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McLean High Students Present The Salon Project

Revisiting the time and a place “where ideas mattered most.”

Vocal performances by students fill the air in Clarks Landing at the Corcoran Gallery of Art on Saturday afternoon.

Vocal performances by students fill the air in Clarks Landing at the Corcoran Gallery of Art on Saturday afternoon. Photo by Louise Krafft.

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Nicole Bruner acts the part of a naturalist and one of Thomas Jefferson’s daughters.

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Fouad Malin, as Charles Mason, accompanies opera singer Emmanuelle Thieme down the grand stairwell.

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A salonniere, Madame DeStael, played by Mererose Daniels, invites General Nathaniel Greene (Erik Thomas) and Lt. Colonel David Humphries (Matthew Musikanth) to join her upstairs for an opera aria by Emmanuelle Theime.

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Fiona Mulholland portrays an art student in the late 1700s in the McLean High students’ presentation of the Salon Project at the Corcoran Gallery of Art on Saturday afternoon.

Conversations about Newtonian science, Benjamin Franklin’s electricity, liberty and equality, diplomacy, the monarchy, free speech, free press, American independence social life and scandal were just a few of the subjects broached in the Salon Project presentation, at the Corcoran Gallery of Art last Saturday, by McLean High School students in Dean Howarth’s program.

Beginning in 1992, Dean Howarth, a physics teacher at the high school, formed Project Enlightenment as a historical interpretation society and it is now a fully credited Living History class. For the Salon Project, students created an 18th century salon in the rooms at the Corcoran Gallery. Natural Philosophy in the Salon Scientifique was interpreted and displayed in a first floor gallery. Hostesses explained the dynamics and culture of the Salon as guests were led upstairs for cultural performances. A thespian (Julia Barton) entertained, Emmanuelle Thieme sang an opera aria and choral groups sang on Clarks Landing as part of the afternoon activities.

“During the late 18th century, urbane men and women participated in an intellectual and social atmosphere that became known as the Republic of Letters … a place where ideas mattered most, and where the sharing of ideas and creativity became the intellectual commerce of true Enlightenment.” The social gathering of open-minded and impartial “citizens of the world” took place in the salons. Often organized by independent, intelligent and curious women, the salons were frequented by artists, scientists, writers, philosophers and politicians.