The Museum of the Terrier has yet to be erected on the Mall. This may stand for all the glories of America that are not yet honored by buildings in our capital. To say nothing of endless groups of unsung heroes amongst us. Where, pray, is the National Museum of Pest-Control Artifacts or the Federal Collection of Clogged Drains?
You sneer. But wait till you get cockroaches, regrettably fetched in through a six-pack of 7-Up, or wait till 9 p.m. New Year's Day (bowl games) when the john fails and a plumber reels over to help you out. Then you know what heroes are.
Some will say yes, bug people and plumbers are important in our lives, but perhaps not of museum quality?
To that I say bull. What we honor and respect in our hour of need should not be forgot in our modes of public splendor, and I would gladly visit those two museums if they existed.
As for the national collection of important terriers, perhaps it should be the National Collection of Dogs, so we don't wind up with separate museums for hounds (who Lord knows deserve one), poodles, Turkish mountain dogs and so on.
There is a notion that science is the proper subject for museums, or painting. Attendance at the National Air and Space Museum exceeded 14 million visitors in 1984 and everybody thinks the world of it, there being no other place so suitable for dumping small boys visiting the capital, and then we all approve of Science.
When you get right down to it, however, you are really seeing a collection of giant Tinkertoys and you think of guys in Spitfires and the Lafayette Escadrille as you did when you were 8 and read comic books. All very well, but not really science, is it? A science museum would not be much to look at (while Air and Space is glorious to look at) since it would only contain a guy, labeled scientist, staring at a blank wall, making his brain work; a thing not terribly fine to peer at. What would docents do?
Whereas the Federal Canine Shrine would be the real thing. Around the marble rotunda would be carved (as at the Jefferson Memorial) some of the most profound things written about dogs. "Love Me, Love My Dog" -- Boethius; "Dogs Have Souls" -- Luther; "If You Would Be Loved After Death, Be Like My Sealyhams" -- Victoria; and "Down, Dammit" -- Sophocles.
A circumferential complex of galleries would surround the central space, each devoted to succeeding exhibits, "The French Hound from Clovis to DeGaulle" and "Contributions of the Labrador to Bathysphere Theory." Like that. And outdoors, tactfully separated by tasteful landscaping, would be spacious runs for lively specimens of the 150 best-known breeds of dog today.
If done as well as Air and Space, I personally guarantee an annual attendance of 43 million. If attendance figures are all that big a deal.
There is no real reason such a museum should be built from scratch. The Hirshhorn already has roughly the right shape and could be adapted. The dog museum would not even have to be all in one place, since the Hirshhorn trustees, for example, would probably want to keep a few things already installed there. So there is the spectacular open space of the lobby of the new and wonderful National Building Museum and the rotunda of the National Gallery, now largely wasted with nothing in it but that figure of Mercury and the central fountain basin ideal for water spaniels.
The trouble is that science -- Tinkertoys though science turns out to be -- is thought to be dignified and worthy, while dogs are just thought useful or cute.
When King Edward VII died in 1910 his funeral began with his coffin on the gun carriage, followed by Queen Alexandra and the royal children, chief mourners, followed by nine reigning kings (the last time such a turnout was beheld). Immediately behind the kings of the nations came Caesar, who of course was Edward's favorite terrier (fox, but then the king did not always aim for the loftiest), attended by a good steady servant. Caesar acquitted himself with great dignity, I believe, for dogs understand when gravity is called for. After the mutt came lesser personages, the Privy Council, peers of the realm, the military, etc.
I cite King Edward's funeral merely to show that the dignity of the dog has always been recognized, when the chips are really down. The dog has often taken precedence, when there is no longer any need for pretense and the secret of all hearts is revealed, over figures (such as Privy Councils and Cabinets) who commonly wear more costly costumes than the humble fur of the fox terrier.
The central focus of the rotunda should be work of powerful esthetic value in bronze, displaying the Basic Dog. It might have to be antique, since sculptors nowadays are chiefly concerned with mowing machines and grain combines, but a determined search would produce something worthy.
Some modern sculpture at the Hirshhorn itself strikes me as heartbreakingly beautiful; the only trouble is it's not dogs. I think we want something comparable to The Calf-Bearer, that great archaic marble of the guy with the calf slung round his shoulders, only a dog. In a pinch there are superb Etruscan bronzes of mythical beasts and Chinese figures of animal spirits, all of which look as much like dogs as anything else. It is more important for the thing to be supremely beautiful than for it to look exactly like Max, in other words.
Some say we have enough museums already. Seventy at last count in this city. I say we have not nearly enough, and almost all of them free -- let us never fall to the level of New York, say, where you pay upon entering. Our museum should be light and bright. I.M. Pei would suit, as architect, provided he did as well as the East Building of the National Gallery. Everything first-rate, everything flawless, full of dignity, but not ponderous. I do not think we want any Eternal Flame stuff in our Rotunda of the Faithful Paw, no. Nothing that might go out if Pepco fails, nothing of pipes and gewgaws and contrivances, but only what speaks at profoundest levels to the waiting heart of the visitor, who has come to do homage to the most ancient symbol of loyalty, faith and delight. Down, dammit, as the great poet says. Good boy, good boy, so say we all. We are talking catharsis here, to move a heart of stone. We are talking a museum that never abides updating, we are talking everlasting woofs, past any mutt's or any guy's short life.