Christmas day has come and gone at Montpelier and like Christmas, New Year’s Day gave the Madisons and their contemporaries an opportunity to send holiday greetings to family and friends along with wishes for a prosperous and healthy year to come.
During the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, Christmas was primarily celebrated through fellowship, festive entertainment, visits to neighbors and family, and holiday tidings sent to friends and loved ones. While there is no evidence to suggest that holiday decorations were placed in the interior or the exterior of Montpelier during the Madisons’ time, James and Dolley had other Christmas traditions.
The Joe and Marge Grills Gallery is now showcasing a series a of historical images, objects, and artwork depicting the Montpelier estate. The exhibit is comprised of works from the early nineteenth to late twentieth centuries, and includes Anna Maria Brodeau Thornton’s 1802 watercolor, View of Montpelier.
The Madisons’ preference for stylish furnishings, as seen throughout the interior spaces of Montpelier, is further exhibited in a new installation in the Dining Room. On Friday, November 18, 2011, with assistance from historic textile consultant Natalie Larson, reproduction window treatments, including salmon colored silk drapery with green lining, sheer dimity under-curtains, and cornices decorated in the neoclassical style of John and Hugh Finlay’s Baltimore painted furniture, were installed in the Montpelier Dining Room.
Visitors to Montpelier during James Madison’s retirement vividly described the Drawing Room as museum-like and full of curiosities. Among these curious items was an “electrical machine,” likely intended as a party novelty to convey scientific principles and encourage socializing. Considered cutting-edge technology in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, electrical machines, also referred to as a “philosophical instruments,” were used to demonstrate emerging theories of electricity.
The first of several carpet installations at Montpelier was laid on Friday, October 28. The Dining Room floorboards are once more covered with the installation of a Brussels weave carpet. In the nineteenth century, elegant carpets conveyed status, provided warmth during cool weather, protected floorboards, and enhanced the overall appearance of a room by thematically linking furnishings.
If you saw Richard Brookhiser’s recent appearance on “The Daily Show,” you might have been surprised to hear him say that James Madison was 5′6″. The height of America’s fourth president is a recurring topic of interest to visitors and readers. So, how tall was Mr. Madison?
James Madison, like many of his peers, was a man dedicated to knowledge of geography and history. In an August 1822 letter to William Taylor Barry, Madison wrote: “A knowledge of the Globe & its various inhabitants, however slight, might moreover create a taste for Books of Travels and Voyages, out of which might grow a general taste for history, an inexhaustible fund of entertainment & instruction.”