The Most Splendid Carpet
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When one intensely researches, studies, contemplates and worries about a subject for a long period of time, as Susan Anderson has done with the problems related to the reconstruction and interpretation of the Senate Chamber carpet, then the inanimate object becomes almost a living thing. That sense of aliveness was conveyed to me in her handling of this text, which is both, expository and interpretive at one and the same time.

I cannot help but believe that it was so for the Senators who comprised the upper house of the first six Congresses of the United States, which convened in Congress Hall in Philadelphia from 1790 to 1800. The carpet's message was implicit in its design elements; it spoke of America's promise, her abundance of natural resources, and the power vested in Congress to govern the country with wisdom and justice. To the men who debated the ratification of Jay's Treaty, or deliberated upon the admission of new states into the Union, the implications of a linked chain in the carpet's design was a message that could not be ignored.

Neither could its message have been lost upon either John Adams or Thomas Jefferson as they took their respective turns presiding over the Senate as Vice President; nor upon George Washington as he stood to take his oath of office for a second term as President of the United States. In point of fact, the carpet is such an important key to our understanding of the way the Senate as a body considered itself and its responsibilities that without it our interpretation of the restored room was severely handicapped for many years.

PLATE 1: Color rendering for the reconstruction of the Senate Chamber Carpet. Independence National Historical Park Collection. (click on image for a PDF version)

The carpet had to be reproduced. That sounds like a simple enough project, but since the original carpet had long since disappeared and the information related to its actual appearance was scanty or not easily had, the project became one of long duration and staggering complexity. Serious work was begun in 1962 by the present Chief of Museum Operations for the Park, John C. Milley. However, because of other priorities, inadequate staffing and funding, and the Park's Bicentennial development programs, his work culminated with a research report embodied in the Furnishings Plan for the Second Floor of Congress Hall. Then, in 1976, the research was resumed and brought to completion by Susan H. Anderson, a graduate of Cornell University and a student of Mr. Milley's in the American Studies Department at Temple University.

As the research drew near to completion, it became increasingly apparent that it might be several more years before monies might be made available for the carpet's reproduction through normal programming channels. As has happened before, when the Park was in need of assistance, we turned to the Friends of Independence National Historical Park. It was through their good offices that a grant was obtained from The Pew Memorial Trust of which The Glenmede Trust Company is the trustee, not only to reproduce the carpet, but also to bring its meaning in book form to the interested public.

The carpet was manufactured in Spain under contract with Connoisseur Collections of Denver, Colorado. Robert T. Johnson, president of that firm, gave his personal attentions to the effort by close supervision of every phase of production. Edward O'Brien, Instructor at the Philadelphia College of Art, contributed his time and talents to the creation of a preliminary colored rendering for the manufacturer. Volunteer assistance was also received from Alice B. Lonsdorf, the immediate past chairman of the Friends of Independence National Historical Park, who compiled the footnote and bibliographical references for this publication.

The completion of this project makes me very proud, because in it I have realized a National Park Service objective of cooperating with charitable organizations, private industry, individual persons, and our own employees, to the benefit of the future millions of visitors to the restored Senate Chamber. To turn a phrase that appeared in a 1791 newspaper description of the carpet, its reproduction is also "a masterpiece of its kind."

Hobart G. Cawood
Independence National Historical Park

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Last Updated: 30-Nov-2007