By Kelly MacConomy
ALEXANDRIA, VA – Even as the character of small business in Old Town is changing in this 21st Century, one constant remains: Todd Healy’s Gallery Lafayette. Housed in an 19th century townhouse at the corner of South Royal and Prince Streets, Todd’s eclectic gallery and frame shop epitomizes Old Town’s tradition of excellent craftmanship and personalized customer service.
On a rainy late October afternoon, as many in Port City scurried to their World Series activities, Gallery Lafayette’s door was wide open, welcoming passersby to step in for a look-see, a Hershey’s kiss, or a treat for the pooch. Todd was busy in the back, adjusting the frame of a historic print. Framed certificates honoring esteemed historians who presented the Ford Book Talks at George Washington’s Mount Vernon awaited pick up by the curator. Images of the first and sixteenth presidents filled the gallery. A copy of esteemed journalist Cokie Roberts’ book, Capitol Dames, sat on a candlestick table in the corner. The book includes Todd’s masterpiece map of Lincoln’s unfinished Capitol. “Lincoln said, ‘Keep working on it!’” Todd noted with admiration.
History is illustrated—and animated—at Gallery Lafayette. Todd painstakingly hand-colors finely detailed, bird’s-eye historical street maps of great cities circa the 1800s—Alexandria, Annapolis, Philadelphia, and Washington. The time invested in each map or print varies from 180 hours for the small map of Alexandria to more than 300 hours for an outsized image of the streets of Philadelphia.
“If it takes me 300 hours to complete the colorization, imagine how long it took Charles Magnus three centuries ago, without planes or drones or sophisticated cameras,” he says. Charles Magnus was the 19th-century cartographer and printmaker behind many of the maps, city views, and patriotic prints in the gallery (and the outsized image above the City Council Chamber dais). Magnus used a hot air balloon to get the aerial views of the original maps. The oldest maps, which predate balloon travel, were created from ships cruising colonial America’s waterways.
Todd transforms each map illustration into a vivid interpretation of life as it once was and, on many blocks in Old Town, is still very much imaginable. His originals command a high price and are coveted by map aficionados, some living mere blocks away. Todd also produces museum-quality giclée prints that sell quite reasonably and are popular with tourists and Port City devotees. His contemporary depictions of the streets where we live are as much an Old Town institution as pineapples and red brick sidewalks.
Another, if newer, tradition that lives on is the Gallery Lafayette annual Alexandria wall calendar. Its 37th edition will come out for 2020, with each month depicting an Old Town street scene. Alexandria, its history and people, are Todd Healy’s muse. His inspiration for each calendar month’s image is, Todd says, “…inspired by the sense of home and community. My hours of effort honor the significant contributions of the craftsmen who built them and made Alexandria a very special place to live and work, then and now.”
Family and Community
Creativity runs in the Healy family. Todd’s only child, Lauren, a graduate of St. Mary’s and Bishop Ireton, majored in fashion design at Virginia Commonwealth University. She then spent four years in New York working at a fashion house before moving to Richmond to open a vintage clothing boutique called Blue Bones, with her husband Jeremy Flora.
When Lauren presented the first grandchild, June Carter Flora, about two years ago, Todd and his wife, business partner, and main muse, Laraine (referred to always as “my bride”) were over the moon with joy.
But the joy of grandparenting their little blue-eyed angel was suddenly shaded in summer 2018 when their “June Bug” was diagnosed with leukemia. Expenses for treatment were astronomical, and Todd and Laraine, with generous support from friends, fans, and colleagues in the Alexandria business community, organized a fundraising raffle last year to help offset the costs of June’s cancer treatment.
Friendship often proves boundless in Alexandria. The posh women’s boutique Sara Campbell Ltd donated 15 percent of the November 28, 2018 raffle sales; Chadwick’s, an Old Town institution unto itself; the always amazing Del Ray Café; the authentically French and fabulous bistro Le Refuge; the sadly departed Society Fair; and blingtastic Kings Jewelry, among many others, rallied to the cause by donating gift cards and prizes toward the fundraising effort.
After 18 months, June is responding well to treatment, turning handsprings and jumping in piles of leaves. In addition to all the tangible community support, June Bug’s fight for her life was enhanced by the Roc Solid Foundation.
Founded in 2009 by childhood liver cancer survivor Eric Newman, who lost two first cousins to pediatric cancer, the organization “PLAYS it forward,” building specialized recreational equipment and hospital “Solid Ready” toy bags. Because children in cancer treatment are at extremely high risk for infection, they cannot have toys from home and, when discharged, must avoid public playgrounds.
“Roc Solid” comes from the stuffed animal Eric received when he was hospitalized. It was embroidered with his nickname “E-rock,” but when sanitized before Eric could touch it, the K came off. Roc Solid stands for the tenacity of children battling cancer.
A recurring donation of $25 a month provides a family enduring pediatric cancer a Roc Solid Ready bag. Any contribution made in June Carter Flora’s name is greatly appreciated.
Todd Healy turns 70 on November 4. Poised in his studio, he stands with arms akimbo, his work apron shielding a crisp pink Oxford cloth shirt, sporting a fishing-lure themed Peter Blair bowtie and a needlepoint belt holding up the bluest of blue jeans. It’s classic Old Town comportment for one of Alexandria’s most beloved local denizens.
Todd gets teary-eyed recounting all that combined to make Alexandria his hometown haven. “The love I get from the city,” he says, “and my reward for doing this all these years is that I get to keep doing it.”