Tag Archives: National Portrait Gallery

Art in the Heart of Penn Quarter: The American Art Museum & National Portrait Gallery

Horse sculpture - looks like driftwood, but made of metal

Horse sculpture – looks like driftwood, but made of metal

The off-the-Mall location of the American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery is both a good and bad thing. Good because it’s not as prominent on the tourist radar as, say, the Natural History Museum and National Gallery, thus keeping the crowds at bay. But bad (or, perhaps, “not as good” is a better way of putting it), because they are wonderful museums that are often overlooked by both visitors and locals, since they’re not right on the beaten path.

Indeed, they are worth the detour from the more popular attractions. Not only are they filled with compelling art, including works that even little ones may find appealing, they offer programs especially for kids that engage and encourage them to look at art in new ways.

Studying "Portrait of Mnonja"

Studying “Portrait of Mnonja”

Nam June Paik's "Electronic Superhighway"

Nam June Paik’s “Electronic Superhighway”

If I’m in the area with the kids, we almost always pop in to stroll around, usually heading to the third floor of American Art, where interesting sculptures, provocative installations, and brilliant colors tend to capture their interest. The special exhibits are often great, too — we loved The Art of Video Games, and there is currently a fascinating exhibition of works by Nam June Paik, who created the video map that’s part of the permanent collection, that focuses on media in culture.

Wandering the halls

Wandering the halls

Portrait Gallery or bust

Portrait Gallery or bust

On a recent visit to the museums, we took advantage of some of their family programs for the first time. (Yes, I almost hate to admit that even though I recommend the programs regularly, we had never actually participated in one.) Portrait Story Days, offered by the National Portrait Gallery every weekend, welcomes guests to drop in to hear a story about a famous American whose portrait is hanging in the museum, then do a craft inspired by the person. Keith Haring was the week’s honoree, so after the reading, we used stencils and a bit of freehand to create our own Haring-esque drawings.

Making Keith Haring-inspired art

Making Keith Haring-inspired art

Guess which is mine?  Hmmm...

Guess which is mine? Hmmm…

The project didn’t last long, so we picked up a Portrait Discovery Kit, which are available from the Education Center and recommended for kids ages 5 and up. The kit included seek-and-find cards that prompted a little scavenger hunt to locate “sitters” in various paintings, a drawing pad to do some of our own sketching, and worksheets that encouraged kids to write down the emotions they observed in a portrait. Owen was engrossed in the hunt for famous mugs, which led us throughout the gallery to find them. He also enjoyed describing the emotions of subjects in the Hall of Champions, the walls lined with portraits of well-known athletes.

On a hunt to find famous faces

On a hunt to find famous faces

The King and O!

The King and O!

Both Portrait Story Days and Portrait Discovery Kits are offered just about every weekend, usually both Saturday and Sunday. But it’s always a good idea to check the schedule to confirm.

The American Art Museum also offers Art a la Cart almost every Saturday and Sunday afternoon. Four carts throughout the museum provide hands-on activities for kids to explore different kinds of art and spark their creativity. It’s recommended for ages 7-12.

The kids are always mesmerized by this sculpture

The kids are always mesmerized by this sculpture

Along with the regular programs, both occasionally present special Family Days that usually correspond with a current event or new exhibit — you can find out about them on the museums’ calendars here and here. Of course, I’ll keep you posted as well.

Splashing in the Kogod Courtyard

Splashing in the Kogod Courtyard

The National Portrait Gallery and American Art Museum are located at 8th & F Streets NW. They are connected by the lovely Kogod Courtyard, a must-stop on any visit to the venue, where you can enjoy lunch from the cafe on premises or bring food from another eatery nearby, and kids can stomp in the one-inch deep water scrims. Note that hours at these museums are 11:30am – 7pm. Both are open daily, except for Christmas Day, and admission is free.


Filed under All ages, Art, DC, Exhibit, Free, Museums, Ongoing, Weekdays, Weekend

Where to Play on the Weekdays: June 11-15

Peering into a lifeboat replica (used in the movie) at National Geographic's Titanic exhibit


Monday – Discover history through art at the National Portrait Gallery. Children up to age 5 are invited to become Young Portrait Explorers and learn about the work of Isamu Noguchi, one of the 20th century’s most important sculptors, and participate in a related hands-on activity. The program runs from 10:30-11:30am.  Admission is free, but registration is required — go here to sign up.

Tuesday – See the Titanic exhibit at the National Geographic Museum.  Lots of cool displays and interactives will fascinate kids and adults alike. Open 10am – 6pm. Admission is $8/adults, $6/ages 5-12, free for ages 4 and under.

Wednesday – Rock out with a local kids’ fave at Jammin’ Java. Rocknoceros is playing their weekly Wednesday show at 10:30am. Tickets are $5 and available at the door.

Thursday – Hike along the Potomac, see nature indoors and out, have a picnic, and hang out and relax at Riverbend Park. The Fairfax County locale makes for an ideal outing with little ones — easy trails, great nature viewing, and never a big crowd. The Visitor Center is open 9am – 5pm on weekdays. Read about Not-So-SAHM’s recent adventures at the park.

Friday – Catch a free screening of One World, One Sky: Big Bird’s Adventure at the Einstein Planetarium in the National Air & Space museum.  Showtime is 10:30am every Friday  (and the first consecutive Saturday and Sunday of every month). It only lasts about 20 minutes, so check out the exhibits and discover How Things Fly while you’re there.

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Filed under All ages, Art, DC, Educational, Exhibit, Free, Maryland, Movies, Museums, Outdoor, Park, Play, Virginia, Weekdays

The Weekend Round-Up: February 4-5

Memories of Snowmageddon: It was two years ago this weekend that the mega snowstorm hit


Two years ago this month, I remember thinking that I couldn’t picture DC without two feet of snow blanketing the sidewalks, streets, front yards, and green spaces.  We temporarily replaced the stroller with a sled, and snow boots became our everyday kicks. Getting around was a massive pain in the butt, especially with a baby in an Ergo on my back and a four-year-old in my arms as I carried him over the drifts that almost came up to his shoulders.  We fell on slippery areas. We were cold.

But I look back on that time that so many of us endearingly call Snowmageddon as one of the most fun times I can remember in all my years of living here (which is a long time).  The stairs in our neighborhood park became a little sledding hill, and Capitol Hill became a big, thrilling one.  Someone built a real igloo in the park large enough for several kids to play in together. We gathered with friends for chili, Trivial Pursuit, and National Eat Ice Cream for Breakfast Day.  We drank a lot of beer and wine. Folks walked in the middle of the street and greeted each other with extra enthusiasm (see that part about beer and wine).

I’m merely reminiscing, not wishing for another huge storm. Though if Part Deux were to hit the area, there would be no complaining. Rather, I’d get out the sled, bundle up the kids, pull the Trivial Pursuit out of the game closet, and stock up on booze.

And on that note, here’s what’s happening over the next couple of relatively warm, sunny winter days.  Happy Weekend!

Black History Month Family DayCelebrate the start of Black History Month with the Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery. Head to the Penn Quarter venues on Saturday for a day full of art, crafts, and live entertainment for the whole family. Enjoy music, dance, hands-on activities for kids, and a special tour of the related exhibition, The Black List: Photographs by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders. Main festivities take place in the Kogod Courtyard from 11:30am – 3pm, and you can see the schedule of them here.  Admission is free.

Americana ValentinesGet ready for the love-filled holiday at the National Postal Museum on Saturday afternoon.  Drop in anytime from 12 – 3:30pm for their Red, White, & Blue Valentines workshop.  Create two heartwarming cards — one for a friend, another to send to military personnel.  Beautiful materials and inspirational examples will be provided. The Postal Museum’s workshops for kids are always well done, plus the exhibits are fun to tour and you can easily gran lunch at Union Station next door, so plan to make a big outing of it.  Admission is free.

Monster Mash of Movie ShortsThe National Gallery of Art’s monthly film program for kids is all about monsters this weekend, presenting a series of animated shorts featuring furry and fun-loving ogres of all sorts, sizes, and shapes. The mash includes favorites like The Gruffalo and an adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are, along with a few others that young film-goers will enjoy.  Recommended for ages 5 and up, the program takes place on Saturday at 10:30am and Sunday at 11:30am in the East Building Auditorium and lasts about an hour.  Admission is free.

It’s a Bug, Bug WorldChocolate chirp cookies, anyone?  Try treats with crickets, see live bugs up close, and explore all kinds of interactive installations featuring all kinds of insects at the Maryland Science Center this weekend.  The brand new exhibit Harry’s Big Adventure: My Bug World opens on Saturday and runs through April 29.  On weekends only, you can enjoy extras along with the displays, like tasty bug bites prepared by a chef, an insect petting zoo, roach races, and cricket spitting.  Read more about the exhibit in this new post.

Jam along with SteveSongsThe award-winning children’s musician and PBS co-host is performing three shows at Jammin’ Java with his band on Saturday. The 10:30am is sold out, but you can still catch the 12:30pm and 2:30pm shows. Tickets are $15 for ages 1 and older. Find out more about SteveSongs and hear samples of his music here.

Super Bowl Pre-Game Warm-UpAthletes aren’t the only ones who need to warm up before the big game; fans need to get ready too!  The National Children’s Museum Launch Zone is hosting its own Super Bowl party, complete with physical drills to get little ones in top shape, paper football tournaments, and craft activities for guests to make their own fan gear. Learn about some delicious, and healthy, game-day snacks, too.  Drop in and have a ball on Saturday from 11am – 4pm. Admission is free.

The Languages of LoveGet ready for Valentine’s Day with the Smithsonian at the Freer/Sackler Galleries.  On Saturday and Sunday, the Museums of Asian Art are hosting “In Every Language Love”, an open house for all ages.  After a slideshow of images representing love in Asian art, guests can use printing blocks inscribed with the word “love” in more than a dozen Asian languages to make valentines. The free program runs from 12 – 4pm both days

Celebrate La ChandeleurOn the same day we wait for a groundhog to give us a weather report, France celebrates La Chandeleur (or “Crêpe Day”).  And Alliance Française de Washington and Hillwood Estate and Garden are observing it on Saturday with a day full of food, fun, and games. Families are invited to celebrate the holiday in festive French fashion by eating crêpes, listening to a story, and experiencing the exciting culture of Brittany, where crêpes are said to have originated. Guests can learn a customary Breton dance, make traditional Breton hats, and hear classic children’s tales told in French and English. Tickets are $15/adults, $8/ages 2-18, free for ages 2 and under, $8/Hillwood and Alliance Française Members.  The event runs from 10am – 4pm.

Auto Show – The Washington Auto Show is still going on through the weekend, and it’s an event the whole family can enjoy.  We went last Saturday, and the kids had a blast checking out all of the cars, sitting in the driver’s seats pretending to take the wheel, and even lounging in the trunk of a Mini Cooper.  There’s also the PBS Playland where kids can watch a show, play games, and meet some of their favorite characters.  Taking place at the Washington Convention Center, tickets are $12/adults, $5/kids 6-12, free for children 5 and under.

DramagamiThe Capitol Hill Arts Workshop is sill celebrating it’s 40th anniversary with 40 days of free events.  And there’s one this Saturday especially for kids that combines origami with storytelling, drama, and fun.  Or, as CHAW calls it: Dramagami! Learn to fold three animals in each workshop and create a mini-play about the animals. Leave with your newly folded animals and a story you can act out at home with them. As you fold the animals, let your imagination go wild as you create a whole world for the animals as you activate your body and voice with a little play creation. The class will take place from 10-11:30am and is recommended for ages 7 and up. Space is limited, so registration is required – go here to sign up.

In Theatres NowThere are several children’s productions on stages this weekend – P. Nokio at Imagination Stage, Peter and the Wolf and Tiny Tots at The Puppet Co., Teen Ensemble: Romeo and Juliet at Synetic Theatre, Saturday Morning at the National, and The Wings of Ikarus Jackson at The Kennedy Center.  Get details and ticket info on all of them in this post about winter entertainment.

Winter WalksA slight drop in temps doesn’t mean you have to shun the outdoors, especially on a sunny day.  Get some exercise and enjoy the crisp weather on a nature walk – there are plenty of great places in the area where you can hit the trail with the kids.  This post from awhile back lists some of the ground we’ve covered.

Rock Creek RecreationTake advantage of having one of the nation’s largest natural urban parks right in our backyards. Rock Creek Park is teeming with recreational and educational opportunities for all ages. Take a hike, stop by the horse center, visit the National Zoo, check out the nature center, see historical sites, or enjoy one of many free ranger-led programs.

And it never hurts to keep these posts, loaded with ideas for indoor and outdoor recreation, handy:

The Best Places in the DC Area to Enjoy a Beautiful Day Outdoors with the Kids

Rainy Day Recreation (ie, Indoor Fun)


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Filed under All ages, Art, Class, DC, Educational, Free, Live Entertainment, Maryland, Museums, Music, Outdoor, Park, Seasonal, Theatre, Virginia, Weekend, Winter

The Weekend Round-Up: January 20-22

My favorite six-year-old


I have to start this weekend round-up with a special shout-out. It was six years ago yesterday that my  favorite little man arrived, and life became a fantastic adventure I never could have imagined prior to becoming a parent. My tiny baby, who was less than six pounds upon his early arrival and fit snugly in the crook of my arm, now reads, writes, runs fast, jokes around, expresses his dreams.  When I take a moment (when I have a moment) to digest it all, it’s pretty darn astounding. And I couldn’t be prouder of the boy he’s become. Happy Birthday, my sweet O.

And with my sentimental moment indulged, let’s talk about the weekend.  Museums programs and special events, children’s theatre, a clothing swap, and hoops action are among my recommendations for family fun. And with dreary weather in the forecast, the indoor list makes the round-up, too.  Happy Weekend!

Spy Fest 2012Is your child the next 007? Find out at the International Spy Museum on Sunday from 11am – 2:30pm. Recommended for ages 7 and up, the event will include mini missions, tradecraft demos, and a chance for guests to try their spy skills. Tickets are $10, and advance registration is required. Go here to sign up!

Celebrate Africa!Kids of all ages are invited to the Textile Museum’s 3rd Annual Mid-Winter Festival celebrating the art and culture of Africa.  On Saturday from 12-4pm guests can enjoy dress-up, storytelling, dancing, crafts, and more.  Try on contemporary clothing and accessories inspired by cultures of Central Africa, then pose for a professional photographer and walk away with your picture. Hand-sew a Kuba-inspired textile. Enjoy snacks of cassava chips and South African red tea while master drummer Joseph Ngwa leads traditional drumming and dance, and master storyteller Baba-C entrances listeners with interactive storytelling. Visitors will also entered to win great prizes.  Admission to the event is free.

Happy Lunar New Year!  – Usher in the Lunar New Year a little early at Rockville Town Center with a day full of lively festivities, including a parade hosted by VisArts, street performers, live music, martial artists, lion dancers, an 18-person golden dragon, VisArts exhibitions, vendors, crafts, and more! It’s all free and happening on Saturday from 11am – 4pm.

Multi-Prints Family DayPress, stamp, and rub to make an artistic impression during this printmaking family day at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.  On Saturday from 11:30am – 3pm, artists from George Mason University will demonstrate a variety of printing techniques to kids of all ages, who can then visit our workshop tables to create a print of their own to take home! This free event will take place in the Kogod Courtyard of the museum located at 8th & F Streets, NW.

Farm to Table Family Day – The Kogod Courtyard is going to be a busy place this weekend.  Head there on Sunday as the National Portrait Gallery celebrates the arrival of the recently commissioned portrait of chef, author, and restaurant owner Alice Waters by artist Dave Woody. Enjoy live music, learn about the “farm to table” movement, and participate in hands-on activities. The free event takes place from 11:30am – 3pm.

Swap ‘Til You DropOr for a few hours, anyway. Saturday is World Swap Day and peace. love. swap. – The Original Maternity, Baby Kid Clothing & Gear Swap is celebrating with a swap event on Saturday at Jonah’s Treehouse in Glover Park.  Pass on your old clothes and gear and score some (sorta) new stuff!  Item drop-off is from 5-6pm, and the swapping is from 6:30-7:30pm. Admission is $5 if you register in advance, $7 at the door. Go here for more information and to register online

Rubber Ducky, You’re the One – The National Children’s Museum is hosting a joint birthday party for Ernie and his best pal, Rubber Ducky, at the Launch Zone on Saturday. From 11am – 4pm, children can take part in “Percussion Playtime” to celebrate Ernie’s love of playing the drums and make bubble art to celebrate Ernie and Rubber Ducky’s favorite pastime. No R.S.V.P. is required for this party, just drop in for a splish-splashin’ good time!

Wizards vs. CelticsHow about some hoops action on Sunday afternoon? Never mind that it’s not a winning season for the Wizards so far; the games are still exciting and a fun time for all ages. Our family caught the match-up against Toronto a couple of weeks ago – Sasha’s first basketball game, and the Wizard’s first W this season – and we all had a blast. Along with the on-court thrills, kids will love the games, entertainment, and giveaways during time-outs and halftime. Game time on Sunday is 1pm, and tickets start at $10.

Art History 101The drop-in program a the National Gallery begins  its Artful Conversations series and continues Stories in Art this weekend.  On Saturday, kids ages 8-11 and an accompanying adult, can attend the former to learn about a work of art and participate in a related poetry-writing activity. Sessions are at 10:30am, 12:30pm, and 2:30pm. Sign-in will take place in the East Building Atrium, beginning at 10:00 a.m., and will continue until all spaces are filled. On Sunday, kids ages 4-7 can again learn about Henri Matisse through storytelling, discussion, and an art project. Sessions are at 11:30am, 12:30pm, 1:30pm, and 2:30pm. Sign-in will take place in the East Building Atrium, beginning at 11am, and will continue until all spaces are filled. Read a KFDC review of the program here.

Stage TimeThere’s a variety of entertainment to be enjoyed in local theatres this weekend.  The Snowy Day opens at Adventure Theatre, a rousing tale about the War of 1812 is the free show at Saturday Morning at the National, Peter and the Wolf and Tiny Tots are at The Puppet Co., and Mouse on the Move is at Imagination Stage. Find details on all of these productions in this post about winter entertainment.

The “In” Crowd – Looks like it’s going to be a good weekend to hang indoors, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get out of the house. For sheltered adventures around town, check out this list.


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Filed under All ages, Art, Class, DC, Educational, Festival, Free, Indoor Play, Live Entertainment, Maryland, Museums, Seasonal, Shop, Sports, Theatre, Virginia, Weekend, Winter

The Weekend Round-Up: January 6-8

The birthday girl enjoying some nature at Roosevelt Island last weekend.


Free museum and art activities, family entertainment, and a strong recommendation to enjoy the nice weather while it lasts comprise this weekend round-up. As for our family, we’re adding a little celebration to the mix…

Three years ago today, life got a lot sweeter. And pinker. And sparklier. And crazier in the best way possible. All thanks to one very special and insanely adored baby girl (because at 3 or 43 or 103, she’ll always be my baby).

Happy Weekend! And a very, very happy birthday to my sweet Sashi.

Collection ConnectionsThe National Postal Museum is hosting a drop-in workshop on Saturday from 12-3pm. Associated with the exhibit Collecting History: 125 Years of the National Philatelic Collection, guests of all ages can make a topical stamp collection to take home with them. The session will take place in the atrium, which is a sight in itself, showcasing several cool relics of postal transportation history – a mail truck, a train car, an airplane, even the cab of a tractor-trailer. The museum is conveniently located next to Union Station, a convenient Metro stop as well as a great place to grab a pre- or post-workshop bite to eat.

Movie Time at the MuseumKids can explore art through film at the National Gallery of Art’s monthly film program. This weekend they’ll present Magic Silver on Saturday at 10:30am and Sunday at 11:30am.  Here is the description from the website: “Princess Bluerose is a gnome living deep in the Norwegian mountains with her small community. They are responsible for making the transition between day and night. This moment, the “magic hour,” depends on the magic silver that only these gnomes possess. When the silver is stolen, the world is plunged into eternal night. Find out what happens when Princess Bluerose sets out on a remarkable journey to retrieve the silver and save the world from unending darkness.” The 84-minute movie is in Norwegian with English subtitles and is recommended for ages 7 and up. All film programs are shown in the East Building Auditorium unless otherwise noted. No registration is required. Programs are free and subject to change without notice. Seating is offered on a first-come, first-seated basis.

Oh, the Places You’ll Go!Drop in to the National Portrait Gallery on Saturday from 1-4pm or Sunday from 2-5pm for Portrait Story Days.  This weekend, listen to a story written by Ted Geisel (a.k.a Dr. Seuss) as you view his portrait, a sketch by Everett Raymond Kinstler, currently on display.  Stay after to create a related piece of art and explore the rest of the museum.

Free Fun at CHAWHelp celebrate 40 years of the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop at one of their 40 FREE events in 40 days.  A couple of the family-friendly variety will take place this weekend. On Saturday from 10-11:30am, kids ages 6 and up can join an animal mask-making workshop to design creature disguises then create a short play. Space is limited in the class, and registration is required.  Later that day, all ages are welcome to view the CHAW’s 6th Annual Contemporary Photography Exhibition from 5-7pm. More info, registration, and the complete calendar of free events can be viewed on the website.

Squeals on Wheels – The first Saturday Morning at the National show is bringing a miniature petting zoo to the stage for an “Education Safari”. An experienced handler will teach the kids about caring for animals while providing an opportunity for “hands-on” visits. Shows take place at 9:30am and 11am, and tickets are required for admission. Free tickets are distributed half an hour prior to the start of shows on a first-come first-served basis. Only one ticket per person, and all attendees must be standing in line to receive a ticket. Children must be accompanied by an adult, who remains present for the entire performance. Seating is limited, so get there early!

Stage TimeKids entertainment abounds this weekend with several new shows opening and a few in their for their final days.  Catch Dr. Dolittle and Knuffle Bunny before curtains close, or see Mouse on the Move or a one-evening performance by the Airborne Comedians.  Details, descriptions, and ticket info for all of these productions are available in this post about winter entertainment.

Geology Rocks!– It may be a new year, but the National Children Museum is welcoming guests to study some really old stuff.  Join them on Saturday from 11am – 4pm as they go on a geological expedition right in the Launch Zone to learn about everything from rocks to minerals to crystals. Kids can discover how to identify rocks and minerals, how crystals form, and what kinds of minerals exist in their own homes. The day promises to be “bi-o-tite”!

Soar at the NBMThere are some super fly activities happening at the Building Museum on Sunday. Kids ages 8 and up can take part in a Model Airplane Workshop from 9-11am ($8/members, $14/non-members – registration required). And all ages can drop in from 11am – 4pm to see the DC Maxecuters demo all kinds of model planes through the Great Hall. Visit the website for more info and to register.

You are My SunshineWarm weather (for this time of year, anyway) is here, and it’s supposed to be remain at least through tomorrow! Get out and enjoy it while you can —  this list of places to spend a great day outdoors has loads of ideas for fun al fresco. And if/when it cools down again on Sunday, this post with lots indoor suggestions is always good reference.



Filed under All ages, Art, Class, DC, Educational, Free, Live Entertainment, Movies, Museums, Outdoor, Theatre, Virginia, Weekend, Winter