Collections Highlight: Washington National Cathedral

Categories: Articles, Collections

By Laura Hicken, Assistant Registrar

Image of Frohman, Robb and Little blueprint
Organ Screen for St. Mary’s Chapel, by architecture firm Frohman, Robb and Little in 1937.

In 2015, the Museum received an incredible donation of more than 32,000 materials related to the design and construction of the Washington National Cathedral and other historic buildings on the 57-acre campus in Northwest D.C. The Construction Archives Collection dates from 1896 to 2007 and includes sketches on trace paper, correspondence with contractors and craftsmen, iterative renderings, design cartoons, and construction drawings for woodwork, ironwork, stone carving and stained glass featuring the contributions of the many prominent architects and landscape architects who worked on the Cathedral.

We are extremely excited to show off some of the highlights of this Collection, incorporating the drawings into tours, social media posts, and the exhibitions. Here we are highlighting two of the Cathedral drawings that will be featured this fall in Cool & Collected: Recent Acquisitions, our exhibition which highlights recent additions to the Museum’s permanent collection. These drawings will complement the exhibition’s goal of using unique objects to tell the stories of design, construction, engineering, and play. Curator Sarah Leavitt selected an exterior South Elevation drawing by original Cathedral architects George Frederick Bodley and Henry Vaughan, and an Organ Screen blueprint for St. Mary’s Chapel by architecture firm Frohman, Robb and Little to be featured in the exhibition.

Both drawings are in good condition and are from the first half of the 20th century.  Any time we exhibit paper materials the primary concern for Collections staff is limiting light exposure to prevent fading. The Cathedral drawings will only be on display for a few months, with the Organ Screen blueprint being swapped out for a different blueprint after two months. Though the display length is necessarily short, we’re excited to have these first examples of the Construction Archives Collection available for the public to view.

Image of Bodley/Vaughan drawing
South Elevation of Washington Cathedral, by architects George Frederick Bodley and Henry Vaughan. Estimated by the Cathedral to be a 1906 or 1907 design.