April 30, 2012
Tuesday, May 1 Mary Livingston Ripley Garden Tour
Happy May Day! May 1st kicks off Smithsonian Gardens’ Mary Livingston Ripley Garden Tour, which runs every Tuesday through October. The garden’s namesake, Mrs. S. Dillon Ripley, wife of the Smithsonian Institution’s eighth Secretary, dreamed up a “fragrant garden” on the eastern border of the Arts and Industries Building, which was originally designated to become a parking lot. In 1978, she made the dream a reality with the help of the Women’s Committee of the Smithsonian Associates. Join horticulturist Janet Draper for a guided stroll through the garden. Free. 2:00 p.m. Meet at the fountain in the Mary Livingston Ripley Garden.
Wednesday, May 2 X-Ray Astronomy and the Multicolored Universe
Space telescope Chandra’s X-ray camera can see some of the most dynamic events in space—erupting black holes, exploding stars, and colliding galaxies. In this lecture, Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, explains how X-ray telescopes like Chandra probe cosmic dramas. $40 for general admission, $30 for members. 6:45 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. S. Dillon Ripley Center.
Thursday, May 3 Meet the Artist: Roni Horn
The New York Times once remarked, “Sometimes it seems as if Roni Horn’s art were considered the greatest thing since sliced bread, at least in certain regions of the art world.” Horn’s work, which spans sculpture, photography, painting and drawing, has certainly attracted attention for its provocative statements on gender, androgyny and identity. In this latest of the Hirshhorn’s “Meet the Artist” series, Horn will discuss her recent projects and inspirations. Free. 7:00 p.m. Hirshhorn Museum.
For a complete listing of Smithsonian events and exhibitions visit the goSmithsonian Visitors Guide. Additional reporting by Michelle Strange.
April 2, 2012
Tuesday, April 3 Spring Break at the National Portrait Gallery
Need to occupy a bored child on spring break? Take the family to the National Portrait Gallery for storytelling and arts and crafts in a special program through April 6. Drop in for a Portrait Story or pick up a Portrait Discovery Kit to learn about famous Americans using the museum’s selection of self-guided games and activities. Free. 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. Education Center, National Portrait Gallery.
Wednesday, April 4 Let’s Move! with Smithsonian Gardens
Winter couch potatoes, it’s time to shake off the doldrums and get moving into spring! As part of First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move! Museums and Gardens” campaign, Smithsonian Gardens has set up a scavenger hunt that lets kids and adults exercise body and mind at the same time. Explore nine Smithsonian gardens through clues and trivia. Don’t forget to bring a pedometer to count your steps. Free. Pick up a brochure at most museum information desks. Smithsonian Gardens.
Thursday, April 5 Baseball and the Presidency
Which president was a professional baseball player? Baseball enthusiast and historian Mel Marmer has the answer and more in this discussion of how our nation’s leaders have enjoyed our national pastime throughout history. What better way to celebrate the start of baseball season? Free. 12:00 p.m. American Art Museum.
February 16, 2012
Smithsonian’s newest museum, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, will break ground with much fanfare. As announced yesterday, the February 22 groundbreaking ceremony on the National Mall will be emceed by actress and singer Phylicia Rashad, will feature former First Lady Laura Bush and will include remarks by President Barack Obama. The event will also feature musical performances by opera singer Denyce Graves, baritone Thomas Hampson, jazz pianist Jason Moran, the U.S. Navy Band and others.
The museum will be located 0n the National Mall on Constitution Avenue between 14th and 15th streets, between the American History Museum and the Washington Monument. Scheduled to open in 2015, the museum will be the only national museum devoted exclusively to African American life, art, history and culture. Plans first began in 2003, when Congress passed the National Museum of African American History and Culture Act. Since July 2005, when Lonnie Bunch was named the director, the museum has began collecting artifacts and producing exhibitions displayed in the American History Museum and elsewhere.
In April 2009, an official jury selected the design for the building, choosing David Adjaye’s bronze, multi-tiered structure. “The form of the building suggests a very upward mobility,” Adjaye said in a recent interview with Smithsonian. “For me, the story is one that’s extremely uplifting, as a kind of world story. It’s not a story of a people that were taken down, but actually a people that overcame.”
Of course, the National Mall is home to many Smithsonian Museums—and has hosted a number of groundbreaking ceremonies throughout the Institution’s history. We assembled a selection of shovel-at-the-ready images from the Smithsonian Institution Archives.
The Natural History Museum was originally constructed as the U.S. National Museum Building. Architects Joseph Coerten Hornblower and James Rush Marshall, Secretary Samuel P. Langley and Smithsonian employees looked on as the first shovel of dirt was lifted in 1904.
Solomon Brown worked at the Smithsonian for more than fifty years, from 1852 to 1906, and was likely the Institution’s first African-American employee, hired as a cabinetmaker soon after its founding in 1846. On the 100th anniversary of the groundbreaking, in June of 2004, a tree was planted in his name on the grounds of the National Museum of Natural History.
Geologist George P. Merrill and others gathered in 1916 to watch sod lifted for the Freer Gallery of Art, which was completed in 1923 to house railroad manufacturer Charles Lang Freer’s extensive collection of classical Asian art.
In 1972, the Smithsonian secretary Dillon S. Ripley and Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger turn over the first shovelfuls of dirt for the Air and Space Museum. They were joined by Representative Kenneth Gray and Senators Jennings Randolph and J. William Fulbright. Before the building was constructed, the museum was known as the National Air Museum, and its artifacts were housed in a number of Smithsonian buildings.
The Quadrangle complex was built behind the castle to house the National Museum of African Art, the Sackler Gallery of Asian Art, the S. Dillon Ripley Center and the Enid A. Haupt Garden. Then-vice president George Bush was on hand to supervise the groundbreaking in 1983.
The Anacostia Community Museum was originally known as the Anacostia Neighborhood Museum, designed to reflect the history and traditions of families, organizations, individuals and communities, as well as serve the Anacostia Community. A groundbreaking ceremony in 1985 included the museum’s founding director John Kinard and then-Smithsonian secretary Robert McCormick Adams.
February 7, 2012
Our inquisitive readers are rising to the challenge we gave them last month. The questions are pouring in and we’re ready for more. Do you have any questions for our curators? Submit your questions here.
How much is the Hope Diamond worth? — Marjorie Mathews, Silver Spring, Maryland
That’s the most popular question we get, but we don’t really satisfy people by giving them a number. There are a number of answers, but the best one is that we honestly don’t know. It’s a little bit like Liz Taylor’s jewels being sold in December—all kinds of people guessed at what they would sell for, but everybody I know was way off. Only when those pieces were opened up to bidding at a public auction could you find out what their values were. When they were sold, then at least for that day and that night you could say, well, they were worth that much. The Hope Diamond is kind of the same way, but more so. There’s simply nothing else like it. So how do you put a value on the history, on the fact it’s been here on display for over 50 years and a few hundred million people have seen it, and on that fact it’s a rare blue diamond on top of everything else? You don’t. – Jeffrey E. Post, mineralogist, National Museum of Natural History
What’s the worst impact of ocean acidification so far?- Nancy Schaefer, Virginia Beach, Virginia
The impacts of ocean acidification are really just starting to be felt, but two big reports that came out in 2011 show that it could have very serious effects on coral reefs. These studies did not measure the warming effect of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, but rather its effect of making the ocean more acidic when it dissolves in the ocean. Places where large amounts of carbon dioxide seep into the water from the sea floor provide a natural experiment and show us how ocean waters might look, say, 50 or 100 years from now. Both studies showed branching, lacy, delicate coral forms are likely to disappear, and with them that kind of three-dimensional complexity so many species depend on. Also, other species that build a stony skeleton or shell, such as oysters or mussels, are likely to be affected. This happens because acidification makes carbonate ions, which these species need for their skeletons, less abundant.
Nancy Knowlton, marine biologist
National Museum of Natural History
Art and artifacts from ancient South Pacific and Pacific Northwest tribes have similarities in form and function. Is it possible that early Hawaiians caught part of the Kuroshio Current of the North Pacific Gyre to end up along the northwest coast of America from northern California to Alaska? — April Amy Croan, Maple Valley, Washington
Those similarities have given rise to various theories, including trans-Pacific navigation, independent drifts of floating artifacts, inadvertent crossings by ships that have lost their rudders or rigging, or whales harpooned in one area that died or were captured in a distant place. Some connections are well-known, like feather garment fragments found in an archaeological site in Southeast Alaska that appear to have been brought there by whaling ships that had stopped in the Hawaiian Islands, a regular route for 19th-century whalers. Before the period of European contact, the greatest similarities are with the southwest Pacific, not Hawaii. The Kushiro current would have facilitated Asian coastal contacts with northwestern North America, but would not have helped Hawaiians. The problem of identification is one of context, form and dating. Most of the reported similarities are either out of their original context (which can’t be reconstructed), or their form is not specific enough to relate to another area’s style, or the date of creation cannot be established. To date there is no acceptable proof for South Pacific-Northwest Coast historical connections that predates the European whaling era, except for links that follow the coastal region of the North Pacific into Alaska.
William Fitzhugh, archeologist
Natural History Museum
September 14, 2011
If you are taking classes at one of the area universities and need to study, but you are looking for a change of scenery, the Smithsonian Institution offers some quiet, study nooks.
Kogod Courtyard: In the Donald W. Reynolds Center, which houses the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Kogod Courtyard is a 28,000-square-foot space with seating, free Wi-Fi and a Courtyard Café. Designed by Foster + Partners, a world famous architectural firm, the courtyard is covered by a wavy, 900-pound, glass and steel canopy. I suggest staking out a study spot here if you are sick of your stuffy library, dorm room or office, because with loads of natural light, ficus, black olive trees and water scrims by landscape architects Kathryn Gustafson and Rodrigo Abela, it at least gives you the sense that you are outdoors.
Lerner Room: Maybe natural light is something I crave working in a cubicle, but another bright space is the Lerner Room, on the third floor of the Hirshhorn Museum. The room, on the north side of the ring-shaped museum, has a panoramic expanse of floor-to-ceiling windows that offers visitors a great view of the National Mall. A curved couch positioned in front of the window makes it a perfect place to curl up with a book, and there are also large tables, which make it a great work space. Enormous Sol LeWitt drawings, one in color and the other in black and white, on the room’s other two walls also give it a cheery atmosphere.
Mitsitam Cafe: The native foods from the Western Hemisphere’s Northern Woodlands, South America, the Northwest Coast, Meso America and Great Plains cooked up at the National Museum of the American Indian’s highly-rated Mitsitam Cafe certainly draw crowds. But if you don’t mind the clamor of diners, or you actually work better with some background noise, then the cafe, with lots of seating and Wi-Fi, can be a nice place to study. Bonus: the traditional frybread makes for a sweet snack.
Enid A. Haupt Garden: Sick of the quad, but in need of some fresh air? Visit a Smithsonian garden. There are several along the stretch between the Hirshhorn and the Freer Gallery on the south side of the National Mall. My favorite is the immaculately-kept, four-acre Enid A. Haupt Garden just behind the Smithsonian Castle—and just above an underground complex that includes the National Museum of African Art, Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and the S. Dillon Ripley Center. Bring a blanket to spread under a large shade tree, and your laptop. There is free Wi-Fi. On a hot day, you can always retreat to the Castle Café.
Luce Foundation Center: This space on the third and fourth floors of the Smithsonian American Art Museum is a library of a different sort. The museum keeps more than 3,300 pieces of art from its permanent collection in large glass cases, and coins and jewelry in layers of drawers. If you take up post at one of the tables in the center, perhaps you want to time it with an Art + Coffee event that includes a brief talk or tour of the center with coffee and tea. Occasionally and usually on Wednesdays through Sundays, at 1:30 p.m., the center hosts a tour and talk, with complimentary coffee or tea, followed by an acoustic concert by a local musician.
Update 9/23/2011: This post now includes additional information about the Kogod Courtyard.