- The Washington Times - Monday, June 16, 2003

The skies unleashed a traffic-snarling deluge Thursday night, but inside the dry confines of the Kreeger Museum, rain only added to the mystique.

“If we have to swim, we’ll swim,” museum staffer Anka Zaremba said as black-tie patrons drifted in for cocktails and hors d’oeuvres on the museum’s airy sculpture terrace.

A Philip Johnson-designed postmodern mansion on Foxhall Road in leafy upper Northwest, the museum was the residence of the late David Lloyd Kreeger, a New York-born lawyer who came to Washington during the New Deal and became a Geico Insurance executive, and his wife, Carmen (who died earlier this year).

The Kreegers’ hand-picked collection, which opened to the public in June 1994, boasts about 200 works, including paintings by Picasso, Monet, Degas and Cezanne as well as traditional African objets d’art and Asian sculptures.

Even though the insurance magnate left a sizable endowment to support his vision, the Kreeger, like other smaller “house” museums in the city, depends on the generosity of patrons to help sustain it through rocky economic times.

“The endowment covers operational expenses, but it doesn’t cover our programs,” Kreeger Museum Director Judy Greenbergexplained.

Hence Thursday’s “A Summer Night’s Dream” gala, which drew some of the area’s most dependable arts benefactors, including Sonny Abramson and Knight Kiplinger, both of whom head philanthropic family foundations.

After braving the occasional spray of horizontal rain on the terrace, the party soon moved into the museum’s elegant Great Hall and Monet Gallery, where guests took in the collection before dinner (featuring rum-glazed beef tenderloin) was served.

Galvanizing public interest in his parents’ permanent collection is the museum’s main challenge, said the Kreegers’ son, Peter Kreeger.

Mr. Kreeger pointed out that because the museum does not acquire new works, it generally concentrates on outreach and educational programs.

“The mission in the future is to expand gradually, reaching out to the community, trying to impart the connection between art, music and architecture,” said Mr. Kreeger, who serves as a museum trustee along with his sister, Carol Kreeger Ingall.

In addition to docent-guided tours, museum programs include “Storytime at the Kreeger,” an educational activity aimed at young students, and “Inside the Artist’s Studio,” a workshop that allows patrons to watch artists working in real time.

The evening’s program also paid tribute to David and Carmen Kreegers’ artistic vision and generosity to many local arts institutions over the years.

A short film homage was shown in the Great Hall, the domed, high-ceilinged room in which Mr. Kreeger, an amateur but highly capable violinist, played with some of the world’s great classical musicians, including Isaac Stern, Pinchas Zukerman and Pablo Casals.

A fond memorial to the Kreegers, the film recalled an anecdote about the late Mr. Kreeger’s sneaky pitch to architect Philip Johnson, whose firm generally refused to design private residences.

Said Mr. Kreeger to Mr. Johnson, “I’d like you to design me a museum. But don’t tell your partners that we’re going to live in it.”

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