Shutters Update April 29, 2009

April 29, 2009

The restoration crew has started to hang shutters on the exterior of the house.

Rear of the house, from the Architectural Record, Vol VI (July 1896-June 1897).

Rear of the house, from the Architectural Record, Vol VI (July 1896-June 1897).

The shutters are modern reproductions based on Madison-era shutters found in a barn here on the property. There were 31 shutters found in the barn, 12 for the second floor and 19 for the first. They retained their original paint coating, a green made from verdigris pigment, which is made from weathered copper. We’ve painted the reproduction shutters the same green, basing the coloring on research by Dr. Susan Buck (see this post for a picture of the process) Read the rest of this entry »



April 17, 2009

After our last update, we were asked: what is “curatorial research” and how do Montpelier’s researchers go about figuring out whether an object belonged to the Madisons or not. Curatorial research can be very involved, but let’s start with “provenance” and continue from there over the next few posts.

So what exactly is provenance? You may have heard the term if you have visited a museum, watched “Antiques Roadshow” or “History Detectives”, or collect antiques. A good definition for “provenance” is, “a history of who owned an object”. As you can imagine, at Montpelier, we are very interested in objects that were previously owned by James and Dolley Madison; one way to describe these pieces is to say that they had “Madison provenance”.

Figuring out an object’s history often starts with finding out how the current owner acquired it. From there, many times we can work backwards from one owner to the next – and, if we are lucky, we may be able to trace the piece all the way back to James and Dolley Madison. For some objects, we are able to easily determine provenance because others have already documented it or a clear chain of ownership exists. For other pieces there are gaps in the chain of ownership. Our goal then becomes filling in the gaps. Read the rest of this entry »

Update – 4/2/2009

April 2, 2009

I want to share with you some of our plans for upcoming exhibits within the newly restored Madison mansion. Over the spring and summer we plan to move furniture and exhibit components into the mansion along with text panels which will help explain our process.

Our first major focus will be the Dining Room (M105). As of this week, we have removed the exhibit case that featured archaeology fragments of ceramics and glassware and installed two pieces of furniture. There is a dining table (a period piece with no Madison provenance) and a sideboard with purported Madison provenance, both on furniture lifts. It was a challenge to fit the furniture and lifts in the room and still leave room for a group of 20 people, but we managed to come up with arrangement that should work.

dining room table

Even though this particular set of tables does not have a Madison family provenance, the form matches the “3 folding leaf Mahogany tables” that were listed in the 1836 Inventory of the Dining Room.[1] The end sections are obviously from the same table, with the center section having been substituted at a later time. All three tables are period and similar to what the Madisons might have owned.

“in the center of the room a square mahogany table…”  -George Shattuck, Jr., 1835

“a large long and wide well polished mahogany table…” -Mary Cutts, Recollections, ca. 1850


According to the 1836 Inventory of the Madison Dining Room “2 Mahogany sideboards” (1 “old” / 1 “new”) were listed. Curatorial staff are currently conducting research on multiple sideboards with purported Madison provenance.

This particular sideboard was donated to The National Trust for Historic Preservation (Montpelier) in 1986 with a strong family history of purchase at an early Montpelier sale. At this time we do not have any record or advertisements of sales taking place at Montpelier during Madison ownership of the property, or in the post-Madison period until 1881.

A large sale took place at Montpelier in April, 1881, in which the “valuable personal property” of the recently deceased Frank Carson, occupant and brother of Montpelier’s owner, was auctioned off. A broadside advertising the sale included “a large quantity of HOUSEHOLD AND KITCHEN FURNITURE/ some very superior, Mirrors, Paintings,…a handsome portrait of President Madison, and other relicts of President Madison, one grand piano…”[2] While the broadside is unclear as to which, if any, furniture was owned by James Madison, it seems likely that the association of the sideboard with Montpelier could have easily been linked to the Madisons.

The Madisons had two sideboards in their Dining Room; the date of this sideboard places it potentially in the category of “new” sideboard. We will place photographs of the other sideboards that we are researching in the room and ask the question “which one of these do you believe may be the Madisons’ ‘old’ sideboard?”

“…on one side of the door was an old sideboard.” -George C. Shattuck, Jr. 1835

-Montpelier Curatorial Staff

1 “List of articles in Dining Room at Montpellier” and “Engravings in dining room,” July 1, 1836, box 1, folder 1831–1839, Papers of Dolley Madison, MS 18940, Library of Congress, Washington, DC.
2 Madison, James. Letters and Documents at the Library of Virginia. Miscellaneous reel 4276. “Broadside announcing an auction at Montpelier in Orange County, Virginia on April 13, 1881.”