I first visited Hillwood on their annual Gay Day festival in fall 2010. It was Weekly Museum Visits Part 1, Week 10 – relatively early in the Weekly Museum Visits project. While many of my Weekly Museum Visits were on regular days, I was fortunately able to schedule some visits for special events and family days, such as Hillwood’s.
The weather was pleasant, the museum was crowded, and the festival included outdoor activities. These three factors combined meant that I spent almost no time inside the historic house and instead explored the grounds and watched an outdoor dance performance. I tried visiting the mansion, but with the number of visitors inside, I preferred to turn around and go back outside.
I was happy to see that many visitors had come to the museum’s celebration of inclusive hospitality and DC’s then-recent legalization of marriage equality. Hillwood’s active embracing of this cause is uncommon in the museum world, and can be considered bold and brave in this era.
It was not until yesterday that I went back to Hillwood as a museum visitor. With Easter a few days away, it seemed an appropriate time to go back on a quieter day and see the Faberge Easter eggs along with everything else in the mansion that I had missed on my first visit.
I went in the afternoon, after spending the morning at a rally for marriage equality in front of the Supreme Court. The morning was characterized by crowds, solidarity (and opposition), energy, and noise. I had a blast. Hillwood was, by comparison, quiet and not very crowded, and it allowed for contemplation and complemented the morning nicely.
Inside the mansion, I saw Hillwood’s two famed Faberge Easter eggs, many other pretty eggs, and room after grand room of other treasures. All evidence in the house shows that Marjorie Merriweather Post lived opulently and had many dogs (inspiring awe at the fact that all the fabrics and furnishings are not covered in paw prints!).
In other words, there is nothing obvious in the museum that has an inherent connection with LGBT history. Hillwood’s reaching out to the LGBT community is a deliberate choice on the museum’s part rather than an automatic tie-in to the museum’s content. It is a case of a museum making itself relevant to a demographic that, among all the worthy outreach efforts that museums undertake, is largely overlooked in the museum world.
As Meaghan K. Nappo wrote in a thesis, “As of 2010 there is not a single accredited museum committed to LBGT history and locating exhibits proves difficult.” Nappo further stated that after the 1970s, “The fear of losing American traditions, coupled with homophobic undertones and the continued precariousness of queer studies in academia led museum staff to disregard institutional progress by discounting the LBGT past.”
Museums often present exhibits on civil rights events of the past. So far this month, I have written about museums and fighting inequality in terms of class, gender, race, and religion. There are many more examples of these issues in museums than issues relating to sexual orientation and gender identity.
This week’s Supreme Court cases may well be the stuff future museum exhibits are made of. That red and pink equal sign symbol, and all those signs and posters from the rally, are the historical objects future generations will learn about.
Enjoy the positive energy of this week, and for those who celebrate, happy Easter!
March’s blog theme is Museums and Fighting Inequality.