America Celebrates 250th Birthday of the Marquis de Lafayette

Released: 15-Aug-2007 4:05 PM EDT
Source Newsroom: Academy Communications
Contact Information

Available for logged-in reporters only

Newswise — September 6, 2007, marks the 250th birthday of the Marquis de Lafayette, and more than a dozen French and American communities—including the Pennsylvania college that bears his name—will hold grand celebrations honoring the life and legacy of the French citizen and hero of the American Revolution.

Cities and towns from Lafayette, Louisiana, to Fayetteville, N.C., are planning gala events the first week of September. "There are more than two-dozen cities and towns named after Lafayette," says Diane Windham Shaw, Lafayette College's archivist, "as well as a river in Virginia and a mountain in New Hampshire." She notes that there are also many U.S. communities named LaGrange, in honor of the Marquis de Lafayette's ancestral home.

While many Americans are aware of Lafayette's contribution to U.S. independence, Shaw points out, few recognize his commitment to ending slavery in America. She notes that his ardent opposition to slavery seems to have been an outgrowth of his experiences fighting for American liberty. Shaw has studied many of the letters Lafayette wrote to his close friend, George Washington, including more than 150 held in the college's archives, which contain the 1783 letter containing Lafayette's proposal to Washington about freeing slaves.

"At some point, late in the American Revolution," she says, "Lafayette ceased to regard slaves as chattel, and embraced what was to become his lifelong commitment to equality for all men, regardless of race." Shaw is a scholar of Lafayette's legacy, and has served as an organizer of an online exhibit Lafayette and Slavery as well as an exhibit that represents a collaboration between the College and Mount Vernon: A Son and his Adoptive Father: The Marquis de Lafayette and George Washington. The exhibit is currently on display at Mount Vernon and will travel to Lafayette College, where it will be on view Sept. 6-October 8.

The centerpiece of the college's year-long celebration http://www.lafayette.edu/250/ will be a three-day event September 5-7 featuring a keynote address delivered by historian David McCullough, the dedication of a Pennsylvania historical marker, an encampment by Revolutionary War re-enactors, the arrival by carriage of a noted actor portraying the Marquis de Lafayette, carriage rides around campus, dinners, music and dance, and a lecture by Lloyd Kramer, award-winning author of the book Lafayette in Two Worlds: Public Cultures and Personal Identities in an Age of Revolution. Other notables, including Gloria Steinem and Salman Rushdie will offer presentations as part of the celebration later in the academic year.

"It is the college's good fortune to be associated with an individual who was so deeply dedicated to freedom and liberty," says Daniel Weiss, president of Lafayette College. "Lafayette's life was a superb example of global citizenship and service." More information about the naming of Lafayette College can be found at: http://www.lafayette.edu/250/name.html

Lafayette College and the story behind the latest Hermès scarf

In honor of the 250th anniversary of the Marquis de Lafayette's birth on September 6, 1757, the renowned French design house Hermès is producing one of its famous scarves depicting the life of the Marquis and the connection he helped forge between France and the United States. A Lafayette College alumnus jump-started the initiative, and sales from the scarf project will be used by the college as a fund-raiser to benefit the campus library and the college's art collection.

The scarf, designed by Texas artist Kermit Oliver, who has created the art for more than a dozen Hermès scarves, will be released in the fall to coincide with the September 6th "250th celebration." It contains images of paintings and other historical items from in the college's collections: http://www.lafayette.edu/press/magazine/July07//kermit.html

A percentage of the sales through the college will benefit the Friends of Skillman Library and the Lafayette College Art Collection. There are also plans in the works to feature the scarf in other ways during the celebration. The scarf will be permanently added to Skillman's Special Collections.

Tracy A. Hart, who graduated from Lafayette College in 1977 with a degree in French, has been the main architect of the scarf project. While living in Paris in 1992, Hart met Bertrand de Courcy, the manager of Hermès' Paris boutique, through a fashion show she helped put together as a member of the American Women's Group of Paris. A decade later, Hart, who is a member of executive council for Friends of Skillman Library, attended a lecture presented by Diane Shaw, special collections librarian at Lafayette and the college's archivist. The topic was the Marquis de Lafayette's design influence on the early 19th century.

According to Hart, the talk planted the seed for the project, and, with Shaw's encouragement, Hart pitched the idea of a scarf commemorating the Marquis' 250th birthday to de Courcy in 2005. He directed Hart to contact Christine Duvigneau, a manager in the Hermès Design Studio, who showed Hart's letter to company president Jean-Louis Dumas-Hermès. "I'm very proud because Mr. Dumas-Hermès particularly liked the idea of a Lafayette scarf as a symbol of the friendship between the United States and France," says Hart. "It's amazing how you meet people in business world and one contact leads to another."

Once the project was underway, Elaine Stomber, assistant college archivist, pulled together numerous images from Special Collections and sent digital copies to the company. Hermès commissioned Kermit Oliver to design the scarf combining designs from Lafayette's and other collections. Stomber then fact checked the work for historical accuracy. "The inspiration for many of Hermès products comes from historical documents and artifacts," says Hart. "Their work is very authentic, which is why I felt Hermès would be the ideal company to design a scarf based on the College's Marquis de Lafayette collections."

Hart believes the scarf represents the global connection that the Marquis tried to instill in others throughout his life. "This is really a prestigious project," she says, "and it is the first time Hermès has designed for an American college or university. I'm very excited that it has come together in time for the celebration."

Hermès is a 137-year-old company that once outfitted horse-drawn coaches in Paris. It first introduced its scarf line in 1937 as the company expanded from a leather goods company into a lifestyle brand. Hermès releases about 15 new designs each year, which are made at a factory in Lyons, France. From an artist's sketchpad to the final inspection, each scarf can take as long as two years to make and involve as many as 40 artisans.

Images of Lafayette's letters, the new Hermès scarf and other visuals are available as high-resolution files.


Comment/Share