Rediscovering the Furnishings of Mount Vernon’s Front Parlor

Previously Unknown Ledger is Treasure Trove of Information–Lecture by Adam T. Erby, Associate Curator at George Washington’s Mount Vernon, Tuesday, October 3.

A found ledger of ordered furnishings revealed Washington’s love of English craftsmanship while fighting for independence. (Photo courtesy of George Washington’s Mount Vernon)

In September 2013, Mount Vernon curators made an exciting discovery; a previously unknown ledger kept by George Washington’s friend and neighbor, George William Fairfax showed up at auction.  At first glance, the ledger seemed to have little to do with Mount Vernon, but as curators mined the document, they discovered that much of the London made furniture listed in the ledger came to Mount Vernon, either by purchase or gift, when its original owner returned to England at the outbreak of the American Revolution.  As almost all of the furniture has since disappeared, the document has proven to be a Rosetta Stone for understanding the furnishing of Mount Vernon, demonstrating George Washington’s desire for English goods even as he prepared to take up arms against the mother country.

Much of the furniture mentioned in the found ledger is not at the estate, but restoration experts are in the process of trying to recreate some of the important pieces. (Courtesy photo)

Adam Erby’s lecture will trace the fascinating tale of these furnishings from the London warerooms of William Gomm and Son to the grand, but now lost, Virginia plantation of George William Fairfax and his wife Sally, and finally to the principal rooms at Mount Vernon.  The talk will demonstrate that as these furnishings moved from place to place through retail purchase, auction, and gift, they served as a powerful means of establishing Fairfax, and later Washington, as sophisticated grandees on the edges of empire.

The lecture will focus on the most important find from the ledger, the rediscovery of the furnishings of Mount Vernon’s front parlor.  The luxurious suite of eight backstools and a sofa, all covered in a rich blue silk and worsted wool damask, was originally intended for use in George William Fairfax’s dressing chamber.  Fairfax later presented that suite to Washington as a gift and as a memento of their friendship, and Washington redecorated his parlor to accommodate the new furniture.  He used the suite for the remainder of his life.  Utilizing comparable examples from British institutions, Mount Vernon curators are currently working with Williamsburg craftsmen to recreate the extraordinary suite.

Lecture at 7 p.m., Doors open at 6:30 p.m.

$10, combination ticket with October 10 lecture $15

Adam T. Erby biography

Adam T. Erby is associate curator at George Washington’s Mount Vernon, where he is responsible for both special exhibitions and historic interiors.  He was a major contributor to the recent conservation of George Washington’s “New Room,” and he curated the special exhibition Gardens & Groves: George Washington’s Landscape at Mount Vernon. He is the principal author of the recently released book The General in the Garden: George Washington’s Landscape at Mount Vernon.  His work has been published in The Magazine Antiques, Antiques & Fine Arts, and the Chipstone Foundation’s journal American Furniture.  Erby holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Virginia and a master’s degree from the Winterthur Program in American Material Culture.  He is currently at work on the upcoming restorations of Mount Vernon’s front parlor and central passage.  His is also completing articles on George Washington’s purchases of British furniture and the Alexandria, Virginia artist John Gadsby Chapman.

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