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Taking a Shine to TJ

As the winter cold settles in, we have opened this year, in part of our Mountaintop Shop, a comfort station with some interesting items for visitors to interact with and explore.  In their hunt for additional items to populate that space, the managers responsible decided that this reproduction (above) of the Houdon Bust of Thomas Jefferson be placed up in the comfort station area. 

This repro of the famed TJ bust has been living in an office up until now, and sadly he’d picked up a bit of dirt as time passed.  So before putting him out for visitors to enjoy, we wondered if we should shine him up a bit. 

My background isn’t in museums, so I started asking questions about what this version is made of and what we thought might be good to clean it.  In the end, old fashioned elbow grease was our answer. 

The application of said elbow grease (pictured, below) was so intense that the photo is blurred by my extremely swift scrubbing.  It’s moments such as these that I wonder, “How will I ever accurately capture this aspect of my work on a résumé?” 

Then I asked myself, “What would Jefferson do?”  So I looked for a good Jefferson quote, to at least know what Mr. Jefferson might say.  And I found this quote from Thomas Jefferson to his daughter Martha Jefferson Randolph on our website under Jefferson quotes about idleness: 1790 April 26. “Interesting occupations are essential to happiness: indeed the whole art of being happy consists in the art of finding emploiment [sic]. I know none so interesting, and which croud [sic] upon us so much, as those of a domestic nature."

Ah, well, this task of a domestic nature definitely added some happiness to my day. 

“Okay, Mr. Jefferson, now blow!”


jhoove09's picture
Awesome. Those things that fall outside of our original job descriptions often find us the most enjoyment.
ejohnson's picture
They definitely make for some of the best stories, that's for sure! I hope that Jefferson's quote to Martha makes it onto the quote board in the Mountaintop Shop.
Eric Johnson
nmeans's picture
How would you clean him if he were extremely dusty? Would you just use a white cloth? Would you ever use water or a detergent? I have a Houdon bust of Thomas Jefferson, and his head is covered with dust. I fear elbow grease would only smear dirt. How do you all clean the originals in the house?
Nathaniel Means
ksmeltzer's picture
Great line of questions, Nathaniel. I'm not really sure. I was using a slightly dampened Magic Eraser, but I ended up more sanding off the dirty layer than actually cleaning any dirt off. Plus this is just a plaster replica, so the pressure to preserve wasn't terribly intense. I've sent an email to some of our curatorial gurus here at Monticello, to find out how the cleaning of the real deal is done. Once I get a response, I'll comment with their thoughts.
Kristie Smeltzer
ksmeltzer's picture
Mr. Means, from Jodi's comments what it sounds like you really need is one or more curatorial assistants.
Kristie Smeltzer
Jodi Frederiksen's picture
Most of the objects in the house get dusted on a daily basis. Curatorial Assistants are in the house hours before the house and grounds open to the public. On objects such as busts, where there is often a layer of finish--e.g. paint--a soft, natural fiber brush is used to remove dust. On the historic objects, elbow grease can leave a layer of unwanted residue.
Jodi Frederiksen
Legacy NID: 


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