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The porcelain pieces in Mount Vernons new presidential china exhibition are living a second life

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The first life was spent with dignity, serving Presidents and their families at quiet dinners as well as the rich and famous at grand State Dinners (with the exception of President Andrew Jacksons open house Inauguration, when the public destroyed and stole thousands of dollars of china).  When White House administrations sold the previous occupants china to cover the costs of new furnishings, the china must have felt ignominy at being sold for $10.

Historic Mount Vernon opens Setting the Presidents Table: American Presidential China from the Robert L. McNeil, Jr. Collection in its F.M. Kirby Foundation Gallery, Feb. 16 thru Jan. 21 to coincide with the national observation of George Washingtons birthday. 

Presidential porcelain collectors like Robert L. McNeil, Jr. rescued presidential china from ignominy and reunited the pieces in collections.  Every plate has a story in the Mount Vernon exhibition, and the stories sum is greater than the sum of its parts; it is the course of American history.

The exhibition showcases over 100 pieces of porcelain from the McNeil Americana Collection at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, considered to be the finest collection of its kind outside of the White House.  McNeil gifted his collection to the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2006 with the caveat that his collection also be displayed at Mount Vernon. The exhibition showcases china used during the administrations of George Washington to Ronald Reagan.

George Washington set a style of presidential entertaining that has been adopted by his successors for more than 200 years, said Carol Borchert Cadou, the senior curator at Mount Vernon. We are delighted that during a presidential year, Mount Vernon visitors will have the opportunity to view a stunning array of porcelains from 21 presidential administrations.

The Robert L. McNeil, Jr. Collection of Presidential China at the Philadelphia Museum of Art is a comprehensive overview of three centuries of dinnerware styles and forms that reflect changing customs, said David Barquist, curator of American Decorative Arts at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. What interested Mr. McNeil was how these objects reflected changes over time in presidential entertaining.

Each President or First Ladys selection of china patterns signifies a place in time and weaves a thread parallel to that of American history.

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