“I’ve just been astounded by this painting,” Jerry McCoy told me the other day as we stood gazing at a canvas hanging on the wall of the Peabody Room in the Georgetown Neighborhood Library. “I get lost in the level of detail.”
The painting does not project the sort of image one normally associates with Georgetown. It is not of a tony mansion. It is not of a university’s spire or a canal’s bucolic, shaded towpath.
It shows a bunch of dirty, snarling hippies bent on mayhem: hurling bricks, dancing atop cars, torching a mailbox.
The painting depicts a real event, a rolling riot that broke out in Georgetown on Oct. 2, 1970. Jerry, the librarian who oversees the Peabody Room, was delighted to get it.
“We’ve got the 1770s and the 1870s, but not the 1970s,” he said of the comparably staid artwork that adorns the rest of the space, part of the library’s Washingtoniana collection.
The painting was a gift of Richard F. Driscoll, an art appraiser who splits his time between Washington and Palm Beach, Fla. He purchased it more than 20 years ago from the artist, Nancy Shanklin Werlich.
“She’s pictured in the painting,” Richard said by phone from Florida. “She’s on the right, pleading with a man who’s holding a brick.”
And there she is, a dark-haired woman in a turtleneck, hands raised toward a man in a red bandanna who wants to toss a hunk of sidewalk through a nearby storefront.
The store was Antiques of Georgetown, on O Street NW. Beyond that is Wisconsin Avenue and the Georgetown Theater, the marquee of which displays the evening’s featured movie: “The Only Game in Town,” starring Elizabeth Taylor.
The riot broke out after what The Washington Post called a “Yippie street party” devolved into violence. Young antiwar protesters had gathered on P Street Beach to celebrate the fact that South Vietnamese Vice President Nguyen Cao Ky had backed down from his vow to attend a pro-war “victory-in-Vietnam” rally organized by the Rev. Carl McIntire, a right-wing evangelical preacher.
The demonstrators — some carrying the flag of the communist Viet Cong — surged through Georgetown and up Wisconsin Avenue. Police later said that more than 50 windows were broken and 340 people arrested.
“I want to hear from these people,” Jerry said. Not to chide them, but to hear what that day was like. He thinks that Nancy Werlich must have taken photos of the disturbance, or made sketches. She undoubtedly was there. Many of the figures in the painting — and there are dozens — look like real people.
A hairy guy dressed in fatigues and holding a tape recorder is a dead ringer for Jerry Rubin. Front and center are a couple: a leering man holding a brick, his female companion grimly holding a Viet Cong flag.
Nancy Werlich exhibited at galleries in the Washington area. She apparently painted the Georgetown scene in 1971. She died in 2002.
I asked Richard Driscoll what prompted him to buy the painting. “I liked the color and I liked the action,” he said. As for donating it to the library, he said, “I just thought it was very important for the history of Georgetown.”
Were you part of that history? Go to the Peabody Room and see if you can find your younger self.
Speaking of art and speaking of libraries, the District is looking for someone to paint the ceiling of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library. No, not just a coat of eggshell white, but a design for the Grand Reading Room that patrons will find inspirational.
According to the library’s RFQ — request for qualifications — the work should “visually represent D.C.’s landscape and/or streetscape; create a thematic connection between the third floor Grand Reading Room and the Special Collections area on the fourth floor; complement the architects’ vision for a light-filled, quiet, relaxing space for reading and solitary study that harmonizes with Mies van der Rohe’s modernist design; distinguish the Grand Reading Room with an iconic visual feature, with the potential to increase a sense of community connection to the Library and its resources; and honor Dr. King’s legacy and love of books by enhancing spaces for lifelong learning that are welcoming and accessible to all.”
That will be quite a painting. The deadline for artists and designers to throw their palettes in the ring is Aug. 31. For more information, visit bit.ly/2h7CByp.
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly