newsswannanoa palace lecture wtas gateway waynesboro

Swannanoa Palace lecture at WTA’s Gateway in Waynesboro


The first history lecture for 2014 at WTA’s Gateway will be a presentation by photographer/historian Airisun Wonderli on Swannanoa, the gilded-age mansion that sits atop Afton Mountain.  The Thursday, January 16 lecture will be at 7 pm and will feature selected photographs from Wonderli’s new publication, Swannanoa Palace: A Pictorial History—Its Past and People.

swanannoa palaceAirisun Wonderli graduated from James Madison University with a degree in art history. She worked and designed for about 10 years in the architectural drafting field, eventually combining her art and drafting skills and started a graphics business, fine-tuning this talent into architectural renderings of historic homes.  Knowing she would eventually lean into the art medium of photography, Airisun bought her first 35mm camera in 1985. Her first professional photography exhibit was in 2010.

Living in the mountains due north of Swannanoa Palace, Airisun’s interest in the “Jewel of the Blue Ridge” was intensified when she met one of the University of Science and Philosophy founders, Lao Russell in 1985.  She began a more formal study of the wide array of spiritual writers and philosophers included in the institution’s curriculum.  Later she became associated with the current owner of Swananoa, James F. Dulaney, Jr. and a friendship with many former volunteers and employees of University of Science and Philosophy.  This led to her research on the site and the University which included sifting through more than 6000 archival photographs.  In the end, she produced Swannanoa Palace: A Pictorial History –Its Past and People.


“When you view Airisun Wonderli’s spectacular pictures,  you know why railroad entrepreneur, Major James H. Dooley and wife, built this dream summer home amid natures magnificent grandeur,” said Shriely Bridgeforth, president of the Waynesboro Heritage Foundation.

The monthly history lectures are a joint project of the Waynesboro Heritage Foundation and the Wayne Theatre Alliance. The lecture is supported by a grant from the Virginia Humanities Foundation.


There is no admission fee to the monthly history lectures, but donations of at least $5 are suggested. The January 16th lecture will start at 7pm at WTA’s Gateway at 329 W. Main St. downtown Waynesboro, VA.



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