The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The Textile Museum’s new George Washington University home unites historic fabric and D.C. history

The Textile Museum’s new space sports a spiral staircase. (William Atkins/George Washington University)
Placeholder while article actions load

Once upon a time, in a small building on S Street NW, there lived a museum that sounded boring but wasn’t. The Textile Museum — closed since 2013, reopening Saturday in a brand-new location on the George Washington University campus — was one of D.C.’s little secrets. Its scope was both specific (cloth) and broad (from anywhere in the world, from any time in history), making it a reliably appealing stop for those interested in art, history and culture, and uninterested in fighting school groups.

In 2011, the Textile Museum merged with the George Washington University Museum. Its collection now shares a 53,000-square-foot complex with the Albert H. Small Washingtoniana collection — maps, letters and drawings documenting D.C.’s history — plus research space and a gift shop.

“The core mission of the Textile Museum continues,” museum director John Wetenhall says. “But it’s become wider and more generous. The galleries are more than twice as large as they were, and we have included far more context and interactivity.”

At its new space, the Textile Museum can offer four times as many programs, including Family Saturday programs once a week instead of once a month. The combined museums hold three exhibits. One, the Textile Museum’s biggest ever, is cloth-centric; the other two draw from the Small collection.

The little museum that could is now part of a big museum that will.

George Washington University Museum and Textile Museum, 701 21st St. NW; Mon., Wed., Thu., Fri., 11:30 a.m.-6:30 p.m., Sat. 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Sun. 1-5 p.m., $8; 202-994-5200.

Textiles and D.C. history, newly entwined

‘Unraveling Identity: Our Textiles, Our Stories’
Through Aug. 24

This exhibit spans 2,000 years and five continents to show how fabrics represent cultural, political and individual identity. (Above is the hat worn by a Chinese civil official in the late 1800s or early 1900s.) The higher ceilings allow the museum to display larger works, such as an 18th-century9- by 19-foot Indian carpet. It’s not all ancient history: The exhibit also includes Mark Newport’s 2010 work “Batman 2,” a knitted version of the Batsuit.

‘Seat of Empire: Planning Washington, 1790-1801’
Through Oct. 15

In this show, drawn from the Small collection, images and maps (the one above is from 1793) explain how D.C. became one of the earliest examples of urban planning. Instead of growing organically, D.C. was laid out systematically by men who couldn’t imagine how an address that appeared four times in one city would confuse future tourists.

‘The Civil War and the Making of Modern Washington’
Through Oct. 15

Maps, drawings and other documents from the Small collection (the above rendering depicts D.C., circa 1852) show the impact the Civil War had on the District’s development as a city. Barracks and hospitals were hastily constructed for soldiers during the war; the building boom continued into the Reconstruction Era as hotels, markets and other structures sprung up to serve an increasing civilian population.

More from Express:

‘A Grizzly in the Mail’ exposes the truth behind American tales

Try singing the National Anthem right, for a change

Six museums you’ve never heard of have big plans for D.C.