Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Field Trip: Washington, D.C. -- Art, Streetcars, History, Old Buildings!

We recently spent a weekend in D.C. visiting my parents.  We've been many, many times, but we always find something new to do there!  This time we really packed in the fun stuff in addition to good family time, dog-walking, N.-and-Grandma Lego time, and good food (allow me to brag that my not-yet-10-year-old ate almost all of a huge bowl of mussels at Granville Moore, a Belgian gastro-pub.  I did not set eyes on mussels until my late 20s!).

We toured the Smithsonian "castle," the Smithsonian's original building which N. has long loved but we had never entered.  It has some cool exhibits on the history of the museums that make up the Smithsonian, and on the motley collection of relics and oddities that people have donated (Napoleon's napkin! Walter Scott's hair! a piece of wood from a rail split by young Abe Lincoln!).  In a room that looks like a gothic chapel is an exhibit of selections from the various museums's collections, from entymology displays to a place setting designed by Raymond Loewy.  N., lover of model buildings, especially liked the Lego Smithsonian and a wooden model built by the architect before the building was constructed.

We went to a special exhibit at the National Gallery of Art on the artistic relationship between Degas and Cassatt.  It was really interesting to see their works side by side.  N. and I especially appreciated the part of the exhibit that showed the two artists' print-making.  Degas taught Cassatt print-making and the exhibit collects multiple prints of the same image so you can really see how Cassatt experimented with the process.  We saw less familiar aspects of these very familiar artists' work.  And it's not a huge, overwhelming exhibit, but is well curated, which we really appreciated after going to many mammoth, exhausting special shows in London.

We went to the Capital Trolley Museum in suburban Maryland.  This is probably the worst museum I have ever been to, in terms of layout and presentation and would benefit greatly from a professional museum consultant.  For example, the first thing you see when you enter is the end of a series of wall placards about the D.C. streetcars during World War, only of course it takes you a few minutes of reading to realize that you are at the end of the series and you have to walk farther on to find the beginning.  There is no overview of the history of streetcars, or of streetcars in D.C. and its suburbs.  There are some very detailed accounts of the development of specific suburban lines, which only makes sense if one knows the Maryland and Virginia suburbs of D.C. quite well.  There is a collection of streetcars and trolleys from around the world in a locked car barn that you are only able view with a volunteer guide, who in our case told us "information" clearly contradicted by the placards he stood next to.  But you can take unlimited streetcar rides on a 1-mile loop through the woods next to the Inter-County Connector toll road, which N. of course enjoyed.

And we went to Frederick Douglass's last home, Cedar Hill, in Anacostia.  This was a wonderful place and a rich and moving learning experience.  We loved it.  We were led through the well-preserved hilltop house by a very knowledgeable National Park Service guide, who gave a good overview of Douglass's life with a special focus on the latter years when he lived in the house.  His second wife preserved the house and its contents so that almost everything you see actually belonged to Douglass (this is so rarely the case in house museums!).  We looked at his shoes at his bedside and  heard that he felt chest pain and fell at this spot in the front hall as he died.  As we descended the stairs the man in front of me said quietly to his son, "He walked down these stairs we're walking down!"  We felt ineffably close to the presence of a brilliant, radical man who did great things for our country.

Frederick Douglass's study

Frederick Douglass's dining room

1 comment:

CMR said...

such a fun weekend! Stella and Bailey miss you all...