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Community Roots: Selections from the Local Legacies Project
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Two junior docents at the Hammond Grist Mill
Two junior docents at the Hammond Grist Mill, Gilbert Stuart Museum, Saunderstown, RI Photo: Marie Boscia

Gilbert Stuart Birthplace

Gilbert Stuart is considered the master portraitist of his age; by happy coincidence his life coincided with a seminal period (1755-1828) in American history. Stuart was the third child of a Scottish immigrant who operated the first snuff mill in America. For seven years, Gilbert lived with his family in South County, before moving with them to Newport, Rhode Island. After another seven years, Gilbert embarked on his studies abroad. When he returned from England to America, he pursued a successful career as a portraitist in Philadelphia, New York, Washington and Boston. He continued to create memorable portraits, painting over 1,000 notable men and women, including the first six founding fathers of our country and five of their wives. Currently his portraits hang in museums all over the world, and his portrait of George Washington is seen daily by millions of Americans as they handle their one dollar bills.

The Gilbert Stuart Museum, at the site of his birthplace in Saunderstown, Rhode Island, honors his legacy. It creates a journey back in time, with a restored 18th century working man's home, snuff mill, grist mill. In 1966, the Museum was designated a registered national landmark. Founded in 1930, the mission of the Museum is to perpetuate the memory of Gilbert Stuart, maintain a museum dedicated to him, promote interest in the knowledge of his life, art, and times. It is supported entirely by membership dues, private donations an several grants. Annual visitors number about 4,000 adults and 2,400 children.

From the beginning of her tenure at the Gilbert Stuart Museum, museum curator Deborah Thompson was interested in developing ways to use the Stuart birthplace setting to interest and educate young people about the history of their community. One of Thompson's ideas was to engage children in a more active role by inviting them to become tour guides themselves, thus giving birth to the Gilbert Stuart Museum Junior Docent Program. Children of the local elementary schools enter a competition to become a docent by writing a report, poem, short story, or dialog about Stuart's life, his portraits, or his birthplace. Through its Junior Docent Program, the Museum's local legacy is to foster young people's interest in the history of the colonial era by involving them in the historical activities of the Museum.

The project is documented with 12-page report; 10 mounted 8 x 10 color photographs, poems and essays by and interviews of junior docents; an audio tape, "Gibby's Welcome," recorded by a junior docent speaking in the persona of young Gilbert Stuart; Museum brochures, laminated newspaper clippings on the Museum, and a flyer advertising the Junior Docent program, a Museum totebag and tee-shirt.

Originally submitted by: Robert Weygand, Representative (2nd District).

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The Local Legacies project provides a "snapshot" of American Culture as it was expressed in spring of 2000. Consequently, it is not being updated with new or revised information with the exception of "Related Website" links.

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