Whenever I mentioned the Textile Museum on KidFriendly DC, it was to share information about their family events with special activities for children, never a whole post dedicated to the museum. I guess when I first visited with my kids, I felt the museum was too sophisticated for them, and its more serious exhibits and quiet space didn’t appeal to them as much as, say, large-scale models of dinosaurs just a short distance away.
While I might change my tune about that now — older kids, especially those with textile and world culture-related interests, would enjoy it — the lack of a dedicated post on KFDC is part of the reason why I’m highlighting it on this blog. And not only is the Textile Museum a unique and interesting DC attraction that is often overlooked by locals and visitors, there is also a beautiful, arresting, divine installation currently on view.
The Textile Museum is housed in the same building as the George Washington University Museum located on the campus in Foggy Bottom. So, the two are kind of one museum that, as they put it, “celebrates the creative achievements of local and global cultures from antiquity through today.” The first time I ever visited over 10 years ago, it was just the Textile Museum, but at some point they included the galleries with the Washingtoniana collection, and the name included GWU.
I usually pop in when I am in the Foggy Bottom area, which I happened to be a couple of weeks ago. It’s not a huge museum; on its four floors, there are usually three exhibits, plus the Textiles 101 interactive space, information desk, and museum shop (the latter two on the first floor), so it doesn’t take long to see it all. All of the exhibitions in the Textile Museum feature handmade materials in some way, from rugs and tapestries to past and modern fashion to traditional wear to woven art, and it’s always a fascinating showcase of creativity and culture.
Back to what’s on view… In the lower level gallery, Selections from the Textile Museum Collections feature head coverings from cultures around the world. Different kinds of hats and caps and headdresses, from everyday to formal to ceremonial wear, are displayed in cases with photographs, art, and background on all of them.
On the second level, Prayer and Transcendence displays a variety of Islamic prayer rugs. Different designs and sizes of rugs hang on the walls, all of them intricate and beautiful. A couple of traditional Jewish designs are also on display as a comparison.
The Textile 101 room is on the same floor, and it’s an ongoing part of the museum. The interactive space offers a hands-on exploration of textiles, showing how they are made and different methods of creating with them. Several stations set up around the room let you touch fibers, get a close look at raw materials, try your hand at using them, and do some digital designing. Kids (and adults) would enjoy this area.
Finally, on the fourth and top level is Anne Lindberg: what color is divine light? Comprised of thousands of long threads in blue and yellow hues strung across the room from wall to wall, it took my breath away the moment I saw it. The installation almost seems like it’s mid-whoosh, for lack of better word, an ethereal stream moving from one side of the room to the other. The museum’s official description says it’s “creating a cloud of color that evokes light itself.” It is mesmerizing to view from a distance and so interesting to examine up close, where you can see the individual threads, the varying colors, and how they’re strategically placed on the walls, all of it creating a divine effect.
The installation is intended to be immersive, prompting visitors to reflect on divinity and what it would look, feel, and sound like. There are some programs coming up on April 11, May 12, and May 13 to explore this, the May events with the artist.
The Textile Museum
Where: 701 21st Street NW | Foggy Bottom, DC
When: Tuesday – Sunday, 10am – 5pm
Admission: Free, but donations are welcome