Page C1.1 . 27 March 2002                     
ArchitectureWeek - Culture Department
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Mount Vernon Conservation

by P. Gardiner Hallock

After almost a year’s worth of conservation work, the smaller of two dining rooms at Mount Vernon is again fully furnished and open to the public. In the course of this work, the 1743 Fairfax County, Virginia mansion, home to George Washington, revealed secrets of its original construction and of its many subsequent makeovers.

By the summer of 2000, when the restoration began, the ceiling and cornice plaster had severely deteriorated, and there was an astonishing amount of paint buildup, as many as 24 different layers in some areas. The paint had also started to crack and flake off of large sections of the overmantel and portions of the wooden paneling.

The small dining room took on its present appearance in 1775, when Washington decided to replace the room's paper maché ceiling decorations and install plasterwork above the fireplace. His records tell us he contracted for the labor of a "French Stucco Man." It took the unnamed French craftsman five months to complete the hand-carved ceiling and the delicate work on the cornice and overmantel.

Washington's last renovation to the room occurred in 1787 when he ordered the walls to be painted a bright verdigris green. They remained so until painted white by his heirs in the early 19th century.

The next major renovation occurred after the Mount Vernon Ladies Association (MVLA) purchased the house. Between 1883 and 1885, plasterers repaired large sections of ceiling and repainted the entire room. Evidence of their work, including the plaster patches and some of the gold leaf they applied to the ceiling and cornice ornaments, were found in the course of the recent restoration.   >>>

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East Elevation of the Mount Vernon Mansion, home to George Washington, first president of the United States.
Photo: Mount Vernon Ladies Association

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In 1998, the overmantel in Mount Vernon's small dining room suffered from cracking and delaminating paint.
Photo: Dennis Pogue, MVLA Archives

 

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