Glenstone in Winter

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.)

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.”

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 garden-communicator 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 for a future post.

Water court at Glenstone. Photo by Paul Tukey.
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. There are also no kids under 12.

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

The restaurant is gorgeous.

The informal cafe

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

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

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


  1. The first thing I thought when I saw the picture of the uniforms was “prison” + “hospital”. But, like Susan, I’m probably not hip enough.
    The museum itself sounds like an interesting experience. Are you allowed to wander freely over the 230 acres, are there trails, or are you required to stay in certain areas?

  2. The uniforms speak to a deeper creepiness, in which the primary approach to people working there is to treat them as esthetic objects, and distinctively unattractive ones at that. I don’t think the uniforms are intended to blend in, exactly, but to emphasize the docents’ otherness from the patrons, and their subordination to the art, the space, and the owners.

    Meadows are a refreshing contrast. They’re plantings that change and develop over time, expressing the variations in the site as much as the will of the designer, though a designer as experienced in reading a site as Larry Weaner takes a lot of that into account in the planting plan. Thanks to Kathy for the link to the informative interview with him. Anyone thinking about making a meadow, even on a much smaller scale than the 12- and 24-acre sections Weaner is working with at Glenstone, will get a lot out of his book, Garden Revolution.


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