The Renwick Gallery
By Kenneth R. Trapp
This essay by Kenneth R. Trapp, head of the Renwick Gallery, is excerpted from Skilled Work: American Craft in the Renwick Gallery, which was published earlier this year to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the opening of the Renwick Gallery in Washington, DC.
A visitor to the nation’s capital strolling along oPennsylvania Avenue and pausing to inspect the facade of the handsome French Second-Empire building at the corner of 17th Street sees high above its entrance the simple words, “Dedicated to Art.” Quite reasonably, the stroller assumes that this structure houses an old museum.
Rick Dillingham, Gas Can , glazed earthenware, 19 x 16 1/2 x 3 3/8, gift of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Luria and Trudy Luria Fleisher from the collection of and memory of Michael Stephen Luria.
In truth, the Renwick Gallery is a mere youth among American art museums. Although the building that is its home was designed in 1858 to be Washington’s first art museum—the original Corcoran Gallery of Art—the vicissitudes of civil war, the fickleness of personal fortune, the utilitarian needs of government, and later the ravages of long neglect conspired to mock the dedicatory words. The Renwick Gallery, now occupying the elegantly restored building that once also housed the U.S. Court of Claims, celebrated its 25th anniversary in 1997 an appropriate time to reflect on the path it has traveled since being established.
The Renwick Gallery is actually three entities in one. First, it is a curatorial department within the National Museum of American Art. Because the Renwick Gallery is physically separated from its parent institution by nine city blocks, the public tends to perceive it as an independent museum. Second, the Renwick functions as a museum that collects, exhibits, studies, and preserves the finest work in American craft and design. Third, the Renwick is housed in a historic building that is maintained as an architectural landmark.
Featured in December 1998