Adam T. Erby, George Washington's Mount Vernon
George and Martha Washington’s presidential dining table as it might have appeared. After spending more than George Washington had allotted on these porcelain figures, Gouverneur Morris defended himself by stating that the items “now sent are of a noble Simplicity, they stand a fair chance to continue so during our time” and that everything around Washington “should be substantially good and majestically plain; made to endure.”
Society of the Cincinnati porcelain service, Jingdezhen and Guangzhou, China, 1784. George Washington purchased this Chinese export porcelain service to celebrate his membership in the Society of the Cincinnati. The service came to the United States on the Empress of China, the first American ship to trade directly with China after the American Revolution.
Porcelain tea and coffee service, Niderviller, France, 1779-1780. The Comte de Custine, who served under George Washington at the Battle of Yorktown, brought with him this porcelain service, every piece with a different border, to present to George and Martha Washington and introduce Americans to French goods.
Join us in exploring the fascinating story of how George and Martha Washington’s personal interests in the decorative arts informed the complex duties they faced in navigating the complexities of their role as the first First Family of the New Republic. Adam Erby, curator of Fine and Decorative Arts at Mount Vernon, will guide us through the Washingtons’ sophisticated and evolving tastes as they played host to the wide variety of friends, family, politicians, diplomats, and general citizenry who arrived at Mount Vernon on an almost daily basis. In fact, documents reveal that in the seven years prior to 1775, Mount Vernon welcomed over 2,000 guests, most of whom stayed the night. Learn how the Washingtons’ fine china and stoneware were acquired and used in this exceedingly busy household.
Mr. Erby will help us imagine what it was like to join the statesman, his family, and various guests as they gathered around a table laden with the latest tableware, cutlery, silver and garniture — all sparkling in candle and firelight — for the daily 3:00 pm dinner.
The Washingtons not only set the standards for the new nation’s political life, they influenced its sense of style, taste and entertainment. Mr. Erby will explore these facets and cast new insights into the lives of the United States’ original First Family.
The present Mount Vernon mansion was built in phases from approximately 1734, under the supervision of George Washington’s father Augustine Washington. The mansion evolved during George Washington’s lifetime and continued to evolve following his death in 1799.
Since its founding as the first national historic preservation association in 1853, the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association has worked to restore Mount Vernon to its 1799 appearance. The project has set the standard in the United States for preservation and restoration. Mount Vernon’s authenticity is assisted by the painstaking research and acquisition of furnishings related to George and Martha Washingtons’ occupation of the plantation home, forensic analysis of interiors, and archaeological investigation of outbuildings and landscapes. Each generation of preservationists has reinterpreted the mansion and its surroundings according to the most up-to-date methodologies. Adam Erby is very much a part of that ongoing research and restoration. Beginning in 2013 with the restoration of the “new room” (traditionally considered the formal dining room), Mount Vernon’s curators and architectural historians embarked on a restoration campaign grounded in cutting-edge research on the material culture of the Washingtons and their enslaved work force. This lecture will highlight the work accomplished since 2013 — the restoration of the chintz bedchamber, the blue bedchamber, and the front parlor, as well as ongoing projects, including the yellow bedchamber and the central passage.
Adam T. Erby is Curator of Fine and Decorative Arts at George Washington’s Mount Vernon, where he oversees the institution’s fine and decorative arts collections, historic interiors and special exhibitions. He led the curatorial restoration of George and Martha Washington’s front parlor, a five-year process of research and reconstruction that culminated in the space’s February 2019 reopening. Mr. Erby has been a major contributor to the reinterpretation of the new room, chintz chamber and blue chamber.
Adam Erby holds a bachelor’s degree in American studies from the University of Virginia and a master’s degree from the Winterthur Program in American Material Culture. He is also an alumnus of the Attingham Summer School. Adam Erby has contributed essays to The General in the Garden: George Washington’s Landscape at Mount Vernon, edited by Susan Schoelwer (2014) and he co-authored “ ‘The one Mrs. Trist shall chuse’: Thomas Jefferson, the Trist Family, and the Monticello Campeachy Chair” with Sumpter T. Priddy III and Jenna Huffman for the Chipstone Foundation’s American Furniture (2012). He also contributed “George Washington’s New Room: An American Vision” to Antiques & Fine Art (2014). Mr. Erby co-authored “Leaving Home: Butler Greenwood’s Parlor” for The Magazine Antiques (March-April 2014) with Matthew Thurlow and Alice Dickinson. Adam Erby last spoke to the Forum in November 2017 when he presented an earlier phase of Mount Vernon’s reinterpretation of the front room. The reinterpretation was based on recently discovered documentation of Washington’s acquisition of English-made furniture from his Loyalist friend and neighbor, George William Fairfax. This presentation will update the ongoing restoration program.