Restoration Blog

Poplar Forest awarded the 2023 John Russell Pope Award for Artisanship

The architectural and landscape restorations of Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest have set many precedents and received numerous accolades. In April, the meticulous craftsmanship that drove the restoration of the Palladian-inspired villa was awarded the 2023 John Russell Pope Award for Artisanship by the Washington Mid Atlantic Chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture and Art (ICAA).

The John Russell Pope Award for Artisanship recognizes the various handcrafted and fabrication trades involved in the construction or restoration of a work of architecture, interior design or landscape. The John Russell Pope Awards for Excellence in Traditional Design recognize winning projects in 12 categories, including Artisanship. Winners are selected by a panel of five jurors composed of architects, interior designers and landscape designers from across the country.

“On behalf of the Board of Directors, I’d like to congratulate Travis McDonald, our recently retired director of architectural restoration and his team of artisans and craftspeople who devoted their time and energy to this project on winning this prestigious award,” said Jensie Teague, chairman of the Board of Directors. “Their craftsmanship is superb, and their dedication to restoring Jefferson’s villa, unparalleled. It is a masterwork that will be shared with generations to come.”

The recently completed restoration of Jefferson’s villa is a masterpiece of artisanship that unfolded over a period of 34 years. Travis McDonald and his team of master craftspeople painstakingly recreated Jefferson’s house using the same tools, the same materials and the same historical sequence of Jefferson’s long initial construction and finishing. The finished house is a testament to Jefferson’s architectural genius, and the highly skilled free and enslaved craftsmen who executed his vision, including master joiner John Hemmings.

The decision to recreate the villa in this way also offered visitors the unique opportunity to view a Jeffersonian project unfold as Jefferson himself saw it over a 30-year process, said McDonald. “When we made the decision to restore the villa at Poplar Forest using the same tools and techniques Jefferson’s builders used in its initial construction, we focused on the importance of handcrafting the building elements to the authenticity of the restoration. That unusual ideal also meant that the villa would emerge as Jefferson last saw it over a period of 30-plus years. It is gratifying to see their craftsmanship—our lifetime of work recognized.”

“This project has been a labor of love for a supremely talented group of artisans who began the painstaking process of restoration and reconstruction in the late 1980s. Their hard work under the expert guidance of Travis and our esteemed panel of advisors, and the support of countless faithful benefactors, brought us to this exciting conclusion. Now restored, Jefferson’s private villa provides a tremendous opportunity for Poplar Forest to become a larger part of our American story,” said Alyson M. Ramsey, president and CEO of Poplar Forest. “I’d like to thank the Washington Mid Atlantic Chapter of the ICAA for bestowing this nationally significant honor on Poplar Forest. We sincerely appreciate the recognition and additional awareness it brings to this National Historic Landmark and our work.”

The John Russell Pope Awards

The biennial John Russell Pope Awards recognize the best work of individuals who contribute to the legacy of classical and traditional design in the Washington MId Atlantic region. The namesake of the awards, John Russell Pope, 1874-1937, was a prominent architect whose many works in and around Washington, D.C., include the Jefferson Memorial and the National Gallery of Art. A New Yorker, Pope received training at the American School of Architecture in Rome (now the American Academy in Rome) and the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. He gained renown for his uniquely American interpretation of European classicism.