A look behind the White House curtain

41_atg_1“Something of Splendor: Decorative Arts from the White House” opened Oct. 1 at the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Renwick Gallery and runs through May 6, 2012. The Renwick Gallery is the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s branch for craft and decorative arts.

The exhibition features 93 objects from the permanent collection of the White House, including furniture, ceramics, metals, glass and textiles. Many of these objects were made by the most celebrated craftsmen of their time and some have never been seen outside of the White House. William G. Allman, curator of the White House, and Melissa C. Naulin, assistant curator of the White House, selected the works included in the exhibition.

Organized in honor of the 50th anniversary of the White House Historical Association, the exhibition allows visitors to explore the history of the decorative arts in the nation’s executive mansion. The exhibition and its related publication will include archival images of the interiors to help the visitor envision life in the presidential residence. Objects in the exhibition include a box lined with wallpaper used in the White House prior to its burning by the British in 1814, a gilded Herter Brothers armchair from 1875, a coverlet embroidered by first lady Grace Coolidge between 1925 and 1927 and a service plate from the 1982 Reagan state china.

41_atg_2“Each artwork in ‘Something of Splendor’ has a rich story to tell, and White House curators William Allman and Melissa Naulin are gifted tellers of these stories,” Smithsonian American Art Museum director Elizabeth Broun said in a statement. “Through their eyes and the lens of history, we see these rare objects as touchstones of our democracy. We cannot know the presidents and first ladies who are gone, but through the objects they chose to live with we can understand something of their dreams for the nation.”

“The White House is often called the ‘People’s House’ and it has been our pleasure and privilege this past half century to bring to the people of America and nations across the world a better understanding of its rich history,” said Neil W. Horstman, president of the White House Historical Association.

Contact: The Smithsonian American Art Museum, MRC 970 Box 37012, Washington, DC 20013-7012. Tel: 202-633-1000. www.american art.si.edu

This article originally appeared in the October 2011 issue.