We’ve Moved!

September 16, 2009

The Montpelier Curatorial and Restoration Blog has combined with the other Montpelier blogs into one fantastic source! Come read all of the blogs – on archaeology, forestry, gardens, slavery, restoration and more – at the new site.  If you only want to see what Curatorial is up to, you can visit our section of the new blog.

This blog will remain up for now, but all of our new content will be posted at the new location. Thank you for your continuing interest and support of Montpelier!  Please bookmark the Montpelier blog as a favorite or use a rss reader to keep up with all of the most recent discoveries as we continue our Presidential Detective Story.


A Date with White House History

August 28, 2009

It’s a big deal to go to the White House. But it’s an even bigger deal to go to the White House to honor a family member. Montpelier organized a private White House visit this past Monday for Paul Jennings’ descendants. Jennings, James and Dolley Madison’s former slave, helped Dolley rescue the Gilbert Stuart Landsdowne portrait of George Washington before the British burned the White House during the War of 1812. The visit fell on the 195th anniversary of the portrait’s rescue.

This story already generated a buzz with the New York Times and Philadelphia Inquirer. So, on Monday, 27 of Jennings’ family members passed through the White House front gates, a camera crew in tow, to honor their ancestor’s heroic contribution to saving a national treasure.

President Barack Obama made headlines when he gave Queen Elizabeth II an ipod. Montpelier had its own unique gift for the President, who was on vacation at the time: a nail fashioned by Montpelier slaves, encased in a beautiful wooden box that was carved from trees at Montpelier. Michael Quinn, Montpelier’s president, and Beth Taylor, Montpelier’s research associate and Paul Jennings expert presented the gift to William G. Allman, White House curator.

Allman led the family to the East Room to see the famed Washington portrait. They also visited the Green, Blue, and Red Rooms, and State Dining Room.

After the White House visit, the VIP treatment continued with a rare opportunity to go inside the Dolley Madison House, now owned by the U.S. Court of Appeals.

Jennings is on his way to becoming a household name. Check out CBS Evening News, National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered,” The Washington Post, and Politico’s “44” blog. The Free Lance-Star also gave a great local write-up.

The Jennings descendants gather in front of the portrait their ancestor helped Dolley Madison rescue 195 years ago.

The Jennings descendants gather in front of the portrait their ancestor helped Dolley Madison save 195 years ago.

New York Times features article on Madison slave

August 19, 2009

Paul Jennings is on his way to becoming a household name thanks to Sunday’s New York Times article. Paul Jennings was born a slave at Montpelier and helped Dolley Madison rescue George Washington’s portrait before the British burned the White House during the War of 1812. In fact Monday, August 24 will mark the 195th anniversary of the portrait’s rescue. Jennings went on to achieve his freedom, become a prominent abolitionist and Washington D.C. resident, and work in the U.S. Pension Office.

Dr. Beth Taylor, Montpelier’s research associate has been conducting original Jennings research. Paul Jennings’ life shows a quintessentially American story, with remarkable twists and turns that reveal an extraordinary sweep of our history in one single lifetime. Through Jennings and his descendants we see the road from slavery to citizenship; the role African-Americans played in the early White House; how freed slaves came to settle and work in an integrated Washington, D.C., newly established as the nation’s capital; the complicated relationship between the Father of the Constitution and his enslaved manservant; the story of the first White House memoirist; how a Montpelier slave became an abolitionist and tried to free slaves aboard The Pearl; and how African-Americans are re-discovering their own American history. Check out The New York Times.

A Presidential Detective Story

May 20, 2009

Rediscovering the Furnishings of James and Dolley Madison

Today, on Dolley Madison’s 241st birthday, The Montpelier Foundation announced the launch of the second phase of the restoration of James Madison’s home—A PRESIDENTIAL DETECTIVE STORY: Rediscovering the Furnishings of James and Dolley Madison.

Montpelier marked the completion of a five-year, $25 million architectural restoration of Madison’s home on Constitution Day, September 17, 2008, at the National Restoration Celebration. Because Dolley Madison sold Montpelier eight years after James’ death, much of the furniture and household objects were sold at auction, given away, or passed on to extended family members. Now, the Foundation is embarking on the next chapter in this detective story—discovering and returning the interior decor and furnishings of the home during James Madison’s retirement years.

To accomplish this ambitious goal, Montpelier’s curatorial department is conducting a major research project to locate, understand, and provide context for Madison furniture and decorative arts. Montpelier is gathering a top-notch team of researchers and curators to embark on this new Presidential Detective Story. The nation’s preeminent experts on everything from wallpaper and draperies to sofas and sideboards are being consulted to ensure that furnishing the home achieves the high level of authenticity for which Montpelier has become known. Curators will continue to add more objects to the mansion over the coming months and years.

“The Montpelier Foundation is very pleased to begin the work of restoring the interior decor of the home of James and Dolley Madison,” said Montpelier President Michael C. Quinn. “This initiative will embody the same excellence in scholarship, authenticity, and quality that we brought to the architectural restoration, and will return the style of the Madisons at home.”

Read the rest of this entry »