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Thinkstock (fish)/Getty Images (George Washington)

George Washington's Fishery

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Thinkstock (fish)/Getty Images (George Washington)

When we think of America’s first president, quarters, cherry trees, and false teeth often come to mind. But fishing?

Washington was, by all accounts, an accomplished and enthusiastic fisherman throughout most of his life (go here to see one of his original tackle boxes). As president, he’d often set sail and enjoy an afternoon of deep-sea fishing as he traveled about the new nation and even convinced notorious cabinet rivals Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton to accompany him on one such trip to Sandy Hook, New Jersey.

More than a mere hobbyist, however, Washington transformed part of his Mount Vernon home into a highly-profitable fishery. The neighboring banks of the Potomac River, he wrote in 1793, were “well-stocked with various kinds of fish in all seasons of the year, and in the Spring with shad, herring, bass, carp, perch, sturgeon, etc., in great abundance.”

Stationed on a section of the river dubbed “Posey’s landing,” the establishment processed nearly a million herring annually. In fact, Mount Vernon’s fishery usually yielded far more profits than the various crops (such as corn and wheat) raised there.

Originally intended to feed the plantation’s slaves, Washington eventually recognized an enviable business opportunity and began shipping barrels of salted fish to the West Indies, recruiting a small fleet of ships, including a schooner and whale boat, for the cause. By all accounts, the Mount Vernon brand quickly acquired a reputation for excellence worldwide.

Intriguingly, however, the business even helped to fuel Washington’s growing anti-British sentiments before the revolution. Imperial mercantile policies forbade him from importing fish-curing salt from Lisbon, leaving him no choice but to purchase inferior salts from Liverpool. During the war, he often drew upon his extensive connections with fishermen throughout the colonies to provide food for the starving troops. Unfortunately, in the words of historians William J. Mares and Bill Mares, “the record shows that the troops responded to fish with as much enthusiasm as George Bush would greet broccoli. They held out for beef, which eventually came.” 

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Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
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‘American Gothic’ Became Famous Because Many People Saw It as a Joke
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Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

In 1930, Iowan artist Grant Wood painted a simple portrait of a farmer and his wife (really his dentist and sister) standing solemnly in front of an all-American farmhouse. American Gothic has since inspired endless parodies and is regarded as one of the country’s most iconic works of art. But when it first came out, few people would have guessed it would become the classic it is today. Vox explains the painting’s unexpected path to fame in the latest installment of the new video series Overrated.

According to host Phil Edwards, American Gothic made a muted splash when it first hit the art scene. The work was awarded a third-place bronze medal in a contest at the Chicago Art Institute. When Wood sold the painting to the museum later on, he received just $300 for it. But the piece’s momentum didn’t stop there. It turned out that American Gothic’s debut at a time when urban and rural ideals were clashing helped it become the defining image of the era. The painting had something for everyone: Metropolitans like Gertrude Stein saw it as a satire of simple farm life in Middle America. Actual farmers and their families, on the other hand, welcomed it as celebration of their lifestyle and work ethic at a time when the Great Depression made it hard to take pride in anything.

Wood didn’t do much to clear up the work’s true meaning. He stated, "There is satire in it, but only as there is satire in any realistic statement. These are types of people I have known all my life. I tried to characterize them truthfully—to make them more like themselves than they were in actual life."

Rather than suffering from its ambiguity, American Gothic has been immortalized by it. The country has changed a lot in the past century, but the painting’s dual roles as a straight masterpiece and a format for skewering American culture still endure today.

Get the full story from Vox below.

[h/t Vox]

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“Dissension” by Tobias Rothe. Original image courtesy Fondazione Federico Zeri/Università di Bologna // CC-BY 3.0
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Get Your GIFs Ready for This International Public Domain GIF-Making Competition
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“Dissension” by Tobias Rothe. Original image courtesy Fondazione Federico Zeri/Università di Bologna // CC-BY 3.0

Excellent GIF-making skills can serve you beyond material for your clever tweets. Each year, a group of four digital libraries from across the world hosts GIF IT UP, a competition to find the best animated image sourced from public domain images from their archives.

The competition is sponsored by Europeana, the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA), New Zealand’s DigitalNZ, and the National Library of Australia’s Trove, all of which host millions of public domain works. The requirements are that the source material must be in the public domain, have a 'no known copyright restrictions' statement, or have a Creative Commons license that allows its reuse. The material must also come from one of the sponsored sources. Oh, and judging by the past winners, it helps if it’s a little whimsical.

The image above won the grand prize in 2015. And this was a runner-up in 2016:

via GIPHY

This year’s prizes haven’t been announced yet (although Europeana says there will be a new one for first-time GIF makers), but last year’s grand prize winner got their own Giphoscope, and runners-up got $20 gift cards. (Turns out, there’s not a lot of money in public domain art.)

Not an expert GIFer yet? You can always revisit the audio version of DPLA’s advanced GIF-making tutorial from last year.

The fourth-annual GIF IT UP contest opens to submissions October 1.

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