Walking around an artist’s studio can feel, at times, like taking a peek inside their brain. And if there’s anywhere to get a glimpse inside the incredible mind of Harlem Renaissance poet Anne Spencer, it’s at her home and garden at 1313 Pierce Street in Lynchburg, Virginia, now open to the public as a museum.
Head behind the handsome brown home with green shutters and you’ll find Anne’s garden. It’s an oasis of lush green with bright pops of color from seasonal flowers, divided by tall plants and teal blue lattice structures. Anne drew on many images from the garden in her work — from tall, proud oak trees to birdhouses with purple martins to the riotous colors of nasturtium flowers. She often used images from nature to explore themes like religion, the injustices of society, and the pains and pleasures of being an artist.
Anne and her husband Edward were civil rights activists in Lynchburg, and in the 1910s were involved in the formation of a local chapter of the NAACP. Many Black intellectuals, artists, and writers traveled through town, but—due to discriminatory Jim Crow laws—were barred from local hotels. Instead, the Spencers hosted them at their home. On one such visit, James Weldon Johnson, the lyricist of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” came across one of Anne’s poems and encouraged her to publish it. Her first poem was published in the NAACP magazine The Crisis in 1920.
Spencer went on to be published in many important volumes and anthologies of the day alongside noted Harlem Renaissance writers like Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, and Sterling A. Brown. Spencer is considered part of that movement today, though she never lived in New York City. The Spencers also continued to host Black visionaries, writers, and artists at their home. The small bust perched on the edge of the pond in the back of the garden was a gift from W.E.B. Du Bois.
Spencer died in 1975. Shortly after her death, her son Chauncey enlisted the help of a local garden club to restore the garden to how it appeared in the 1930s. Many of the flowers you can see in the garden today are from Anne’s bulbs and plants.
Know Before You Go
The garden is free and open to the public from dawn until dusk, all year round. The House and Cottage Museums are closed from November to March, and are currently closed but will reopen in 2023.
You can find brochures with information about the home and other notable residents of Pierce Street at the entrance, and push-button speakers are located around the garden for a self-guided tour. Tours of the garden and house can also be arranged online through the museum's website—if you're lucky, Shaun Spencer Hester, the museum's executive director and Anne Spencer's granddaughter, will guide you.
The garden and the first floor of the museum are wheelchair accessible. You can also virtually tour the museum here.