Timeless elegance: Family treasures complement a modern home

Published 5:26 pm Sunday, June 2, 2024

The home of Melanie Campbell Bowman sits on a beautifully landscaped lot, shaded by mature trees and lined with brick pathways. Wide steps lead to a spacious landing and stately front door. It is a home filled with treasures from the generations of family before her, as well as a collection of more contemporary Mississippi art that Melanie has thoughtfully procured.

Melanie has lived in the home for 15 years. Husband Billy Bowman joined her 12 years ago and the couple splits their time between homes. She says the house appealed to her because it reminded her of her childhood home in Brookhaven.

“We used to call it the Big House,” she said, of her childhood home. “It was much bigger than this, but it had so many windows, it had the same feel. So, when I saw this house, I said, ‘It’s just like the Big House!’”

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Large windows flank the front, back and sides of the house, letting in natural light that filters through leafy trees. Tall ceilings give the home a grand ambiance. Hardwood floors are covered with beautiful vintage rugs, and generational antiques blend seamlessly with modern touches.

The foyer features large oil portraits of her grandfather, Hugh V. Walls; her father, Jewell H. Campbell; her mother, Valerie Wall Campbell; and herself, all painted by renowned portrait painter Karl Wolfe. According to Melanie, Wolfe thought the painting of her grandfather was one of the best portraits he’d ever done. It hung in the State Bank & Trust of Mississippi for many years — H.V. Walls was one of the original organizers of the bank — until the bank was sold and the painting returned to Melanie.

Upon moving into the home, Melanie made several changes. The walls, now painted in a creamy beige, reflect the light from the windows to provide a very open feel.

Melanie described her home as a conglomeration of things incorporated from her family.  The chandelier hanging in her formal living room came from the Big House, as did a gilded mirror above the fireplace. She was able to preserve items from the house after her mother passed away. In the front living room, large Audubon prints that once belonged to her grandmother frame the fireplace.

A stunning Steinway baby grand piano serves as the focal piece in the formal living room. Melanie said it belonged to her grandmother, Ethel Pitts Wall, an accomplished vocalist and pianist. The piano is now serving its third generation in the family. In echoes of her grandmother, Melanie is also a gifted vocalist and pianist.

“I’ve played all my life,” Melanie says. “My grandmother lived next door. She would come over every morning around 4:30 or 5 and wake all three of us girls up, and we would practice before school. We were drilled with music. My grandmother wanted to be an opera singer, but grandfather was a judge and a lawyer in Brookhaven, and she played the organ at church. She had perfect pitch. She poured her music out through me.”

Melanie’s two sisters, Valerie and Sylvia, went on to play other instruments in addition to piano, and she remembered the three of them playing as a trio. She also owns another, larger, stage grand piano that is on loan to the Southern Cultural Heritage Center.

The dining room table is another heirloom inherited from the Walls. The place settings are also special, a mix of her own collections with her mother’s and grandmother’s. She enjoys combining the silver patterns she inherited from them, as well as her own. The china on the table is both hers and her grandmother’s.

Tucked against the wall in the dining room is a tea cart with unique wooden wheels. Melanie explains that the tea cart dates back to before the Civil War and came from family in Aberdeen. It is a notable and special piece of treasured family history, and the many stories hidden away in the old wood would surely be amazing to hear.

The library is perhaps Melanie’s favorite room in the house, and she spends a lot of time reading in the cozy space. A large collection of books, art and family photographs fills the room with its ceiling-height bookshelves. She said a sentimental desire to preserve a cherished remnant of her childhood home resulted in the unique chandelier that now hangs in her library. It had previously been in the stairway of the Big House.

An unusual piece, an early McCarty pottery-designed ashtray, sits on a shelf in the library. The white ceramic dish features a painting of power lines and towers, with slots strategically placed for holding cigarettes. The plate is signed “Merigold McCarty from Baxter Wilson, 1956.” Wilson had commissioned the ashtrays as Christmas gifts that were given to members of the board of Mississippi Power & Light, on which Bowman’s father served.

Much of her contemporary art collection is just around the corner from the library, hung in a gallery-style setting near the kitchen and casual dining area. She enjoys collecting Mississippi art and proudly points out a few of her pieces by artists Jamie Tate and Bill Dunlop.

Among the art collection adorning one wall near her kitchen is one of Melanie’s favorites: a simple sign bearing the image “Campbell Stables,” and in smaller letters underneath “The Campbell Girls.” As a girl, her family owned Tennessee Walking Horses and Arabian horses. She recalls that her favorite show horse was named Lightning’s Glory, her favorite riding horse an Arabian named Cricket.

“We had about 10 horses and two grooms. We went everywhere showing horses,” Melanie said.

Melanie and her sisters even made trips to downtown Brookhaven on horseback.

“We would ride our horses downtown and tie them up to the parking meter and go shopping,” she said. “People would laugh at ‘those Campbell girls and their horses.’ And the crazy thing is, we’ll go to Brookhaven, and we’re still the Campbell girls! Some things just never change.”

As a teenager, she attended boarding school at Brenau Academy in Gainesville, Georgia. Later, she enrolled in Converse College in South Carolina.

“You know, I had always planned to transfer to Ole Miss, but I woke up and hey, I was a senior!” Melanie said with a laugh. She completed a degree in Fine Art History with a minor in painting and piano.

Melanie still paints, and one of her pieces, an acrylic painting, is displayed in the library. She also enjoys painting with oils and watercolor. She will soon join artist Wyatt Waters for a painting trip in France, an adventure that she is looking forward to.

Melanie’s personal artistic experience is broad, expanding to more than just painting. As a senior in college, she welded sculptures.

“They were huge pieces,” she said. “I had to rent a U-Haul to get them home. My mother was on her way up for the graduation and she asked, ‘Melanie, what would you like for a graduation present?’ I said, ‘Mama, I would really like an oxygen tank and an acetylene tank, to do my artwork with.’”

Her mother then instructed the yard man to take the sculptures and store them in the barn.

“All my art pieces! My mother didn’t like (my art), and when I opened my graduation gift, she had given me a beautiful strand of pearls!” Melanie said. She thinks most of her sculptures are probably still in that barn.

Although Melanie no longer welds, her passion for art and ancestry comes together in her home. The treasures of her family are intentionally and gracefully incorporated to remind her each day of her heritage. Her love of art cannot be missed when visiting the Bowman residence.

“I spend most of my time in (the library reading), and my books are art,” she says. “There’s a place for all art in the world.”