Renwick Gallery

The American Art Museum’s kooky cousin

October 11, 2012

“Game Fish” by Larry Fuente will put Dad’s trophies to shame.

A branch of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Renwick is devoted to crafts and decorative arts objects — stuff that’s theoretically useful and made of fiber, wood, metal, clay or glass.

For example, while you probably shouldn’t drink from “Crazy Quilt Silhouette Wizard Teapot,” you could. Picture a Macy’s housewares department run by Hieronymus Bosch and Grandma Moses and you have the right idea.

Wendell Castle’s 1985 “Ghost Clock” looks like a grandfather clock with a bedsheet thrown over it — the whole thing’s actually carved from a single block of mahogany. Karen LaMonte’s glass “Reclining Dress Impression with Drapery” could be the clothing of a Greek goddess. The Grand Salon has paintings from the Renwick’s parent museum; they’re hung “salon-style,” which means crowded together.

Renwick Gallery, 1661 Pennsylvania Ave. NW; daily, 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m., free; 202-357-1445. (Farragut West)

Did You Know?

›› The Renwick Gallery started life as the Corcoran Gallery, D.C.’s first art museum, founded by financier William Corcoran. The Corcoran collection moved out in 1897 and now resides two blocks south (500 17th St. NW).

›› In 1871, Corcoran hosted a magnificent ball in the Grand Salon to raise money for the Washington Monument. There was one hitch: The decorators hung canary cages too close to the gas jets lighting the room, and the birds died.

›› Canaries as decorations were all the rage in the 1870s: The birds were present at Ulysses S. Grant’s 1873 inaugural ball, held in an outdoor pavilion at Judiciary Square. They froze to death.

›› Corcoran introduced nude art to D.C. at his 1851 Christmas party. Hiram Powers’ “The Greek Slave,” a statue of a shackled, naked woman, shocked guests. When the Corcoran Gallery opened in 1874, the sculpture was still scandalous. He happily put it on view.

Learn More! Explore D.C., a free iPhone app from The Washington Post, is a guide to the city’s attractions, big and small. Download it today from the App Store.

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Kristen Page-Kirby · October 11, 2012