Grills Gallery

Research & Collections

The Joe and Marge Grills Gallery at the Montpelier Visitor Center is the location of a rotating “Treasures of Montpelier” exhibit. This state of the art exhibit venue features rare and significant objects owned by or related to the Madisons, works of fine art, historical documents, and archaeological artifacts from Montpelier’s permanent collection as well as items on loan from museums and private collections. Significant pieces, such as Dolley Madison’s engagement ring and James Madison’s walking stick, are displayed in the climate- and light-controlled gallery. Recent rotating exhibits have featured artistic depictions of Montpelier, items associated with Montpelier’s enslaved community, and rare porcelain.

Current Exhibits

Queen of Hearts: Dolley Madison in Popular Culture, opening May 17, 2016

During her lifetime Dolley Madison was called a “queen of hearts” for her engaging manners and animated conversation. Only a quarter century after her death, Dolley’s name and image began to appear on cigar boxes, milk bottles, and packaging for cakes, ice cream, and household products. How and why did the former First Lady become an advertising icon?

Dolley represented an ideal woman and a unifying symbol of national identity in post-Civil War America. She became an icon of lunchbox America during the post-World War II baby boom. With the advent of the women’s movement, Dolley the hostess was no longer an ideal, but the 1976 Bicentennial revived interest in the historical Dolley.

This exhibit explores the many guises of Dolley in popular culture,and the ways advertisers used her image in an evolving consumer culture.

Past Exhibits

'Everybody Loves Mrs. Madison': Dolley Madison in Letters and Pictures, January 2015

When Henry Clay observed in 1838 that “Every body loves Mrs. Madison,” Dolley Madison was already a legend. The first presidential spouse to be called the First Lady, Dolley was the hostess who made each guest feel like her favorite and created an atmosphere where political divisions were momentarily overlooked. Beloved for her pleasing personality, admired for her courage during the War of 1812, and honored as a relic of the early Republic, Dolley seemed almost larger than life.

The letters and objects in this exhibit illuminate the everyday life of the iconic Dolley Madison. She penned chatty letters and formal invitations in her distinctive, even handwriting. She loved her husband, worried about her family, faced financial difficulties, and cherished the company of friends.

The Founding Friendship and Enduring Legacy of James Madison and Thomas Jefferson, October 13, 2012 - July 2, 2013

October 13, 2012 marked the opening of The Founding Friendship and Enduring Legacy of James Madison and Thomas Jefferson, an exhibit highlighting the personal friendship and political partnership of the Father of the Constitution and the author of the Declaration of Independence. Objects on display in the Grills Gallery include a walking stick bequeathed to Madison upon Jefferson's death and Madison's original notes from his journey with Jefferson to the Northern Lakes in 1791. A companion symposium by the same title, featuring lectures by Ralph Ketcham, David Mattern, Andrew Burstein, Nancy Isenberg, Sue Perdue, and Jack Rakove, was held the same day. The exhibition closed on July 2, 2013.