A department of the Smithsonian American Art Museum (though located nowhere near it), the Renwick Gallery is a showcase for American creativity in crafts and decorative arts, housed in a historic mid-1800s landmark building of the French Second Empire style. It's located on the same block as the White House, just across Pennsylvania Avenue. The original home of the Corcoran Gallery (which now lies a short walk away, down 17th Street), it was saved from demolition by First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy in 1963, when she recommended that it be renovated as part of the Lafayette Square restoration. In 1965, it became part of the Smithsonian and was renamed for its architect, James W. Renwick, Jr., who also designed the Smithsonian Castle.
On view on the first floor are temporary exhibits of American crafts and decorative arts. On the second floor, the museum's rich and diverse displays boast changing crafts exhibits and contemporary works from the museum's permanent collection, such as Larry Fuente's Game Fish or Wendell Castle's Ghost Clock. Also on the second floor is the Victorian Grand Salon, styled in 19th-century opulence and worth a visit on its own merits: Its 40-foot-high laylight (a skylight unexposed to the outside) and its wainscoted rose walls covered in framed paintings evoke a 19th-century picture gallery. Tour the entire gallery for about an hour, rest for a minute, and then go on to your next destination.
The Renwick offers a comprehensive schedule of crafts demonstrations, lectures, and musical performances. Also check out the museum shop near the entrance for books on crafts, design, and decorative arts, as well as craft items, many of them for children. Note: The main branch of the Smithsonian American Art Museum (below) is located at 8th and F streets NW, in the Penn Quarter neighborhood.
- © Frommer's 2013
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- Recommended 2009