The last time I saw Lily Spandorf, she was sitting in the White House vestibule with her usual artist's rig, painting quietly while a party went on in the East Room.
I later learned the freelance artist had stayed long after the guests departed to finish that year's drawings of the White House's Christmas decorations. The White House holiday paintings were often bought by collectors and publications like the Georgetowner, The Washington Post, National Geographic and the old Washington Evening Star.
Spandorf was more often seen on Washington street corners with her watercolors, gouache and ink -- usually painting buildings about to be torn down. "By and by it dawned on me what was happening in this city," she once said, "how many scenes I thought were attractive were disappearing."
That was when she decided that "I won't sell these one by one anymore. Eventually these will be an interesting collection."
Just before her death in April 2000, she arranged for the sale of the "Washington Never More" collection to the Historical Society of Washington, D.C. In years to come, it likely will hang in the new City Museum, scheduled to open in 2003.
Now, at last, 155 of her works are being spotlighted at Strathmore Hall Arts Center. The exhibit covers nearly 40 years and is on view through Nov. 3.
Publisher Austin Kiplinger, whose father bought a Spandorf painting of the Cosmos Club, collected her works and exhibited them in his galleries.
The Kiplinger Foundation has generously supported the Strathmore Hall exhibition. In the preface to the 158 pages of small photographs and large paintings in "Lily Spandorf's Washington Never More," by Mark G. Griffin and Ellen M. McCloskey, Kiplinger wrote: "As an artist, Lily had the great quality of being recognized, the delicacy of her brush translating her visions through shades of light and line."
The Strathmore exhibit is the first public showing in 13 years. Works on display include "My Old Corner, Looking South on 20th St., Connecticut Avenue and the Dupont Circle Underpass, from Hillyer Place, NW" and "Music Store, 12th & G Streets, NW." In the main hall is "Old Botanic Gardens Office With Capitol in the Background." Photographs of the old buildings are contrasted with cityscapes painted with watercolor or gouache. "Houses are like people," Spandorf said, "they have faces, they have personality."
She was born in 1914 in Vienna, a city of art -- as I well remember in our three years there. I bought seemingly every art deco object that didn't cost more than $10.
She moved here in 1960 and set herself up in a Dupont Circle apartment. Soon after, she was a recognizable figure on Washington's streets, capturing city life with brush and pen. Those of us who are often fussed at for looking at buildings instead of watching the road ahead understand why many of her friends would keep an eye out for interesting subjects for Spandorf to draw.
Art critic David Tannous said of her: "Lily didn't simply make her home in the city, rather she made the whole city her home."
Her work, which also includes commissioned pictures of U.S. presidents, members of Congress and foreign heads of states, was exhibited not only in Washington but also in New York and Europe. One year, the U.S. Postal Service published a stamp showing her "National Christmas Tree."
Strathmore Hall Arts Center is located at 10701 Rockville Pike (Route 355) in north Bethesda. Hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday; 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Wednesday; and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday. Admission is free. For more information, call 301-530-0540.