Balancing Textilphilia in DC

Tanti Auguri di buon anno!  (I figure this is a perfectly acceptable greeting until Chinese New Year…)

Enjoyed a family vacation to DC over the holidays, and I’m pleased to report that everyone had a good time.  With two teenagers, things could have been…. different?

We rented an apartment not far from Ben’s Chili Bowl, started our schedule late morning and made sure the kids were responsible for planning portions of the itinerary.  Probably the biggest adjustment was famished teenagers! As you might imagine, I had a long list of textile oriented places I wanted to visit.  Unfortunately, not everyone is as crazy about textiles, yarn and fabric as I am.  Sigh.  I didn’t get to the entire list, not even a stop at Knitty City.   But, it was nice to see the Hope Diamond again, this time in the “Embracing Hope” setting created by Winston jewelers.  It’s all a matter of family choices.

Probably my top priority was on display the National Gallery: the newly restored Pastrana tapestries.  Amazing, magnificent, sparkling, and sad, the four panels commemorate the Portuguese invasion of Asilah and Tangiers in 1471.  The word “panel” understates their magnitude: each tapestry measures about 12 x 36 feet! I found myself alternating between wonder, respect and grief.  The invasion led by Alfonso V and his son took place in days of pouring rain, yet the overall first impression was a large festival! Thousands of people died or were taken captive.  Such is the revisionist, glorified propaganda tradition.

Designed and constructed in Belgium, these tapestries are made of wool and silk thread.  Detail of costume, weaponry, guesses at North African architecture, and so many people left me a bit breathless.  The National Gallery did an admirable job displaying the works.  Each gallery was very large, with careful lighting so you could examine the newly restored details or marvel at the impact of the piece.  Interpretive signage highlighted aspects of the storytelling in each panel.  The dark French blue walls kept the focus on tapestries. Benches in the middle of the room encouraged lingering.  The exhibit closed on January 8, but it moves to Dallas, San Diego and Indianapolis during the next year.  Do plan your travels to include a stop by the museums that will host this.

Congress was on recess, so DC was calm and relatively uncrowded (except for women’s bathrooms at most museums).  Its strong city planning, monumental architecture give a comprehensive look at America, and in my opinion, anyone who travels in the US should include the capital. Allow at least 4 days to sample the highlights.  While it’s a fairly common destination for US families, I’m guessing that more families hit the Disney complexes before they go to DC. However, it’s not on the immediate hit list for European tourists.  Most tour operators will send people to Las Vegas, Miami or San Francisco before they include Washington.  Such a shame! America is so much more than shopping, shows and gambling. This quote, part of an exhibit at the Museum of American Art, certainly holds true with me.
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Visiting DC definitely made me proud to call myself American. Our country has created so much in so few years…. good and bad, I know.  Can we channel the good and vanquish the bad?  Our individual creations and contributions work to this societal goal every day.

Courtyard of National Portrait Gallery

Courtyard roof of the National Portrait Gallery

As a lover of all craft, the Renwick Gallery is not to be missed.  I was delighted to see work by Wendell Castle and Sam Maloof, not to mention some beautiful quilts.  Fortunately, portions of the Gallery can be photographed, so I couldn’t resist this detail of Sheila Hicks’ “Silk Rainforest.”
Sheila Hicks Silk Rainforest

Textilphiliacs cannot miss the nearby Textile Museum for its current exhibits. The whole family will enjoy the Museum of Native Americans. The ceremonial garb, clothing and jewelry in their displays use different materials than my everyday studio contents, not to mention the motifs. But the history, music and architecture of the building are inspiring… and there’s been rave reviews of its cafe.

Changing exhibits, politics and concerts means that we’ll visit DC again.  After all, the teens prompted this trip in the first place.  We visited as a family in 2007, and both asked to please go back.  I’d love to know…  what are your favorite Textilphilia DC sites?

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