Here at the National Heritage Museum, we always include a way for visitors to leave their comments after viewing our exhibitions. Since our show, The Initiated Eye: Secrets, Symbols, Freemasonry and the Architecture of Washington, D.C., opened almost six months ago, we have received a variety of feedback in the comment book at the end of the exhibit.
The book offers visitors a chance to make any kind of comment they wish. Sometimes they include their names and where they are from. While most list an American town or state, we were excited to see some foreign visitors – including those from England, Scotland, Switzerland, and even India!
We are interested in all kinds of comments, whether positive or negative. For example, one visitor helped us catch a typographical error by pointing out that the birth year for the artist was incorrect on one of the painting labels – it read “b. 1855” instead of “b. 1955”! We appreciate this attention to detail and have fixed the errant label.
Still other visitors shared their favorite object in the show. Nora Jane wrote “I especially loved the statue of George [Washington].” Anja and Ashley, who signed the same page in the book, both liked the 38-star flag (don’t miss an upcoming June blog about this fascinating artifact). And, Mike H. noted that he liked “the parade at the Capitol photo.”
Some visitors leave their questions in the comment book. Thirteen-year-old Christina from New Hampshire wrote “I noticed in the painting to the left [Building the Temple Within, shown here at top] that the 2 columns were in the order of JB but here it is BJ [a pair of actual Masonic columns from the collection, shown at right].” Undoubtedly, Christina has not been the only one to notice this discrepancy. In fact, the exhibition includes two paintings – by the same artist – that contradict the order of the columns. In the painting, An Auspicious Day, which depicts George Washington (shown below at left), the stair posts are labeled like columns and read “BJ.” So, why the discrepancy?
In Freemasonry, the columns marked B and J represent Boaz and Jachin, the columns that were erected at the entrance to King Solomon’s Temple. They are described in the Bible, in 2 Chronicles 3:15-17, “And he reared up the pillars before the temple…and called the name of that on the right hand Jachin, and the name of that on the left Boaz.” From this description, the B column should stand on the left, while the J column should be on the right. This description is used in Masonic ritual, which is based on the story of the building of Solomon’s Temple.
So, why do the columns appear in the opposite position in the painting Building the Temple Within – and, indeed, in a number of printed and published sources? It may be that the artist was following the way the names of the columns are listed in the Bible – with Jachin coming before Boaz. Or, it may relate to the fact that text is reversed when converted from Hebrew, which is read right to left, to English, which is read left to right. When we set up our columns in the exhibition, we chose to follow the biblical description – and the Masonic ritual. Unfortunately, we do not know why the artist of the paintings placed the columns in one order in one painting and in the opposite order in another.
We appreciate all of the feedback we receive on our exhibitions. It’s gratifying to know that this exhibition provided “new insights into our US history,” as one visitor wrote. Or, as another commented, “New view of how history was made!” So, let us know how you think we’re doing – on site or online. We can’t wait to hear from you.
The Initiated Eye will be on view through January 9, 2011. The paintings in the exhibition are the work of Peter Waddell, and were commissioned by, and are the property of, the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Washington, D.C., with all rights reserved. This exhibition is supported by the Scottish Rite Masons of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, U.S.A.
Top: Building the Temple Within, 2005, Peter Waddell (b. 1955), Washington, D.C. Courtesy of the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Washington, D.C.
Middle: Masonic Columns, ca. 1840, Ohio. Collection of the National Heritage Museum, Special Acquisitions Fund, 89.47a-d. Photograph by John Miller.
Bottom: An Auspicious Day, 2005, Peter Waddell (b. 1955), Washington, D.C. Courtesy of the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Washington, D.C.