Washington D.C. is known for its variety of museums, from the Air & Space Museum, to the National Gallery of Art to the recently built National Museum of African American History and Culture. Unlike many other cities, these world class museums are open to the public with no entrance fee. Take that London!
One of the more interesting properties of the Smithsonian group is the Renwick Gallery, originally designed to be the capital’s first museum. Modeled after the Tuileries palace in France, it opened in 1874 as the Corcoran Museum. When the Corcoran collection moved to larger quarters, the building was repurposed several times, then abandoned. It was almost torn down in 1963 when Jackie Kennedy came to its rescue. In 1965 President Johnson signed it over to the Smithsonian as a museum for arts, craft and design. Named after its architect James Renwick Jr. the gallery opened in 1978 and stays faithful to its mission.
The Renwick is now marking its 50th anniversary with the exhibit “This Present Moment, Crafting a Better World.” The exhibit focuses on increasing representation of women and artists of color.
My favorite piece in the exhibition is a large portrait quilt titled Harlem Hellfighters by artist Bisa Butler. It is her largest to date, life size at 11X13 feet. It is based on a black and white photograph of African American soldiers who fought with the French in World War One as the American army was segregated and they could not fight alongside white soldiers.
I recall the docent at the museum saying that it took Ms. Butler two years to produce this magnificent quilt using cotton, silk, wool, lace, velvet, African and Dutch wax cloth, and adire, an indigo-dyed cloth. (Source: Smithsonian American Art Museum).
The rest of the photos from the exhibit are just a taste of craft pieces in every medium on two floors. If you find yourself in D.C. before April 2, 2022, I highly recommend a visit.