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Last year, I had an opportunity to see the newest Smithsonian museum – the National Museum of African American History and Culture as an emerging jewel in Washington DC (see First Look – National Museum of African American History & Culture – 5* Pix). Fast forward a year, and the museum has opened to great fanfare and acclaim. Over the Thanksgiving holiday, I visited the museum, and wanted to share with you the excitement and beauty from the inside.
I should warn you – if you go, set aside more than one day. It is a huge undertaking, and you will only be able to do it justice if you take the time it deserves. Also, these are only glimpses (my images are from the level celebrating culture, and one level of “the Journey Toward Freedom”) into the small portion of the collection that is currently on display. And lastly, expect a crowd – to date, over 600,000 persons have visited in the three months since opening, and the daily reserved tickets are no longer available through the end of March.
- Chuck Berry’s Red Cadillac Eldorado: It’s breathtakingly beautiful. As you turn from the rotunda on the top floor Culture Gallery into the area that celebrates our musical history, one of the first things you see is the vibrant red 1973 Cadillac Eldorado that Chuck Berry drove onstage for a 1987 documentary on rock music. Just the fact that it is there in its entirety and full red glory makes it a statement piece, a “capstone” to the museums holding on display in this gallery.
- Anne Cole Lowe – Haute Coture Designer: Who knew that the woman who designed Jacqueline Kennedy’s wedding dress when she married John F. Kennedy was black? I certainly didn’t. Anne Cole Lowe was almost a brief footnote to that event — Mrs. Kennedy was said to have described her dress as being made by “a colored dressmaker”, and only the Washington Post mentioned her by name, with the simple statement “the dress was designed by a Negro, Anne Lowe” (Source: Huffington Post, Feb, 5, 2013). Yeah – all this was news to me too. The woman who designed the dress shown in this image was a phenomenal, but little recognized force in fashion – having also created the gown that Olivia de Havilland wore when she accepted the Oscar for Best Actress in 1946.
- Speaking of Design: These sneakers, created in 2008 by sneaker artist Van Taylor Monroe, to commemorate Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, are another “must see” item in the museum’s extensive collection. I almost missed them, but my sister pointed them out for me to see. And the artwork on these sneakers is exquisitely rendered! According to a blurb on the Ohio State University Community Extension website announcing a sneaker painting workshop (https://aaascec.osu.edu/events/van-taylor-monroe ), and his own website (www.vanmonroe.com ), Mr. Monroe began his sneaker art trade revitalizing sneakers worn by his football teammates.
- Spirit of Tuskegee: It was clear that the museum’s archivists searched far and wide to find items for display. This refurbished plane is suspended from the ceiling and hovers over the ramp leading to the exit. Seeing the plane sealed it for us – what a celebration of America, and the historical and cultural impact the African -Americans have had.
- The Dignity of Her Gaze: This statue of Clara Brown, one of Colorado’s first female African American settlers, stopped me in my tracks as I walked through this gallery. I felt her strength and dignity exuding from the cold metal – she was no ordinary pioneer. Once I read her story, which told of her walking nearly 700 miles to Colorado, working for the prospectors who let her join their crew, investing her savings, ultimately becoming a wealthy woman (source: historycolorado.org).
- From the Inside Out (1): The elaborate grill work on the exterior of the Museum seems like a large decorative screen, filtering out the busy-ness outdoors. It is reflected on the tall glass window panes.
- From the Inside Out (2): The Smithsonian’s newest museum is strategically located directly across the street from the Washington Monument. After we left the lower level Café, we joined a line waiting to gain entrance to the lower level gallery exhibit “The Journey Toward Freedom.” At one point, I looked up thru the windows, surprised to see the tip of the Monument showing through one of the panes
The Smithsonian’s newest jewel has emerged, and it is fabulous, from both the inside and out. Be sure to make the time to visit – you won’t be disappointed! I hope you enjoy these 5* images from my first visit.