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Sep 30, 2011 Washington, D.C.

The exhibition Something of Splendor: Decorative Arts from the White House, honoring the 50th anniversary of the White House Historical Association, opens at the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Renwick Gallery in Washington, D.C. tomorrow (October 1, 2011–May 6, 2012). It is amazing to realize that before 1961 Congress did not appropriate funds to maintain an art or decorative arts collection at the executive residence. The government routinely provided funds for the furnishing and operation of the house, but appropriations to acquire and preserve appropriate, historically significant works of art and furniture for the public rooms were rare.

In the past Congress authorized the president to auction and sell worn or obsolete household goods from the White House and use the proceeds to furnish the White House as they saw fit. The most notable auction occurred in 1882 when President Chester A. Arthur cleaned out the White House selling off 30 barrels of china and 24 wagonloads of furniture and “junk.”

In 1961, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy initiated a three-part program to restore the historic integrity of the public rooms of the White House, acquire a collection of fine and decorative arts, and establish the White House Historical Association to research and publish books and educational materials interpreting the White House and its history. Every first lady since has taken an active interest in and supported the work of the association in the acquisition of historic furnishings and art work for the permanent White House collection, and the preservation of public rooms.

About the white house historical association

First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy envisioned a restored White House that conveyed a sense of history through its decorative and fine arts. She sought to inspire Americans, especially children, to explore and engage with American history and its presidents. In 1961, the White House Historical Association was established to support her vision to preserve and share the Executive Mansion’s legacy for generations to come. Supported entirely by private resources, the Association’s mission is to assist in the preservation of the state and public rooms, fund acquisitions for the White House permanent collection, and educate the public on the history of the White House. Since its founding, the Association has given more than $45 million to the White House in fulfillment of its mission. 

To learn more about the White House Historical Association, please visit WhiteHouseHistory.org

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