More about Aunt Winchester in the old Oconaluftee Visitor Center

Aunt WinchesterSuperintendent Dale Ditmanson received several emails about Aunt Winchester, the painting hanging at the old Oconaluftee Visitor Center at Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

If you’re a regular reader, you know that I wrote about this a couple of weeks ago.

Superintendent Ditmanson shared his reply with me:

Thank you for your inquiry regarding the painting of “Aunt Winchester” and your request that the painting be moved to the new Oconaluftee Visitor Center.  I appreciate your special interest in Great Smoky Mountains National Park and in particular your personal attachment and concern regarding the painting.

The decision to leave the painting in place was made for several reasons.

First of all, the new facility includes the first dedicated cultural history museum at Great Smoky Mountains National Park, a place that allows us to tell and showcase so much more of the human history of these mountains.

The painting of “Aunt Winchester” is one element of the Park’s large cultural history collection.  Many of those items have only been in storage and there are many families, with deep roots throughout these mountains, who have not had the opportunity for their family and heritage to be exhibited.  Rotation of exhibits and artwork is a common museum practice.

In time the new museum exhibits will also be changed as we continue to highlight the stories, artifacts, and photos of other families and individuals.  In the meantime, Aunt Winchester will remain in her place of honor above the fireplace in the historic CCC building.  She will be there as the room comes to life in a different role, as a public space to be used for school programs, parks-as-classroom, training sessions and public meetings.

The administrative history further supports leaving the painting in place as the specific location was selected by the artist. Correspondence between the artist, Rudolph Ingerle, and Park Naturalist Arthur Stupka beginning in 1949, documents the offer of the gift and the artist’s personal selection of the location above the fireplace for the display of the painting.  While expressing great appreciation for the gift, the acknowledgment of the donation by Acting Superintendent Robert White, in a letter to Mr. Ingerle dated March 30, 1950, also states “… the Federal Government is not bound by any agreement regarding the care, display, or disposal of the property.”

Recently, however, a descendent of Aunt Winchester, has offered new information through the following statements: …my “Great Grandfather (who died when I was in my 20’s) purchased the portrait, but soon realized that the portrait was too valuable for one man to own. He and Mr. Ingerle agreed the portrait should be donated to the park.  An agreement was made with the Superintendent that the portrait would be named “Aunt Winchester” and that she would be publicly displayed as the “Matriarch of the Smokies.” The individual also added:  “My great-grandfather purchased the portrait then donated it to the National Park with the understanding that it would always be on public display.”

We have asked for any letters, records or other supporting documentation regarding the donation, or involvement in the donation, of the painting by the individual’s great grandfather.  We have also asked for any documentation regarding the obligation by the National Park Service for the public display of the painting.  As I stated, this is new information. The park accession record includes original correspondence documenting the painting was donated to the National Park Service by the artist Rudolph Ingerle in 1950 and as noted above includes a signed letter of acknowledgment.

We look forward to receiving any new documentation as it would be very beneficial in constructing a complete historic record and will certainly be considered in our decision process.

Thank you for your interest and understanding.

Dale A. Ditmanson
Great Smoky Mountains National Park

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