Posts

“De-aging” George Washington

Special note: This story has been condensed and reprinted from the Summer 2006 edition of The Affiliate newsletter. Part of our Seriously Amazing Affiliates blog series.

Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens has preserved the home of George Washington for more than 150 years, always striving to present the most current and well-researched scholarship about our nation’s first president. In 2006, the Donald W. Reynolds Museum and Education Center opened at Mount Vernon, featuring three life-size mannequins of Washington, created, in part, through a unique collaboration between Mount Vernon, a Smithsonian Affiliate; several Smithsonian experts; and the National Museum of Dentistry, also an Affiliate. 

Jeffrey Schwartz, physical anthropologist and professor at the University of Pittsburgh, led the two-year effort. Using his knowledge of teeth and bone structure, Schwartz examined the existing evidence for clues about George Washington’s appearance at different times in his life. Aiding him in this forensic reconstruction was the Partnership for Research in Spatial Modeling (PRISM), a laboratory at Arizona State University that specializes in 3-D digital imaging.  

3-D computer generated images are a result of scanning Washington’s life mask and portrait bust. Photo courtesy of Mount Vernon Ladies Association.

Mount Vernon identified the many relics of Washington’s life that could provide necessary information. Using a computerized digital scanner, Schwartz scanned a 1785 life mask owned by the Morgan Library & Museum, a Jean-Antoine Houdon bust at the Corcoran Gallery of Art and a full body Houdon sculpture in the Virginia State Capitol Rotunda. Many of the Washington objects owned by the Smithsonian were also scanned or examined by Schwartz and his team.  

One of the biggest challenges was determining what Washington looked like as a young man as no portraits depict his image before the age of 40. To help, the National Portrait Gallery provided insight into the many portraits of Washington, as well as into the conventions of 18th century portraiture. 

Washington’s dentures played a vital role in reconstructing Washington’s face. As he lost teeth and bone in his jaw, the shape of his face changed. Dentures also change the jaw line depending on how they fit in the mouth. By examining the dentures that Washington used in his lifetime, the team was able to create a timeline that identified the progression of Washington’s tooth loss. As the mannequins depict Washington at the ages of 19, 45 and 57, this timeline provided critical information on the changing shape of Washington’s face. 

A set of George Washington’s dentures. Photo courtesy of the National Museum of Dentistry.

Three versions of Washington’s dentures can be found at the National Museum of Dentistry in Baltimore, Maryland. One is an original, complete denture for the lower jaw dated 1795, while the other two are replicas of dentures in other collections. 

Since 18th century portraits emphasized the sitter’s face and not the body, information on Washington’s build was extracted from his clothing. By taking volumetric measurements of his trousers, waistcoats and shirts, clues to Washington’s height (6’ 2”) and build could be extrapolated.  

The National Museum of American History gave the team access to Washington’s military uniform which provided the prototype for the costume to be worn by the 45-year-old mannequin depicting Washington at Valley Forge.  

After consulting with these experts, the scans and measurements were fed into a special computer program that produced three-dimensional images of Washington. Eventually, the images were printed out or “milled” on a special machine into high-density foam, and the mannequins became reality.

What I did on my summer vacation – American history through her Ships

This summer I had an opportunity to experience American history from an interesting perspective – on the water.  My travels took me to three Affiliates whose ships – actual, life-size, working ships – punctuate important moments in our history.   The Mayflower II, the USS Constitution, and the Charles W. Morgan all illustrate the crucial contributions of “sailors” (of all types) to our nation’s success.  

“Being thus arrived in a good harbor and brought safe to land, [we] fell upon [our] knees and blessed the God of Heaven who had brought [us] over the vast and furious ocean.”   Especially today, a visitor to the Mayflower II can still deeply appreciate these words by the Plymouth colony’s first governor, William Bradford.  The magnitude of this bravery is inspiring to imagine.    

On one of the upper decks of the Mayflower II, in Plymouth harbor.

The Mayflower II is a faithful reproduction of the original, historic ship that brought the Pilgrims to the coast of Massachusetts in November 1620 (and was given to the United States by the British in 1957).  Exploring the decks of the ship and its cramped quarters, it’s easy to imagine the fears and anxieties of its 102 passengers, including 3 pregnant women, who lived there for over ten weeks.  Also on board were all the food, clothing, furniture, tools and other items they would need to start a life in a foreign land.

The travails of such a voyage and the biographies of its passengers are fascinating.  But the interpreters’ discussion of the Mayflower Compact is equally inspirational.  After the tumultuous voyage and a protracted start to finding an anchoring spot on Cape Cod, the community on board collectively decided to delay disembarking until they had a self-governing treaty in place.  That act, and their subsequent diplomacy with the indigenous Wampanoag, reveal the very early beginnings of what American democracy would look like, both in its best and worst incarnations. 

Plimoth Plantation, Smithsonian Affiliate, does a great job of telling both sides of this story in all of its sites – from the ship to the Wampanoag Homesite and the English Village.  What I quickly realized is that the Pilgrim story is much more complex than the one we celebrate at Thanksgiving, and well worth delving in deeper to appreciate. 

“Huzzah! her sides are made of iron!”  Up north in Boston, I toured the USS Constitution.  Most know her by her nickname, Old Ironsides, based on this exclamation by one of her sailors.  The ship sits in the Charlestown Navy Yard next door to Smithsonian Affiliate, the USS Constitution Museum.

I learned that it was George Washington himself who commissioned the building of the USS Constitution  in the Naval Armament Act of 1794.  And today, the USS Constitution is the oldest commissioned warship in the world; it’s still an active duty vessel in the U.S. Navy. 

Ready to go onboard the USS Constitution, in Boston’s Charlestown Navy Yard

Most importantly, she is undefeated.  The USS Constitution fought in several wars, most famously in the War of 1812.  That war, often called the Second War of Independence, definitively established the power and resolve of our new nation.  The celebrated victories of the USS Constitution incarnated that resolve.  She is most famous for her victory over the HMS Guerriere in July 1812, when the British ship’s 18-pound iron cannonballs, shot at close range, “bounced” off her sides.  (Her hull is not, in fact, made of iron, but of oak.)  The battle was over in 35 minutes. 

Touring the ship is amazing, but it’s in the museum where the story gets really unpacked.  Here, you come to understand what life was like on the ship – how much sailors were paid, what they ate and wore.  You can even try out how they slept, on hammocks only inches apart from one another.  Being there this summer as the museum commemorates the 200th anniversary of that fateful victory was especially moving, another reminder of the bravery and sacrifice of our military that solidified the foundation of our nation.

“The story of the American whaling industry… is a rousing chapter in American history…emblematic of a vastly larger story.”  So Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David McCullough describes the iconic Charles W. Morgan ship, docked at Smithsonian Affiliate Mystic Seaport in southern Connecticut.

The Morgan is the crown jewel of the Seaport’s collection, America’s last surviving wooden whaleship, and a designated National Historic Landmark since 1966.  Built in 1841, she made 37 voyages in her 80 years of service, surviving countless hazards of the sea such as ocean storms, Arctic ice, and even, a cannibal attack.

But why is a whaleship so important to American history?  Before kerosene and petroleum were discovered later in the 19th century, whale oil (and other byproducts) were  the primary commodity used for illumination and lubrication.  Think about that – American lighthouses, lamps, candles, street lights, and industry machines were all powered by whale oil, and kept our economy moving forward.  As Herman Melville said in the great whaling novel Moby Dick, it was considered “as rare as the milk of queens.” 

Checking out the Morgan’s blubber room.

Her effect on our economy is not the only important story.  The Morgan literally sailed all over the world, and attracted an incredibly diverse global crew who eventually became U.S. citizens.  The ship is the last surviving reminder of a major international economic force, but also, a living piece of history that tells great stories of adventure, hardship and immigration. 

All three of these amazing ships still sail.  All three have been, or will be, on the water again – the Mayflower II at its 50th anniversary in 2007, the USS Constitution this summer to commemorate its 200th anniversary victory, and next summer, the Morgan will embark on her 38th voyage to the New England ports she visited decades ago.

So here’s to the ships, their passengers and crews, that so bravely shaped our history.  Huzzah!

 

Remembering America’s Real War of Independence

Most of us know little about the War of 1812.  What were its causes, when did it start, who were its heroes and how did it end?  If we remember anything at all, it may be the burning of Washington, D.C., the bombardment of Baltimore’s Fort McHenry – the event that inspired Francis Scott Key to pen our national anthem – and perhaps Andrew Jackson’s victory at the Battle of New Orleans (fought two weeks after the signing of the treaty that ended the war).  For most of us the rest is a long-forgotten chapter in dusty old textbooks.  An upcoming exhibition at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery will assemble a remarkable number of paintings and artifacts from the War of 1812 in an effort to remind us that it was this war that completed the unfinished business of the American Revolution and secured our true independence from the British, once and for all. 

The Star Spangled Banner at the National Museum of American History. Photo courtesy National Museum of American History.

As the 200th Anniversary of the War of 1812 approaches, two artifacts stand out as enduring symbols of this era:  the original Star Spangled Banner, on display at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, and the USS Constitution, the victorious naval vessel, still commissioned and now docked at the Charlestown Navy Yard in Boston. 

The USS Constitution near the USS Constitution Museum in Boston. Photo by Smithsonian Affiliations.

On October 20, I had the honor of announcing our new Affiliation with the USS Constitution Museum, thus symbolically joining these two great artifacts into one family.  Both tell us much about the sacrifices of prior generations and the many hardships endured along the road to freedom. Both are also amazing examples of the combined efforts of generations of concerned citizens, public officials, historians and museum professionals to preserve these precious legacies  of our nation’s early and fragile years. 

We hope that the upcoming Bicentennial of the War of 1812 will draw further attention to the work that museums are doing to preserve our nation’s past and draw lessons for our future.  Are there any War of 1812 stories, artifacts, or historic landmarks in your communities?  Let us hear from you so that we can work together to present the fullest picture of this critical part of our history. 

Harold A. Closter
See more photos from Harold’s visit to the museum here.

Smithsonian Affiliations Director, Harold Closter, with USS Constitution commanding officers. Photo by Smithsonian Affiliations.

50th Anniversary of the Freedom Rides

Special thanks for this guest post to Allyson Nakamoto, Teacher Programs Manager at the Japanese American National Museum (Los Angeles, California).

Panelists (L to R): Robert Singleton, Helen Singleton, Sybil Jordan Hampton (moderator), Tamio Wakayama

I often take for granted how easy it is to follow breaking news. To find out what happened during a raid on a compound in Pakistan, I can turn on a 24-hours news channel or click on a few links to get caught up.

Student with his artwork inspired by the Freedom Rides

But 50 years ago the medium of television was new.  And 50 years ago today, the first buses of Freedom Riders (and three reporters) left Washington, D.C. and headed South to test Boynton v. Virginia, the U.S. Supreme Court decision that had desegregated interstate travel. What followed changed the course of the United States history.

The Freedom Rides have been on our minds a lot this year.  On February 9, 2011 the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History organized a Web cast and National Youth Summit that brought together Freedom Riders in D.C. and engaged five Smithsonian Affiliates from across the nation to discuss the meaning of the Freedom Rides and the role of young people in shaping America’s past and future.

JANM was honored to have been selected as the West Coast venue for this program and streamed the Webcast to a live audience of students from LAUSD’s Civitas School of Leadership and Ribet Academy. Following the Webcast, Dr. Robert and Mrs. Helen Singleton, two Los Angeles-based Freedom Riders, and Mr. Tamio Wakayama, a Japanese Canadian member of SNCC, were on a panel moderated by Dr. Sybil Jordan Hampton, a member of JANM’s Board of Trustees and herself an important figure in the Civil Rights Movement. We were star struck!!!

This has gotten us thinking about how the Freedom Rides impacted Japanese Americans, and especially how it may have emboldened those in the Redress Movement. What were the Issei, Nisei, and Sansei who watched these images broadcast on national television (just as that medium was becoming commonplace) thinking and feeling as they watched the buses burning, the cruel racism, and brave individuals standing up for what was right?

What would you have been thinking if you had been watching those Freedom Riders make their way South under the “protection” of Boynton v. Virginia?

P.S. To learn more about the Freedom Rides, tune into your PBS station on May 16 and also we highly recommend The Children by David Halberstam. Learn more about new generation of young people who are about to retrace the path of the Freedom Riders. And, maybe you can catch a glimpse of the Singletons when Oprah Winfrey reunites the Freedom Riders on May 4.

Photographer: Tracy Kumono

Sonoma County Museum shares local bracero stories through SITES exhibition

Juan Villa and friend performing Corridos at the "Free Family Day" at the Sonoma County Museum.

This past November, Sonoma County Museum opened the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service’s (SITES) Bittersweet Harvest: The Bracero Program, 1942-1964 and they hoped that their local community would help bring the exhibition alive.  The museum was not disappointed.  Through a busy schedule of public events at the museum, visitors responded to the exhibition in a very personal way.  

When the National Museum of American History (NMAH) began researching the Leonard Nadel photographs that were taken to document the lives of the migrant farm workers, curators realized that they had an enormous asset to learn more about the images: the people who were there.  Many braceros are alive today, never having shared their past stories with anyone other than their immediate families.  In some cases, their children are not even aware of their pasts.  Research focused on collecting oral histories and documenting experiences of the thousands of workers that participated in this government program.  When the traveling exhibition was organized, curators hoped that each stop on its tour would yield more stories from this important chapter in American history.  Sonoma County Museum’s programs did just that.  

Oral history screen in the "Bittersweet Harvest" exhibition.

Eric Stanley, Exhibitions and Collections Curator at the Sonoma County Museum told us how they approached the programming that complemented the exhibition so well.  The museum began with video oral histories of local braceros, filmed several months before the opening.  “The oral history project was sponsored in part by a programming grant from SITES, which helped facilitate the project,” said Eric.  Eric also had the opportunity to see the NMAH installation of the exhibition, while in Washington, D.C. as a Smithsonian Affiliations Visiting Professional.  He was able to meet with staff who had planned programming for the original show, which inspired some facets of the installation at the Sonoma County Museum, including a hands on table at which visitors could try out some of the tools braceros used.  

The video oral histories became the centerpiece of the opening reception, which drew many of the interviewed braceros and their families.  One guest, Cruz Leon Martinez, worked as a bracero before settling in Sonoma County- where he found work in a winery.  Mr. Martinez attended with several generations of his family and guests, proud to share the video oral history with them. 

Former bracero Cruz Leon Martinez (seated with hat) and his family at the opening reception.

Sonoma County Museum also hosted a “Free Family Day” which featured live performances of corridos and other songs about labor and migration.  The standing-room only event featured a recent documentary on the Bracero Program and was well covered in the media.   Eric told us that the exhibit has been very popular with tour groups and that he has received many thank you’s from students who have visited the exhibition.  One such note says, “I want to thank you because you gave us the opportunity to go see the museum. I learned about how people were living in their past … I’m going to ask my mom to go to the museum with my sister, because I would like to see my little sister learning about our past.”  

Bittersweet Harvest: The Bracero Program, 1942-1964 is on view at the Sonoma County Museum until January 30, 2011.

All photographs courtesy Sonoma County Museum.

affiliates in the news

Congratulations to these Affiliate making headlines!

Frost Art Museum at Florida International University (Miami, Florida)
Smithsonian Secretary Wayne Clough to speak at FIU Nov. 19…READ MORE 

Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico (San Juan, Puerto Rico)
Art Museum of Puerto Rico will host the most complete collection of works by José Campeche…ENGLISH VERSION / SPANISH VERSION 

Plimoth Plantation (Plymouth, Massachusetts)
Plimoth Plantation to show History Channel Thanksgiving film…READ MORE 

The Air Zoo (Portage, Michigan)
Air Zoo plans 50,000-square-foot addition for exhibits, aircraft and library…READ MORE 

Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art (Biloxi, Mississippi)
Frank Gehry-Designed Mississippi Museum Highlights Sculptor George E. Ohr…READ MORE 

Conner Prairie (Fishers, Indiana)
History Park Receives National Honor…READ MORE
Agency names Conner Prairie one of top U.S. museums…READ MORE 

Poverty Point SHS (Pioneer, Louisiana)
Poverty Point recognition well deserved…READ MORE
Poverty Point gains attention…READ MORE
Poverty Point now a Smithsonian affiliate…READ MORE
Poverty Point Now a Smithsonian Affiliate…READ MORE 

Japanese American National Museum (Los Angeles, CA)
“American Tapestry” Exhibition Tells 25 Stories through Collected Objects, Art…READ MORE
L.A.’s Japanese American National Museum wins federal medal for excellence, and $10,000…READ MORE 

National Museum of American Jewish History (Philadelphia, PA)National Museum of American Jewish History Opening…READ MORE
Jewish Museum Opens Its Doors to History: Past, Present, Future…READ MORE
Philly home to one-of-a-kind museum of Jewish history…READ MORE
National Museum of American Jewish History gala…READ MORE…WATCH VIDEO
National Museum of American Jewish History tells ‘story of America through Jewish eyes’…READ MORE
Biden attends museum opening…WATCH VIDEO
Jewish History Museum Gala…VIEW PHOTO GALLERY
A look inside the new museum…VIEW PHOTO GALLERY
An overview of the new museum…WATCH VIDEO
Stories of a people: Star-studded festivities herald a Phila. museum focused on the Jewish role in American culture…READ MORE
Starry night for museum’s debut…READ MORE
Chronicling lives more than religion…READ MORE
Building and message at odds: While the museum’s exhibits tell of Jews’ success in America, the architecture is decidedly downbeat…READ MORE
New museum offers 4 floors of perspectives…READ MORE
Docents train hard and proud…READ MORE
Vice President Attends Jewish Museum Opening…READ MORE
Biden Attends Museum Opening On Independence Mall…READ MORE
Biden among notables attending opening ceremony of National Museum of American Jewish History…READ MORE
Daily Grinder: National Museum of American Jewish History Opens, Biden Is There…READ MORE
Jerry Seinfeld, Barbra Streisand and Bette Midler unite to honour their Jewish heritage…READ MORE
Expansion of National Museum of American Jewish History to open…READ MORE
Philly museum opens with stars, speeches and plenty of American nostalgia…READ MORE
Stu Bykofsky: New Jewish history museum is ‘uniquely American‘…READ MORE
American Jewish History Celebrated in the City of Brotherly Love…READ MORE
Rabbi Irving “Yitz” Greenberg On The New National Jewish Museum…READ MORE
Mazel Tov! National Museum of American Jewish History Opens Its Doors…READ MORE
Discovering American Jewish history at new museum (VIDEO)…READ/WATCH MORE