Renwick Gallery

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Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum
Renwick Gallery is located in Washington, D.C.
Renwick Gallery
Location 1661 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, D.C.
Coordinates 38°53′55.92″N 77°2′22.01″W / 38.8988667°N 77.0394472°W / 38.8988667; -77.0394472Coordinates: 38°53′55.92″N 77°2′22.01″W / 38.8988667°N 77.0394472°W / 38.8988667; -77.0394472
Built 1859 - 1873
Architect James Renwick, Jr.
Architectural style Second Empire[2]
Governing body Smithsonian Institution
NRHP Reference # 69000300[1]
Added to NRHP March 24, 1969

The Renwick Gallery is a branch of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, located in Washington, D.C., and focuses on American craft and decorative arts from the 19th to the 21st century. It is housed in a National Historic Landmark building that was begun in 1859 on Pennsylvania Avenue and originally housed the Corcoran Gallery of Art (now one block from the White House and across the street from the Old Executive Office Building). When it was built in 1859, it was known, at the time, as the American Louvre."[3][4]


The Renwick Gallery building was originally built to be Washington, D.C.'s first art museum and to house William Wilson Corcoran's collection of American and European art. The building was designed by James Renwick, Jr. and finally completed in 1874.[5][6] It is located at 1661 Pennsylvania Avenue N.W. at 17th Street.[7] Renwick designed it after the Louvre’s Tuileries addition.[8]

The building was near completion when the Civil War broke out and was seized by the U.S. Army in August 1861 as a temporary military warehouse for the records and uniforms for the Quarter Master General's Corps.[9] In 1864, General Montgomery C. Meigs converted the building into his headquarters office.[9]

Image of the Corcoran Gallery from ca. 1884-88 showing the lost sculpture niches and historic first floor windows.
Renwick Gallery

On May 10, 1869, the building was returned to Corcoran, and, on January 19, 1874, the Corcoran Gallery of Art opened to the public.[5][9] The gallery quickly outgrew the space and relocated to a new building nearby in 1897.[10] Starting in 1899, the building housed the federal Court of Claims.[5] By the 1950s, in need of more space, the Court of Claims proposed to demolish the building, however, it was saved from demolition by First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy in 1963.[4][6][8] In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson and Secretary of the Smithsonian S. Dillon Ripley, proposed that the building be turned over to the Smithsonian.[5][9][11]

In 1965, President Johnson signed an executive order transferring the Renwick building to the Smithsonian Institution for use as a "gallery of arts, craft and design."[5] After a renovation, it opened in 1972 as the home of the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s contemporary craft program.[5][11]

Today, it is a branch of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, housing the museum's collection of decorative art and crafts.[6][8]


The first-floor gallery features temporary exhibits that usually rotate about twice a year.[5] On commentator said, the crafts displayed "are high art, not everyday objects."[5]

On the second floor, in the Grand Salon, is one of the most famous art-filled rooms in Washington, it is hung with 70 paintings, by 51 American artists, painted between 1840 and 1930.[6]

Notable artists[edit]

  • Margaret Boozer's Eight Red Bowls Maryland terra cotta and pine sculpture.[12]
  • Wendell Castle's Ghost Clock cloaks time with trompe l'oeil.[5][6]
  • Dale Chihuly's famous glass globules float in their sandbox sanctuaries.[5]
  • Arline Fisch's silver Body Ornament[5]
  • Larry Fuente's Game Fish made from a mounted sailfish and game accessories, such as dice, poker chips, domino tiles, Scrabble letters, yo-yos, badminton shuttlecocks and Ping-Pong balls.[5][6]
  • Sam Maloof's furniture[5]
  • Maria Martinez
  • Albert Paley
  • Judith Schaechter's A Little Torcher, a stained-glass creation depicting pyromania.[13]
  • Kim Schmahmann's 1993-99 Bureau of Bureaucracy, which is a "wooden cabinet full of cupboards to nowhere, bottomless drawers, drawers within drawers, hidden compartments, and more, a wonderful metaphor for the labyrinthine workings of government".[3]

Notable patrons[edit]

In popular culture[edit]

The Renwick Gallery hosted an exhibition called 40 Under 40 Craft Futures, which featured 40 artists in "boundary-pushing interpretations of glass, fiber, ceramic, wood and other materials challenge the traditional process-oriented notion of the craft medium by incorporating performance, interactivity and politics."[15][16] On January 18, 2013, the museum hosted an event called Handi-hour, which feacured craft beers, a scavenger hunt, and "hands-on art projects themed around the work of exhibiting artist Stacey Lee Webber, who makes sculptural objects out of coins."[16]

2014 renovation[edit]

In 2014, the Renwick Gallery will undergo a major renovation to modernize the historic structure and create a 21st-century destination for American art and craft.[17] Currently in the design phase, the project is led by Westlake Reed Leskosky, an architecture and engineering firm recognized by Architect magazine as one of the top three firms in the United States in 2013.[18] Major goals of the renovation include renewing outdated infrastructure, restoring historic features destroyed in earlier renovations, and pioneering the use of all-LED lighting throughout the gallery.[19] "'The visiting public will not notice many of the changes, but they are important to support the museum’s environment,'" says Roger Chang, a principal of Westlake Reed Leskosky and the firm’s director of sustainability and mechanical engineering. "'What’s interesting about the project is being able to weave new and modern systems into the existing structure.'"[20]

As part of the museum modernization, the Renwick Gallery Grand Salon will be renovated to create a contemporary attraction and event space.[2][21][8] Applied Minds has been chosen to lead the Grand Salon design.[22][23] Elizabeth Broun,[2][22] The Margaret and Terry Stent Director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, said that the "Applied Minds concept is that it encourages visitors to come back again and again to see the many new and ever-changing presentations there."[22][23] “Applied Minds is honored to be chosen as the winner of this prestigious competition,” said Bran Ferren, co-founder, chief creative officer, and lead designer of Applied Minds.[22] “We are thrilled to have the opportunity to introduce a unique technology-enabled design concept to the museum environment that will provide both a new palette and performance opportunity for the creative genius of our artists and to inspire new generations of visitors.”[22][23] Four firms, in addition to Applied Minds' that advanced to the final round of the competition were: Marlon Blackwell Architect, Studio Odile Decq, Vinci Hamp Architects, and Westlake Reed Leskosky.[2][23]

See also[edit]


  • Kenneth Trapp and Howard Risatti, Skilled Work: American Craft in the Renwick Gallery. Smithsonian Institution Press, 1998. ISBN 1-56098-831-2 (cloth). ISBN 1-56098-806-1 (paper).


  1. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2007-01-23. 
  2. ^ a b c d "Grand Salon gallery space inside the Renwick Gallery". Daily Art. Retrieved 18 July 2013. 
  3. ^ a b "Renwick Gallery Review". Fordors. Retrieved 18 July 2013. 
  4. ^ a b "Smithsonian Plans Overhaul of D.C.’s Renwick Gallery". The Associated Press. February 19, 2013. Retrieved 18 July 2013. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Yardley, William. "Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum". Washington Post. Retrieved 18 July 2013. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f "Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum". Frommers. Retrieved 18 July 2013. 
  7. ^ Hours and Directions. Smithsonian American Art Museum. Retrieved September 9, 2013.
  8. ^ a b c d Boyle, Katherine (February 18, 2013). "Renwick modeled it after the Louvre’s Tuileries addition". Washington Post. Retrieved 18 July 2013. 
  9. ^ a b c d "Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution". US Natipnal Park Service. Retrieved 18 July 2013. 
  10. ^ Reed, Robert (1980). Old Washington, D.C. in Early Photographs: 1846-1932. Dover Publications. p. 127. 
  11. ^ "Eight Red Bowls". Collections. Smithsonian American Art Museum. Retrieved 19 July 2013. 
  12. ^ John Kelly and Craig Stoltz. "Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum". Washington Post. Retrieved 18 July 2013. 
  13. ^ a b c d e f g h "Smithsonian American Art Museum Announces New Curator of Craft Position at its Renwick Gallery". Museum Publicity. March 28, 2011. Retrieved 18 July 2013. 
  14. ^ "40 Under 40: Craft Futures". Washington Post. July 20, 2012. Retrieved 18 July 2013. 
  15. ^ a b O’Sullivan, Michael (January 18, 2013). "Craft Futures Handi-Hour". Washington Post. Retrieved 18 July 2013. 
  16. ^ "Renovation of the Renwick Gallery Builidng". Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved 11/10/2013. 
  17. ^ Wills, Eric. "The Architect 50". Architect Magazine. American Institute of Architects. Retrieved 11/10/2013. 
  18. ^ Boyle, Katherine. "Starting in 2014, the Renwick Gallery will undergo major two-year renovations". Washington Post. The Washington Post. Retrieved 11/10/2013. 
  19. ^ Novelli, Lynn. "Smithsonian Planning Major Upgrades to Renwick Gallery". Civil Engineering Magazine. American Society of Civil Engineers. Retrieved 11/10/2013. 
  20. ^ "Renwick Gallery Review". Fordors. Retrieved 18 July 2013. 
  21. ^ a b c d e "Applied Minds Renwick design". Daily Art. Retrieved 18 July 2013. 
  22. ^ a b c d "Smithsonian American Art Museum Selects Winner for Renwick Gallery Grand Salon Design Competition". Smithsonian Institute. June 14, 2013. pp. SI–241–2013. Retrieved 18 July 2013. 

External links[edit]