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New Mount Vernon exhibit on Washington

All photos courtesy the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association

MOUNT VERNON, Va. — In 2007, while cleaning out old trunks filled with family possessions, descendants of Robert E. Lee found a silver bottle roller that was possibly designed by George Washington while he was president. The roller, previously known only from a 19th-century engraving, is believed to be the only one of its kind in existence today.

The roller is one of several recently discovered objects associated with Washington that were long thought to have been lost or whose very existence was not known.

It is part of a new exhibition of rare Washington artifacts at George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens to honor the sesquicentennial of the opening of the estate to the public in 1860.

Bringing Them Home: 150 Years of Restoring the Washington Collection, which opened in mid-February, celebrates the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association’s 150-year pursuit of original Washington artifacts.

The items, which include examples of fine and decorative arts, books and manuscripts, were widely dispersed after George and Martha Washington’s deaths.

Most of the nearly 150 objects are on public view for the first time, and many have not been at Mount Vernon since the Washingtons lived there.

 “Each of our objects has its own history to tell, and this exhibition reveals the amazing journeys many have traveled as they returned to Mount Vernon,” said Mount Vernon’s assistant curator, Laura Simo.

Bringing Them Home: 150 Years of Restoring the Washington Collection will be on display in the Donald W. Reynolds Museum through Jan. 8, 2012.

Meanwhile, approximately 100 original objects associated with Washington, including the only surviving complete set of his famous dentures, will travel to at least eight institutions over the course of a three-year exhibition.

 Discover the Real George Washington: New Views From Mount Vernon opened Feb. 19 at the Senator John Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh.

The exhibition features three life-size figures of Washington developed through a cutting-edge forensic investigation, videos, three-dimensional architectural models and interactive displays.

In addition to Washington’s dentures, other artifacts in the exhibition include paintings, books, maps, surveying equipment, Revolutionary War armaments, tools used by slaves and presidential table settings. Martha Washington is represented by original jewelry; pieces of china, silver and glassware; and reproductions of her gold wedding dress and purple satin slippers.

“Although over a million people come to walk in Washington’s footsteps at Mount Vernon each year, we know that not everyone will have a chance to visit his home,” said Jim Rees, executive director of Mount Vernon. “We wanted to bring the fascinating story of Washington’s life to people around the country by showing a wide variety of compelling personal belongings and some intriguing elements from our new Donald W. Reynolds Museum and Education Center.”

The exhibition will be at the Heinz Center through July 31. The remaining schedule is:

  • North Carolina Museum of History, Raleigh, NC: September 10, 2010 – January 21, 2011
  • Minnesota:  February 22, 2011 – May 29, 2011
  • Philadelphia, PA: July 1, 2011 – September 23, 2011
  • Texas: October 28, 2011 – January 20, 2012
  • California: February 22, 2012 – May 18, 2012
  • The Gilcrease Museum, Tulsa, OK: June 22, 2012 – September 23, 2012
  • Western Reserve Historical Society, Cleveland, OH: October 19, 2012 – January 18, 2013
  • Nevada: February 13, 2013 – May 15, 2013
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