Monday, November 07, 2011

Nonfiction Monday: Many Faces of George Washington

The Many Faces of George Washington: Remaking a Presidential Icon Carla Killough McClafferty

George Washington is forever etched into our minds as an old man with a clenched mouth and a powdered wig-- the same way he appears on the $1 bill. Or maybe a slightly more majestic side view from the quarter.

But George Washington was not always old and everyone who knew him said that no painter ever got his likeness quite right.

So... what did George Washington really look like?

The staff at Mt. Vernon wanted to find out and they wanted to make three statues of Washington-- one at 19, when he was a surveyor, one at 45 when he was a General in the Revolution, and one at 53, when he was being sworn in as the President.

The book is two-fold-- one part is history and explores who Washington was at the time-- how his actions and events shaped the man. The other part is science, technology and art-- how they determined what Washington looked like and then used that knowledge to make the statues. They couldn’t disturb Washington’s remains and just x-ray them to get a good sense of skull shape, so instead they looked at one bust that had been made from a mask taken of Washington’s face. They aged it up and down. They looked at his tailoring orders to learn about his body shape and how his clothes fit.

It’s a fascinating read. I already knew a bit about this due to a local news story (Mt. Vernon’s just a few miles away from my house) but I enjoyed learning more about the process (and now want to make the jaunt over to see the statues in person.) I think kids will be really interested to learn in more concrete terms that history’s figures aren’t perpetually frozen in time in their most iconic portraits or photographs-- they used to be kids, too and when they were, they just didn’t look like short versions of themselves. The process they went through to reconstruct Washington at different time periods is also a bit like a CSI or Bones episode, so that’s always cool.

A very neat book.

Today's Nonfiction Monday roundup is over at Charlotte's Library!

Book Provided by... my local library

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