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Day Trip to Glenstone Museum in Potomac

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Pavilions at Glenstone Museum
Approach to the Pavilions. Photo credit: Iwan Baan, Glenstone Museum


The DC area’s biggest art news in 2018 was by all accounts the opening of a much-expanded contemporary art museum on 230 acres in the suburb of Potomac, Maryland. The Washington Post alone has covered Glenstone Museum it at least three times so far.

Admission is free but reservations are required, and mine turned out to be for a mild sunny day in early December. My focus that day was less on the art and much more on those 230 acres, newly designed by the famous design firm Peter Walker Partners out of the SF area. (Their website has the best landscape photos of Glenstone I could find anywhere.)

Parking lot, Glenstone Museum

My photos of the landscape are of the bare, winter variety. Even the parking lots has an impressive number of newly planted trees, some of the 8,000 new trees in the entire design, many of them described as “of large girth.”

Dying grasses at Glenstone Museum

I love the look of dried grasslands! And I’m sure I’ll love it next season when I come back, hopefully for a tour with Glenstone’s Chief Sustainability Officer and old garden-writing  friend, Paul Tukey. 

It’s not all grasslands at Glenstone; there’s lawn, too, and I know that Paul uses nothing but organic methods and products on it. I want to learn more about that.

Water court at Glenstone.
Water court at Glenstone. Photo by Paul Tukey.
View of water court at Glenstone Museum
Photo credit: PWP Landsape Architecture

Above, this stunning interior water garden is seen as visitors walk from room to room.

In this room the art is the landscape beyond. Credit: Glenstone Museum.

A room-scale, multisensory presentation by Robert Gober. Credit: Glenstone Museum.

The “Glenstone Experience”

Inside, visitors aren’t allowed to take photos. In fact, our phones, coats, and purses all had to be locked up in little lockers.

And there’s more oddness to the experience than just going phoneless and purseless for a while. Signs for everything, including the bathrooms, are hard to find and also to read. I made it to the inner sanctum of the men’s room before realizing my mistake. Plus, the doors are hard to find and once found, they were heavy and hard to operate.

Weirdest of all, to my eyes, are the creepy uniforms worn by the docents (called “associates”). They have new degrees in various fields and are paid interns here, with full benefits. So kudos for that.

But the uniforms! One reviewer on Trip Advisor called them a “gray pajama that somewhat looks like what farmers wear to plant rice in Southeast Asia, except clearly designed by some Swiss German Uber hip designer.” So I’m probably not hip enough to appreciate them.

The best part of the visitor experience is the very deliberate, slow and quiet atmosphere created by the spread-out design of the buildings, especially the 7-minute walk from the parking lot to the first building with art. The reservations are limited in number, giving every visitor about 300 square feet of space, which is a lot. That means no jockeying to see anything. And there are virtually no kids –  they must be at least 12 to enter.

Apparently the experience is an example of slow art, and I think I like it.

Restaurant at Glenstone Museum
The restaurant is gorgeous.


Outdoor cafe at Glenstone Museum
The informal cafe.

View out window of cafe at Glenstone Museum

From inside the cafe you can see the home of Glenstone founders Emily and Mitchell Rales through the window.

"Clay House" by Andy Goldworthy at Glenstone Museum

Above, the outdoor sculpture “Clay House” by Andy Goldworthy. Click here to see more outdoor sculpture.

For now, until you can go there, enjoy a cool video and photo introduction to Glenstone from the Washington Post.

Follow Susan Harris:
Susan started blogging about Greenbelt soon after moving here in 2012, and that first blog has grown into this nonprofit community website. She also created and curates the Greenbelt Maryland YouTube channel. In 2021 Susan joined the Board of Directors of Greenbelt Access TV. Retired from garden writing and teaching, she continues to blog at GardenRant.com.

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