art and antiques have been acquired over the last three decades from regional dealers such as Clifton Anderson and Jerome Redfearn of Kentucky, Jim Williams of Nashville, Turner Reuter in Middleburg, Virginia, and at major shows and auction houses across the country. "Art is not in the eye of the beholder," Williams says. "I know it when I see it and so do Hank and Mary; they have a keen eye. They don't buy to match the drapes. They buy items worthy of a serious and educated collector."

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by Émile Jacques Ruhlmann (1879-1933), 1926. Macassar ebony, amaranth, and ivory. Metropolitan Museum of Art. By Cynthia Drayton

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