Thursday, February 18, 2010

Hiawatha's Boat

Recently I was with my family in Washington DC.

While touring the White House Visitor's Center, I saw lots of interesting items and photos, and I learned many new things about the home of our Presidents. Because we vote on who gets to sit in the "big chair" every four years, the White House has seen quite a lot of moving crews. Each First Family brings their own collection of belongings, and new items are routinely added to the collection of state belongings.

No, I didn't find a gondola in the White House, but I thought this "vessel" might be interesting and worth a post.

This captivating piece was added to the Presidential Collection in 1876 by Julia Grant - the First Lady of the United States from 1869 to 1877. She was the wife of course of Ulysses S. Grant, the 18th president of the US. He served two four-year terms in the White House after an extensive military carreer where he eventually reached the rank of General-In-Chief of the Union Army.

Grant was an icon of the Civil War, personal friend to Abraham Lincoln, and a strong proponent of civil rights.
Most folks know him best though as the guy on the front of the fifty-dollar bill.

The sculptural centerpiece is known as "Hiawatha's Boat" and it was crafted in 1871 by silversmiths at the Gorham Manufacturing Company in Providence, Rhode Island.
First Lady Julia Grant selected it at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1876.
According to the experts at the Visitor's Center, the piece:

"depicts Henry Wadsworth Longellow's character, legendary founder of the Iroquois league, steering his masted canoe on the water of a mirror-glass plateau."

Along the base of the piece, raised letters spell out:

"All alone went Hiawatha through the clear transparent water"

First Lady Grant wrote that she was "happy in securing a piece entirely American in history, ideal, skill, and material."

I'm not sure whether a real boat like this ever existed, but the people in Providence sure dreamed up an interesting image.

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