Virginia Amason and Leigh Haver are dedicated not only to family and career, but to giving back to our community. They each have volunteered on numerous boards, committees and pitched in to support local nonprofits. This year, they co-chair the Antiques at The Gardens — Birmingham Botanical Gardens‘ largest annual fundraiser, which has raised more than $4.6 million for The Gardens’ educational initiatives since its inception in 2006. This year’s stylish weekend-long event brings in none other than Martha Stewart, Julia Reed and Suzanne Kasler, among other renowned tastemakers, to Birmingham. These designers, architects, antiques collectors, artists and more will be on hand throughout the weekend for workshops, lectures, cocktail parties, panel discussions, shopping and a gorgeous gala. With such an exciting lineup, we were eager to talk to today’s FACES of Birmingham, Virginia Amason and Leigh Haver, to learn more about this year’s event and how it supports Birmingham Botanical Gardens. Read on!
Where did you grow up, and if not from Birmingham, what brought you here?
Virginia: I am originally from Nacogdoches, TX — the Oldest Town in Texas! A boy named Bert Amason brought me to Birmingham. We met during college while I was attending Hollins College and he was at Washington and Lee University.
Leigh: I grew up in Dothan, AL — the peanut capital of the world! My mom is from Birmingham, and we have a ton of family here. I spent my summers here with my grandparents, so it always felt like home.
Tell us about your role as Co-Chairs of the Antiques at The Gardens.
Virginia: I think our most important function is as advocate and coordinator. We have amazing committees full of diverse talents, plus strong Garden and City personnel, who have the ability to make magic happen.
Leigh: We do what we can to facilitate their success. Luckily, the bar has been set high by previous years’ chairs, so we work hard to honor their legacy and build on those successes.
Tell us a bit about this year’s Antiques at The Gardens event. Who are the tastemakers coming to town this year?
Virginia: The format will be familiar to those who have attended the event before. We will kick off on Thursday with Tastebuds with Bettie Bearden Pardee, followed by a panel of up-and-coming designers Mimi Brown, Mary Hayward Spotswood Eudailey, Catherine Jones and Margaret Zainey Roux. That evening is our black-tie gala and a chance for us to celebrate our honorees, Cameron and Derrill Crowe, who have been longtime supporters of The Gardens. Friday is a big deal for us, as we welcome Martha Stewart as our Red Diamond Lecture Series speaker for two events.
Leigh: Saturday morning, designer Meg Braff leads a “Shop the Show,” giving professional cues on incorporating treasures from the dealers into your own spaces. The Saturday lunch event, Taste in Spades, is an all-star panel of magazine-featured designers and architects: Meg Braff, Suzanne Kasler, Nick Olsen and Keith Summerour. Sunday brunch features best-selling author, and columnist Julia Reed, whose sharp sense of humor and style make the perfect recipe for a brunch centered on Southern entertaining. We conclude on Sunday with a fun afternoon — Tastemakers Amy Berry, Hundley Hilton, Sean Anderson, and TSB Architects share their thoughts during a “Love It or Lose It” panel moderated by Robert Leleux.
Virginia: There will also be a workshop hosted by Erin Weston of Weston Farms, where participants will get to make their own long-lasting magnolia leaf bouquets that are perfect for mantles and tabletops for the holiday season and beyond.
And, of course, the exhibitors — who will be there, where are they from and what do they offer?
Virginia: Our dealer committee has knocked it out of the park! We have 22 dealers coming in and offering a wide variety for most any taste and budget. Of course, there will be the staples — antiques from formal to casual, furniture, silver and tableware, porcelain, antique prints and all of those exquisite things that you expect.
Leigh: We also have some amazing original art, vintage jewelry and accessories, handcrafted items for the garden and fabulous fiber arts in the form of handcrafted heavy linens and merino wool soft goods. If you can’t make your space beautiful or knock out a lot of your holiday shopping list, then you’re just not trying!
Since its inception in 2006, the event has raised more than $4.6 million for The Gardens. What initiatives do those funds support?
Virginia: The Friends [of Birmingham Botanical Gardens] funds many worthwhile programs. For instance, Discovery Field Trips are curriculum-based educational programs that have reached more than 140,000 students, 70% of whom are from urban school systems. Garden Explorations with City of Birmingham Parks & Recreation summer camps hosts 80+ camp directors and counselors and teaches 300+ students from the City of Birmingham.
Leigh: The Plant Adventures Program gives us a chance to partner with other local nonprofits and welcomes almost 1,500 participants who benefit from programs specifically for them at The Gardens. And the Bruno Vegetable Garden grows a variety of both typical and unusual culinary vegetables, providing opportunities for gardeners and volunteers, and donates 3,000+ pounds of food to Magic City Harvest, a local organization that annually provides as many as 500,000 meals through 30 agencies in Central Alabama.
Personally, what are you most anticipating about this year’s event?
Virginia: That the show offers something for everyone! Our dealers are making a big effort this year to bring a wide range of items so everyone can leave the show with something. The dealers will also be featuring items for “young collectors” for those who are looking to add to their first home.
Leigh: I’m looking forward to the energy surrounding this show and The Gardens! We have gotten a lot of regional exposure, so I am hopeful the buzz will entice folks to join us this year and the quality will keep them coming back for many years to come.
What do you love most about Birmingham Botanical Gardens?
Virginia: What I love most is the family connection that so many individuals have to the Gardens. For me personally, my father-in-law has been a very active supporter of The Gardens. He was born with a green thumb, and gardening comes naturally to him. His interest and respect for horticulture is evident in his own garden.
Leigh: I love that Birmingham Botanical Gardens is a free attraction and accessible to all. Not only is it a breathtaking oasis and testament to good design, but the programming makes it a vibrant community hub for arts, culture and education.
What do each of you do when you’re not coordinating and planning the Antiques at The Gardens?
Virginia: I am the family “conductor,” making sure we arrive where we are supposed to be and on time. With three teenagers that can be a challenge!
Leigh: I juggle (like most people) family schedules and quality time, full-time career, other volunteer commitments and the occasional mani-pedi.
Do you have a favorite local eatery?
Leigh: Well, since my husband is in the restaurant business, I’m a bit biased — my favorites are Otey’s and Taco Mama. Even if they weren’t in the family, they would be two of my favorites. We are fortunate to live in a city where people value and enjoy good food.
What do you love most about Birmingham?
Virginia: I love the big city attributes of Birmingham, from the amazing fine arts to world class healthcare and all lead by civic-minded individuals. Coming from a small town in Texas it is the “charm” that captivates me most.
Leigh: Aside from its natural beauty, I love the warmth and generosity of the people. There are so many generous individuals, companies and organizations here that help our community thrive. I think that is what sets us apart. People here have a giving spirit. Our sponsors are a testament to that.
If you could go back 10 years, what advice would you give yourself?
Virginia: I would remind myself daily that it is OK to have toys all over the floor, because the toys will be gone sooner than you realize.
Leigh: Don’t blink or wish a day away. Time flies and is incredibly precious, and each moment has meaning and is in preparation for the next opportunity or experience.
What’s something people might be surprised to learn about you?
Virginia: I was a collegiate athlete! I played field hockey for Hollins College.
What is your greatest accomplishment?
Virginia: I would have to say my children and the fun tidbits of life I have learned from them along the way.
Leigh: Other than my family, I’m proud of the nonprofit work I’ve done, the opportunities (like chairing Antiques at The Gardens) that work created and the relationships that have been built as a result. I’m a past President of the Junior League of Birmingham and currently serve as Board President for One Place Metro Alabama Family Justice Center. I have been fortunate to work alongside some of the most passionate and dedicated leaders and volunteers in our community!
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Virginia: One of the best pieces of advice I received came from my mother: Look for friends that pack the same thing in their “suitcase” of friendship. I find myself repeating this to my children often, so I guess I am becoming my mother!
Leigh: Expand your circle — you never know who you may encounter, what you may learn or the opportunities you will uncover. I “uncovered” my husband by following this advice!
Aside from faith, family and friends, name three things you can’t live without.
- A sewing needle, at the moment I am needle-pointing a Christmas tree skirt.
- My yoga mat, trying to keep all 5”4 of me as long as possible!
- The family puppy, Ruby, thinks I am awesome every time I walk in the door!
- Music — good, bad, live, recorded, Motown, classical, jam bands, pop, disco, show tunes, heavy metal and everything in between!
- Our 13-year-old rescue puppy and first baby, Stella!
- Water — swimming in it, looking at it, drinking it. It nourishes the body and soul!
Thank you for sharing with us, Leigh and Virginia!
And thank you to Eric & Jamie Photography for the beautiful photos.
For more inspiring women in Birmingham, check out our FACES archive, and prepare to be amazed!