Decorative Arts from the White House

[Overmantel, The President’s House, about 1824, watercolor on plasterby Rufus Porter, Gift of the White House Historical Association, 1992.photo courtesy White House Historical Association]
Something of Splendor: Decorative Arts from the White House opens Oct. 1 at the Renwick Gallery, the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s branch museum for craft and decorative arts, and closes May 6, 2012. The exhibition features 95 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.

Many objects have grown venerable with the building, while others have been acquired as part of an ongoing program, begun in 1961 by First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, to restore the historical ambience of the rooms. Kennedy envisioned the White House as an ideal showcase of American fine and decorative arts for the enjoyment and education of both American and foreign visitors. She brought in the first curator to supervise the creation of a museum collection, fostered the creation of the White House Historical Association in 1961 and worked with an advisory body that formally became the Committee for the Preservation of the White House in 1964. Each subsequent first lady has contributed to these acquisition and preservation efforts.

“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,” said Elizabeth Broun, The Margaret and Terry Stent Director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. “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.”

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