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Donald W. Reynolds Museum & Education Center

Fri, 10/29/2010

The Donald W. Reynolds Museum and Education Center Visitors features 23 galleries and theaters where visitors learn about Washington through interactive displays, an action adventure movie, short films produced by The History Channel, immersive experiences, and a rich and comprehensive collection of more than 700 objects which give an unprecedented look at the personal effects of the Washington family.  The building also serves as Washington’s presidential library, with classroom space and computers that provide access to more than 20,000 letters written by Washington during his lifetime. 

The Donald W. Reynolds Museum and Education Center was made possible by a $24 million donation by the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation, a national philanthropic organization founded in 1954 by the late media entrepreneur for whom it is named.  “The Donald W. Reynolds Foundation’s generous contribution – the largest single donation in our history − enables us to give visitors an incredibly compelling experience at Mount Vernon,” said James C. Rees, executive director of Mount Vernon.  “The Museum and Education Center will introduce visitors to the real George Washington through showing the fascinating details of his life.”

“We trust that the Donald W. Reynolds Education Center will enable future visitors to learn more about one of our nation’s most important Americans during their Mount Vernon visit,” said Fred W. Smith, chairman of the board of the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation.  “This new education center promises to become the equivalent of a presidential library for the nation’s first and greatest hero.”

Museum Highlights

The Museum features over 500 objects in six permanent galleries and a changing exhibition space.  The 6,000 square-foot Museum is not meant to be a generic decorative arts museum but instead a refreshing and insightful look into the taste, style, and personalities of the Washingtons through artifacts most closely associated with life at Mount Vernon, the Revolutionary War and presidency.  

“The Houdon Bust Gallery” featured Mount Vernon’s most prized artifact, Jean-Antoine Houdon’s terracotta bust of George Washington. This remarkable sculpture – the most accurate likeness of Washington ever created – is exhibited with dramatic lighting in a circular, domed gallery designed exclusively to showcase the piece. The bust was installed at Washington’s height to give visitors an indication of how he towered over most of his contemporaries.  A History Channel video nearby shows how the Houdon created the bust using a life mask made of Washington when he was 53.

The first gallery visitors encounter after the Houdon bust features highlights from Mount Vernon’s collection – extraordinary Washington objects from England, Europe, China, and America that reflect the man and his love of beauty, his refined taste, his status within his world, and his purchasing power. Mount Vernon’s holdings include a wealth of fine and decorative arts produced by some of the best artists and craftsmen of the Colonial period, and they are on display in the “Introducing Washington’s World Gallery” where they can be studied closely outside of the historic house.

The “From Soldier to Statesman Gallery” will be of great interest to visitors, since it focuses on the more public persona of George Washington and features beautiful and historic artifacts relating to his military career and presidency. Current visitors to the estate have little opportunity to learn more about these two important chapters of Washington’s life. Through this new gallery, they will gain a better sense of Washington during the Revolution and in the fledgling years of our nation.

The largest of all the permanent collection galleries in the new Museum, called “At Home with the Washingtons”, will give a glimpse of the Washingtons’ daily lives, whether at Mount Vernon or on the road. Visitors will leave this gallery with a far better idea of how the Washingtons lived “behind the scenes” and out of the public eye.
 
The cases in “The Washington Style Gallery” presents the personal objects owned and worn by George and Martha Washington, their children and grandchildren.  From objects that were used on a daily basis, to those reserved for more special occasions, the style of the Washingtons will emerge.  Personal objects highlight the emphasis placed on physical appearance and the importance of particular imports in Colonial America. 

The “Books and Manuscripts Gallery” focuses on Washington’s insatiable hunger for knowledge, his keen curiosity, and his life-long desire to better understand the world around him, as shown through manuscripts, maps, prints, and books. These rare and important objects from two premier collections – that of Mount Vernon and the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History – address broader topics such as our country’s founding documents, slavery, and Washington’s Last Will and Testament. It is also enriched by loans from the Boston Athenaeum, the keeper of the largest collection of original books owned by Washington.

A 1,100-square-foot Changing Exhibitions Gallery will provide space for one or two temporary exhibitions a year organized by Mount Vernon and sister institutions. For the first time in Mount Vernon’s history, a variety of new and different shows will be mounted, with the inaugural exhibition focusing on the father-son relationship between Washington and Lafayette. This gallery will also showcase fragile and environmentally-sensitive textiles, miniature portraits, and works on paper from Mount Vernon’s own collection for brief periods of time.

Exhibit galleries in the Donald W. Reynolds Museum were designed by Quenroe Associates (www.quenroe.com).  Fabrication for the exhibits in the Museum and Education Center was conducted by Art Guild, Inc. (www.artguildinc.com).

Education Center

The Education Center will captivate visitors through 10 original videos produced by The History Channel, LED map displays, dynamic graphics, surround-sound audio programs, an “immersive” theater experience, illusionist lighting effects, dramatic staging, and touch-screen computer monitors.  The engaging, state-of-the-art displays, along with approximately 200 artifacts, will tell Washington’s entire life story, from the childhood adversities he overcame, through his adventures in the new American frontier, to his heroic leadership that brought victory to the Continental Army, and his precedent-setting role as first president.
 

Forensic Investigation of George Washington

The goal of the Donald W. Reynolds Museum and Education Center is to give visitors a true appreciation for Washington the man – and not just for the popular myths that accompany the icon.  Deciding that physical appearance is a crucial element to learning about and relating to the real George Washington, Mount Vernon’s Executive Director, Jim Rees, determined that visitors needed to see what Washington looked like as an adventurous surveyor and frontiersman, as the forceful commander-in-chief during the Revolutionary War, and as the dynamic first president of the United States. 

With no extant portraits that depict Washington under the age of 40 – and not wanting to disturb the “Father of Our Country’s” final resting place – Mount Vernon embarked on an unprecedented venture to unite the fields of art, science, and historical research to create three accurate life-size models of Washington as a 19-year-old surveyor, 45-year-old general, and 57-year-old president. 

Mount Vernon convened a team of experts, led by Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz, forensic anthropologist with the University of Pittsburgh; Dr. Anshuman Razdan, computer scientist at Arizona State University’s PRISM; and Ivan Schwartz, sculptor at StudioEIS.  Using special software, three dimensional imaging equipment, historical documents, and expert artists, Mount Vernon analyzed a bust of Washington made when he was 53 (sculpted by Jean-Antoine Houdon and reported to be the best likeness ever made of the man), his dentures, clothing, and various portraits.  The finished result – three lifelike wax figures with real human hair and bodies outfitted with realistic clothing – are integral parts of the Education Center’s exhibitions.  Visitors learn how the figures were made in the “Reconstructing George Washington Gallery”, which details the processes taken to re-create the likenesses of Washington.

Principal Investigators

•    Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz, Professor of Anthropology, University of Pittsburgh

•    PRISM (Partnership for Research in Spatial Modeling), Arizona State University

Principal:  Dr. Anshuman Razdan

3D Scanning: Dr. Anshuman Razdan, Prof. Dan Collins, Scott Van Note (Graduate Student) and Matt Tocheri (Graduate Student)
 
George Washington Head/Geometry: Drs. Gerald Farin, Dianne Hansford, Anshuman Razdan; and Matt Tocheri (Graduate student) and Jeremy Hansen (Senior)
 
George Washington Poses: Prof Dan Collins, Gene Cooper and Scott Van Note (graduate student)

•    Ivan Schwartz, StudioEIS, New York, New York

Sculptor: Stuart Williamson
Painter: Sue Day

Advisors to the Forensics Project

•    Dr. Phil Chase, Senior Editor, The Papers of George Washington

•    Marc Pachter, Director, National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

•    Rick Sexton, Forensic Artist, Fairfax County Police Department

•    Glenn Miller, The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children

•    Kevin Miller, Ph.D., Anthropology Expert, Facial Recognition

Education Center Gallery Highlights

The youngest model – that of a 19-year-old Washington – is shown near Washington’s original surveying equipment as he explores western Virginia in the “Young Virginian Gallery.” This gallery, along with the “Upstart Colonial Officer Gallery”, depicts his formative years, and gives visitors an understanding of how Washington’s first career and his experience as an impressionable 23-year-old officer in the French and Indian War influenced his leadership and military development.

The “First in War Gallery” features the 45-year-old model at Valley Forge.  Washington is astride his white horse, Blueskin, as he sustains his troops during the most threatening winter in American history.  Nearby, a reconstructed cabin is cooled to a wintertime temperature – complete with a sick soldier whose hacking cough kept him in his bunk – so that visitors can experience what life was like during those coldest months of the Revolutionary War.

In the state-of-the-art “Elizabeth and David Bruce Smith Theater”, visitors feel like they were present during the battles of Boston, Trenton, and Yorktown as they learn about Washington’s feats in his quest for American independence.  The “immersive” Revolutionary War experience provides viewers with the ultimate in theatrical entertainment, including falling snow, rumble seats, and fog.

Washington’s innovative endeavors are the subject of the “Visionary Entrepreneur Gallery”.  This little-known side of Washington includes his farming improvements such as fertilization and crop rotation, his popularization of the mule, his risky venture of a whiskey distillery operation (currently being re-built for opening in 2007), and his lucrative fishery and gristmill.

“The Dilemma of Slavery” details the lives of slaves who worked at Mount Vernon.  This gallery features a History Channel film with Mount Vernon slave descendants and slave scholars discussing the practice of slavery.  A timeline documents the evolution of Washington’s views on slavery and reveals his increasing awareness that slavery was incompatible with the ideals of the republic.  Tools used by slaves and touchable rations of clothing and food show the challenges of daily life.

Washington’s dentures have a gallery all their own.  “A Leader’s Smile” exhibits the most famous teeth in America, along with a History Channel video showing that they were not made of wood!

“The People’s President Gallery” showcases the 57-year-old forensic Washington being sworn in to office on the balcony of Federal Hall.  As visitors stand beneath the inaugural setting, they are able to place their hand on a replica Bible, recite the oath of office, and listen to the crowd cheer around them.  The solemn significance of being the first president in an untested democracy will be evident in this part of the Center. 

Additional galleries and videos produced by The History Channel, are found throughout the Education Center to round out the chapters of Washington’s remarkable life.

Educational resources such as a distance learning center, designed to connect communities to Mount Vernon with two-way broadcasting, a virtual presidential library providing access to Washington’s 20,000 letters, lesson plans, and other learning materials, and a hands-on history area for children will further communicate the themes and ideas of the Donald W. Reynolds Museum and Education Center.

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

Donald W. Reynolds Foundation

The Donald W. Reynolds Foundation is a national philanthropic organization founded in 1954 by the late media entrepreneur for whom it is named.  Reynolds was the founder and principal owner of the Donrey Media Group.  When he died in 1993, the company included over 70 businesses, the majority of which were in the communications/media field.  Headquartered in Las Vegas, the Reynolds Foundation is one of the largest private foundations in the United States.  For more information, please visit online at www.dwreynolds.org.

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