Gems in the Shadows: Glenstone museum


Photo courtesy Josh Freedman

Glenstone provides various works of art, ranging from life-size sculptures to abstract paintings.

We are lucky to live in a region rich with history, artifacts, monuments and stories that helped shape our area and our nation. However, many of these gems are hidden in the shadows of larger, more popular attractions, waiting to be explored. One such place is the Glenstone museum, located in the shadows of the more popular museums in Washington, D.C..

Glenstone is the culmination of landscaped nature combined with contemporary art (art of the present day known often for its simplicity). Located in Potomac and just a half an hour from the National Gallery of Art, Glenstone consists of multiple buildings that house various styles of modern art, from paintings, to sculptures large enough to walk through, to inflatable globes suspended in the air by fishing line.

For those who enjoy the unique styles and creative visions of modern artists, or for those who would simply like to experience something new, Glenstone offers a perfect way to immerse oneself in a myriad of exhibits and absorb the natural surrounding beauty. For any individual looking to soak in the sights for more than the hour required to fully appreciate everything, the two cafes on site offer upscale coffee shop cuisine that can be enjoyed with a loved one or friend by heated lamps outside with rolling hills in the foreground.

Despite Glenstone quite literally being in some of our community members’ backyards, there is always something new that can be enjoyed. Not only do the changing seasons equate to changing agriculture among the grounds, but the rotating exhibits ensure that there are consistently new works of art that encapsulate a variety of perspectives regarding subjects ranging from human expression to planet Earth.

Opened to the public in 2006 and expanded in 2018, the museum is curated by Emily Wei Rales and funded by her husband Mitchell Rales. Both are avid collectors of contemporary art, and being one of the D.C. area’s 11 billionaires, Mitchell is afforded the luxury of not only having an impressive collection of notable present-day artists’ works, but also the ability to share his appreciation of art with members of the general public.

Glenstone is unique from other art museums within a relatively close proximity in that rather than molding the land to fit the museum, the buildings work in harmony with the surrounding nature to ultimately enhance the experience (similar to the houses designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright). Some of the works of art are simply the landscape itself, such as a room with a window that looks out onto rolling green hills. 

Aside from the art galleries, immersive sculptures and paths through the woods, one of the largest draws to Glenstone is the “Split-Rocker”: a living sculpture composed of various flowers and shaped like two different horse heads that you would find on the front of a child’s rocking toy. During the warmer months the sculpture is in full bloom with each flower being strategically placed by color to add patterns and shapes, while in the colder months the structure is a solid green.

While admission to the Glenstone Museum is free, tickets need to be reserved in advance online. Often sold out, an unadvertised way to visit is to show up with a student ID. Each student, along with a guest, is always welcome at Glenstone without prior reservations.