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Studying statue's history
UMW's statue's origins a mystery

 A plaster copy of Jean Antoine Houdon's statue of George Washington stands in Dodd Auditorium at the University of Mary Washington.
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Date published: 2/6/2006



He stands in the hall of Dodd Auditorium, looking as regal as a revolutionary dare look.

And though he's been a fixture of the place for decades, no one's really quite sure where he came from.

The George Washington statue became part of the University of Mary Washington campus nearly 70 years ago. It's a copy of the late 18th-century Jean Antoine Houdon sculpture that graces the state Capitol rotunda in Richmond.

Recent action in the Virginia General Assembly has placed the history of UMW's statue under more scrutiny.

House Speaker Bill Howell, R-Stafford County, sponsored a bill to protect the Houdon original as state property.

The bill passed the House Friday. It requires the Library of Virginia to search for "existing patterns and molds of the Houdon statue." The library will manage requests for full-size copies of the statue, as well as produce smaller versions of the Houdon. Organizations interested in owning a copy of the statue must request permission and pay a fee.

Such permissions will generate money for the Capitol Preservation Foundation.

UMW's statue isn't under any threat, but determining where it came from, and from which mold, just became much more interesting.

Tracey Kamerer, the curator of the state art collection at the Library of Virginia, is helping UMW determine its statue's history and when it was made.

The Houdon statue is considered the best likeness of Washington, Kamerer said. As such, "it was something that everyone wanted," she said. Hundreds of replicas were made.

UMW's George Washington is a descendent of the original, she said, but there are several generations separating them.

Recent renovations of Dodd Auditorium, which included repairing the statue, put Kamerer and UMW in touch.

Richard Hurley, the school's executive vice president and chief financial officer, was in charge of the renovations. His assistant, Brooke Kingsley, took responsibility for the statue's restoration. In the process, she became interested in its history.

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