The Many Faces of George Washington

Remaking a Presidential Icon (2011)
The Many Faces of George Washington



Contrary to popular myth, George Washington did not have wooden teeth. His dentures were formed from a lead plate and later, from hippopotamus ivory. They were held together with a strong spring, which made speech difficult but served to keep the dentures in his mouth. One denture consisted of ivory teeth. Another consisted of an upper plate of cow and horse teeth with a lower plate of human teeth. Familiar portraits did not depict Washington accurately and led to negative public opinion that his character was “stiff” and “grumpy” (p. 8). Expert scientists, historians, and craftsmen at Mount Vernon thoroughly researched how he looked in real life. His image was recreated in wax figures to represent him at the ages of 19, 45, and 57. This well-researched biography tells the fascinating story of how the work of French sculptor Jean Antoine Houdon, in 1785, used an actual plaster face cast of Washington at his home to create a bust and the life size statue that still stands in the state capitol building in Richmond, Virginia; this cast was used as a modern day model. Scanners were used to make 3-D computer images of the bust of Washington. An actual jawbone of a British soldier from the French and Indian War who was about the same size and age of Washington at 19 was used to create realistic images of how his profile would change with gradual loss of teeth. Anthropologists' knowledge of aging was used to age the images. Tailors and textile experts created realistic clothing for the time periods. An amazingly realistic figure of Washington at age 45, mounted on a replica of his horse Blueskin at Valley Forge, was one of the results. A striking biography for readers who love to tie history to modern times and learn exciting facts beyond the ordinary. 
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