Last week, Farmers & Distillers and Galerie Myrtis joined together to host the unveiling of two portraits commissioned for the restaurant by figurative artist Ronald Jackson of the remarkable, enslaved cooks–Hercules and Old Doll–who worked at George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate during the mid to late 1700s.
The sold out event, held at our Mt Vernon Square restaurant, brought together guests from all over the DC area, including members of the art community, historians, and foodies, to celebrate and honor these two chefs and their contributions to our nation’s history and current culinary landscape.
Presentations included Dr. Joanne Hyppolite, Curator at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History & Culture, who discussed contributions of African Americans to America’s food culture; and Dr. Susan Schoelwer, Curator at Mount Vernon, who explained what is known about the extraordinary lives of Hercules and Old Doll and the plantation’s current exhibition on slavery, Lives Bound Together.
Hercules worked in Washington’s presidential kitchen in Philadelphia and on the Mount Vernon plantation. Jackson’s portrait honors him as the first presidential chef and a gifted culinarian. Old Doll, the plantation’s head cook, preceded Hercules in Washington’s kitchen. Jackson’s portrait pays homage to Old Doll’s cultivation of Hercules’ culinary skills and influence on American cuisine.
In creating Farmers & Distillers, we looked to George and Martha Washington and Mount Vernon for inspiration, and in the process, Hercules and Old Doll figured prominently. We wanted to share what we’ve learned and tell the story of our first president, his chefs, and our country’s past as clearly and honestly as we can. We hope our guests will see these portraits and read our menus, and be reminded that our founding father, the innovative and important George Washington, was a slave-holder and that his slaves worked under grave duress in gruelingly difficult scenarios. This is part of our nation’s history that must never be forgotten or overlooked.
Ronald Jackson embraced this project using his visually poetic style and keen interest in these chefs as individuals. We worked with him to help us tell their stories, honor their contributions to our country’s culinary history, and recognize them for what they would be today, celebrity chefs.
Both portraits will be permanently installed in the main dining room in the coming weeks, joining an expansive array of original art commissioned for Farmers & Distillers. More information about Farmers & Distillers, our artists, and their work, including photos and videos, is available online at Farmers&Distillers.com. Or come on by for a meal or a drink and see them for yourself.
*photo: Artist Ronald Jackson smiles as his portraits are unveiled at F&D, as FRG Owner Dan Simons looks on.