April 2, 2013
It's not everyday you are able to see something new in an old house but that is exactly what you will find at Monticello. This week, Monticello is unveiling a newly refurnished room on the second floor of the home.
Before, the behind the scenes tour at Monticello was only empty rooms that led to talking points. With this room being refurnished, the life of Thomas Jefferson's sister has now come to life.
The North Octagonal room is thought to be where Thomas Jefferson's sister stayed for the last 17 years of her life. She moved in in 1811 after her husband died.
Susan Stein, Senior Curator and Vice President of the Museum Programs at Monticello, said, "One of the granddaughters referred to her as that "poor old lady". We figured out what furnishing belonged here by looking at inventories and what people would have owned. People like Aunt Marks would have brought their own belongings with them."
The process to refurnish a room to as authentic as possible can take a couple of years to complete. The restoration teams at Monticello studied the nail marks in the walls to make sure the curtains hung properly. They also had paint samples matched from paint chips of the 1800's. All of this work to open up Jefferson's life even more.
Stein said, "We do documentary investigation looking at Jefferson's records, visitor accounts, family letters to figure out what was known about the people and particular spaces and the things that were purchased for them at Monticello." Stein continued, "It's as much the story of the Jefferson family members as it is all of the enslaved, domestic servants who made Monticello the place that it was."
The details in the room were chosen after a long process of studying records and letters, the Monticello team found that a cast iron stove is an original.
Stein said, "Our restoration department examined the room very carefully and found evidence of where this stove had gone on the stone hearth."
Another important piece in the room is a press. It was made right on the plantation specifically for Aunt Marks. They are planning on putting linens, clothes, and other things inside the press to show what it might have looked like.
All of the fabrics and linens were specially recreated for the room.
Stein said, "The notion of bed curtains they're very beautiful but they are also very functional because they allow you to keep warm in the winter."
By having a room that brings the period to life, it allows for people to see the history as it once was. It also allows Monticello's team to show the lifestyles of those who lived on the plantation.
Stein said, "It gives us a broader perspective of life at Monticello. We're able here to reveal the lives of individual family member as well as tell the story of the enslaved people."
Not all of the pieces are in place in Aunt Marks room, but with time it will be fully completed.
The restoration teams have already started working on refurnishing the next room in the second floor. It is going to be the South Octagonal room that Jefferson's daughter, Martha, lived in. This room will have more of a French flair to the décor.