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Museums and Art Galleries of The Smithsonian Institution/Monuments and Memorials (Second of a three-part series)




By Noralyn Dudt

WASHINGTON DC, the U.S. capital abounds in monuments, memorials, museums, and galleries. When the city was first designed in 1790, the planner whom George  Washington commissioned, Pierre L'Enfant envisioned a grand capital of wide avenues, public squares and inspiring buildings in what was then a district of hills, forests, marshes, and plantations.

The centerpiece of L'Enfant's plan was a great "public walk." That's now what we call our National Mall. Stretching for 2 miles, from Capitol Hill to the Potomac River,  this "public walk" is  a wide, straight strands of grass and trees. The Smithsonian museums flank both sides and war memorials are embedded among the famous monuments that memorialize Washington,  Lincoln and Jefferson.

With 21 museums including the National Zoological Park, the Smithsonian institution is the world's largest museum, education and research complex.  In one of the most visited museums—the Museum of Natural History—visitors oohs and aahs at the Hope  Diamond which is the largest of all blue diamonds, and other fascinating exhibits such as the various gemstones, meteorites, dinosaur bones, stuffed animals and other exhibits that would titivate a child's imagination.

In the Boeing Milestones Hall at the National Air and Space Museum,  visitors can touch a part of the moon from  the moon rocks that the astronauts in the Apollo Program brought home. An abundance of new scientific data about the Moon was the result of several lunar landings. Eight hundred  pounds of lunar rock and soil were brought back to Earth for analysis.  These samples offered a deeper appreciation  of the evolution of  our nearest planetary neighbor. The exhibits in all these museums are a treasure trove for the  school children who come to Washington on field trips. Examples of this treasure trove are the first  airplane by the Wright Brothers, the first steam locomotive, a replica of the lunar module that enabled the astronauts to land on the moon in 1969. In addition to safeguarding and presenting America's treasures, the Smithsonian museums and zoo also support education,  scholarship,  and research.

The art galleries are another big draw for the  visitors from around the country and from all over the world to Washington. Not only do these galleries  have an extensive collection of famous artists' work, but they are curated to educate and to inspire.  The National Gallery of Art has 4,000 European and American paintings in its collection,  dating from the Renaissance period to the present day. In addition, a large section of the gallery is devoted to exhibiting over 3,000 European and American sculptures dating from the Renaissance to the present.

The Sackler Gallery, designated as the National Museum of Asian Art  features both temporary and permanent exhibitions from ancient times to the present. The museum is home to an incomparable collection of art, including some of the most important ancient Chinese jades and bronzes in the world. In addition to the exhibitions on display, the galleries feature innovative programming for visitors of all ages, such as lectures, concerts, films, and podcasts that enhance and extend the visit.

The Museum of American Invention and Technology not only showcases American inventions but also sponsors  the  Draper Spark! Lab where visitors learn that invention is a process and that everyone is inventive and should be inspired to contribute to innovation. It tries to engage, educate, and empower the public to participate in technological, economic,  and social change.

Other museums that are well-visited are the National Museum of the American Indian, and  the National Museum of African American History and Culture. The exhibits are well-curated to inform, to educate  and to promote a deeper understanding of the country's past.

Towering above the city is the Washington Monument that bears George Washington's name. It was the tallest building in the world upon its completion in 1884. It serves as an awe-inspiring reminder of Washington's greatness whose military and political leadership were indispensable to the founding of the United States. As commander of the Continental Army, he rallied Americans from thirteen divergent states and outlasted Britain's superior military force. As the  first president, Washington's superb leadership set the standard for each president that has succeeded him. The monument,  like the man, stands in no one's shadow.

Along the Potomac River is the Tidal Basin whose centerpiece is the memorial for Thomas Jefferson, the primary author of the Declaration of Independence, first Secretary of State, 3rd president,  and whose talents had a wide-ranging impact on the very makeup of America itself. Jefferson's taste in classical architecture influenced the design of the monument. Situated among the Japanese flowering cherry trees, it is the most visited site in springtime when the cherry blossoms are at their peak.

On the western end of the National Mall, across from the Washington Monument is the Lincoln Memorial. Built in the form of a neoclassical temple in  Greek Doric design, the building contains a large seated sculpture of Abraham Lincoln and on its walls are inscriptions of his two well-known speeches: the Gettysburg Address,  and his second inaugural address. A great man he was who held the country together in its darkest period, the Civil War of 1861-1865.

The other memorials:  Second World War, Korean War, Vietnam War,  Martin Luther King, FDR ( Franklin D. Roosevelt)  were all designed to educate, inform and inspire. They are  good places to read and learn about the nation's past and meditate on what steps to take for a more peaceful future.

Admissions are free of charge in all the museums and galleries in the city where laws are legislated and policies are made. It is  the People's capital. That "We the People" have  access to these facilities of knowledge and culture exemplifies what Thomas Jefferson meant by equality embodied in the Constitution that he drafted, and signed by the Founding Fathers.  That "we the people"  choose those whom we want to represent us and to have access to them,  echoes what President Lincoln meant by what he stated in his Gettysburg Address,  "from the people, of the people,  by the people."  That "we the people" pray and hope that  the once  fledgling nation that George Washington gallantly fought for against the mighty British Crown remains a bastion of democracy.

So help us God. And in Him we trust.

 

Noralyn Onto Dudt  whose residence is only 25  minutes away from the Smithsonian museums, galleries, monuments and memorials  on either the Metro or by car, delights in taking her house guests to see those national treasures mentioned above.

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