D.C.’s Newest Cultural Destination Explores More Than 5,000 Years of Human Art, History and Culture
WASHINGTON (March 21, 2015)—The George Washington University Museum and The Textile Museum welcomed its first visitors today. The newest cultural destination in the nation’s capital brings together The Textile Museum’s highly regarded collections of more than 19,000 non-Western textiles and carpets, and the Albert H. Small Washingtoniana Collection of 1,000 artifacts documenting the history of Washington, D.C., into one new museum dedicated to nurturing the study and appreciation of art, history and culture.
“This exceptional museum will bring together students, faculty, members of the general public and scholars from around the world. Here they will not only encounter artifacts of extraordinary beauty but will enter a portal through which they will explore the heights and depths of human creativity and the rich variety of human cultures,” said GW President Steven Knapp.
The opening creates new opportunities for public and academic engagement across disciplines to enrich research, education and cultural understanding and marks the final step of a more than three-year process that brought the 90-year-old Textile Museum and Albert H. Small Washingtoniana Collection to GW’s Foggy Bottom Campus.
In 2011, GW announced the affiliation with The Textile Museum and Albert Small donated his collection to the university. Since then, the university built a 53,000-square-foot LEED Gold-certified museum complex on campus that will serve as an arts center on campus. The new complex, the largest university museum in the District of Columbia, includes 46,000 square feet of newly constructed museum and exhibition space attached to the 7,000-square-foot renovated historic Woodhull House. The museum includes dedicated space for each collection, the Arthur D. Jenkins Library, the Albert H. Small Center for National Capital Area Studies and the museum shop.
“Our new museum fully integrates teaching and learning through our entire operational model,” said John Wetenhall, museum director. “Students have been engaged in every facet of this project, including collections management, administration, development, curatorial research, exhibition design and educational programming. Faculty members have contributed to publications, exhibitions and public programs.”
A Museum of People and Place
The new museum’s inaugural three exhibitions span more than 2,000 years of art, history and culture and include the largest exhibition in The Textile Museum’s history.
Unraveling Identity: Our Textiles, Our Stories covers three floors and features more than 100 artworks that span five continents. The exhibition explores textiles as expressions of identity, from gender and ethnicity to spiritual beliefs and political affiliations. By decoding the messages embedded in these fabrics, the exhibition highlights the aesthetic richness and expressive potential of the textile arts, while telling fascinating stories of human life and creativity.
Visitors to Unraveling Identity will encounter some of The Textile Museum’s most cherished masterpieces, as well as objects that are rarely displayed due to their size and fragility. Set in the museum’s spacious galleries, the exhibition invites visitors to engage with the artworks in innovative ways: through touch-screen technology and interactive experiences.
The new facilities enable staff to implement exhibition strategies that could not be achieved in The Textile Museum’s former home. With higher ceilings in the galleries, curators can now incorporate more works from the museum’s larger collections into exhibitions.
The textile exhibition joins two historical exhibitions featuring artifacts from the Albert H. Small Washingtoniana Collection.
Mr. Small chose GW to house his collection so that scholars could engage with the pieces of history he has collected. This vision has already come to fruition, as student research about the collection has been shared directly with Mr. Small at an annual symposium, for the last four years, and is incorporated into a new book released earlier this month titled, “The Evolution of Washington, D.C.: Historical Selections from the Albert H. Small Washingtoniana Collection at the George Washington University” (Smithsonian Press).
The two Washingtoniana exhibitions are curated by GW professors and designed by students in the university’s museum studies program. In Seat of Empire: Planning Washington, 1790-1801, curator and Adjunct Professor of History Kenneth Bowling uses maps from the collection to depict how early urban designs shaped the District. And history professor Tyler Anbinder curated The Civil War and the Making of Modern Washington, which traces the physical and political transformation of the city in the mid-1800s.
Founded in 1925, The Textile Museum is an international center for the exhibition, study, collection and preservation of the textile arts. Its collections include some of the world’s finest examples of rugs and textiles from the Near East, Central Asia, East and Southeast Asia, Africa and the indigenous cultures of the Americas. Mr. Small’s Washingtoniana Collection, a collection more than 60 years in the making, is a treasure trove of rare maps, drawings, letters, lithographs and books.
GW prides itself on making history. George Washington envisioned a university in the heart of the nation’s capital to serve as America’s great intellectual hub, educating future generations of citizen-leaders. With the addition and access to these vast collections, the new museum realizes the university’s commitment to become a hub for student and faculty engagement and advanced research in the history of the nation’s capital and the rich fabric and culture of the world.
The George Washington University Museum and The Textile Museum
To celebrate the grand opening, the museum will hold a series of special events during its first week and continue with a regular schedule of weekly drop-in lectures and activities. By developing public programs in partnership with GW academic departments and student groups, the new museum will offer four times the number of programs that had previously been available at The Textile Museum.