Sleeping Beauty

There is one building on the National Mall that has been closed to the public for a decade but, thanks to a renovation project launched in 2009, is now beginning to awaken.  It is the Arts and Industries Building next (east side) to the Smithsonian Castle.

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Arts and Industries Building, View from the Enid Haupt Garden at the Smithsonian Castle


It’s a large building (the roof covers 2.5 acres) and it has been here a long time.  Constructed in 1879-1881, it was the first building created solely to house the US National Museum. The National Museum’s collections had been housed in the Smithsonian Castle since the 1850s but soon outgrew the space.   Spencer Baird, Secretary of the Smithsonian at the time, devoted his entire career to developing a great National Museum at the Smithsonian and this building brought his dreams to reality. A detailed history of the building can be found here.

The structure was renovated in the 1970s for a special exhibition during the National Bicentennial celebrations in 1976.  Afterwards, it was used for a variety of temporary exhibits but its condition slowly deteriorated until it received the dubious distinction in 2006 of being named as one of America’s Most Endangered Places by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and was closed soon afterwards.  Three years later, some of the funding needed for its restoration was made available by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.  Although the funding  was only about 30-40% of the total amount required, it was sufficient for a “shell restoration,” essentially restoring the exterior face, replacing the roof and windows (all 911), and stabilizing the structure.

Arts and Industries building

Undergoing rennovation


The above image is by G. Edward Johnson, courtesy Wikipedia and the source information can be found here.

When the exterior scaffolding was removed at the end of this phase, the results were quite impressive.

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Detail of Jefferson Street Entrance

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Exterior of the Central Rotunda, View from Independence Avenue

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Western Facade, View from across Independence Avenue

But funds are not available (so far) for an equivalent restoration of the interior and it is not open for the public.  However, the Smithsonian Associates recently held a special “open house” and I joined several hundred others to get a rare look at the interior.

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South Hall Looking Toward Independence Avenue

It was a festive event, with games, music, and food.  There was much interest in the presentations, especially the compelling  story of the restoration project as related by Construction Manager Pat Ponton (above).   Built in a time without air conditioning and before electrical lighting was practical,  the visionary design incorporated natural light and circulation, high ceilings and fireproof materials that foreshadowed modern construction techniques.

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Games for the Visitors

The black marble used in the geometric floors was quarried in Vermont and is characterized by a variety of fossils dating back 480 million years.  The same marble was also used in Radio City Music Hall in New York City.

Much work remains but one can glimpse its former glory, especially when looking up at the dome above the central Rotunda.

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Dome over the Rotunda

According to Frederica Adelman, the Director of the Smithsonian Associates, the space is being made available for rent for private functions.  But lacking sufficient funding for the full restoration, final plans for the building’s ultimate purpose have not been made.

Tours are periodically offered by the Smithsonian Associates, so stay alert for future opportunities to get a peek.  In the meantime,


Keep Shooting….


Close to Home


Since I’m on the road today, this post combines the monthly One Friday Focus, sponsored by Stacy Fischer’s Visual Venturing Blog and a short piece inspired by a conversation last week with a fellow photographer.  Meanwhile, I’m off on another short trip this weekend, hopefully to capture a few images of the Milky Way over the Atlantic Ocean.  So once again, this post will serve double duty.

Last week Kim, a fellow photographer in the Great Falls Studios organization, described her specialty as photographing wildlife in her backyard.  Later, while reflecting on what she had been saying, I realized that I had been doing only a little of this over the years.  Other than a major effort on a pair of nesting bluebirds, I have not really concentrated on seeking subject matter just outside my windows.  Her stories made me think that perhaps I should look harder.  But for now, I decided to search through my files for some images that I already had taken to see what did happen to catch my eye.  The one rule: they had to have been taken from a spot within 100 feet of my house.   So, for what it is worth, here they are:

Kent June 2016 Solar Halo

Solar Halo

(Technical: Nikon D200 with 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 lens at 18mm handheld; 1/1,000th sec. @ f/16, ISO 200)

Kent June 2016 Snow

Snow on Tree

(Technical: Nikon D200 with 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 lens at 120mm handheld; 1/160th sec. @ f/6.3, ISO 200)

Kent June 2016 Magnolia


(Technical: Nikon D800E with 60mm f/2.8 Micro lens on tripod; 1/100th sec. @ f/8, ISO 400)

Heron D-16-05-21-5862

Blue Heron Taking Flight

(Technical: Nikon D810 with 24-70mm f/2.8 lens at 70mm on tripod; 1/500th sec. @ f/2.8, ISO 3200)

Kent June 2016 Butterfly

Tiger Swallowtail on Purple Coneflower

(Technical:  Nikon D800E with 24-70mm f/2.8 lens at 70mm handheld; 1/1250th sec. @ f/6.3, ISO 800)

Bluebird D-16-05-02-9754

Female Bluebird Bringing Dinner

(Technical: Nikon D800E with 50mm f/1.8 lens; 1/2000th sec. @ f/5.6, ISO 800)

This image was taken last month but is the same birdhouse used in my post a year ago.  I was planning a new approach this year.  Readers may recall that previously I had used a 200mm focal length lens on a camera inside the house and an off camera flash about six feet from the nest.  The flash was triggered by a wireless remote system (Pocket Wizard) but a single flash only provided a small amount of fill light.  This year, I planned to use Nikon’s wireless remote that would trip the camera’s shutter and place the camera about 10 feet from the nest.  I would be able to fire the shutter in continuous mode (not feasible with flash) while remaining inside the house. Unfortunately, I had only one day of shooting thanks to a sustained period of rainy weather.  But should the birds return next year, I may have better luck.

One Friday Focus

This month’s image was another interesting challenge, many thanks to David Croker for providing it.  As a reminder, the 1PF Challenge is sponsored by Stacy Fischer of Visual Venturing and anyone can participate.  Details can be found at  Visual Venturing .

David’s original RAW image is shown below.  It offers a variety of possibilities and started as usual  by going through some standard steps of image prep (setting B&W points, highlights, shadows, etc. in Adobe Camera Raw).  Following this,  I opened the file in Photoshop and tried several approaches such as a straight black and white print which looked very nice, but I finally decided to go on a more radical direction.

2016 06 1PF Original

This usually means a foray into the Filter Gallery, which is fast becoming my “go-to” place for this monthly event.  Needless to say, I do not possess a single plug-in app so my choices are somewhat restricted, comparatively speaking.

But I digress.  The tool I picked is the so-called Glowing Edges under the “Stylize” Tab.  Although I have used this one before, it behaves quite unpredictably (at least for me) so the results can be quite different in each case.  There are three adjustment sliders to control the effects and the final settings were: Edge Width: 2;  Edge Brightness: 17; and Smoothness: 8.  It was starting to look pretty decent, but the lovely blue sky in the upper portion was now a black void and desperately needed help.  Rather than just crop it out, I used the clone tool to copy sections of the lower clouds.  This, of course, created a new problem–the newly created clouds were not reflected in the water below.

The solution was to select the upper clouds, then copy them into a new layer.  I then used the Edit–>Transform–>Flip Vertical function to flip the layer and then I dragged it down to the bottom of the image.  An actual reflection should be softer and not as bright as the original object so I used the gaussian blur tool and a decrease in the opacity of the layer to create a look that matched the reflections that were already there.  The final image is shown below.

Robin Kent 2016 06 1PF Final Final

Thanks again to David for providing this month’s image and thanks also to Stacy for keeping this herd of cats heading in a generally productive direction.  Be sure and check out the other contributions at June One Photo Focus.  One again, there will be an amazing variety of interpretations.  In the meantime,


Keep Shooting….