ART in Embassies and Our Thirty Seconds of Fame

ART in Embassies

Our experience with the ART in Embassies program began in June 2003.  That is when we were contacted by one of the curators of the program who requested that we lend paintings to be installed in the US Embassy in Bishkek, capital city of the former Soviet Republic of Kyrgyz.  The newly appointed ambassador to Bishkek was Stephen Young,  a New Hampshire native.  Ambassador Young had made a request of ART in Embassies to decorate the embassy with paintings from his native state.  The curator, Virginia Shore, became aware of our Web site devoted to the art and artists who painted in the White Mountains of New Hampshire during the 19th century (http://www.whitemountainart.com/).  Her contact with us was initially by e-mail, but we eventually spoke on the phone.  She provided us with literature about the program, but we were reluctant to send our paintings over 6,000 miles away to a place unknown to us, especially during these uncertain times.  When I told her we were not willing to loan the paintings, she acted as if we had lost our minds.  She appealed to our sense of civic responsibility, but ultimately she played the appreciation card, stating that having the paintings on display would improve their value should they be sold some day.  She also promised to have produced a color catalog of the paintings provided that I give her digital images of the paintings and biographical information on the artists represented.  After some further negotiation, we agreed to lend a number of paintings.  We provided images of the paintings we were willing to loan.  Virginia and Ambassador Young selected eight paintings to borrow for a period of the ambassadorís term, usually three years.  The paintings can be viewed on the Web at: http://www.johnjhenderson.com/aie/aie.html.

 

In mid November, 2003, two guys arrived from Artex, a firm that specializes in packaging and crating art for shipment around the world.  They packaged the paintings in cardboard boxes as temporary containers to be returned to the DC area for final crating.  The paintings traveled to Kyrgyz by escort.  Chon Drennan, from ART in Embassies, traveled with the paintings and supervised their installation.  Below is a day-by-day description of his trip (all dates are 2003).

December 8

Met the Artex truck at Dulles International with Masterpiece cargo expeditor.  Supervised palletization of the crates containing the paintings.  Left the cargo expeditor with the crates to escort to planeside while I went to the terminal for check in and security.  Met the expeditor at the gate and confirmed that the crates were loaded onto the aircraft before boarding. Departed Dulles for Frankfurt.

December 9

Arrived Frankfurt and met by Hasenkamp cargo expeditor and airport security.  Went to the tarmac planeside and supervised unloading of the crates from the plane.   (Tarmac access is only granted for the highest security requirements.)  Escorted the crates back to Lufthansa cargo.  Unpalletized the crates and placed in Lufthansa's VIC (Very Important Cargo) storage facility.  We were not able to make the connection to Almaty, Kazakhstan so had to overnight in Frankfurt.

December 10 at 5 AM

Met Hasenkamp cargo expeditor and airport security.  Retrieved crates from VIC and palletized.  Security and the expeditor escorted the cargo planeside while I checked in.  Met security and expeditor at the gate, went to the tarmac and supervised loading onto the plane.  Confirmed with the pilot that the cargo and courier were on board.  Departed for Almaty.

Arrived Almaty.  Met embassy contact.  Retrived cargo with embassy shipping and customs officials.  Delivered cargo to embassy secure warehouse.  Informed Marine guards.

December 11

Worked with embassy shipping and customs on export documentation for Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.  Embassy Bishkek sends their truck and driver to Almaty.

December 12

Meet customs officials and driver at Embassy Almaty.  Retrieve cargo from secure warehouse.  Drive from Almaty to Bishkek.  Arrive Embassy Bishkek and meet embassy officials at ambassador's residence.  Unload crates and leave for acclimatization process.

December 13

Meet embassy officials and installation crew at ambassador's residence.  Brief crew on unpacking and installation procedures.  Unpack works of art and set aside for condition reporting.  Complete reports.  Continue with installation.  Everything went very well.  Since there was a language barrier, we worked slowly to avoid any misunderstandings.  All the crew were assigned specific tasks and instructions how to perform those tasks.  The works of art were all in good condition and acclimated well into their new environment.

All was well.  I loved "[the paintings] acclimated well into their new environment."  It's like we had just sent our cats to Kyrgyz!

 

Cohn sent us pictures of the embassy and the paintings in their new home.  We especially liked the picture of the guard on duty at the embassy.

 

In early April 2004, we received an invitation to the Department of State.

"In celebration of the 40th Anniversary of the ART in Embassies Program, The Secretary of State and Mrs. Powell request the pleasure of your company at a reception and book dedication on Monday, the seventeenth of May Two thousand and four from five until seven o'clock"

I thought, "That's pretty neat, but we're not going to Washington just for a two-hour reception."  Then, two weeks later, we received a second invitation.

"Mrs. Laura Bush requests the pleasure of your company at a reception to be held at The White House on Monday morning, May 17, 2004 at nine-thirty o'clock"

Now the Administration had our attention.  This was our opportunity for our once-in-a-lifetime thirty seconds of fame!
 

The White House
(Note: All captioned photos are from: http://www.whitehouse.gov/history/whtour/)

We drove to Washington Saturday morning, May 15th, arriving in the late afternoon.  We stayed at the Willard Intercontinental which is at 1401 Pennsylvania Avenue, two blocks from the White House.  On Sunday we took a walk to the White House, finding streets closed, barricades everywhere, fences with strategically placed guard stations, and all other variety of blockades that convinced me that the terrorists have, indeed, gone a long way toward winning the war.  If their goal was to change the fabric of American life, just travel by air, visit a major office building in any large US city, or tour our nation's capital.  As citizens we are now subject to invasive treatment throughout the US, while we squander billions on a war in a country not even involved in the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

 
We visited The National Gallery on Sunday afternoon.  Founded by Andrew Mellon, Secretary of the Treasury, he chose the name "The National Gallery."  Many art galleries are named for their founders -- the Corcoran or the Getty or the Guggenheim.  Mellon's choice of this name, however, would have a major affect on the collections.  Based on this name alone, many patrons have contributed the very best works of art so that they can be housed in the nation's "National Gallery" rather than a lesser gallery.  One of the Gallery's challenges has been to turn down gifts whose quality is not up to the standards of The National Gallery.
 
Our reception at the White House was scheduled for 9:30 AM.  We arrived to find a very long line at about 9:15 AM.  The security was tight.  First we were cleared by guards with lists of names.  Then we walked to the East Entrance, where we were met by more guards, metal detectors, wands, and other invasive tools of the security trade.  Joan set off the metal detector and was wanded.  I emptied my pockets and was allowed through.  Once we were in, we had free reign of the East Wing, or at least two floors of the East Wing.  The entrance hallway is covered with black and white photos of the animals that have been kept as pets in the White House.  George W. has two dogs and a cat.  They, of course, dominated the photo gallery.  There have been some unusual pets at the White House.  One was a goat, but at least it might provide milk.  The most unusual was a raccoon!  Not a great pet unless you crave rabies.
 
Every hallway and every room is decorated with wonderful paintings and furniture.  Most of the paintings were portraits of the Presidents and First Ladies.  There were also landscape paintings by very well-known artists.  We saw paintings by Alfred Thompson Bricher, Albert Bierstadt, Martin Johnson Heade, Ferdinand Richardt, amount others.  Portraits were everywhere, but the first room we entered, the Vermeil Room,  just had portraits of the First Ladies (seven were represented).  We had our pictures snapped in front of Eleanor and then Jackie.  Also on the first floor was the Library containing thousands of books with such titles as The Public Papers of Andrew Johnson.
 
Once we climbed the stairs to the second floor, each room was more dramatic than the next.  And, the views out the windows were spectacular -- the Washington Monument from one window, the Jefferson Memorial from the next.  Of course, there was a military orchestra playing the whole time.  Men and women members of the Armed Services were positioned everywhere in full dress uniforms.  Waiters would approach to pour us fresh orange juice.  A huge spread of breakfast foods covered a large table in the State Dining room.  The mini-quiches were great.  I scoffed quite a few.  And, once they had cooled on the tray for a minute or two, the whole tray would be whisked away to be replaced by hot ones fresh from the kitchen.  Wait staff were everywhere.  There is a great fireplace in the State Dining Room.  Above the fireplace is a portrait of President Lincoln by George P. A. Healy.  Carved into the mantel below this portrait is an inscription from a letter written by John Adams on his second night in the White House:
I pray Heaven to Bestow the Best of Blessings on THIS HOUSE and on All that shall hereafter Inhabit it. May none but honest and Wise Men ever rule under this roof.  
The first room we entered upstairs is called the Entrance Hall.  That's where the orchestra was playing and the waiters roamed the room with fruit juices.  Three more "intimate" rooms are off the Cross Hall.  They are named for the colors used for their decoration -- the Green Room, the Blue Room, and the Red Room.  We wandered around freely, with no restrictions being placed on us whatsoever.  The lavish breakfast pastries and bite size quiches were in the State Dining Room -- a magnificent room with a huge fireplace and what seemed like a fifty-foot table for the eats.
  
The floral arrangements were magnificent.  They could have come from the fanciest wedding you could imagine.  And, they were everywhere.  We were told the White House has four full-time florists.  And, to keep track of the priceless paintings, furniture, rugs, china, and crystal, they have five full-time curators!  These are not your average household expenses. 
 
After an hour or so of first class treatment we found ourselves outside the doorway to the East Room.  This was where seating had been arranged for Laura's remarks (note that she's now "Laura" to us).  As we were standing in front of the doorway, it opened.  We became the first to enter and be seated.  The room is decorated in gold, so I thought it might be called the Gold Room, but my research confirmed it to be the East Room.  A lectern had been installed at the front of the room.  Laura was announced and made her way into the room and to the podium.  She was introduced by Anne Johnson, Director of the ART in Embassies program.  I do not remember a single word she said.  I was busy zooming in for pictures of her from our front row seats.  (I lie.  We were really in the third row.  As in all life situations, the first two rows were "reserved" for people more special than we were.)  After her remarks, she left the room.  We left the room thinking that Laura had escaped back into the private spaces of the White House.  Imagine our surprise when we found her in the Red Room.  We waited in line a short time before Joan was introducing herself.  Joan said we were lenders to AIE but also told Laura that she -- Joan -- volunteered for Reach Out and Read in Concord, New Hampshire.  (Laura Bush introduced Reach Out and Read to the state of Texas.)  I asked if I could take a picture, and the rest is history.  As Joan turned to go, Laura said, "Thank you for coming and thank you for being a Reach Out and Read volunteer."
 
OK.  We had enjoyed the music, guzzled the juice, wandered the rooms, fondled the furniture, slept through the remarks, and met Laura Bush.  It was 11:30 AM, and we knew we would soon be asked to leave.  So, we returned downstairs, took one last look in the Library, the Vermeil Room, and the gallery of pets, and left the East Entrance for a final picture outside the White House while still inside the steel security fence.  In one word -- fabulous.

 

 

 

 

The State Department
In the afternoon we were scheduled to be at the State Department for a two-hour panel discussion entitled Art and Diplomacy -- 21st Century Challenges.  (Security was the same drill.  But, we had to get inside to get the goodies for the evening.)  The people on the panel were very distinguished and very boring.  Let's move on to the good stuff.

 
The State Department reception was scheduled from 5 to 7 PM in the Benjamin Franklin room.  The room is on the 8th floor of the State Department, which happens to be the top floor.  We took an elevator to the 8th floor.  You had to have a special pass to get on the elevator.  After arriving at our destination, we had to wait for the official receiving line.  The last receiving line I remember was at my wedding.  The line consisted of Anne Johnson, followed by Colin and Mrs. Powell, followed by another General and his wife.  Who the hell these people were I don't know, but General #2 did introduce my friend Colin later in the evening.  After the receiving line, it was on to Ben's room. 

It's called the Benjamin Franklin room because 1) there's a huge portrait of Ben in the room and 2) Ben used it for state dinners.  Even back then the dinners must have been large affairs, since the room was easily the size of a football field.  More art, more antiques -- pretty boring by now -- but the food, that's another story.  These were not your cocktail party hors d'oeuvres.  (Oh, let me digress.  Where can you go these days where the cocktails are anything other than beer and wine?  Not at the State Department.  It's the last bastion of booze at the highest level -- gin, scotch, bourbon -- you name it.  I guess it's OK to get tanked, since the average guests take cabs when they leave and the brass get picked up in stretch limos.)  The hors d'oeuvres were stuffed mushrooms, bacon wrapped scallops, beef on the bone, ...  You get the picture -- these were eats fit for a general or two.

We did the tour of the Benjamin Franklin room, stopping at the victuals table and the bar as often as we could.  Every once in a while we would view a priceless painting or two.  Finally, General #2 introduced General #1.  (Again, as an aside, I should mention that Colin Powell has his own flag that always travels with him.  It's got some fancy stuff in the center, like maybe the Department of State Seal, but the neat part is a star in each corner of the flag -- four stars for the four-star General.  Wherever he goes, the flag flies where he's staying.  He had just returned from Jordan on Sunday, so the flag flying Monday at the State Department signals to all that "The General is in."  What the hell was he doing in Jordan?  Didn't he realize he had a reception back in DC for yokels like us?)
 
Colin's speech (again note the first name basis) was much longer than Laura's, but equally forgettable.  My mission was simple.  We had snagged Laura in the AM, and I wasn't going to let Colin escape in the PM.  Joan was NOT going to get all the glory.  I WAS going to get a picture with Secretary Powell.
 
Remember, Colin was tired after his trip to the Middle East.  I'm certain he just wanted to escape after making his remarks.  I know this is true, because after he was accosted by me and Joan, he flew from the room.  But, not before I approached him after his remarks, putting my hand on his shoulder.  "Mr. Secretary, would you please shake my hand so my wife can get a picture?" 
 
Before he could respond, I grabbed his hand and smiled for Joan.  She fumbled for her camera (even though she should have been prepared!), trying desperately to turn it on.  Colin looked straight at her and said, "Your shutter's not open, babe."
 
What!  Tell me about sensitivity training in the military.  Babe!  I was incensed ... mainly because where was the photographer when I needed her?
 
I would not let go of Mr. Secretary's hand until we had our photo.  Snap, flash.  Finally, our moment of fame.  Only after the film was developed were my hopes dashed.  The picture did not show the friendly handshake!
 
Oh well, beautiful art and antiques, good food, friendly company.  What more could I want?  Another thirty seconds of fame, please.

 

 

See the Photo Gallery at: http://johnjhenderson.com/TheWhiteHouse/picture_gallery_the_white_house.htm