Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Three Washington Gems for the Arts

The guys like exploring more that I do!  It's always good to hear their stories when they return home.

      There are enough museums, memorials, and cultural venues to fill a multitude of visits to our nation's capital.  Among them are three examples of historical interest that continue to promote the arts: the Library of Congress, Ford's Theatre, and the Kennedy Center.  

The Library of Congress

Court of Neptune Fountains at the Library of Congress
      We walked to the Library of Congress for an early morning tour.  The Beaux Arts building is arguably the most beautiful in Washington.  (By the way...a life-long resident and friend of ours informed us
of the correct title for the capital city.  In order not to appear as an outsider, one should refer to it as Washington, not DC.  Only visitors and transplants refer to it as DC.  Oops!)  

The Library of Congress Jefferson Building
The library opened in 1897 after being completed by many of the artists that worked on the Chicago Exposition of 1893 embodying the classical architectural details, statuary, murals, and plaster work of the Beaux Arts.  The outside of the building salutes many of the world's most recognized authors with busts inset along the roofline and echoed inside in ceiling murals. 

The Great Hall of the Library of Congress
Beaux Arts Detailed Craftsmenship
      Our particular tour docent presented the facts by going forward, and then back, and then forward again.  It was a little hard to follow, but a good brain exercise for the morning wake up.  We started in the Great Hall where one finds pure gold entryways and details on artwork that are perfection and priceless.  The combinations of figural sculptures, bas-relief panels, mosaics, murals, and stained glass are truly overwhelming.  Moving through the hall we examined the rare Giant Bible of Mainz and the Gutenburg Bible.  Talk about priceless!  

The Stairs to the
Library of Congress Reading Room
      From there we moved upstairs to the Reading Room overlook that has been glass enclosed since the days of 9/11.  The multi-storied Reading Room was completely restored in the 1970s to its original glory.  Although established as a reference library for the U.S. Congress, the floor was busy with researchers as this is one of the preeminent investigative libraries in the world.  An appointment can be made by people proving they are doing research and allowing four days for the appropriate pieces to be secured by the librarians.  

Fine Art Details in the Great Hall
      The collection is massive and spills way beyond the walls of the Thomas Jefferson Building, as the main structure is referred to.  Two other extensions are adjacent to the main library, with other reserves housed elsewhere (i.e. the film collection is in Culpeper, VA).  But even with such an impressive treasure trove, the building far outshines its content.

Ford's Theatre

Ford's Theatre at Night
      That afternoon I went to Ford's Theatre for a tour.  I had the option of waiting for the full tour including the museum or just visiting the theatre.  I opted for the full thing, which I soon regretted.  Everyone was ushered down a series of steps to the underground museum.  At that point, we were basically "locked" in the dungeon and left on our own to explore the contents.  Most people were done in 10-15 minutes, but the park service had allotted around 40 minutes.  The museum was well done and full of information, but the cramped quarters (with no escape) seemed a little claustrophobic.  

Lincoln's Box at Ford's Theatre
      Upstairs, we were seated in the theatre for an informative presentation by a park ranger.  The theatre staff had only a few days notice that the Lincolns would attend a performance of "Our American Cousin" on the evening of April 14, 1865, only five days after the end of the Civil War.  The President's box was draped in flags and fitted with removable chairs for comfort.  They're probably not the best seats in the house, but no one will ever know for sure as the box was closed the night of the assassination.  

The Petersen Boarding House
After being shot, Lincoln was taken to the boarding house across the street where he died early the next morning.  Visitors are also welcome at the Petersen House to inspect the linens stained with Lincoln's blood, a ghoulish tribute.  It most assuredly was a historical precursor to Ripley's Believe It or Not Museums.  On this trip the home was closed for renovation, opening late 2011.

The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
      The next morning I took the Metro to Foggy Bottom, which deposited me in the middle of George Washington University.  I headed down New Hampshire Avenue to the Kennedy Center for a tour.  It was a small group (only 3 of us) so we became acquainted along the way.  Our guide was a volunteer that definitely knew the inner workings of the eight theatrical venues at the Kennedy Center and the artwork therein.  Opening on September 8, 1971, it hosts more productions of the performing arts than any other theatre in the nation.  

The Concert Hall
Viewing the many crystal chandeliers is a show in itself.  Most interesting was the one in the Opera House (home of the Kennedy Center Honors each December), a gift from Austria.  They were like floating satellites above the theater floor.  ("Wicked" was in residence when we were touring, so there were no photographs allowed.)  

The President's Opera House Box Lounge
The African Reception Room
The Israeli Reception Room
While the Eisenhower Theatre, Concert Hall, and Opera House are all impressive, the real treat was getting a closer look at the President's boxes and the three distinctive private reception areas that have been given to the United States from Africa, Israel, and China.  They display some of the finest art from the hosting countries as a tribute to the patrons of the performing arts in our country.  

The Grand Foyer at the Kennedy Center
       The tour continued through the Hall of Nations and the Hall of States displaying the many flags of each, and the Grand Foyer, one of the largest rooms in the world with 16 Orrefors crystal chandeliers from Norway.  The complex is still one of the greatest performing arts centers for acoustics with its box within a box concept of inner theaters.  

Panoramic View from the Rooftop Terrace at the Kennedy Center
Our tour concluded on the rooftop with a 360º view of the city, the Potomac River, and Virginia.  I was happy to find that they provided a complimentary shuttle back to the Metro stop.

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