Lady of the house returns home

Published 7:11 pm Saturday, August 7, 2010

After nearly 180 years, the lady of the house has resumed her rightful place at Riddick’s Folly.

After a dogged pursuit, museum curator Lee King managed to track down and secure an original portrait of Mary Taylor Riddick, wife to Mills Riddick, which was hung in the home on Wednesday.

“Once I saw it, I couldn’t eat or sleep until I knew I could get it back here,” King said. “I just knew we had to have it. It’s one of the biggest finds we’ve gotten in my 20 years here.”

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The painting of Mary Taylor Riddick includes her first grandson, Charles Henry Riddick.

It was painted by James Westhall Ford in 1835.

While it is uncertain how it came to be painted, Ford was in North Carolina painting portraits around the same time Charles Henry’s father was a judge in Pantego, N.C.

Mary Taylor could have been visiting, and Mills Riddick, her husband, also owned a lumber mill in Horse Pull, N.C., according to King.

The painting predates the building of Riddick’s Folly and managed to survive the Suffolk fire in 1837.

It’s uncertain how the painting managed to get to New Jersey, but King said he believes it could have been taken by Union soldiers, who occupied the house from 1862-65.

The same thing happened with a needlework piece acquired by the museum in 1999.

“It was probably sitting in an attic, gathering dust somewhere for years,” King said. “Now, she’s where she should be. Hanging by the bed where she had her 14 children.”

It was an antique dealer at a show in New Jersey that stumbled upon the painting and called King. The men were unable to get in contact with each other before the end of the show and Lee went through great lengths to track it down.

It was discovered the painting was sold to a dealer in Norfolk, whom King then approached about buying it.

“I just knew we had to have it,” he said. “I was ready to do cartwheels. Things like this don’t happen every day.”

King has approximately 15 antique dealers who are constantly keeping an eye out for different pieces to add to the collection at Riddick’s Folly.

“It’s like putting together the pieces of a puzzle,” King said. “Sometimes you go months without hearing anything from anyone.”

Another unearthed treasure was brought to Riddicks Folly just a few weeks prior.

Mary (Rusty) Stevens, one of the last ladies to live in the house, brought by a photo of Anna Mary Riddick, the granddaughter of Mills and Mary Taylor Riddick, in her 20s.

It was an object for which King had been looking for years.

“It’s just so exciting bringing each piece of the Riddicks’ history together piece by piece,” King said.

The museum is raising funds for the recent purchase of the painting.

Call 934-0822 and ask to speak to Lee King or stop by the museum at 510 N. Main St.