Saturday was a day made for being outside, not for being in museums.
But the fourth annual Dupont-Kalorama Museum Walk, a free tour of seven area museums held on the first Saturday in June, drew close to 2,000 people (up from the first year's 300), trooping excitedly from place to place. Usually, the small museums -- the Phillips Collection, the Textile Museum, the Woodrow Wilson House, Anderson House, Columbia Historical Society, Barney Studio House and Fondo del Sol Visual Arts and Media Center -- charge admission to help support themselves. But once a year they open their doors to Washingtonians to elevate their "off-the-Mall" status, providing a day of special events, music, lectures and food.
The walk was also a lesson in neighborhoods as the populace slowed down the usual daily pace, strolled the streets, admired the architecture and actually talked to one another. Most observed that they had never known these intimate places existed, drawn as many are to the heavyweights on the Mall.
The Textile, with its lily ponds and stately columns, is a much-ignored treasure. Offerings range from American Indian baskets and rugs to thick Russian tapestries to African tie-dyes. The Textile set up most displays outside in the garden, with artisans demonstrating their trades. Newly naked sheep grazed happily in the warm sun with their shorn wool coats in a pile nearby. "I guess it's a relief for them," said the shearer as she explained the process to crowds gathered.
Next door, at the elegant Woodrow Wilson House, people walked through the 28th president's final home, admiring the wide doors, formal staircase and book-laden library. On display: memorabilia of the cerebral leader, including a set of his preppy clothes (white pants, blue blazer, white sneakers, a boater and a thick tennis racket) and an autographed baseball from Britain's King George V. The grace of Wilson's time was evoked as the music of a jazz band wafted in through the open glass doors.
The Phillips, best known of the museums, is equally elegant, a lyrical place that looks like what it was: the home of a person of impeccable taste, with works by Monet, Ce'zanne, Sisley and Degas scattered on the walls. Tired walkers seemed to linger here longer, placidly gazing at the impossible-to-hate art.
The noisy, cramped Fondo del Sol seems like a college group house, in sharp contrast to the spacious Phillips. On display were African-like oils with bright colors, bold new watercolors, brooding black-and-white pencil sketches of men entwined, and an enormous vodka bottle made of wood.
Around the corner, the imposing European-style Anderson House and the Victorian Columbia Historical Society were more interesting as buildings. The marble "great house" aura of the Anderson mansion, which houses relics of the American Revolution, speaks of wealth and old-world class. The Columbia, repository of documents about the federal city, is an example of early 20th-century modernity with its spires, turrets and technological innovations.
Finally, on Sheridan Circle, the dark and creepy home of turn-of-the-century arts patron Alice Pike Barney was full of people and light. All the museums on the tour were former residences, and going into this one, with its heavy oriental rugs, knobbed chairs and even an old Louis Vuitton steamer trunk with a "Wardman Park Hotel -- Washington, D.C." sticker on it, was like visiting a rich old aunt's home. Art, including her own, hangs on all the walls in all different styles and frames, collected over the years by the always-traveling Barney. In this iconoclastic atmosphere, it's easy to hear the blunt Barney saying, as she did in 1902, "What is capital life after all? Small talk and lots to eat, an infinite series of teas and dinners. Art? There is none."
With all due respect to the imperious Alice, for one day, at least, she was wrong.
As promised, more outdoor concerts worth the heat, thundershowers and cicadas:
The big-band concert series starts at the Sylvan Theater (on the Washington Monument grounds) on Wednesday at 8 p.m. with Buddy Mautino's Orchestra. Call 485-9660 for info.
Sunday is the first of the "Concerts on the Canal," a biweekly performance at the Foundry Mall in Georgetown. Up this week from 1:30 to 4 p.m., jazz and Irish song and dance with the Lisa Rich Quartet and Irish Breakdown. Call 862-1300.
Also on Sunday at the Anacostia Museum from 12:30 to 4 p.m., the Charlin Jazz Society Ensemble and other singers, rappers and dancers will perform at Anacostia Museum Family Day. Call 287-3369 for information.