Tag Archives: art

Where to Buy Kachina Dolls, Sandpaintings, Sealskin Thimbles, and Other Gorgeous Pieces of Native American Art

You may think that finding carefully-selected, idiosyncratic, and precious Native American art is a pleasure limited to the galleries of Santa Fe or the dusty roads outside of Flagstaff, but happily the Indian Craft Shop brings the experience to our Mid-Atlantic and metropolitan world.

The shop is a small yet jaw-droppingly comprehensive little place that has been home to contemporary Native American art since 1938.  It is located in the Interior Department building, the agency that is home to the Bureau of Indian Affairs.  It features art from approximately 45 North American tribes at one time, but draws from all 565 federally-recognized Indian tribes (the only qualification to have art selected to be sold in the store). All levels of artisans are considered for inclusion, from amateurs to professionals.  Employees of the Indian Craft Shop travel constantly, scouting out new artists to feature.

And, the selection is magnificent, even though it only takes up one room!  Ivory carvings, basketry, weaving, turquoise jewelry, bronze sculptures, almost any kinds of Indian art that you can think of with artists currently practicing are featured.  My favorite quality is that every piece is signed and dated by the artist, indicating how unique the art is.  To get a better taste of the shop’s wide range of art, check out the online store.

I was very impressed by the willingness of the staff to engage with me in details about the collection, even though I am merely an amateur fan.  If you are seeking to learn more about Indian art, also check out the book selection—a staffer bragged to me that it has every book in print related to Indian art!

Because the Indian Craft Shop is located in a federal building, it is only open during business hours during the week, and one Saturday per month.  You should also be prepared to go through security and show a photo ID.  But once you’re in the building, be sure to check out the National Park Service information center, and plan your next trip outdoors onto the public lands.  Also of interest in the building is the Interior Museum, though it’s currently closed for renovations.

To visit:  1849 C St. NW, (202) 208-4056.  Hours are M-F 8:30am- 4:30pm, and the third Saturday of the month 10am-4pm.  Closest Metro is Farragut West, or S1 bus line.

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A Worldly Brunch at the National Gallery of Art

The National Gallery of Art is decidedly not off-the-beaten-path, yet its Garden Café has a hidden treasure that is one of the most delightful and delicious food conceits in the city.  The Café features a $19.75 all-you-can-eat menu that is designed by a well-known Washington chef and inspired by the featured exhibit in the museum’s ground-floor galleries.

Currently the Garden Café reflects the “From Impressionism to Modernism: The Chester Dale Collection” exhibit, and runs until February 10th 2011.  Perhaps best of all for the amateur DC foodie is that the menu is hand-designed by Chef Michel Richard, of Central and Citronelle fame.  Previous Garden Café themes over the last few years have included Spanish by celebrated Chef Jose Andres, “Summer in Venice” featuring traditional Venetian dishes, Central American inspired by ancient Mayan recipes, and the American Café serving crab cakes and Boston cream pie.  Upcoming in mid-February is Garden Café Italia, with a menu designed by Chef Fabio Trabocchi of Fiola.

The menu of the “Garden Café Français” is an impressive array of classic French food, from Camembert and Roquefort cheeses and charcuterie to soups and salad to ratatouille and stew. Especially divine, of course, was the chocolate mousse. Although all-you-can-eat French food is a tad oxymoronic, I was certainly back for more than one plate!  I will give major points to the National Gallery of Art for its impressive set of vegetarian options, especially for such a condensed menu.

The Garden Café’s atmosphere is wonderfully charming, with dozens of skylights and a tinkling fountain displaying Herbert Adams’ sculpture Girl with Water Lilies.  It is quite fun to eat while the hubbub of the museum carries on around, and feels nearly improper to be sipping a cup of coffee and eating mousse while tourists wander aimlessly nearby!  If brunch and art history is your perfect pairing, this is the place for you.

To get there:  National Gallery of Art west wing,   (202) 712-7454.  Hours:  Hours Monday–Saturday 11:30 a.m.–2:00 p.m., Sunday noon–4:00 p.m.  NGA is right on the Mall, so accessible from various metros and bus lines.

*Correction:  an earlier version of this post incorrectly referred to the National Gallery of Art as a part of the Smithsonian Institution.  Thanks to a savvy commenter for pointing this out!

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The Woodrow Wilson House: A Proper Residence for a President

In a city as obsessed with Americana and the significance of the presidency as Washington, DC, it is surprising that it has only one museum completed dedicated to a president:  the Woodrow Wilson House, where our 28th president lived the final three years of his life (1921-1924).

A lovely mansion in between Dupont Circle and the West End, the “Washington’s only presidential museum” is both a tribute to Wilson and his accomplishments as a statesman, and a well-preserved glimpse into the private life of a family post-World War I.

The Woodrow Wilson House contains a number of rooms that remain intact as they would have been at the end of Wilson’s life, even though his wife Edith Wilson lived there for another 37 years.  Some of the best parts are artifacts in the house are from the early 1920s, such as a graphoscope with which the family recorded home videos, a large zinc sink that were apparently quite common in houses of the era, and a beautiful, gigantic stove that the house actually had to be built around!

Also of interest are state gifts and other items related to the Wilson presidency (in those days presidents could keep state gifts rather than giving them to the American public).  The home is filled with gorgeous art and meaningful artifacts, including a Gobelins tapestry from the people of France and a shell that was the first artillery fired by Allied forces in World War I.  My guide told me that 90% of the items in the house are original, and I imagine part of the reason for this serious care and attention to detail is that the house is owned and operated by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The only way to tour the house is to take a guided tour, which are not scheduled but offered on an impromptu basis.  Instructions for visiting are to ring a doorbell, and a guide adds you to an existing tour or takes you on one right then and there.  I was very impressed by the docents/tour guides and their knowledge of President Wilson, his family, and the home.  My tour guide actually asked if we could do part of the tour again because she didn’t get to go into enough detail the first time!  This personal approach to museum-ing is quite a luxury, when one is used to being part of the mass of hundreds of thousands of visitors to every Smithsonian every year!

If you are looking for a unique museum experience that will likely contain much more interesting information that you planned for, look no further than the Woodrow Wilson House.  And I will leave you with a piece of trivia to impress your friends and visitors:  Wilson is also the only president to be buried in DC, at the National Cathedral.

To visit:  2340 S Street NW, 202-387-4062, admission ~$10.  Open 10 am – 4 pm, Tuesday – Sunday.  Easy walk from Dupont Circle metro or the 42 bus line.

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Can You Keep Up With Capoeira?

For those of you not familiar with the particulars of Afro-Brazilian culture, capoeira is a martial art that combines dance, fighting, and music.  Think this esoteric activity sounds like something you wouldn’t be able to find in DC?  Think again, because your city boasts not only one capoeira studio, but at least four that I aware of.  Capoeira Angola in Petworth, Capoeira Sul da Bahia in Takoma Park, and the Universal Capoeira Angola Center on U St. are just a few of your options.   Capoeira Malês (aka the Capoeira Spot), at 7th and U St. NW, is where I began my own Brazilian adventure.

Capoeira derives from African slaves, who brought the art to Brazil at least 400 years ago and used it as a form of resistance against the Portuguese.  Even after slavery was abolished, the dance continued to be “played” and has become one of the most famous and distinctive parts of Brazilian culture.

The point of capoeira is not to inflict injury on your opponent, or even to come into contact with him or her, but to engage in a sort of conversation, where each offensive move countered with a defensive move—all in time to the drums and music.  Pairs of combatants enter a “roda,” or circle, and play capoeira together while being encouraged and cheered on by the other participants.  See this clip to get a sense of what how great capoeira is supposed to look (skip to second 45 to avoid the tacky intro).

But of course, beginners don’t start with flips and crazy moves.  Rather, my capoeira class began with introductions and stretching.  We were then taught a series of different moves such as ginga (rocking back and forth), esquiva (escape), and au (headstands).  Class consists of practicing these moves, both individually and with partners, and then participating in a small roda at the end.

Let me note that capoeira is not for the faint of heart, nor weak of limb.  You will get quite the work out—my glutes hurt for at least two days afterwards!  And don’t expect a gentle, yoga-esque welcome as a beginner, either.  My instructor was considerate and helpful, but did not shy away from constantly calling me out for having poor form or being weak.  And, perhaps this is because I never took martial arts as a kid, but the undercurrent of violence also made it a unique experience for me—for example, when my arm was not in front of my face in the appropriate way, the instructor yelled “keep your arm up or your teeth will get knocked out!”  I guess that is indeed an incentive to get the moves right!

Capoeira Malês offers DC residents a first beginner class for only $5.  Beginner I classes (trust me, you’ll want to start easy) are on Wednesday and Saturdays, and are a great opportunity to get a sense of the sport and see whether you’re made of the toughness that it takes to succeed at capoeira.  Regardless of my relative lack of success at capoeira, it is certainly worth attempting!

To get there:  636 U St. NW, intersection of Georgia and Florida Avenues.  240-606-4446.  Shaw Metro or 90s buses are the closest forms of public transportation.

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High-Brow Living at the Brewmaster’s Castle

The Brewmaster’s Castle, located in the heart of Dupont Circle, is the historic home of Christian Heurich, a German immigrant and beer baron who was one of Washington DC’s most successful 19th-century businessman and landowners.  His gorgeous home was only recently restored and opened to the public, and now is one of the most intact and original late-Victorian homes in the country.

The only way to see the Brewmaster’s Castle is by way of a tour, which are offered Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays for a suggested $5 donation.  And going with a tour is a good thing, because Mr. Heurich had a number of fascinating quirks that the guide is more than happy to divulge.  For example, he became deathly afraid of fire after two of his breweries and one of his houses burned down.  Consequently, the house is the first “fireproof” house in the city, meaning that wood is sparingly used and instead the frame of the house is made with reinforced steel and concrete.  Decorations in the ornate interior also echo this fear, such as flame-retardant curtains and intricate fireplaces that were never used.

The home has many elegant details that are sure to keep you oohing and aahing, including hand-painted ceilings, rows and rows of china, and magnificent wood furniture.  But the best is an antique Steinway that was made especially for the house and features the same inlays as the wall behind it.

The Brewmaster’s Castle came very close to not existing at all.  From 1956-2003, it functioned as the headquarters of the Washington Historical Society.  But the Society put the house up for sale, and was on the brink of selling it to a developer and restaurateur.  Coming to save the day, the Heurich family stepped in to re-purchase the house, and used cash for much of the transaction in order to ensure a quick deal.  Renovations are still continuing to this day, funded by public donations.

It is very interesting to compare the visits to Heurich’s house as compared to Hillwood Estate, Marjorie Merriweather-Post’s self-tribute and gift to DC (Heurich and Post were friends and both incredible philanthropists).  Whereas Hillwood is sweeping and full of millions of dollars worth of art and artifacts, the Brewmaster’s Castle is a more sober and realistic peak into how a family—albeit a very wealthy one—actual lived in our city 100 years ago.

To visit:  1307 New Hampshire Ave. NW.  202-429-1894.  Five minutes from the South Dupont Metro stop, and off the 42 and L2 buslines.  Easy!

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Hanging Out Up on 14th at The Highlands Café and Grill

The Highlands Café in Petworth (not to be confused with Highland Origin Coffee in Silver Spring) is a charming neighborhood spot that is unassuming on the outside and colorfully artsy on the inside.  Located on 14th Street between Crittenden and Decatur, this is one of “it” spots in the 14th Street Heights neighborhood.  Didn’t know that there was a 14th Street Heights district in DC?  Neither did I, so that’s another good reason to go up there and hit some of the other local staples along the way—Districto Federal, the Red Derby, etc.

The most memorable quirk about this coffee shop/restaurant/bar is its long mural on the southern wall, depicting the life-cycle of coffee from the berry-picking to the barista-ing to its enjoyment by friends.  Along with its mainstay beverage The Highlands also boasts brunch and dinner menus that seem a bit ambitious for such a small place, but the results are great—hearty, Southern-style meals with a smattering of vegetarian options.  I was a fan of the towering smoothies!

According to the mission on its website, The Highlands is trying very hard to not just be another relatively funky coffee shop in our city, but a place where patrons can interact with management and feel ownership over the location.  I can only speak to my Saturday afternoon visit, but I was very impressed with the variety of clientele, from older men reading newspapers to young Millenials rubbing the sleep out of their eyes, but the best thing is that they all clearly were residents of the neighborhood.  In my opinion, this kind of community-oriented local watering hole is just what DC needs more of!

To visit:  4706 14th St. NW, 202-829-6200.  Moderate walk from Petworth or Columbia Heights Metros, or the 52 and 54 buses will drop you outside the door.

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Feeling Hoi Polloi at the Hillwood Estate

The best way to describe the feeling and demeanor of the Hillwood Estate, Musuem, and Gardens (motto: “where fabulous lives”) is that it is home to a Fabergé egg, a gigantic original portrait of Catherine the Great, and multimillions of dollars of Russian porcelain.  That’ll put you in your place, won’t it?!

Hillwood, one of the many homes of famed D.C. philanthropist Marjorie Merriweather Post, is fantastic.  It is made up of an art-filled mansion and dozens of small and finely pruned gardens, and  Post spent the final 20 years of her life adding to its collections.  Heiress to and head of the Postum/General Foods Corporation, Post purchased Hillwood in 1955 and from the beginning envisioned it as the perfect setting for her extensive art collection.  She always planned on turning the collection over to the public, in the vein of her contemporaries Isabella Stewart Gardner and Henry Frick.

The mansion is the heart of the art collection, filled with mostly 18th century French and Russian Imperial art arranged in about ten different rooms.  Two of the most stunning rooms are the English library and the dining room, featuring gorgeous portraits of Post and her family, antiques, and lace table settings and crystal glassware.  I also loved the kitchen, which is frozen in time around 1955—as a food maven, Post had all of the newest gadgets like a large freezers for frozen foods that had just come on the scene.  The bedroom suites are also stunning, and Post’s bedroom displays a number of her gowns, shoes, and jewelry.

Outside the mansion, the work of the full-time horticultural staff easily stands out.  The grounds include large vegetable and flower plots, roses, a Japanese garden, and a pet cemetery.  A greenhouse filled with orchids at various stages in their growing processes is also well attended to.  Also located on the estate are a “dacha” (Russian country house) and the Adirondack building, both of which house traveling art collections but were closed to the public when I visited.

I would highly suggest visiting Hillwood for afternoon tea, served from 3:30-5:30 every day for $14 per guest.  During summer months, you have your choice of iced or hot tea, as well as an arrangement of tiny and delicious cakes and sandwiches.

Exploring Marjorie Merriweather Post’s world through Hillwood is a wonderful way to spend an afternoon.  She truly was a maven of art, style, and philanthropy, and left quite the gift to our city.

To visit:  4155 Linnean Ave NW, a short walk from the Van Ness-UDC Metro.  Open Tuesdays-Saturdays and some Sundays, 10am-5pm.  202-686-5807.

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