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DESIGN IN THE NEW AMERICAN REPUBLIC
As part of the 250th anniversary celebration of the Powel House, art historian Amy H. Henderson offers a special tour of this fine example of mid-18th century Georgian architecture. The house was home to Elizabeth Willing Powel and Samuel Powel--last mayor of Philadelphia as a colonial city and first mayor after the Revolutionary War.
The tour tells the story of the Powels as a couple at the center of Philadelphia’s shift from British colonial outpost to cosmopolitan capital of the new American Republic. With their taste for entertaining and their shared interests in architecture, design, and the arts, they hosted leading figures of the period at convivial events, including a 20th wedding anniversary celebration for George and Martha Washington and dinners attended by John Adams, which he described in approving diary entries that often praised the wines served. (Madeira, a popular and commercially significant drink in the 18th century, will be served during the tour in keeping with customs of the era.)
The Powels were major characters in a cultural coming-of-age process. Their house, its design, and its décor were the setting in which they entertained, promoting sociability and civility among their eminent guests. The tour shifts the focus from the founders as political and military leaders to create a lively fuller picture of them. It also reveals the Powels and their peers as taste-makers, driving the Americanization of European design and the development of related crafts and businesses.
Tour leader Amy H. Henderson, Ph.D., is an independent scholar writing and consulting on material culture and social history in the colonial, Revolutionary, and early Republican periods. Her doctoral dissertation, “Furnishing the Republican Court: Building and Decorating Philadelphia Homes, 1790-1800,” received the Zuckerman Prize in American Studies from the University of Pennsylvania’s McNeil Center for Early American Studies. As a research fellow at the Fred N. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington at Mount Vernon in fall 2015, Ms. Henderson will be expanding and revising her dissertation for publication.