Real and Replica: Constructing The First Oval Office Project
In 2013 and 2015, the Museum of the American Revolution partnered with The Historic Trades Department at The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation to reproduce elements of Washington’s wartime field headquarters complex as The First Oval Office Project. In collaboration with experts at many other institutions, Museum staff and volunteers conducted research and used original objects, documents, paintings, and other evidence to determine how to recreate the tents and furniture that General George Washington used. The First Oval Office Project had three aims:
- To create exact replicas of Washington’s tents to be used as “stunt doubles” for films for the forthcoming Museum and to test the support structure for the real Washington’s War Tent at the Museum, in anticipation of the opening of the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on April 19, 2017
- To conduct and interpret this work of historical replication in front of the public as an educational program, based in the Secretary’s Office at The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation in Williamsburg, Virginia.
- To answer questions about Washington’s War Tent that we could not investigate using the fragile historical objects that survive in museums today.
Follow the evidence and compare “real and replica” in these feature stories, which highlight some of the many components you may see on a visit to the Museum. You are invited to handle replica First Oval Office Project objects at a special Washington’s War Tent Discovery Cart and in the field when The First Oval Office Project travels as part of the Museum’s outreach program.
Real and Replica: Portmanteau
At left, Washington’s original portmanteau, collection of the Museum of the American Revolution. At right, replica leather portmanteaux and bed linens with The First Oval Office Project.
An original leather portmanteau, or storage case, was acquired by Reverend Burk with Washington's War Tent and is also on display at the Museum of the American Revolution in the “Winter Patriots” Gallery. After Washington’s death, in the nineteenth century, two of Washington’s portmanteaux protected the tents. Craftsman Jay Howlett at The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation studied and reproduced two replicas of the original portmanteau, which Museum staff use to transport mattresses and linens for a replica of Washington's camp bed.
Real and Replica: Canteen
At left, original canteens, collection of George Washington’s Mount Vernon, W-350/B. Credit: Transferred to the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association through the generosity of John Augustine Washington III, 1860. At right, replica canteen, furnishings, tent poles, and camp equipage shown with Museum staff and volunteers at George Washington’s Mount Vernon with The First Oval Office Project.
Washington’s wartime baggage included many more items than The First Oval Office Project has recreated, especially record books and paperwork, clothing, and foodstuffs. Three leather “canteens” survive in the collection of Mount Vernon and were probably used to transport bottles and eating equipment during the Revolutionary War. To interpret one element of how food and drink was available to Washington’s field headquarters, The First Oval Office Project recreated two leather canteens that retain heavy carrying straps and interiors lined with fabric and tin.
Real and Replica: Stool
At left, an original Washington folding stool. Credit: Courtesy of Tudor Place Historic House & Garden. Photograph by Bruce M. White, 2015. At right, a replica camp stool with The First Oval Office Project.
Washington travelled with a large quantity of “campaign furniture” that collapsed for easy transportation. The First Oval Office Project recreated his camp bedstead based on the original in the collection of George Washington’s Mount Vernon, two folding tables based on the one shown in the portrait of Washington painted by Philadelphia artist and veteran Charles Willson Peale in 1784 at the Harvard Art Museums, and 18 camp stools based on the original surviving stool in the collection of Tudor Place Historic House and Garden in Washington, D.C. Based on a close study of this original camp stool, woodworkers called “joiners” in the Historic Trades Department at The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation made 18 replica stools that fold up easily into 3 large wooden crates.
Real and Replica: Finials
At left, detail of Washington, Lafayette, & Tilghman at Yorktown by Charles Willson Peale, oil on canvas, 1784. Collection of the Maryland State Archives, MSA SC 1545-1120. Credit: Collection of the Maryland State Archives. At right, replica finials with The First Oval Office Project
At the top of the tent, iron pins on the tips of the mahogany tent poles passed through sewn grommets, securing the roof in place with the poles. But these iron pins needed protection from the elements, and turned wood finials did this in style. Based on the portrait of Washington with Lafayette and Tilghman at Yorktown, painted by Philadelphia artist and veteran Charles Willson Peale in 1784, conservation staff created replica finials using special polymers for the Alan B. Miller Theater. Woodworkers in The Historic Trades Department at The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation turned new wood finials, then painted red, and mahogany poles for use in replicas of two tents owned by Washington: the sleeping and office tent at the Museum of the American Revolution and the larger dining tent in the collection at the National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.