Americans love George Washington’s nose

November 19, 2012

Looked at a lot of statues and busts in the past year.  One of the things that intrigues me is the way people interact with sculpture, particularly the ways and places people touch sculpture.

At Mount Vernon, Americans have a fondness for George Washington’s nose:

06-23-2012 TAH Mt Vernon 094 George's nose, Avard Fairbanks bust, photo copyright by Ed Darrell

Avard Fairbanks‘ very large bust of George Washington invites touching by visitors at the Mount Vernon Visitors Center; people touch his nose.  Photo by Ed Darrell; use allowed with attribution, some rights reserved.

Other copies of the bust exist around the country, by Utah sculptor Avard Fairbanks.  If I’m correct on the provenance, this one was placed at Salt Lake International Airport for the nation’s bicentennial, then was obtained by George Washington University (one of my alma maters, by the way), and was loaned by GWU to the Ladies of Mount Vernon. (No wonder the thing looked so familiar to me . . . it’s been following me around for years.  I wonder when it gets to Texas, or upstate New York.)

A bust of George Washington on the campus of G...

Bust of George Washington on the campus of George Washington University — same one? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Displayed at the main entrance to the visitors center at Mt. Vernon, the bust is at a level that people can touch it, and they do.

It’s fun to watch people who stop to look at the bust.  Almost inevitably they look a bit awed by it.  Then, if they take a minute, they look it up and down, and put out their hand to touch George’s nose.

Almost as if they consider George Washington a good luck charm, and a touch of his nose might rub some luck off onto them.  It’s rubbing the nose shiny, an interesting way Americans pay tribute to our first president.


06-23-2012 TAH Mt Vernon 093 Avard Fairbanks bust, George Washington - photo by Ed Darrell, use with attribution encouraged

The bust is quite imposing; people who pause to study it, however, overcome their reticence, and reach out to touch the First President.

Snow at Mount Vernon; Washington still hot

March 15, 2009

The photos don’t show the beauty, nor do they capture the wonderful quiet that accompanied it.

It snowed briefly and lightly at George Washington’s home at Mount Vernon Friday morning.

Snow at the Quarters, Mount Vernon, Virginia, March 13, 2009 - copyright Ed Darrell

Snow at the Quarters, Mount Vernon, Virginia, March 13, 2009 - copyright Ed Darrell

Al fresco dining would have  been cool, and wet.

Snow on tables, The Quarter, Mount Vernon, Virginia - copyright 2009 by Ed Darrell

Snow on tables, The Quarters, Mount Vernon, Virginia - copyright 2009 by Ed Darrell

Inside, a few minutes later, the conversation was hot.  We opened with a session the night before, and post-dinner meeting with William B. Allen, the editor of a recent collection of George Washington’s papers.  Allen is suave, with a perfectly-modulated baritone voice.  He doesn’t just speak in properly punctuated, grammatically correct paragraphs.  He speaks in chapters that summarize volumes.

Among other telling gems, Allen noted that Washington, who is often regarded as an intellectual inferior to Jefferson, Madison, Franklin, Hamilton and others, because he “wrote so little,” has had his collected published papers now pass the 100 volume mark.  Reading the letters in full, as we did much of at this meeting, reveals Gen. Washington as little else can.

You should read yourself some Washington.

Tip of the old scrub brush, again, to the Bill of Rights Institute and Liberty Fund, sponsors and organizers of this event.

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