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The 2016 Mount Vernon Art and Architecture Symposium draws together leading curators, historians, art historians, and preservationists as they reconsider iconic images and landmark structures of early America. Retrace the steps of artists whose unforgettable images of the Revolution and its heroes still shape American identity. Revisit long-lost interiors that gave physical form to the ideals and aspirations of the new Republic, from Baltimore garden rooms, to Boston parlors, to Mount Vernon’s piazza.


Date and Time




David M. Rubenstein Leadership Hall,
Fred W. Smith National Library,
3600 Mount Vernon Memorial Highway,
Mount Vernon, VA 22121

Brushstrokes and Buildings:
Art, Architecture, and the Promise of America

John Gadsby Chapman painted this view of the east side of Mount Vernon in the 1830s.


Watch the Symposium live here.


Friday, May 27th, 2016

1:00 - 6:00 pm

Symposium Registration, Bookout Reception Hall

1:30 pm

Welcome and Introductions, Rubenstein Leadership Hall

1:45 - 2:45 pm

Rubenstein Leadership Hall

All Dressed Up and No Place to Go

Cary Carson

Unexpected archaeological discoveries have a way of turning conventional scholarship bottoms up, then leaving it careened. Often it takes a collaboration with historians and architectural historians to figure out what the new normal really means. Consider this: archeologists working in Virginia have over the years brought to light three extraordinary structures built by a trio of the colony’s greatest pooh-bahs––Sir William Berkeley, Lewis Burwell II, and Robert “King” Carter. Right away scholars concluded that Green Spring (ca. 1660), Fairfield (1694), and Corotoman (1726) were very early, over-the-top, eye-popping, plantations houses. But were they? If so, how curious that none of these grandees took up residence in their newfangled McMansions. All three continued to live next door in the same old-fashioned houses they had occupied for decades. So was there another altogether different purpose for these extravagant, brand-new structures? Attend this lecture and be introduced to the FFVs’ amazing FPPs, the First Families of Virginia’s newly re-discovered, heretofore unsuspected, but indisputably Fabulous Pleasure Palaces.

CARY CARSON was Vice President for Research at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation until his retirement several years ago.  He received his professional training in early modern British and colonial American history from Harvard University and in American decorative arts, architecture, and material culture from the Winterthur Museum Program at the University of Delaware. As Colonial Williamsburg’s chief historian from 1976 to 2006, he was the principal author of three interpretive master plans and was deeply involved in the Foundation’s many restorations, reconstructions, exhibitions, and publications. 

2:45 - 3:30 pm

Rubenstein Leadership Hall

Thomas Jefferson: Framing the Arts in America

Susan Stein

Thomas Jefferson exhibited images of America’s natural wonders, copies of Old Master paintings, and other artworks in Monticello’s Dining Room and Tea Room. © Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello.

Thomas Jefferson was politically and artistically creative.  He dedicated himself to securing the future of the young republic, and believed that the arts were essential to achieving that goal.  Architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe in fact credited him with planting the arts in America.  A self-described “enthusiast on the subject of the arts,” Jefferson was inspired by the art he saw in France.  He encouraged artists to expand their repertoires beyond portraiture to paint American history and America’s natural wonders.  This talk will consider Jefferson’s formative role, including the art he collected and the artists he influenced, particularly John Trumbull and Charles Willson Peale.

SUSAN R. STEIN is the Richard Gilder Senior Curator and Vice President of Museum Programs at Monticello.  Ms. Stein oversees the Curatorial and Restoration departments and has been involved in the comprehensive presentation, restoration, and interpretation of Monticello since 1986.  Her research interests involve material culture at Monticello, especially the decorative arts and art acquired by Jefferson in France.  She recently oversaw the restoration and furnishing of Monticello’s upper floors.

3:30 - 4:00 pm


4:00 - 4:45 pm

Rubenstein Leadership Hall

The "Front of Faded Red": Imaging Washington's Boyhood and its Home

Philip Levy

Benson Lossing's print of the Ferry Farm Washington home was one of the first commercially available images of the building. Though almost entirely conjectural, it helped set in motion a chain of images that informed public option and scholarship into the 21st century.

Parson Weems's Cherry Tree Fable may be the single best-known story associated with George Washington. The tale has been many things over the years and has been told in many forms. But central to each telling is the home where the young boy confessed his misdeed to a loving father. As artists created commercial and even devotional renderings of the story, they created as well a chain of images of the long-lost Washington home that once sat on the bluffs of the Rappahannock overlooking the city of Fredericksburg. This presentation explores how the changing image of the Washington home tacked and turned as Americans imagined the young the Washington they found most useful. 

PHILIP LEVY is a Professor of History at the University of South Florida. In 2008 he won international attention for co-leading the team that found the remains of George Washington’s childhood home at Ferry Farm in Fredericksburg, Virginia—the saga of which he recounted in his 2013 book, Where the Cherry Tree Grew: The Story of Ferry Farm, George Washington’s Boyhood Home. His forthcoming book, George Washington Written Upon the Land explores the many retellings of Washington’s much-fabled childhood and covers themes ranging from biography to archaeology and environmental history to rabbinic thought.  He is a member of the Washington Library’s current class of research fellows.

4:45 - 6:30 pm Reception and Book Signings, Founders' Terrace

6:30 - 9:00 pm

Garden Strolling, Tours, and Barbecue at Woodlawn and Pope-Leighey House

Woodlawn, designed by Dr. William Thornton, architect of the U.S. Capitol, and built in 1805 for Major Lawrence Lewis, and his wife, Eleanor Parke "Nelly" Custis. Photo by Gordon Beall

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Pope-Leighey House, located on the grounds of Woodlawn Plantation.  Photo byPaul Burk

 Saturday, May 28th, 2016

8:00 - 9:00 am

Continental Breakfast, Bookout Reception Hall

9:00 - 10:00 am

Rubenstein Leadership Hall

Colonial Upstarts or Harbingers of a New World to Come?: Benjamin West and John Singleton Copley

Emily Ballew Neff

Benjamin West, The Death of General Wolfe (1770), courtesy of National Gallery of Ottawa. The trio at left, including a Scottish Highlander, colonial ranger, and member of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois Confederacy), assert the promise of a new America through its co-mingling of cultures. 

In the world of art, no one embodied the promise of America more than painters Benjamin West (1738-1820) and John Singleton Copley (1738-1815). When they embarked on their careers, London was their capital and both aspired—and succeeded brilliantly—in attracting the attention of the most important figures in the London art world, even becoming, in time, the leading figures of that very world: West served as the second and longest-running President of the Royal Academy, and Copley sensationally reimagined history painting as it had been previously understood in the world of art. Neff will examine the two paintings that catapulted these artists to international fame: West’s The Death of General Wolfe and Copley’s Watson and the Shark. She will show how both paintings put on display a new world of American promise, as well as ambivalence, in theatrical paintings that romanticized current events and captured the imagination of the public.

EMILY BALLEW NEFF is Executive Director of the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art. She has organized many exhibitions, including the critically-admired American Adversaries: West and Copley in a Transatlantic World, and written several publications on the subject of colonial American art, and painting and photography of the American West. For two decades, Neff served as the first curator of American Painting and Sculpture at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. She is also a former President of the Association of Art Museum Curators (AAMC). She received her BA from Yale University; her MA from Rice University; and her doctorate from the University of Texas at Austin.

10:00 - 10:15 am Break

10:15 - 11:00 am

Rubenstein Leadership Hall

From "1 Neat Landskip... for a Chimny" to views "worth a voiage across the Atlantic": Landscape Representation in George Washington's Mount Vernon and Thomas Jefferson's Monticello

Anna O. Marley

George Washington installed this "Neat Landskip" (after Claude Lorrain) in the Mansion's west parlor in 1757.

Marley will examine the deployment of landscape painting in the homes of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson in order to illustrate the changing nature of landscape consumption from the colonial to early national period. The talk will begin with Washington's 1757 commission for a "neat landskip" for his best room, continue to the addition of the large dining room at Mount Vernon in the 1780s, and conclude with Jefferson's dining room upon his retirement to Monticello in the first decade of the nineteenth century. The home in the long eighteenth-century was a place of business, entertainment, and reception, and since the landscape paintings hung not in private rooms such as back parlors or bed chambers, but rather in the most visible of places in domestic interiors, parlors and dining rooms, they must be read in terms of these public functions. By examining the changes in two, very significant, houses over 30 years one can see how landscape aesthetics mirror, as well as resist, the political transformation of colony to country.

ANNA O. MARLEY is the Curator of Historical American Art at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. She is a scholar of American art and material culture from the colonial era to 1945 and holds a BA in Art History from Vassar College, an MA in Museum Studies from the University of Southern California and a Ph.D. from the University of Delaware, where she completed a dissertation on 18th- and early 19th-century landscape paintings and their display in international merchant’s domestic interiors.

11:00 - 11:45 am

Rubenstein Leadership Hall

The Country House in American Art

William L. Coleman

The Van Rensselaer Manor House, by Thomas Cole, courtesy of the Albany Institute of History & Art

Mount Vernon is surely the most frequently depicted country house in American art, but it is not alone. This symposium provides the ideal setting in which to take stock of the art of “house portraiture,” the depiction of country houses in their landscape settings, as it has been practiced on this side of the Atlantic. From tentative beginnings of an art steeped in British aristocratic contexts to its flowering in the hands of members of the so-called “Hudson River School,” house portraiture has played an important role in the development of an American tradition of landscape painting. Moreover, when artists like Charles Willson Peale, William Birch, and Thomas Cole designed and built country houses of their own, they put lessons learned from depicting the houses of others into practice and entered into dialogue with the influential houses of earlier artists and writers, both in the U.S. and abroad. 

WILLIAM L. COLEMAN is a Postdoctoral Fellow in American Art at Washington University in St. Louis, where he curated the 2016 exhibition “Abodes of Plenty: American Art of the Inhabited Landscape.” He received his PhD from Berkeley in 2015 after master’s degrees from Oxford and the Courtauld Institute and a bachelor’s from Haverford. He is at work on a book called “Painting Houses: The Domestic Landscape of the Hudson River School.”

12:00 - 2:00 pm

Lunch, Founders' Terrace

2:00 - 2:45 pm

Rubenstein Leadership Hall

John Gadsby Chapman: Painting Virginia's Historical Legacy in the 1830s

Lydia Brandt and Adam Erby

Residence of George Washington's Mother in Fredericksburg, Virginia by Chapman, courtesy of Homeland Foundation, Inc.

After studying painting in Italy, a young John Gadsby Chapman returned to his native Virginia in 1831 with hopes to take the American art scene by storm. He immediately utilized his family connections and knowledge of the state to carve a position for himself in American history painting, resulting in the 1840 monumental “Baptism of Pocahontas” for the Capitol rotunda. Although critics panned the work and today’s art historians usually dismiss Chapman, his images of Virginia played a crucial role in establishing an iconography of the Republic and the memory of George Washington.

Through a reevaluation of Chapman’s training, oeuvre, and network, this paper will reevaluate the artist’s enterprising combination of history and landscape painting. It will examine the creative ways Chapman took advantage of the burgeoning markets for popular printed images and biographies, and how it resulted in new images and memories of early Virginia, Washington, Mount Vernon, and the quickly disappearing Revolutionary generation.

LYDIA MATTICE BRANDT, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the School of Visual Art and Design at the University of South Carolina, where she teaches the history of American art and architecture and the theories and methods of historic preservation. The University of Virginia Press will publish her book, First in the Homes of His Countrymen: George Washington’s Mount Vernon in the American Imagination, in fall 2016.

ADAM T. ERBY is associate curator at George Washington’s Mount Vernon, where he is responsible for both special exhibitions and historic interiors.  He was a major contributor to the recent conservation of the Mansion’s “New Room,” and he curated the special exhibition Gardens & Groves: George Washington’s Landscape at Mount Vernon. He is the principal author of the recently released book The General in the Garden: George Washington’s Landscape at Mount Vernon.

2:45 - 3:30 pm

Rubenstein Leadership Hall

"Anything Worth Looking Up": Edward Lamson Henry and American Architecture

Amy Kurtz Lansing

Edward Lamson Henry's Drafting the Letter (1871) depicts an incident from the American Revolution set in the artist's recreation of a room at Graeme Park, in suburban Philadelphia. Courtesy, Private Collection

 Painting in the decades following the Civil War and surrounding the Centennial, Edward Lamson Henry (1841–1919) crafted genre scenes that gave visual form to the American colonial and federal eras. An unsung figure in the nascent field of historic preservation, Henry described his “stock in trade” as that of an antiquary who documented and collected relics of historic buildings, interiors, furnishings, and costumes. With these tools at his disposal, he composed pictorial vignettes that recreate historical moments within the settings where they occurred, from Cliveden and Graeme Park near Philadelphia, to John Hancock’s Boston house and William Byrd’s Westover estate in Virginia. This presentation explores the complex intersection of fact and fiction in these works, as the artist and his audience struggled to define postbellum America through the medium of the nation’s history.

AMY KURTZ LANSING is Curator at the Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme, Connecticut, home of an early-20th-century Impressionist art colony based in the historic 1817 mansion of Florence Griswold. She is the author of several publications about nineteenth and twentieth-century American art. As a Ph.D. candidate at Yale University, she organized the exhibition Historical Fictions: Edward Lamson Henry’s Paintings of Past and Present, which appeared at the Yale University Art Gallery and the New-York Historical Society.

4:00 - 7:30 pm Behind-the-Scenes Tours, Mansion Tours, and Piazza Reception

8:00 - 10:00 pm

Dinner, Ford Orientation Center

 Sunday, May 29th, 2016

7:45 - 9:00 am Optional Morning Worship (Episcopal) at Nearby Historic Pohick Church where George Washington Attended and Served as Vestryman, Followed by Tour
9:00 - 9:30 am Continental Breakfast, Bookout Reception Hall

9:30 - 10:15 am

Rubenstein Leadership Hall

Porticoes, Painted Furniture, and Pleasure Gardens: New Life Styles in Federal America, 1785 - 1820

Wendy Cooper

Lemon Hill on the Schuylkill River, Philadelphia, Painted by John A. Woodside in 1807

No sooner had the Treaty of Paris been signed in September 1783, than Americans were traveling abroad and adopting architectural ideas for their new style residences at home.  Country houses with oval saloons, or similar additions to earlier city houses, heralded a new perspective on a style of life that took one outside to the garden and sometimes brought the garden inside.  Focusing primarily on houses in the mid-Atlantic region, the manner of furnishing these new rooms, and the entertainments that took place in them, will be explored.  The burgeoning interest in gardens, as well as greenhouses and hothouses, will also be revealed, as they relate to the lifestyle of these stylish and enterprising Americans.

WENDY A. COOPER is Curator Emerita of furniture at Winterthur Museum following almost two decades there as senior curator of furniture.  She is a former Curator of Decorative Arts at the Baltimore Museum of Art, and organized the traveling exhibition Classical Taste in America, 1800-1840 with the accompanying book. In 2011 she organized the ground-breaking exhibition Paint, Pattern, and People: Furniture of Southeastern Pennsylvania, 1725-1850 at Winterthur.  She is now a freelance consultant, researcher, writer, and lecturer. 

10:15 - 11:00 am

Rubenstein Leadership Hall

"Splendid and Fascinating": Boston Interiors in the New Republic

Jane and Richard Nylander

Withdrawing room tea corner, Harrison Gray Otis House, Boston, Mass.  Courtesy of Historic New England

In the years between the Battle of Yorktown and War of 1812, Boston witnessed changing styles of architecture and decoration, new technologies, and increasing prosperity. An expanded circle of travel and trade brought luxury goods of all kinds from around the world.  Handsome country seats were built by the elite in salubrious locations conveniently close to the growing city. The interiors of both town and country houses featured both locally made and imported furnishings of all sorts as well as paintings and sculpture that reflected an increased interest in and understanding of the fine arts.

JANE C. NYLANDER is President Emerita of the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities. Formerly  President of Strawbery Banke Museum and Senior Curator at Old Sturbridge Village, she is now a Trustee of Old Sturbridge Village, Secretary of the Decorative Arts Trust, and Honorary Trustee of Historic Deerfield. Her many publications include Our Own Snug Fireside: Images of the New England Home, Windows on the Past, Fabrics for Historic Buildings, and more than ninety articles. 

RICHARD. C. NYLANDER is Curator Emeritus of Historic New England. An internationally recognized expert on historic wallpaper, he is the author of Wallpaper in New England and Wallpaper for Historic Buildings. Mr. Nylander has consulted on many historic house restorations and has been appointed by four Presidents to the Committee for the Preservation of the White House, where he has served for over twenty-five years.

11:00 - 11:15 am Break

11:15 am - 12:00 pm

Rubenstein Leadership Hall

Thomas Cole: The Unknown Architect

Annette Blaugrund

Thomas Cole (1801-1848), The Architect's Dream, 1840, Oil on canvas, 53 x 84 1/16 in. Toledo Museum of Art, OH, Purchased with funds from the Florence Scott Libbey Bequest in Memory of her Father, Maurice A. Scott, 1949.162

At the height of his career as the leader of the Hudson River School of American landscape painting, Thomas Cole listed his profession as architect, not painter, in the New York City Directory. Why such a renowned painter, who had never designed a building, would advertise himself as an architect, is the subject of this illustrated lecture. 

The importance of Cole's painting and the significance of his essays, poems, and philosophy are well established, yet his architectural endeavors and their impact on his work have received little attention. I will focus on the architectural elements found in Cole's paintings and drawings as well as on his three realized projects. To see him as an artist, utilizing architectural history as a philosophical guide to humanity's journey through time, or to see him pragmatically, as an architect with a practical project, entering the Ohio State Capitol competition, is to see him in a new light.

ANNETTE BLAUGRUND, an independent scholar, author, and curator, was director of the National Academy Museum for eleven years. Previously, she worked at the Brooklyn Museum, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, and the New-York Historical Society. She earned her Ph.D. in art history at Columbia University and has written numerous books about American art. Blaugrund also curated the show Thomas Cole: The Artist as Architect, which is currently on exhibit at the Thomas Cole National Historic Site, and is the author of the accompanying book by the same title, published by the Monacelli Press.

12:00 pm Symposium Adjourns