Macaws: Splashes of Color for a Pool House

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Macaws: Splashes of Color for a Pool House

By Phil Archer, Director of Public Programs | @LearnReynolda

In the fall of 1937, soon after the completion of the indoor pool, Mary Reynolds Babcock added a vibrant finishing touch – macaws.

These tropical parrots are slender with long wings, brightly colored facial patches, and tapering, scimitar-like tails. She wrote to her housekeeper that she planned to:

Bring some birds with me on the train (Does that remind you of old times[?]). Bloomingdales is shipping a hundred pound bag of sand for the cages…Have Mr. Conrad put the trees in the cages.

Mr. Conrad refers to Robert Conrad, the estate’s longtime head of landscaping. “Old times” presumably refers to a previous trip with children and birds in tow, because the housekeeper wrote that it:

Certainly brings memories of the funniest procession that ever trouped thru the Penna. Station! It is a pity the Candid Camera was not in evidence.

Over that first winter of 1937-38, the birds stayed in the Breakfast Porch, between the Dining Room and the Lake Porch. Housekeeper Blanche Gunn, in a December 1937 letter to Mary Babcock, reported that:

The other birds are in the cages on the Breakfast Porch and seem very chipper.

One bird named Major traveled with the Babcocks to their home in Greenwich, CT. (The family didn’t live full-time at Reynolda until Mr. Babcock was serving abroad during World War II). Meanwhile a bird named Polly occasionally stayed with the Lasaters, first cousins of the Reynolds children. The housekeeper reported to Mary Babcock that:

Douglas [the Lasaters’ butler] came out for Polly on Monday, the day after you left, and said they had missed her so much. I phoned that Major had gone north [to the Babcocks’ home in Connecticut] and I was afraid Polly would be lonely and unhappy. She was as happy to see Douglas as he was to get her back. Mr. Mahony set the heat the same as they had in the Swimming Pool, so I hope they get along all right.

The Lasaters had a 1,400 acre estate overlooking the Yadkin River near Clemmons. Chauffeured between Reynolda and the Lasater Estate, the parrot Polly truly “lived the life of Riley.”

[All images are courtesy of Reynolda House Museum of American Art]

This blog is part of a series that highlights the significance of Reynolda’s indoor pool and tracks the progress of the current Reynolda Pool Restoration Project. Follow #ReynoldaPool for updates.

#ReynoldaPool Project Update from Rebecca Eddins, Project Director: In between downpours, we have been able to apply the first coat of primer to the ceiling structure. Although progress has been a little slow due to the weather, we are still moving forward on schedule. Right now, we are in discussions regarding lighting and appropriate fixtures for the space. See photographs of the project on our Flickr page.

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