Monday, August 30, 2010

Washington College Fellow Marla Miller Creates Exhibition at Winterthur Museum

CHESTERTOWN, MD— "Betsy Ross: The Life Behind the Legend," a ground-breaking exhibition based on work supported by a fellowship at Washington College’s C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience, will open at Winterthur Museum & Country Estate on October 2.

During her 2009-10 fellowship at the Starr Center, Marla R. Miller completed her book Betsy Ross and the Making of America (Henry Holt, 2010) and worked with Winterthur curators to plan the upcoming exhibition. The Patrick Henry Writing Fellowship offers a yearlong residency to authors doing innovative work on America's founding era and its legacy. Miller, who directs the Public History Program at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, spent the entire academic year at Washington College, where she also taught an undergraduate seminar in American Studies and Art History. The book on Ross – the first-ever in-depth work on the famous flag-maker – was published in April to critical acclaim.

The Wall Street Journal called the work “a deeply researched and cogently argued gem of a book that gives us Betsy Ross as a complete person, not just a colonial character with a one-sentence claim on our attention.” The Washington Post agreed in a special July 4th review, noting that, “Though she demolishes the legend of Ross as our national seamstress, Miller offers in return someone much more interesting.”

The companion exhibition, curated by Miller and Winterthur’s Linda Eaton and Katie Knowles, explores Ross’s personal life, her work in the upholstery trade and as a flag-maker, and how her legend grew into the story we know today. The curatorial team has gathered an eclectic mix of important Americana for display, including Ross’s snuff box, a pieced quilt made by her daughter Clarissa Claypoole Wilson, and an assortment of rare early American flags.

“We’re excited that some of the work that Marla completed at Washington College will soon be spotlighted at one of this country’s most important museums,” said Adam Goodheart, Hodson Trust-Griswold Director of the Starr Center. “One of the goals of the Patrick Henry Fellowship program is to draw a wide public audience into ongoing national conversations about America’s past and present. The Winterthur show will extend that conversation through a new medium.”

Winterthur Museum & Country Estate is known worldwide for its preeminent collection of American decorative arts, its naturalistic garden, and its research library on American art. The Winterthur Program in American Material Culture, operated in partnership with the University of Delaware, is one of the nation’s best graduate programs in decorative arts.

Betsy Ross: The Life Behind the Legend opens October 2, 2010 and will run through January 2, 2011. For more information, visit

Washington College’s C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience explores our nation’s history—and particularly the legacy of its Founding era—in innovative ways. Through educational programs, scholarship and public outreach, and especially by supporting and fostering the art of written history, the Starr Center seeks to bridge the divide between past and present, and between the academic world and the public at large. It also serves as a portal onto a world of opportunities for Washington College students. Its guiding principle is that now more than ever, a wider understanding of our shared past is fundamental to the continuing success of America’s democratic experiment. For more information on the Center, visit

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