Celebrating 60 Years of Service to Our Community

October 24th, 2014

By Lori Arguelles, AFF Executive Director

It was 60 years ago today that the pioneers of the Alice Ferguson Foundation (AFF) realized the first fruits of their labors. On October 24, 1954 the Articles of Incorporation for the Foundation were approved and AFF was “born.” This momentous act has had lasting impact during the last six decades including:

– Serving more than 300,000 students through our environmental education programs at our Hard Bargain Farm Environmental Center and in national and state parks through our Bridging the Watershed Program.

alice henry – Engaging more than 130,000 volunteers in the annual Potomac River Watershed Cleanup by removing more than 7 million pounds of debris over the past 26 years.

– Leading the way in energy efficient and green building design by embracing the Living Building Challenge © as we construct and renovate buildings on our educational campus. The net-zero energy, net-zero water, and zero-waste criteria, combined with carbon-neutral and non-toxic, non-polluting component requirements make this a ground-breaking and landscape-altering undertaking.

Throughout the decades, the Foundation has stayed true to its guiding principles of education, inspiration, and innovation. And the impact is both deep-rooted and widespread as evidenced by the experience of one 10-year old student from Heather Hills Elementary School:

“I couldn’t wait until my overnight trip to Hard Bargain Farm. My first activity was a hike through the woods. We learned about pollution and how it harms living organisms. That one hike changed my whole point of view about the environment. In the future I see myself stopping someone from littering to protect the animals and nature.”

Surely our namesake, Alice Ferguson, would appreciate how her vision of a special place in nature has been embraced by student and adult learners alike. And we are proud that Alice’s vision for Hard Bargain Farm has been recognized as nationally significant. Just in time for our Diamond Jubilee celebration the Farm was selected for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places. This prestigious roster is the official list of the Nation’s historic places worthy of preservation. As anniversary gifts go, this is definitely a gem!IMG_0486
But the greatest gift of all is the privilege of sharing the wonder and beauty of nature with a child for the first time. Nothing can match the eye-opening and often life-changing experiences that come from this connection. We couldn’t do any of this without the generous support of friends like you. Thank you for helping us to make a difference!
If you’d like to make a special gift in honor of our anniversary, please visit our donation page. Thank you for your support, and Happy Anniversary!

The Many A’s of Alice L. L. Ferguson

March 3rd, 2014

By Lori Arguelles, Executive Director, Alice Ferguson Foundation

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHave you ever stood on Mount Vernon’s portico and partaken of the pastoral panorama across the Potomac River? Have you ever wondered how such an amazing preservation effort was accomplished? It was all made possible thanks to the vision and leadership of three women from the 20th century, whose dedicated efforts have helped ensure that the vista is as remarkable today as it was when it was built nearly 250 years ago in the mid -18th century.

I invite you to come and learn more about Ann Pamela Cunningham, Alice L. L. Ferguson, and Congresswoman Frances Payne Bolton, all of whom blazed new trails in historic preservation and land conservation. Stories of these remarkable women will be featured as part of Women with a View, on Sunday, March 9, 2014 at 2 p.m. The event is hosted by the Mount Vernon Ladies Association at the Smith Auditorium at George Washington’s Mount Vernon and will be followed by a tour of the mansion and cocktail reception.

Every day, as Executive Director of the Alice Ferguson Foundation, I have the privilege of carrying on the legacy of our truly amazing namesake and I am often struck the breadth and depth of her endeavors.  I’ve taken to referring to her abundant accomplishments as the ‘Many A’s of Alice’ which is in fact the title of the talk I will give in conjunction with the symposium on March 9th.   I hope you will join us for this event,  please visit the Women With a View website for more information and to purchase tickets.  In the meantime, here’s a little preview:

As a woman coming of age at the turn of the 20th century, Alice L. L. Ferguson lived and worked during both World Wars, The Jazz Age, the Great Depression and the New Deal that brought intellectual energy to Washington, DC.  During this time the modern woman challenged past norms finding a new voice through education, creative expression, travel, activism and independence.  Alice was an accomplished artist that trained at the Corcoran School of Art.  Her marriage to Henry G. Ferguson, a world-renowned geologist, presaged a life of adventure and travel that also involved purchasing a ’country home’—Hard Bargain Farm–in Accokeek, MD.  This avant-garde adventurer became an architect, agrarian, activist, archeologist and author, all as a result of that purchase.  Instrumental in shaping and ultimately preserving the landscape now known as the Mount Vernon viewshed, we owe much to the amazing life and legacy of Alice L. L. Ferguson.

Getting To Know Alice – The Search Continues

August 19th, 2013

By Linda Crocker Simmons

Alice L.L. Ferguson (1880-1951) Ca. 1930s –1940s By Helen Sewell Rennie (1906-1989) Pen and Ink on Flesh -colored Paper Recto, pencil, l.r.:Alice L.L. Ferguson” 12″ x 18 “ Promised gift of Linda Crocker Simmons with the assistance of Rob Delamater of the LostArt Salon, San Francisco, California.

It has been more than a year since a significant discovery relating to Alice L.L. Ferguson and her life as an artist has been made, but last month the drawing illustrated here, was found. Discovered during a recent Internet search it has been acquired from the California dealer who was selling it in a group of drawings labeled “New Deal”.  All the drawings in that folder were created by Helen Sewell Rennie (1906-1989) sometime during the 1930s or 1040s. Not much has been yet learned about Rennie except that she like Alice had a career in the arts and was active during the 1930s and later in the Washington region.

Rennie was a native of Maryland and had, as Alice had done, studied art at the Corcoran School of Art (today the Corcoran College of Art and Design). It is conceivable they met there or at one of the regional arts groups to which both belonged. Very likely they had professional art connections or friendships with one or more other artists associated with the various Federal arts projects taking place in the Washington metropolitan region during the 1930s. An immediate candidate is Lenore Thomas (1909-1988), a tenant of Longview, the close by property which Alice had developed in hopes of selling.  But once occupied by Lenore and her fellows Alice found the arrangement too enjoyable to want it to end. Like Hard Bargain Farm the tenants at Longview had their “Gang” of guests whom Alice described in her book, Adventures in Southern Maryland (p.31) as compared to Hard Bargain Farm’s as “more artistic and more sure they are intellectual”.hbf Alice & unknown

Artists are kindred spirits and often share common characteristics and activities. Congregating to make art is one — just what Rennie has depicted in her spare line drawing of Alice. The easel which would have held the canvas or a tacked-up sheet of paper is not shown but rather suggested, just out of sight. Alice’s right hand is in midair holding either a stick of charcoal, or a pencil, maybe even a brush, reaching for that easel.

Rennie’s drawing tells us further things about her subject: Alice was a smoker. In her left hand she holds one of those ubiquitous signifiers of the “new” woman of the 20th century.  The plume of smoke also serves as a sad foreshadower of one of the elements which likely contributed to Alice’s medical problems in the years before her death in 1951.

Rennie has captured her subject quite accurately; the angled profile of Alice’s face would have been known to other artists, friends and family. By the time this drawing was made Alice was well into her 50s.  She wore her hair close to her head, short above the ears. Comparisons with photographs of Alice from about the same time show the profile with a strong nose—somewhat exaggerated—and and short hair.

The outfit she wears could be either one of those stylish but comfortable dresses of the period, or a painter’s smock. Such accouterments of an artist’s trade as smocks, canvases, easels and brushes have vanished from Hard Bargain Farm. All evidence of Alice at work making the lovely paintings that hang in the Farmhouse is gone. But with the fortuitous discovery of this little drawing we can once again see Alice, the painter, as her image was captured by another artist and possible colleague during the last decade or so of her life in the act of creating a work of art.

The Blue Rhino—Symbol of Good Times at Hard Bargain Farm

June 18th, 2013

By Doris Sharp, Cultural Heritage Coordinator

Visually memorable for visitors, especially school children, the Blue Rhinoceros is a hefty, humorous sentry to a creative legacy and is simply unforgettable and remains for many the image of their time at Hard Bargain. It is a physical reminder of the shared interests and impulses of Alice Ferguson and Lenore Thomas, two women artists who played significant roles in the creative life of Hard Bargain Farm. This work of art is one of the most interesting among the important pieces in the collection at Hard Bargain Farm.

Thomas came to the Washington region around 1935/6 and was one of the tenants who rented Longview, a house designed, built and owned by Alice Ferguson, and located in Accokeek. She was first employed by the “Special Skills Division” of the Resettlement Administration of the Department of Agriculture. Her work involved creating sculptures for various government housing projects then being developed across the country.

bluerhinoconstructionAlthough the workshop for the Special Skills Division was in Greenbelt, Maryland, Thomas recounted how her daily routine “was to go into Washington and check into the project, then go out to Greenbelt and work the remainder of the day.” The Greenbelt workshop is described in a contemporary newspaper article:

At the Greenbelt resettlement workshop where Miss Thomas and her co-workers model in clay designs to be used on school buildings on this and other projects partially finished models can be seen. …. Many new experiments are being conducted in the work shop: among them is a “tryout with wet brick.” Pointing to the unfinished outlines of a huge hippopotamus, various animals and birds… [Thomas explained]… [a]fter the designs are finished each brick is numbered, glazed and is then ready for use. It requires about 1,000 bricks to construct a large animal pattern.

This describes the design and materials as well as the manner of assembly for Blue Rhinoceros at Hard Bargain Farm.

StudentbluerhinoThe “Blue Rhino” as we call it has been on sentinel duty in front of the Farmhouse for more than 70 years. The environmental impact—heat, freezes, rain and snow—has become severe. Mortar cracked and bricks became loose so that we had to stop schoolchildren “riding” Blue Rhino, which is the first thing they want to do when they see it. We received a grant from the National Endowment of the Humanities to conduct a professional assessment of its condition and needed treatment.  After receiving a complete report a private generous donor stepped in to foot the bill for the restoration of the Blue Rhino in memory of his wife who was teaching children at Hard Bargain Farm for more than twenty years. The work will start in mid-August and should not take more than a week assuring that the children can “ride” the Blue Rhino and have fun again when the new school year begins.

Chesapeake Conservation Corps: Inspiring a Move from the Bay Area to the Bay Area

March 6th, 2013

By Zoë Unruh, BTW Educator Specialist

A common question people ask me when they find out I’m from San Francisco is, “Seriously? Why did you leave?” My answer? The Chesapeake Conservation Corps. During my year of service, I worked with Montgomery County Public Schools Outdoor Environmental Education Program at the Lathrop E. Smith Center in Rockville. My capstone project as a Corps member at the Smith Center was to strengthen the service-learning component of the sixth grade Residential Program. At the end of my year of service, I landed a job with the Alice Ferguson Foundation (AFF), a non-profit with 60 years of experience in connecting people to the natural world, sustainable agricultural practices and the cultural heritage of their local watershed through education, stewardship and advocacy. This year, AFF is looking for a Corps member to assist with all aspects of AFF’s outreach environmental education programming, action project development and implementation of the Schoolyards as Classroom Project and Trash Free Schools programs. With my experience both as a Corps member and with AFF, this opportunity is the perfect way to start your career in the environmental field.

Even though most of my time was spent at the Smith Center, I didn’t just learn skills specific to MCPS Outdoor Environmental Education. I also learned how to develop a project and write a grant to fund it; how to install water bars on a trail; how to prepare an energy audit; how to design and present a poster; how to interview for a job; and, probably most importantly, how to network. That is the true beauty of the Chesapeake Bay Trust’s model – it provides ample opportunities to explore all sectors of the environmental field as well as prepares Corps members for a career beyond their year of service. This is accomplished in several different ways: (1) Corps members are expected to complete site visits at other organizations in the program – an opportunity to see what work is done elsewhere in the environmental community as well as a chance to meet important individuals that have dedicated their professional lives to environmental work; (2) Corps members are expected to attend professional development sponsored by the Trust – a great way to build up your experience to make yourself more attractive to future employers; and (3) Corps members have the opportunity to attend Chesapeake Bay Watershed-wide networking events – the best way to make contacts in the region if you’re interested in continuing work in the environmental field. I commonly hear of two problems with internship programs: (1) the intern is stuck doing busy work for the organization and does not benefit professionally, or (2) the intern does not provide any deliverables for the organization. The Chesapeake Conservation Corps model allows for self-direction for both the Corps member and the host organization – effectively getting rid of those common problems by allowing the two parties involved to mutually benefit. AFF has chosen significant projects for you to take ownership of, while providing flexibility for you to develop your own interests and passions. You will no doubt finish your year of service feeling like you have contributed to AFF’s mission and left a lasting impact on the organization, while at the same time gaining invaluable experience to continue a career in the environmental field.

So I moved from my hometown San Francisco Bay Area to the Chesapeake Bay Area for an opportunity that has ultimately led me to my beloved job with the Alice Ferguson Foundation’s Bridging the Watershed Program. Not-so-coincidentally I’m currently working on a project to incorporate service-learning into the Program – a beautiful extension of the project I worked on while I was a Corps member. The Conservation Corps not only provided me with the skills to obtain my job at AFF, but also nurtured a passion for stewardship that I am able to continue in my new post. The Corps is a great training ground for a career in the environmental field, whether in non-profit management, education, policy, or scientific fieldwork. Who knows, you may even start a life-long love affair with the projects you engage in during your year of service!