Renwick Gallery

The Renwick Gallery, at 1661 Pennsylvania Avenue and 17th Street across the street from the White House, operates as an extension of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, although they are not located near each other. The building, the original home of the Corcoran Gallery of Art, was completed in 1861 at the direction of William Corcoran for his personal American and European art collection. James Renwick, architect of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City and the Smithsonian Castle, designed the building in the style of Second Empire France. After the Corcoran Gallery of Art moved to a new location on 17th Street in 1897, the U.S. Court of Claims occupied their old building for many years. When the need for a larger place became evident, the Claims Court proposed that the building be destroyed. However, through the efforts of Jacqueline Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, it was saved as a part of the Lafayette Square restoration and turned over to the Smithsonian in 1956. After extensive renovation, the Renwick Gallery, renamed in honor of the original architect, reopened in 1972. Today, it houses collections of American contemporary craft, art, and design from the 19th to the 21st century.

The interior of the Renwick Gallery is one of Victorian grandeur, with a Grand Salon designed to represent the elegant living room of a private art collector. Refurbished in 2000, the 4300 square foot Salon features custom draperies, rose colored walls, and gilded décor, along with the modern technology of laylights, or unexposed skylights. Over 170 paintings and sculptures from the American Art Museum are artfully displayed in the Grand Salon. The collections throughout the Gallery, however, are primarily contemporary exhibits of American crafts, unique objects made from clay, fiber, glass, metal, and wood. Displays on a rotating basis from the Renwick’s permanent collections include unusual crafts such as Larry Fuente’s Game Fish, a sculpted trophy fish covered with colorful dice, toy soldiers, yo-yos, poker chips, and ping pong balls. The grandfather Ghost Clock, draped in a sheet and tied with a rope, is a modern illusionary sculpture of Honduran mahogany created by Wendell Castle. Other exhibits include Albert Paley’s award-winning wrought iron Portal Gates, Marioni’s handblown glass, ceramic sculpture by Voulkos, Schmahmann cabinetry, and Maloof’s Double Rocking Chair.

The Renwick Craft Invitational through July 2007 is a biennial event at the Gallery with exhibits by glass artist Paula Bartron, paper artist Jocelyn Chateauvert, and the ceramics of Beth Cavener Stichter. George Catlin’s Indian Gallery is featured indefinitely in the Grand Salon. This impressive exhibit consists of several hundred portraits and scenes painted by Catlin from 1830 to 1836 on his visits to over 50 Indian tribes living west of the Mississippi. The Indian Gallery, a permanent part of the American Art Museum collection, is probably the best representation of the culture of the Plains Indians ever created. After advocating Indian rights and lobbying Congress for years to purchase the collection, Catlin failed to convince them of the value and significance of his efforts. He eventually went bankrupt and died in1852, leaving his legacy behind. Fortunately, for visitors to the Renwick today, a Philadelphia industrialist paid off Catlin’s debts, purchased the Indian Gallery, and donated it to the Smithsonian a few years later.

The Renwick Gallery is also sponsoring a number of other exhibits including Going West! Quilts and Community from October 2007 to January 2008, highlighting over 50 quilts, considered necessities in the days of the covered wagon. Beginning in March through July of 2008, the avant-garde jewelry from the Helen Williams Drutt collection will be on display. The exhibit will include 275 pieces of jewelry, 20 drawings and watercolors, and five sculptures. Throughout the year, the Renwick hosts crafts demonstrations, lectures, receptions, and musical performances in its dedication to the collection and preservation of the finest in American crafts.

Hours: Daily, 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., closed December 25.
Admission: Free. Tours and General Info: 202-633-8550. Special event scheduling: 202-633-8534. Museum shop on 1st floor.

Comments are closed.