As a museum employee, I have come to appreciate the amount of work, time, and expense that goes into developing an exhibition. The current exhibition on what is commonly known as Thomas Jefferson’s Bible is a perfect example of this. Though it opened to the public last November, the project started over a year earlier when we began raising funds to support the conservation of the book that is now this exhibition’s centerpiece.
Peter and Rhondda Grant have been long time supporters of the Smithsonian Institution and are founding members of the Smithsonian Council for American History. When they heard about the prospect of restoring the Jefferson Bible (which had been in the museum’s possession since 1904), they were thrilled to participate, along with other donors. The Grants believe that history broadens our understanding of how people lived in the past and the impact of their beliefs and culture on our present lives.
The volume that Jefferson assembled was in such a fragile state that it could no longer be fully opened, used by researchers, or put on exhibition until its condition was addressed. “We were moved to do something to help the museum conserve the work of this fabulous president, who played such a major role in shaping our country,” Peter Grant recalled. “We received regular reports throughout the conservation and exhibition planning process, and visited in person with the curators and conservators. We were stimulated by their enthusiasm and their extraordinary appreciation of our interest and support.”
Thanks to the Grants and other donors, the museum was able to address the Jefferson Bible’s conservation needs, create high-resolution digital scans of the document, and mount a remarkable exhibition that gives insight into Jefferson himself and the unique book he created.
Their experience inspired them to make an additional planned gift, which will be added to the Peter and Rhondda Grant Conservation Endowment. This fund will provide a steady stream of support for conservation projects at the museum far into the future. “We wanted to help the Smithsonian keep more of this nation’s treasures safe for posterity as well as being available for people to enjoy,” Rhondda said.
The Grants’ gift helped make the Jefferson's Bible exhibition possible today, and in the future, will help bring to life other projects that will preserve and showcase American history. Learn more about how you can help the museum advance its mission, either through a gift during your lifetime or a planned gift that will benefit the museum in the future.
Amy Karazsia is the director of Individual Giving at the National Museum of American History.