The Real George Washington

by Jessica on January 16, 2012

What do you really know about George Washington?

If you said anything about cherry trees, wooden teeth, or his portrait on the dollar bill then you only know part of the story.  Most people have separated the legend from the truth on the tree and teeth business, but it is that iconic portrait that left behind the biggest false impression of the Father of our Country. 

Gilbert Stuart, the artist whose rendition of the president has become an eternal fixture in American lore, may have actually done the most damage in helping us to understand the real George Washington.  When Washington sat for this famous portrait in 1796, he was uncomfortably sporting a new pair of non-wooden, but ill-fitting dentures, making his jaw and mouth look uncharacteristically stiff.   Martha Washington was said to never be satisfied with this portrait and historians agree that the charisma and presence for which the real George Washington was know are missing from this most famous portrait.   Nevertheless, the portrait has become the most recognizable image of the first president, in large part because it is the portrait that graces the front of the dollar bill.

The quest to discover the real George Washington launched a two year forensic  study that combined the skills of computer scientists, art historians, 18th-century garment experts, and a forensic scientist to recreate the true likeness of Washington.   From primary resources, including a cast of the president’s face, the team painstakingly created three lifelike, full size wax figures representing Washington at the age of 19 as a surveyor, the age of 45 as a General, and the age of 57 as he became the first president of the United States. 

These three masterworks are the centerpieces of Discover the Real George Washington: New Views from Mount Vernon, now on traveling exhibition at the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History.  Approximately 100 original objects associated with George Washington – including the only surviving complete set of his famous dentures – are also on display in this fascinating exhibit that reveal the real George Washington as not only a general and president but as a young land surveyor, experimental farmer, and savvy entrepreneur.

The exhibition is presented in 11 sections, ranging from Washington’s youth to his death in 1799. In addition to Washington’s dentures, paintings, books, maps, and objects such as surveying equipment, Revolutionary War weaponry, tools used by slaves, and presidential table settings are among the artifacts featured in the exhibition.  Videos from the History Channel and interactive touch screens enhance the interactivity of the exhibit.

Coming face to face with George Washington at any age presents a man of handsome features and impressive physical size. This depiction creates a commanding presence that makes it obvious why he was able to lead a band or ragged rebels into the creation of a great nation.

Discovering the Real George Washington will be on exhibit at the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History for one more week before it goes back on the road with stops in Simi Valley, CA, Tulsa, OK, Columbus, OH, and Nevada. 

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