Charles F. Helffricht

The Initiated Eye: Freemasonry and the Architecture of Washington, D.C.

Initiated Eye with Compass Have you read the new Dan Brown book, The Lost Symbol, yet?  Maybe you put it on your holiday wish list?  If your answer to either question is yes, then you probably know the basic outline of the story – it takes place in Washington, D.C., and makes reference to a number of prominent D.C. sites, many of which have a connection to Freemasonry. 

The National Heritage Museum’s new exhibition, "The Initiated Eye: Secrets, Symbols, Freemasonry, and the Architecture of Washington, D.C.," explores this same topic, bringing a little bit of Washington to Lexington, Massachusetts.

"The Initiated Eye" presents 21 oil paintings by Peter Waddell based on the architecture of Washington, D.C., and the role that our founding fathers and prominent citizens – many of whom were Freemasons – played in establishing the layout and design of the city.  The exhibition is supplemented with approximately forty objects from the National Heritage Museum’s collection.  The paintings and the objects explain and demystify Freemasonry for those who are unfamiliar, while also encouraging Masons and those who have read books like The Lost Symbol to look closer.

The painting shown here depicts a meeting between President George Washington (1732-1799) and surveyors Andrew Ellicott (1754-1820) and Benjamin Banneker (1731-1806).  Congress designated the location of the new capital on January 24, 1791.  Ellicott and Banneker surveyed the ten-mile-square tract of land and produced a base map of the area.  In the painting, a brazier warms the early spring day in the tent filled with surveying instruments and Masonic artifacts.  The terrestrial and celestial globes symbolize the universality of Freemasonry.92_021_1a-fS1 compass

Accompanying this painting in the exhibition is a surveyor’s compass made between 1849 and 1857 by Charles F. Helffricht (1816-1863) of Philadelphia.  All compasses measure horizontal angles with reference to magnetic north.  In addition, surveyor’s compasses have vertical sights to aim at distant objects.

"The Initiated Eye" opens December 19, 2009 and will be on view through January 9, 2011.  The paintings in the exhibition are the work of Peter Waddell, and were commissioned by, and are the property of, the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Washington, D.C., with all rights reserved.  This exhibition is supported by the Scottish Rite Masons of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, U.S.A.

Left: A Vision Unfolds, 2005, Peter Waddell (b. 1955), Washington, D.C.  Courtesy of the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Washington, D.C.  Right: Surveyor’s Compass, 1849-1857, Charles F. Helffricht (1816-1863), Philadelphia, PA, National Heritage Museum, gift of Charles E. Daniels, 92.021.1a-f.  Photograph by David Bohl.