One thing that the woolly, wide-open spaces of Rappahannock County make easy is keeping things to yourself — even if that includes your own successes.
Which brings us to Franklin and Esther Schmidt.
The dual Schmidts, citizens of Woodville since they made the leap in 1979 from weekend trail riders to full-time trailblazers, are each somehow slightly more than half of an always-working photography-writing-styling team. (It’s a complicated algorithm, Esther says, but for the most part Franklin’s behind the lens and Esther’s at the keyboard.)
They travel around the country shooting excellent architectural, landscape and interior design and lifestyle photos and writing and editing the accompanying text, most of which end up in glossy magazines — including their most satisfying milestone, Architectural Digest — and in large-format, full-color books.
And, for the most part, they downplay their successes among friends in Rappahannock County, a semi-mythical place where a cattle farmer and a movie mogul can stand on opposite sides of a fuel pump at Settle’s, share a smile and nod, and move on without a lot of fuss and bother, much less media coverage.
The Schmidts fifth book, however, a collaboration with Kentucky writer David Dominé, came out earlier this year and has met with some significant success. It’s called “Old Louisville: Exuberant, Elegant and Alive,” and it’s 248 pages of primarily stunning photographs and justifiably exuberant prose on the historic homes found amid the 45 square blocks of Old Louisville’s beyond-Victorian preservation district. A few weeks after its April release, the book had reached No. 2 in Amazon’s “Historic Preservation” category and the No. 9 slot of all history books sold on Amazon.
“And it’s by far the heaviest book we’ve done,” says Franklin. “It weighs four and a half pounds. It’s very expensive to ship.”
The Schmidts chuckle after Franklin’s offhanded comment, but it actually helps illustrates a point some artists, and quite a few artistes, never get: It’s okay to have your head in the clouds, but if your feet are not also on the ground, you could hurt yourself.
Thus the pair don’t do self-publishing, instead choosing projects they think they’ll like and they know will be published by companies that do such things (publishing, that is). The “Old Louisville” book project actually became the object of a bidding competition among five book publishers, eventually winding up with Golden Coast.
The pair have worked assignments now in all 48 contiguous states — but whenever possible, they get to the job by driving there, four wheels pretty much on the ground at all times. They unload, do their work, then load up again, pick up the dogs from the kennel and get back home to Woodville, a place they just enjoy being.
Which is not surprising, considering their preferred subject matter.
“At this point, almost every magazine that we always wanted to work for, we’ve eventually worked for,” says Franklin. Besides the aforementioned Architectural Digest, that includes Art & Antiques, Old House Interiors, Country Home, Country Living, Country Sampler, Early Homes, Victorian Homes, Old House Journal. They’ve shot assignments for New York’s iconic Warwick Hotel and the equally iconic but easier-to-reach Inn at Little Washington, for architects, designers, real estate companies and wineries.
They wrote and photographed John and Beverly Sullivan’s historic Washington home, The Meadows, for a cover story in Old House Interiors a couple of years ago, and have shot a dozen other Rappahannock homes and designs for other projects over the years, including for Debbie and Jim Donehey, Ruthie Windsor Mann, John Henry and Anne Crittenden, Jeannie and Godfrey Kaufman and Andy Alexander and Beverly Jones.
They used to do weddings, too, back in the day. But after they’d paid off their modest Rappahannock home (real estate prices were a bit different in 1979 than they are now), they decided to make a change after five or so years of commuting back to jobs in D.C. — where Franklin worked for American University and was managing editor of Armed Forces Journal and Esther ran the publications department at Georgetown Hospital.
So they set their sights on doing the sort of photography and writing projects they loved.
“We are always looking for photogenic places,” says Esther. “Any style, any size.”
R.H. Ballard in Washington has copies of the “Old Louisville” coffee table book for sale, and autographed by the Schmidts, in case you wanted to heft on home your own 4.5-pound copy. And there’s more about the Schmidts, Dominé and the book itself online at oldlouisvillebook.com.