Ulysses S. Grant: Overdue Repair Job

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The Grant Memorial, Guarding the Capitol’s West Front (November, 2014)

The massive memorial to Ulysses S. Grant, like so many of Washington’s monuments and memorials, has long suffered from neglect.  (See, for example, a January 2011 article in the Wall Street Journal).   Now at last, as reported in today’s edition of the Washington Post, a restoration project is underway.

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Scaffolding for the Grant Memorial Restoration (August, 2015)

When I first photographed the memorial I knew much about Grant, but nothing of the history of the statue.  But I had available a most valuable resource: James M. Goode’s imposing reference, “Washington Sculpture” and found a story that fascinated me.

In 1901, a young, unknown sculptor, Henry Merwin Shrady, submitted design for a prestigious commission: a memorial statue of Ulysses S. Grant and the largest ever commissioned by the US Congress at that time. His 22 competitors were experienced, well-known artists and a furor erupted when the 31-yar old was selected.  He was selected a second time when one of the losers demanded a retrial.

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Artillery Group, on South Flank of Main Statue (January, 2010)

This one work would consume Shrady for the rest of his life, which tragically ended 20 years later and just a few weeks before the memorial’s dedication.  Before he began his work, Shrady conducted intensive research on Civil War history, immersing himself in the details of uniforms, military practices, and the anatomy and physical movement of horses. He was loaned actual uniforms by the secretary of war. West Point and other military schools conducted special drills for him to observe artillery and cavalry maneuvers.  And he investigated much, much more in his unending efforts to bring authenticity to even the smallest aspects of his work.

But despite his premature death, the memorial Shrady produced was unlike any other in the U.S. up to that time. It is vast, with a base 252 feet wide by 71 feet deep, and was the largest bronze-casting project ever undertaken. At its center stands an equestrian statue of Grant. Flanking him, albeit some distance away, are clusters of warriors: a Cavalry Group to the north and an Artillery Group to the south.

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Cavalry Group on North Flank of Main Statue (November 2014)

(Note the tarnished green stains and missing sword blade; note also the face of the fallen soldier under the hooves of the lead horse-thought to be a self portrait of the artist)

Shrady obtained numerous postponements, fending off demands for deadlines while dealing with numerous challenges such as a fire that destroyed the foundry responsible for casting the bronze components and political fights over the proposed location of the memorial.

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Artillery Group at Twilight (November 2014)

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Setting Moon, Grant Memorial and Washington Monument

I’m looking forward to the completion of the renovation project, the memorial will have a totally different look, and new opportunities for photography.  But when the scaffiolding is taken away, those who live here should go back and take a close look at what is by far the most dramatic work of sculpture in the city.  In the meantime,

Keep Shooting……

 

 

Virginia Road Trip: Buzzard Rock and Thoroughfare Gap

Memorial Day weekend is great time to be in Washington DC—if you are a fan of motorcycles, parades, and ceremonies.  We decided to go the other direction on Sunday, heading west toward Front Royal and the George Washington National Forest.

We had heard about an “easy hike” near Front Royal, called “Buzzard Rock” that features a nice overlook of the Shenandoah Valley.  Not nearly as well-known as more popular hikes such as Old Rag, White Oak Canyon, or Dark Hollow Falls we guessed that it would not be very crowded.

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 Looking North from First Outlook

We arrived at the trailhead at 10:00 AM—later than advisable if you want to beat the crowds, but there were still a couple spots left in the small parking lot.  It’s a 4-mile roundtrip, with a gradual elevation gain of about 650 feet along a fairly well-marked trail.  It’s a pleasant walk up to the first overlook where one is rewarded with some nice scenery of the Valley below.  There is also a good view of a fish hatchery along Passage Creek (Image below).

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Fish Hatchery as seen from First Outlook

While the views at the top were nice, I would not place this trail on my top 10 list for Virginia hikes within a 2-hour drive of Washington.   But that’s OK, because the more interesting portion of the day was still ahead.

Our mission was to find the secret route to Chapman’s Mill, a massive historic stone structure that is in full view (about 100 yards away) of thousands of cars on Interstate 66.  My previous solo attempts had ended in failure, but now that I had the assistance of a skilled navigatrix and her wonder dog Smokey, I felt confident that success was finally within my grasp.

 Virginia 04The Ruins of Chapman’s Mill, (walls now stabilized and braced)

To give you a small sense of the challenge, Chapman’s Mill is located on Beverly Mill Road and once you drive past the mill on I-66 heading east, you must drive 8 more miles and then backtrack the same distance on State Road 55 to get there.

Virginia 05Partially collapsed Interior Wall (much work remains)

Chapman’s Mill was originally built in 1742 and, at 7 ½ stories, is thought to be the tallest stacked stone building in the United States.  The mill is located in Thoroughfare Gap, a narrow passage in the Bull Run Mountains.  The Gap was used by migrating buffalo and traveling American Indians long before Europeans arrived in the area.

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Detail of Wall, Showing Stacked Stone Technique

The gap quickly became a major route to the rich farmland of the Shenandoah Valley, was a strategic route in the French and Indian Wars, the Revolutionary War, and the Civil War and its importance as a trade route was enhanced with the arrival of a rail line (still operating today) in 1852.Virginia 06

Interior View, showing Rusting Cogwheel (about 6-foot diameter)

The mill was a major food storage and distribution center for the Confederate forces until mid-1862 and was burned by the Confederates when they departed the area.  Rebuilt after the war, it continued to operate as a mill, passing through several owners until it ceased operations in 1946.

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Interior View Showing a Stabilizing Cross Beam

Abandoned for years, it escaped demolition in the 1960s from the planned route for I-66 through the efforts of local citizens and preservation groups.  In 1998, it was torched by an arsonist. The devastation was so extensive that the building seemed doomed to extinction.  But shortly thereafter, a non-profit group obtained the property and launched a restoration campaign.  Phases 1 and 2 (Stabilizing the walls, conducting archaeological research on the site) are completed and fudraising is underway to continue the restoration.

 Virginia 08Smokey, the Wonder Dog, Contemplates the Scene

 

The mill is open to the public on Saturdays and Sundays.  Click here for more information.

Cherry Blossoms–Not Yet!

Although the cherry blossoms have yet to  fully awaken, there are plenty of other photographic opportunities right now in Washington, DC.

At sunrise two days ago, the tidal basin was almost completely deserted.   The sky was clear which means you can get the shot below as the sun clears the horizon.

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Sunrise, April 2, 2015

At sunrise the  next day, rain clouds were coming in from the west but there were some openings in the eastern sky.  Again, the tidal basin was deserted.

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Sunrise, April 3, 2015

The rain started within an hour after the image above was taken but it was a light rain so I checked out the status of the pink magnolia trees in Rawlins Park (E Street, Foggy Bottom) that usually are open before the cherry blossoms.

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Afternoon Rain Shower, Rawlins Park

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Magnolia, Rawlins Square

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Magnolia, Rawlins Square

While photographing the square, I noticed some white magnolias across the street at the Red Cross National Headquarters (20th and E Streets NW).  A quick check showed that an evening shot might be worthwhile.

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Evening, Red Cross Headquarters

This morning, I checked out the Enid Haupt Garden at the Smithsonian Castle on Independence Avenue.

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Morning, April 4, 2015

If you want to photograph these trees, don’t delay.  They go quickly and inclement weather is forecast for mid-week.You can also find them in the Sculpture Garden (National Gallery of Art) and at the George Mason Memorial near the Jefferson Memorial.

Scouting Report: Getting Ready for Spring

The signs are unmistakable: the calendar says March, sunrise is coming earlier each day, the temperatures are rising, and the snow is disappearing.

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Jefferson Memorial at Sunrise, March 12, 2012

After all, it’s been 3 years since I got a decent image on March 12th.  So yesterday afternoon (March 12th), I made a scouting run into the city to check out a few sites for possible photo opportunities.  As I made the rounds, it appeared that conditions were promising for a sunset image (see below) so I kept my eye on the clouds building up as I explored the area around the National Mall.

The scouting findings may be of interest to photographers in the Washington, DC area, others can skip to the end and see what happened at 7:25 PM.

Solar Cycle:  For the next few days, the late afternoon sun (when skies are clear) will be providing some opportunities as it illuminates the Federal Triangle Buildings along the north side of Constitution Avenue and the recently renovated Arts and Industries Building on Independence Avenue.

Fountains:  As usual at this time of year, virtually all of the fountains are still shut down for the winter.  This includes the fountains and pool at the World War II Memorial and the Reflecting Pool between the WW II Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial.  In addition, the waterfall at the northwest corner of the Museum of the American Indian is dry and the waterfalls at the FDR Memorial are also turned off.

The Tidal Basin:  There is a significant amount of ice still in the Basin, but this should be melted in a few days.

National Gallery, East Wing: The large construction crane is finally gone, although there is still a considerable amount of fencing and construction equipment on the south and east sides of the building.  However, there are good angles on the west side of the building.

Ongoing Construction:  The US Capitol is still under scaffolding, of course, and the white plastic wrap covering part of the scaffolding has been altered for the worse (who would have thought that was possible) by adding a section with a tawdry taupe color.  The new African American Museum is still far from completion and news reports state that the opening date has been pushed back to early 2017.  There is better news a few blocks to the west where the interminable construction project for a relatively small flood control wall (17th Street and Constitution Avenue) is all but wrapped up.  The unsightly wooden fence on the northeast corner of 17th and Constitution is gone, leaving a rather graceful stone wall curving toward the Washington Monument.  Across 17th, the construction equipment has been removed and the landscaping seems completed.  However, there are still some chain link fences protecting the larger trees along 17th Street.

Upcoming Events

March 14: DC Rock ‘n Roll MarathonThe Start Time 7:30 AM likely will complicate efforts to photograph anything else so plan accordingly.  Details here.

March 20: The Equinox.  Check your Photographer’s Ephemeris app for an opportunity near you.

March 28: Kite Festival, the long-running kite festival will be in its usual location on the grounds of the Washington Monument starting at 10:00 AM.  For details, click here.

April 4: Full Moon. Check your Photographer’s Ephemeris app for an opportunity near you.

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Kite Festival

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Kite Festival

Sunset at the FDR Memorial

As the sun edged closer to the horizon last night, I made my way over to the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial which is located on the west side of the Tidal Basin.  DC locals might think this is a strange location to capture a sunset, but I thought it would be a good backdrop for a specific feature at the Memorial.  The result is shown below.

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FDR Memorial at Sunset, March 12, 2015

(Technical Data: Nikon D800E with 24-70mm f/2.8 lens on tripod, extended to 24mm; exposure 1 sec. @f/16, EV = -1.0 ISO 400.)

The Memorial, on 7.5 acres chronicles the four terms of Roosevelt’s Presidency.  This section, with the five pillars and five panels on the wall, were intended to represent the social programs (New Deal) during his presidency. The design has been criticized as the “least successful” of the many sculptures in the Memorial, and I would agree that their intended symbolism is opaque.  Nevertheless, I have found them to be an interesting photographic subject.

Coming Soon–Iguazu Falls (Really!)

Washington, D.C. — National Cathedral

National Cathedral 01The Washington Cathedral Nave, Looking West

The Washington National Cathedral is one of the great interior spaces in the city.  This week, it will be especially interesting because all of the seating has been removed from the nave.  In a special week-long program, the Cathedral is evoking the experience of Gothic cathedrals centuries ago when there was no seating.  The program (“Seeing Deeper”) included two morning photo sessions, allowing photographers to sign up for an opportunity to take pictures before normal opening hours.  Thanks to the sharp eye of my sister, I was alerted in time to snag one of the limited number of tickets for this morning’s session.

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The Photographers at Work

The event was well-organized as the Cathedral staff understood what was desired by everyone in the group: An unobstructed long view of the nave with no other photographers milling about in the scene. We were guided to the east end of the nave where there was sufficient space to set up without obstructing the efforts of others.  After about 20 minutes, we were released to wander about the main level and photograph whatever struck our fancy.

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View from Southwest Corner of Nave

The other good news is that much of the construction paraphanalia associated with the repair of earthquake damage is gone, such as the netting that had been hanging from the ceiling to protect against falling debris.  Some of the scaffolding is still there (see first image above), but the photography opportunities are much improved.  Information on the other events associated with the Seeing Deeper program can be found at the Cathedral’s web site.

Washington DC — November Scouting Report

Breaking News:  The scaffolding for the US Capitol Dome project is now completely up, but the unique illumination that makes it an interesting subject at night (see image below) may be about to disappear.  A check on the east front of the building showed an enormous white plastic sheet enveloping about 60% of the dome and scaffolding on that side and a small portion of the north side.

Capitol Dome Scaffolding

                                  US Capitol Under Repair  (View of West Front)                                   (Nikon D800E with 20-70mm f/2.8 lens on tripod; exposure 3 sec. @ f/16, ISO 400)

This week, I made two scouting runs into the city to determine the feasibility of an evening shoot in the coming weeks.   Along the way, I checked the status of other sites that may be of interest to local photographers.

The Bad News

Fountains: A number of the major and minor fountains are no longer running, having been shut down for the winter.  These include the Bartholdi Fountain, the Court of Neptune at the Library of Congress, the two small fountains on the plaza of the Supreme Court, the Joseph Darlington Memorial Fountain at the intersection of Indiana Avenue and 5th Street NW, and the Mellon Fountain at the Federal Triangle.  And, of course, the long neglected but potentially impressive Columbus Fountain at Union Station continues to languish along with the two smaller basins on its flanks.

The Tulip Library:  The colorful annuals that were blooming in profusion not many weeks ago are now gone.  But in the spring there will be a new display of tulips providing a great foreground for images of the Washington Monument.

National Gallery, East Wing: There is still one crane remaining alongside the building on the Constitution Avenue side.  Close crop shots from a number of angles are possible, however.

Renwick Gallery:  The renovation, begun earlier this year, is still underway and will probably last through next year. The Gallery is closed and well hidden behind the construction scaffolding.

Old Post Office: Also closed, also lots of scaffolding plus an enormous sign with the new owner’s last name prominently displayed.

The Good News

Fountains:  Some are still running, but time is growing short.  The World War II Memorial seems to be in full operation and likely will be one of the last to shut down.  Others that still have running water include the new Disabled for Life Veterans Memorial (plus the flame was going strong this afternoon), the cascades on the northwest side of the American Indian Museum, the Senate Garage Fountain (although the illumination was turned off a few nights ago), the reflecting pool at the Japanese Internment Memorial (Louisiana Avenue and D Street, NW), and the twin fountains/cascades on the plaza of the US Navy Memorial (Pennsylvania Avenue and 7th Street, NW).

Kennedy Center:  The large temporary tent that had been erected on the south side of the building is now gone.  Those wishing to take photographs from the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge pedestrian sidewalk or from vantage points on that side of the Center will no longer have to contend with this.

Upcoming Events

The 2014 Capitol Christmas Tree is making its way from Minnesota and is scheduled to arrive at 10 AM on November 21st.  The lighting ceremony will be on December 2nd.  Traditionally, the Capitol Police have suspended the requirement for permits to use a tripod on the Capitol grounds for the entire month of December.  Hopefully, that will be repeated this year.  Stay tuned….

Preparations for the National Christmas Tree and Pathway to Peace are well underway now on the ellipse, but much remains to be done.  The lighting ceremony will be on December 6th.

The National Hanukkah Menorah to celebrate the 8-day Jewish holiday will also be on the ellipse.  The lighting ceremony will be at 4 PM on December 16th.

So, get out and get shooting…

Washington, DC: October Scouting Report

Breaking News: There is a new Memorial in town–the “American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial.”  It was dedicated in a special ceremony on Sunday, October 5th and was opened to the public yesterday.  An excellent article by Phillip Kennecott, the Washington Post Architecture Critic, gives all the details which can be found here.

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The Monument is located on a small plot of land bounded by three main streets a block or so away from the US Botanical Garden.  I visited it on Monday afternoon to check on the photographic opportunities.  As Kennecott notes, with one exception, the location is not surrounded by a majestic background.  That exception is the southwest corner where there is a fabulous view looking toward the US Capitol Building (northeast of the Memorial) as shown in the image below. Hard to see in this size, so click on the image for a better view.  Mid-afternoon is not the best time for a photograph, but I imagine that this could be pretty nice at twilight.

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The main features include two infinity pools. The larger pool, shaped as a triangle, is only ankle-high and on calm days could provide some impressive reflections as suggested by the image above. The second,  is star-shaped and is about knee-high and punctuated by a burning flame emerging from a bubbling fountain (see image below).

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At the south end, there is a series of glass panels, with etchings of quotes and images.  It is this section which is the most compelling and reminds us of the costs of going to war.

While I was there I wandered over to the US Capitol to check on the progress of the scaffolding.  It has grown considerably since my last visit but they have more to add.  The entire West Front is becoming increasingly absorbed by the renovation work.  There now is a shiny aluminum catwalk traversing the north (left) side of the building emanating from an enormous construction support compound that houses the nerve center of the renovation project.

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But the positive news today is the appearance of this new memorial and the purpose for which it was created.  When you get a chance, check it out.  The Federal Center SW Metro stop is only two blocks away.