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.
Although 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.
The “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.