Posts Tagged ‘D.C.’

During this bike ride I encountered an interesting sculpture I had never seen before.  The large stainless steel artwork is located on New Jersey Avenue near H Street (MAP) and just four blocks from the Nationals Park in southeast D.C.’s Navy Yard neighborhood, and it is entitled Shindahiku (Fern Pull).

Shindahiku commands attention.  And at 22 feet high by 10 feet 6 inches wide by 6 feet 9 inches deep, and weighing 1,400 pounds, the towering sculpture is hard to miss.  But it is much more likely to catch the attention of passersby like me on a windy day, when the piece seems to come alive.  That’s because it is a kinetic wind sculpture.  It consists of 18 balanced wings that use wind power to rotate around a circular axle, silently swallowing and reopening its stainless-steel “fern fronds.”  The effect is a dynamic pattern of movement that can best be described as mesmerizing.

The Capitol Riverfront Business Improvement District and developer W.C. Smith purchased Shindahiku early last year, and it was installed just four blocks from Nationals Park on July 12th, 2018, just in time for that year’s Major League Baseball All-Star Game.

Shindahiku was created by the prolific American artist Anthony Howe, a resident of Orcas Island, Washington.  Howe has been working on projects like this for more than two decades, including Di-Octo, Shindahiku’s sister sculpture located on Concordia University’s Sir George Williams Campus in Montreal, Canada.  These sculptures are said to be inspired by his former part-time occupation of building steel shelves for office storage.  Howe’s other works have appeared all over the world, including at the opening ceremony of the Rio Olympics, and behind a performance of “How Far I’ll Go” from Moana during the 2017 Oscars, as well as in hundreds of private collections from California to Dubai.

       

[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

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The Annual Smithsonian and Botanical Gardens Orchid Exhibit

On today’s lunchtime bike ride, I stayed with this past week’s “floral theme” (magnolias and cherry blossoms) and went to an exhibit of another kind of blooms.  Entitled “Orchids: Amazing Adaptations,” the temporary exhibit is the 24th annual orchid display, which is a joint collaboration between the Smithsonian Gardens and the United States Botanic Garden, and was hosted this year by the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery (SAAM/NPG).  The orchids are on display in the glass-ceilinged Robert and Arlene Kogod Courtyard of the SAAM/NPG, located at 8th and F Streets (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Penn Quarter neighborhood.

To best appreciate Orchids: Amazing Adaptations, it is helpful to first know what makes an orchid an orchid.  Although they come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and colors, they all share three basic features:  the number of petals; a distinctive middle petal, and; a column.  Orchids have three outer petals, known as sepals, and three inner petals. The sepals help protect the inner petals, which are often highly elaborate.  An orchid’s distinctive middle petal, known as its lip or labellum, is often large and complex. It is designed to attract pollinators and may look like a pouch or an insect.  And in most orchids, the male parts (stamens) and the female parts (style and stigma) are joined together in a single organ, known as a column. Located opposite the lip, this is where pollinators pick up and deposit pollen.

Orchids are masters at evolving to survive, and their ability to adapt to different habitats not only make these plants amazing, but has resulted in them being one of the most widespread and diverse plant families on earth.  There are more than 28,000 species of orchids and they can be found on every continent except Antarctica.  And this year’s Smithsonian orchid exhibit focuses on and explores how they have adapted to a myriad of different habitats, climate conditions, and other living organisms.

An orchid’s leaves, roots, and flowers provide clues about the habitat in which it lives and what pollinates it.  Orchids with thick, fleshy leaves tend to grow on other plants or rocks, and use their leaves to store food and water during dry times, while orchids with thin leaves tend to grow on the ground, where moisture is more plentiful.  Orchids with roots covered in a white coating tend to grow on other plants.  This coating, called velamen, acts like a sponge, helping soak up and store water and nutrients.  Orchids with long, thick, fleshy roots tend to live on the ground. They use their roots to store food in environments where the climate changes seasonally.  And finally, orchid flowers have adapted their shapes, smells, and colors to attract pollinators. Their symmetrical shape helps them attract specific pollinators and transfer pollen effectively.

These differences in their leaves, roots and flowers have enabled orchids to not only survive, but to thrive.  And the vast differences in appearance and aroma that have developed among different orchids in the process of adapting make them infinitely interesting.  Sadly, not all 28,000 species of orchids are included in the exhibit.  But the exhibit does have a stunning variety of hundreds of diverse orchids on display.  And with the magnolias gone, and the cherry blossoms past their peak, the orchid display makes for a picture-perfect completion of the past week’s “floral trifecta.”     

 

[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

NOTE:
The Smithsonian Garden and U.S. Botanic Garden’s 24th annual orchid exhibit runs through April 28, 2019, is open daily from 11:30am until 7:00pm, and is free to the public.

About Smithsonian Gardens:
Smithsonian Gardens has designed and managed the Smithsonian’s grounds and interior plant displays in D.C. since 1972.  Smithsonian Gardens enriches the Smithsonian experience through permanent garden displays, horticultural exhibits, collections and education.  The Smithsonian Gardens Orchid Collection, which was started in 1974, contains more than 8,000 hybrids and species.  And through the North American Orchid Conservation Center, based at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Edgewater, Maryland, Smithsonian Gardens is dedicated to conserving America’s diverse orchid heritage.

About the U.S Botanic Garden:
The United States Botanic Garden is oldest botanic garden in North America. The Botanic Garden informs visitors about the importance and fundamental value and diversity of plants, as well as their aesthetic, cultural, economic, therapeutic and ecological significance. With over a million visitors annually, the Botanic Garden strives to demonstrate and promote sustainable practices. The U.S. Botanic Garden is actually a museum, a living plant museum, and is accredited by the American Alliance of Museums.

Tips for Taking Photos of D.C.’s Cherry Blossoms

There are lots of tips and tricks out there for taking great photographs of the cherry blossoms here in D.C.  Some say the lighting is the most important element, and that nothing can replace being there during the times of day when the light is best – sunrise and sunset.  Photographers have a name for this kind of light – the golden hour.  Other photographers insist that the composition of the photo is most important.  They say that it’s necessary to envision the shot in advance so that you can line things up and get the shot that you want “in camera.”  Still other photographers will advise you to switch it up.  Take some photos in more traditional ways, and then break the rules and do the opposite.  An example of this would be to use front lighting to illuminate the main subject of the photograph, and then also use backlighting with the sun in front of you so that the light streams through the pedals of the flowers.

These and other bits of advice can be helpful.  So don’t ignore them.  But my personal advice is, “don’t overthink things.”  Be mindful of what is around you, and then take photos of what interests you most.  Try to simply capture what you see if you think it’s interesting or worthwhile enough for you to want others to see it.  Unless you’re a professional photographer trying to complete an assignment for National Geographic, just show up and enjoy yourself.  And take lots of photos.  If you do this, your enjoyment will show in your photos, and others will enjoy them too.

The photos in this post were ones I took during the past week.  Some are better than others.  The worst ones you won’t see because I deleted them.  I hope you enjoy these photos.  I know I enjoyed taking them.  But even the best photos can’t capture the actual cherry blossom experience.  So more than enjoying the photos, I hope they inspire you to want to come to D.C. next spring and see the cherry blossoms in person.  That’s the only way to truly experience and appreciate just how incredibly beautiful they are.

 

[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

Note:  Here are some links to past years’ posts about D.C.’s cherry blossoms:
•  Cherry Blossom Buds (2019)
•  Photo Gallery of this Year’s Cherry Blossoms (2018)
•  Cherry Blossom Stages of Development (2018)
•  The Indicator Tree (2018)
•  This Year’s Cherry Blossoms Watch (2017)
•  The Amur Cork Tree (2017)
•  The Japanese Pagoda at the Tidal Basin (2017)
•  Sunrise with the Cherry Blossoms (2016)
•  The Peaking of the Cherry Blossoms (2016)
•  The Annual Cherry Blossoms (2015)
•  The Cherry Blossoms Around The Tidal Basin (2014)
•  The Cherry Trees Collection at the National Arboretum (2014)

The Magnolias at the Enid A. Haupt Garden

Today the cherry blossoms here in D.C. begin their “peak bloom.”  Peak bloom is defined by the National Park Service as the day when 70 percent of the cherry blossoms surrounding the Tidal Basin are open.  But the best time to see the cherry blossoms, depending on the weather, is four to seven days after peak bloom.  So I will be posting some photos of this year’s cherry blossoms later in the week.

During this lunchtime bike ride, I went out to see one of the cherry blossoms’ seasonal precursors, magnolia blossoms.  There are many places throughout D.C. where there is an abundance of magnolia trees, such as the U.S. National Arboretum, Rawlins Park, and Lafayette Square Park, to name just a few.  But on this bike ride I stopped by the Enid A. Haupt Garden, located at 1050 Independence Avenue (MAP) in the Southwest portion of D.C.’s Downtown neighborhood. 

The garden is named after Enid Annenberg Haupt, an American publisher and philanthropist who, as an heiress to a family fortune, was able to make significant contributions to her personal causes and interests, including the arts, architectural and historic preservation, and cancer research.  But foremost among her interests and philanthropic endeavors was horticulture.  Her devotion to restoring and maintaining gardens around the country and the world earned Haupt a reputation as “the greatest patron American horticulture has ever known.”

The garden opened on May 21, 1987 as part of the redesigned Smithsonian Castle quadrangle, which was financed by a three-million dollar endowment Haupt provided for its construction and maintenance.  Initially approached with a request that she finance a small Zen garden within the quadrangle, after a review of the plans Haupt said that she was “not interested in putting money into a Zen garden … I’m only interested in financing the whole thing.”

The Haupt Garden is a public garden in the Smithsonian complex.  It is situated on just over four acres between the back of the Castle and Independence Avenue, and features an embroidered parterre in a geometric design of plants and flowers rotated seasonally, an Asian-influenced garden adjacent to the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, and a Moorish-influenced garden adjacent to the National Museum of African Art, and wide brick walks, and 19th-century cast-iron garden furnishings from the Smithsonian Gardens’ Garden Furniture Collection line the perimeter.

But it was the saucer and tulip magnolias that I went to the park to enjoy today.  The magnificent trees do not have the same history and fame as do the cherry trees that line the nearby Tidal Basin, but these magnolias are equal in beauty with their more famous counterparts.  And the aroma of the magnolia blossoms filled the air.  It was a great way to spend the first day of the cherry blossoms’ peak bloom.

 

[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

Update (4/4/2019):  What a difference a few days make.  The photo (below) is of the same magnolia trees three days after the first photo (above).  So if you’re going to come see them next year, make sure your timing is right.  The brevity of the magnolia blossoms is similar to that of the cherry blossoms.

Howard Theater Walk of Fame

On this lunchtime bike ride, I stopped riding and walked my bike one the sidewalk starting north on 7th Street beginning at S Street (MAP), and rounding the corner onto T Street before ending at The Howard Theatre in northwest D.C.’s U Street neighborhood.  I did this so that I could see the sidewalk medallions that comprise The Howard Theater Walk of Fame.

The concept for the new walk of fame was in development since 2008 by the Shaw and LeDroit Park communities in their passion to preserve and honor the rich history of the historic Howard Theatre, and was subsequently commissioned by the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities in partnership with the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development, and Cultural Tourism D.C., a nonprofit that promotes the arts across the city.

After a call for artists in 2016, D.C.-based design firm Hackreative along with sculptors Jay Coleman and Joanna Blake were selected to design the medallions. Their pieces draw design elements from the architecture of the Howard Theatre itself, including the braided arch and banner on the building’s sign, and the block frame around the marquee.

The walk of fame consists of fifteen medallions memorializing and recognizing different artists and musicians that have performed at the Howard Theater since it first opened in 1910, who were chosed by a panel of representatives from the commissioning groups, plus a few Shaw and LeDroit Park leaders.  The medallions honor Pearl Bailey, Chuck Brown, James Brown, Ruth Brown, Cab Calloway, The Clovers, Billy Eckstine, Ella Fitzgerald, Marvin Gaye, Lionel Hampton, Moms Mabley, Abbie Mitchell, Billy Taylor, Sister Rosetta Tharpe and a combination of Howard Theatre managers and owners.  Upright signs that detail the history of the theater and the artists represented bookend the project.

After today’s ride, I later went home and listened to performances by the artists recognized by the walk of fame.  That music was a perfect way to end the day, and a long workweek.

 

[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

The Assassination Site of President Garfield

President James A. Garfield was the 20th president of the United States, serving from March 4, 1881, until his death by assassination six and a half months later while waiting to catch a train at the Baltimore and Potomac rail station.  The site where it happened s just a few hundred yards from the 20th President’s official Presidential Memorial in an area of the city that has gone through many changes since the train station’s building and tracks were demolished in 1908 during a redesign of the National Mall.  The National Gallery of Art’s West Building is now located there (MAP).  But one thing stayed the same at the site for the first 137 years after President Garfield’s assassination.  That was the absence of a plaque or historical marker to indicate what happened there on July 2, 1881.  But that recently changed.  So on this bike ride, I went there to see the new historical marker.

When President Garfield was elected in 1880, a man named Charles Julius Guiteau falsely believed he had played a major role in his victory.  He also thought he should be rewarded with a consulship for his efforts in electing the new President.  So he submitted applications to serve in Paris or Vienna, despite the fact he spoke no French or any other  foreign language.  But when the Garfield administration rejected his applications, he decided it was because he was part of the Stalwart faction of the Republican Party, and President Garfield was affiliated with the opposing Half-Breed faction of the party.  Guiteau was so offended at being rejected for a consular position that he decided President Garfield had to die so that Vice President Chester A. Arthur, who was a fellow Stalwart, would succeed him.  He thought this would not only end the war within the Republican Party, but would lead to rewards for fellow Stalwarts, including himself.

As difficult as it is to imagine in today’s political world, the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln was seen as a fluke due to the Civil War, and Garfield, like most people, saw no reason why the president should be guarded.  In fact, the President’s plans and schedule were often printed in the newspapers.  Knowing his schedule and where he would be, Guiteau followed Garfield several times.  But each time his plans to kill the President were frustrated, or he lost his nerve.  Then in the summer of 1881, when the President had been in office for only four months, Garfield decided to take a train trip to New England to escape the swampy summer heat of D.C.  Right after he arrived at the Baltimore and Potomac rail station, Guiteau emerged from where he had been hiding by the ladies’ waiting room and walked up to Garfield and shot him twice, once in the back and once in the arm, with an ivory-handled pistol, a gun he thought would look good in a museum.  Guiteau was quickly apprehended, and as he was led away, he stated, “I did it. I will go to jail for it. I am a Stalwart and Arthur will be President.”

The wounded President was taken upstairs to a private office in the train station, where several doctors examined him.  There they probed the wound with unwashed fingers, another thing that is difficult to imagine today.  At Garfield’s request, he was then taken back to The White House.  The physician who took charge at the train station and then at the White House was Willard Bliss, an old friend of the President’s.  About a dozen physicians, led by Dr. Bliss, were soon probing the wound, again with unsterilized fingers and instruments.

Although in considerable pain despite being given morphine, the President did not lose his sense of humor.  He asked Dr. Bliss to tell him his chances, which Bliss put at one in a hundred. The President then replied, “Well, Doctor, we’ll take that chance.”  In addition to his treatment, Garfield was also being given oatmeal porridge and milk from a cow on the White House lawn for nourishment.  However, he hated oatmeal porridge.  So when he was told that Indian chief Sitting Bull, a prisoner of the U.S. Army, was starving, Garfield initially said, “Let him starve,” but then quickly changed his mind and said, “Oh, no, send him my oatmeal.”

During the President’s treatment, Alexander Graham Bell attempted to locate the bullet with a primitive metal detector.  (The use of X-rays, which likely would have helped the President’s physicians save his life, would not be invented for another fourteen years.)  However, he was unsuccessful.  But they were able to help keep Garfield relatively comfortable in the stifling heat that he had been trying to escape with one of the first successful air conditioning units, which reduced the temperature in the sickroom by 20 degrees.

During the weeks of intensive care after being shot, Garfield would alternately seem to get better and then take turns for the worse.  He developed an abscess around the wound, which doctors probed but most likely only made worse.  He also developed infections that cause him to have a fever of 104 degrees, and he lost a considerable amount of weight.  Eventually, Dr. Bliss agreed to move him to Elberon, part of Long Branch, New Jersey, where his wife had been recovering from an illness at the time her husband was shot.

There, Garfield could see the ocean as officials and reporters maintained what became a death watch. Garfield eventually succumbed to a combination of his injury and his treatment.  On September 18, Garfield asked Almon Ferdinand Rockwell, a friend and business associate who was at his bedside, if he would have a place in history. Rockwell assured Garfield he would, but told him that he still had much work to do.  The President responded, “No, my work is done.”  He died later that night.

According to many medical experts and historians, Garfield most likely would have survived his wounds had Dr. Bliss and the other doctors attending to him had the benefit of modern medical research, knowledge, techniques, and equipment.  In fact, much like President Ronald Reagan after the assassination attempt at The Washington Hilton here in D.C., Garfield would probably also have survived being shot.  Instead, the treatment he received at least contributed, and most likely caused his death.  It is thought that starvation also played a role in President Garfield’s death.

Four presidents have been assassinated while in office.  And two of them occurred here in D.C.  President Lincoln was killed at Ford’s Theater in 1865, and just 16 years later President Garfield was shot by Guiteau less than a thousand yards away from where President Lincoln was shot by John Wilkes Boothe.  There were already official markers for President Lincoln at The Petersen House in D.C. where he died, President William McKinley in Buffalo, New York, and President John F. Kennedy in Dallas, Texas.  Now all four sites have been properly recognized.  I’ve now been to the two sites here in D.C.  The other two, however, are a little too far away for a lunchtime bike ride.

   

[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

Iran Freedom March

While I was sitting in my office working this morning I received a message from our security personnel advising all employees to use caution if exiting the building around 1:00pm because many of the streets in the Downtown area would be shut down by the police for a large group of people.  However, the message simply urged caution.  It contained no specific information or explanation of what was going to be happening.  So naturally I was curious enough to schedule today’s lunchtime bike ride for the same time so I could go out and see first hand what was going on.

It turned out to be the Iran Freedom March, an annual protest in which Iranian-Americans march down Pennsylvania Avenue, from 10th Street to Freedom Plaza, where members and supporters of the Organization of Iranian American Communities gather for speeches and to draw attention to their call for a regime change in Tehran and ask the U.S.  They then finish by marching the last couple of blocks to The White House, where they call on the U.S.  government to label Iran’s military and intelligence agency as terror organizations.  The group seeks an uprising in Iran and regime change to establish a democratic, secular and non-nuclear nation.

Among other speakers, Maryan Rajavi, president-elect of the opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran, addressed the marchers.  In prepared remarks, she noted that the rally was held on International Women’s Day and congratulated women fighting for equality under a “misogynist regime.” She stated, “On this day, Iran and Iranians take pride in the women of Iran who have risen up and waged one of the greatest resistances of the modern era.  They have given tens of thousands of martyrs, prisoners and torture victims, and for four decades have been active on all the fields of battle.”  Rajavi then called on the U.S. State Department to designate Iran’s military, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, and the Ministry of Intelligence as foreign terrorist organizations, asserting “Doing so would be a positive message to the Iranian people, and a decisive message against the clerical regime.”

It wasn’t the way I planned to spend my lunchtime today.  But those plans can wait until next week.  I’m glad I was able to observe the march, and learn more about their cause.

 

[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

Cherry Blossom Buds

Every year, the National Park Service, whose horticulturists care for D.C.’s famous and historic cherry trees, issues a prediction for when 70 percent of the blooms on the trees will be open.  This is known as “peak bloom.” And depending on weather conditions, peak bloom can last anywhere from four to ten days.  But it should also be noted, however, that different individual trees will still be blooming before and after the actual peak.

Yesterday the Park Service tweeted out its peak bloom prediction for 2019. This year, if all goes as planned, more than 70 percent of the blossoms on the trees around the tidal basin will flower between April 3 and April 6.  It should be noted that the prediction is subject to change as we get closer to the predicted dates.  Fluctuations in temperature and weather conditions between now and then can affect the accuracy of the prediction.  Warmer weather will lead to a faster peak bloom, and colder weather could delay it.  So the prediction is subject to being updated.  And it often is.
Last year the trees’ blossoms reached peak bloom on April 5.  And in 2017 it was on March 25.  The average peak bloom date is April 4.  So if this year’s current prediction holds steady, the peak should occur very close to the average date.  It would also fall near the middle of this year’s National Cherry Blossom Festival, which is scheduled to run from March 20th to April 14th.

On this lunchtime bike ride, I rode by the Tidal Basin (MAP), and stopped at The Indictor Tree to witness in person the beginning of the blooming process.  And I was not disappointed.  There are already green buds on the trees, which is the first stage in the blooming process.  And while they are not blooms, they are beautiful in their own way.  Many say that the beauty and brevity of the blossoms symbolizes the life, which is beautiful but brief.  In keeping with this symbolism, I think the impending blooms signaled by the green buds make the buds symbolic of the hope and promise of life.

Note:  Here are some links to past years’ posts about D.C.’s cherry blossoms:
•  Photo Gallery of this Year’s Cherry Blossoms (2018)
•  Cherry Blossom Stages of Development (2018)
•  The Indicator Tree (2018)
•  This Year’s Cherry Blossoms Watch (2017)
•  The Amur Cork Tree (2017)
•  The Japanese Pagoda at the Tidal Basin (2017)
•  Sunrise with the Cherry Blossoms (2016)
•  The Peaking of the Cherry Blossoms (2016)
•  The Annual Cherry Blossoms (2015)
•  The Cherry Blossoms Around The Tidal Basin (2014)
•  The Cherry Trees Collection at the National Arboretum (2014)

The Orchid Room at the United States Botanic Garden

During today’s lunchtime bike ride, I started off the month by once again stopping by the United States Botanic Garden, located near the U.S. Capitol Building at 1st Street & Maryland Avenue (MAP) in Downtown D.C.  In operation since 1850 and in its current location since 1933, the United States Botanic Gardens houses numerous themed rooms, and is home to almost 10,000 living specimens, some of them over 165 years old.  During this visit I stopped by to spend some time appreciating the flowering plants in The Orchid Room, which are presented annually in collaboration with the Smithsonian Gardens Orchid Collection.

With blooms that are often colorful and fragrant, orchids are easily distinguished from other plants based on some very evident, shared derived characteristics, know as apomorphies.  Among these are:  bilateral symmetry of the flower, also referred to as zygomorphism; many resupinate flowers; a nearly always highly modified petal  orlabellum; fused stamens and carpels, and; extremely small seeds.

Orchids showcase a wide spectrum of color, shape, size, habitat, and scent, and with approximately 30,000 species are one of the two largest and diverse families of flowering plants.  The other are daisies.  And over the past 80 million years, orchids have successfully colonized every continent except Antarctica, and almost every conceivable habitat, from remote Mediterranean mountaintops to living rooms around the world.

And one of the secrets to their success is unusual and highly specialized pollination methods.  Many orchids provide food for insects and birds and even more have symbiotic relationships with micro-organisms that assist with nutrient cycling in the ecosystem.  Butterflies and moths are enticed to pollinate orchids that resemble flowers they normally feed on or orchids that provide a landing area and sufficient nectar rewards. Moth-pollinated orchids tend to have strong nighttime fragrances to attract their pollinators from great distances.  And in higher-elevation cloud forests where there are fewer pollinators, some orchids have evolved to have brightly colored tubular flowers with large nectar rewards to entice hummingbirds.

But the most unusual method is employed by the Ophrys apifera, also known as the “bee” orchid.  The bee orchid, or the “prostitute” orchid as it is less politely called by some botanists, has what is probably the most unusual pollination method.  It can best be described as sex, or pseudo-sex.  Small but flamboyant, the bee orchid is one of nature’s great mimics. Perched within the large pink sepals are petals shaped and colored like a visiting bee. The pink sepals look like wings and there are furry, brown lips that have yellow markings just like a bee.  But the deception goes further than visual appearance alone.  The flower takes on the tactile experience, and even emits the scent, of a female bee.  But the orchid offers the bee no nectar reward or pollen meal.  Instead, it attracts amorous male bee pollinators with the promise of bee sex to ensure its pollination.

So the next time you are walking through The Orchid Room, or admiring the beauty of some orchids, keep in mind that there is often more to them than meets the eye.

 

[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

28 Blocks

During today’s bike ride on the Metropolitan Branch Trail I encountered a large mural on the facade of the Penn Center building at 1709 3rd Street (MAP), in northeast D.C.’s Eckington neighborhood. In addition to its massive size, what initially caught my attention was the realism and unusual yet simple gray tones that give the mural the appearance of an old black-and-white photograph.

The mural is entitled “28 Blocks,” and is the creation of American artist Garin Baker. Baker resides in New York City and is a traditionally trained realist painter, but his professional career spans across artistic disciplines. Baker spent four months hand-painting the 60’ by 160’ mural on 156 sections of parachute cloth in his studio. He then brought the work to D.C., and used a special polymer glue to attach the mural to the facade of the building, followed by a final coating and varnish that add UV and graffiti protection, thus requiring only minimal maintenance for many years.

The mural gets its name from the 28 blocks of marble used between 1914 and 1922 to erect the Lincoln Memorial’s iconic 120-ton marble statue of a seated Abraham Lincoln. But the mural isn’t intended to honor Lincoln. In fact, even the image of the Lincoln statue within the mural is only a peripheral image to provide context to the focus of the work. The mural depicts and is intended as a tribute to the men who are responsible for cutting out, hauling, carving and erecting the iconic Lincoln Memorial statue, which was designed by sculptor Daniel Chester French and planned by architect Henry Bacon. Most of those men were first or second generation black men who were born free, or Italian immigrants.

A quote from Frederick Douglass is also prominently featured on the mural. It reads: “Without culture there can be no growth; Without exertion, no acquisition; Without friction, no polish; Without labor, no knowledge; Without action, no progress. And without conflict, no victory.”

According to Baker, the color scheme of black, white and gray is intentional and carries symbolism. “People see things in black and white, but it’s really not the full story,” he said. “Only through all the shades of gray do we see the full truth.”

The mural is conveniently positioned adjacent to the Metropolitan Branch Trail, which gives cyclists, joggers and walkers a front row seat to view it. But not only that, the trail runs parallel to the train tracks that not only carries commuters and other riders on the Red Line between the Rhode Island Avenue and NoMa-Gallaudet University and New York Avenue stations, but also ferries people from New York to Union Station, allowing them to see the mural out their windows just before reaching the station. Officials with the city’s Department of General Services say 50,000 or more people a day can see the mural. I’m glad I was one of them today.

 

[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]