Friday, April 2, 1999
'George Washington: Profile of a Patriot' Concord Museum, through June 6
New Englanders are well acquainted with historical misconceptions: it's not Bunker Hill, but Breed's Hill; Henry David Thoreau is pronounced "thorough", not "throw"; and Paul Revere didn't ride to Concord, Dr. Prescott did. Even George Washington's story has its quirks.
Artists and poets are not necessarily historians; their work is evocative, not historically correct. So Longfellow's version of "The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere" is art, not history, and the art in "George Washington: Profile of a Patriot" is also evocative, not necessarily correct.
America lost its beloved leader in 1799 and, in the centuries since, these depictions of Washington have changed his story, adding to the mythology of a great leader. The engravings, lithographs and other works on paper in "Profile of a Patriot"are "recreations" of scenes from Washington's life: George Washington in profile. (This is not a three-dimensional exhibit with bits of Mount Vernon recreatedthat exhibition is at the Huntington Museum in California.)
Take "Washington Crossing the Delaware," for example. It's such a famous picture, but it didn't really happen like that. First of all, it was nighttime, not dawn; the American flag hadn't been adopted yet and couldn't have been in the boat. Washington used 40-foot boats, not a dinghy craft; and it's a sure bet he wasn't standing up so heroically in the (documented) gale-force winds. He presents a dramatic profile, though.
The exhibit emphasizes how, since Washington's death, artists have interpreted Washington as a great man whose strength of character, moral rectitude, and modesty made him a model for political and domestic life. Artists evoked his childhood and home life for the public after his death, in a way they could not, dared not, do during his life. He was too great a man to have his private stories discussed during his lifetime.
These concepts will be lost on younger visitors, but seeing the familiar George Washington still thrills kids. Use the labels to help explain to them each artists' liberties with the George Washington story. You will know him better yourself when you're done.
For those of you wishing the exhibit had more of Mount Vernon in it, consider these two lectures: April 30 at 7 p.m., Scott Casper's talk "Washington at Home" will use 19th-century images to explain 18th-century life, society and family in Washington's circle. The cost is $7.50 for adults, $5 for members and students. Reservations are requested.
The annual Mary Lesneski Memorial Lecture on May 13 2 p.m. will be given by Mac Griswold, garden historian and New York Times writer. His book on Washington's Gardens at Mount Vernon: Landscape of the Inner Man introduces us to the George Washington as landscaper, gardener and farmer on his own, famed estate.
The Museum is located on Cambridge Turnpike near the intersection with Lexington Road (Route 2A). Parking is free; the building is fully handicapped-accessible. Call the Museum at 369-9763 for information on tickets and prices or find it at www. concordmuseum.org.
© 1999 The Carlisle Mosquito