The Minute Details: George Mason's Memorial Design

            George Mason was without a doubt a man who loved his home. Historian Brent Tarter writes “George Mason was much more a private and contemplative man…”[1] In her design, Wendy M. Ross sought to portray his contemplativeness and restraint. In her presentation to the Commission of Fine Arts in Washington D.C., she said she wanted to convey “A man who was self-educated, well read, and deeply reflective. A man who preferred the quiet of his plantation to the bustle of public life.” She later refers to him as a “reluctant statesman.” Ross wanted to portray Mason in the later period of his life. Contrary to the statue at George Mason University named in his honor, the Memorial in D.C. is seated and relaxed. In an e-mail, Ross wrote:

 

 “At the university, I wanted to show how learning (the books on the desk where he is resting his right hand) could be transformed and produce a new vision – in this case the Declaration of Rights, which he holds in his left. For the Memorial, I wanted to portray him at the end of his life, still surrounded by his books, but now at rest in his garden looking out at the Republic he helped to found, but after the adoption of the Bill of Rights.”

 

            The inscription on the bench where Mason is seated reads: “All men are born equally free and independent, and have certain inherent natural rights…Among which are the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.” This quote from the Virginia Declaration of Rights bears a striking resemblance to the words penned by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence. It is not a coincidence how Mason sits at rest, gazing at Jefferson, with a look of hope for the new republic he helped create.

[1] Brent Tarter, George Mason and the Conservation of Liberty (Virginia Historical Society, 1991).


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