Wednesday, March 24, 2010

National Portrait Gallery

Another Saturday and another Smithsonian Young Benefactors tour (see our post on our first tour of the Museum of Natural History here). This time it was the National Portrait Gallery.

The National Portrait Gallery shares space with the Smithsonian American Art Museum, but this isn't just some ordinary space. The two museums are housed in the Old Patent Office Building, which has been restored to show off many of its original 150 year old details. Of particular note is the new glass roof that encloses the center courtyard. Completed in 2007, it has received recognition by architecture critics, local museum goers, and everyone in between.

Even though the architecture alone warrants a visit, the art isn't too shabby either. Perhaps the biggest draw is display of American Presidents, where you will find everything from the portrait of George Washington that is used on the dollar bill to more abstract depictions of modern presidents.

But don't stop there. Like every other Smithsonian museum, there's always more to see. Some of the faces will be familiar, while others won't. Each face tells a story about who we are as a country.

Once upon a time, I was one of those annoying kids clogging the city streets on a tour of our Nation's Capital. I remember some monuments taking my breath away and capturing my attention while other spots elicited not much more than a yawn. The Portrait Gallery was in the latter category.

Oh, how things have changed. Part history museum, part art museum, this is probably one of our most frequent visits among all of the Smithsonian museums. It is perfect for a quick splash of culture while wandering downtown, and a great reminder of how special it is to live in this town.

J Says

I recently moved into a new office that looks directly at the Portrait Gallery and its cool, wavy atrium roof. Despite the fact that I stare at the building all day long, I'm not tired of it yet. I love to take my lunch and eat it in the atrium (yes, they have a cafe, but I think it is over-priced and mostly average food). It is one of my favorite hidden gems to show out-of-town clients and friends.

As B said, the portraits are fun to look at too. Don't miss the sports gallery tucked way up in the rafters. It took me several visits before I ever found it! The Gallery also features fun rotating exhibits. Right now you can see Elvis portraits and memorabilia on the main floor.

Don't let the name fool you. The National Portrait Gallery is more than just a collection of old faces on the wall. Pay a visit and explore for yourself, but don't forget to wave to me on your way in!

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