Entrepreneur, land surveyor, experimental farmer: George Washington accomplished many things during his life. Most heralded are his achievements as a general and our nation’s first president. But what about the first half of his life? The Minnesota History Center’s latest exhibit “Discover the Real George Washington,” on tour from Mount Vernon, unmasks Washington’s early years and further explores his life in general.
Divided into 11 sections, the exhibit leads visitors through Washington’s life using incredibly detailed dioramas and reproductions (a scene from the French-Indian War, the Mount Vernon estate as it looked under Washington’s ownership, the still he invented in order to make whiskey), six videos produced by The History Channel, and an array of original art work, including Gilbert Stuart’s classic portrait of Washington.
Perhaps the most impressive elements of the exhibit are three life-size wax figures. Created from forensic studies that analyzed portraits, sculptures, and clothing, and used age-progression and -regression technology, we see Washington as a 19-year-old land surveyor (standing at an impressive 6-feet-2-inches), commander-in-chief atop a white horse (that also looks eerily realistic), and as the United States’ first president taking the oath of office (surrounded by the wax figures of our nation’s founding fathers).
Even though Washington never visited Minnesota, Carol Cadou, the exhibit’s senior curator, says that doesn’t mean he’s not relevant to our state. “He’s a farm boy that made good,” she says. “He was interested in expanding America and expanding freedom—that’s something we all can relate to.”
Cadou began to think about and formulate the exhibit back in 2007. A year later, the exhibit received the necessary funding to move forward, and things started to fall into place. Sabrina Hiedemann, exhibition coordinator, has also been working on the exhibit since its onset, and admits that she has a few favorite pieces. “The forensic figures are incredible,” she says. “But I also love Washington’s personal artifacts, especially his books.” Dan Spock, director of the History Center Museum, says he’s also partial to the wax figures, but the artifact that really peaks his interest is Washington’s dentures.
With almost 100 original objects associated with Washington included in the exhibit, as well as numerous intriguing and little-known facts, visitors have plenty of options from which to choose a favorite. One thing we can all agree on: George Washington definitely lives up to his reputation as one of the most influential figures in our nation’s history.
The Real George Washington
February 22, 2011–May 29, 2011