THE NATIONAL Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution is celebrating its centennial with a complete makeover of its matchless museum.
The DAR's showcase has been rethought as well as remodeled. Once a mishmash of members' mementos, the museum in recent years has matured into a respected center for the preservation and study of early American artifacts. Now it has a bright new hall that retains all its old virtues while opening broad new spaces for display of the DAR's world-class collection of quilts and bed coverings.
The opening exhibition recapitulates the museum's growth from a hatful of George Washington mourning lockets, Lafayette's Masonic ring and Dolley Madison's earrings. Now the collection embraces everything from Paul Revere silver to tools and toys and household furnishings that show the way we worked and played and were.
Nineteenth-century toy marbles catch the light here, a 1700 silver porringer gleams there, and yonder glisten whiskey bottles such as comforted many a patriot through the bitter cold nights at Valley Forge. Accenting them is the sly gleam of an 1830 Amish wedding bonnet: Supposedly somber black, its sensuous silk once cupped and flattered the face of a Pennsylvania bride.
Noah Newton's handcarved and well-worn wooden double-six domino set summons up the long stretches of tedium enlivened by intervals of terror that was the life of the New England whaler; Ann West's intricate 1787 sampler testifies to the skill and the hopes of a 13-year-old Philadelphia girl.
While the museum's viewpoint remains relatively narrow -- you wouldn't know from this show that there ever were any but white people in America -- the tight focus is consistent with that of its mother institution. The important thing is the museum's steadily increasing depth.
A CENTURY OF COLLECTING: The DAR Museum at 100 Years -- Through April 22 at 1776 D Street NW. 202/879-3254. Open 8:30 to 4 Monday through Friday and 1 to 5 Sundays. Metro: Farragut West. Call ahead for information on elevator wheelchair access.