January 17, 2013
If you’re lucky this Monday, January 21, you’ll be able to spot the president of the United States as he is sworn into office once more. But venture to South Dakota, and you can see four presidents at once. Not bad.
Mount Rushmore’s larger-than-life reliefs of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln receive more than two million visitors each year. But they weren’t even supposed to be the attraction when the project was first imagined in the 1920s by state historian Doane Robinson. Red Cloud, Lewis and Clark and Buffalo Bill Cody–these were the figures Robinson knew would attract visitors as heroes of the American West.
But he was persuaded to reconsider by sculptor Gutzon Borglum and helped the Danish-American sculptor start scouting for locations. Construction began in 1927 and came to a halt in 1941 due to a lack of funding.
This film from the Smithsonian’s Human Studies Film Archives shows scenes from the monument’s construction, including blasting off cliff face, scaffolding, men working and the completed monument.
To learn more about the history of Mount Rushmore, read Megan Gambino’s “The Making of Mount Rushmore,” which includes details about the extensive use of dynamite during construction as well as the controversy surrounding the site selection.
And to get up close and personal with the presidents, check out the National Park Service’s new app, created using 3-D laser scans of the entire structure.
December 31, 2012
Tuesday, January 1: Triple Feature From the Arctic
Now that you’ve rung in another new year, you may be in the mood to broaden your horizons. But no need to take the 13-hour flight to your bucket list destination just yet. Just stop by the American Indian Museum for a screening of three films from Arctic cultures. Two films by Tara Young Handmade Portraits: Mabel Pike and Handmade Portraits: The Bone Carver provide snapshot portraits of community members keeping traditions alive, from foraging to beading to carving. The third, a film by Alethea Arnaquq-Baril (Iqaluit), looks deeply at a dying tradition. Tunniit: Retracing the Lines of Inuit Tattoos chronicles the history of face tattoos and their now-forbidden place within Inuit culture. Free. 3:30 p.m. American Indian Museum.
Wednesday, January 2: Hirshhorn Spotlight Tours
Maybe one of your resolutions for the new year was to get a little more artsy but you don’t exactly look smashing in a beret. Try a docent-led tour of the Hirshhorn highlights instead. The contemporary art museum, currently showing a blockbuster exhibition of Ai Weiwei’s work, has pieces from greats like Andy Warhol and Henri Matisse. Monday through Friday, the docents are on hand for four hours at the information desk for casual questions or a 30-minute tour through the museum. Free. 12:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. Hirshhorn Museum.
Thursday, January 3: Sit ‘n’ Stitch
Or maybe one of your goals was to start a successful online business from your crafty inclinations. Well then, join local Etsy sellers Julia Longueville and Brian Leenig for a little stitching and a little conversation about the Etsy life. Beginners and pros alike are welcome to gather at the Renwick Gallery, whose exhibit “40 under 40: Craft Futures” is on view, featuring the best of crafted works from young artists. Who knows, maybe you’ll make the next 40 under 40 list. Free. 12:30 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. Renwick Gallery.
And if you happen to have a herd of family members curious to explore all the Smithsonian has to offer, just download our specially created Visitors Guide App. Get the most out of your trip to Washington, D.C. and the National Mall with this selection of custom-built tours, based on your available time and passions. From the editors of Smithsonian magazine, the app is also packed with handy navigational tools, maps, museum floor plans and museum information including ‘Greatest Hits’ for each Smithsonian museum.
For a complete listing of Smithsonian events and exhibitions visit the goSmithsonian Visitors Guide. Additional reporting by Michelle Strange.
December 24, 2012
Tuesday, December 25: All museums will be closed for the holiday.
Wednesday, December 26: Maya Weaving Demonstration
Though many are loosely familiar with the Maya calendar whose supposed apocalypse has come and again, there are many other Maya traditions worth consideration. Juanita Velasco is a Mayan weaver as well as a native speaker of Ixil. She will be sharing her craft with a weaving demonstration. See up close and personal how all those beautiful textiles are made by hand and perhaps get to know a bit better a culture that has been dominating the headlines. Free. Daily, 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. through December 30. American Indian Museum.
Thursday, December 27: Grandma’s Kwanzaa
Presented by Black Women Playwrights’ Group member Debra Mims, Grandma’s Kwanzaa looks at the many stories surrounding the seven-day celebration of Kwanzaa. Looking at how the holiday honors both African and African American cultures, Mims finds messages of education, family and culture that she believes can support strong communities throughout the year, not just during the holiday. The family-friendly event is perfect for those familiar with the celebration as well as newcomers. Free, for reservations call 202-633-4844. 11:00 a.m. Anacostia Community Museum.
And if you happen to have a herd of family members curious to explore all the Smithsonian has to offer, just download the specially created Visitors Guide App. Get the most out of your trip to Washington, D.C. and the National Mall with this selection of custom-built tours, based on your available time and passions. From the editors of Smithsonian magazine, the app is also packed with handy navigational tools, maps, museum floor plans and museum information including ‘Greatest Hits’ for each Smithsonian museum.
November 20, 2012
If you think your house is going to be packed for Thanksgiving, imagine the crowds at a Smithsonian museum. According to the Washington Post, the museums had 418, 000 visitors over the holiday weekend in 2010. Though that number dipped in 2011, the institution is still gearing up for a full house.
To help visitors navigate their way through the 19 museums and National Zoo, Smithsonian will be fielding questions before and during the holiday on its Twitter page. Just follow @smithsonian and use the hashtag “#TgivingVisitTips” to stay up to date. Veteran visitors will also post their own tips with the hashtag, including, “1) eat at
@SmithsonianNMAI 2) take a pic at @NMAAHC site for posterity 3) comfy shoes” by Erin Blasco.
Here are some of our own insider tips, from our Greatest Hits guide (now available on your smart phone!):
Smithsonian Institution Building, The Castle: Your first stop for all things Smithsonian, the Castle is home to the information center where you can scope out all the current exhibits around the Mall, including the Castle’s own exhibit, “Experience Civil War Photography: From the Home Front to the Battlefront.” You can also pay your respects to the founder, James Smithson, who lies at rest in the crypt in the building’s foyer.
National Portrait Gallery: With several new exhibits and a host of permanent favorites, there’s plenty to take in at the gallery (like Alexander Gardner’s famous cracked glass plate portrait of Abraham Lincoln), including the building itself. On the third floor in the Great Hall, is an architectural gem that shouldn’t be missed. The yellow, blue and red stained-glass windows in the octagonal dome, dating to 1885, cast lush hues on sunny days.
American Art Museum: Housed in the same building as NPG, is the American Art Museum, which just opened its splendid new exhibit “The Civil War and American Art,” which is sure to draw crowds. The museum even had its own role in the Civil War: On the third floor near the Woman Eating sculpture, the initials C.H.F. are scrawled on the wall. The work of some hipster tagger? No, the graffiti artist also put a date: “Aug. 8, 1864.” Likely it was left by a patient; the building was a Civil War infirmary.
Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center: Not quite on the Mall, the Udvar-Hazy Center (in Chantilly, Virginia—near Dulles Airport) is home to a world-famous collection of aircraft a space vehicles, including the Air France Concorde and the space shuttle Discovery. After seeing those beauties, tell the kids to check this out. Look for seven hidden oddities in the model of the mother ship made from the film Close Encounters of the Third Kind. These were internal Hollywood jokes that weren’t part of the script. Hint: One is R2-D2 from the movie Star Wars.
Air and Space Museum: The world’s most-visited museum, Air and Space has everything from moon rocks to the Wright flyer. But how did they get it all in there? Look closely at the large window on the west side of the building. The glass slide away like giant garage doors.
American History Museum: Next up from the big three, American History, where even celebrities like Parks and Rec‘s Councilwoman Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) like to hang out. In addition to the brand new exhibit “FOOD: Transforming the American Table 1950-2000″ with Julia Child’s kitchen, you’ll also want to stop by the first floor for the Dolls’ House. Inside the house, inhabited by Peter Doll and his family, Christmas decorations are kept in the attic. Each holiday season, curators retrieve the tiny tree and wreaths and decorate the house.
Anacostia Community Museum: After an extensive research process, the museum recently opened its exhibit “Reclaiming the Edge: Urban Waterways and Civic Engagement” as part of its efforts to reach out to the community. Comparing waterways in L.A., Pittsburgh, Louisville, London, Shanghai and here in D.C., the exhibit is full of artworks and informative displays. Check out the playful piece Talking Trash, kinetic sculpture of fish made from plastic water bottles.
Natural History Museum: The grand dame of the big three museum, Natural History is famous partly for housing the “cursed” Hope Diamond. But it’s not all sparkle and shine. Heard of donating your body to science? Professor Grover Krantz volunteered to be put on display at the Smithsonian–with his dog. “I’ve been a teacher all my life, and I think I might as well be a teacher after I’m dead,” he said. Find the pair on the second floor.
American Indian Museum: What better time to visit the American Indian Museum than November, American Indian Heritage Month? In addition to its award-winning cafe and engaging exhibits, it has a treat for those who know where and when to look. Watch for the lovely play of light in the Potomac Atrium. Eight prisms on the south wall project refractions on the floor. See them at the peak of their brilliance between 11 and 2. On the summer and winter solstice, the light lines up precisely.
Freer Gallery: Amid the jades and bronzes from Asia, a fierce fight is playing out. The two birds depicted squawking in battle on the back wall of Whistler’s Peacock Room represent a real-life contretemps between the artist and his patron over a disputed fee for the artwork.
Sackler Gallery: With a new blockbuster exhibit, “Roads of Arabia: Archaeology and History of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” the Sackler is as busy as ever. This year, the Sackler celebrates its 25th anniversary of the 1987 gift of some 1,000 works of Asian art from Arthur M. Sackler (1913-1987), a New York City physician.
Hirshhorn Museum: Contemporary art lovers will be filling the circular gallery space to check out Barbara Kruger’s installation and the new exhibit, “Ai Weiwei: According to What?” But you’ll be headed outside. Ready for a little covert operation? Check out the sculpture Antipodes just outside the front door. The piece has two encoded texts, one related to C.I.A. operations and the other in Cyrillic related to the K.G.B.
Museum of African Art: The current exhibit, “African Cosmos: Stellar Arts” is out of this world, combining science and the arts over time. Our insider tips combines its own bit of science and art. Check out the sculpture of Toussaint Louverture. It is made of a mysterious substance that the artist also used to waterproof his house.
Renwick Gallery: Just a few steps from the White House, the Renwick is a must-see in its own right, listed as a National Historic Landmark. Up the stairs is one of the city’s premier galleries, the Grand Salon, modeled in the French Second Empire style.
National Postal Museum: A stamp collection that can’t be beat, including the first ever U.S. government-issued stamp from 1847, is just the start of the Postal Museum. This building was designed by Daniel Burnham, the protagonist of the best-seller Devil in the White City.
National Zoo: In addition to the cuddly cuties on display, the Zoo is also launching this year’s seasonal display, ZooLights, Friday, November 23. As you wander through the animals, listen for the morning songs of the white-cheeked gibbons. They can be heard up to one mile away.
Don’t forget to download our Visitors Guide and Tours app. We’ve packed it with specialty tours, must-see exhibitions, museum floor plans and custom postcards. Get it on Google Play and in the Apple Store for just 99 cents.
June 14, 2011
I started work as an intern at Smithsonian magazine last week. My first assignment was to write a blog post on ballooning. My second was to dress myself up in designer jewelry. I think, so far, that I like this job.
The only downside is that the jewelry was of the digital variety. A new Facebook application from Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum in New York City was created in honor of the museum’s exhibition, “Set in Style: The Jewelry of Van Cleef & Arpels,” which explores 20th century jewelry design. It features about 350 breathtaking pieces of Van Cleef & Arpels jewelry, ranging from watches to tiaras. The app allows users to choose photos from their profiles and virtually add a little (or a lot) of sparkle.
The first order of business was to try the app out for myself. Now, I’m normally not a big jewelry person. I don’t like shiny. I prefer woven bracelets to diamonds and I would choose a wooden charm over one of those Tiffany & Co. hearts any day. But I’m not going to say no when someone offers to let me try on a tiara.
So I did. I (virtually) tried on the tiara (formerly of the Princess Grace of Monaco, now of Intern Julie of Smithsonian.com), a gold necklace, some diamond earrings, a ruby brooch. Let’s be honest—I tried on almost every one of the 28 pieces of jewelry offered in my digital jewelry box. (They paid me to do this!) I didn’t take an official picture wearing any of it because I suspected the app would then post it to my wall and I would have died of embarrassment.
I did, however, consider subjecting some of my friends to such ridicule, since the app allowed me to adorn their photos with some pretty ostentatious bling. I resisted, but just barely.
My second task (even though that first one was so exhausting) was to call up the Cooper-Hewitt and interview the people who came up with the idea for the app.
“There are a lot of people nationwide who have been blogging about this show. and reading the press about it, and wanting to know more, but have not been able to visit,” said Caroline Baumann, associate director of the museum. “So this is a wonderful opportunity for those people to experience the show and have a little bit of play as well.”
Jennifer Northrop, director of communications and marketing at Cooper-Hewitt, was actually the one who came up with the idea for the app. She said that as you walk through the exhibition, you immediately want to try on every piece, and she wanted to somehow find a way to allow people to do that.
“Of course there’s no way we’re going to let people try on a Van Cleef & Arpels tiara,” Northrop said. “So the next step was really, how can we do this virtually? How can we have this experience shared by tons of people?”
By the way, Northrop said the tiara was her favorite piece too, match only by her affection for a gold and ruby necklace that resembles a very glamorous and very expensive zipper.
So although my vanity is denying you what I’m sure would be a very amusing official photo of me decked out in Van Cleef & Arpels, I will leave you with an awkward screenshot, with my poor younger brother in it because I couldn’t crop him out. Do you think the tiara’s too big? I’m not worried. I’m sure I’ll grow into it.
The “Set in Style: the Jewelry of Van Cleef & Arpels” exhibition is currently open and will be at the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum through July 4.