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The Smithsonian Museums - Part 2

Updated: May 28, 2023

So, in our other excursions to Washington DC, we have visited a few more of Smithsonian’s offerings….

This companion to the National Air & Space Museum opened in 2003 and consists of two hangars which house dozens of aircraft and spacecraft. The Center's vast exhibition space displays the iconic giants of aviation and space exploration, including: Space Shuttle Discovery, a Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, and an Air France Concorde, and spans from 18th Century early ballooning to the record-setting high-altitude free-fall jumps of recent years.

We’ve now visited 2 of the 4 remaining shuttles that are on public display – Discovery at the Smithsonian, and Endeavor at the California Science Centre in Los Angeles.

Space Shuttle Discovery
Space Shuttle Discovery

The Smithsonian Castle

French-born, British-raised James Smithson left his considerable fortune to a nephew with the stipulation that, were the nephew to die without heirs, the money go “to the United States of America, to found at Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge.” The nephew died, and a museum complex was born and was officially created by an act of Congress in 1846. Its first building, the distinctive red Maryland sandstone Smithsonian Castle, was completed in 1855. The towered, neo-Gothic structure initially held the entire institution: a gallery, a natural history collection, a laboratory and even the first secretary of the organization’s apartment.

Smithsonian Castle
Smithsonian Castle

Painting a picture of the many influential people throughout America’s history, the National Portrait Gallery is a must-see for pop culture fans, history buffs and art lovers alike. From activists and actors to presidents and poets, the museum displays paintings, photographs and sculptures of the people that have come to define America as we know it. As an artist myself, this visit was particularly fascinating.

National Museum of the American Indian

The museum boasts one of the world’s most expansive collections of Native American objects, photographs, artifacts and media. The museum is dedicated to bringing Native voices to life throughout its contemplative exhibitions and colorful activities. It was a fascinating museum…I would certainly visit again!

The building (designed entirely by Native architects) is one of DC’s most visually striking, with its curvilinear structure and limestone material designed to resemble rock formations. The museum's collections represent more than 12,000 years of history across 1,200-plus indigenous cultures from the Americas. These objects range from the aesthetic to the religious to the historical, helping to form a comprehensive catalogue of Native American culture.

National Museum of African American History and Culture

The four-level museum opened in 2016, becoming the only national museum solely dedicated to the documentation of African American life, history and culture. The museum addresses nearly every aspect of the African American experience, covering the arts, slavery, the Civil Rights Movement, athletics and much more. The museum’s collection of artifacts is astounding: 3,500 are on view, with another 35,000 or so in the collection. The museum was so popular when it opened and for the first few years, you needed a timed ticket to enter (tickets were still free though). It was a very moving experience.

Smithsonian Gardens

Smithsonian Gardens extends the Smithsonian’s museum experience in a public garden setting with over 180 acres of outdoor gardens including 13 public exhibition gardens often called the Smithsonian institution’s “museum without walls.”

Smithsonian Gardens is celebrating its 50th anniversary on July 31, 2022!

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

And speaking of moving experiences, I have to include the only museum that is not a part of the Smithsonian that we did visit in DC – The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

This museum is a living memorial to the Holocaust and inspires citizens and leaders worldwide to confront hatred, prevent genocide, and promote human dignity. The Holocaust was the state-sponsored, systematic persecution and annihilation of European Jews by Nazi Germany and its collaborators between 1933 and 1945. Over six million were murdered.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

I always struggle to describe and talk about this museum. Over the years I’ve summarized it as the best museum, it is the most well put together and it is certainly the most powerful and moving I have ever visited. While these words certainly do not do this memorial museum justice, all I can say is please visit if you ever have the chance. You will not be disappointed.

Washington DC, not just for Politicians

If you get the chance, visit DC…there are more museums to explore, as well as many monuments and other historical sights. And yes, there is that somewhat well-known White House too!

White House Washington DC
White House Washington DC

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