Published: August 12, 2003
Colonial Williamsburg will display a selection of 16 bold objects of Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century American cast-iron – from stovetop figures to fire backs – at the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum. “Heavy Metal: American Cast Iron” will be open to the public through December 2004.
Located in the hyphen area between the old and new wings of the museum, “Heavy Metal” will examine a full-length hollow cast-iron statue of George Washington originally used as a radiator, an architectural ornament in the shape of an eagle, a selection of Virginia-made stove plates, weathervanes depicting an Indian with a bow and arrow and an Indian with a dog and a Nineteenth Century fire mark issued by a privately owned fire company to indicate that a house was protected by fire insurance.
In the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries, iron was processed into four basic forms: cast iron, wrought iron, sheet iron and steel. Cast iron was hard, brittle and nonmalleable and required the force and heat of a blast furnace for its efficient production.
“Iron, the most common of all metals, was essential to the daily lives of colonial Americans since it could be used in so many forms and functions,” said John Davis, the pauline and Samuel M. Clarke curator, senior curator and curator of metals for Colonial Williamsburg. “Large American furnaces were extremely productive, turning out tons of cast iron in forms that were often decorative. We are especially fortunate to be able to display three important stove plates by iron master Isaac Zane, who was well known both for his stove and his fire backs.”
The George Washington stovetop radiator also is noteworthy. The presentation of Washington in Eighteenth Century dress beneath a flowing, classical toga is a clear indication of the heated early debate regarding the appropriate portrayal of America’s founding father.
While some favored the realism of “contemporary” clothing, others sought to deify the first president by draping his likeness in ancient robes. Washington himself preferred more timely garb and persuaded sculptor Jean Antoine Houdon to portray him in his Eighteenth Century military uniform for a full-length marble statue that was erected in the Virginia State Capitol Building in 1796.
The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum, on South England Street across from the Williamsburg Lodge, is open daily from 10 am to 5 pm. Admission is included in any Colonial Williamsburg admission ticket or by separate one-day or annual museums ticket. For information, call 757-220-7698.
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