Renwick Gallery

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Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum
Renwick Gallery - Pennsylvania Avenue.JPG
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]
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 as "the American Louvre".


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.[3][4] It is located at 1661 Pennsylvania Avenue NW.[5] Renwick designed it after the Louvre's Tuileries addition.[6] At the time of its construction, it was known as "the American Louvre".[7][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.[3][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.[3] 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.[8][4][6] In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson and Secretary of the Smithsonian S. Dillon Ripley, proposed that the building be turned over to the Smithsonian.[3][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."[3] After a renovation, it opened in 1972 as the home of the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s contemporary craft program.[3][11] The Renwick Gallery is now a branch of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, housing the museum's collection of decorative art and crafts.[4][6]

Closure for 2013-2015 renovation[edit]

Renwick Gallery closed December 9, 2013, in order to permit a major renovation of the historic structure, the museum reopened on November 13, 2015 with an exhibition entitled Wonder featuring site-specific instillation by nine artists.[12][13] The architectural renovation project is led by Westlake Reed Leskosky, an architecture and engineering firm based in Cleveland, Ohio.[14] Construction is being overseen by Consigli Construction Co. of Milford, Massachusetts.[14] Fundraising for the renovation began in 2013, and was completed in June 2014 when local real estate developer David Rubenstein donated $5.4 million toward the project. Smithsonian officials said they would rename the gallery's Grand Salon in Rubenstein's honor.[14]

The renovation includes replacing all HVAC, electrical, plumbing, and fire-suppression systems; upgrades to security, phone, and data systems (which includes adding wifi throughout the building); restoring the original window configuration; restoring two vaulted ceilings on the second floor; reconfiguring the basement for staff offices and workshops;[14] and adding LED lighting throughout the building.[12] The Renwick's Grand Salon will also be renovated to create a more contemporary event space.[12][2][15] Applied Minds was chosen to create potential concepts for the Grand Salon.[16] The four other firms which competed for the renovation job and made it to the final round but were not selected were Marlon Blackwell Architect, Studio Odile Decq, Vinci Hamp Architects, and Westlake Reed Leskosky.[2]


The Renwick Gallery opened its doors after renovation on Friday, November 13, 2015.[17] Admission is free. The gallery is open daily from 10:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.[18]


The first-floor gallery typically featured temporary exhibits that rotated about twice a year.[3] One commentator said, the crafts displayed "are high art, not everyday objects."[3] The second floor contains the Grand Salon, one of the most famous art-filled rooms in Washington. It was hung with 70 paintings by 51 American artists, mostly containing works created between 1840 and 1930.[4]

In 2012, 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."[19][20]

Public programs[edit]

Since 2011, the Renwick has hosted a quarterly "Handi-hour," a crafting-themed happy hour event, inspired by the DIY movement. In addition to craft activities for patrons, the 21+ event features craft beers selected by Greg Engert of the ChurchKey restaurant and pub in Washington, D.C.[21]

Notable artists in the collection[edit]

A number of well-known, critically acclaimed artists have works in the Renwick Gallery's collection. Among them are:

  • Margaret Boozer's Eight Red Bowls Maryland terra cotta and pine sculpture.[22]
  • Wendell Castle's Ghost Clock cloaks time with trompe l'oeil.[3][4]
  • Dale Chihuly's famous glass globules float in their sandbox sanctuaries.[3]
  • Arline Fisch's silver Body Ornament[3]
  • 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.[3][4]
  • Sam Maloof's furniture[3]
  • Maria Martinez
  • Albert Paley
  • Judith Schaechter's A Little Torcher, a stained-glass creation depicting pyromania.[23]
  • 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".[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Staff (2007-01-23). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 
  2. ^ a b c "Grand Salon gallery space inside the Renwick Gallery". Daily Art. Retrieved 18 July 2013. 
  3. ^ 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. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f "Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum". Frommers. Retrieved 18 July 2013. 
  5. ^ Hours and Directions. Smithsonian American Art Museum. Retrieved September 9, 2013.
  6. ^ a b c Boyle, Katherine (February 18, 2013). "Renwick modeled it after the Louvre’s Tuileries addition". Washington Post. Retrieved 18 July 2013. 
  7. ^ a b "Renwick Gallery Review". Fordors. Retrieved 18 July 2013. 
  8. ^ a b "Smithsonian Plans Overhaul of D.C.’s Renwick Gallery". The Associated Press. February 19, 2013. 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. ^ a b c Boyle, Katherine (18 February 2013). "Starting in 2014, the Renwick Gallery will undergo major two-year renovations". Washington Post (The Washington Post). Retrieved 11/10/2013.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  12. ^ "Renwick Gallery Reopening Announced by Smithsonian American Art Museum". Newsroom of the Smithsonian. Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved 8 July 2015. 
  13. ^ a b c d Echols, Tucker (June 24, 2014). "David Rubenstein Gives $5.4M for Renwick Gallery Renovation". Washington Business Journal. Retrieved June 24, 2014. 
  14. ^ "Renwick Gallery Review". Fordors. Retrieved 18 July 2013. 
  15. ^ "Applied Minds Renwick design". Daily Art. Retrieved 18 July 2013. 
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^ "40 Under 40: Craft Futures". Washington Post. July 20, 2012. Retrieved 18 July 2013. 
  19. ^ O’Sullivan, Michael (January 18, 2013). "Craft Futures Handi-Hour". Washington Post. Retrieved 18 July 2013. 
  20. ^ "Handi-Hour: Q&A with Katie Crooks". Eyelevel. Smithsonian American Art Museum. April 26, 2011. Retrieved 9 July 2015. 
  21. ^ "Eight Red Bowls". Collections. Smithsonian American Art Museum. Retrieved 19 July 2013. 
  22. ^ John Kelly and Craig Stoltz. "Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum". Washington Post. Retrieved 18 July 2013. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Trapp, Kenneth; Risatti, Howard (1998). Skilled Work: American Craft in the Renwick Gallery. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press. ISBN 1560988312. 

External links[edit]