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Science meets art in a novel George Washington exhibit opening March 1 in Reno

By Chris Moran

Washington s‘The Many Faces of George Washington’ will be on display through April 13 at the Nevada Historical Society; a reception is set for March 1.

At George Washington’s home in Mount Vernon, experts set out to use both scientific and artistic research to find out what the 18th century president actually looked like. They created images that would more closely depict his face in a way never done before.

Using what was at the time the developing science of reverse forensics, scientists and sculptors created life casts depicting Washington as a surveyor at age 19, a military leader in the Revolutionary War at 42 and at his inauguration in New York at 57. The fruits of their efforts are displayed in the new exhibit on loan from the Mount Vernon Estate, Museum and Gardens in Virginia, set to appear March 1 to April 13 at the Nevada Historical Society.

Studying portraits, letters and even notes from his tailor, researchers found ways to bring the president into focus for a new generation in “The Many Faces of George Washington.” To celebrate the exhibit’s arrival, the Historical Society will hold a free reception open to the public from 5:30 to 7 p.m. March 1. Featured during the event is a performance by Mount Vernon actor Thomas Plott, who will portray in costume and first person character Dr. James Craik, George Washington’s personal physician and close friend for more than 40 years. On March 2, the society will host a free workshop for teachers to support lessons on Washington.

“This is a rare chance for us to have a truly important exhibit from Mount Vernon here at the society,” Shery Hayes-Zorn, acting director of the society, said. “It’s really unique because the next closest place it will appear will be Seattle, so we are expecting people from all over to come here. Teachers, historians and school children from throughout the region will experience the workshops and learn how they can use this in their educational programs.”

A farmer, scholar and war hero, Washington wore many hats in addition to being the new nation’s first president. The Reno exhibit includes photos and graphics, important artifacts and paintings that discuss his many accomplishments. Funded by the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation, a major supporter of programs at Mount Vernon, it is sponsored locally by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History and the George Washington Nevada Teaching Ambassador Program.

“Though connected and well-known on the East Coast, Washington is less studied in the West,” Peter Barton, Nevada Division of Museums and History director, said.

Before coming to Nevada, Barton worked on both the education center and the faces project as they were developed at Mount Vernon in the early 2000s. Barton said that sculptors and scientists collaborating was quite a thrill and resulted in outstanding work. The partnership included StudioEIS in New York, Arizona State University and Christopher Chadbourne and Associates in Boston. Under the direction of former Mount Vernon President Jim Rees, the group was asked to create a center that would be hi-tech, interactive and tell Washington’s story as a man of character in distinctly new way.

George Washington Teaching Ambassador Program

The Division of Museums and History entered into an educational partnership in 2010 with the Nevada Department of Education, Nevada Humanities, the University of Nevada, Reno and Mount Vernon, to bring the Ambassador Program to Nevada. The program put a teacher in Nevada to work with educators through events, contests for students, lesson plans and other teaching materials. Cindy Plummer, from Lovelock, studied at Mount Vernon and served as the first ambassador.

Nevada is one of only three states chosen for the program aimed at emphasizing Washington’s character, accomplishments and lasting legacy. The two-year program kicked-off at the new Nevada State Museum, Las Vegas, and the Historical Society in Reno in February 2011.  Workshops also were held in Elko and program committee members presented Gov. Brian Sandoval with a framed portrait of Washington.

The Nevada Historical Society is at 1650 N. Virginia St. in Reno, adjacent to the University of Nevada, Reno campus. Free parking passes are available. For more information, check out the Society’s Facebook page, go to nevadaculture.org or call (775) 688-1191. For teacher workshop registration, contact Plummer at [email protected].

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