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VCU Archaeology

Furnishing the Washingtons: Virtual Curation of Select Small Finds at George Washington’s Ferry Farm

by Bernard K. Means, Project Director

Vivian Hite (left) and Lauren Volkers (right) work on scanning furniture-related Small Finds.

Vivian Hite (left) and Lauren Volkers (right) work on scanning furniture-related objects in the Small Finds Laboratory at George Washington’s Ferry Farm, including this drawer pull drop.

On Monday and Tuesday of this week (March 10 to 11, 2014), members of the Virtual Curation Laboratory were at the Small Finds Laboratory at George Washington’s Ferry Farm, in Fredericksburg, Virginia. I was joined by Digital Curation Specialist Lauren Volkers and Intern Vivian Hite on Monday.

Lauren and Vivian examine reference material related to 18th century furnishings.

Lauren and Vivian examine reference material related to 18th century furnishings.

This cultural heritage location is where George Washington grew up, and learned many of the values that made him successful as America’s first president. The George Washington Foundation maintains this heritage location and is taking steps to recreate a landscape that would have been familiar to young George.  This includes knowing what kinds of furniture would have been in the house his mother Mary maintained.  Historical documents provide a few clues, but it is the preserved remnants of Small Finds from discrete archaeological contexts that gives us direct information about what furnished the Washington family’s house–and what that furniture would have looked like.

Scanning a lock plate.

Scanning a lock plate.

Some of the Small Finds we scanned were decorative features, including an escutcheon with a leaf design that might represent tobacco leaves–a major crop grown at George Washington’s Ferry Farm.

Scanning escutcheon with leaf design.

Scanning escutcheon with leaf design.

Digital model of escutcheon.

Digital model of escutcheon.

One interesting object that we scanned was a bed bolt, which was part of a wooden twin bed frame. This was a conserved item and the dark exterior did give us some challenges with our scanning efforts.

A bed bolt from the Washington house.

A bed bolt from the Washington house.

Virtual curation of historic metal objects is certainly one way to help preserve these items, but also is important in recreating past historical materials.  Our laser scanning of artifacts is a non-contact way of preserving details, but also allows replication of multiple copies of an item once a digital model is generated.  A particular period furnishing would have had multiple escutcheons, for example, but only one might be preserved archaeologically.  With one digital model, a furniture historian could make as many items as needed to recreate period furniture.

Addendum for March 11, 2014:

I met in the afternoon with Meghan Budinger, Director, Curatorial Operations, for the George Washington Foundation (GWF) and Laura Galke, Small Finds Analyst for GWF to discuss the potential of replicating furniture hardware, including sending replicas to manufacturers who specialize in this task, but sometimes are unclear exactly how to meet a heritage location’s specific needs.  I was able to show a digital model of a cabinet key scanned the day before that was created remotely in the Virtual Curation Laboratory in Richmond by Lauren Volkers.

Cabinet key and its digital model.

Cabinet key and its digital model.

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