3 Statues of Washington Designed for Mt Vernon
The images are familiar, yet different. Looking more than two centuries into the past, scientists have created what they say are the most accurate depictions of George Washington at three critical stages in his life, ages 19, 45 and 57.
After almost two years of forensic research, historical delving, computer manipulation and work by a team of artists, Washington comes alive in three sculptures that are supposed to be the most accurate images of what he actually looked like.
The Mount Vernon Ladies Association, custodians of his estate in Virginia, have not yet received the statues, but they released pictures Thursday.
The statues show Washington as a young surveyor before he fought in the French and Indian War, the general as he took command of the Continental Army at the beginning of the Revolutionary War and the older statesman as he became the first president of the United States.
Jeffrey H. Schwartz, the professor of physical anthropology at the University of Pittsburgh who led a team of scientists, archivists, historians and other experts on the project, said these were probably the most accurate depictions of Washington to be seen for years to come.
The life-size sculptures will go on display at Mount Vernon this fall as part of an $85 million renovation of Washington's estate, carried out in an effort to humanize him and dispel his image as a stiff old man with white powdered hair.
James C. Rees, director of the estate, said Mount Vernon wanted to show Washington more as a dynamic man, who was once young and vital.
Washington posed for relatively few of the hundreds of paintings of him as an older man, portraits that often portrayed an image modified by each artist's style. To get a truer image, the research team started with renditions of Washington at age 53 by Jean-Antoine Houdon, a French sculptor known for his realistic style, who studied and took measurements of Washington while staying for several weeks at Mount Vernon.
A computer graphics group at Arizona State University used laser scanners to computerize a life-size Houdon statue and bust of Washington. The same was done with dentures and other artifacts related to his appearance. The group then designed software to manipulate the features and age of these images.
Artists working at StudioEIS, a Brooklyn group that specializes in historical sculptures, took these images and historical data gathered by the research team to create the wax figures, which will be dressed in authentic clothing reproductions and positioned in historical dioramas.
''The whole process was very, very complex,'' said Ivan Schwartz, director of the studio. ''It couldn't end with the science. Science couldn't answer questions of understanding what human people really feel like. This is where the art came in.''
A team led by Stuart Williamson, a British artist and sculptor, crafted the figures and gave them human nuances, including subtle changes in eye color that come with age and the deportment befitting an aristocrat. Sue Day, a British specialist in wax, added human hair and skin tones.
The realism of the figures even affected the artists. ''After being around him, I wanted him to have a voice -- to actually hear him,'' Ivan Schwartz said.
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