Making the Museum: Washington's War TentApril 27, 2020
The Museum of the American Revolution opened to the public in 2017 and has since welcomed hundreds of thousands of visitors to explore the rich and complex stories of the American Revolution. But prior to that, the Museum was more than 100 years in the making. The journey began with the purchase of George Washington’s headquarters tent in 1909 by a history-minded minister who dreamed of opening a museum dedicated to our nation’s founding.
That purchase set in motion a century of collecting that led to what is now the basis of the Museum’s collection. In our Making the Museum series, Museum President and CEO Dr. R. Scott Stephenson takes viewers behind the scenes of creating a major modern museum.
Part 1: Making the Structure
Washington’s War Tent – General George Washington’s mobile headquarters during the Revolutionary War – is one of the most iconic surviving artifacts from the Revolutionary War and the centerpiece of the Museum’s collection. It is dramatically displayed at the Museum in a dedicated theater as part of a multi-layered mixed media presentation that has quickly become a signature visitor experience. But why is it presented this way? And how does the fragile textile look so lifelike without incurring any damage?
Part 2: Conserving the Tent
How do you prepare a centuries-old textile to be the “rock star” (New York Times) of a new museum? The Museum engaged a team of conservators, material scientists, civil engineers, and advisors to help ensure that the tent was responsibly displayed and would survive for many more generations.
Part 3: Creating the Film
Once it was determined that the tent could be displayed responsibly, the team had to decide where they would display it and how it would be presented to the public. How do you make a 3-D textile a character in the story you are telling? And how do you prepare people emotionally to encounter this object?
Dive deeper into the history of Washington's War Tent, and learn more about the Museum's First Oval Office Project, highlighted by a hand-sewn replica of the original tent.
Afterwards, check out an eyewitness view of a 1782 Continental Army encampment that contains the only known wartime depiction of General Washington’s headquarters tent in a sweeping watercolor painting that was the centerpiece for the Museum's 2018 special exhibition, Among His Troops: Washington's War Tent in a Newly Discovered Watercolor, and the accompanying coffee table catalog.