It was British sculptor Henry Moore's "Draped Seated Woman" that first brought Bill and me together. After standing in line to register for law school classes one afternoon, we found ourselves in front of the Yale University Art Gallery, which had a Mark Rothko exhibit inside and works by Moore in the sculpture garden. A labor dispute had closed the museum's doors, but Bill managed to get the two of us in by offering to pick up trash. This was our first date.
I have always loved sculpture and, shortly after Bill's first inauguration, started thinking about bringing favorite American pieces to the White House.
With the help of a friend, designer Kaki Hockersmith, and J. Carter Brown, the former Director of the National Gallery of Art, the idea for an outdoor sculpture garden that featured works by contemporary American artists began to take shape. The plan was approved by an enthusiastic Committee for the Preservation of the White House and overseen by the White House Curators.
It was easy to pick the perfect location -- the Jacqueline Kennedy Garden, named for the First Lady who believed so strongly that art should be a part of everyone's life. When I first moved to the White House, I spent a lot of time in this peaceful refuge, which appears to have been designed with sculpture in mind.
Museums in Nebraska, Texas, New York and Arkansas organized the first four exhibits, intended to highlight sculpture from public museums representing different regions of the country. The fifth, planned by the National Gallery's Director, Rusty Powell, featured some of the magnificent works found in museums here in Washington. And the sixth celebrated the rich diversity of Native American sculptors, whose art I have admired for years.
Over 6 million visitors to the White House have walked past the Sculpture Garden since October 1994, when the first exhibit opened. Included among the American masterpieces in that group were George Segal's "Walking Man" and Alexander Calder's "Five Rudders."
Subsequently, tour participants have enjoyed works by Georgia O'Keeffe, Willem de Kooning, Roy Lichtenstein, Isamu Noguchi and Allan Houser.
Among my favorites of the 83 pieces that have been shown at the White House are those that incorporate movement. During the second exhibit, Bill and I would often just sit and watch George Rickey's "Two Lines Oblique, Atlanta," a 35-foot stainless steel sculpture that quivered slowly in the wind. And I found myself repeatedly reaching out to touch Harry Bertoia's "Tonal Sculpture," just to hear the lovely sounds it would send floating over the garden.
I will never forget the clear November morning when Phil Minthorn, a Nez Perce Indian offered traditional blessings before the opening of the Native American collection.
This week's unveiling of the seventh exhibit, which was organized by the Brooklyn Museum of Art, marks a departure. Subtitled "Inspired by Rodin," this group of 12 sculptures includes three pieces by the French master.
Often called "the father of modern sculpture," Auguste Rodin worked in Paris in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. But his influence on American artists has been dramatic and can be seen in several of the works included in this group, among them de Kooning's "Clamdigger," Segal's "Girl Standing in Nature" and Noguchi's "Woman."
Although dozens of museums have been involved in choosing and lending appropriate pieces for the exhibition, none of them could have undertaken the expense of mounting such a series alone. For that, we turned to one of this country's most important arts patrons, Iris Cantor, who, along with her late husband, B. Gerald Cantor, and the Cantor Foundation, agreed not only to underwrite the expense of the exhibits but also to loan the two centerpieces of the current show -- castings of Rodin's "The Three Shades" and "The Thinker," who appears to contemplate the other pieces in a most inscrutable and dramatic fashion.
The outpouring of appreciation for each of these exhibits has been overwhelming. Visitors often tell our tour guides how much it means to them to be able to view these provocative sculptures while waiting in line to see the White House.
One of my great pleasures living in this wonderful house is to be able to wander among the sculptures in the garden and know that so many others have shared the experience as well.
Visitors to the White House can see "Twentieth Century American Sculpture at the White House: Inspired by Rodin" through September 1999. If you stop by the White House web site (www.whitehouse.gov), you can take a virtual tour of the series.
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