The Renwick Gallery, home to the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s craft and decorative arts program, will reopen on Friday, Nov. 13, following a comprehensive two-year renovation, the museum announced April 20.
The reopening will be celebrated with various free public programs throughout the Nov. 13 weekend:
- After a ribbon-cutting ceremony on the morning of Nov. 13, the Renwick will hold a free open house for the public to explore the galleries, meet curators, and take tours led by museum docents.
- That evening, the Renwick’s do-it-yourself program, “Handi-hour,” returns to the Gallery, which will remain open after hours for “all you can craft,” craft beer, live music and special guest artists.
- On Saturday, Nov. 14, the Renwick will offer a free family festival with craft activities, artist demonstrations, musical performances and special museum tours.
The debut exhibition, “Wonder,” will fill all public galleries with new room-size installations by nine artists: Maya Lin, who designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial; Leo Villareal, who created the “Multiverse” light structure for National Gallery’s underground walkway; Jennifer Angus; Chakaia Booker; Gabriel Dawe; Tara Donovan; Patrick Dougherty; Janet Echelman, and John Grade.
“Wonder” is a fitting term for the fascinating history of the building (click here for slideshow):
This is the first comprehensive renovation in more than 45 years to the 1859 National Historic Landmark Building — the first structure in America created expressly as an art museum. The French Second Empire building was designed by architect James Renwick Jr., who also designed the Smithsonian’s first building, the “Castle”, and St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City.
The Renwick, diagonally across from the White House, was built to house the art collection of banker William Wilson Corcoran. But the Civil War began, and the building was used for offices of Union Quartermaster General Montgomery C. Meigs, according to “A Guide to Smithsonian Architecture” (Smithsonian Books) by Heather Ewing and Amy Ballard. The building finally opened as a museum in 1874, and served that purpose until 1897, when Corcoran’s collection outgrew the space. The government took it over again for the U.S. Court of Claims.
But by the 1950s, the building had become so shabby that “The New York Times” called it “a convention hall for pigeons.” It was slated for demolition in 1962, but First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy saved it as part of her plan to preserve Lafayette Square and the area surrounding the White House, “A Guide to Smithsonian Architecture” noted.
The gallery became part of the Smithsonian in 1965, was renovated in 1969, and in 1972, the Renwick became home to the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s crafts and decorative arts program, returning the historic structure to its original purpose as an art museum.
With its latest renovation, the museum is again “Dedicated to Art,” written in stone above the front door.