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This weekend, Ferry Farm is pulling out all the stops to celebrate the big guy's big day.
FOR THE FREE LANCE-STAR
In contrast with the more staid images of iconic portraits of our nation's Founding Fathers, that daring band of patriots was, in fact, filled with enthusiasm, courage and ingenuity. And the folks at Ferry Farm will instill those qualities in their celebrations of our first president's 280th birthday this weekend.
"We want children and adults to think more about history and to make history alive and exciting," said Alma Withers, director of educational programming.
The Ferry Farm staff has found that dramatic live performances provide an effective and engaging avenue to accomplish that goal, and their Presidents Day celebrations will host a spectrum of entertaining, interactive productions that will long be remembered.
History Theater performances on Saturday will feature skits written by VCU theater major Levi Shrader and dramatized against painted scenes especially created for the productions. In one skit, the audience can witness a history-making discussion among a young George Washington, his mother, Mary, and older brother Augustine. The topic? After the untimely death of George's father, it was difficult for Mary to manage the family farm and care for her young children. When George's plans to pursue an education in England were no longer possible, Augustine proposed that his younger brother begin his career by joining Great Britain's Navy. Protective mother that she was, Mary strongly opposed the idea.
The skit's motion is halted at that point for a discussion period with the audience, in which they consider the effect that day's decision would have on our nation's destiny.
Another skit features the painting "Washington Crossing the Delaware" by German artist Emmanuel Leutze. Volunteers from the audience will come onstage to man the boat, as an art historian engages the audience in a lively discussion and critical thinking about elements in the painting that do not correspond to the actual conditions of the river in the Colonies at that time.
The day's festivities will also include an opportunity for young visitors to try their hand at Colonial games such as hoops, graces, Jacob's ladder, ball and cup, stilt-walking, and lawn bowling. Take-home crafts will include making a tricorn hat, a cherry tree drawing, and a silhouette. Weather permitting, visitors will also have an opportunity to test their skill in a stone toss across the river.
Children can also create a birthday card for George, who will view them on display when he personally visits the site, and birthday cake will be served throughout the day.
Special activities will continue on Monday with an archaeology showcase dubbed "Young George Washington and the Buried Past."
"There are many wonderful archaeological sites throughout Virginia, but we at Ferry Farm are at such an exciting stage," said education assistant Rebekah Eaton. "We have the opportunity to witness archaeology in progress. We are continually discovering new things about George Washington and his family and the history of Fredericksburg."
Monday's activities will include a display of a simulated dig that visitors can explore. In a dramatization, "Object Whisperer," an archaeologist and "Mary Washington" will discuss artifacts that have been found on the site and what they reveal about the life and times of the Colonial era.
A new and exciting feature will be an appearance by The Magnificent Materialist: Teller of Artifact Fortunes (Ferry Farm's own renowned archaeologist, Dave Maraca) who will talk about what possessions and items of clothing of audience members reveal about the life and likes of their owners. Other highlights include an exploration cart loaded with Civil War artifacts and a scavenger hunt in the exhibit rooms featuring artifacts from George Washington's family.
Throughout the day, visitors will have an opportunity to view archaeologists in action, working with artifacts at different stages in the site's laboratory.
In a craft session, visitors can create their own Delftware patterns and learn about the important role that ceramic shards have in identifying various periods of history that different objects come from.
"Activities for both days will be very low-tech, which means we will be giving children the opportunity to do things that are very hands-on and minds-on," said Withers. "And we've found that when children are happy and learning, parents are happy and learning as well."
Collette Caprara is a local writer and artist.