First Lady bringing history to the mansion
There are two pairs of leather cowboy boots sitting at the bottom of the staircase at the Governor’s Mansion.
They don’t belong to the governor and are a bit large for the first lady but close inspection shows two small paper placards. One reads “Paul Laxalt,” the other, “Bob List.”
The boots, obviously once the footwear of two former governors, are an unusual addition to the immaculate mansion. But if Nevada First Lady Dema Guinn could find boots from all of Nevada’s past 27 governors, she’d probably line the staircase with them-or maybe the porch.
Dema Guinn is on a mission.
When she moved into the Governor’s Mansion from Las Vegas a little over a year ago, she came hauling furniture, pictures and other things important to her.
She was surprised to find that little of anything relating to Nevada’s history graced the mansion’s interior. That seemed unfair for a house that belongs to the people of Nevada and is open to public tours.
“I was very concerned that there was no history,” Guinn said. “There was no history of silver in the mansion and we are the Silver State. There was no history of mining, and that’s how our state got started.”
With that in mind, Guinn went on a treasure hunt to put some of Nevada’s history in the mansion.
“I get down on my hands and knees and beg for history for the mansion,” she said. “I’ve been here for a little over a year, and, boy, have I been moving.”
Guinn approached the Nevada State Museum and University of Nevada, Reno in her quest. She wanted to bring pieces that would compliment the mansion, but also would make tours more educational and interesting, especially for the thousands of school children who visit the mansion.
Guinn is enthusiastic about showing the pieces she’s borrowed to the public, some pieces elegant – others, a bit more quirky.
Along with the cowboy boots, a large, framed portrait of Pat Nixon graces one wall near the staircase.
“She was born in Ely,” Guinn said. “You would be surprised how many people don’t know that. The Nixon Library has a whole section on Pat Nixon, and when I got here we had nothing on her. I searched for that piece.”
The portrait is by a Las Vegas artist and has been in a museum for several years with no place to be displayed, said Bob Nylen, Nevada State Museum curator of history.
The university’s Mackay School of Mines’ W.M Keck Museum lent the first lady almost $750,000 worth of silver from the 1,350-piece Mackay silver collection. Keck Museum Director Tom Lugaski said the museum has about 69 pieces of the collection on display there, at the Silver Legacy Hotel Casino in Reno and now at the Governor’s Mansion. The silver was made between 1877 and 1878 at Tiffany’s in New York with silver from Virginia City. Lugaski said it was the largest, private silver service set Tiffany’s ever made and it took 200 silver smiths to put it together.
A 29-sconce candelabra is the first thing visitors see upon entering the mansion. Lugaski said replacing it would cost more than $250,000. It’s so heavy, it takes at least two people to move it, he said.
The silver is on temporary loan, but Lugaski said the Guinns are welcome to borrow it whenever they’d like.
“When we got there, the mansion was pretty bare of any history whatsoever,” he said. “The founding of the state was based upon the silver deposits in Virginia City. Silver brought us into statehood earlier than usual. If something is open to school kids or there are people there from out of state, there should be things (in the mansion) that represent Nevada’s history throughout time so people can see what Nevada’s all about.”
The Keck Museum loaned several gold, silver, opal and mineral samples from around the state. It also included some original photo prints of Virginia City and Gold Hill by 19th century photographer C.E. Watkins that are valued at seven-figures.
The photos, minerals and other pieces are on display in the Nevada Room, which is visited by thousands of people each year.
Wallet-sized portraits of all of Nevada’s first ladies hung inside the mansion, but Guinn feared no one really noticed them. She had them all enlarged, framed and hung in the Nevada Room.
More than 200 pieces of Carson pioneer Dr. Samuel L. Lee’s ceramic collection are in the Nevada Room. Lee died in Carson City in 1927.
He collected ceramics in his travels around the world and when he died the collection of 4,000 pieces, including ceramics, minerals, coins and baskets, was donated to the Nevada State Museum.
Nylen said it was one of the museum’s first collections when the facility opened in 1941.
“It’s a wonderful collection, and we don’t have any other place to display them,” Nylen said. “Those are part of one of our earliest collections. That was really the heart and beginning of our collections.
“We tend to forget about the Governor’s Mansion being a historic home. It’s like a museum, except people live there. We’re always trying to find an appropriate place for things, and sometimes we have to put it in storage. We’re really pleased we could get it out.”
Guinn is pleased to have things out in public view, so she doesn’t mind that she has to keep “begging” for history for the mansion.
“I’m afraid they’ll take it away,” she joked. “Once I get it in here I want to keep it forever.”
“Kenny teases, ‘I truly believe you’re having a love affair with the mansion.’ I am. We just get a lot of people, thousands and thousands of people come through here. I think it’s important that people see these things when they’re in the Mansion.”