University Gets a First Look at New Museum

Students, faculty and staff take a sneak peek of the new George Washington University Museum and The Textile Museum building Friday.

June 9, 2014

At Friday's sneak peek event, the university community got to see the new George Washington University Museum and The Textile Mu

At Friday's sneak peek event, the university community got to see the new George Washington University Museum and The Textile Museum.

After months of construction and preparations, the George Washington University last Friday offered the community an exclusive sneak peek at the progress it has made on the new George Washington University Museum and The Textile Museum.
Hundreds of GW students, staff and faculty toured the inside of the custom-built, six-story structure on the corner of 21st and G streets that will soon house GW and The Textile Museum’s most treasured art. Gallery spaces will display pieces from the 90-year-old Textile Museum’s globally recognized collection of more than 19,000 objects dating from 3000 BCE to the present, including some of the world’s finest examples of rugs and textiles from the Near East, Central Asia, East and Southeast Asia, Africa and the indigenous cultures of the Americas. Other areas of the museum will be dedicated to the Albert H. Small Washingtoniana Collection of 860 objects documenting the history of Washington, which was donated to the university in 2011.
Major construction has concluded on the space and in the next several months, staff will get the building up to museum quality and conduct extensive testing and calibration of sensitive climate control systems. A building preview was held for members of The Textile Museum on Saturday.
“We thought this would be a really great time to invite members of the GW community and The Textile Museum to preview the museum before it opens. Not only do they have the chance to look at the galleries and the public spaces, but it also gives us a chance to bring our supporters behind the scenes so they can understand how the museum works and functions,” said John Wetenhall, director of the museum. 
The GW community was greeted with bright blue and white balloons at the new museum’s entrance. They were welcomed by the museum’s staff and curators, who answered questions and helped visitors envision the future exhibits. Guests marveled at the museum’s stunning elliptical staircase and took in the high ceilings of the second floor. 
“It’s a really interestingly shaped building with beautiful views and great natural light,” said rising junior Sabrina Freese. “I love the way it looks, and I’m sure when it has textiles in here, it’s going to be really, really cool.”
The second floor gallery links to the Albert H. Small Gallery that will showcase the historic Washingtoniana collection of maps, documents and other objects. The gallery runs alongside a glass bridge that connects to the 160-year-old Woodhull House, renovated to also serve as home of the Washingtoniana collection. Large windows offer expansive views of campus and University Yard.
Special Collections Public Services and Outreach Librarian Jennifer Kinniff was impressed with space that will showcase so many artifacts detailing the history of Washington.
“I think it’s absolutely beautiful. It flows really nicely. I expect that there will be a lot of collaboration with the collection here and the Washingtoniana artifacts we have in special collections,” she said.
Second-year museum studies graduate student Lauren Shenfeld helped prepare the preview event while working for the new museum as a presidential administrative fellow. She assisted with organizing and promoting the sneak preview, contacting student organizations and explaining ways the new museum will serve as a resource on campus.
“Today is the opportunity for anyone in the GW community to see the space, feel the space and, hopefully, fall in love with the space so that they come back to us once the museum opens,” she said. 
Kimberly Anthony and Margaret Wagner, two staff members in the GW Police Department, worked in Woodhull House for 10 years when it served as campus police offices, before it was renovated. They toured the rooms on the first floor and the gallery areas on the second floor in awe, shocked at how the building has transformed.
“You can’t even tell—the way spaces have been merged into big gallery areas is incredible. The rooms have really opened up, and the transformation is gorgeous,” Ms. Wagner said.
The whole building offers 46,000 total square feet, including in the Woodhull House. The space will accommodate an activity center, the George Hewitt Myers Room for museum programming, the Arthur D. Jenkins Library of Textile Arts and office space for museum staff.
“As a curator, I’m extremely excited about the spaciousness of the galleries—we have so many more feet than we’ve ever had before, so we’re going to be able to have large exhibitions and show off even more textiles,” said Lee Talbot, curator of Eastern Hemisphere collections at The Textile Museum.
Bruce Baganz, president of The Textile Museum’s board of trustees, said Friday’s event represents a significant milestone and a culmination of lots of hard work.
“Once the museum opens, we will be able to expand our historic mission and spread richness throughout the university community, where we are limited only by our imaginations,” he said.