Teaching Teachers at the Civil War Washington Teacher Fellowship

As the Education Director of Tudor Place, I work on developing and implementing a number of educational programs and one of my favorite programs, Civil War Washington Teacher Fellowship, takes place over the summer. We partner with Ford’s Theatre, Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, and Lincoln Cottage to create a week long program that focuses on providing teachers with the resources they need to feel comfortable teaching the Civil War to students. This year we had 36 enthusiastic teachers participate in the program. I was overwhelmed with the engaging discussions and creative ideas generated throughout the week.

At Tudor Place we focused on teaching with primary sources. Teachers participated in a Civil War Walking Tour of Georgetown and then performed 3 short plays based on primary documents from the collection. Using additional primary documents teachers took on the role of enslaved workers living in Georgetown in the 1850s and based on their circumstances decided whether they would escape to freedom or stay in bondage. This activity led to a lively discussion on slavery in Washington D.C. and the nation. After working with documents for the majority of the day, teachers turned their attention to teaching with artifacts. Teachers learned the basics of artifact analysis and how artifacts can provide a tactile connection to the past. The day concluded with an engaging discussion on using historic places and artifacts for both history and language arts classes.

Although, teachers spend only a week working onsite with us, we have established an online learning community to encourage discussion and sharing throughout the school year. About 80% of the teachers have already posted lesson plans based on the information they learned throughout the week to the website!

Posted by: Talia Mosconi, Education Director

RETURNED: George Washington’s Chest-on-Chest with Original Finish Revealed!

Press Contact:
Director of Communications
Heather Bartlow, hbartlow@tudorplace.org
Website: www.tudorplace.org
Tudor Place Historic House and Garden
1644 31st Street NW
Washington, DC 2007

Download the PDF

July 19, 2010

Washington, D.C. – July 19, 2010 — The chest-on-chest that once stood next to the fireplace in George Washington’s bedroom has returned to Tudor Place after 6 months of conservation treatment. The chest-on-chest sits in the second floor hall at Tudor Place where it has stood for almost 200 years. The conservation took away years of grime, blended in minor repairs, and removed a poor refinishing completed in earlier years. The full conservation treatment restored the original finish and brass pulls and escutcheons. The piece looks as it did when George Washington himself gazed upon it in his bedchamber at Mount Vernon. Chest-on-chests such as this one were made to ship belongs and goods from England and Scotland to the Colonies. The piece is extremely rare as there are only a dozen documented English pieces imported to the Colonies in the mid 18th century that exist today.

Major Findings During the Assessment and Conservation

  • On the rear of the upper section of the chest-on-chest is the cipher “GWFx No. 2” and on the lower section is the cipher “GWFx No. 1”. This discovery confirmed the provenance of the piece. The chest-on-chest originally belonged to George William Fairfax and is now dated to 1740s – 1760.
  • The original finish was discovered under the escutcheon on the lowest drawer and further visible and longwave ultraviolet radiation indicated its composition.
  • The pulls, escutcheons, and key are original to the piece. The
    brass escutcheons were sand cast.

George William Fairfax of Belvoir Plantation originally shipped the chest-on-chest from England. The date of manufacture is thought to be between the late 1740’s to the 1760’s. Like
other pieces of the time, it was loaded on board ship, covered, and then tied to the gunwale for transport.

Years later the chest-on-chest was purchased by George Washington at the 1773 sale of the furnishings of Belvoir Plantation. George William Fairfax, owner of Belvoir at that time, was a friend of Washington and husband to Sally Fairfax. Washington purchased the mahogany chest and drawers that stood in Mrs. Fairfax’s chamber for £12 10s. Not a fine piece of furniture, Washington would have purchased it for practical purposes. It stood in his bedroom next to the fireplace. A depiction of the chest-on-chest is seen in John Gadsby Chapman’s 1834 painting of the room in which George Washington died. The chest-on-chest was purchased by Thomas and Martha Peter of Tudor Place at the 1802 estate sale after the death of Martha Washington, Mrs. Peter’s grandmother.

Located in Georgetown’s Historic District, this National Historic Landmark is a house museum distinguished for its neoclassical architecture, decorative arts collection, and five-and-a-half acre garden. Built in 1816, it was home to Thomas Peter and his wife, Martha Custis Peter, granddaughter of Martha Washington. It housed six generations of the Peter family over the course of 180 years. Now, open to the public, the historic home is one of our nation’s hidden gems. For details visit www.tudorplace.org

Martha Washington’s Waxwork Tableau

Fine Arts Conservator Amy F. Byrne of Amy Fernandez, Inc, and Textile Conservator Jennifer Zemanek, examine a tableau made of wax and shells, that once belonged to Martha Washington. The tableau, which depicts the parting of Hector and Andromache, is now part of the collection at Tudor Place Historic House and Garden in Washington, DC.

Below is an article from the Winter/Spring 2010 Tudor Place Times describing the piece in more detail:

A Curious Piece
by Leslie Buhler
Resting atop a sideboard in the Parlour is a curious piece that surprises today’s visitors. It is a rare wax and shell tableau within a glass and wood frame box that was once a prized possession of Martha Washington.

The wax and shell tableau was given to Martha Washington by Samuel Fraunces, an ardent supporter of General Washington. Fraunces owned a tavern in New York City frequented by Washington and his men. It was there on December 4, 1783, that General Washington gave his farewell address to his Revolutionary War officers. (Fraunces Tavern at 54 Pearl Street in lower Manhattan was restored as a Museum and is open to the public.) After he was elected President of the thirteen United States in 1789, President Washington selected Samuel Fraunces to be the household steward of his executive mansion in New York City.

Samuel Fraunces created wax figures, a popular art form during the 18th century. Spectacular displays of life-sized historical figures in elaborate garments were in fashion in both England and the American colonies.
Fraunces chose to create for Mrs. Washington a wax and shell tableau depicting the parting of Hector and Andromache, a popular subject for engravings and paintings during the mid to late 18th century. The waning Age of Enlightenment, the rise of interest in Roman mythology, and a developing Romanticism found expression not only in script but also, in paintings, engravings, and other art forms. Fraunces probably selected his subject because Andromache was honored as the epitome of the loyal wife. An engraving on this same subject was at Mount Vernon and now is held at the Alexandria Masonic Lodge.

Having completed the wax and shell tableau, Fraunces wrote to President Washington: “I most earnestly beg your Excellency will order about the Carriage of a small piece of Shell-Work which I have lately completed for Mrs. Washington purposely – whose acceptance of it will confer the greatest honor on me – the field is Hector and Andromache adorned with Shell-Flowers the collections of a number of years.” New York Governor George Clinton facilitated the shipping of the wax and shell tableau, noting on March 5, 1785 that it was a “. . . very Ginger Bread piece of work.” Upon receipt, it is believed that Martha Washington placed the tableau in the bedroom she shared with her husband.

The wax and shell tableaux was purchased by Thomas and Martha Peter, Martha Washington’s granddaughter, at the 1802 estate sale following Mrs. Washington’s death. The Peters also purchased the chest-on-chest upon which it stood. When the Peter’s home at Tudor Place was completed, the chest-on-chest with the tableau was placed in the upper hallway of the center block. The chest-on-chest remained in this position for six generations of the Peter family. It was a constant reminder of the family’s ties to the Founding Father and his beloved wife.

The winter of 1954/55 the last owner of Tudor Place, Armistead Peter 3rd, was dismayed by the condition of the waxwork. He explained in his book, Tudor Place:

“At some time it had apparently been dropped or treated extremely badly, probably in the moving of the furniture which I have described earlier, at the time of the Civil War. The figures were all thrown about, the nurse on the left side had the right side of her face bashed in, and was lying in the summerhouse. The man had been thrown over and his head snapped off. The woman was still standing but her arm had been pulled loose from the corner of the frame. Most of the flowers had fallen down into the bottom, because it had evidently been put in such heat that the wax had melted that held them together; the animals were in disarray; the whole thing was really a shambles. I decided to do something about this . . . and took it down to the shop, opened it up, took the figures out and laid them carefully on bath towels that I had provided for the purpose, emptied out all the shells that had been parts of the flowers, sorted them all out into similar categories, took out the little summerhouse, and put the whole thing back together in the condition that you now see it.”

Today, however, the wax and shell tableau which so poignantly depicted the sacrifices of the wife of the Founding Father is in a state of severe deterioration. The chest-on-chest on which it so proudly stood is now undergoing a comprehensive conservation effort on Williamsburg, Va.; now this historic tableau also needs major conservation, and funding is sought to repair the ravages of time.

Posted by: Heather Bartlow, Director of Communications