- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 18, 2006


In a former box factory on an old Brooklyn street named for him, half a mile from where his defeated army escaped by night to fight another day, George Washington has all but come back to life.

Not just one George Washington, but three — the 19-year-old wilderness surveyor, the 45-year-old Revolutionary War general and the 57-year-old president on his inauguration day in 1789.

The trio of life-size wax figures, created by British-born artists Stuart Williamson and Sue Day, is destined for a new $95 million permanent exhibit at Washington’s estate in Mount Vernon, Va. “The Real George Washington” will open to the public in October.

While a 1785 bronze bust and plaster life mask by French sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon and several portraits by American painter Charles Wilson Peale are considered the most accurate likenesses, StudioEIS director Ivan Schwartz says his team of sculptors also meets Washington’s own definition of artists as “doorkeepers of the temple of time.”

“People will look at these figures and be sort of awe-struck, but they will make people think in a different way,” Mr. Schwartz says.

The idea of depicting the “real” Washington at three important moments in his life originated with James Rees, executive director at Mount Vernon, who says he realized Americans knew the mythological Washington who could not tell a lie and threw a dollar across the Rappahannock, but not the Washington chosen by his fellow Founders to lead both the Revolution and the new nation.

“A lot of it goes back to the classroom,” Mr. Rees says. “My school history textbook in 1966 had 10 times as many lines about Washington as books used today. And visitors to Mount Vernon kept telling us in exit surveys that ‘you haven’t taught me anything about him.’

“The only Washington they know is the one on the dollar bill. They use words like stiff, old, grumpy, and, worst of all, boring.”

Mr. Rees notes that even the Washington Monument on the National Mall has no statue or inscribed quotations from the man it honors.

Thus the decision was made to present the “real” George Washington — not the benign squire of Mount Vernon tending his gardens and livestock, but the man of action, charting the forests, on horseback in war and in the political arena.

None of the wax versions resemble the tight-lipped face on the dollar bill, but they do reflect the changes caused by progressive tooth loss that began at age 22 and in later life distorted the shape of his jaw and required him to wear dentures made of human and animal teeth. Washington was born Feb. 22, 1732, and died at age 67.

Because no portrait exists of him before age 38, the face of the young surveyor was based on age-regression technology used by Jeffrey Schwartz, a University of Pittsburgh anthropology professor (no relation to Ivan) to determine how he probably looked at age 19.

The wax models will incorporate copies of real artifacts — a Continental Army uniform owned by the Smithsonian Institution, snippets of his reddish hair and the suit in which he may have taken the oath of office, both from Mount Vernon’s collection.

By measuring five pieces of clothing he is known to have worn, it was determined that Washington stood 6 feet 2 inches “plus seven-eighths in his shoes,” Ivan Schwartz says.

During a recent visit to StudioEIS on historic Washington Street, the nearly completed President-elect Washington, in brown suit and buckled shoes, stood a few feet from Gen. Washington in uniform astride a wooden mock-up that looked less like a horse than a mechanical bull in a Texas saloon. Both figures were painted in lifelike flesh tones, and a hint of dark stubble suggested the general hadn’t shaved before reviewing his troops at Valley Forge that morning.

Nearby, Miss Day was touching up the strong-chinned face of the teenage Washington. A deft brush stroke of clear acrylic brought sudden life to the blue eyes.

Mr. Williamson, a former chief sculptor at Madame Tussaud’s wax museum in London who also works in stone and wood, found it ironic that two Brits were being asked to re-create their country’s chief nemesis. But both he and Miss Day, a former Tussaud’s makeup expert, were impressed by the subject.

“I’ve worked on many figures that were the flavor of the moment, but none with the staying power of George Washington,” Miss Day says. “I’ve learned more about him than I ever knew.”

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