One of the fascinating aspects of the exhibit were several life size recreations of Washington at various ages and stages in his life, painstakingly recreated using features taken from a plaster mold that had been taken of his face during his life, as well as measurements of his clothing and the fit of his dentures.
An interesting idea about Washington is that we Americans have this notion of him as sort of a humorless, straight laced old man, since that is the ‘image’ that is projected to us on most art and even our currency. The figures did a lot to show you that side of him as a younger man, a strong and intelligent solider, long before his presidency. I love learning little odds and ends and forgotten bits of history, so I really appreciated that aspect of it.
The show displayed more than a 100 personal artifacts of Washington’s, and also some of his wife Martha Washington’s items. My favorite was a recreation (show above) of her wedding dress. When she married Washington she was a widow with 3 young children. I love the idea of the young and fashionable Martha, and not the sort of dour and dumpy older woman we often see in art. Beth asked me to size up to the mannequin in the dress and from what I could tell, Martha and I were general pretty close in height (just under 5′ 4″) and size. And I try my best to never be dour or dumpy 😉
Not only did the show recreate Washington, they also recreated Blue Skin, his horse he used when General! It looked pretty darn real. Little Z and I had to get close for a better look. I tried my best to restrain myself from petting the pretty pony 😉
And you know you were thinking about it. George’s teeth. Yep. His teeth has their own section in the exhibit. Poor George…he really had some tooth problems! This is the only complete pair of his dentures still in existence, made up of human and cow teeth. Yep, you heard me right. Cow.
Another really important section in the show was an exhibit about Washington and his ownership of slaves. Yes, the ‘Founding Father’ of our nation, and champion of liberty and justice, owned slaves. I think it is a really important thing to discuss, and important to know that these larger than life historical figures were not perfect in judgement or action. Upon his death, Washington did free his personally owned slaves (those that Martha brought to the marriage via her first marriage were not freed.) It is said that Washington had assumed slavery would just fade out of society on its own with no action needed from him. I wonder how our history would have turned out had Washington chose to deal with the issue at the start of the nation, instead of leaving the institution to continue to oppress others for nearly another 100 years.
Aside from exhibits on Washington personally, there were other pieces that really showed the style and elegance of the era. There was a beautiful table setting done up for a festive holiday dinner, and this huge painting was in one corner, and it really struck me. They look sort of like the people I paint, don’t you think?
After the exhibit, Beth and I and little Z rambled through the gardens of the Gilcrease home and enjoyed a bit of the bright late morning. The gardens were lush and gorgeous, which surprised me after this brutal, brutal summer. The view there was gorgeous, up on a hill overlooking wooded land with the city of Tulsa in the distance. We enjoyed the fountain and the walk and then headed off for other adventures.
I hope you enjoyed a peek at the George Washington exhibit! It runs through Sept. 23 at Gilcrease Museum and is a really interesting show, for history lovers and art lovers alike!