Passionate collector feels at home at The Towers

Published 2:27 pm Wednesday, April 25, 2007

It took little time to figure out that something different was happening at The Towers after new owner Ginger Hyland bought the Natchez property in September.

Hyland recalled the cars slowly passing her house a few months ago, as passengers gazed at the life-size bronze wildlife sculptures in the yard.

The animals were one of the first signals to passers-by that a striking new attitude was about to transform the house and grounds at the corner of Myrtle Avenue and Oak Street.

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“I like to think it’s like coming across animals in the woods,” she said of the 20 pieces placed about the five acres of grounds surrounding the house. “I love wildlife and decided to collect sculptures mostly of animals native to North America and anything in the feline family.”

The bear family is a showstopper, placed near the northwestern corner of the house.

“I had to have them,” she said. The bears, like several others, are by the famous Colorado sculptor Dan Ostermiller.

Hyland purchased the Ostermiller works and the other sculptures in Santa Fe, N.M., where “several hundred art galleries have the finest sculptures in the world.”

Other changes to the grounds are taking shape, including a new fence and a new drive to the front of the house, where a circular green area is being reduced from 54 feet in diameter to 43 feet “to make more turnaround room,” Hyland said.

In the center of that circle will be a wrought iron, three-layer fountain with a crane motif. From there, the grounds are undergoing methodical trimming and landscaping.

As the exterior and grounds undergo a renaissance, the interior of The Towers also is in renewal and change — evident first in the addition of ornate crown moldings, wainscoting, a handsome archway separating the front and back main hallway — and new colors.

Most important to the new look of the interior, however, are Hyland’s collections of museum-quality furnishings placed throughout the house.

In the front parlor on the south side of the house are 11 rare pieces made by John Henry Belter, the German furniture maker who immigrated to America in the mid 19th century.

The Belter pieces are upholstered in Italian silk in a teal and gold pattern. The same silk covers the walls of the room and is used for the draperies.

“All the sheers in the house are antique lace,” Hyland said, explaining her interest in old laces and her wide-ranging collection of them.

“I have Brussels, Swiss, tambour, Irish, French. I became interested in antique laces and then found my source and was able to buy pieces,” she said.

The music room is designed around a suite of Joseph Meeks furniture. Furnishings and decorative objects in the room also include a rare cranberry glass parlor fountain, a Regina music box with its original copper disks and a piano made in 1890 by Ivers & Pond of Boston.

A large table by 19th-century American furniture maker Alexander Roux centers the dining room, where new moldings, medallions and plaster wainscoting have been added.

Furniture and lace are not the only collections at The Towers that reflect the new owner’s personality and passions.

“I have lots of collections,” she said. “I have antique beaded purses and tiaras, mostly French from about 1880. And I have a collection of movie props from the 2004 movie version of ‘Phantom of the Opera.’”

In her small Victorian-style home in California, she began what she calls a “jeweled Christmas,” using her extensive collection of vintage costume jewelry to decorate.

She opened the shallow drawers of a low chest in which the collection is stored to show heavy rhinestone and colored glass necklaces, bracelets, earrings and other pieces that looked as if Lana Turner might have worn them as “The Merry Widow.”

“I have lots of outrageous collections,” she said. “It’s fun to collect, and I love to tell about them.”

That will be one of the ways she shares the house with others, opening it for functions and inviting guests to enjoy viewing some of her collections, she said.

“I do plan to have tours and do some functions in the house,” she said. The first will be a fundraiser for the Natchez Festival of Music on Saturday, featuring pianist Hyperion Knight, someone with whom she has worked in California.

Hyland visited Natchez many times through the years, coming with her parents to visit friends Betty Callon and the late John Callon.

She began to look at houses in Natchez a few years ago. She fell in love with The Towers but thought she wanted more land around her house. She kept looking.

“Then (interior designer and antiques dealer) Buzz Harper called and said, ‘you need to buy it. We need you here in Natchez,’” Hyland said. “So I called a realtor and said, ‘make an offer.’”

A house such as The Towers always has been the house she felt suitable for her and the many collectibles she has amassed.

“This style home is the only style that ever grabbed me,” she said. “It came to me that I’ve been playing around with Victorian for 25 years. I said to myself, ‘why don’t you go to Natchez.’”