Posts Tagged ‘Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden’

The Mary Livingston Ripley Garden

One of my very favorite gardens in D.C., and one which I stop by frequently during my lunchtime bike rides, is the Mary Livingston Ripley Garden. Conveniently located on the south side of the National Mall in the city’s Downtown neighborhood, the garden is tucked neatly in-between the Smithsonian’s Arts and Industries Building and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden (MAP), in an area which had previously been slated to become a parking lot.

The half-acre curvilinear-shaped garden was designed by local architect Hugh Newell Jacobsen as a sensory garden, with raised planting beds and greater accessibility for handicapped and other visitors. Many of its original plants were brought in from the Litchfield, Connecticut home of Mary Livingston Ripley, an avid lifelong plant scholar-collector, active gardener, and wife of the S. Dillon Ripley, the Smithsonian Institution’s eighth Secretary.  The garden opened in 1978, and a decade later it was renamed in Mrs. Ripley’s honor by the Smithsonian Women’s Committee, a philanthropic group she helped found.

The garden has evolved over the years, with more recent efforts focused on exposing visitors to the widest variety of plants and flowers possible, many of which are grown in the Smithsonian Gardens Greenhouse Complex in Maryland.  Currently there are more than 200 varieties of plants in hanging baskets, borders, raised serpentine and circular beds, and even growing vertically on plant walls.

The garden is also adorned with a number of 19th-century cast-iron furnishings. These furnishings are part of the historical collection belonging to Smithsonian Gardens, and include a large Acanthus fountain anchoring the middle of the garden, ornate light posts interspersed along the paths, and benches that are far away enough from each other that they provide a sense of intimacy with the person you’re sitting with rather than people on the next bench.

Another asset of the Ripley Garden is horticulturist Janet Draper and her staff.  They not only maintain this incredible garden, but are also friendly, helpful if you have a question or need assistance, and even offer an informal walking tour of the garden every Tuesday at 2 p.m. through October, weather permitting.

For anyone who hasn’t yet been there, I highly recommend it.  And I would encourage you to spend some time there and be attentive, unlike the commuters and other pedestrians who simply use the garden as a cut-through between Independence Avenue and the National Mall.  And if you’re able, I would suggest going several times, perhaps at different times during the year.  It is worth repeated visits not only for the quantity and variety of plants. but because the garden is ever changing.

         

         

         

         

The following are some of my favorite photos, mostly of of flowers and plants, that I took over the past year
or so in the Mary Livingston Ripley Garden.  Click on each to see the full-size version.  Viewing them on a
high definition screen is suggested in order to better see the complexity and intricate beauty of each.

         

         

         

         

         

         

          

         

         

         

         

         

         

         

         

          

         

         

         

         

         

         

         

         

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

Sign hanging in the Ripley Garden

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Needle Tower

The destination of today’s lunchtime bike ride was Needle Tower, a public artwork by Kenneth Duane Snelson, an American contemporary sculptor and photographer.  The 60-foot abstract sculpture of steel wires and aluminum tubes is on display outside of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, which is located just off the National Mall at Independence Avenue and 7th Street (MAP) in southwest D.C.’s Downtown neighborhood. 

At first glance it seems improbable that Needle Tower can even remain upright.  But the aluminum tubes of the slim and graceful piece act in compression, and held in tension by the stainless steel cables threaded through in the ends of the aluminum tubes.

Snelson’s works often center around or incorporate geometric shapes.  And this piece is a good example of that.  The tower itself is interesting.  But looking up from the inside of Needle Tower is where it really impresses.  I see Stars of David getting progressively smaller in a seemingly endless procession ascending into the sky, symbolizing the infinite nature of the universe.  According to Snelson, however, six-pointed stars are common, and the piece does not include the Star of David nor is it symbolic.  In Needle Tower the six pointedness comes from the natural geometry of the three compression struts that make up each layer.  Sets of three alternate with left and right helical modules, adding up to six when viewed upwards from the base of the tower.

The structure was built in 1968, and has been on continuous display since the museum’s namesake, Joseph Hirshhorn, donated it in 1974. It remains one of the museum’s most popular works of art.  Needle Tower is so popular, in fact, that it was placed in its central spot outside the museum so that when tourists pass by on their way to and from nearby museums and attractions, it draws their attention to both the piece and the Hirshhorn.

A second Needle Tower, Needle Tower II, was completed in 1968 and was acquired in 1971 by the Kröller-Müller Museum in the Netherlands. That piece resides in the museum’s sculpture garden.  And I look forward to seeing it on my next bike ride to the Netherlands.

         
[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]