Dupont-Kalorama Museum Walk

One of the ever-present challenges of living in DC is dealing with the aging infrastructure of the Metro.  Work to address the problems began in 2011 and is expected to continue for several more years until it is completed.  Until then, we cope with periodic train malfunctions, single tracking, and most recently, heat related speed restrictions.  At 10 PM on Friday nights, several chunks of the system are taken out of service for the weekend so that repairs and upgrades may proceed more rapidly.  I had marked on my calendar that June 1 and June 2 were scheduled to take a big chunk out of the Red Line between my home station and downtown, and although DC does a truly magnificent job with shuttle buses, once traffic picks up in the afternoon, travel time inevitably becomes significantly longer.

That is the backdrop for why my fellow Fellow, Maggie, and I decided to walk the two miles to Dupont Circle for our Saturday outing.  From Cleveland Park, the walk is all downhill, and since it has been a while since Maggie and I had an adventure, the time and the walk flew by as we caught up on the latest news in each other’s lives.

I had spotted an announcement in the Post that admission to the Phillips Collection was free this weekend as the kick off for the two week DC Jazz Festival, so that was our primary target.  The museum was set up to have ongoing jazz performances and a number of family activities, but since we were there early, we beat most of the crowd.  There were opening remarks by a member of the DC City Council plus representatives of the Phillips Collection and the DC Jazz Festival.  Maggie reminded me that during the Capitol Christmas Tree lighting ceremony, Senator Mark Udall had mentioned the “Colorado Unit” that for every degree the temperature was below freezing, speeches needed to be shortened by a certain amount.  Maggie suggested that there should be a corresponding “DC Unit” so that at hotter temperatures, speeches also should be shortened, especially if there is no shade!

The Phillips Collection is billed as the nation’s first modern art museum, and it is displayed in the original mansion plus a more modern addition.  They have a very good collection of Impressionists, such as Monet, Cezanne, Matisse, Van Gogh, and Degas, as well as more modern artists such as Klee and Mondrian.  The combinations of pieces in a single room could be a bit quirky, such as the Goya and El Greco tucked in the corner of a room with some unlabeled Impressionist-style paintings.  I confess that I cruised through the two rooms that included wax sculptures with all-too-realistic flies, ants, and other insects.  For some reason they gave me the heebie jeebies.  The centerpiece of the collection is Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party, and because it was full size in front of us, we spent quite a bit of time absorbing all of its details.

Luncheon of the Boating Party

Luncheon of the Boating Party

In the gift shop, I was fascinated by a set of place mats that seemed to be made by drizzling a rubbery plastic in a random design.  I rather liked the unusual feel of the plastic.  I pointed it out to Maggie and she said that she couldn’t remember the name of the plastic.  “Poly something-something,” I offered helpfully.  She replied, “Probably poly vinyl something something.”  I laughed and agreed with her identification.

It turned out to be the annual Dupont-Kalorama Museum Walk Weekend, which is designed to highlight art museums off the National Mall.  It also meant that admission was free to the nine museums on the list.  So after lunch, a stop in at Kramer Books, and a little shopping at a wonderful stationery store, we set off for the Woodrow Wilson House.

Woodrow Wilson was the only President who remained in DC after finishing his time in office.  He had had significant health problems during his second term including a stroke, so in some ways, it wasn’t too surprising that he decided not to go far away.  We saw an excellent video that provided highlights of his life and his accomplishments, and then we got a short tour of the house.  Because it was a special event weekend and they were planning on more traffic than usual, there were fewer rooms open than normal, but with a guide stationed in every room, it was still a very interesting home.

Wilson’s first wife had died while he was in office and the first World War was starting, but he met and married his second wife a few years later.  The Ambassador of France wanted to give the new First lady a “small” present to commemorate their wedding, and it turned out to be a ginormous tapestry!  Edith Wilson tried to refuse, but the Ambassador kept pressing that the honor of the French people was at stake if she refused  Eventually Mrs. Wilson hung the tapestry in the East Room while they were in the White House.  That was a time when gifts given to a President or his wife became theirs, so the next challenge when the Wilsons moved into their new home was to find a room large enough for the display.  In their cozy sitting room, the tapestry fits the wall horizontally, but apparently there are another eight feet of fabric folded up underneath since it is too tall for the wall.

Woodrow Wilson only lived for three or four years after leaving the White House, but Edith, who was much younger, lived for several decades after that.  In the dining room, the guide mentioned that the Brazilian rosewood table could be expanded to seat some large number of Mrs. Wilson’s friends.  I asked if the extra leaves were stored in the table or stored someplace else, and the guide didn’t know.  Maggie, who is an engineer, immediately ducked down, examined the bottom of the table and announced that the leaves were stored someplace else.

Immediately adjacent to the Wilson House is the Textile Museum.  It had been on Maggie’s list to visit, but I mentioned that since it is moving in October, much of the museum is closed down  and there might not be much to see.  Still, the proximity was too good to pass up, so we proceeded next door.  I had visited in the fall, and I was pleased that there was an entirely different exhibit on display.  The new exhibit focused on how modern artists had been inspired by traditional weavers in Southeast Asia.  My favorites were the pieces done by the artist Carol Cassidy, who worked extensively with the weavers in Laos to standardize their dyes and improve their looms without losing any of the character of their original work.  Her own pieces began to display many of the motifs used in Lao culture.  This picture doesn’t even begin to do justice to the luminous quality of the silk threads in her works.  I am usually quite good about keeping my hands to myself in museums, but this one was a real struggle for me.

Lao-inspired tapestry by Carol Cassidy

Lao-inspired tapestry by Carol Cassidy

Maggie and I still don’t quite understand how all the weaving is done, although we did our best to analyze the displays that tried to teach us.  In one spot, there were samples of the raw and refined versions of fibers, and we compared notes about which we were exposed to as children. Growing up in the North, I remember several encounters with sheep and wool, whereas Maggie, growing up in the South, knows cotton inside and out.  There was no sample of raw rayon, but Maggie suggested that a block of plastic would be just fine.

The Textile Museum has a lovely garden, and since part of the Dupont-Kalorama Museum Walk project was to encourage kids to come and get involved, there were a number of art projects set up to get involved.  Unfortunately, our arrival at the end of the day meant that were mostly packing up as we arrived.  Maggie suggested that we should print our own bandanas, an activity which was still set up, and we not only made art, we managed not to get ink all over ourselves.  There were a number of different print blocks to choose from, but I ended up working with a single block.  The man who was helping me announced that my fabric looked like one of his work bandanas, and I decided it was easier to accept that comment as a compliment.

My artwork

Nothing to blow your nose at

With the Metro still running shuttle buses, we set off walking toward home with the idea that if we got tired, we’d catch a bus.  Unfortunately, we were on the wrong side of the street, so we ended up just walking all the way home.  Although I often think of DC as just being a big city, it has some wonderful neighborhoods to explore, and I highly recommend the art museums around Dupont Circle and Kalorama.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Dupont-Kalorama Museum Walk

  1. Heather Pence

    Sounds like a wonderful day – and +1 for using the phrase “heebie jeebies”

  2. I saw a great exhibit on Ikat weaving at the Textile Museum last spring…I also had trouble keeping my hands to myself. I’m excited to hear that it’s moving — I hope they get a terrific new site! \*begin fiber geekery: I think rayon is a wood/cellulose byproduct of some sort, not a petroleum derivative.*\

    • Thanks for the info on rayon. I think when I know something is synthetic, I automatically go for plastics. I still haven’t quite wrapped my mind around how complex weaving works. The exhibits tried to teach me, but I’m sure I only got half of it.

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