Recent Posts

Categories

Archive

More >

Recent Comments

  • Mount Vernon Contributor: “Lori, You can explore Washington’s Library on LibraryThing! Here’s the...”
  • rohrbachlibrary.wordpress.com: “Good day! Would youu mind if I share your blog with my myyspace group?...”
  • F. Leeper: “Didn’t he read from the Bible often?”
  • Diana Welsh: “So neat! I wish I could have watched this being done.”
  • Lori Gibson: “Do you have the list of books Washington read & referred to ? At least the four in the picture?”

November 7, 2013

Busted! The Reading Room at the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington

by

MVLA_GroupBusts_001

Photograph by Mark Finkenstaedt

Enter the Karen Buchwald Wright Reading Room, at the heart of the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington, and you will be welcomed by busts of George Washington and five of his compatriots, custom-created by StudioEIS for Mount Vernon. Alongside George Washington are his colleagues, and sometimes rivals, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison. Each man is depicted as he appeared in the mid-1780s, a pivotal time in the establishment of the new republic.

The bust of Washington sculpted by Jean-Antoine Houdon, as well as other portraiture available to Mount Vernon staff, served as the reference points for the Reading Room’s Washington bust. He is sculpted wearing the simple, American-made, civilian clothing that he wore throughout the majority of his presidency.

Houdon busts of Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin also offered rich reference material; however, creating the likeness of John Adams proved a greater challenge as images of him from the 1780s are small in number. To depict a younger Adams, Mount Vernon looked to a Mather Brown painting at the Boston Athenaeum and a John Singleton Copley painting at the Harvard University Portrait Collection to guide the project. Similarly, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison, who were just 28 and 34 years of age at the time, proved difficult to render at such young ages.

Reading Room

The busts of the six founders in the Karen Buchwald Wright Reading Room at the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington

By design, Hamilton is placed directly next to Washington as a testament to their close relationship, while Franklin, the eldest of the six men, is placed on the left end as if to watch over his younger compatriots. George Washington is purposefully not a spotlight figure, but instead placed among his peers, and tilting his head toward the entrance of the Library to welcome scholars into the space.

Corby O’Connor
Fred W. Smith National Library

CLASSROOM CONNECTION for Busted! The Reading Room at the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington »

Category: Classroom Connections, Collections, Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington at Mount Vernon

September 13, 2013

Sneak Peek: Take Note! George Washington the Reader

by

photo

There’s a new exhibit opening at Mount Vernon on September 27!

Have you ever thought about what George Washington read? Bookstore and library shelves are filled with books about Washington, but only a handful look at the books that influenced him as a young man, as General of the Continental Army, and as President of the United States.

Inspired by the grand opening of the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington, our curators researched the library of the first president for our newest exhibit, Take Note!

As a reader, Washington was an avid note taker; however, he rarely wrote in his books. Instead, he chose to record his thoughts in notebooks. Today, almost 900 pages of his reading notes survive. What types of books inspired Washington’s thoughts?

56856-9, 3/1/13, 9:58 AM,  8C, 4266x5323 (452+676), 100%, Custom, 1/120 s, R36.5, G20.1, B41.8

George Washington’s Notes, ca. 1786- 1787 copied from James Madison’s “Notes on Ancient and Modern Confederacies”.
Courtesy of Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Washington D.C.

His personal library was filled with books meant to help him become a better soldier, farmer, and statesman. He had books exploring the global issues of the 18th century, the newest research about farming, and even works of fiction. Controversial pamphlets about politics and slavery also made it onto Washington’s library shelves. One of the more interesting documents in his library is a Native American vocabulary list compiled as a special project for Catherine the Great of Russia.

56856-10, 3/1/13, 10:38 AM,  8C, 4540x6968 (1106+177), 100%, Custom, 1/120 s, R39.5, G23.1, B44.8

Richard Butler, English-Shawnee-Delaware Vocabulary, November 30, 1787. Courtesy of Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Washington D.C.

Take Note! will bring visitors back into the 18th century world of print, ideas, and stories; allow them to read the words Washington read; and with the help of modern technology, to flip through the pages of Washington’s own books. The exhibit will also showcase more than 80 books, letters, manuscripts, and objects – many of which have not been together since the sale of Washington’s library in the early 19th century. As a special treat, examples of Washington’s handwritten notes will be on display as well as three of the six known books that Washington did write notes in. We hope, like us, you’ll be amazed by these humble, but powerful vehicles that carried revolutionary ideas across thousands of miles and connected diverse individuals around the world.

Take Note! will be on view from September 27, 2013 to January 12, 2014 in the F.M Kirby Gallery of the Donald W. Reynolds Museum & Education Center at Mount Vernon.

Amanda Isaac
Associate Curator
Department of Historic Preservation and Collections

CLASSROOM CONNECTION for Sneak Peek: Take Note! George Washington the Reader »

Category: Classroom Connections, Collections, Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington at Mount Vernon

September 4, 2013

Caring for the Washington Family

by

Washington Family Statues

George and Martha Washington stand alongside their grandchildren Nelly and Washy in the Ford Orientation Center at Mount Vernon.

Since 2006, over 6 million guests have been greeted on their visit to Mount Vernon with bronze statues of the Washington family in the Ford Orientation Center. These life-sized statues, produced by Studio EIS, of George and Martha Washington standing alongside their grandchildren Eleanor Parke Custis (Nelly) and George Washington Parke Custis (Washy) circa 1785 are irresistible to visitors of all ages; many guests take the opportunity to pose for photographs and shake the hand of our nation’s first President.

Cleaning Statues

Cleaning StatuesChip Schwartz, an artist from Polich Tallix, makes a routine trip to Mount Vernon to reapply the patina to our bronze statues using chemicals and heat from a blow torch.

Mount Vernon hosts over a million visitors each year, and all those handshakes cause the protective patina (thin films of color created by the application of heat and chemicals to the surface of the bronze) on the bronze Washington family to wear off.

To keep the figures of the Washington family maintained, the statues are cleaned and polished on a regular basis by Polich Tallix, a fine art foundry from upstate New York that cleans and waxes statues such as ours. This routine maintenance ensures that the Washington family will be in perfect form to greet each visitor to the estate for years to come.

Diana Cordray
Education Center Manager
Division of Interpretation and Events

Category: Mount Vernon

August 29, 2013

One Man’s Trash Is Another Man’s Treasure

by

Moving is quite an undertaking! The Education and Leadership; Historic Preservation and Collections,; and Library Staff members are packing up and moving from their old offices to the brand new Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington. While packing up many years of work, we found a few treasures to share with our readers.

Marbles, playing cards and traveling inkstands were objects found in many 18th century households. and these reproduction objects that have been hiding in our old office were once used to demonstrate their common usage in educational programs at Mount Vernon.

Clay Marbles
Children today play with marbles, usually made of glass, but in early America marbles were more commonly made of clay. These types of marbles were handmade, and are sometimes found in archaeological digs at historic sites; a stone marble was found in the Midden research at Mount Vernon.

Reproduction 18th century clay marbles

Reproduction 18th century clay marbles

Playing Cards
A deck of cards today looks much different than those George Washington would have used. The premise was the same: red and black; clubs, diamonds, hearts and spades. However, there were no decorations on the back of the cards and no numbers on the face of the cards. They did not have rounded edges or shiny surfaces. Card games were mostly reserved for adults in 18th century, but children may have used decks to build a “house” of cards.

Reproduction 18th century playing cards

Reproduction 18th century playing cards

Traveling Inkstand
A traveling inkstand would be have been very handy for General Washington during the Revolutionary War. This reproduction was made using the same methods as were used 200 years ago. The quills were handmade writing instruments, most often made from goose, swan and even a turkey’s flight feathers. Penknives were used to make the perfect cut on the feather to create an instrument to write in fine lines.

Reproduction 18th century traveling inkstand

Reproduction 18th century traveling inkstand

Danie Schallom
Coordinator of Education Outreach and Leadership Programs
Education Department

CLASSROOM CONNECTION for One Man’s Trash Is Another Man’s Treasure »

Category: Classroom Connections

August 16, 2013

Object Spotlight: Sawfish Edition

by

Mount Vernon visitors venturing into the Gilder Lehrman Gallery of the Donald W. Reynolds Museum & Education Center may encounter a curious sight. Is it a saw? A spiky cactus? Some kind of strange weapon?

The sawfish rostrum on display in the Gilder Lehrman Gallery

The sawfish rostrum on display in the Gilder Lehrman Gallery

The sawfish is a member of the ray family, and, much like the swordfish, has a long projection emerging from its nose called a rostrum (the plural is rostra). This cartilage and bone protrusion also features “teeth” (actually modified scales) along its edges, creating a rather intimidating, saw-like appearance. A sawfish uses its rostrum to detect and injure the small fish it preys on. Starting as far back as the 16th century, sawfish rostra were also highly coveted as “curios” by collectors who would display them in exhibits, or “cabinets of curiosities.”

A green sawfish in its natural environment. Source: http://www.elasmodiver.com/Green_Sawfish.htm

A green sawfish in its natural environment. Source: http://www.elasmodiver.com/Green_Sawfish.htm

So what does this have to do with George Washington? At the July 22, 1802 sale of George and Martha Washington’s belongings from Mount Vernon, a “Mr. Hammond” purchased a “sawfish tooth” for $4. Although the sawfish rostrum is not listed on the 1799 inventory of Mount Vernon, it was listed in the 1802 sale record next to a number of items that came from Washington’s study.

The sawfish rostrum and coral on display in George Washington's Study

The sawfish rostrum and coral on display in George Washington’s Study

It is likely that the rostrum was one of the objects that Washington displayed in his study, along with other natural and man-made “curios” like coral, a telescope, pistols, surveying tools, and a model cannon. Together, such items formed Washington’s own “cabinet of curiosities.” While the sawfish rostrum in the Gilder Lehrman Gallery is not the same object from Mount Vernon, it is likely very similar. Washington surely knew that the rostrum would be a fascinating artifact and a real conversation-starter–something it remains to this day!

Sawfish Rostrum [2008.007], Purchased with funds donated by Robert J. and Geraldine W. Dellenback, 2008

Jessie MacLeod
Assistant Curator
Department of Historic Preservation and Collections

Classroom Connections:

What Curios Are In Your Cabinet? — Creating a Cabinet of Curiosity in the Classroom
Historians can learn a lot about the people they study by looking at the objects they collected. Ask your students to create their own Cabinet of Curiosities, visual or tactile, filled with items that historians in the future could use to learn about them.

Each student should be sure to include at least:

  • 2 man-made objects
  • 2 natural objects (flora, fauna, marine, etc.)
  • 2 pieces of art (paintings, photographs, videos, etc.)
  • Labels that identify each object and provide contextual information

For advanced grades, ask students to research the history and evolution of Cabinets of Curiosities.

Category: Uncategorized

Subscribe

Subscribe to GWW (What are feeds?)

Portraits in Schools

Kids holding George Washington Portrait

Mount Vernon recently invited K-12 schools nationwide to request framed portraits of George Washington to display in a respectful, prominent place.

The response was overwhelming: thousands of schools submitted letters! Along with the portrait, schools received curriculum materials to help explore our first president’s contributions.

Where has George Washington gone back to school? Click here to see!

Related Links