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Donald W. Reynolds Education Center Galleries

Fri, 10/29/2010

The Museum and Education Center is made possible by the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation.

As visitors enter the Donald W. Reynolds Education Center, they are greeted by a six-foot-high depiction of George Washington.  The sculpture, created by StudioEIS in Brooklyn, NY, is really a concave piece that appears to “pop” from the wall.  Due to special effects lighting and the way the face was carved, it appears to “follow” visitors as they walk by. The larger-than-life head symbolizes the intangible Washington, intriguing and alive, and represents the interactive nature of the Education Center experience.

I. Reconstructing George Washington Gallery

Supported by the Mars Family and Foundation

Visitors begin by entering a room with a set depicting a forensic laboratory, similar to those made popular by television programs such as “CSI”.  Vials, books, facsimiles of body parts, pin-up boards, and stainless steel work surfaces surround a flat panel monitor which displays images from the forensic investigation of George Washington.  A History Channel film takes visitors through the scientific processes involved in creating three life-size figures of Washington based on forensic anthropology, historical research, and artistic interpretation.  These models, showing Washington at the ages of 19, 45, and 57, are featured throughout the Education Center, starting with the Young Virginian Gallery.

II. Young Virginian Gallery

Supported by the Mary Morton Parsons Foundation

The first stop in the journey through George Washington’s life is the Young Virginian Gallery, where a series of multimedia exhibits and artifacts offer glimpses into Washington’s childhood, family, and early ambitions and hardships.  An animated George Washington moving along a timeline of significant events from his early years is projected on a wall.

This gallery showcases the first life-size model of Washington and depicts him as a 19-year-old surveyor among three dimensional trees.  Forest sounds and moving animals set the stage for 18th-century western Virginia, where visitors see Washington’s original surveying tools and learn how to conduct a survey themselves. 

III. Upstart Colonial Officer Gallery

Supported by the Richard King Mellon Foundation

Whereas the forest of the Young Virginian Gallery is pleasant and bright, the light in this gallery changes dramatically to create the impression of the dark and foreboding wilderness Washington faced during the French and Indian War.  This gallery illuminates Washington’s entrance onto the world stage with a handcrafted, detailed diorama of the ill-fated Fort Necessity and lighted map showing the sequence of battle sites beginning with the fort and spreading across North America, Europe, and Asia.  Washington’s sword from the war is on display.

IV. Gentleman Planter/Revolutionary Gallery

Supported by the Mary Hillman Jennings Foundation

As they exit the previous gallery visitors encounter a large mural of Mount Vernon, as if following the footsteps of George Washington as he journeys home after the French and Indian War.  Washington meets and marries Martha Dandridge Custis, a union which is represented in this gallery by Martha Washington’s jewelry and reproductions of her gold wedding dress and purple satin shoes.

In addition to showing Washington’s home life, religious artifacts such as Washington’s Bible are on display.  A reproduction of the Washington family box pew from Pohick Church serves as seating for visitors as they watch a History Channel film about the role religion played in Washington’s life.

Washington begins to build his reputation as a Virginia gentleman, only to find his aspirations hindered by the restrictive colonial policies of Great Britain.  Objects from Washington’s term in the House of Burgesses and his membership in the Freemasons, as well as interactive displays relating to how Washington and his fellow colonists reacted to taxes imposed by Great Britain, serve to lay the groundwork for the inevitable Revolutionary War.

V. Melody Sawyer Richardson Theater

Supported by Melody Sawyer Richardson

Visitors enter what appears to be a tastefully decorated sitting room or parlor with a fireplace, portraits, and rows of Windsor chairs.  It is actually a theater which shows a History Channel film highlighting the courtship and marriage of the Washingtons along with major events during their 40-year romance, as told from Martha Washington’s perspective. The film is narrated by Tony Award-winning actress Glenn Close.

VI. First in War Gallery

Supported by the Gordon V. and Helen C. Smith Foundation

Upon entering this gallery, visitors immediately become aware of the tremendous challenges that the newly-appointed Commander-in-Chief faced in leading his ragtag citizen army. By looking through cut-out soldiers to see a three dimensional mural of British forces, visitors literally face the superiority of the British army and navy, a poignant contrast to the undermanned Continental Army.  A reproduction of a soldiers’ hut at Valley Forge, appointed with bunks and cooled to wintertime temperatures, features a sick soldier who was left behind due to his hacking cough, which visitors hear.  Through the hut’s window, visitors look “outside” to see Baron von Steuben drilling his fledgling troops in what is actually a History Channel video.

The second life-size figure of George Washington is featured in this gallery and shows the general astride his horse, Blueskin, looking determined and stoic.  Nearby is an interactive map with buttons that when pressed show major battles of the Revolutionary War.  An exhibit of weapons used by French, Spanish, Hessian, Indian, British, and American forces emphasize the global nature of the conflict, along with a display case featuring several objects related to the Marquis de Lafayette and the French contribution.  Projected in the doorway of an 18th-century tavern’s façade is a History Channel video on Washington and his innovative use of spies and espionage during the Revolution. 

VII. Elizabeth and David Bruce Smith Theater

Supported by Robert H. and Clarice Smith

Destined to be a highlight of the Education Center, the Elizabeth and David Bruce Smith Theater presents a fast-paced depiction of three military engagements: Boston, Trenton, and Yorktown.  Representing the progression of the Revolutionary War, this immersive experience uses a combination of concise narration, changing battle maps, and visual effects to create a “strategy and tactics” show which evokes a visceral feeling of real conditions and events.  For example, when the audience hears a cannon fire their seats rumble, and fog drifts through the theater.  While the troops cross the Delaware River, snow falls from above and dissipates just before landing on visitors.

VIII. Citizen Soldier Gallery

Supported by Douglas and Eleanor Seaman

After watching Washington’s Revolutionary War campaign in the Elizabeth and David Bruce Smith Theater, visitors exit into a classically-styled gallery entitled Citizen Soldier.  Visitors see a full-size figure of “King Washington” which transforms via Pepper’s Ghost technology into the figure of Washington as a farmer and private citizen, communicating the message that Washington, unlike other historic military figures pictured nearby in the gallery, admirably stepped away from power and returned to private life after successfully leading a revolution.

IX. Visionary Entrepreneur Gallery

Supported by the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States

Exiting from Citizen Soldier visitors see a large mural of Mount Vernon and once again, after a war, follow Washington home to learn about his life as a landowner, experimental farmer, and businessman.

“New” creations, such as a Rotherham plow (represented by a reproduction), the development of the mule, and the concept of crop rotation show Washington’s agrarian pursuits.  A model of Washington’s gristmill demonstrating the milling process and an 18th-century still (accompanied by touchable barrels that smell of whiskey) depict the entrepreneurial side of Washington.  Mount Vernon’s lucrative fishery (visitors can touch and smell a barrel of fish!) and the importance of the Potomac River and regional canals are represented by three dimensional displays.

X. The Dilemma of Slavery

Supported by J. Hap and Geren Fauth

Opposite the Visionary Entrepreneur, the Dilemma of Slavery gallery beckons visitors with an audio recitation of individual slaves’ names and the tasks they carried out at Mount Vernon.  Portraits of three slaves accompanied by interpretive text and original tools introduce visitors to the personal stories of some of the enslaved people who worked at Mount Vernon.

A History Channel video features Mount Vernon slave descendants and slave scholars discussing questions chosen by visitors from an interactive rail: Was George Washington good to his slaves?  What was it like to be a slave at Mount Vernon?  Why did George Washington wait until after his death to free his slaves? What was the legacy of Washington’s decision to free his slaves?

The evolution of Washington’s views on slavery and his increasing awareness that slavery was incompatible with the ideals of the republic is revealed by a timeline.  Nearby, an interactive area shows the annual rations of clothing and the daily ration of food given to slaves at Mount Vernon.

XI. A Leader’s Smile Gallery

Supported by Donald and Nancy de Laski

Entering this gallery, visitors are immediately drawn to the extraordinarily personal and evocative artifact at its center – George Washington’s dentures – which are surrounded by a timeline detailing Washington’s dental agonies from the loss of his first tooth at the age of 24 to his last set of dentures in 1798. Circling the gallery to explore this painful history, visitors will understand the harshness of Washington’s time and the constant pain that underscored every event in his life.

Cleaning implements used in vain by Washington to try to save his teeth are exhibited, and a History Channel video shows the process of fabricating Washington’s dentures (which were not made of wood!).

XII. Indispensable American Gallery

Supported by the Charlotte and Walter Kohler Charitable Trust

As visitors enter this gallery space they pass under an archway consisting of large three-dimensional cutouts of the 13 original states. The states appear to be leaping out of an oversized graphic image of the Articles of Confederation which is failing to hold the states together. On computer monitors near a painting of Washington presiding over the Constitutional Convention, visitors can “touch” participants at the Convention to learn more about the individuals who shaped the Constitution and the issues and areas of contention surrounding this monumental document.

XIII. The People’s President

Supported by the Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation

Next, visitors approach the first presidential inauguration, where they see the third and final life-size figure of Washington taking the oath of office on a replica of the Federal Hall balcony in 1789.  Here, visitors have a chance to “step into Washington’s shoes” by placing their hand on a reproduction of the Bible upon which Washington took the oath of office.  Following prompts, they recite the presidential oath and, upon completion, lift their hand to hear the roar of a cheering crowd.

Beyond the façade of Federal Hall are two History Channel videos showing the precedents Washington set as first president and a montage of U.S. senators reading Washington’s “Farewell Address” from the floor of the U.S. Senate.  On the wall, cartoons drawn by modern political cartoonists illustrate major issues during Washington’s presidency, and visitors learn about the members of Washington’s cabinet by opening doors of a functioning wooden cabinet.

XIV. Private Citizen

Supported by Richard and Adelia Simplot

The mood is somber and reverential in this gallery which details Washington’s final hours.  Visitors see 18th-century medical devices similar to those that were used on Washington during his quick and fatal illness.  An early-American bier and reproduction of Washington’s coffin are surrounded by display cases with objects that commemorate Washington’s life and death.  Martha Washington, who in her grief sought refuge in a garret chamber on the third floor of the Mansion, burned their letters in order to keep their correspondence private.  Visitors see a scene replicating the garret chamber with letters in the stove.

XV. Gay Hart Gaines Theater

Supported by Gay Hart Gaines

This theater presents a film montage featuring quotes about Washington from such prominent Americans as David McCullough and Colin Powell, alternating with well-known American symbols and touchstones.  The exhibit is meant to inspire visitors to reflect on Washington’s legacy and his contribution to our history and culture.

XVI. Saving Mount Vernon

Supported by the Johnston-Lemon Group

All visitors to Mount Vernon pass through this gallery, which is part of a walkway from the Donald W. Reynolds Museum and Education Center to the estate’s exit.  It features the dramatic story of the founding of the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association and how its members rescued Mount Vernon and set the standard for historic preservation in America.  Mount Vernon is still owned and operated by the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association.

Distance Learning Center

Supported by The Annenberg Foundation

This area of the Education Center connects communities to Mount Vernon through a series of virtual programs and teacher workshops focusing on Washington’s inspiring example as a leader of character.  The Distance Learning Center broadcasts its inaugural program, hosted by Pulitzer Prize-winning author David McCullough and award-winning journalist Cokie Roberts, on October 26, 2006.

Phoebe Apperson Hearst Learning Center

Supported by the William Randolph Hearst Foundation

In what serves as a virtual presidential library devoted to Washington’s life and times, visitors have access to Washington’s voluminous correspondence, materials about Washington, website guides, bibliographies, lesson plans and other learning materials in the Phoebe Apperson Hearst Learning Center.

Hands-on History

Supported by the Anne and James F. Crumpacker Family

Geared toward Mount Vernon’s youngest visitors (ages three to eight), the Hands-on History area allows children to learn the same themes and ideas presented in the galleries by dressing in 18th-century clothing, putting on stage plays, reading books, exploring activity boxes, and learning about Washington’s farm animals through a mural that features audio sounds.

Exhibit Design and Fabrication

Exhibits for the Donald W. Reynolds Museum and Education Center were designed by the team of Christopher Chadbourne & Associates (, Museum Design Associates (, and Dennis Earl Moore Productions (  Fabrication for the exhibits in the Museum and Education Center was conducted by Art Guild, Inc. (

Exhibit galleries in the Donald W. Reynolds Museum were designed by Quenroe Associates (

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For more information on the Donald W. Reynolds Museum and Education Center, please contact Emily Coleman Dibella at or 703-799-8607.