During the eight years I lived in Washington, DC, I grew to think of many of that city’s museums and galleries as second homes, including those that actually expect admission fees. I would join some of the admission-charging private museums in alternate years — the Corcoran Gallery, for example, or the Phillips Collection — and blend them in with the no-fee-charging institutions. I thrilled in the availability of world-class art and cultural artifacts on a whim for moments between meetings in government offices, or for a few hours of serious escape. Ah, the many locales associated with the Smithsonian Institution and ah, the National Gallery of Art. And while corners of favor and particular interests abound (a Katharine Hepburn portrait at the National Portrait Gallery or the Matisse room at the National Gallery’s East Wing for example), I grew to love in particular, with a free wheeling abandon, the eclectic and now remodeled National Museum of American History. [http://americanhistory.si.edu/] Frequent repeat visits to favorite objects over the eight years I lived in this fine American city.
The museum that some have described as “America’s attic” captures a vast array of objects. From the web site cited we find this text:
The Museum collects and preserves more than 3 million artifacts—all true national treasures. We take care of everything from the original Star-Spangled Banner and Abraham Lincoln’s top hat to Dizzy Gillespie’s angled trumpet and Dorothy’s ruby slippers from “The Wizard of Oz.” Our collections form a fascinating mosaic of American life and comprise the greatest single collection of American history.
When this particular museum was reopened in 2008 after a several year shut down for its most recent refurbishing, the New York Times’ coverage reminded us of the organization’s nickname — “America’s Attic”. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/21/arts/design/21hist.html
I spent time this week in the 2nd floor offices of the Shubert Archive in the Lyceum Theatre at 149 W 45th Street. Archive Director Maryann Chach similarly describes her resources as “the attic or the garage for the organization”, a repository of both first and last resort, a place of repose for the essential detritus and effluvia of the business and artistic visions of her “country”, the culture she works for, the work and productions and buildings related to the theatre-producing Shubert brothers’ legacy. [For even more about the Shubert legacy refer to the lusciously illustrated The Shuberts Present: 100 Years of American Theater published in 2001 by Harry N. Abrams.]
And unless anyone might conclude that I have wandered too far from my Judy Garland loving roots, note that one of the four full-time staff members did his dissertation on the performance history of Baum’s Oz (the original story). And quite sweetly, the original American Judy Garland Club president, Albert Poland, is represented in the Archive’s resources with papers from his general theatrical management career. From the Archive’s web site http://www.shubertarchive.org/ this general description:
“The Archive is the repository of significant collections of papers from contemporary general managers, including Albert Poland, Marvin Krauss, and Gatchell and Neufeld.”
That last bit was a surprise to me. Garland touched many during her life time and legions more now years after her passing. It never fails to stun me. Presents when I least expect them.
© Martha Wade Steketee (September 24, 2010)