“UNMASKING GEORGE WASHINGTON”
WHAT DID HE LOOK LIKE BEFORE HE BECAME
THE ELDERLY FOUNDING FATHER KNOWN TO ALL?.
CURATORS ARE TURNING TO FORENSIC SCIENCE FOR CLUES TO HIS LOST YOUTH.
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N OT EVEN GEORGE WASHINGTON IS IMMUNE TO THE current make-over craze. But scholars hoping to over-haul his image -— the tight-lipped bewigged “ old George “ we see on a dollar bill— drew a blank when they set out to portray him as a youth. The problem? There are no pictures of Washington under 40, before tooth loss, bone-jaw decay and other ravages of time altered the First Face. The solution? Analysis of the founding father’s choppers —– and a new field of study that might be called forensic portraiture.
Mount Vernon Estates and Gardens in Virginia, where Washington lived from 1761 until his death in 1799 (and today a Smithsonian-affiliated museum), instigated the research. For an exhibition next October, 2006, it plans to present life-size sculptures of the 6-foot-3 Washington as a presidential nominee at 57, a soldier at 45 and a surveyor at 19.
People are so accustomed to seeing his venerable visage, says Mount Vernon director Jim Rees, they tend to forget he was the “most physically impressive of the founding fathers.”
To help visualize the young man (and humanize the historic figure), the museum turned to Jeffrey Schwartz, a University of Pittsburgh physical anthropologist, who specializes in teasing out details about early human beings from fossil remains.
Schwartz began by examining Washington artworks and artifacts, including a 1785 life mask made by French sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon, eye-glasses and false teeth. Washington started losing his teeth in his 20s, and by the time he became president in 1789 he had only one left. An original set of his lower dentures, made in 1795, is housed at the Dr. Samuel D . Harris National Museum of Dentistry in Baltimore (also a Smithsonian affiliate). Made from hipopotamus ivory —not wood as commonly believed— the spring-loaded dentures “were terribly uncomfortable to wear,” says dental museum curator Scott Swank.
With a computerized laser scanner, Schwartz took precise measurements of the dentures, the life mask, the jaw of an 18th-century human skeleton similar to the first president’s, and a bust created by Houdon in 1785, fourteen years before Washington died. Schwartz combined data from those objects to create a 3-D computer model of Washingon at 53.
Though plastic surgeons and law enforcement officials routinely use computer programs that simulate how a face might age, the process is seldom done in reverse , to suggest how people looked years before. Schwartz took a decade off
the digital quinquagenarian Washington by modifying it with the stronger jawline and other features evident in portraits of Washington in his 40s by Charles Wilson Peale. Then the anthropologist created a digital teen by among other things, making the lower jaw more prominent, as it surely would have been with a fill set of healthy teeth.
The preliminary computer images, created at a computer-imaging research center at Arizona State University and colored blue to enhance certain details, have served as the basis of the wax and plaster sculptures of Washington at the different ages. The sculptures are currently being painted and also outfitted with real human hair. “When they see him with his red hair and beard,” says Mount Vernon’s Rees, “people are going to be shocked.”
--- —JOHN F. ROSS
October 2005. Volume 36. No. 7 (pgs.40-42)
Church of the Science of God
La Jolla, California 92038-3131
© Church of the Science of GOD, 1993