WASHINGTON – A lifelong search created the world's largest display about the French and Indian War,which goes on view at the Smithsonian Institution starting Friday.
The war,which began in 1754,was the first major military action for a 22-year-old British officer named George Washington. He and a co-commander tried to capture Pittsburgh,known then as Fort Necessity,from the French. Also known as the Seven Years' War,it resulted in more than a million causalities.
Scott Stephenson,exhibit curator,said he has dreamed of putting on the exhibit since his first visit to Fort Necessity as an 8-year-old.
“I had to kind of go on a global search to find the works,” he said. “It's chilling. It sends shivers down my spine when I walk through here,because they're remarkable pieces. I couldn't ever imagine seeing them all in one place ever again.”
“Clash of Empires: The British,French and Indian War,1754-1763” includes more than 300 artworks from 63 collections in 10 countries. In the war,the French initially teamed up with American Indians to fight the British and its American colonies over rights to the Ohio valley.
The free exhibit is on view daily through March 15 from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.,except Dec. 25,at the S. Dillon Ripley Center's International Gallery. The center is near the Smithsonian stop on Metrorail's blue or orange lines.
Artworks include 29 18th century paintings. Stephenson said surviving artwork is usually produced by victors,who tend not to show other parties of war.
Benjamin West's “General Johnson Saving a Wounded French Officer from the Tomahawk of an American Indian,1764-1768” is an aberration. The West piece is rare because it depicts three major powers in the war – French,Indian and British – and a British general saving an enemy officer.
A glass case holds punch bowls. Traditionally,soldiers or others would show their patriotism by drinking soup-size bowls filled with an alcoholic drink to read a patriotic message painted on the bottom.
One patriotic British punch bowl on display reads: “Rouse up Bold Brittons fa'm'd of OLD,your powerfu'll Arms advance,Nere let the Shameful tale be told,you subjects were to France.”
Gerry Embleton,a model maker from Switzerland,created a replica of George Washington in 1754 after the conflict near modern-day Pittsburgh.
The model is of a young Washington,hunched over and trying to read a treaty written in French that concedes the British loss. The actual Treaty of Fort Necessity has Washington's signature and sits in a glass case nearby.
“There is a reference on all the figures to something real here,” Embleton said.
He created nine models for the exhibit. Each is made from gooey plastic dipped in glue and adorned with human wig hair and real clothing. Each is cast from a real person,and Washington's boots are covered with a bag of mud Embleton collected near Pittsburgh.
“It's an obsession with detail,” Embleton said. “I'm a serial goo spreader.”
Embleton used his daughter,Camille,who was 9 at the time of her casting,to create the statue “Captive or Kin? A Pennsylvania Girl in the Ohio Country.” The replica depicts an American Indian's prisoner of war.
Embleton cast Paul Winnie,52,a Seneca tribesman from Niagara Falls,N.Y.,for the statue “Tanaghrisson: An Ohio Iroquois Leader Warns the French,Sept. 2,1753.”
The figure bears tattoos. One resembles a string of barbed wire running down Tanaghrisson's face,which represents taking scalps.
Winnie has traveled around the Ohio and New York areas doing French and Indian War re-enactments.
“I like it,” he said of his statue. “Being where I live is close to Fort Niagara. It's a pretty historic area.”
Other models include “The Warrior” and “The Militiaman” that tower over visitors' heads,depicting a Frenchman and an American Indian portaging a canoe.