Monday, September 14, 2009

Uncovering a Gem of a Museum in D.C.

Image courtesy of

By Pat Tanner

Truth be told, I have almost never enjoyed touring Washington’s grand government monuments and museums. (Sorry, Smithsonian. The Air & Space Museum is O.K. but…) So for a recent jaunt to our nation’s capital I looked for an alternative and came up with a real winner: Hillwood Estate, Museum, and Gardens.

Even my acquaintances, who have lived in the D.C. area for years, weren’t aware of Hillwood, centrally located near Rock Creek Park. The mansion was home to the heiress to the Post cereal empire, Marjorie Merriweather Post. (Her name will ring a bell with those of a certain age, who may also remember Postum, the coffee substitute – made, believe it or not, until 2007! - and be familiar with Ms. Post’s daughter, the actress Dina Merrill.)

It’s hard to say which part of Hillwood I enjoyed most. Merriweather Post was an avid collector of Russian imperial art, so her collection is the most comprehensive outside of Russia, comprising Faberge eggs, Russian porcelain, and Russian Orthodox icons. But she was also a world-class collector of 18th century French decorative art and furnishings, including Beauvais tapestries and Sevres porcelain. From October 20 to May 30, more than 90 examples of Sevres will be on display in a special exhibition. Many of them have never been seen before by American audiences.

A top contender for my favorite part of Hillwood, besides the informative docents who lovingly guide visitors through the mansion and its many treasures, is the stroll through the gardens, nestled into which is a full-sized replica of a Russian dacha. (The Sevres exhibition will be on display there.) But also vying for top honors is lunch at the museum’s café. Its menu pays homage to each of Marjorie Merriweather Post’s passions with its offerings of borscht, quiche, and good old American egg salad sandwiches.

The tagline for Hillwood is “Where Fabulous Lives.” For a close-up glimpse of the exact fabulousness that awaits, visit

No comments: