At the end of a suburban side road lies the Wilton House, a gorgeous colonial home that has recently adopted its first outside exhibit since it became a museum in the 1950s. “Get Found: Mapping Place and Time” is a collaborative exhibit that explores the history of mapmaking.
At the end of a suburban side road lies the Wilton House, a gorgeous colonial home that has recently adopted its first outside exhibit since it became a museum in the 1950s. “Get Found: Mapping Place and Time” is a collaborative exhibit that explores the history of mapmaking, dating back the 18th century, when mapmaking required more guesswork than actual measurement, and an incredible amount of artistic ability.
The Wilton House was built in 1753 by William Randolph the III. He and his wife are considered the “Adam and Eve” of colonial Virginia since so many new Virginians sprang from their line. The Wilton house sheltered some big names in its day: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and the Marquis de Lafayette – a famous Commander during the Revolutionary War. The house was nearly demolished in the 1930s, but it was bought up the National Society of Colonial Dames of America and acted as the Dames’ club house until 1953 when it was turned into a museum.
In collaboration with an undergraduate, Museum Studies class at VCU, taught by Margaret Lindauer, “Get Found” is an ambitious exhibit designed to trace the evolution of map-making, starting with the Wilton House’s authentic, 18th century maps. “The class went around picking out pieces they liked in the museum,” says Executive Director of the Wilton House, Robert Strohm, and choosing from elements like portraiture, antique furniture, period toys, architecture and more, the students thought the maps from the early-to-mid 1700s had the most potential for creating a compelling exhibit.
The exhibit starts with a map of Virginia, charted by Peter Jefferson (Thomas’s dad), which, without the aid of aircrafts and satellites, looks a bit distorted. The students who designed the exhibit pair Jefferson’s map, as well as others from colonial America, with Google Maps to show how far we’ve come since the days of wooden teeth. The exhibit also features a deforestation map of the Amazon Rainforest and a satellite image of the Vatnajokull glacier — the largest in Europe. These details perhaps hint that the students involved were as environmentally conscious as they were map-minded.
Standing before the same image of Virginia that the founding fathers looked upon, will transport visitors to a disorienting, yet enlightening time when the process of mapping out land masses was far from exact. Imagine not being certain exactly where the Appalachian Mountains are, or just how long the Virginia coastline is? Besides feeling severely displaced, you get an idea of the colonial world that George Washington believed he was fighting, a world that was much bigger and more mysterious than the one we know today.