Jefferson Place Gallery: Helene McKinsey Herzbrun and Hilda Thorpe

In one of our permanent collection galleries, Curator Renee Maurer has selected works by artists who were associated with Jefferson Place Gallery (1957–1974), a small cooperative gallery dedicated to promoting and exhibiting the work of DC-based artists. When it opened at 1216 Connecticut Avenue, just south of Dupont Circle, it was one of the few commercial art spaces that focused on the local arts community. Its pioneering exhibitions explored new means of painting, printmaking, sculpture, photography, and conceptual art. It was founded by American University art faculty who had trained at the Phillips Gallery Art School (1931–1950), including Robert Gates and Ben Summerford, together with Helene McKinsey Herzbrun and Alice Denney, the inaugural director.

In its 18-year history, Jefferson Place Gallery presented nearly 190 shows that supported more than 100 DC-area artists, including Washington Color School painters like Kenneth Noland, Gene Davis, Thomas Downing, and Howard Mehring, as well as Willem de Looper, and William Christenberry. Duncan and Marjorie Phillips were frequent visitors to the gallery and acquired the paintings by Noland and Herzbrun on view.

Helene McKinsey Herzbrun, Abstraction, c. 1958, Oil on canvas 34 1/8 x 28 in., The Phillips Collection, Acquired 1959 (?)

In 1950, Helene McKinsey Herzbrun pursued an MFA in painting at American University, where she studied with both Jack Tworkov and Robert Gates. She then managed the Watkins Art Gallery at AU and joined the art department faculty. With the opening of Jefferson Place, Herzbrun and her colleagues developed a creative community that encouraged the display of contemporary art in the nation’s capital. In a letter to Tworkov from October 1, 1957, Herzbrun described how finding a space for Jefferson Place on Connecticut Avenue was like “a dream come true . . . the group is strong enough to make a real statement.” Herzbrun had seven one-person shows at Jefferson Place between 1958 and 1974. Duncan and Marjorie Phillips purchased this work, formerly tilted Young Pine, from the gallery in 1959 for $125.

Hilda Thorpe, Horizon Blue, Divide, 1975, Oil pastel on paper, 29 x 21 in., The Phillips Collection, Acquired 1975

Hilda Thorpe’s art was influenced by the gestural paintings of her professors at American University, including Gates and Tworkov. In 1959, Thorpe was awarded a capstone exhibition at AU’s Watkins Gallery: a two-person show shared with Alma Thomas; the next academic year, Thorpe become the director of Watkins Gallery. Thorpe was encouraged by her mentors to exhibit at Jefferson Place, and her emergence there coincided with the beginnings of the Washington Color School and the vivid circle and striped paintings by Kenneth Noland and Gene Davis. Thorpe’s exposure to all-over painted color fields led to her exploration of expressive pastels, some of which were on view in Thorpe’s one-person show at The Phillips Collection in 1975.

Thanks for a great 2022!

To everyone who enjoyed our galleries, attended a program, joined us for a concert: thank you! (And thank you for sharing your great photos with us!) 

Also, we’re proud to share that we made it onto some 2022 “best of” lists:

The Washington Post Best of Visual Art

The Wall Street Journal Best Art

Best of DCist and WAMU

We can’t wait to see you again in 2023!

Meet Our 2022 Fall Interns

Meet our fall 2022 interns, who have recently completed their internships. Applications for spring 2023 paid internships in the DEAI, HR, and Curatorial departments are now open!

Abby Osborne, George Washington University

“My name is Abby Osborne, and I’m a junior at George Washington University, majoring in art history and political communication. During this cycle, I’ve helped the Marketing and Communications department with community outreach, our business partnerships, and a press release about an upcoming exhibition. During my internship I enjoyed helping strengthen The Phillips Collection’s relationship with local businesses and creating strong partnerships that will benefit museum-goers. I also helped promote upcoming exhibitions and events throughout the community and updated the mailing lists, adding local university newspapers and Italian/Italian-American organizations that might be interested in the exhibition about Giuseppe De Nittis.”

Claire Griffin, George Washington University

“I am Claire Griffin and I am an intern in the DEAI department under Horning Chair for Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion Yuma Tomes. I am currently pursuing a master’s degree in Museum Studies from George Washington University and will be starting my last semester in January. Additionally, I have a bachelor’s degree in Anthropology with a minor in Sociology from Indiana University. Before joining the Phillips, I held positions at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Dumbarton House Museum, and Indiana University’s Museum of Archeology and Anthropology. Throughout my time here, I have had five major projects: Diversity in the Collection Project, Labor Acknowledgement Project, assistance with the Diversity Inter-Group Dialogue Series (DIDs) staff training session, writing an article for the next DEAI Staff Newsletter, and interviews with the department heads. I have been so grateful to learn more about DEAI work inside museums and looks forward to taking that knowledge with me throughout my career.”

Juliana Walsh, The Catholic University of America

“My name is Juliana and I have been the Community Engagement Intern. I have experienced tours given by Phillips Educators to grow my understanding of museum learning, as well as family programs that engage experiential learning. I spent a significant amount of time at our workshop at THEARC, where I helped The Phillips Collection win the best decorated car of THEARC partners at the annual Trunk & Treat event. I also supported some art-making workshops there. My main project this semester was research for the implementation of a mural-making summer camp at THEARC for students in Wards 7 and 8. This has been an absolute joy and I am very hopeful that the camp will become a reality, promoting initiatives of inclusivity and accessibility in historically underrepresented communities. I am so happy with all the work I did this semester and the great bonds that have been created between me and my department.”

Tina Fu, California State University Los Angeles

“My name is Tina Fu and I am an Education intern under Deputy Director for Education and Responsive Learning Spaces Anne Taylor Brittingham. I graduated from California State University Los Angeles this May with a BA in Art Education, which led me t interning at The Phillips Collection because I was interested in learning about art education beyond school classrooms. During my internship at the Phillips, I was able to be involved in different experiences and events, such as shadowing tours, interacting with visitors, creating lesson plans, helping set up events, and learning about the operations of a museum. I am very grateful for this opportunity which helped expand my understanding of art education.”