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Teaching with Colonial American Art

January 13, 2011

Desk and Bookcase, Nathaniel Gould, 1760-1780, Dallas Museum of Art, The Faith P. and Charles L. Bybee Collection, gift of the Tri Delta Charity Antiques Show

Every Monday throughout the school year our docents are trained on the DMA’s collection and special exhibitions. Morning sessions consist of art historical training related to special exhibitions, new acquisitions, and the collection. Afternoon sessions focus on how to teach K-12 student groups with works of art.

On January 3, Jenny Marvel and I led docent training in the Colonial American galleries. We focused on methods of teaching K- 12 students with portraits and furniture from the collection.  These objects were chosen to make connections between the past and present. When studying Colonial American art, it is important to remember that works of art tell stories and have history behind them. Colonial American art shows how some people lived during the beginning of our nation. It also displays eighteenth century artistic capabilities.

First, Jenny read excerpts from George Washington’s Breakfast, by Jean Fritz, and made connections  in front of Rembrandt Peale’s portrait of our first President. We learned the following information about Washington:

  • George Washington was 6’4″ tall. He was a tall man!
  • George Washington was the leader of the Continental Army, which defeated the British army in 1787. Shortly after, George became the first President of the United States. He held this position from 1789-1797. 
  • George Washington wore dentures. By time he took the oath of office as President at age 57, he was wearing full dentures. Washington’s dentures represented the latest advancements in dental technology. Contrary to popular myth, his false teeth were not made of wood but of human and cow teeth as well as elephant and walrus ivory. They required frequent adjusting to function naturally, and he repeatedly sent them to John Greenwood, his dentist in New York City, for repairs.
  • George Washington lived at Mt. Vernon with his wife, Martha. Mount Vernon was home to Washington for more than 45 years.

For the other half of training, I focused on the Desk and Bookcase. Some questions I asked docents to think about while looking at the piece include:

  • Look closely at the furniture’s feet. Do you see other objects with similar feet throughout the rest of the gallery?
  • Flat columns appear on the exterior of the object. What other architectural elements do you see? Why do you think these are incorporated into the piece?
  • The object cost $31.00 in the eighteenth century, making this an expensive object! What design elements make you think this is an expensive piece?
  • The desk and bookcase stored important papers, receipts, and other items for its merchant owner. If you owned this object what would you put in it?

Amy Wolf
Coordinator of Gallery Teaching

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Beth HollNS permalink
    January 16, 2011 3:02 pm

    George Washington’s Teeth, Yet Again

    Info on the teeth that Boston native John Greenwood carved for George Washington out of hippopotamus bone!

    On loan for two years to Mt. Vernon from The New York Academy of Medicine, the denture was the first of several dentures that John Greenwood made for Washington and is dated 1789, the year that Washington took his oath of office in New York City. The denture is engraved with: Under jaw. This is Great Washington’s teeth by J. Greenwood. First one made by J. Greenwood, Year 1789.

    Carved from hippopotamus ivory, the denture contains real human teeth fixed in the ivory by means of brass screws. The denture, which was anchored on the one remaining tooth in Washington’s mouth, has a hole which fit snugly around the tooth and probably contributed to the loosening and eventual loss of that tooth.

    • msenelson permalink
      January 19, 2011 12:19 pm

      Wow, thanks for the great information!

      Melissa Nelson

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