Morning at the Museum

The Main Gallery of the Phillips with an ashtray next to the couch, 1963. Photo from Phillips Collection Archives.

A couple of days ago I got locked out of my office. I was on my way back from getting a cup of coffee when my badge stopped working, and I found myself stuck in a gallery (a gallery that will not be named) with a cup of coffee and nowhere to go. At first I panicked. This is the kind of scenario that would normally make me break into cold sweats– after all, a bottle of water in the galleries is strictly forbidden, let alone a steaming cup of joe. However, these were extenuating circumstances and as the museum was closed (it was a Monday) I was allowed to wander the gallery with my coffee in peace and quiet while the security glitch was fixed. Continue reading

Phillips Flashback: October 20, 1924

Duncan and Laughlin Phillips, late 1920's, standing on Q Street NW, the Phillips Memorial Gallery behind them to the left. Photo from Phillips Collection Archives.

A son, Laughlin Phillips, is born to Duncan and Marjorie in Washington D.C. Laughlin, named after his paternal grandmother’s family, will go on to be a foreign service officer, a founder of Washingtonian magazine, and director of his family’s museum, taking over from his mother in 1972 and serving for 20 years. It is Laughlin who will formalize the business of the museum from a small family-run collection into an internationally positioned institution.

“The sort of a person we would all like to be, but aren’t . . .”

Read part one of Jenna’s remembrance of James McLaughlin and history of the staff show here.

James McLaughlin with a group of young museum-goers, holding Marjorie Phillips's painting, Night Baseball. Photo courtesy Phillips Collection Archives.

Duncan and Marjorie Phillips’s son Laughlin described his fondness for James McLaughlin and his character at McLaughlin’s 1982 memorial service:

Jim was in many ways my mentor. When he first came to the Collection, he was 24 and I was 9. I didn’t come to the gallery much those days. But, during summer visits to our family home in Pennsylvania, he taught me about the woods and the mountains, and how to mix paints, and hammer a nail and throw a curve. His enthusiasms were legion and irresistible.

My mother and I feel a great personal loss and a great loss to the Collection. Jim knew every painting here. Every nook and cranny of the building. He approached his work with the creative spirit and sensibilities of an artist – never those of a museum bureaucrat.

He was fiercely loyal to the Collection and proud of it. And well he might be, because everything here has been under his care, for 49 years.

Jim was the sort of a person we would all like to be, but aren’t. He was a man of principle and deep conviction. Strong, and yet extraordinarily sensitive. A gentleman. Independent and able.

The personal memories and anecdotes shared by Phillips staff that knew him make McLaughlin a legendary figure in the museum’s history. According to Alec MacKaye, McLaughlin built and carved many wooden frames specifically for paintings included in The Phillips Collection. Beyond the walls of the Phillips, Bill Koberg recalls that McLaughlin built his own house. Koberg, a preparator here for 40 years, worked closely with and learned from McLaughlin.

Through McLaughlin’s memory and legacy of a staff show, The Phillips Collection continues to cultivate the artistic community that McLaughlin encouraged and esteemed during his lifetime.

Jenna Kowalke-Jones, Young Artists Exhibitions Program Coordinator