Sitting on the waterfront of the Potomac River, the 85,000 square foot Torpedo Factory Art Center in Alexandria is a landmark of Northern Virginia history. Today, the building houses artist studios, galleries, art workshops, and even an archeology museum. Yet during the tumultuous years of World War II, workers produced something very different in the space — the Mark 14 submarine torpedo used by U.S. Navy personnel in the Pacific theater of the war. Over 70 years after its decommissioning as a munitions depot, the history of the Torpedo Factory is a fascinating tale of politics, faulty weapon engineering, and local spirit.
In the U.S. Senate's sculpture collection, there are plenty of busts of instantly recognizable historical figures such as Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. But enshrined alongside them, there's also the lushly-bearded, bowtie-wearing likeness of an obscure 19th Century Italian-American artist. While Brumidi, who signed his work "C. Brumidi Artist Citizen of the U.S.," isn't a famous name, he left a lasting mark on the U.S. Capitol, by creating striking frescoes and murals that add charm and grace to the building's interior.
Brumidi's work, which can be found throughout the Capitol, includes the fresco The Apotheosis of Washington in the Rotunda canopy. But his masterwork is the hallways on the first floor of the Senate wing, an assortment of frescoes and murals known as the Brumidi Corridors. Inspired by Raphael's Loggia in the Vatican, Brumidi's art is distinguished by his blending of classical imagery with patriotic American themes. The Washington Post once described Brumidi as "the genius of the Capitol," and noted that "so many of its stateliest rooms bear the touch of this tireless brush that he shall always be associated with it." Art historian Francis V. O'Connor has called him "the first really accomplished American muralist." A journalist of his time went even further, labeling him "the Michelangelo of the U.S. Capitol."
From 1984 to 1994 photographer Michael Horsley walked the streets of Washington, D.C., photographing the unseen and vanishing moments at a time when many inner-city neighborhoods still showed the effects of the 1968 riots. These images were tucked away in his private collection for almost 25 years until he published them on Flickr in 2010.
Horsley's Hidden Washington, D.C. collection (check it out on Flickr!) is a rare neighborhood-oriented photo archive of the nation's capital during the 1980s. In some cases, the physical landscape is almost unrecognizable today. In others, the scene is nearly the same now as it was then. Many of the photos are featured in WETA Television's documentary, Washington in the '80s.
We recently chatted with Horsley about his experiences taking the photos and his reflections on the changes he has witnessed in the years since.
Artist James McNeill Whistler’s most famous painting is probably his portrait, Whistler’s Mother, but to Washingtonians, there is another work that captures the imagination.
Tucked away in a corner of the Freer Gallery, Whistler’s “Peacock Room” beckons people with its distinct lure. Victorian gas lamps, gilded patterns of gold, and Chinese pottery all come together to create quite a spectacle. This is not just a normal art exhibit, however. It's more of a story.
The 145-year-old Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington's oldest private art museum, announced that it will be taken over by George Washington University and the National Gallery of Art and cease to exist as an independent institution. That makes it a good time to look back at one of the more bizarre events in the history of art in Washington--the attempted theft in 1959 of a painting by 17th Century master Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn.
Washington has a long history of thefts of antiquities from its museums but this attempted heist was one of the stranger assaults on artwork that our city has seen.
The Washington DC area has plenty of monuments and grand statues, to be sure. But my hometown of Takoma Park, that eccentric bohemian enclave just north of the District in Maryland, has one that stands out from the rest: A life-size bronze likeness of a rooster on a pedestal, which thrusts his feathered chest jauntily at passers-by, as if it owned the town. Which, in fact, he once did.
The statue, created in 2000 by local sculptor Normon Greene, pays homage to an actual fowl--known as Roscoe by Takoma Park residents--who jauntily roamed Takoma Park's streets during the 1990s, wild and free, in defiance of Montgomery County animal control officials and local city employees who fruitlessly tried to capture him.
Nathaniel Hawthorne, author of The Scarlet Letter, visited Washington, D.C. in 1862, as the Capital was gearing up for war against the Confederacy. If you remember Hawthorne at all from school, you won’t be surprised to find he had a lot to say.
He was particularly taken by the artist Emmanuel Leutze's painting "Westward the Course of the Empire Takes Its Way" in the U.S. Capitol and lamented what might happen to the work and the nation should the Union lose the war.
Chuck Brown, Trouble Funk, Rare Essence, Minor Threat, SOA.
If you lived in DC in the 1980s, you probably recognize these as local Go-Go and hardcore bands. If that's the case, the Corcoran Gallery of Art’s exhibit, Pump Me Up, is sure to invoke nostalgia. For those who have come here more recently, the exhibit offers a rare opportunity to see how much DC has changed in the last thirty years. (You definitely get a different image of the 80s than at a Legwarmers concert at the State Theatre!) Either way, it's worth a visit.
To put it mildly, the 1980s was a tumultuous period for the District of Columbia. There was a lot going on and homegrown music was right at the center of the city's experience.