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Peruse vintage postcards that capture D.C.’s past
Last week, CityLab published an extraordinary piece, “How to Discover the History of Your Neighborhood, Without Leaving Home,” that documents writer and illustrator Ariel Aberg-Riger’s research-based journey into her neighborhood’s past. Among Aberg-Riger’s many clever research tricks, one is particularly ingenious: Browsing vintage postcards to learn more about how a city once advertised itself to the world. A quick search on eBay turns up hundreds of snapshots of D.C.’s past. Even if you’re not in the market to buy, it’s fun to see what you can find, especially with a little digging. During my own brief scroll, I encountered a 1955 image of the National Gallery of Art featuring trees that seem comparatively miniscule, a 1905 postcard of the Smithsonian Castle, where the District’s first children’s museum had opened a few years earlier, and one displaying the “new” Union Station, complete with vintage cars, parasols, and voluminous skirts. Try plugging in different search terms, such as specific years or locations, and you might just be surprised by what turns up. Postcards are available to view and purchase on sites like eBay. Prices vary. —Michelle Delgado
Explore the history of Wardman homes
There’s no better time than the present to learn about D.C. architecture. That way, when the city’s stay-at-home order lifts, you can play tour guide to friends and family. For beginners, Harry Wardman’s buildings are a great place to start. The developer’s portfolio is truly prolific: He’s responsible for signature row houses in Bloomingdale, 16th Street Heights, Petworth, Brightwood, Woodley Park, and Fort Stevens Ridge. If you’re interested in learning more, Sally Berk, a former DC Preservation League president and devoted Wardman researcher, runs a website where you can learn about Wardman’s life, browse a database of his developments, explore an exhibit about Wardman-heavy neighborhoods (co-curated by Caroline Mesrobian Hickman), and gaze at photo galleries of his work. However, your lesson shouldn’t stop there. While his homes influenced the signature look of residential Northwest D.C. over the last century, they’re also associated with long-lasting housing inequality in the city. As told by Mapping Segregation DC, during the peak of construction associated with Wardman’s row houses, racist housing covenants stopped many people, like black and Jewish residents, from buying the homes; Wardman himself put racist covenants on his own properties. After working your way through Berk’s website, Mapping Segregation in D.C.’s Story Map is the perfect resource to learn about these deed covenants, the demographic changes after they were slowly repealed, and their ramifications for current homeownership. Remember, the best tour guides tell a city’s whole story. Explore Wardman homes at wardmanswashington.com and the Mapping Segregation in DC Story Map at mappingsegregationdc.org. Free. —Sarah Smith
True to Nature: Artists’ Shorts
The National Gallery of Art’s recent exhibit, True to Nature: Open-Air Painting in Europe, 1780–1870, was shuttered prematurely due to the coronavirus, but one offshoot of the exhibition lives on, at least for a little while longer. The nature of that offshoot is somewhat unexpected, given the 18th-to-19th-century time frame of the main exhibition: It’s a far-flung collection of seven short films made between 1966 and 2018, many of them aggressively avant-garde in style, channeling the likes of Stan Brakhage and Hollis Frampton rather than the makers of more conventional nature documentaries. For instance, Paul and Marlene Kos’ conceptual work “Lightning” features a woman swiveling her head in a car as a thunderstorm approaches, repeatedly saying, “When I look for the lightning, it never strikes. When I look away, it does.” (Spoiler: She’s mostly right.) Bruce Baillie’s “All My Life” pairs a three-minute tracking shot of a rural fence with an Ella Fitzgerald ballad, while “H-E-L-L-O” by Cauleen Smith documents musicians in some of New Orleans’ grittier quarters playing variations on the five-note sequence from “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” Two films are of special note. One, Sky Hopinka’s “Visions of an Island,” is a relatively orthodox short documentary about isolated St. Paul Island in the Bering Sea, featuring glorious flora and fauna and the narration of an Unangam Tunuu elder. The second, Ana Vaz’s “Atomic Garden,” features the persistent plant and animal life near the Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan, stroboscopically intercut with fireworks. Vaz’s film is thematically clever and visually dazzling—if your retinas can stand it. The videos are available for free at nga.gov through May 16. —Louis Jacobson