Our home has combined two people—my husband and I— along with the hand-colored watercolor prints of plants and animals from around the world from the 17th, 18th, and early 19th centuries, which decorate our walls today. They talk about the glory of God’s creation.
I met Gilbert in Washington, D.C. during the Ronald Reagan administration. He worked on Capitol Hill as a legal assistant to a friend who was elected to Congress, and later to an Alabama senator. I was working as deputy social secretary in the White House, eventually becoming the social secretary for the last three and a half years of the Reagan administration.
Gilbert’s setting, Capitol Hill, or “the hill,” as it’s called, will always impress me because I’ve never worked inside those hallowed halls. What I knew was the White House. As social secretary, I was responsible for producing all events hosted by President Ronald Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan—usually at the White House, but one in New York, and one at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. One pleasant memory was during a 1985 dinner at the White House hosting Prince Charles and Princess Diana: I tapped John Travolta on the shoulder to ask him to cut the president and dance with the princess. This was followed by an iconic image.
Work in the White House
I have greatly enjoyed working with Mrs. Reagan. She was a consummate hostess and a gift to our country. What a pleasure in deciding not only who will be invited to the state dinner, but who will be seated next to whom. One of my favorite duties was advising Mrs. Reagan on the artists in the White House, from the brilliant pianist Van Cleburne, who gave a state dinner in honor of then-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and his wife, to the Preservation Hall. , which he performed on a congressional outing in 1986.
After the administration, Gilbert and I lost contact, he moved back to Alabama and I to Texas. But years later, at last, luckily, we reconnected—neither of us got married. When he started talking about marriage, Gilbert secretly planned the destination event six months later, where he was planning to pop the question. He asked me, pre-show, where I’d like to live someday (he was still in Birmingham but loved small towns, and I was in Dallas), and the words “Terrell” came out of my mouth.
Anandil: Home Sweet Home
A short walk from Dallas, Terrell, Texas, is where I serve as Vice President of Communications and Public Relations for The Tradition, which develops and operates luxury rental retirement communities in Texas. I knew this small town had a beautiful historic district with houses originally built with a wealth of cotton and livestock industry. The first car purchased in Texas was by a resident of Terrell.
Gilbert went online and found a gorgeous Georgian Revival home with a wagon entry for sale in Terrell. However, the house was a potential buyer who was about to commit. So, he quickly suggested over the phone (who wanted to wait six months for an offer, anyway?) — and we bought the house!
Our house was built in 1917. It was historically a hub for entertainment, with the annual “Charity Silver Tea” – where people bring in silver coins to donate to charity – and a ballroom on the third floor, which hosted dances for young ladies from Tyrrell and British students from the Flight Training School British No. 1 during World War II. Sam Rayburn was a guest here.
We call our stately home “Annandale,” after the Scottish location of Gilbert’s ancestors (associated with Samuel Johnston, an 18th-century statesman who was a delegate to the US Continental Congress). We love history and have honored it by highlighting the work of scientific artists who lived in the golden age of natural history and exploration. It was a time when educated Europeans and Americans – bolstered by the findings of early scholars such as Johannes Kepler, Isaac Newton, and John Ray – became consumed by the desire to discern the world around them. They were driven by a missionary zeal to understand God’s creation as fully as they could and to spread that knowledge to others. They felt compelled to read the “unwritten book of nature”, that is, the created world. The written Bible and the “book of nature,” a term used by Saint Augustine and early Christian theologians, are understood as two ways of getting to know the Creator.
These natural history scholars and artists enjoyed a lifelong appreciation of God’s creation, which generated astonishment, praise, and joy. Just as the two great music composers Bach and Handel dedicated their talents to the glory of God (soli Deo gloria), so did these men and women. In the outstanding entomologist Maria Merian (1647-1717) book about caterpillars and butterflies, she made beautiful drawings of plants and insects. She wrote: “In this you seek not to honor me but God alone, to glorify Him as the Creator of even the smallest and tiniest of worms.” The beautiful hand-drawn prints of these artists were eventually collected in leather bound books. In addition to Maria Merian, there are others such as Basilius Besler (1561-1629), Mark Catesby (1683-1749), George Edwards (1694-1773), Moses Harris (1730-1788), John James Audubon (1785-1851), and Sir William Jardines (1800-1874) are but a few of the important artists and scientists in natural history.
Scientific art now hangs on our walls among the beauty of natural objects – minerals, shells, butterflies – as well as between English, American and French furniture, passed down through our families. Art, furniture and architecture recreate Georgian interior design on a smaller scale, unlike the homes of earlier centuries that showed this “passion for natural history”. These distinctive homes were filled with treasuries of curiosities—collections of amazing birds, insects, minerals, and more—along with libraries stocked with gorgeous, leather-wrapped instruments, and colorful natural history books. The wonderful grounds and gardens of their homes have been infused with the latest botanical discoveries of the day.
Gilbert has nurtured a love of nature throughout his life, and has seen wonderful natural sites on six continents. He’s backpacked, paddleboard, and paddle boarding throughout North America.
He then transformed our lot into a nature-friendly haven by planting flowers and shrubs that provide food for butterflies and birds, with several bird baths and feeders. We look forward to seasonal changes due to the different migratory birds that visit our yard. Gilbert has identified over 100 different species of birds here over the years. I can now recognize the soft woodpecker!
Today, nearly eight years into our marriage, I walk the rooms of our house and feel grateful for our life together. When I worked in the White House, I was always surrounded by the beauty of the Federal-style décor, very similar to its Georgian counterpart in England. And now, the beauty of the same period surrounds me. Natural light streams in from the Palladian windows, filling the ground floor rooms and illuminating our art.
Nothing is fully appreciated unless it is understood, and for this purpose Gilbert placed “museum-like” cards next to every artwork in our house, explaining something about the artist and how the work was produced. We regularly open our home to others to share beauty and historical information.
However, don’t let the word “museum” fool you – our home is anything but. Vibrant colored walls, matching the Georgian décor, warm the rooms in rich hues of yellow, apricot, and blue—which leads me to talk about the designer. Having known my husband since the 1980s as a conservative public policy professor, prairie adventurer, art collector, print dealer and owner of antique nature prints, and natural history art lecturer (Renaissance man), I never knew him as an interior designer! Yet he proceeded to decorate our house with a sure hand–just as he beautified our land–suggesting paint colors, buying furnishings at auction, and putting art and furniture together so happily that they seemed made for one another.
And that’s exactly how I feel about us – made for each other. And any beauty in our house is dedicated to the glory of the owner of beauty – the Lord of creation.
This article was originally published in American Essence.