More than 3,000 guests celebrated the opening of the new George Washington University Museum and The Textile Museum during a series of events in March.
Three inaugural exhibitions were on display: “Unraveling Identity: Our Textiles, Our Stories,” showcasing textiles from five continents and three millennia, and two exhibitions featuring the Albert H. Small Washingtoniana Collection: “Seat of Empire: Planning Washington, 1790–1801” and “The Civil War and the Making of Modern Washington.”
These exhibitions—and the opening—were made possible in part by support from individuals, corporations, and foundations. Donors making campaign commitments from $50,000 to over $1 million to the museum through June 30, 2016, are recognized as Founding Patrons and listed in perpetuity on a plaque in the museum lobby. To date, Founding Patron commitments to support museum facilities and equipment, endowments, and programs total over $16.5 million.
“For all the wonderful collections that The Textile Museum and Albert H. Small have contributed to GW’s new museum, we can only go as far as our resources provide,” said John Wetenhall, director of the George Washington University Museum and The Textile Museum. “Funding curators and educators broadens the scope of our exhibitions, increases the number of research projects and internships we can offer, and expands the cultural programming we provide the GW community. Our new museum is a perfect place for contributors truly to shape the direction of a high-profile, public, and educationally focused part of the George Washington University.”
For conservator Harold F. Mailand, supporting the museum was a way to show his gratitude for the training he received in the museum’s conservation department in the late 1970s. He recently made a Founding Patron gift in memory of former Textile Museum conservators Clarissa Palmai and Helen Kovacs, who prepared Mr. Mailand for a career in textile conservation.
“I was very honored to be part of that realm of students,” he said. “I put The Textile Museum in my will but then thought, why should I wait that long? I could give it now. [The museum] means a lot to me.”
Mr. Mailand hopes that GW students will take advantage of the museum as a new educational and cultural resource on campus.
“The old Textile Museum was a domestic structure and was not designed to be a museum,” he said. “Now we have a purpose-built museum which is totally amazing. Everyone is beaming.”
The Albert H. Small Washingtoniana Collection, housed in the renovated Woodhull House that is part of the museum facilities, will be an important resource for students interested in exploring the history of the nation’s capital from the 18th to the 20th century.
“[The Washingtoniana Collection] offers outstanding opportunities for students to work on real-life projects and engage with professional curators,” said Professorial Lecturer in Museum Studies Barbara Brennan. “In addition, they have been fortunate to meet [donor Albert H. Small] and interview him—having direct access to the collector himself.”
The Textile Museum’s collections have been bolstered over the years by private donations of museum-quality pieces. Museum Trustee Stanley Owen Roth had no idea that his donated piece now displayed in “Unraveling Identity,” a 19th-century talismanic shirt from Burma, even existed before he got a call from Dr. Mattiebelle Gittinger, the museum’s research associate for Southeast Asian textiles. Mr. Roth became interested in collecting textiles from the region because of his frequent travels as the former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs and as the current vice president of international government relations at Boeing.
Mr. Roth said he relies on Dr. Gittinger to alert him to special pieces like the talismanic shirt. Made of cotton warp and weft yarns, the shirt contains inscriptions by Buddhist monks or shamans to provide protection against injury from weapons, sickness, or malevolent spirits.
“It’s reasonably rare to find [these shirts] somewhat intact so we were just thrilled someone was offering it and snatched it up,” said Mr. Roth.
This is the third time a piece donated by Mr. Roth has been on exhibit—prior pieces include a turban with 100 folds and a Mahan Chinese textile. “It’s fun to know that you’re preserving a culture and it will be studied,” he said.
In addition to his donations of art, Mr. Roth is a generous annual supporter of the museum and arranges for matching gifts from Boeing. Calling the new museum a “fabulous” facility, Mr. Roth said the multi-level structure will allow for larger textiles to be fully displayed.
“And being on a university campus—the thought of the museum as a true teaching mechanism is exciting,” he said.
As they walked around the galleries, museum benefactors Dr. Harry Greenberg and Ms. Diane Greenberg came across their donated piece, an early 20th-century tunic from Cameroon.
Their interest in textiles—now a 450-piece collection—was sparked by a fake Persian textile they brought into The Textile Museum years ago. The Greenbergs discovered that the textile, described to them as a 2,000-year-old Persian antique, was actually a modern rug with chemical dyes.
“That whetted my appetite for learning more, and The Textile Museum was a place to learn more,” said Dr. Greenberg. “I’ve always liked clothing and I came to give it because we have so much!”
Dr. and Ms. Greenberg, who live in the Bay Area, are among the Founding Patrons who have supported the new museum with a major gift commitment. “We love the space. We are very impressed,” he added. “The space is beautiful, the new museum is beautiful, the things in the museum are more than beautiful.”