For nearly 50 years, Rochester, N.Y.-based metalsmith Albert Paley has been making iron ripple like water and drape like cloth, and he’s put these sinuous shapes to work in jewelry, furniture and towering sculptures. “American Metal,” a retrospective of his career, is the Corcoran Gallery of Art’s second-to-last show before George Washington University and the National Gallery of Art take over. See 75 of his works, including drawings and models of his large-scale pieces, while you can — or go on this scavenger hunt to find the many Paley pieces that enliven D.C.
701 Ninth St. NW
Look for: Verses by D.C.’s poet laureate, Dolores Kendrick, stamped into the skin of the sculpture.
Paley says: “She actually came up to Rochester to visit our studio and wrote the poem about that experience.”
On exhibit: A metal model and a drawing of the sculpture.
National Harbor, Md.
Look for: The American spirit, which is what National Harbor developers asked Paley to capture through this sculpture.
Paley says: “It’s an optimistic piece, with vibrant colors extending into the sky.”
On exhibit: Several models of the sculpture.
National Harbor, Md.
Look for: Some very large fish to toss their way. Each stainless steel behemoth weighs 4,500 pounds.
Paley says: “The eagles gesture at one another and look out at the Potomac toward the national monuments.”
On exhibit: A metal model of the sculptures.
‘The Portal Gates’
Corcoran Gallery of Art, 500 17th St. NW
Look for: Subtle asymmetry. Paley and his assistants forged the piece by hand.
Paley says: “They were originally security gates for the Renwick Gallery gift shop.”
On exhibit: The actual gates.
‘Good Shepherd Gate’
Washington National Cathedral, 3101 Wisconsin Ave. NW
Look for: Matching window grates high above the gate.
Paley says: “There are layers of symbolism in the gate, taken from the 23rd Psalm. The ‘Good Shepherd’ obviously being Christ, and the gate being a metaphor for going through Christ. There is a shepherd’s crook and plants which are symbols of regeneration.”
On exhibit: A metal model and drawings of the gate.
Washington Hebrew Congregation, 3935 Macomb St. NW
Look for: Matching flower urns and sanctuary lights.
Paley says: “The congregation is quite large, so they wanted something that had a big presence. So we did two menorahs, and they are about six feet high.”
The Willard Building, 1455 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
Look for: Door handles at the entrance that echo the circular forms in the sculpture.
Paley says: “It’s in the main elevator area, so for people waiting there it becomes a public area rather than just a dead-end canyon.”
Tree grates and benches
Pennsylvania Avenue NW between the U.S. Capitol and the Treasury Building
Look for: The few remaining benches and dozen or so remaining grates. Almost all of the 800 tree-grates and 30 benches Paley made in 1981 have since been removed due to tree growth or to make way for anti-terrorism measures.
Paley says: “The tree-grates have concentric rings that you can break away as the tree grows.”
3251 Prospect St. NW
Look for: A place to sit. The bench that originally circled the clock’s base was later removed. The clock is now enclosed by Cafe Milano’s low brick wall.
Paley says: “I forgot about that clock! It was the only clock I ever made.”
Fountain, push plates and other metal fixtures
Clyde’s of Tysons Corner, 8332 Leesburg Pike, Vienna
Look for: The bronze push plates on the revolving doors. They are so snazzy, the Metropolitan Museum of Art acquired one for its design collection.
Paley says: “I get a call from [Clyde’s co-founder] Stuart Davidson, and he says, ‘You the guy who does metalwork? I’m developing a hamburger joint in Washington. I’d like you to do something for me.’ I said, ‘I don’t know if I want to do something for a hamburger joint,’ and he says, ‘Well, it’s kind of a high-end hamburger joint.’ ”
Photos courtesy Paley Studios Archives, unless noted.
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