It was not an especially ceremonial installation.

Red Grooms' whimsical sculpture "Way Down East," an homage to the early days of film, was installed Thursday in a plaza outside the National Museum of American History's mall entrance. A cloudless, summery day kept the mall-bound crowds from noticing workers assembling the colorful five-piece, painted bronze -- part diorama, part stage set. The Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service, which will take the show around the country, borrowed the sculpture from the University of Northern Kentucky for "Hollywood: Legend and Reality," opening April 17 at the history museum.

Grooms' work is "the signature piece for the exhibition," says coordinator Betty Teller. It's also difficult to miss: "Way Down East" is 6 feet tall, 18 feet wide and 12 feet deep.

Though the sculpture has never been seen in Washington, the maquette for it was displayed in 1982 at the Hirshhorn's "Red Grooms From the Museum's Collection."

Few will miss the sculptor's reference to cinematic history. "Way Down East" depicts director D.W. Griffith theatrically shouting commands through a megaphone to actress Lillian Gish, while cameraman Billy Bitzer films a scene for the 1920 movie "Way Down East." All of this occurs on moving ice floes in the middle of the Connecticut River -- when stunt doubles were unknown.

"That's what happens to a great director," remarked one bystander at the installation. "They die and then they're encased in metal."

The sculpture scene itself could have been part of someone's movie. At the installation, a number of Smithsonian employes repeated an anecdote -- considered apocryphal by some -- about the scene upon which Grooms based the work. While filming, the story goes, Gish's hair froze to the ice as she crouched on her hands and knees, the ice floe moving ever closer to a series of rapids.

There are a few complications with the sculpture, says Teller. A wasp's nest was once discovered inside Griffith's megaphone. She has attempted to forestall such a possibility here by requesting that museum staff occasionally spray insecticide on and around the sculpture.

The show closes June 15.

Coins on Calder's Clouds

Alexander Calder's sculpture "Mountains and Clouds," the mobile portion of which is now hanging from the ceiling of the Hart Senate Office Building, is the target of something more than wasps. Humans are hurling paper projectiles and coins onto the aluminum clouds.

"I guess that it attracts some of the passersby from the upper floors, who do what people do when they see something like a fountain: They throw coins in it," says George White, architect of the Capitol.

The area below the sculpture, where the mountains will be one day, is still surrounded by a plywood fence, inaccessible to the public. White says he thinks the offenders will cease their assaults when the stabile mountains are installed in "late spring or early summer." White points out that now, "if they miss, they know it's not going to fall on anybody."

White's sense of artistic integrity remains unoffended. "After all, Calder's sculptures were playful, so it's a tribute to him," he says.

Collaboration Considered

Tonight at the Corcoran's Hammer Auditorium, a group of artists and curators will collaborate on a panel discussion, "Crossover: The Contemporary Artist Opts for Collaboration." The event, which is free, is sponsored by Pyramid Prints and Paperworks Inc., a Baltimore-based nonprofit arts organization that leases spaces to artists working with paper, prints and book art. Panelists are Ruth Fine of the National Gallery of Art; Kevin Osborn of Pyramid Paperworks; Don Saff of Graphicstudio, Tampa, Fla.; Claire Van Vliet of Vermont's Janus Press; Paul Wong of Dieu Donne Press and Paper Inc.; and Charles Hilger of the Art Museum of Santa Cruz County, Calif. Pyramid is gearing up for a national show of works on paper and book art scheduled for September at Prince George's Community College in Largo, Md. For information, call 686-9484.

Monthly Arts Guide

The Wolf Trap Foundation is giving a boost to the Washington arts scene, and to its own busy summer program, with the publication of a pullout supplement to Horizon, a monthly arts magazine. The supplement is called "Presentations," and features articles and calendars drawing attention to the Washington arts scene . . . With the help of a $10,000 grant from the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, Dance Place has commissioned a free summer dance series designed to introduce the surrounding Brookland neighborhood to Dance Place, and the rest of Washington to Dance Place's new quarters.