Renwick: America’s First Gallery Is a Work of Art on Its Own

Ghost Clock

Use your illusion: A grandfather clock draped with a sheet. Big deal, right? Closer examination reveals that the sheet — like the rest of Wendell Castle’s “Ghost Clock” — is actually a carefully carved piece of mahogany. (ann gav via Flickr)

While it has a well-deserved reputation for politics, Washington, D.C., is an arty little town. Who can deny it?

There are a bevy of things to do and see all year long, and one we haven’t yet featured on the blog is the Renwick Gallery, part of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. (And no, we haven’t gotten to that one yet either. Give us time. There’s a lot going on in the capital.)

The Renwick Gallery is located right next to the Big House. How close? About 1,000 feet. But given the level of security around the White House, you might as well be 1,000 miles away. Still, when you walk into the Renwick Gallery, you’re right next to the nation’s seat of power.

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The gallery began life in 1859 “to house the American and European art collection of Washington banker and philanthropist William Wilson Corcoran.”

No dummy, Corcoran hired James Renwick Jr., designer of both the Smithsonian Institution Building (The Castle) in Washington, D.C., and St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City, to model the gallery in the French Second Empire style. It gave the city’s first art museum even more cachet.

Not only is it pretty on the inside, the outside is a thing of architectural beauty as well and offers another reason to visit Renwick Gallery – or at least walk by. The structure was completed in 1861, and it’s had quite a history leading up to its current function.

Renwick Gallery
1661 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20006

Today, the function of the Renwick Gallery is to “highlight the best craft objects and decorative arts from the 19th century to the present.” At the Renwick, you can see unique “pieces created from clay, fiber, glass, metal, and wood.” These objets d’art are displayed on a rotating basis on the gallery’s second floor.

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Some popular works include Beth Lipman’s “Bancketje (Banquet),” Wendell Castle’s “Ghost Clock” and Larry Fuente’s “Game Fish.” Here are some current exhibitions and rotating collection installations (keep in mind this list includes exhibitions at big brother Smithsonian American Art Museum, so keep your beret on).

Yes, you can even buy a trinket at the Renwick Gallery Store, maybe even a beret!

The Renwick Gallery is open from 10:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., daily, expect Christmas. Another great thing about the Renwick Gallery: It’s free. There are docent-led tours Monday-Friday at noon and at 1 p.m. on weekends.

Located very near the Farragut West stop on Metro’s Blue/Orange Line, this historic art gallery is just another great reason to find an apartment in Northwest using Apartment Showcase. 

Scott D

Scott D

Scott is a local writer and has been with the Apartment Showcase blog since its inception in 2010.

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