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Ford Orientation Center

Fri, 10/29/2010

With an action adventure movie, two exhibits, and introductory information, the Ford Orientation Center gives visitors an overview of the Mount Vernon experience while dispelling the elder statesman icon and introducing the real George Washington – a dynamic, fascinating hero – prior to touring the estate.

The Ford Orientation Center is made possible by Ford Motor Company Fund.  Through support of this facility, the company continues its longstanding partnership with Mount Vernon, which began with the donation of Mount Vernon's first fire engine in 1923.

“Ford Motor Company’s support of Mount Vernon started with Henry Ford,” said James C. Rees, executive director of Mount Vernon.  “It continues with the Ford Orientation Center, a vital resource which will be the gateway for generations of young Americans to learn about George Washington.”

“Mount Vernon plays a vital role in preserving and celebrating America’s rich heritage for visitors, and since 1923, Ford Motor Company has had the honor of partnering with Mount Vernon to support their compelling programs,” said Sandra E. Ulsh, President, Ford Motor Company Fund. “At Ford Fund, education is our top priority, and we are proud to continue our relationship with Mount Vernon by supporting the Ford Orientation Center, an innovative education facility, which will help illuminate America’s remarkable history for diverse audiences.”

New Movie
A highlight of the Ford Orientation Center is a dramatic, 18-minute movie featuring action-oriented reenactments of defining moments in Washington’s life.  Not a traditional, predictable orientation film, “We Fight to Be Free” is a mini-epic produced by Hollywood company Greystone Films which reintroduces visitors to the charismatic American hero and the events that defined Washington’s legendary leadership and character.

Viewers see Washington grappling with the grave challenges of the Revolutionary War and making astute, courageous decisions which would ultimately determine the fate of this country.   There are flashbacks to the brash and daring young soldier who at the tender age of 23 led with bravery beyond his years and survived multiple close calls in the French and Indian War.  The movie follows Washington meeting and falling in love with Martha Custis, and viewers get a sense of the tremendous sacrifices this couple made during the eight years in the battle for American independence.

Filmed primarily at Mount Vernon, the large-format film serves as an important vehicle for visitors as they transition from the present day to the 18th century.  It is presented in rotation in two adjacent theaters with total seating for 450 viewers (300 and 150 seats, respectively).

Mount Vernon in Miniature

Another attraction at the Ford Orientation Center is Mount Vernon in Miniature, an authentic, one-twelfth scaled exact replica of the Mansion.  Touring the United States since its debut in 1998, the mini-Mansion is a working model of the first president’s home and prepares visitors for what they will experience in the real Mansion nearby. 

The Miniature’s doorknobs turn, windows open and close, candles light, drawers open, fireplaces work, and latches latch.  Valued at more than $500,000, the model was created over a period of five years by miniaturists, artisans and Washington enthusiasts.  Two of its walls raise and lower mechanically, and the roof opens up to reveal the beautifully furnished 22-room house, with its finely detailed woodwork and reproductions of Washington’s furniture, china, paintings, and books.  A single mouse whisker was used to hand paint some details on porcelain and lacquer ware pieces.

Lobby Features
The airy lobby of the Ford Orientation Center includes an elliptical floor-to-ceiling wall of glass that embraces a picturesque clearing with views to a pasture.  The light-filled space gives visitors a continuous visual connection to the estate as they receive information before embarking on their tour.  This design element was created by GWWO Inc./Architects to reflect Washington’s own plan for his grounds and his desire for visitors in the 18th century to have glimpses of the estate as they approached via a meandering path. 

Life-sized bronze sculptures of George and Martha Washington and Mrs. Washington’s two grandchildren, Nelly and Washy, welcome visitors to the Ford Orientation Center.  Created by StudioEIS in Brooklyn, New York, and supported by Robert H. and Clarice Smith, the sculptures are a three-dimensional representation of the Washington family and their life at Mount Vernon.

Prior to entering the movie theater, visitors will gravitate to another wall of the lobby featuring a colorful stained glass window, created by the studio of Karl Mueller, depicting five critical scenes from Washington’s remarkable life.  Below the circa 1950s stained glass panels is a timeline orienting visitors to Washington’s accomplishments.

Exhibit Design
Exhibits in the Ford Orientation Center were designed by MFM Design (www.mfmdesign.com).     

Ford Motor Company Fund

Ford Motor Company Fund, the philanthropic arm of Ford Motor Company, supports programs that enhance and enrich the communities where Ford Motor Company does business. Ford Motor Company Fund is committed to creating educational opportunities that stimulate creativity and promote cultural diversity, and Ford’s support for the creation of the Ford Orientation Center is part of the company's longstanding commitment to education and the exploration of our nation’s heritage. In 2005, Ford Motor Company Fund contributed more than $50 million to educational initiatives and cultural programs, including nationally touring exhibitions and performing arts events. In the Washington, D.C. area, Ford has also recently supported a wide range of arts and education initiatives, including two national traveling exhibitions developed with the Smithsonian Institution, Our Journeys/Our Stories and Retratos: 2,000 Years of Latin American Portraits and Enterprising Women: 250 Years of Women in Business, presented at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. For more information on programs made possible by Ford Motor Company Fund, visit www.ford.com.

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For more information on the Ford Orientation Center, please contact Emily Coleman Dibella at edibella@mountvernon.org or 703-799-8607.