Driving through the sunlit streets of Los Angeles, I saw
him, suspended from a lamppost on Fairfax Avenue,
just off Wilshire Boulevard. As I caught a glimpse of
the Hollywood Hills, there he was again, shrouded by
the morning mist. George Washington had come to LA
to celebrate his birthday, and hundreds were flocking
to see him. The event: “George Washington: A
National Treasure,” an exhibition from the Smithsonian’s
National Portrait Gallery. The place: LACMA—The Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
On Presidents’ Day 2002, “George Washington: A National Treasure”
began a nationwide tour at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Texas.
One year later, George Washington celebrated Presidents’ Day in
Los Angeles, reigniting the spirit of Washington for thousands of Americans.
And on March 21, 2003, the exhibition opened at the Seattle Art Museum.
With this tour, made possible through the generosity of the Donald W.
Reynolds Foundation, the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC,
is sharing the spirit of George Washington with students across America.
Painted in 1796 by artist Gilbert Stuart, the portrait is considered one
of the most important visual documents of the founding of our nation.
Its historical and cultural significance has been compared to that of
the Liberty Bell and the Declaration of Independence. At the tour’s
end, the portrait will return to its permanent home in the Portrait Gallery.
“I thought it was going to be small,” said Patricia Vargas,
visiting with her mom, Lupe. “But it was huge!” The 8-foot
life-size painting does dwarf many of its younger visitors. Museum docents
lead daily school tours as hundreds of children stare wide-eyed at all
6’3” of Stuart’s George Washington. “Do you think
he was a good man?” “Of course,” answered ten-year-old
Gabe Wingert. “He started a country.”
The iconography—the rainbow, the flag, the inkwell, the blue sky,
the sword—was another favorite topic of discussion. “And what
do you think that scroll is, rolled up on the desk?” “I think
it’s the Declaration of Independence,” volunteered Gabe. But
his sister Linda had a more inventive idea. “Maybe those are George
Washington’s bills.” Good answer. You might be right, Linda.
After all, it costs a lot to start a country, right Gabe?
Join the tour in Los Angeles November 8, 2002 through March 9, 2002 and let LACMA introduce you to this treasured portrait saved from the auction block for the American people, and to this true patriot, a man who shaped the American presidency and guided the country through the "fragile experiment" of democracy.