Among the few things I remember from grade school about George Washington is that as a youth he chopped down a cherry tree and then confessed the deed to his father, and as an adult, he wore wooden dentures. Recently I learned quite a bit more about Washington. It turns out he never chopped down a cherry tree. He didn't wear wooden dentures either. But those were the least of the surprises.
An unexpected invitation to reconstruct the first president as he looked in his younger years--before the famous portraits and statue--sent me on a hunt that revealed a very different Washington from the unapproachable, thin-lipped elder statesman on the dollar bill. My foray into American history started when James C. Rees, executive director of Mount Vernon, Washington's estate, asked me whether I could re-create the way Washington, who was born in 1732 and died in 1799, had looked at three important points in his life. Rees wanted these life-size figures for Mount Vernon's new education center, which will open in the fall of 2006.