Historical exhibition will run through Oct. 28 in the Williams Center gallery
They shared a love of liberty and the courage to fight for it. Their life paths were similar though one was French and the other a relatively new breed known as “American.” And they both played an integral part in the formation of a new nation despite being a generation apart in age.
Indeed, you might say George Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette were like father and son. In fact, many did.
This amazingly tight relationship helped the United States win her freedom and spawned centuries of fawning tributes to the two leaders, the most recent being A Son and his Adoptive Father: The Marquis de Lafayette and George Washington in the Williams Center for the Arts gallery.
The exhibit, which runs through Oct. 28, is part of the College’s yearlong celebration in recognition of the life and legacy of the man for whom it is named. Other major events include a lecture series, entitled Lives of Liberty, featuring renowned speakers, and today’s birthday party.
- A web site dedicated to the celebration and to the Marquis’ unique connection to the College provides information and updates.
Rife with artifacts that run the gamut from spectacular portraits to the minutiae of plates, vases, and other personal effects, the exhibit offers a stunning look back at both men and the relationship they forged as America gained her freedom.
“I am very impressed by the collection of portraits. This is all extremely interesting and extremely precious, from the vases, which are beautiful, to the letters of George Washington and the Marquis. All this makes this extremely exciting and valuable to see,” said Jean-Pierre Cap, Oliver Edwin Williams Professor Emeritus of Foreign Languages and Literatures. “The exhibit is extremely well done, something for everyone to take in and does a great deal to refresh one’s knowledge.”
Most of the visitors today during the exhibit’s official opening shared Cap’s enthusiasm.
Some of the favorite items were hand-written letters exchanged between the Marquis and Washington, as well as a letter from Martha Washington sharing with the Marquis her grief at her husband’s death.
Others took their time to gaze upon the Marquis’ sword, taken from him when he fled the country during the French Revolution. Still others stood in awe at the various prints on display.
“I think it’s exciting – very nice, very interesting, a lot of things I’ve never seen,” said David Evancho, a Bethlehem resident who came just to see the exhibit. “I’ve read a lot about this period, but I’ve never seen some of these things.”
Most of the items in the exhibit came from the College’s Special Collections Library. Other contributors include Harvard College, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Smithsonian Institution, Life Guard Society of Mount Vernon, Society of the Cincinnati, and Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association.
For someone who often doesn’t get his due in popular culture portrayals of the American Revolution, the Marquis’ legacy in artifacts is remarkable.
“It’s amazing,” said William Jeffers, professor emeritus of physics. “I suppose I could have guessed there were this many things around, but someone did a good job of putting this all in one place.”
Among the spectators’ favorites were the majestic portraits of the Marquis and Washington.
“I think it’s very informative. The paintings – I’m really fascinated with them,” said Judy Irwin, wife of Harry Irwin ’62. Their son Stephen Irwin ’87 and his wife Lorrie Irwin ’88 also are Lafayette alumni.
Connie Colatch, wife of John Colatch, director of religious life and College chaplain, also enjoyed the portraits.
“I’ve seen them in books and magazines, but to see them close-up is wonderful,” she said.
John Thomas ’70 was surprised to see how many items the College was able to gather.
“I think it’s very interesting that this could be shared with the College. It appeals to me to have the opportunity to see this,” he said.
But that wasn’t all.
While the exhibit was a big draw for onlookers today, faculty members said it will be a wonderful teaching tool.
“The students are going to like it,” said Caroline Lee, assistant professor of anthropology and sociology, who personally enjoyed reading the correspondence. “The students love knowing the College has such a rich history.”
Caroline Lareuse, a member of the American Friends of Lafayette, said the historical emphasis is vital in today’s society.
“I think it’s fascinating and a wonderful thing to do,” she said. “Something like this brings back history we should all be aware of.”
The exhibit is organized by the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association in partnership with Lafayette College and made possible by the F.M. Kirby Foundation, the Florence Gould Foundation, The Founders, Washington Committee for Historic Mount Vernon, and the Embassy of France. Additional support for the exhibition at Lafayette College is provided by gifts from Lafayette Ambassador Bank and Jere G. Oren ’50. Oren’s gift was made in memory of his parents, Samuel and Sophie Oren.