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January 22, 2008

Stephen Colbert's Portrait

portrait3 Stephen Colbert has brought a new level of gravitas to the Smithsonian Museum's National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.  Every January, Colbert replaces the greater-than-life-size portrait that hangs above his fireplace with a new version -- improved with even more Colbert!  As the years go on (and what a thrill it gives me to say that), the portraits become ever-more-nested, with more Colberts per square foot, as he is painted in front of the fireplace with the previous year's portrait hanging behind him.

Last year, the painting was auctioned off to support the troops.  This year, Colbert came to Washington to find a suitable home for the portrait, among his peers.  I think it's safe to say that he succeeded.  After some discussion (a version of which can be seen on Comedy Central's web site; fans know to check out Colbert Nation as well), he found a new home for his portrait, in perhaps the most distinguished hall for American leaders: across from the famous portrait of George Washington in the American Presidents exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery.  Well, technically, just outside the exhibit, in, er, um, the restroom.

The DCist, The Huffington Post, and, later, news media confirmed that the portrait was hanging in the gallery, but I had to see this for myself. 

On Sunday, we headed down to the National Portrait Gallery on the Metro (take the red line to Gallery Place; exit at the Arena, and walk around the side of the building to the front) to spend some time in the gallery.  It's one of Washington's treasures: rarely on any tourist's must-do list, but full of history, art, entertainment, and knowledge for those willing to seek it. 

We took our time and wandered through the Civil War exhibits, the small portraits from the 1800's, the suffragettes, a special exhibit on Katherine Hepburn, and portraits and busts in every hallway, stairwell, nook, and cranny.  We took a break with the kids (they are only toddlers, after all) in the beautifully redone atrium, with the undulating rooftop and the flat, oh-so-splashable fountain running across the floor.  We admired the graceful staircases and then took the elevator to the second floor.

And yes, we saw the portrait.  Stephen Colbert's portrait, hanging in all its glory, just outside the American Presidents exhibit and just under the universal sign for the restroom.  It was awesome.  I even got my picture taken with his picture (see above).  It was such a fake-touristy thing to do, a post-everything moment, surreal and yet safely Washington.

On our way back through the presidents' exhibit, we noticed something at once funny and sad.  This is the crowd in the American Presidents exhibit:

portrait1

This is the crowd waiting to see and take a picture with Stephen Colbert's portrait: portait2

Wow.  Talk about two sides of the same coin.  Colbert is bringing young people into the National Gallery ... but will they stick around long enough to see the other exhibits? 

Susan also writes at Toddler Planet, a blog about family life and fighting cancer.  She goes in for surgery on Tuesday and appreciates all your comments and good wishes!

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