A recent visit to James Madison’s Montpelier gave me an expanded appreciation for Dolley Madison, the wife of the fourth president of the United States.
Growing up in New Jersey, I vividly remember Dolly Madison Ice Cream. The first lady popularized the dessert, serving it at the White House on many occasions, including the president’s second inaugural banquet. Among the facts that made ice cream an impressive late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth century dessert is that freezers as we know them today did not exist. An ice house with large blocks of ice cut from frozen water and packed on straw was required to prepare ice cream. Unfortunately, the Dolly Madison brand no longer exists; that hasn’t diminished my love for ice cream.
Of even greater importance, my James Madison’s Montpelier experience taught me about Dolley’s role in helping to preserve the cultural heritage of our young nation.
As fire threatened the White House during the War of 1812, it was Dolley Madison who championed the need to save the Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington from the advancing flames. She recognized not only Stuart’s artistry, but also the portrait’s significance as an icon of our country’s cultural history.
How fortuitous that Dolley Madison appreciated the magnitude and symbolism of Stuart’s George Washington, indirectly making a case for preservation.
While I share Dolley’s love of ice cream, my commitment to cultural preservation and stewardship as an art museum director is an even stronger bond to the first lady.
The remarkable growth of the Woodson Art Museum’s collection reflects our stewardship role. Check out the more than fifty paintings, drawings, and sculptures in Audubon to Wyeth, on view now through next summer. It’s a visual treat as delectable as ice cream.