Home Historical art The “Dolly Madison Bed” Connects Early American History to Today

The “Dolly Madison Bed” Connects Early American History to Today


(Photo by press staff by Geoffrey Plant)
Luis Beheit premieres what will be countless cuts to a bed frame constructed from century-old black walnut from Virginia that features in mythology of Dolley Madison’s rescue of the Declaration of Independence before the Washington fire in 1814. Dughlas James and William Lloyd watch.

It’s the story of an artist’s studio in Silver City, the wife of Fourth US President James Madison, a 200-year-old walnut, a traveling craftsman, and a four-poster bed for four. Jacobean style columns that bind them all together.
The story began to unfold when Silver City sculptor and multimedia artist William Lloyd met Larry Shand decades ago at the Maryland Renaissance Festival, one of the largest such events in the country.
“He was a client at first, but we quickly became good friends,” said Lloyd, standing in the showroom of his Broadway studio, behind which he and his artist wife, Elizabeth, built their homes. in a bohemian-luxury style.
When a 60-foot-tall black walnut suddenly had to be removed from the front yard of his very old home in historic Leesburg, Va., Shand thought of Lloyd, who goes to the Renaissance Festival every year. to sell his finely carved bone. -knives and hilted swords, wood and wood carvings, leather scabbards and other items produced at Lloyd Studios in Silver City.
“Two years ago, on the eve of Thanksgiving, my wife’s youngest daughter, Bella, said the tree was falling – it had cracked in a windstorm,” he said. Shand said in a telephone interview. “Sure enough, she was right, and we brought in a team the next day to take it apart.”
Shand decided to have the felled tree cut into lumber, producing a fair amount of premium hardwood, the tastes of which are usually rationed as veneer.
“We asked Bella [Correnti, now 17,] if she wanted a four poster bed like her older sister, ”Shand said. “She said yes, and I was going to do it, and ask William if he would carve it – but I’m not a master carpenter.”
Bella told William what style of carving she wanted, and he picked up the wood and brought it back to Silver City.
The bed will be in the Jacobean style, the kind of ultra-ornate, massively heavy yet extremely detailed carved wooden furniture popular during the reign of England’s King James I.
Imagine the bed in Macbeth Castle, it was the time of William Shakespeare.
“All the square edges will disappear” when the bed frame is fully carved with vine, bird and flower designs in the Jacobean style, Lloyd said. “We’re going to make this wood look like it grew out of the ground this way. “
Lloyd Studios master artists Luis Beheit and Bethany Tussing work with Lloyd on the sculptures.
Lloyd said he initially considered hiring a Grant County craftsman to build the bed frame, but a journeyman carpenter on his way from Santa Fe to Bisbee parked his van in front of the studio.
“Looking at the place, I had to come in. Within 20 minutes he asked me if I wanted to build a bed,” said Dughlas James, who accepted the proposal.
Like Lloyd, James is drawn to the crafts and lifestyles of yesteryear. The bed frame features James’s tongue-and-groove carpentry, with a few strategic bolts so it can be taken apart for transport.
“This is what I love to do in my spare time, so getting paid for it” made it easy for me to say yes, said James, who has made a living making jewelry prototypes for makers, in. more of the work he now does traveling. from town to town.
Lloyd said he was drawn to this unusual project because of the history behind the wood and the Leesburg property where the walnut was once located. Shand’s House, built in 1790, is considered by historians to be one of the places where documents and artwork rescued from the White House – then called the Presidential Mansion – were hidden during the War of 1812.
Dolley Madison is famous for several reasons, but his actions on the eve of the Washington fire in 1814 are part of American lore.
According to legend, with the American capital surrounded by British soldiers, Dolley refused to leave the White House until she was able to remove the famous and huge Lansdowne portrait of George Washington. Then she supposedly transported it herself out of town to safety, along with a copy of the Declaration of Independence – possibly dropping them off at the Leesburg house that Shand now owns – all with the British in his neck, and in mid-August.
Historians say that’s not quite what happened. But according to an excerpt from a contemporary letter written by Dolley and quoted in Gilson Willets’ 1869 book, “Inside History of the White House,” the first lady indeed stubbornly refused to leave until the portrait of Lansdowne be obtained.
“Our kind friend Mr. Carroll came to hasten my departure, and in a very bad mood with me, as I insist on waiting for General Washington’s large painting to be secured, and it must be unscrewed from the wall,” Dolley wrote. “The process was found to be too tedious for these perilous times; I ordered the frame to be broken and the canvas to be removed. It’s done, and the precious portrait returned to the hands of two New York gentlemen in a safe place. By handing the canvas to the gentlemen in question, MM. Barker and Depeyster, Mr Sioussat warned them against winding up, saying it would destroy the portrait. He was transferred to [say] this is because Mr. Barker has started to roll it up for transport convenience.
Carts full of documents and artwork were transported to safety, and historians say some of them were likely placed in Leesburg’s house, which was vacant at the time.
But history reports that Stephen Pleasonton, then a State Department employee who later became the fifth auditor of the US Treasury, is the man who took action and packed all he could. This was despite being labeled an “alarmist” by James Monroe, who resisted the idea that the British would actually invade what was then called Washington City. The next day, the Washington fire took place.
According to Shand, Pleasonton most likely used the basement of what is now the home of Shand’s Cornwall Street in Leesburg to hide items from the British.
“It is believed that the basement of this house is, when they set fire to the capital in 1814, the place where this guy took all the important documents, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the portrait,” said Shand said. “A few years later, after his retirement, he wrote a letter to the government asking for payment for these services.”
Lloyd said he thought the walnut tree stood in front of the house when Doll – er, Pleasonton – visited it in 1814, estimating it to be around 300 years old when it was shot. But it does make sense of its origin story even though the tree sprang up from the ground right after the War of 1812 ended.
“This kind of story inspires me,” he said, pointing to his studio. “Because I try to preserve a historic art that risks being lost. Also, if I sit there and carve knives and jewelry all day, I get bored. It fascinates me and allows me to stay engaged in my profession.
Geoffrey Plant can be contacted at [email protected] press.com.

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