‘Discovering the real George Washington’

What did our first president leave behind? Teeth.

This summer, George Washington’s dentures will be displayed at the National Constitution Center in an exhibition opening July 1.

Contrary to popular myth, they were not made of wood but mostly of animal bone. They will be among 100 objects from his home in Virginia in the exhibit to honor the man who shocked the world when he handed power to his successor peacefully.

He also left behind a legacy of slavery. That legacy will be sewn into a series of 41 quilts commissioned by a coalition of the Constitution Center, the President’s House, Independence Visitors Center and the African-American Museum.

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The heated debate over how to memorialize the nine slaves held by Washington while living in the President’s House in Philadelphia has begun to affect how neighboring institutions portray the country’s first president. The quilts will be a local addendum to the Philadelphia stop of “Discover the Real George Washington,” a nationally traveling show organized by the Mount Vernon Ladies Association.

Many of the quilts will not be blankets, but art-quilts depicting stories of Washington’s slaves.

“Rather than focus on the anger this type of history can evoke, this honors the nine people enslaved,” said Michele Flamer, an attorney for the city and quilting enthusiast who spearheaded this quilting exhibition. “Everybody knows George Washington in Mount Vernon had about 350 slaves. What we’re really focused on here are the nine in Philadelphia.”

One of the quilting artists, Susan Levering, got her start with artistic quilts by depicting events of the Jewish holocaust in fabric and thread.

“There’s something about working with fabric — taking a harsh image and putting it together with fabric, and softening it,” said Levering. “That balance between those two becomes a strong way to deal with conflicting emotions or thoughts.”

This will be the first time historical institutions around Independence Mall have coordinated with one another to share materials of a similar stripe.

The Constitution Center is promoting the summer’s exhibition of George Washington by making it free to children under 12 accompanied by a paying adult.

“We believe we will generate more traffic and more revenues as a result of getting more families to come,” said David Eisner, CEO and president of the center. “We think more parents want their kids to come. By making it a kids-free summer, we can get more people in and we’re hoping it will make revenues even, and even increase revenues.”

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