Friday, Jul 16, 2010
Valley Forge NHP has hanged General Washington. Well, just by the arms, but the park’s life-sized statue of General Washington was rigged and swung through the air in a carefully choreographed move to its new location near Washington’s Headquarters.
The statue is one of a seven bronze copies cast from the original marble that stands in the rotunda of the Virginia capitol building. The original was sculpted by French artist Jean-Antoine Houdon, who traveled to America and stayed with Washington at Mount Vernon for two weeks, taking detailed measurements of the general and casting a life mask that was the basis for the statue. Washington’s family believed that the final statue was the most realistic depiction ever made of the general.
Americans of the early Federal era looked to ancient Rome and Greece as models of republican ideals. This statue includes both classical and also American symbols that would have been familiar to Americans of the time. George Washington is depicted as a modern Cincinnatus, the Roman farmer and general who left his farm to save the Roman Republic, and then voluntarily returned to his plow.
The Father of our Country wears his military uniform but carries a civilian walking cane rather than his sword, which has been set aside. He stands by a farmer’s plowshare, a symbol of his love of peace and agriculture. He rests his hand on a bundle of rods called a fasces, a Roman symbol of civil authority. Here, the thirteen rods represent the joining of the original states and the strength gained from that unity.
The granite pedestal on which the statue stands was designed in 1943 by prominent architect, Paul Philippe Cret
Although originally placed outdoors, in recent years the statue stood in the lobby of the park theater, a space too small for appreciation of the subject. It has been relocated to be an important feature in the ongoing rehabilitation of the area around Washington’s Headquarters. To prepare for the move, the statue was inspected and assessed by a fine arts conservator, and a plan developed for the move and subsequent conservation treatment. The George Young Company, which also moved the Liberty Bell a few years ago, rigged and transported the sculpture, pedestal, shaft and base to the new site. The entire process was documented with a detailed description of how the sculpture, pedestal, stone shaft, and base were removed, treated, and reinstalled, noting hardware and other specifications.
A new small plaza will surround the statue. A small wayside describing the symbolism is ready to be installed. This fall, an orchard of crabapple trees will be planted around the statue, reminiscent of the orchards and farm yards that characterized the Village of Valley Forge during the general’s six-month stay here.