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Monticello restoration sheds new light on Thomas Jefferson’s personal life

By Cameron Davidson, courtesy Monticello

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — New restoration and interpretive initiatives unveiled in June provide new insights into the domestic life at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello.

Called “New Perspectives on Life at Monticello,” the changes include the newly restored and refurbished dining room, wine cellar and south pavilion, along with a new exhibit in the house’s central cellar.

“These new additions to our interpretation are truly exciting,” said Leslie Greene Bowman, president of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation. “We are delighted to offer these new avenues for exploring life at Monticello during Jefferson’s times.”

The centerpiece is the dining room, which has been painted a chrome yellow instead of the Wedgwood blue paint that had adorned its walls since 1936. Extensive recent research showed that Jefferson chose the brilliant yellow, which was one of the most fashionable and expensive colors around 1815.

New furnishings include a reproduction of a sideboard similar to one Jefferson bought in 1790, a French marble console table and an interpretation of the Abbeville carpet Jefferson purchased in France in the 1780s.

The wine cellar, refurbished with period wine vessels and paraphernalia, provides more detailed information about Jefferson’s wine interests. A new platform above the original brick floor allows visitors to see the wine cellar as it looked during Jefferson’s time.

The two-room south pavilion, the oldest structure at Monticello, was where Jefferson brought his bride, Martha Wayles Skelton, in 1772. The reinterpretation and refurnishing of the upper room allows visitors to view the space as it might have appeared in the first months after their marriage.

“Crossroads,” the new exhibit in the central cellar, gives a look at the constant everyday activity at Monticello, with life-sized figures providing insight into some of the slaves who made the household work.

Each figure is accompanied by objects discovered by archaeologists at the site that they might have worn or used, such as shoe buckles, a pocket knife, beads, earrings, thimbles, scissors, pins and an iron.