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'New room' at Mount Vernon gets new interpretation

Published on NewsOK Modified: March 21, 2014 at 2:41 pm •  Published: March 21, 2014
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Visitors to the estate often referred to it as a drawing room or a "magnificent room," but references to a dining room were rare.

For nearly a century, Mount Vernon called the room a banquet hall, and in 1981 reinterpreted it as a "large dining room," seizing on the single reference Washington made as well as a description from a visiting British architect, Benjamin Latrobe.

But curator Susan Schoelwer said the earlier interpretations stem in large part from imposing mores of the time onto the Colonial era. The descriptions as a banquet hall first surfaced in the late 19th century, during the era when Robber Barons and other corporate chieftains had such banquet halls. In the more modern era, the dining-room description was more easily relatable to tourists who might not grasp the notion of a salon-style room, or feel that it was too pretentious for a man of the people like Washington.

"Our job is to introduce people to Washington's world," Schoelwer said.

The estate used science as well as the historical record to re-invent the room — microscopic analysis of paint fragments allowed them to discover a shade of green derived from a pigment called verditer, which was made at the time by crushing a mineral called malachite into a fine powder.

Mount Vernon possessed three vases that were kept in the room, but some were in bad shape, and had the handles broken off. One handle was uncovered in an archaeological dig, and that handle was used to manufacture a mirror image with a 3-D printer to help restore the vase to its original look.