In 1774, on the eve of the American Revolution, George Washington began a major expansion of his home, a building whose foundations dated to the 1730s. It was a project that he maintained throughout the war and that he continued after his triumphant return to Mount Vernon.

Inspired by the work that began 250 years ago, the 2024 Mount Vernon Symposium will explore the art and architecture of the British Atlantic in the long-eighteenth century, while surveying the connections between and comparisons of British and American practices in the years preceding and surrounding the American Revolution.

Join leading curators, historians and preservation experts as they examine the diffusion of British style and tastes, from Boston to Charleston, and from England and Ireland, to the Caribbean and the Chesapeake. 

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Add to Calendar 05/31/2024 06/02/2024 America/New_York The 2024 Mount Vernon Symposium

In 1774, on the eve of the American Revolution, George Washington began a major expansion of his home, a building whose foundations dated to the 1730s. It was a project that he maintained throughout the war and that he continued after his triumphant return to Mount Vernon.

Inspired by the work that began 250 years ago, the 2024 Mount Vernon Symposium will explore the art and architecture of the British Atlantic in the long-eighteenth century, while surveying the connections between and comparisons of British and American practices in the years preceding and surrounding the American Revolution.

Join leading curators, historians and preservation experts as they examine the diffusion of British style and tastes, from Boston to Charleston, and from England and Ireland, to the Caribbean and the Chesapeake. 

In-Person Tickets

MemberGeneral Public

Virtual Tickets

Get Virtual Tickets

George Washington Presidential Library George Washington's Mount Vernon tickets@mountvernon.org MM/DD/YYYY 15

The Mount Vernon Symposium is endowed by the generous support of The Robert H. Smith Family Foundation, Lucy S. Rhame, The Felicia Fund, The Sachem Foundation, and Mr. and Mrs. Frank Mauran IV.

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Cost

In-Person
$400 for General Public
$375 for Members and Donors
Includes all Lectures, Meals, and Tours

Virtual: Watch in real-time or through July 4 (30 days after the event)
$40 General Public

On the Eve of Independence: Art and Architecture in the British Empire

All lectures take place in the David M. Rubenstein Leadership Hall within the Washington Library. The schedule is subject to change.

Friday, May 31

12:30-6:00 p.m.

Symposium Registration, Bookout Reception Hall

1:00 p.m.

 Welcome and Introductions

1:15 p.m.

Cosmopolitan and Local in Colonial Boston: Copley’s House
Jeffrey E. Klee

At the end of the colonial period, John Singleton Copley’s house was a prominent fixture on Boston’s Beacon Hill, then a pastoral and remote site with a handful of mansions facing the Common. In July of 1771, Copley planned a series of alterations that would make it more suitable for colonial America’s pre-eminent painter. He described the intended work to his step-brother, Henry Pelham—the subject of the painting with which he made his international reputation, “Boy with a Squirrel.” Though the house does not survive, Copley’s correspondence with Pelham shows how he sought to make the house accommodate both his trans-Atlantic aspirations and his more prosaic domestic requirements. Like his gentry peers on the eve of the Revolution, he inhabited multiple worlds, and used architecture to make himself at home in all of them.

2:15 p.m.

Break

2:30 p.m.

Britain Over the Blue Ridge: Architectural Impressions on Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley
A. Nicholas Powers

By the closing decades of the eighteenth century, Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley was one of the most dynamic regions of early national expansion. Once the fringes of the British empire, emerging markets like Winchester, the largest town west of the Blue Ridge by the Revolution, developed at the intersection of crucial trade and migration routes. Investment in the Valley’s grain and manufacturing trade generated wealth that led to the construction of numerous “mansion houses” near Winchester. Ready to meet this need for sumptuous architecture and furnishings was a mix of free and unfree labor and émigré craftspeople bringing knowledge of fresh, fashionable designs from Great Britain. Through the incorporation of British design elements and furnishings with agrarian motifs, Valley consumers joined a visual dialogue that spanned Virginia, the mid-Atlantic, and sites like Mount Vernon.

Between a Handsome Finish and Sorrowful Discouragement: Black Craftsmen and the Making of American Architecture
Tiffany Momon

On November 4, 1746, Charles Pinckney placed the construction of one of Charleston, South Carolina’s most famous mansions in the hands of enslaved master builder and carpenter John “Quash” Williams. For the next four years, Williams engaged with various Black craftspeople, free and enslaved, to finish the construction of the Pinckney Mansion. On May 20, 1750, Pinckney emancipated Williams and Williams went into business for himself.  While Williams’s life has been the subject of several authors, little is written about the enslaved and free Black craftspeople who labored alongside him. This presentation examines the impact of Black craftsmen on the built environment of eighteenth-century Charleston through the lens of Williams, his peers, and the famed Pinckney Mansion—with the latter long heralded by scholars as a landmark in the development of American architecture in general—treating this as a case study that shines light on the larger history of the city, the region, and everywhere in the nation where enslaved men made up large portions of the construction and craft workforce.

3:45 p.m.

 Break 

4:00 p.m.

Reimagining Hemsley's Cloverfields
Willie Graham

In 2017, a foundation representing the interests of descendants of the builder, purchased Cloverfields to restore it as a private museum. Research soon proved that the dwelling was older than generally thought, dating to 1705. During the restoration, an extraordinary amount of information was learned about the form and finish of this mansion as each successive owner molded the dwelling to fit the ever-changing needs and expectations of gentry families on Maryland’s Eastern Shore over the course of the century. This talk will explore discoveries made during the investigative and restoration phases and highlight how careful architectural forensics can reveal original treatments as manifested in this remarkable restoration.

5:00 p.m.

George Washington’s Mount Vernon: From Revolution to Revitalization
Susan P. Schoelwer and Thomas A. Reinhart

In 1774, as discontent with British taxation roiled the North American colonies, Colonel George Washington began the second expansion of his Mansion house, creating the distinctive form that is today one of America’s most iconic structures. Following Washington’s footsteps 250 years later, carpenters and masons are again at work, on the most ambitious preservation project in Mount Vernon’s history. Designed to prepare the Mansion for its fourth century, the Mansion Revitalization project incorporates a holistic approach that aligns timber framing and masonry repairs with improvements to drainage and environmental systems. Leaders of Mount Vernon’s preservation team will offer symposium participants a behind-the-scenes peek at ongoing work and share highlights of recent discoveries about the Mansion’s evolution and Washington’s architectural and engineering innovations.

6:30 p.m.

Reception, Mansion East Lawn
Mansion Open House

7:15 p.m.

Dinner, Ford Orientation Center

Saturday, June 1

 

8:00 a.m.

Continental Breakfast, Bookout Reception Hall

9:00 a.m.

Welcome and Introductions

9:15 a.m.

Free versus Will: Craftspeople in Early Maryland
Brittany Luberda

In seventeenth- and eighteenth-century American Art galleries, one name—often a white male—is usually listed as the artist, but this belies the diversity of artistic production during the period of slavery and indentured servitude in the United States. In spring 2024, the Baltimore Museum of Art reopened the c. 1773 parlor room of Haberdeventure, the plantation of Declaration signer Thomas Stone, with a display of artworks by free, enslaved, and indentured artists from Colonial and Federal Maryland. The exhibit takes the parlor’s builders and painters, likely enslaved, as its inspiration. Disrupting histories that privilege workshop owners and formally educated painters, the display conveys how artists in early Maryland came from all economic, gender, racial, and national backgrounds through the biographies of hitherto underacknowledged artists. From this, a new body of Maryland makers are restored to the forefront of Chesapeake object, furniture, and painting histories.

Sleuthing Out a Portrait: From Mount Vernon to the British Island of Dominica
Dorinda Evans

A bust-length, oil portrait of an African man in white attire, dating from about 1780, surfaced mysteriously in London by 1940 with a false provenance.  The art dealer involved jumped to assign it to the English-trained, American Gilbert Stuart, and, because the sitter's strange hat resembled a cook's toque, a second leap was made to identify him as George Washington's cook.  But the portrait is not convincing as by Stuart, the hat is not a toque, and Washington's cook (later a run-away slave) was unlikely to have sat to a prominent artist.  Although the hat resembles headgear worn only on a Caribbean island conquered by Britain, it could also be otherwise explained.

10:30 a.m.

Break

11:00 a.m.

Drawing the Lines of Revolution: Pastel Portraits, Boycotts, and American Independence
Megan Baker

During the 1760s, pastel—or crayon—images attained immense popularity, becoming a prominent medium for portraits of colonial Americans. Despite barriers preventing access to necessary imported supplies, the medium experienced explosive growth as political tension grew. Why did pastel portraits rise and fall in different places across British and French North America, and subsequently in the new American nation? As ideas of race and national identity were promulgated, contested, and reformed across the Atlantic, the ephemeral pastel sketch provided an ideal vehicle for recording shifting ideas and allegiances. This paper reconstructs the early history of the pastel in North America to emphasize the politics of media specificity, demonstrating the different ways pastel contributed to the making and breaking of empire.

Disasters in the Eighteenth-Century North Atlantic: Art, Gardens, and Novel
Joseph Litts

Encountering hurricanes and shipwrecks was not unique to the eighteenth century. However, images of destruction became widespread as period garden designs, paintings, and novels featured both natural disasters and their aftermaths. The surge of artistic interest in catastrophe intersected with the growth of real bodies exposed to tragedy through increased circulation—coerced or voluntary—around the Atlantic. In landscape designs, literature, and paintings, representations of disasters and their aftermaths brought calamity into everyday existence. Why did those exposed to the vulnerabilities of the Atlantic world routinely create and enjoy representations of the destructive forces that could end their life or fortunes? I argue this fascination with imagining destruction was a form of risk management adjacent to the growing insurance industry, and both art and finance offered a perverse means of naturalizing settler colonialism.

12:15 p.m.

Lunch, Founders' Terrace

1:45 p.m.

The Endless Round: The London Town House, Politics and Society in the 1770s
Jeremy Musson

In this paper, Jeremy Musson explores the architectural and aesthetic character of the aristocratic London houses of the Georgian period. Among these houses were the homes of the leading political figures of the British establishment at the time of the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and the war which followed. Located close to the all-important Court of St. James, and also to Parliament, and westward of the financial centre of the City, these town houses, funded by landownership, property and mineral exploitation as well as investments in international commerce, were expressions of wealth, fashion and power. A constellation of prestigious glamour around the Court, these houses were designed for the endless round of social and cultural interaction which helped reinforce attitudes about Britain’s place in the world. While a number of the famous country houses of the Georgian aristocracy remain to illustrate political and special prestige of the age, the London houses - or town palaces - are less well known and understood today as few survive in their former splendour, but it is the town houses that should perhaps be regarded as the real ‘power houses’ of the age.

2:45 p.m.

Break

3:15 p.m.

Enlightened Eclecticism: The Grand Design of the 1st Duke and Duchess of Northumberland
Adriano Aymonino

The central decades of the eighteenth century in Britain were crucial to the history of European taste and design. One of the period’s most important campaigns of patronage was that of the 1st Duke and Duchess of Northumberland. This lecture examines their houses—Stanwick Hall, Northumberland House, Syon House, and Alnwick Castle—alongside the innumerable objects they collected and their persistent engagement in Georgian London’s public sphere. Over the years, their commissions pioneered styles as varied as Palladianism, rococo, neoclassicism, and Gothic revival. Patrons of many artists and architects, they are revealed, particularly, as the greatest supporters of Robert Adam. Their development sheds light on the eclectic taste of Georgian Britain, the emergence of neoclassicism and historicism, and the cultures of the Grand Tour.

4:15 p.m.

The Transatlantic Design Network: Thomas Jefferson, John Soane, and Agents of Architectural Exchange
Danielle S. Willkens

Political, economic, and literary historians have studied the transatlantic connections between America, England, and the European continent. More consideration, however, needs to be given to how transatlantic exchange influenced architectural culture. The contours and impact of the Transatlantic Design Network on architectural culture can be traced through a detailed study of Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) and Sir John Soane (1753-1837). Although they never met, they were connected by key figures, such as Maria Hadfield Cosway (1760- 1838), an artist, designer, and educator who corresponded with each man for over four decades. The architectural pilgrimage sites of Monticello and Soane’s Museum are at the heart of this JefferSoanean study, yet the book contextualizes the house museums beyond their nationalistic lenses by uncovering forgotten places, designers, and attributions.

5:45 p.m.

Reception, Mount Vernon Wharf

7:00 p.m.

Dinner, Mount Vernon Wharf

Sunday, June 2

9:00 a.m.

Continental Breakfast, Bookout Reception Hall

9:30 a.m.

The Irish War of Independence and Burning the Big House, 1920-21

Terence Dooley

The burning of around 300 Big Houses, or country homes of the Anglo-Irish aristocracy, in Ireland during the War of Independence and Civil War 1920-23 is a phenomenon of the revolutionary period not tackled by historians until recently. This talk provides a broad overview of the reasons for this destruction, with particular reference to the period of the War of Independence (1920-21), and the consequences of the same. It further delves into other related issues including looting and compensation, thereby offering fresh and original insights to the history of the Irish revolution.

10:15 a.m.

Tory, Whig, Empire: The Implications of Classical Style in the Early Modern British Empire

Sarah Hutcheson

Classical architecture, throughout the British Empire, allowed for a smoothing out of cultural and geographic differences, providing a literal façade of uniformity throughout the empire, and linking colonies firmly back to England by privileging English style and taste. In the colonies, classicism signified allegiance to the British Crown. Within Britain itself, though, English Palladianism of the 18th century was linked to a tradition of Whiggish opposition to the Crown, a reclamation of classical ideals of citizenship and democracy and a necessary antidote to absolute monarchy. As political situations between Crown and colonies changed, so too did the political implications of architectural style. 

Public Architecture and Imperial Reform on the Eve of the Revolution: Governing the British Atlantic after the Treaty of Paris

Christian Koot

Following the Treaty of Paris in 1763 a remarkable array of architectural drawings as well as city and town plans arrived at the offices of the Board of Trade and the Secretary of State in London. These included designs for new or improved public buildings scattered around British America but concentrated in places newly acquired in the Treaty of Paris such as Pensacola and Mobile in West Florida, or those sites deemed to be in need of better integration into the empire including Nassau in the Bahamas and New Bern, North Carolina. What all these images and proposals for buildings had in common was their embrace of the Anglo-Palladian architectural style. Best characterized by its use of balanced, symmetrical and classical design elements, Anglo-Palladian structures embraced neoclassical design for its ability to promote virtue, commerce, and good government. Collectively these planned public buildings would help re-make the architectural image of the British Empire in North America.

11:30 a.m.

Break

11:45 a.m.

Educating the Next Generation in Historic Trades and Preservation

Markus Damwerth, Professor of Architectural Carpenter and Christina Butler, Professor of Historic Preservation at the American College of the Building Arts, will be joined by two of their alumni, Joseph Zemp and Steve Fancsali, now of Mount Vernon, to discuss training in the traditional trades and hands-on preservation. The panelists will address the challenges facing historic sites today from a paucity of rising historic trade artisans, voids in the present preservation curricula, and ACBA’s response through their academic and trade curriculum. The discussion will highlight preservation projects and real-world project applications, including work that Joseph and Steve are undertaking at Mount Vernon.

12:30 p.m.

Symposium Adjourns

 

Speaker Biographies

Adriano Aymonino

Dr. Adriano Aymonino is Programme Director for the MA in the Art Market and the History of Collecting at the University of Buckingham in England. His publications include Drawn from the Antique (Sir John Soane’s Museum, 2015); Enlightened Eclecticism (Yale University Press, 2021, winner of the 2022 Berger Prize for British Art History); and a revised edition of Francis Haskell and Nicholas Penny’s Taste and the Antique (2024). He is also an associate editor of the Journal of the History of Collections. 

Megan Baker

Megan Baker is a doctoral candidate in art history at the University of Delaware. Her dissertation, “Crayon Rebellion: The Material Politics of North American Pastels, 1758-1814,” considers the ascendant popularity of pastel portraits in late eighteenth-century British North America. Megan holds a B.A. from Columbia University and a M.A. from Williams College. Her work has been supported by the American Antiquarian Society, the Huntington Library, the Peabody Essex Museum, and the Unidel Foundation, among others.

David Maxfield Emerging Scholar

Christina R. Butler

Christina R. Butler is a professor of historic preservation and chair of general education at American College of the Building Arts; adjunct faculty at College of Charleston, and owner of Butler Preservation L.C. She is the author of Lowcountry At High Tide: The history of flooding, land reclamation, and drainage in Charleston and Charleston Horse Power: Equine Culture in the Palmetto City. She holds an M.A. in history and a B.A. in historic preservation and community planning.

Markus Damwerth

Markus Damwerth teaches architectural carpentry at the American College of the Building Arts in in Charleston, SC.  He attended the “Master-School” of the chamber of craftsmanship in Lower Bavaria, Germany, graduating as a master carpenter in 1989. He has worked on several projects like the Museum of Modern Arts, in Chemnitz, the House of German History in Bonn, and the episcopal palace in Münster. He chaired of the association of windowmakers in North-Rhine-Westphalia, and was a member of the national board of window makers in Germany.

Terence Dooley

Terence Dooley is Professor of History, Head of Department, and Director of the Centre for the Study of Historic Irish houses and Estates at Maynooth University. He is the author of many books relating to country houses and landed estates. His most recent is the best-selling and highly acclaimed Burning the Big House: The Story of the Irish Country house in a Time of War and Revolution (Yale, 2022), recently released in paperback.

Dorinda Evans

Dorinda Evans has worked as a museum curator and university professor at the National Gallery of Art, Philadelphia Museum of Art, National Portrait Gallery, University of Illinois and Emory University.  She is the author of five books, Benjamin West and His American Students; Mather Brown, Early American Artist in England; The Genius of Gilbert Stuart; Gilbert Stuart and the Impact of Manic-Depression; and William Rimmer, Champion of Imagination in American Art.

Willie Graham

Willie Graham, is an independent scholar and consultant on historic buildings who works primarily in the South and MidAtlantic regions. His expertise includes analyzing, restoring, and reconstructing early structures and landscapes. With over 35 years at Colonial Williamsburg Foundation as curator of architecture, he led significant projects there and sought to set standards in paint analysis, tree-ring dating, and mortar analysis. Graham has authored influential works on vernacular architecture, most notably in The Chesapeake House.

Sarah Hutcheson

Sarah Hutcheson is a PhD candidate in Architecture, Landscape Architecture, and Urbanism at Harvard University, with a focus on the political meanings of architecture in early modern Britain and the British Empire. Sarah’s dissertation research, on the building projects of Charles II, has been supported by the Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies and the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art.

David Maxfield Emerging Scholar

Jeffrey E. Klee

Jeffrey E. Klee is an architectural historian for MCWB Architects, among whose projects is the restoration of the mansion house cellar at Mount Vernon. Before joining MCWB, he was for 17 years part of the Architectural Research Department at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. He teaches courses on American architecture at the College of William & Mary. His doctoral research at the University of Delaware was on the Beacon Hill neighborhood of Boston, the site of John Singleton Copley’s house.

Christian J. Koot

Christian J. Koot is a Professor of History at Towson University where he also serves as Chairperson. He is the author of two books including A Biography of a Map in Motion: Augustine Herrman’s Chesapeake (New York University Press, 2018). He is also a co-founder and co-leader of the Unearthing TU History Project. His current book project examines the building and re-building of Tryon’s Palace in New Bern, North Carolina.

Joseph Litts

Joseph Litts is a Ph.D. Candidate in art history at Princeton University. His dissertation, entitled Natural Disaster in the Atlantic World: Aesthetics, Delight, and Risk During the Eighteenth Century, examines why those exposed to the vulnerabilities of the Atlantic collected paintings of real and imagined catastrophes. The Oak Spring Garden Foundation has supported his dissertation research, and he has worked at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, and the Georgia Museum of Art.

David Maxfield Emerging Scholar

Brittany Luberda

Brittany Luberda is the Anne Stone Associate Curator of Decorative Arts at the Baltimore Museum of Art. Luberda is a specialist in eighteenth-century ceramics and silver. Her publications on decorative arts and curation can be found in Making Her Mark: A History of Women Artists in Europe 1400-1800, Studies in Eighteenth-Century Culture, Journal18: A Journal of Eighteenth-Century Art and Culture, and others. Luberda serves on the board of the American Ceramic Circle and a committee of the Historians of Eighteenth Century Art and Architecture.

David Maxfield Emerging Scholar

 

Tiffany Momon

Tiffany Momon is a public historian and Assistant Professor of History at Sewanee: The University of the South, and founder and co-director of the Black Craftspeople Digital Archive (blackcraftspeople.org), a black digital humanities project that centers black craftspeople, their lives, and their contributions to the making and building of America. Throughout her career, Momon has lectured on the subject of black craftspeople at organizations such as the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts, and others.

Jeremy Musson

Jeremy Musson LLB (Hons), MPhil, FSA is an author of a number of books on the country house and related subjects, including English Country House Interiors and The Drawing Room, and was co-editor with Prof Sir David Cannadine, of The Country House: Past, Present and Future. From 1995, he worked for Country Life magazine, and was its architectural editor 1998-2007. Since then, he has been an independent author and heritage consultant (advising on major buildings such as St Paul’s Cathedral and Hardwick Hall). He also teaches on courses at the Universities of Cambridge, Buckingham, London, and on the NYU in London programme. He is also a trustee of the Historic Houses Foundation.

A. Nicholas Powers

Nick Powers is Curator of Collections at the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley in Winchester, Virginia. A native of the Shenandoah Valley, Powers graduated from James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, in 2011 with a degree in History. In 2014, he graduated from the Winterthur Program in American Material Culture at the University of Delaware. At the MSV, Powers researches, exhibits, and lectures on the museum’s diverse collections. He is also a contract editor for the MESDA Journal.

Danielle S. Willkens

Dr. Danielle S. Willkens, Assoc. AIA, FRSA, LEED AP BD+C is an associate professor at Georgia Institute of Technology’s School of Architecture. She is a practicing designer, historian, and FAA Remote Pilot. She received research support from Sir John Soane’s Museum Foundation, the International Center for Jefferson Studies, the American Philosophical Society, and Dumbarton Oaks. She is on the Board of Trustees for the Atlanta Preservation Center and the Penn Center National Historic Landmark District.

Accommodation

The Washington Presidential Library has a partnership with the Hampton Inn & Suites Mt. Vernon/Belvoir-Alexandria South Area, the closest hotel to the Mount Vernon estate. Book a stay for nights between May 31 and June 2 to take advantage of our exclusive, special rate. Call the hotel directly at (703) 619-7026, and mention the Group Code MVS.

Contact Information

Stephen A. McLeod
Director, Library Programs

smcleod@mountvernon.org
703.799.8686

Parking

Guests should park in Mount Vernon visitor parking lots, and enter the Library via the pedestrian gate near the four-way traffic intersection (across from the Mount Vernon Inn Restaurant).

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