The Great American Hall of Wonders: Art, Science, and Invention in the Nineteenth Century is now on exhibit in Washington, D.C., and available for virtual viewing online. The show’s title harks back to a super-sized cabinet of curiosities (“wunderkammer”) that artist Charles Willson Peale turned into a museum in the 1800s. Peale’s 1822 self-portrait, “The Artist in His Museum,” ushers visitors into the exhibition.
Curator notes for the display of 161 works recall that during America’s early years, the forces of disunity outweighed those of unity … which sounds a lot like modern times. But chief among unifying forces back then was the passion for exploration and invention—and far less honorably, the destruction of whatever was considered a resource, including animals and people.
Several gripping representations of buffalo reflect how humans have always been fascinated by this large, handsome herbivore. The buffalo became an American symbol, even as Americans were driving and shooting the species toward extinction. This shameful history includes railroad excursions that allowed passengers to fire upon the animals en masse through train windows. The irony continues today: Some are enchanted by the buffalo and other wild animals, yet some make meals of them, and many regard zoos—and museums—as final habitats for animals who once roamed free.
In his oil painting “The Last of the Buffalo,” Albert Bierstadt depicted a lone Indian astride a horse, hunting a buffalo running terrified among scattered bones of previous kills. By the end of the 19th century, the herds once roaming America were gone, and native peoples were displaced from their ancestral lands.
Interestingly, the nation’s first patent office was built on the site of the art museum (which underwent a splendid renovation a few years ago). By the 1850s, some 100,000 visitors a year marveled at the patent office’s displays of inventions. The concise “Hall of Wonders” collection now on display captures that fascination, as do the slideshow and podcasts available on the museum’s website.
Visiting in person? You’ll find great cruelty-free places to eat in the neighborhood. Among them are the following restaurants:
• Café Green: As a newcomer, it began winning diners’ choice awards from the start. Wallet-friendly temptations include tempeh with avocado and baby spinach, a sprouted quinoa and kale burger, and bird-free chicken.
• Java Green: This place is nearly all vegan, with Korean-inspired noodle and rice dishes, mock meats, vegan desserts, and morning to early evening takeout.
• Elizabeth’s Gone Raw: An upmarket bistro, Elizabeth’s Gone Raw serves sumptuous all-raw and all-vegan entrées, teasers, and desserts as well as organic vegan wines.
• Founding Farmers: Green-certified restaurant Founding Farmers features fresh farm-to-table fare and inventive, well-prepared mock-meat dishes.
• Rasika: Rasika serves Indian cuisine and features a vegan menu.
Have any other recommendations for vegan fare in the nation’s capitol? Share them in the comments section below.