Final stay-cation report: National Portrait Gallery, D.C.'s best-kept secret
But on one my last days off, I did make a neat visit to my hometown to spend a most enjoyable time in one of my favorite public places there, the National Portrait Gallery.
It shares space in a grand old building with the Smithsonian America Art Museum. The combo is one of Washington's best-kept secrets.
If you have never been, make plans at once. And I do mean at once.
Two terrific exhibits will be closing soon: "African American Art: Harlem Renaissance, Civil Rights Era, and Beyond" (last day is Sept. 3); and "In Vibrant Color: Vintage Celebrity Portraits from the Harry Warnecke Studio" (last day is Sept. 9).
The extensive African American exhibit, including works by the likes of Romare Bearden, Alma Thomas and Melvin Edwards, has an electric vibrancy that carries from gallery to gallery.
The modest-sized photo display, confined to a corridor, is quite arresting. The faces are familiar -- Lucille Ball (gorgeous and pensive), Irene Dunne, Eisenhower, Patton, et al. But ...
Other cool things await in just about every nook of this double museum, including a room devoted to portraits and documents of Ameila Earhart (the letter she wrote to her future husband detailing a rather advanced concept of marriage is especially fascinating).
And the bicentennial that we in Baltimore are particularly attuned to gets a sweeping, informative treatment here in "1812: A Nation Emerges."
In my youth, I found the National Portrait Gallery irresistible because of all the presidential portraits (including ones the subjects didn't like). This part of the collection is still a great draw, but it is just the starting point for quite an adventure. The place seems richer each time I visit.
Neither the Portrait Gallery nor the American Art Museum gets the crowds of the National Mall. That's too bad in one way -- and great in another; there's plenty of elbow room.
Floor by floor, this treasure sheds a distinctive light on America's history and culture. Extensively and brilliantly renovated in recent years, the space also provides a consistently inviting ambiance (the atrium in the center adds the finishing touch). And it's all free. What more could you want?AFP/GETTY PHOTO