The core of monumental Washington is on the Mall, but museum-quality sculptures — from the traditional to the whimsical — are all over this town. What’s special is to find both styles in the same spot. Take the two-acre courtyard framed by the E. Barrett Prettyman U.S. Courthouse and the Canadian Embassy on Pennsylvania Avenue at Fourth Street NW.
There’s a grassy field for playing ball or enjoying a picnic — and a cool art mash-up. A striking bronze statue of former Chief Justice John Marshall towers over the area. The site, John Marshall Park, is named for the nation’s longest-serving chief justice (1801 to 1835) and sits where a boardinghouse once stood. Marshall and his colleagues wrote their decisions there. Viewers of Netflix’s “House of Cards” will recognize his dignified pose from the opening credits.
“This park is a nice oasis,” Ryan Chandler said as he ate a sandwich at lunchtime. He looked across the space at a sculpture of two men dressed in three-piece suits and playing chess. “Those guys are adversaries across the chessboard just like the lawyers here,” he said, gesturing toward the federal court, where federal grand juries meet and where special counsel Robert Mueller is at work.
Jemie Fofanah, who also works in the courthouse, sat with associates on the same stone wall as the chess-playing figures. “I’ve seen a scarf on them,” she said with a laugh. “People dress them up.” “The Chess Players” is the 1983 creation of sculptor Lloyd Lillie.
Outside the entrance to the Canadian Embassy sits the whimsical 20-foot black canoe, “The Spirit of Haida Gwaii.” Heather and Ron Legge, visiting from near Ottawa, admired the vessel and its passengers. Created by Bill Reid, the gigantic bronze sculpture overflows with a motley crew of human, animal and mythological creatures. “They’re the symbols you’d normally see on a totem pole. They represent equality among all,” Ron Legge said.
After taking in the sculptures, visitors have plenty of dining options. The National Gallery of Art’s Cascade or Terrace cafes are across Pennsylvania. Or walk west on Pennsylvania toward Penn Quarter and Chinatown.