New Museum Exhibition Celebrates George Washington’s Design for Landscape at Mount Vernon
Mount Vernon invites visitors to explore George Washington’s design for the grounds of his estate, through a new exhibition, Gardens & Groves: George Washington’s Landscape at Mount Vernon. Gardens & Groves is the first museum exhibition to focus specifically on Washington’s landmark achievements as a landscape designer combining rarely-seen original documents, artworks, and books with period garden tools, gorgeous landscape photography, and a stunning scale model of the Mount Vernon estate. In Gardens & Groves, visitors can view the first president’s spyglass, watering can, and garden roller, in addition to reading Washington’s notes and instructions for Mount Vernon’s landscape in his own hand.
“Each year, more than a million visitors enjoy the remarkable beauty of Mount Vernon’s gardens and grounds,” said Mount Vernon curator, Susan Schoelwer. “But few realize that the views that we enjoy today were all carefully planned by George Washington himself. Gardens & Groves aims to change that, as visitors have the opportunity to ‘unpack’ the landscape surrounding the Mansion, following in Washington’s footsteps to examine each of the elements in the design.”
The exhibit opened on February 22 with five 18th-century views of Mount Vernon—oil paintings of both river and land fronts of the Mansion, by Edward Savage; two detailed drawings of the layout of the grounds, by English admirer Samuel Vaughan; and a recently-acquired image of the Washingtons relaxing on the piazza in 1796, by Benjamin Henry Latrobe, architect of the US Capitol Building. Due to their fragility, the Vaughan and Latrobe drawings will be on view in Gardens & Groves through August 17, 2014.
“Bringing these five important works together presents a rare opportunity to see Mount Vernon through the eyes of artists who visited during George Washington’s actual lifetime,” said Mount Vernon exhibition curator Adam T. Erby. “These artworks record details of the landscape that we would not otherwise known—information that continues to inform our ongoing research and restoration efforts.”
At the center of Gardens & Groves is a fascinating 8’x 9’x 11’ model of Mount Vernon’s landscape as Washington last saw it in 1799. Developed by Mount Vernon historians, archaeologists, and curators, this state-of-the-art model has returned home from a national tour in Mount Vernon’s traveling exhibition, Discover the Real George Washington: New Views from Mount Vernon. In addition to delighting viewers with its intricate craftsmanship, the model incorporates countless scenes from daily life – laundry drying in the laundry yard, a sailing ship on the Potomac, just-planted trees along the bowling green.
Such details introduce a broad view of the landscape, revealing two separate, but intersecting landscapes that existed at Mount Vernon: the pleasure grounds of the planter and the working spaces of the enslaved community. Gardens & Groves also tells the stories of the men and women, both hired and enslaved, who created and maintained George Washington’s gardens, and visitors will see some actual artifacts that they used, including a copper watering can and archeologically-recovered flower pot fragments.
An interactive touchable will demonstrate the evolution of the landscape at Mount Vernon over time. Visitors will be able to scroll through three topographical maps created by Mount Vernon’s preservation staff, reconstructing the appearance of the landscape when Washington inherited the property, during an early renovation, and as it finally appeared at the end of Washington’s life. On each of the maps, visitors will be able to click on individual elements to bring up more information about a particular feature.
Garden & Groves: George Washington’s Landscape at Mount Vernon is open through January 12, 2016 in the Donald W. Reynolds Museum and Education Center.
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