The Moores

Editorial Staff Furniture & Decorative Arts

  • Fig. 1. Slingshots carved and painted by members of the North Carolina Cherokee tribe during the first half of the twentieth century for the tourist trade (see also Fig. 6).
  • Fig. 2. A rare nineteenth-century gourd fiddle and two banjos by African American maker Bill Plummer (1873–1942), of Chilhowie, Virginia, hang in the den (see also Fig. 10).
  • Fig. 3. In one corner of the den are a paint-decorated safe and table by Joseph King of Grayson County, Virginia, 1830–1850. The horse on top of the safe and the animal figures in the vine-inlaid cabinet from the Shenandoah Valley are by Charles Pierce, who worked in Carroll County, Virginia, in the 1930s and 1940s. On the wall hangs a calligraphic drawing of a deer signed and dated December 25, 1877, by J. A. Dunsmore, who ran a writing school in Stanton, Virginia; and on the table is a basket of penny tops of c. 1900.
  • Fig. 4. Antique wrought-iron snakes, some made merely as whimsies, are found throughout the Moore household.
  • Fig. 5. Sally and Roddy Moore relax in the living room with Dixie and Ginger, their Hungarian Vizslas
  • Fig. 6. The living room contains a North Carolina Moravian settee and several pieces of furniture from Virginia, as well as the Moores’ remarkable collection of Shenandoah Valley fraktur. The desk-and-bookcase with Gothic paneled doors on the far wall is by Francis Keys (active c. 1797–1842) from Abingdon, Virginia, c. 1800. Furniture painter Johannes Spitler (1774–1837) owned the cupboard to the left, which is topped by a collection of baskets from Virginia’s Bedford and Botetourt Counties. The painted chest in the right foreground originated in the Huddle family of Wythe County, and the clock beyond the window, from Rockingham County. In the center foreground a Botetourt County tea table holds slingshots carved and painted by members of the North Carolina Cherokee tribe (see also Fig. 1). The three scallop-skirted tables in the room are from the Wytheville shop of Fleming K. Rich (1806–1861).
  • Fig. 7. Among the frakturs in the Moores’ collection are, top to bottom: Taufschein by Peter Bernhart (active 1794–1819) of Keezletown, Shenandoah County; a birth certificate by Joseph Kratzer of Rockingham County, 1830–1850; and a rare 1830 cutwork valentine by the Stony Creek artist (active c. 1786–1830s), Shenandoah County, 1815–1825.
  • Fig. 8. A pedimented cupboard made near Knoxville, Tennessee, c. 1800, dominates the dining room. To the right, from floor to ceiling, the Moores have stacked their collection of paint-ornamented boxes by the Stirewalt family of New Market, Shenandoah County. The punched-tin sideboard from Rockingham County and a set of six chairs, made in the Fravel shop of Woodstock, Virginia, 1820–1850, complete the principal furnishings. A farm scene signed by the Reverend M. M. Travis of Brownsville, Licking County, Ohio, and dated 1904 hangs above the sideboard.
  • Fig. 9. In the den a cupboard that descended in the Bourne family of Grayson County displays a collection of Wythe County split-handle baskets, above, and Shenandoah Valley and southwest Virginia blankets, within.
  • Fig. 10. In the den, a safe of c. 1830–1840 from Greene County, Tennessee, retains original paint on the punched-tin panels. The collection of stringed instruments includes, atop the safe, a rare half-bout dulcimer made in Randolph County, North Carolina. The three hanging on the wall to the left of the hooked rug found in Franklin County, c. 1920, are shown in Fig. 2; the three to the right are the earliest documented Virginia banjo, made c. 1840 and labeled by cabinetmaker Sampson Diuguid (1817–1852) of Lynchburg, Virginia, a gourd fiddle, and a banjo made in Wythe County in the late nineteenth century. The sheet-iron Indian figure originally ornamented a train steam engine of c. 1840, and came from North Carolina.
  • Fig. 11. Portrait of Laet by Edwin Megargee (1885–1958), 1920. Laet, who is considered the Percheron breed’s “Sire of Sires” for North America, was raised by Colonel Elijah B. White of Selma Plantation, near Leesburg, Virginia.
  • Fig. 12. Jaws the parrot perches atop his cage in the breakfast area, unimpressed by the collection of Great Road and Shenandoah Valley pottery that fills an early nineteenth-century North Carolina cupboard. The vessel second from the left on the bottom shelf is one of three in the collection by Christopher Alexander Haun (1821–1861).
  • Figs. 13–15. Top to bottom: Double portrait of a couple from Petersburg, Virginia, c. 1825, by the so-called Guilford Limner, who worked in North Carolina. Watercolor drawing of two minstrels, 1820s, found in the Midwest. Masonic theorem, 1830–1840, from a Franklin County, Virginia, estate.
  • Fig. 16. This Shenandoah County, Virginia, dower chest of c. 1800, a recent addition, represents a type previously unrecognized in Virginia.
  • Fig. 17. The Moores’ large bedroom contains two Wythe County safes, an Abingdon tall chest by Francis Keys with a collection of baskets from the 1920s and 1930s by the Griffith sisters of Floyd County on top, and, in the lower right, an eighteenth-century frontier armchair from southwest Virginia. The 1920s sign advertising “Bluetick’s” hounds hails from Jeffersonton, Culpeper County, Virginia.
  • Fig. 18. The Moores’ curvaceous Wythe County bedstead of c. 1840 provides a lively silhouette against the white wall.
  • Fig. 19. In the carriage house, a 1932 Ford Roadster with a Hemi engine and a wagonette made by Muhlbacker of Paris in 1870 await the Moores’ next outing.

Sally and Roddy Moore are dedicated collectors who have pioneered in researching and collecting the arts of their region, the Shenandoah Valley and the southern Piedmont. I visited them recently after a decade’s absence, and though it was clear that their collection had grown and changed over the years, the focus of their lives seemed the same: they are casual, yet disciplined, their days shaped as much by their devotion to each other and to their animals, as to their shared interests.

The house is a lively place. The dogs—two Hungarian Vizslas named Ginger and Dixie—seem as comfortable on the couch with visitors by day as they are beneath their owners’ bed at night. Jaws, the African Gray parrot that the Moores have nurtured for two decades, still punctuates the day as he mimics Roddy affectionately calling “Sally…….Sally.” Smokie, the cat, saunters in and out, while outside, three large iron dinosaurs guard the house, the yard, and the nearby woods.

The Moores are rightfully proud of their home, their broad range of interests, and their incredible collection. Yet before we sat down to discuss their lives and their things, they wanted to show me the stable where fifteen horses beckon them from bed each morning at six. The horses have earned the couple an international reputation in the equestrian field, but it was only when I was shown into the adjoining carriage house to see the horse-drawn wagonettes that they use for coaching events, and the 1932 Ford Roadster of a type that Roddy first customized in high school, that I understood how multifaceted this couple’s talents and interests are.

The Moores’ early lives provide subtle hints of the collectors they would become. Sally Flieger Moore was born in New Jersey and raised in Bermuda.  She loved the water and her family’s dogs, but what really changed her life was the pony her parents gave her when she was seven. She was a natural horsewoman with a highly developed eye for the beauty of an animal’s conformation. In the end, this eye would not only lead her to build an international reputation as a horse breeder, but also play a vital role in her life as a collector.

Roddy grew up in Welch, McDowell County, West Virginia, where his mother taught junior high school math and his father was an electrical contractor. He talks fondly of his childhood friends—mostly the children of Czech, Hungarian, Polish, and Italian miners whose families had fled Europe in the wake of two world wars. He reports that they gave him a tremendous respect for people from widely varied cultures. As a teenager Roddy began to hunt with these friends, and to collect muzzle-loading rifles. He was, he reports, also hooked on hot rods and drag racing.

His youthful experiences in McDowell County spurred Roddy’s lifelong interest in the complexities of southern culture and history. When it came time for college he packed up for Virginia Polytechnic Institute to study history, political science, and sociology. One of his best undergraduate experiences was not an academic one: he became part owner of a coffeehouse called Books, Strings and Things, where he was responsible for booking musicians for evening entertainment. 

After college Roddy worked at Colonial Williamsburg, first in the rifle maker’s shop with Wallace Gusler, and then in archaeological conservation with Audrey and Ivor Noel Hume. He also briefly taught math in middle school. A master of arts in American folk culture from the renowned Coopers­town Graduate Program at the State University of New York College at Oneonta led him to Mountain Empire Community College in Big Stone Gap, Virginia, where he started an annual music and crafts festival that continues today. These experiences paved the way for becoming director of Ferrum College’s Blue Ridge Institute and Museum in the foothills of the mountains that frame Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. At Ferrum Roddy oversees the institute’s galleries, its renowned archives, a farm museum, and extensive educational programs.

Sally Flieger had never heard of Roddy Moore when she accepted a position to teach horseback riding at Ferrum. She had barely settled into new quarters when she looked out her window one day to see an uninvited stranger coming down her drive in a pickup truck. “He had hardly introduced himself when he asked if he could borrow three of my prized horses for the opening of Blue Ridge Institute’s new Farm Museum,” she remembers, admitting wryly, “I was not impressed.” Despite the inauspicious start, Roddy Moore and Sally Flieger found that they had much in common, and after dating for a year, they married.  Together they have raised two daughters, Samantha and Allison, and over the course of three decades, have built one of the finest and most comprehensive collections of regional material in the South.

The Moores have collected what they love, and love what they have collected. Their interests reflect their commitment to understanding the world around them—and to sharing what they have discovered. They have played a seminal role in rediscovering a tremendous range of regional artifacts—far more than most collectors and historians had thought possible. Perhaps most important, they have collaborated on invaluable monographs about many artisans whose lives and work would otherwise have been lost to history. In doing so they have helped Americans understand the cultural richness of the inland South.

One of the areas of research and collecting that the Moores are most passionate about is regional music­—especially the instruments and music that defined the nineteenth-century southern experience. Banjos and gourd fiddles hang from virtually every wall (see Figs. 2, 10), and a huge basket in a corner of the living room contains a collection of Virginia dulcimers, many with carved scroll ends. As with their other collections, their interests here extend beyond the material objects themselves to encompass the culture they define.

Indeed, Roddy’s inquiries have spurred invaluable research and numerous publications for the Blue Ridge Institute as well as some of the most popular exhibitions in the institute’s galleries.  He and Vaughan Webb have overseen the digitization of more than four thousand regional recordings and have augmented these with music they have discovered in their fieldwork. As a result, Blue Ridge Institute’s archive of this region’s music is one of the most comprehensive anywhere. It has spurred a two CD set entitled Virginia Rocks: The History of Rockabilly in the Commonwealth, and nine CDs published as The Virginia Tradition Series, for which Roddy and Vaughan have produced recordings that include Non-Blues Secular Black Music; Native Virginia Ballads and Songs; Ballads from British Tradition; and Tidewater Blues. Two of the series received Grammy nominations in recognition of the educational packets the staff compiled to accompany the recordings.

The Moores’ love of animals, especially Percheron horses, is another area where they have joined exceptional expertise to personal interests. They are not people who do things by halves. Roddy’s grandfather had raised Percherons, but the breed had almost disappeared in the United States after 1945. Early in their marriage, Sally decided that she wanted to breed a Percheron thoroughbred mix that is ideal for hunting and pleasure riding.  From there she moved more heavily into breeding full-blooded Percherons,  Roddy joined her in the project, and over the last quarter century they have raised more than a hundred head. They sold their finest stallion to the government of France, where it became the official “national stallion” used to reinvigorate the bloodlines of the breed there.

The horses have quite naturally inspired one of their collections. Dozens of framed nineteenth-century broadsides advertising Virginia Percheron stallions hang in the hallway beyond the breakfast room. Sally is also partial to paintings that depict famous early stallions or show the breed at work. Portrait of Laet by Edwin Megargee (Fig. 11) is one of the boldest paintings in the collection. Another of Sally’s favorites shows a team of Percherons pulling a brightly painted beer wagon with Manhattan’s East River in the background.

Only one rule governs the Moores’ collecting—that both of them must concur before anything enters or leaves the house. They have owned many pieces for decades, yet willingly sell or trade others, particularly when a better or better documented example surfaces. Doing so not only keeps the collection relevant to their lives but allows it to continue to inspire them.

In assembling what Roddy describes as their “collection of collections,” the Moores have studied a variety of regional artifact types and have amassed collections of many of them. At one point, they owned over a dozen carved and inlaid long rifles from southwest Virginia, and in the 1970s they were among the first to assemble a collection of early southern face jugs—eventually acquiring some forty examples. Yet, they have long since sold both the rifles and the face jugs and focused their interests in other arenas. They continue to build their collection of colorful Shenandoah Valley Germanic fraktur, one of the finest anywhere (see Fig. 7). It consists principally of birth and baptismal certificates, but also contains far rarer house blessings, valentines, and patriotic pieces. A baptismal certificate painted by the elusive artist Peter Bernhart and decorated with twelve colorful parrots, ranks among the scarcest and most pleasing (Fig. 7, top).

It is refreshing to discover that the Moores are no less intrigued and excited by largely unstudied areas of material goods that most collectors would never even notice. Among them is a collection of nineteenth-century flyswatters, each with a carefully carved bentwood handle connected to a flexible screen head that is neatly bordered with colorful fabric tape. In the same vein they proudly display a group of colorfully painted slingshots, many carved with snakes, made by two North Carolina Cherokee artisans in the 1930s, and sold to tourists who visited the reservation (see Figs. 1, 6). Among other unexpected treasures: the six-foot-long “calling horns” made by German settlers in Greene County, Tennessee; wooden crossbows made by locals to hunt game; cast-iron trivets made at the local Washington Iron Furnace; postcards of southern people and places now long gone; carved and painted picture frames; whirligigs. There is also a collection of the iron and pottery lamps that provided light to pioneer homes as well as cast-iron bowls and plates made in Virginia foundries.

One of the couple’s current interests grew out of visits to daughter Allison in New Mexico, where Sally was drawn to the jewelry of the Santo Domingo Pueblo. Soon they were placing the turquoise and plastic jewelry all around the house. Of course they also have been studying the material closely and will serve as guest curators for an exhibition at Santa Fe’s Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian in May 2011, for which they will coauthor a catalogue.1

In a corner of the den, the Moores have placed a Grayson County cupboard that highlights two of their collections: the first consists of Wythe County split-handle baskets, lined up across the top of the cupboard, and the second, which fills the shelves, consists of colorful Shenandoah Valley and southwest Virginia wool and linen blankets arranged to maximize the impact of color and pattern (see Fig. 9).

In the breakfast room two cupboards are filled to capacity with regional earthenware. One displays a number of animal figures from the northern Shenandoah Valley, and the other boasts distinctly bulbous “Great Road Pottery,” most of it made by artisans working between Wytheville, Virginia, and Knoxville, Tennessee (see Fig. 12). Although utilitarian, these ceramics constitute some of the South’s most creative work. When the Moores acquired their first example, nearly a quarter century ago, it set them on a trail leading to material that was previously unexplored.  Roddy wrote an early article on the subject,2 and the Moores now own dozens of key pieces, including three by Tennessee potter Christopher Alexander Haun, whose brilliant glazes and lively designs are as fine as any in the region.

Over the years the Moores have owned a dozen important painted chests, including two by the talented Johannes Spitler of Shenandoah (now Page) County, and six by the Huddle family of Wythe County, as well as a dozen early nineteenth-century boxes painted by the Stirewalt family of New Market in Shenandoah County (see Fig. 8). Roddy has published articles on both the Huddle and the Stirewalt pieces, the latter coauthored with Richmond antiquarian and collector Marshall Goodman.3 Moore and Goodman are collaborating on an article about yet another group of previously unrecognized Shenandoah County chests, and Roddy and Sally recently acquired a fine example that is now in their bedroom (see Fig. 16).

Roddy’s research into the Rich family of Virginia and Tennessee has revealed a shop that flourished in the western reaches of the Shenandoah Valley during the second quarter of the nineteenth century.4 Fleming K. Rich made a variety of furniture, but is best remembered for distinctive safes, usually ornamented with punched tins with sunflowers in two-handled vases. Rich’s brother-in-law, George W. Moyers (b. 1814) from Grainger County, Tennessee, continued to produce examples that closely resemble those made in Virginia. The Moores own one of the finest Tennessee examples, with punched tins that retain their boldly painted green leaves and stems, a bright white vase, brilliant yellow sunflowers with dramatically blackened centers, and an intense Prussian blue background (Fig. 10). Though now muted by two centuries of exposure, the colors still steal your breath away.

I spent Saturday night with the Moores, and the next morning they coaxed me into the car for their Sunday routine—a winding ride of some twenty miles for a breakfast of biscuits and gravy at the Blue Ridge Restaurant, across the green from the Floyd County Courthouse. The sun was high in the sky when we got back to their house, and it was time for me to leave if I had any hope of returning home by evening. But suddenly Roddy was opening drawers and doors to show me all the things I had missed, and I realized that we had scarcely scratched the surface.

“So when are you coming back?” he asked, smiling, and pointing discreetly toward the ceiling.  I must have looked puzzled. “The attic,” he explained. “And so what have I missed?” I asked. “For starters, the collection of children’s chairs,” he said, “and of course, the blacksmith-made horse bits, and…”

1 They also wrote an article for this magazine on the subject: Sally and J. Roderick Moore, “Santo Domingo Pueblo jewelry,” The Magazine Antiques, vol. 176, no. 1 (July 2009), pp. 56–61. 

2 J. Roderick Moore, “Earthenware potters along the Great Road in Virginia and Tennessee,” ibid., vol. 124, no. 3 (September 1983), pp. 528–537.

3 J. Roderick Moore, “Painted chests from Wythe County, Virginia,” ibid., vol. 72, no. 3 (September 1982), pp. 516–521; and  J. Roderick Moore and Marshall Goodman, “Painted boxes and miniature chests from Shenandoah County, Virginia: The Stirewalt group,” ibid., vol. 172, no. 3 (September 2007), pp. 76–83.

4 J. Roderick Moore, “Wythe County, Virginia, punched tin: Its influence and imitators,” ibid., vol. 126, no. 3 (September 1984), pp. 601–613.

SUMPTER PRIDDY III is a dealer in decorative and fine arts, primarily southern, from the late seventeenth century through the mid-nineteenth. He is the author of American Fancy: Exuberance in the Arts, 1790–1840.