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We took the Metro into the city and came up at the Smithsonian station just before 10 AM which allowed us to time our arrival at the Sackler just as it opened. Located behind the Castle--the original Smithsonian building--the Sackler is usually accessed by wandering through a small garden named after Enid Haupt (who was nearly 100 when she passed away). Inside the Sackler the only level above ground has a large floral display in honor of Enid Haupt and the start of the sculpture Monkey Reaching for the Sun. This link of 23 separate metal symbols stretches down several stories before ending at a small pool. Each symbol is the word "monkey" written in a different Asian language, very appropriate since the Sackler is a collection of Asian art.
We headed down a flight of steps and then turned left into the permanant exhibit on China's art. Many of the earlier pieces were bronze, often with intricate designs. The information panels in each room also gave a simple description of the ruling dynasty at the time of the artifacts. As we progressed through the time periods, the designs became more distinct and usually even more elaborate (although one of the last rooms had a wardrobe that impressed by its sheer size and the time it took to apply layers of lacquer rather than a design). I found the natural scenes on a folding screen amazingly beautiful.
We finished our time at the Sackler (we only had about 40 minutes to wander through the museum) with a walk through an exhibit from Georgia, the country not the state. On display were dozens of artifacts discovered on archeological digs in the area (beginning in the 1960's and continuing through to today) where the legends of Jason and the Golden Fleece occurred (which was a geography lesson for me; I had also stuck Georgia farther north in my mind). I was amazed by their beauty. There were a few pieces of jewelry that I would want to wear even. Two gold diadems appeared to be floating in the middle of one display case thanks to some careful arranging. A lot of golden appliques in the shape of roses or birds were also eyecatching.
About 15 years ago, my family viewed an exhibit on artifacts from the Vatican at the Library of Congress. Since then, the facility has undergone major renovation and restoration (some of which is still in progress), so my parents wanted to visit the place again. We had a short wait to enter through security and then hopped on a guided tour that was just beginning.
The Library is a gorgeous building with detailed paintings on the ceilings, mosaics on the floors, and sculpture along the stairwells with symbolism behind each one. Our tour guide Tony knew the significance of each decoration. He also knew the history of the building (and the other two buildings that house the collection). The first major benefactor of the library was Thomas Jefferson who sold his personal library to restore the collection after the British burned the library during their invasion of Washington DC in the War of 1812.
One of our first stops on the tour was to view a copy of the Gutenberg Bible. 50 copies were printed on vellum of which only 3 perfect copies still exist, and one of those copies is on display in the main floor of the Library of Congress. It is in its own case, but its case is simple and if you didn't stop to read its title, you would have no idea that its contents predate the western European discovery of the Americas.
As we stood in front of the a set of emergency exits from a reading room, Tony explained how the pictures in the lunettes above the doors detailed the idea that through knowledge citizens were able to play a responsible role in the governance of their state.
We headed back out to the Great Hall where we stood approximately in the center as Tony explained more of the design.
Once upstairs the marble staircases, we began with the North Corridor. Here the ceiling paintings represent the five senses, beginning with touch and ending with taste (according to the direction we went).
The West Corridor's prominant paintings were just below ceiling level and focused on the sciences. Lovely women depicted a variety of such fields including archeology, botany, and physics.
Tony enjoyed pointing out the Southern Corridor's homage to two popular American sports. At either end on the ceiling is a rectangular painting, one depicting men engaged in baseball, the other focused on football. The other main paintings appear above the doors above the entrance to the Treasures of America (under renovations until the spring). These paintings are of the four seasons.
The Eastern Corridor had another stairwell which led up to the Visitors' Gallery which looked down on the Main Reading Room.
Inside the Visitors' Gallery (NO PHOTOS!! said the guard), we were in awe of the domed ceiling with its circular mural depicting 11 civilizations important to the development of Western (especially American) culture beginning with Egypt continuing through Greek and Middle Ages before culminating in France and America. The next circular pattern is composed of eight female figures representing ideas such as Religion, Commerce, Art, Law, and Science.
Our formal tour ended at this point. We wandered into the Early Americas exhibit for a little bit but could feel the day starting to get to us, so we skipped the second half. On our way out, we noticed the sign for the Bob Hope display. Tucked away at the end of a hallway, this small exhibit highlights this performer's career.
The Organization of American States has two art museums open to the public. We visited the smaller museum on the back of the property since that one was open on Saturday. My mom suggested the visit especially once I looked it up on-line and found that it had a temporary exhibit on toys from Mexico on display.
I had thought about visiting this place before and after we had signed in, I found myself wondering why I hadn't stopped by before. The toys filling four rooms were very engaging and colorful. While most of them had a Mexican flavor to them, they still came in a huge variety: dolls, planes, wagons, games, accessories. Large bilingual books in the rooms gave background information about the tradition of toys and games in Mexican culture.
A tiled loggia connected the first floor rooms. The dominant blue color and guitar music created a calming atmosphere while the pre-Conquest design near the ceiling gave the room a sense of antiquity. Most of the room was still in a Christmas theme with a small Nativity scene and poinsettias. I loved the hanging pinatas.
I also found the interactive rooms designed for children marvelous. The huge doll in the first of these rooms was definitely worthy of a wow.