The Phillips Collection in D.C.

by Bob Hoelscher 4. April 2012 20:36

As readers are likely aware, Washington is a fascinating city, filled with a huge variety of things to see and do, including the varied museums of the great Smithsonian Institution.  However, there are also a large number of very significant attractions that are frequently omitted from a standard tour itinerary simply because there is inadequate time to include everything. 

In the scores of times that I have been to our nation’s capital since my first visit back in 1966, I have been fortunate to be able to explore many of these gems that may not immediately come to mind when planning a group’s itinerary. One is The Phillips Collection, just a short walk from centrally-located Dupont Circle, and which bills itself as “America’s First Museum of Modern Art.” What a fine place it was to spend a couple of hours on a rainy afternoon during my most recent trip to D.C.!      

Similarly, any artistic or educationally oriented visitors to the city are sure to enjoy The Phillips Collection. First, this is a human-sized venue, housed in the boyhood home of the founder with two connected buildings and the adjacent Carriage House, so it does not require nearly the time nor the stamina to discover the riches within, as is the case with some of Washington’s popular but sprawling museums. When it was opened in 1921 by Duncan Phillips (1886-1966), heir to a Pittsburgh steel fortune, the entire collection of 237 paintings was displayed in just one room. Today, the complex holds a growing, world-class collection of nearly 3,000 works of modern and contemporary art, hosts internationally-acclaimed temporary exhibitions, and offers a wide variety of programs for adults and students. An extensive Sunday chamber concert series is also presented in the intimate setting of the Music Room, located in the original 1897 Phillips House.    

The collection itself features 19th, 20th and 21st-century European and American Art. It is noted particularly for important works by such impressionists as Cézanne, Monet, Renoir, van Gogh and Degas, as well as others by Picasso, Bonnard, Braque and Klee. Such Americans artists as Milton Avery, Alexander Calder, Arthur Dove, John Marin and Georgia O’Keeffe are represented, as well as photographers such as Alfred Stieglitz and Brett Weston. On display until early May, the featured (and fascinating) temporary exhibit I explored was Snapshot: Painters and Photography, Bonnard to Vuillard.

Antique grandfather clock and staircase

Paintings from The Migration Series (1940-41) by Jacob Lawrence

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Adding on to an East Coast Itinerary

Hallowed Ground

by Brian Jewell 21. May 2010 20:28


On a Friday morning, the air around Manassas is soft and quiet. Dew drops shimmer on the green rolling hills outside of town, and all is peaceful. But it was not always so.

In July of 1861, young and inexperienced troops from the Union and Confederate armies met for the first time on the fields outside of Manassas, and engaged in a fierce battle that would shatter their illusions about the glory of war. In this, one of the early battles of the Civil War, and the first one so close to Washington and Richmond (the confederate capitol), army recruits from both sides found themselves in the middle of a baptism by fire.

Today I visited Manassas National Battlefield Park, which preserves the ground where the first and second battles of Bull Run were fought. Also known as the Battles of Bull Run, both of these encounters were victories for the South, as they beat back Union forces and sent them retreating toward Washington. For modern travelers, a visit to the park gives a remarkable perspective of what the fight meant for our country's young men, most of whom were taking their first steps into warfare.

The ground of the battlefield is scenic and peaceful, but throughout the park, a number of monuments, markers and other objects tell the story of the fighting that took place there. Visitors can see a number of cannons from the battle that have been set up on top of the hill overlooking the park. There is a large monument set up to honor the Union troops who died here, as well as a statue honoring Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, who earned his nickname during the first battle here.

For me, the most moving part of the visit was the film shown at the visitor's center, which brings the conflict into human terms by telling the stories of individual soldiers, officers and civilians from both sides. Many of the young men in both armies expected the fighting to be quick, painless and relatively easy. Most thought that the conflict would end after just one battle. After a few hours of fighting, all of the surviving soldiers walked away with their lives forever changed.


Artillery cannon in the distance at Manassas Battlefield.

A monument to Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson.


A monument erected by Union veterans to honor their dead at Manassas Battlefield.

Great ideas in the District of Columbia

by Brian Jewell 20. May 2010 07:41

I've always thought that the National Parks Service was one of the greatest ideas to come out of America (you know, besides "All men are created equal," "I have a dream," "Tear down this wall," and all of the other inspirational stuff). But during my daylong visit to the National Mall in Washington, I decided that the Smithsonian Institution ranks right up there with the best cultural achievements of our country.

I'll be spending the next few days exporing Manassas and the Prince William County area of Northern Virginia. Today, though, I rode the train into Washington for a quick look at the Smithsonian and other attractions around the National Mall. Though I visited some of these places as a middle-school student years ago, returning as an adult gave me a new appreciation for just how great these museums are, and what a point of pride they should be for all Americans.

I began with a visit to the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History. This museum holds millions of items from our past, ranging from antique arms and armor to steam locomotives, famous musical instruments, and a host of things in between. One of the most famous is the large American flag that inspired Frances Scott Key to write "The Star Spangled Banner" during the war of 1812. I was captivated by a wing with various exhibitions on America's presidents, which included artifacts from the White House, video interviews wiith former presidents, a gallery of first ladies' ball gowns and a special section on Abraham Lincoln, complete with one of his famous top hats.

Next, I took a stroll down the mall to the National Museum of the American Indian, the newest of the Smithsonian museums in Washington. This institution does an amazing job of telling the stories of America's diverse native peoles, from the northeastern woodlands to the desert Southwest and the icey fjords of Alaska. The artifacts and informational panels were chosen by the individual tribes and groups they represent, and the exhibits give a fascinating job of describing the past and present triumphs and struggles of indigenous people in America.

In addition to the museums, I also took time to enjoy the National Mall, spread out between the Washington Monument and the U.S. Capitol.  On the grounds of the capitol complex, I happened upon the National Botanic Garden, an attraction that I wasn't aware of. A quick trip inside revealed hundreds of plants from all parts of the world, inside a conservatory that proved a welcome relief from the bustling Mall and capitol just outside.

You could spend a week in D.C. without running out of things to do. But even a daylong trip was enough to remind me of just a few of the things I love about this country.


Julia Child's kitchen on display in at the National museum of American History.


An original Kermit the Frog puppet, on display in the pop culture gallery at the National Museum of American History.


Abraham Lincoln's top hat.


This colorful mask on display at the National Museum of the American Indian was used in tribal ceremonies in the Southwest.


One of many exotic plants cultivated at the National Botanic Garden.


Another rare flower fromthe National Botanic Garden.

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