I’m here for a podcast convention at the American Enterprise Institute. But we'll get to that. I will tell you that the swag bag we got when checking in had two things of note, besides a brick of Post-It notes with the AEI branding:
1. Jelly Beans, because . . . well, I have my suspicions, although I think the connotation may be lost on anyone under 35 who didn't study the 80s.
2. A pocket copy of the entire Declaration and Constitution. Lets other peope know they're dealing with one of those types.
But before the day began, I had time for a museum. I wanted to go back to the National Portrait Gallery, which I had briefly explored last time. There’s lots of stuff that could be in the National. Shall we?
You might think "an entire building . . . of portraits? A bunch of 19th century faces staring out glumly with their mouths closed so no one sees their bad teeth? Long-dead bureaucrats and secretaries of The Department of Chalk and other lives long turned to dust, their accomplishments contained in books no one has opened for 40 years?
There's a marvelous selection of early 20th century art, from gilded to experimental, at least in the sense that they experimented while not losing sight of archaic ideas like beauty.
"Dear, do you think you could get your friends to pose?"
"Do I? They've been dying for the chance."
Spring Dance, Arthur Mathews. "An American Tonalist painter who was one of the founders of the American Arts and Crafts Movement. Trained as an architect and artist, he and his wife Lucia Kleinhans Mathews had a significant effect on the evolution of Californian art in the late 19th and early 20th centuries." Not my favorite painting in the place, but it sums up a time and style quite nicely.
The odd melancholy of summer:
Maybe she had allergies. It's by Frank W. Benson. "At the request of fellow artist and conservationist Jay Norwood "Ding" Darling, Benson designed the second Federal Duck Stamp in 1935." Not the highlight of his career, but Wikipedia is exhaustive.
Anyway: we used to have guys who could knock this stuff off on a regular basis, and people wanted it, and it was considered enobling to the spirit. Now:
From an exhibit on Justice and Struggle.
What was considered sculpture in an earlier age:
This was haunting - you stop when you see it at the end of a deep alcove.
Says the card on the wall: “Clover Adams, wife of writer Henry Adams, committed suicide in 1885 by drinking chemicals used to develop photographs.”
Oh my. Brittannica:
Known for her quick wit, Clover was athletic, fluent in French, enjoyed reading the ancient classics in the original Greek, and was fascinated by the visual arts, especially painting. She was devoted to animals, and her preferred way to travel was on the back of her horse. The novelist Henry James memorably called her a “perfect Voltaire in petticoats.”
After the death of her father in 1885, Clover’s life began to unravel, and she sank into a deep intractable depression.
They were close, but it seems an overreaction; something else must have been in play. The work in the museum is a reproduction, as the original is still marking her grave in Rock Creek Park. As the card on the wall says, it’s meant to suggest the state of nirvana, outside of sorrow and joy; “In Adams’ circle of artists and writers, the old Christian certainties seemed inadequate after the violence of the Civil War, the industrialization of America, and Darwin’s theories of evolution.”
Civil war rendered them inadequate? You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
The surprise for me was Model Hall, on the top floor.
Model Hall? Yes:
Before the National Portrait Gallery requisitioned the space in 1962, this beautiful room was the Old Patent Office model hall. Inventors used to have to submit working models along with their patent applications. As technology progressed during the Industrial Revolution this “Temple of Invention” was stuffed to the gills with intricate miniature machines.
Before we continue, let us consider the career of this fellow: Charles Oakman.
In 1952, Oakman defeated Democrat Martha W. Griffiths to be elected as a Republican from Michigan's 17th congressional district to the 83rd Congress, serving from January 3, 1953 to January 3, 1955 in the U.S. House. He was an unsuccessful candidate for reelection in 1954 to the 84th Congress, losing to Martha W. Griffiths.
On February 8, 1954, Oakman introduced a bill to the U.S. House that would add the words "under God" to the Pledge of Allegiance. U.S. Senator from Michigan Homer S. Ferguson introduced the bill to the U.S. Senate. The bill became law on Flag Day, June 14, 1954.
Oakman was a Presbyterian and a member of Freemasons, Knights Templar, Shriners, Elks, and Alpha Sigma Phi.
All possible boxes checked. Why do I mention him? “The Old Patent Office Building itself was almost torn down in 1953. Congressman Charles Oakman thought that the property was the ideal location for a new parking lot that could “solve Washington’s downtown parking problem.”
GOOD GOD MAN
YOU WANTED TO TEAR DOWN THIS
FOR A PARKING LOT
Eventually it was time to head back to the AEI, so I walked over to the Metro and descended into netherworld. I mean, it does have a certain aesthetic strength, as you see at the top of this page. But that’s after you’ve run it through a black and white filter. It’s crepuscular and dank. DANKPUSCULAR, if you wish. At least there’s the occasional breeze from the tunnel when the train pushes the air you're way. And it’s certainly more capacious than the London Tube or the Paris Metro. But in a sense it’s a shame, because it could be bright and modern and exciting. Why, if they only -
“Excuse me, are you James Lileks?”
Why . . . why yes I am. It was Simon from Tasmania, as I would soon learn, and now I love the Metro so much. So that was a kick. I mean, I always feel so lucky when things like that happened - and it happened last year in the Metro, too.
I wasn't on stage for the first day; just listen, clap, schmooze, and then we go to a small DC bar (Mad Hatter) where we have a podcast upstairs - Charles C.W. Cooke, Former Englishman, now an American citizen, and Kevin Williamson, whom I haven’t seen since the whole Atlantic magazine episode. So! How you doin’? What’s been up with you? Then some stuff with the Ricochet founders in this impossibly cramped and wonderfully deshabille room, schmoozing, thanks for the drink! Oh my a cigar - thanks! Well, no Bleat tomorrow, I’m having password problems - and then out into the kind night, back to the hotel, drinks and dinner and palaver, close the joint with Charles talking about parenthood and Disney.
How did I earn a day like this. It was wonderful. And in DC! Who’d have known.
Tomorrow: the bad thief gets his soul taken by a dragon. A DC parable? We'll see.