We asked Phillips friends to share a snapshot of a significant Phillips experience with us.
Come back often for new stories added throughout the year and share your own stories with #Phillips100
I was posted as a Museum Assistant in the House galleries when an elderly Black couple walked in. After we said our hellos I asked him was it his first time visiting and he told me that he used to visit when he was studying in college and that the Phillips was one of the few places that he could enjoy art during segregation. When he said that I was lost for words. We didn’t exchange names but I remember him telling me to take care. Fast forward a few months to the the Annual Gala. I was posted at the main entrance, watching all the guests pull up in their fancy cars. I heard my coworker say, “Mr. and Mrs. Driskell are here,” as she checked their names off the list. I recognized their names from a couple of pieces in the collection so I was excited to see who they were. It was him! I was so embarrassed, thinking to myself how could I not know who David Driskell was. As people started to crowd around and take pictures with him, I wondered if he remembered talking to me. It wasn’t until he looked my way and gave me a simple head nod that I knew he remembered me.
Joel Ulmer, former Museum Assistant
My wife and I moved to Washington in 1971 after I finished service in the Army. We both found jobs near Dupont Circle. We regularly rendezvoused for lunch in the courtyard of the Phillips. Moving to a big city from Ohio was a magical time early in our marriage. We both hold fond memories of our visits to the Phillips—the courtyard, the gallery, the concerts. The Phillips became and continues to be a focal point of our cultural development.
Richard McKinney, member
On March 31, 2003, I attended an evening reception at The Phillips Collection celebrating a Margaret Bourke-White exhibition. Across the crowded room, I noticed a handsome young man with a sparkle in his eye. I kept track of him throughout the night, but we didn’t speak until his friend began chatting with my friend and we found ourselves standing alone together. He asked me what I thought of the exhibition. I told him I thought it was great. And we were off! After 16 years of marriage and three children, the Phillips remains a very special place to Steven and me.
Kate Lemery, member
Before the northern annex addition to the original Phillips mansion was completed, I would often visit the galleries and linger with a cup of coffee in the tiny basement café. This was my secret place, unknown to virtually all but neighborhood travelers and gray haired patrons. It was my transition place from the anxiety and pressure of work to something deeply personal and emotionally significant. In the late 1930s my father visited Washington and the museum on a break from his medical studies in St. Louis. He fell in love with the Impressionists, seeing so many vibrant works up close in such an intimate setting. Years later he shared his story with me and passed along his lifetime passion for art. Now I visit the collection with my son and members of my family when they come visit from around the country. We have coffee in the new café and stand for selfies where my Dad stood beside the Boating Party where it all began.
Jim Oppenheimer, writer
I moved to Washington in 1991, quite reluctantly, after more than 20 years in New York City. In discussing this transition with my then 70-year-old therapist, she told me of her own difficult transition to DC, and what “saved” her. She and her husband had a house on Hillyer Place, and she made almost daily pilgrimages to the Phillips—often specifically to sit in front of the Boating Party—although there were so many places in the museum where she would find calm. She was correct about this. She passed away at age 107 a few years ago, having long moved away to the West Coast. But we had remained in touch as friends, and I still think of her everytime I visit the museum, and especially when her parking karma helps me find a space on Hillyer! She said the museum had come to feel like home to her, and that is the feeling I have so gratefully.
Catherine Chieco, member
I’d been exploring my new city for only a year when the lockdown began. I’d made friends I now couldn’t see and faced a lot of alone time, a time I filled with creativity and learning how to Zoom teach. After a busy time making art online with my wonderful students, I began the Arts Integration course offered through my favorite neighborhood museum and the University of Maryland. I knew I’d find new ways to inspire my students but never imagined the wonderful community of interesting people I’d meet, some of whom I continue to socialize with in person!
Karen La Du, art educator
I had the unique experience of working as an MA at the Phillips from 1998-2008. I made many good friends while working at the museum. We were all artists and are friends to this day. While working as a guard I contemplated the work I was surrounded by. It enhanced my own artwork being around art. I recently attended a wedding ceremony of Rich Howe and John McBrayer both former MAs. I attended with Jess Benston and George Panagi (met while working at the Phillips and married) and Dylan James (former MA supervisor). All former MAs.
Robyn Reese, former Museum Assistant
He was eight years old, had learned about the Impressionists at school, and The Phillips Collection was already his favorite art gallery. So we traversed the galleries playing our usual game: me pointing to a painting and him naming the artist. Then he would choose a painting, sit down on the floor, and draw his version thereof using the supplies we toted along. He would usually work for an hour, looking up once or twice to check on me. The day he was doing a rendering of a Paul Klee painting, a man came by and asked if it was for sale.
In 1988 I got to live a year in Madrid to work on my painting. While I was there the Phillips underwent a massive expansion and much of its artwork went on tour, which included a special exhibit at the Reina Sofia, Madrid’s modern art museum. After being an expatriate for so long in the pre-internet days, it was an unbelievable joy to have all these paintings visit from the Phillips. It was like being reunited with a bunch of treasured friends. One of my favorite paintings at the Phillips has always been Cézanne’s still life of fruit and books. During that year I also traveled to Aix-en-Provence and visited his studio, where I saw the actual purple ceramic jar in the painting. I was so excited to be connected to home through something closely tied to the Phillips. Besides being one of my favorite museums in the world, the Phillips is a touchstone in my life.
Bill Simmons, member
One of my earliest memories and what lead me to pursue the visual arts is that at a very young age I was taken to the Phillips by relatives. Walking into what I thought was the living room of the people who lived in this house, I gazed upon Luncheon of the Boating Party hanging above a sofa and was awestruck. Why doesn’t everyone have incredible things like this hanging in their homes, I thought. Many years later, even though not a big fan of Renior, I have to stop by The Boating Party to give my respects every time I visit the Phillips.
Keith Fred, member
Coming to see “The Quilt” on the mall I was invited to a luncheon before going. At the lunch a fellow mentioned, “Go ahead, there’s a nice small museum down the street. We’ll catch up.” Entering we inquired about what we should see—The Boating Party. I was stunned and fixated. Membership was without saying. I will never forget my first visit to “The Little Museum.”
Janet Wojaczyk, member
In 1999, National Reading Is Fundamental honored Patricia Heck and me as their “Ann Richardson Volunteers of the Year.” We were volunteers for local RIF programs. She is still with Club RIF in Arizona; I was with RIF in Washington State. We came to Washington four times as part of our volunteer year. One visit, we went to The Phillips Collection. It was Patricia’s first visit but not mine, so I was delighted to be her guide. When we entered the gallery with Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party, Patricia was enthralled! We spent time talking about the painting, Renoir, the Impressionists, the people in the paintings. We christened it “our painting.” Patricia and I have become dear friends. Whenever I go to the Phillips, I visit The Boating Party, think of my friend, and send her a big hug via a postcard of our painting. Happy Birthday to The Phillips Collection!
Christina Gee, member
I felt so at home wandering the galleries of the Phillips after my first visit that I became a member without a second thought. After taking my goddaughter, Shamekia, to visit many times over the years, I decided it was time to add her to my membership, too. At the opening for Seeing Nature: Landscape Masterworks a few years ago, my goddaughter and I got separated. I found Shamekia lost in thought in front of the same painting for several minutes, so I snapped a photograph. Slightly startled when I tapped her shoulder, Shamekia related that the painting spoke to her, saying “I now know why you come here.” 22 years ago, I adopted Shamekia, and we both still feel at home wandering the galleries of the Phillips together.
Donald Bennett, member
I first visited the Phillips in 1954 with my college classmate Henry Geldzahler, the later art impresario. When, during Army training in Baltimore in 1957 I started visiting the museum regularly with other friends, I fell permanently in love with it, especially with its Klee collection, then hung in the fireplaced room on the second floor of the original house. Ah, were those Klees all together there again! The museum has ever since remained my favorite Washington museum and, in my experience, the greatest house museum that I know in the world, one that, in due deference to its founders, has nevertheless become a home for more recent and contemporary art. May it ever remain so.
James Banner, historian, member
Going to the Phillips was my favorite outing as a child. Those adventures were instrumental in my development as an artist. Decades later I had the honor of being invited by Vesela Sretenović, Senior Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, to create work that would respond to the Rothko Room for the exhibition Pulse. The opening night of Pulse, my son Julian, was invited to play his compositions on the very same piano as Glenn Gould used in 1955 for his debut concert in America. Julian’s excitement is imprinted on my mind. The Phillips Collection museum is truly enchanting.
Tayo Heuser, artist
I joined the Phillips as soon as I arrived in DC in 2017 and visited nearly every week for over two years. The special experience was the consistency of the collection: whenever I looked I felt the guiding eye of Duncan Phillips—even in the Francis Bacon! However, over time, it was the contrast between the consistency and the special exhibitions that stood out. My favorite works were the Bacon, the Mondrians, and Wolfgang Laib’s Wax Room. A special mention also to Sarah Baker’s Eggplants. But the most memorable moments were with my two young daughters. We would walk to the collection, have bowls of soup in the café, then visit the Rothkos. To get that close to Rothko’s work was an inspirational privilege that none of us will forget. I think that is an amazing legacy from Duncan and Marjorie Phillips to my children.
Richard Cushnie, member
Being lost usually triggers a sense of vulnerability. But getting lost in a museum is a different story. Whether feeling disoriented in the galleries, or forgetting myself while gazing at a particular work of art, the experience of not knowing where I am when I’m with art is a kind of refuge. In 2010, I was invited to spend 10 days inside of The Phillips Collection, creating at the time being, my site-specific installation made in response to Van Gogh’s The Road Menders. During that project I was lost inside the museum, inside my work, and the Phillips began to feel like home. That connection has endured.
linn meyers, artist
One of our fondest memories involves a collaboration between Millennium Arts Salon and The Phillips Collection. We were working with curator Elsa Smithgall to deliver a panel of scholars about art by African American artists. The newly appointed director Dorothy Kosinski was set to welcome a packed auditorium–her first public appearance in this role. It was a magical evening featuring a star studded cast, including the preeminent Dr. David Driskell of the Driskell Center at the UMD, Dr. Beth Turner, professor at the UVA (former Phillips curator), Dr. Floyd Coleman, professor and leader of the Porter Colloquium at Howard, and Dr. Leslie King Hammond, professor and director at the MICA. This began a partnership, over a decade ago, between Millennium and the Phillips that continues today. One of the many reasons we love the Phillips is its commitment to community and to forging cross-cultural understanding. We treasure both our personal and institutional relationship with The Phillips Collection, as members of this important museum and as partners through Millennium Art Salon.
Juanita and Melvin Hardy, Millennium Arts Salon
My connection to The Phillips Collection goes back to 1961, when my parents first took me to see Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party. This image is of my mother, Corinne Szabo, holding me as I try to touch the painting. We’d make a point to see it every time we visited. Was it the convivial scene portrayed in the painting that kept drawing us back? Or the shared memory of my mother holding me as I tried to connect with the canvas? Though I haven’t lived in the Washington area for years, every time I’d visit my parents, a trip to the Phillips was always on our agenda. A stop by the Rothko Room was also important, as my mother studied with Mark Rothko at Brooklyn College in the early1950s. In more recent visits with the grandchildren, we’d push my mother up to The Boating Party, savoring its happy image together. My mother died on March 11, 2020. My next visit to DC will certainly include saying hello to The Boating Party. It won’t be the same without her.
Nancy Szabo, member
One summer day in the late 1960s a gangly teenager serving as a page in the Senate visited The Phillips Collection for the first time. He liked the house atmosphere of the building and saw a small abstract painting on a side wall, Arthur Dove’s Flour Mill II (1938). Somehow the picture acted as a stop sign—actually, a stop and look sign. More than 50 years later I seek out the painting when I am in Washington, both for its catalytic presence and as a reminder of my first real connection to art.
Richard Armstrong Director, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Foundation
I have many memories of the Phillips and it has nurtured me most of my life. Foremost among them the days as a young law student I spent studying in various galleries of The Phillips Collection. In those days you could both smoke and read in the galleries. Both Duncan Phillips and Marjorie Phillips were often in the galleries and they often came over and told me to go and look at a new work that had been hung and that one or both of them would watch my books until I returned. This happened more than once and meant a great deal to me. I was treated as a friend and as I reflect back today at 85 I realize how real their friendship was as three people sharing perceptions and love of art. They have made meaningful the bridge that art afforded and the love of the sharing of that art.
Julia Norrell, collector
When John Rehm and I began dating, one of the very first places he wanted me to see was The Phillips Collection. In fact, I had never in my life been to an art gallery, and felt worried that I’d be intimidated. Instead, John and I walked into the warmest and most welcoming home―filled with art―I’d ever been in. In its quiet and peaceful beauty, I felt at once excited and at ease. It was quite an introduction to a world I’d never before experienced. And the fact that it housed the work of Arthur Dove, John’s uncle, lent additional excitement. I’ll never forget that day. And, like John, The Phillips Collection will always live large in my heart.
Diane Rehm, NPR
Growing up in a very conservative environment in DC was not easy for me. I dreamt in Technicolor while my days were filled with black and white. You can imagine my excitement when, at the age of sixteen, my entourage, who bleached my hair pink and dressed me in feathers, offered to take me to The Phillips Collection. We entered and I immediately felt like I belonged. We navigated the beautiful stairwell in the old building where a magnificent painting caught my eye. I fell madly in love! The painting was a Cézanne and at that moment I knew that art would be my passion for the rest of my life, and that beautiful things would surround me.
Sandra Gering, gallerist
“Belonging”…When the Phillips opened its gallery in Ward 8 at THEARC, a neighborhood place for all, it continued its legacy of “Belonging” to all communities. Its opening exhibition was a collection of photographs of the first African American Yacht Club in the United States whose history of seeking to Belong was celebrated. The Phillips acknowledged the labors and fortitude of the Seafarers Yacht Club, the Ward 8 Community acknowledged the community commitment of the Phillips, and the Double Nickels Theatre Company mounted the photographic collection celebrating the occasion. The cultural and community collaboration celebrated all of our “Belonging.”
Antoinette Ford, Double Nickels Theatre Co.
The first time I listened to Morton Feldman’s CD titled “Rothko Chapel/Why patterns?”, Mark Rothko’s paintings finally made complete sense to me. Standing in the Rothko Room at The Phillips Collection, I always see the atmospheric quality of Feldman’s music and whenever I listen to the CD while I’m working, I hear Rothko’s paintings. Visiting that Rothko Room at the Phillips allows me to reexperience that connection at any time. Now, I understand why Duncan Phillips felt that it was important to draw a correlation between visual art and music.
Renée Stout, artist
I moved to DC in 2003, and somehow, half the creative people I met seemed to work at the Phillips Front Desk. I loved coming in to the museum to scoop up my best friend from college from work, sneaking in a few quiet minutes (a commodity a person in their early 20s in DC doesn’t often have between roommates, work, metro, etc.) in the Rothko Room. It felt restorative, inspiring and deeply luxurious (feelings a person in their early 20s in DC doesn’t often have either) and I always felt a little stronger and calmer in the aftermath. Ever since then, and it has been almost 17 years now, I bring the room up to anyone and everyone who will listen, and they always thank me for introducing them to it or reminding them of it. Which just goes to confirm my theory that sitting in The Rothko Room, is art enjoyment in its purest form: there to nurture you and allow you space to be you. No matter when you find each other. So…thank you for being there.
Svetlana Legetic, Exactly Agency
There are many masterpieces from Renoir to Rothko at The Phillips Collection. My favorite moment is to go into a former closet and discover another world. The closet is entirely dedicated to the sight and smell of Wolfgang Laib’s beeswax installation. I go every time I can!
Tony Podesta, Collector
I’m not old enough to remember when Gertrude Stein gave her reading in the Music Room, but I do remember one evening in the Music Room when John Cage read his word portrait of Morris Graves with such thrilling guttural sound and fury that I thought it would raise the dead. The hairs on the back of my neck stood on end.
Beth Turner, former Phillips Curator
I remember the day when I first visited The Phillips Collection vividly. It was right after I moved to DC in 2014. I fell in love with The Phillips Collection right away. I loved it so much that I dreamed of having my work shown at the museum one day. Four years later, my work has become part of the permanent collection of The Phillips Collection. It was a great honor to have my work shown alongside artists I had admired such as Alma Thomas and Richard Serra. I didn’t know that day would come so soon. The Phillips Collection will always have a special place in my heart. Thank you for making my wildest dream come true.
Nara Park, artist
I grew up visiting the Phillips on annual Washington trips. Artworks always hung in the same places; one always knew exactly where everything was. In recent years the Museum has reconsidered its mission. Artworks move and re-arrange. Curatorial visions forge new connections and illuminate new trajectories. The viewer sees with refreshed and startled eyes. And art being made today has joined the conversation. I love being part of this change. My most thrilling Phillips moment was standing in the great stairwell, hearing strangers consider my work, hanging there, among the masterpieces I have loved for so long.
Barbara Liotta, artist
Newly-weds, and new to Washington, my husband Lou and I lived on California Street. Every Sunday morning we took our newspapers and a thermos of coffee down the small hill to the Phillips, sat in one of the galleries on a brocaded sofa under some priceless paintings, read the papers and smoked cigarettes. The museum kindly provided ashtrays on the small side tables, and no one batted an eye. You could do that in the early 1960s. I’ve told that story to every Director over the years. Each one gasped. Then smiled.
Susan Stamberg, NPR
I’ve always thoroughly enjoyed my visits to The Phillips Collection but to choose one, I remember being totally awed by two large Richard Diebenkorns on either side of the entrance on the wall facing the room. Magnificent paintings to be sure , but also, turns out, perfect reminders of the passion and genius of the founding family. It is said that Duncan Phillips dedicated his life to creating a living memorial to his father and brother, both of whom died of the influenza. Seems those Diebenkorns were gifted to the Collection by my dear friends, Gifford and Joanne Phillips. Gifford was Duncan’s brother’s son.
Jill Cooper Udall, arts advocate
Walking into a building that houses the first modern art museum in the United States gives you a special type of thrill, admiration and gratitude to its founder. Being invited to install my work at The Phillips Collection was a great honor and very inspiring.
Shoplifter / Hrafnhildur Arnardóttir, artist
I became a member of The Philips Collection Contemporaries Program after receiving an unexpected invitation by a bride (I was her wedding musician :) Although it seemed crazy at the time, it turned out to be one of the best decisions that I have ever made. The Phillips Collection has provided me with art and experiences that has saved my life on a daily basis. From the art acquisition program, an engaging schedule of diverse cultural and social events, private tours, special exhibition openings, social gatherings, virtual meditations and more, I have developed a deeper appreciation and love for art and America’s first museum of modern art. I have also made many friends along the way! I am so proud to be a member of The Phillips Collection family. Here’s to 100 more years. I am confident that the best is yet to come!
Dana K. Morgan, Contemporaries Steering Committee member
We are pacing back and forth at an airport cargo arrival area waiting for our brave four-month-old puppy who took an airplane across the country by himself to arrive. Creamy wrinkled skin and beautiful eyes looked at us. That was almost six years ago. Ever since, he is our family member, studio mate, and our soul. When I installed my installation at The Phillips Collection I realized that the color and shape of my work is pretty much like a Moxie! We named him Moxie and he is a force of nature. He always gives us great joy and has guided us through this extremely difficult time.
Jae Ko, artist
Many years ago I visited the Phillips with a good friend. My friend, an infrequent museum visitor, told me he could not recall an aesthetic experience and held a general under appreciation for the visual arts. I remember walking into the gallery where Renior’s Luncheon of the Boating Party was hanging. My friend was transfixed. I stood next to him. After a pause he said to me that this painting was amazing—everyone seemed alive, he could speculate on who knew who, the smells in the air. He was having an aesthetic moment! One painting can change a life.
David Cronrath, Associate Provost, University of Maryland
Cezanne’s Jardin at Les Lauves. Bonnard’s Open Window. De Kooning’s Asheville. Dove’s pepper grinder of some sort. Klee’s Arab Song. Davis’s Egg Beater. Pollock’s painting with tissue paper. Mondrian’s painting with a little red bar crossing three black lines. Rouault’s clowns (in the music room). Braque’s landscape with a bit of rain. Matisse’s Egyptian Curtain. Van Gogh’s public garden. Diebenkorn’s big blue window. Picasso’s blue room with a poster. Soutine’s two kids on a windy road. Gauguin’s steak. Courbet’s cliff. Ryder’s moon. Rothko’s room. I apologize to the ones I am forgetting.
Harry Cooper, Senior Curator and Head of Modern Art, National Gallery of Art
In the 1980s, the small staff was permitted to watch the uncrating of works of art, something that is forbidden today, when only the curators, preparators, and conservators are allowed that privilege. The paintings must have a day or two to acclimate to the conditions (temperature and humidity) of their new environment, and conservators inspect the paintings to make sure that they have not been harmed during the shipping process. I will never forget the joy experienced by all of us as a stunning Bonnard from a French museum was unpacked/liberated from its enormous crate. It was included in a major exhibition of Bonnard’s paintings in 1984.
Karen Schneider, Phillips Head Librarian
Artist Richard Diebenkorn used to visit The Phillips Collection when he was a young Marine stationed in Quantico, Virginia. His favorite painting there, and a great influence on his own painting, was Matisse’s Studio, Quai Saint-Michel. Decades later, an elderly Diebenkorn walked into the Phillips. Exhibitions Manager Bill Koberg recognized him, and walked up and said that the painting he was looking for was not on view, but would he like to go up to the storeroom to see it? I happened to walk into the storeroom and found Diebenkorn and Bill quietly pondering the Matisse. A true Duncan Phillips moment of the appreciation of a great painting with “no fanfare.”
Shelly Wischhusen, former Phillips Chief Preparator
The Phillips Collection is my favorite museum since my days at Howard University. As a mom, I wanted to merge jazz with activities the whole family could enjoy. I called Dorothy Kosinski in 2009 and Jazz ‘n’ Families Fun Days was born, an annual celebration of jazz and the visual arts including performances in the music room, kids making art, gallery talks revealing new installations, and a lively instrument petting zoo. It’s a perfect partnership between DC Jazz Festival and The Phillips Collection. My kids now 18 and 15 return each year, Jacob Lawrence’s Migrations Series is a favorite.
Sunny Sumter, DC Jazz Festival
One of my fondest and most enduring memories of The Phillips Collection is also one of my earliest. I was there as a high school student, around 1992, when Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series was first united. We were going through the museum’s archives, when Mr. Lawrence and his wife Gwendolyn Knight walked in. To be learning about this work and have the artist himself stroll in unplanned was a deeply awe inspiring moment, and one that couldn’t have happened in that way at any other museum.
Hank Willis Thomas, artist
I just love the Phillips! Since the 1930s, they actively supported the work of Washington area artists through purchase and exhibition. Many of them are women and artists of color. In this centennial year the tradition continues and many works by local artists are once again―or always have been―on display. What a great and wondrous museum.
Beverly With, collector
For my exhibition From Here On Now, I chose and installed paintings from the Phillips alongside my own sculptures. What a dream it was to think about Guston’s finger-pointing hand and Madam Cézanne’s folded fingers and then to hang them close. To discover newly arrived Forrest Bess paintings, and then to install those jewels with Arthur Dove, Kenneth Noland, Morris Louis, and others that struck me as Bess’ likely and unlikely spiritual relatives. To paint a wall in vibrant blue worthy of floating a Matisse, and then play hide and seek with my paper sculptures. I was forever changed by my time spent with this stellar collection.
Arlene Shechet, artist
My husband and I attended a GoGo concert at the museum and it was one of our favorite experiences at the museum. We both thought it was unexpected but exactly the kind of event we would like to attend. And who would have thought you could eat Ben’s Chili Bowl in the museum!
Shakira Pollard, Contemporaries Steering Committee member
An extraordinary memory was having my work, And She Was Born, hang next to the work that inspired it―Henri Matisse’s Interior With Egyptian Curtain. A recalled memory doesn’t even match the feeling in the moment, and to have the presence of mind to actually BE present. It was such an honor for the Phillips to purchase And She Was Born to become part of their permanent collection. I feel so very fortunate, happy and proud to have had these moments of late February 2020 to look back upon while being sequestered at home for the next nine months plus.
Janet Taylor Pickett, artist