Friday I found myself in Foggy Bottom with time to spare on a parking meter in Alexandria, so I cast about for someplace to explore. For the first wearing of my favorite boots this season, the Mall seemed too far, so I chose the George Washington University Museum and The Textile Museum. Once upon a time, the Textile Museum had its own home, but as with so many museums, it could not support itself, and found a new home within a university. GWU is also home to the Albert H. Small Center for National Capital Area Studies, which collects Washingtonia, documenting the evolution of the District of Columbia’s landscape and built environment.
University museums make me a little nervous the same way museums associated with private hereditary-based membership organizations do– there’s an increased level of exclusivity beyond the usual white marble stairs and bronzed glass doors. Is the museum for the public, or only for the students? How well does the museum integrate with the community around it? That’s not much of a concern for the GWU Museum, given that it is embedded in a neighborhood primarily comprised of college students, but the hands-on lab is clearly oriented towards school groups of all ages, and school groups have their own (slightly half-hearted) page. Still, it’s not like Penn’s Museum, which is embedded in a very different kind of neighborhood.
Still, the front desk staff were friendly helpful, suggesting two ways to see the museum (basement up, via the stairs or top down, via elevator). I chose the stairs. The basement level featured selections from the Textile Museum Collection, Textiles 101 and Faig Ahmed: Nonvisual Language. It’s a good thing I’ve got years of museum training because Ahmed’s work is really tactile. I wanted to plunge my hands into the first piece I saw, a luscious red wall hanging. Really: you want to get your hands in it.
Textiles 101 provided the chance to touch, a welcome relief after looking. There were drawers to open, and a large explanation of the types of weave structures that make up textiles. A very helpful security guard recommended (insisted) that I watch the video on the 2017 Maryland Sheep to Shawl Contest, which I did enjoy. As the only person in the galleries, my heels echoed and I attracted quite a bit of (friendly) attention.
On the second floor, I found the Alfred Small Collection of Washingtonian’s Eye of the Bird: Visions and Views of D.C.’s Past which I found incredibly helpful in understanding the evolution of the city, and in orienting myself when on the ground. The diagonal streets and circles are confusing to someone familiar with grids, or cowpaths, or grids laid over cowpaths, so I need all the orientation I can get. An unexpected treat was a lovely 1830s dress with whitework pelerine, illustrating resident dressed for one of my favorite eras.
Free (suggested donation, $8; front desk staff waved me in when I brought up AAM)
Monday and Friday: 11 AM–5 PM
Wednesday–Thursday: 11 AM–7 PM
Saturday: 10 AM–5 PM
Sunday: 1–5 PM
Closest Metro: Foggy Bottom (Blue, Orange, and Silver Lines)