Category Archives: 1970 – 1976






Once the dust settled down and we got into a steady day-to-day operational flow I was able to take advantage of the fact that the machinery is well oiled and in place. This was apparent from the wide range of daily announcements, editorials that came from all areas in the Washington bureaucracy; the Art World and the Media.

In this final segment the Hirshhorn accomplishment, I’m not going to leave you with a smattering of the writings describing this period but provide you with many of the wonderful letters, documents and expressions of appreciation that took place once the Museum became operational after it opened on October 1, 1974 and became firmly entrenched in the Washington scene beginning in 1975 and continuing through 1976.

The Congressional Record entry dated November 19, 1974; the Senate, from Sen. Charles Percy, (Illinois) summed up his thoughts about the opening of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden on the Mall in Washington. With a flourish of comments filled with criticism that had been leveled in Washington and in art circles around the country as well as reading reviews, he toured and greatly enjoyed the Museum and Sculpture Garden and believes the initial judgment on the Hirshhorn collection can be summarized in the words of Hilton Kramer of the New York Times, Mr. Hirshhorn’s gift to the nation is “magnificent” and “unlikely to be equal in our lifetime.” In my view, the greatest strength of the Hirshhorn collection is its tremendous diversity. The collector provided us with a true cross-section of great 19th and 20th century art works. With the exquisite creations of recognized Masters displayed alongside unfamiliar works of little-known artists.

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Figure #9-20 Congressional Record entry     Figure #9-21 Congratulations from SI Assistant Treasurer

The above letter from SI Assistant Treas. John F Jamison was most kind and heartfelt giving me more credit that I would not normally receive but seeing it in writing makes all the difference.



Figure #9-22 Smithsonian Newsletter for October 1974’s Announcing the Opening of the Hirshhorn Museum

The Calendar of the Smithsonian Institution gave us an air of legitimacy. We did have our share of new activities, exhibits and we were getting into the mainstream of this wonderful way of allowing Americans and world visitors to enjoy and enhance their knowledge of so many facets of our life and history. The staff was up to the challenge of keeping current with the myriad of art related functions that we were planning over the course of the next few years.

The next target was the Bicentennial for the United States that was looming less than two years away. One of the things that I would take an interest in was the building and construction of another eagerly anticipated new Museum that was bound to attract a lot of attention. The Air and Space Museum was scheduled to kick off during the Bicentennial activities over July 4th holiday. I did have a number of assignments that would keep me apprised of how things were taking shape across the street.  The proximity to the Hirshhorn Museum made it a no-brainer that we needed to be involved and actually share what we had learned from our “meteoric rise” and getting the Hirshhorn started, worked on and completed. It also afforded me the opportunity to come in contact with their newly rising stars that would play an important part in seeing this sparkler also become a fixture on Capitol Mall. The newly appointed Curator for the Museum was none other than Mr. Michael Collins, of Apollo 11 fame (Commander, Lunar Module) of which I kept Memorabilia that appears in the previous chapter. I relished this opportunity to impart some of my knowledge and experience knowing what it was like to be a fledgling, new kid on the block. It was an exceptional event and Thelma and I were glad to be part of it.


But this did not keep us from getting our first major, eye-opening exhibit ready to make our own contribution to the American Bicentennial. The plan was put into place to acknowledge the contribution of the “Immigrants’” over the last 100 years that have come to our shores with the emphasis on Immigrants’ Art Influence.


With all the hoopla today centering around immigrants and immigration we shouldn’t lose sight of how much we owe to the millions, upon millions, upon millions who would be considered refugees that came to this country as a last resort; and not just “ARTISTS – IMMIGRANTS OF AMERICA.” One of the things that I was most proud of was the Golden Door publication dealing with ARTIST- IMMIGRANTS OF AMERICA, 1876 – 1976. Part of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden exhibit and publication; May 20 through October 20, 1976. One of the numerous articles as early as the turn-of-the-century appeared in the New York Times and deals with the heading “Immigration Record Will Be Broken This Year; 1906.”

What makes this so prophetic is that part of this newsletter about the Golden Door is the reflection on what figures to be its personification of “Liberty.” At the base of the statue at the entrance to New York Harbor symbolizes the immigrants’ expectations. On Lady Liberty’s base was inscribed the words by Emma Lazarus’ closing verses: Patriotic sentiments:

…Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore; send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me: I lift my lamp beside the Golden door!

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Figure #9-23 Golden Door Artists–Immigrants 1876-1976  Figure #9-24 Exhibit Fact Sheet

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Figure #9-25 Bicentennial Exhibit, MEMO      Figure #9-26 Bicentennial Exhibit Article, “Melting Pot”

Their acceptance was a cyclical thing; the immigrants’ lot would go through periods of increases and decreases. In the article, the last paragraph states “the outbreak of World War I led to intensified efforts to assure the immigrants’ patriotism and loyalty. By the 1920s, however, a virulent restrictionism began to dominate the American attitude towards immigration. Passage to the Golden Door became possible for fewer and fewer immigrants.” How ironic that things haven’t changed much during the passage of all these years.


The Bicentennial exhibit proved to be a huge access. There were many parties to attend, over 20 celebrations; I would be there. Staff was warranted their own acclamation. I was constantly working on good employee relations: Jim and superintendent Frank; Lee getting the OK to work at home.

The list of current staff members evoked a tumultuous roar of pleasant memories. June 10, 1970 my starting date was safely ensconced between hiring the first staff members Frank and Francie in 1970. Ms. Sewall and Assistant Curator Stephen Weil, “who likes to rock boats.” The great cataloguing by Anne in the library; my final interview with JHH in 1970 before officially starting. I had developed a pretty good bond with Al Lerner over the years and as I could see the light at the end of the tunnel, there were some things that Thelma and I wanted to impart to Al and Pauline Lerner to show them how much all their good tidings over the years meant. So we came up with something that reflected our utmost appreciation.


October 26, 1976

Dear Thelma and Joe,

I must tell you first that your generosity is unusual and touching and it makes it all the more difficult to write this letter. You have shown great concern and warm sympathy all along and that is itself a sufficient gift since it is really the rarest and most treasured of commodities.

A token gift would have been reasonable although not necessary.

But I really can’t, with any clear conscience accept such an extravagant gift. And there is no reason why you should do this as a measure of your affection. The warmth and spontaneity of your act means a great deal to Pauline and me. I am very serious about this and have considered it carefully, my chief concern being not to offend you in any way. But think you will understand that I will remember the generosity will remember the generosity of your intention, which is really the most precious gift of all. With warmest thanks

Yours, Al

Figure #9-27 Letter of Thanks from Al Lerner


Figure #9-28 Thelma and I at one of the Bicentennial Exhibits

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Figure #9-29 and Figure #9-30 The Bicentennial celebration afforded Thelma and me and to revisit some of the galleries and exhibits.



13Figure #9-31 Membership in the National Society of Literature and the Arts

I kept current with activities for the Arts while preparing my leave-taking. Particularly, involvement with the National Endowments For The Arts (NEA). It would set in motion a ripple effect that would serve me well even after retiring from the Hirshhorn. This link would provide the next Jewel in the “Triple Crown.”

Two amazing milestones that took place during this period were my entry in America’s Who’sWho in Government and being recommended for the prestigious Rockefeller Administrative  Award.


In July 1976, I was happily surprised to see that my submission of a biographical sketch was accepted by the publishers of Marquis Who’s Who in Government and included in the 2nd edition, 1975-76 in the publication of the same name.  I record the entry below because of its simplicity and brevity, and the concise manner in which it reflects the highlights of my family history, schooling record, my occupation, my army career and service with the Hirshhorn Museum.

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Figure 9-32 Galley Proof for Who’sWho in Government   Figure 9-33 Actual citation in Who’sWho Publication

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Figure #9-34 Nomination for Rockefeller Public Service Award

On April 9, 1976, Abram Lerner, Director, HMSG put my name in for Nomination for the Rockefeller public service award. He based this on my length of public service, dedicated career to the Federal government and to recognize distinguished service and contribution to the growth and prestige of the Smithsonian Institution. The above application states why he felt this was justified.

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Figure #9–35 Recognition, 35 years of Service Figure  #9–36 Rockefeller Award Winner


Figure #9-37 Draft of final budget submission for FY 77

One of my last the last Budget Submissions for FY 77; it would become effective the following year.

In order to complete an accurate picture of the many facets that go into preparing, designing, constructing, opening, operating and ensuring the successful life of such an edifice as the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden: it required an integrated, dedicated staff and certainly the appropriate amount of resources, financial and otherwise to bring this to fruition. I was certainly blessed by being surrounded by overqualified, over-achievers – Staff both above me, besides me and under me.

Coupled with the fact that Thelma was really my right hand and very supportive, as well as developing into a most “talented artist” in her own right, there was no way that I could have failed to accomplish what I was required to do.


Figure #9-38 Thelma and I Meeting with Smithsonian Officials and Art Experts

The next posting will address my leaving the confines of the Hirshhorn Museum, the Marvelous going away party, as well as leaving behind many of the wonderful friends we cherished at work and the ones that we made along the way, over the past 12 years. The road ahead would bring new challenges, fond memories and even equally great accomplishments.

**Appendices and artifacts will include: Detailed budget transactions, congressional submittals, Hirshhorn publications, letters of accommodation from both government level recommendation, letters of appreciation from staff. Pictures of the building of the Hirshhorn Museum, opening night festivities, Program, brochures, testimonials, retirement party and farewell address.

Copyright © 2016      William Sefekar

** Material will appear in book.


We are always interested in hearing comments and suggestions about how the blog could be better. Sound off below with your ideas

Continue reading THE HIRSHHORN M– USEUM ACCOMPLISHMENT, PT. 4 * 1970 – 1976







During this hectic period, I faced a serious challenge.  It was early 1974 and I was working like a person with blinders.  My concentration focused on October 1974 – the scheduled opening.  One morning, upon my arrival at the office, Mr. Lerner introduced me to a man about five years younger than my 57 years.  He asked me to find space in our temporary quarters and he suggested I keep him busy.  This was a strange request in that it was not explained to me what the purpose was for his presence in our office.  I did know that he worked at the Smithsonian National Museum of History and Technology, and that he was a Grade GS-16 (I was a Grade GS-15).  It was apparent he was being “kicked upstairs”.  This was a method used to enable an individual to retain a high grade when his ability was in question.  I certainly wasn’t going to delegate my responsibilities to an individual who could possibly threaten my position.  Since I had not been given direct orders to encourage this encroachment, I decided that I would give him a desk in a secluded part of the office, and assigning him some “make work” tasks that would keep him busy.  With nothing tangible for him to do, he realized on his own volition that he did not fit in with our organization.  Luckily, this slight interruption did not have a noticeable effect on museum plans, which were progressing steadily toward fruition.

If I ever had any qualms about being short, I never had any misgivings about my not being tall.  I could look “up” to Mr. Hirshhorn because, although he was short and stocky he never was inhibited.  I was short and slight but lack of money did not inhibit me.  But I kept my proper distance.  On one occasion I approved for payment the invoice for transporting the Art Collection from New York City to Washington, D.C. a cost to be paid by Mr. Hirshhorn. Inasmuch as the move was a huge success and the bill of lading showed no exceptions, I immediately signed off as “received in proper order.”

The next day, Mr. Hirshhorn called the Museum, as he was wont to do and inquired as to why we were processing the invoices so swiftly.  I explained that the art had been received in good order and the Register had certified that each item was received and that there was no reason to delay payment. When we couldn’t find any reason to withhold payment on the invoice, he felt he had done his best to “negotiate” a lower cost. The invoice was paid promptly.  Mr. Hirshhorn was the consummate businessman.

It was October 1974, the time for the opening of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.  The Groundbreaking Ceremony had taken place on January 8, 1969, which included President Lyndon B. Johnson, Chief Justice Earl Warren, and Secretary Dillon Ripley (**picture).  And of course, Joseph H. Hirshhorn, wielding their trusty spades, setting the wheels in motion for construction of a Museum, which Ambassador Daniel P. Moynihan, Chairman, Board of trustees, said would last more than a “Hundred Years”.  (**Include JHH talk about making his contribution to the United States from humble beginnings of Immigrant roots)

And today as can be imagined it’s value is in untold billions of dollars of irreplaceable pieces of art and sculptures under the auspices of the “Museum.” It has indeed found a lasting home among the greatest works of Art on display in the world. I cannot say enough for the opportunity afforded me by the Hirshhorn Museum, the Smithsonian Institution and of course Mr. Joseph Hirshhorn and the experience working under the guidance of Abram Lerner, the Curator. This can be found in the Opening Day Catalog of the Hirshhorn Collection that was presented to the US government. The attached slideshow provides just the thumbnail sketch of what was a lifetime of dedication that Mr. Hirshhorn amassed over 40 years. Enjoy just a sampling and maybe you too might have an opportunity to visit the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, if you haven’t already. Slideshow of Hirshhorn Collection Catalogue begins now.

Tuesday, October 1, 1974, was a mild day, but in anticipation of rain we contracted for a huge tent in the event of inclement weather. Fortunately, we were able to conduct the activities in and around the building without any inconvenience to the guests.

The Invitation to the opening was on a Museum Logo displayed on a platinum border, with a black circle emblazoned off-center on a white globe, symbolizing the Fountain on the circular Plaza and the encircling Building, The invitation invited the guests to the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden at Washington City, October 1, 1974.


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It was a handsome reception with “open” bar and dancing.  Mr. and Mrs. Hirshhorn tripped the light fantastic during the festivities. One night was for VIPs and Guests; one night was for the Artists and Guests; and one night for Smithsonian Associates, Employees and Guests.  It was three nights to remember, a fitting finale to four years of planning, participation, and the satisfaction felt by each individual involved in this historic endeavor.

In early 1975 we were in a sort of shakedown period.  All the normal wrinkles in a new building had to be ironed out.  The Director wanted a bookshop with educational materials.  He steered away from gadgets that weren’t related to the learning process.  The staff was involved in developing a long-range schedule of various exhibitions, usually three or four years into the future.  This required planning the layout of the exhibition by the curators, exhibition specialists, and historians.  Not all items exhibited came from the Hirshhorn collection.  A major Retrospective could encompass the best works by a particular artist, i.e., Willem De Kooning, Henry Moore; or selected works of other great collectors, i.e. Sloan Collection. This meant that such art works, supplementing Hirshhorn’s collection would be shipped to the Museum and the cost of shipping, ensuring installing the exhibition would have to be considered in the overall cost.  Each exhibition would go through the same steps, and close attention would be given to the current budget costs, and then estimating costs for exhibitions planned three or four years ahead.

This planning required the skills of many people, but the Administrator brought the different efforts together into a logical pattern.  The past six years were full of challenges, new learning experiences, and the need for numerous decisions.   The Museum had its share of critics as well as champions.  One of the challenges we faced was a review of the Smithsonian Institution, the first in the 126 years that the Smithsonian had been in operation.  That was a lot of ground to cover, and the Hirshhorn being part of the Smithsonian came in for a lot of examination.  We were particularly involved because one of our critics had been snooping around the different Smithsonian offices, had lifted material from the different “in” and “out” correspondence boxes, and then he would write to the different Congressional Committees, spewing ambiguous information.  One of these Committees (reviewing the Smithsonian budget) was interested in the activities of the Smithsonian and the Hirshhorn.  We had to justify why the Smithsonian needed the Hirshhorn Museum when there were already established a National Collection of Fine Arts and a National Portrait Gallery in Washington.

One of my most memorable Hirshhorn Collection memorabilia from the Opening Night Festivities is a signed, numbered poster for the event. It is hanging in a special place in our home.

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The simple answer was that the Hirshhorn Collection was more in the genre of modern art and its collection of sculptures covers the works of Rodin, Henry Moore and modernists like Alexander. The initial value of the Collection in 1969 was $75,000,000.  In 1975 the Collection as estimated at $125,000,000.  The Director of the Art Institute of Chicago had, at one time, entertained doubts about the validity of the Hirshhorn Collection.  As was the practice in Washington, there evolved from the inspection of the Smithsonian, a request to the General Accounting Office (the watchdog of the Congress) to inspect and issue a report to the Senate by August 4, 1974.  A report was subsequently issued which covered such subjects as: Was the Smithsonian empowered to enter into an agreement with Hirshhorn, committing the United States government. To accepting the Collection; What were the 10 original employees doing for 4 years (1970-1974) working in New York and Washington, to justify the time spent in storing, selecting and preserving the works of art in the “Collection.” Well, the final report was issued, all pertinent questions answered, and the Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Sen. Daniel P. Moynihan said it was the first report he had seen where the General Accounting Office was satisfied with all aspects of their investigation (**include budget reports).


Once the Gala Opening took place, the staff knew that with this behind us, the real guts and glory lay ahead. Now it was the day-to-day operations that will really set the Hirshhorn apart as a world-class Museum. One of the first things that went into effect besides making sure that the throngs of visitors both tourists and locals were taken care of, were two important aspects of Museum keeping. One was that our team of docents would be always there to provide tours of this newly open attraction and curiosity. The docent is an unheralded part of the Museum operations; it is a person who acts as a guide, typically on a voluntary basis, in a museum or art gallery. As would be the case, I was very pleased with the way our cadre of docents took pride in making sure that their tours turned out to be both informative and artsy

The other item that also played an important part in the unqualified success that the Museum was to introduce “the monthly newsletter,” requiring a complete cooperative effort by the entire staff to ensure that the activities promoted by the Museum reached out to all the possible outlets for attracting new and a continued regular multitude of committed art and museum goers. The following Newsletter kicked off a litany of details, dates and events that kept us busy during this shakedown period. (** 1st Month, October 1974 Hirshhorn Museum’s Newsletter)


Just prior to the opening of the Museum, Mr. Lerner selected a Deputy Director as his assistant.  I had enjoyed my relation with Mr. Lerner, being in a de facto assistant position; I did not feel that this action belittled my job.  Mr. Stephen Weil was a lawyer and former Director of a Museum in New York.   The Hirshhorn Museum was entitled to a Director and Deputy Director.  Mr. Lerner treated me well, awarding me several with-in grade promotions, which provide in-grade increments.  Weil was a take hold individual, but Mr. Lerner kept him in check.  In a public relations interview, Weil said he “believed in rocking the boat.”  I’m a great believer in holding on to the “gun wale”. Weil’s first efforts were to try to replace several division chiefs – I quickly derailed such plans.  He got involved in certain personnel problems and, in one case, we disagreed on a decision and he threatened to throw me through a window.  That didn’t bother me except we were on the fourth floor.   We defused the situation, and got along pretty well after that.  However, at this point, I began thinking that this is a good time to make my departure.  Everything was fine, salary was great, had no enemies – I could leave in a good frame of mind. However, this would not be the case for the immediate future. As indicated, the challenges of keeping the Museum functional and in smooth working order would require even more vigilance. I was surely up to the task as will be seen in the next part of the “Hirshhorn Accomplishment.” And so ends the third of four parts for Chapter 9’s posting.

**Included will be many of the memorandums and letters to the Smithsonian and budget preparation. Correspondence with Al Lerner, Joe and Olga Hirshhorn and of course the myriad of pictures, diagrams, communications and documents that went into building the museum.

During this period an equally rewarding event took place in our family’s life. It just happened to be the preparation and wedding of my dearest daughter Bonnie Lynn Sefekar to a most worthy young man, Lee Elliott Landau on Saturday, August 3, 1974.  It will also mention Bill Sefekar’s running for the Maryland State Legislature in the 1974 Democratic primary.



Copyright © 2016      William Sefekar

** Material will appear in book


We are always interested in hearing comments and suggestions about how the blog could be better. Sound off below with your ideas








Mondays, the staff eagerly awaited my report.  On the Fridays I spent in Washington, I would follow-up on purchase orders for equipment and confer on personnel actions in progress.  I would attend conferences with key Smithsonian personnel and meet with the contractor’s representatives.  But there was no news for the “troops” in New York.  The construction was behind schedule and when they asked, “when are we moving to Washington?”, I would have to say, “We’re behind schedule on the building”.  This had an unhappy effect on the staff, who were eagerly awaiting their new assignment, as well as me who was eager to get back to Washington.  They were young and waiting to launch their careers – with eyes focused on new horizons.   Many of these professionals would make a name for themselves in the not too distant future.

But in the meantime they worked feverishly, going about their business of preparing the collection for its transporting up to Washington DC, when the Museum was ready to receive these precious gifts. I found it rather amusing and entertaining to see how the staff painstakingly managed to have pictures made, I should say miniaturized pictures of the entire collection of paintings and sculptures. This is all done to scale and to be part of an 11 foot replica model of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. It was a cutaway version that lent itself to the staff of art experts to prepare the layout for the opening exhibits and beyond. These little miniature paintings and sculptures were interchangeable as the three-story Hirshhorn Museum was retractable to accommodate placing the artworks in the most desirable arrangements.

But for now, their futures were on hold – they had to pick up their lives here and move lock, stock, and barrel to new surroundings.  Some had families and had to take care of schooling needs; some of them had to transfer their bank accounts, and establish their credit in their newly adopted state.  On the other hand, I was the stranger in their midst, and they thought I was keeping the truth from them.  But I really was a straight shooter and was very concerned about their adjustment when reaching Washington upon completion of the construction. As a result of setting a good foundation, many continued their careers well into the 21st century.

A very interesting off-shot did occur. While I was becoming engrossed in the finer parts of the fine arts, Thelma was becoming immersed in the actual art of the fine arts. She actually began taking painting classes. The classes only supplemented a special gift that she had, just waiting to be released. She created many remarkable works that the family is quite proud of, and not just our immediate family. It was also a part of my extended family, coinciding with the Hirshhorn experience. We will have a gallery exhibit of sorts that we’ll show later on to give Thelma her just due and you can judge for yourself. One was even an abstract of the Hirshhorn Museum. But back to the task at hand: BUILDING THE BUILDING!!

That’s when I found that contractors were always two or three years late.  Even with a penalty clause of $ 1,000 a day for each day behind schedule did not expedite the status quo.  At the completion of the construction; the penalty stood at $700,000 which was later adjusted by arbitration.  In 1972, Hirshhorn’s agreement had to be amended to meet completion of construction.

Figure#9-10 Board Meeting, Morgan Warehouse, 510 W.21st, St, N.Y.C.

One of the fateful Board Meetings held in 1972 that would be going over the staff preparation for the move to Washington and dealing with the scheduled construction delays.

LR: Al Lerner, George Hamilton, Joe Sefekar, Charles Blitzer and Joseph H. Hirshhorn

1972 marked another milestone in my career fulfillments. It marked the 30th anniversary of my service with the Federal government that began in 1942 with my induction into the Armed Forces. My wife and children took part in this Special Program. I would serve another 5 years before retiring in 1977.

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Figure # 9-11 Smithsonian Honor Awards; 30 Year Career Service.

With this special milestone behind me there was nothing more I could do but make sure that my career continued to a successful conclusion and I continued to immerse myself even more fastidiously into working with the officials at the Smithsonian, my higher-ups at the Hirshhorn and my staff. I was very dedicated to them and had developed a deep seeded attachment with them.

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Figure #9-13 Erection of the circular structure of the Museum


Figure #9-14 Holiday Greeting Card from Joe and Olga Hirshhorn


Figure #9-15 Memo from Abram Lerner H.M.S.G. Construction July 17, 1973

This Memo spelled out the requirements that would have to be in place before, during, and after the transfer of the collection to Washington is made. Time frame dates for completion included: The Garden, September 10, 1973; freight elevator, November 16, 1973; the Plaza area, November 27, 1973 and the Lower Level, December 16, 1973. Making the transfer of the Collections beginning at the earliest until January, 1974.


The 1972 – 73 period brought many changes to our family. Thelma and I had made many enduring friends not only at Parkside Plaza but in the Silver Spring Maryland area during the past six years. We received visits periodically from our family up north in the New York area. Billy staked out his claim in the political arena, chasing his idealistic pursuits. He continued his association with the Democratic party and worked at the Democratic National Committee (DNC) in the radio department; located in the legendary Watergate building in Washington DC. In 1972 Sen. George McGovern became the Democratic Presidential nominee and selected Sargent Shriver as his vice presidential running mate. Sargent Shriver, was the initial Director of the Peace Corps among his other attributes. Billy was assigned to travel with the Candidate. For two months he crisscrossed the country attending numerous political gatherings and events; flying in and out of National Airport in Washington.

On one such trip we picked him up at the airport for his usual one-day layover, to be off again after getting fresh clothes. It was a special happenstance that we happened to meet Sargent Shriver while he was debarking from the plane on the Campaign Trail.


Bonnie on the other hand was taking a more serious path. One of her friends from high school thought it would be a good idea to fix her up with one of the fellows that she knew from high school while attending Montgomery Blair. It was sort of a blind date and as fate would have it Bonnie would meet him occasionally during the next few years, while attending the University of Maryland. The young man, Lee Landau who had ideas of becoming a lawyer and joining his dad in his practice, began the courtship in earnest in 1972. Their relationship would blossom with this fine fellow setting his sights on taking my daughter away, literally and figuratively. But it was one of the most wonderful things that could have happened to my family and my daughter.

Figure #9-16 Meeting Vice-Presidential Candidate Sargent Shriver.

Mr. Lerner thought it appropriate in considering all my effort put forth during the last three years that I receive a “Nomination for Quality Step Increase.” In the justification for the step increase it was stated in some very glowing terms that I still feel exceptionally proud of even to this day. Having been called upon in my present position as 13Administrative Officer to perform a wide range of duties, and in all these having showed excellent ability. In addition, Mr. Sefekar shown an unusual ability to meet any and all requirements of his position. He has shown great resourcefulness, initiative and industry and handling his various work assignments. His work performance has consistently exceeded normal performance expectations, and his excellence of achievement and spirit of cooperation have contributed significantly to the successful accomplishment of our mission during the past three years.

And thus I was awarded a Quality Step Increase.

Figure #9-17 Nomination for Quality Step Increase dated April 23, 1973.

As is my usual penchant for taking copious notes about events that took place, my files were filled with some of the details that occurred during the course of the construction and preparation of the Museum.

In May, 1973 the following are excerpts (hand-written notes, surfaced) from some of the day-to-day activities that took place during the week of May 23 and the myriad of details and decisions that had to be made.

May 23 – Rowan–Weiner conference RE: ektachrome (old camera film scanning) for postcards.

May 24 – Washington – interviewed Baird – Administrative Position- VG. Held meeting with Barwick on requisition – some resistance to drape requisition, may run into trouble.

May 25 – interviewed Dr. Albert – interested in research or curatorial position, VG interviewed Mr. Marsh – Exhibits Displays – G.  Trouble with requisition for special equipment which Mr. Blitzer must sign. He left for weekend without signing.

Set up meetings with Tele sonic on Friday, June 1 to demonstrate Tour Guide System.

Set up meeting for Thursday, May 31 to discuss filming history of HMSG. Final portion of 1,000 data collection sheets submitted to Information Services Division. Arranged special keypunch and verifying.

May 29 – All day loading by Morgan Bros. Manhattan – All library books and file cabinets.

McCabe moved, Rosensweig, Brooks scheduled end of week. Meanwhile routine work goes on. Revised plans to return to Washington to receive books – will leave up to staff in Washington.

May 30 – Visited Warehouse in morning to advise staff of status of office operations and to inform Nancy Sage, et al., that move of collection our priority item and that Mr. Lerner and my efforts will be directed towards that end.

Contract will be signed with movers in next few days. However, other major items which are routine: continue procurement of Museum furnishings, will require full time between now and June 30. Our aim is to stay within procurement regulations without holding up requisitions and purchase orders. But we will try to furnish on this information to Supply Division, S.I.

Sample of Work; A Vignette, file 1973

An historical meeting took place on Wednesday, January 10, 1973 at 820 Park Ave., New York City. Our staff, Mr. Lerner, Miss Sage and myself went to Mr. Hirshhorn’s apartment to beard the lion in his den. Our mission was to get JHH’s okay to begin plans for moving his collection to Washington, DC. This was a sort of re-start up because the original estimates we had solicited initially were in November 1971. With the delays in the building completion, the proposed move was put on the back burner. Now, the feeling was that this was the time. Again, the first reaction by Mr. JHH was “it was too soon.” The problem facing us was having completed and secured the building to receive the collection. Workmen should be out of the building and all possible impediments be removed. We agreed we should plan an October receiving date, and on that basis we convinced Mr. H. that we needed a minimum of nine months lead time – six months for packing and crating and three months for moving. This made the month of February as the target date for signing a moving contract. Mr. H gave us the go ahead sign – we agreed on the most likely of movers to be selected.

Over a drink, and some arty talk, Mr. Lerner came up with an anecdote. When Mr. H. was visiting Picasso he made the unpardonable faux pas of offering Picasso money for a sculpture. Sensing Picasso’s reaction, Mr. H. adroitly changed his approach by saying “I’ll give everything I have,” taking off his bowtie, his jacket and two francs. Picasso asked “will you throw in your wife,” to which Mr. H. said “yes.” Picasso laughed heartily, said “he’s crazy” and took the bow tie and jacket. Mr. H. got his sculpture.

During our conversation, the discussion arose on locating a few items that are listed in the Hirshhorn collection but have been in apparently misplaced. It developed that a painting was found hanging in Mrs. H. boudoir. She was reluctant to give it up since Mr. H. had given it to her as a wedding present. Mr. H. said “don’t worry my dear, I’ll replace it.” It was done in all humility, without any petulance.

Figure #9-18 of the Opening of the Temporary Offices at the Smithsonian and closing of the New York Office.
Figure #9-18 of the Opening of the Temporary Offices at the Smithsonian and closing of the New York Office.

This made it essential that the contact for a qualified mover be let, adhering to government regulations which required unquestioned professional ability in transporting art and other valuable objects, safely and undamaged.

As a sign that we were progressing towards completion of our hiatus in New York, The October 25, 1973 Announcement stated that the New York office of the Hirshhorn Museum and sculpture Garden located at 135 E. 35th St. would finally close on September 28, 1973 and that temporary offices would now be located in room 1235 of the Arts and Industry Building, Smithsonian Institution. The Warehouse Office at Morgan Brothers and Storage Company 510 W. 21st St., New York City would be maintained until the Collection is shipped to Washington. This was the signal we were looking for, coming to fruition after many years and so many hours that our staff was inching ever so close to seeing the dream become a reality.

End of Part Two of Chapter 9, The Hirshhorn Accomplishment.” In the next Blog posting, Part three of this 4 part Series, will deal with what would amount to the most providential calling that I would have in my lifetime: The “Opening of the Hirshhorn Museum.” It would be slated for October 1, 1974; a year from now.

Copyright © 2016      William Sefekar

** Material will appear in book.

We are always interested in hearing comments and suggestions about how the blog could be better. Sound off below with your ideas.









1970 was an auspicious year – it opened new vistas for Thelma and me.  It also closed some chapters in our lives.  On Saturday, January 10, 1970, Thelma’s mother, Bessie Lakoff died at the age of 85.  Her life had been difficult, as most immigrant families had experienced.  She had migrated from Vilna, Russia – her husband, William had preceded her to the new country where they raised a family of 4 daughters and one son.  A happily married life but had become a widow when William died in November 1939. My son William Charles would be named after him. It was a financial struggle raising a family during the aftermath of the depression.  But it was a close family and the siblings helped support their mother.

Jack and Jenny (Pop and Mom) were always there for us.  No lengthy heart to heart talks, but daily concern over our well-being.  It was like they were on the side lines – guiding our way through the calm and the eddies.  We had the usual admonishments of “yes” and “no”, but all I remember were the decisions that I had to make for myself but can remember none that my siblings made for themselves. In our immigrant family, this was how personal independence was instilled in the children.   But we were content.  And that is why we were able to let them go, as they slipped out of our lives.

Pop died the week that I started my new job with the Smithsonian.  Added to the trauma of losing a parent was the uncertainties associated with the starting of a new job – in this case it was an ending and a beginning.  My wife and children lived in Washington, D.C.  When Pop died, my brother Al and my sisters, who lived in New York attended to the funeral arrangements.  My sister, Lucy, lived in Toronto, Canada, with her husband Hy and two children, Gloria and Martin.  They were family oriented, although they were a distance away.  They kept in close touch with us.  Lucy was the oldest, and kept us together with her energy and concern.


Starting a new job, I had trepidations of the effect on my new assignment and  my absence due to family problems.  But since everything, at this point was in the planning stages I will become part of the start-up operations.  Actually, although the period of mourning in the Jewish religion is seven days, there is a mini period of three days to accommodate the exigencies of the 20th century.  Normally, internment is one or two days after the passing of the deceased.

With the mourning period behind us, I was able to concentrate on the new job and to try to spend some quality time with Thelma and the kids.

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Figure #9.1 Arrangements for Joining Hirshhorn Staff, March 1970  Figure #9-2 Family Life 1970-71 

Facing a two-year separation, my wife and I had three alternatives:

1)   My subletting an apartment in New York, which would make the prospect of a two-year separation, seems more difficult to endure.

2)   Have my wife join me and we would stay with her widowed sister, Yetta Starr.  This was not practicable inasmuch as we had two children going to school or living in Washington.  This would disrupt my wife’s social activities for 2 years and possibly longer, if construction were delayed.

3)   A plausible, and as we found out later, more feasible action was for me to stay in New York temporarily, and commute from Washington and return home for weekends.  Monetarily, it was more satisfactory that I did not have to maintain separate domiciles.  My costs were a minimal contribution for expenses to stay with my sister-in-law. My airfare was covered in arrangements with the Smithsonian.The apartment was crammed with works of art – not haphazardly but neatly hung or leaning on the various walls in the apartment.  This is how his other art holdings were stored in the various homes he owned in Greenwich, Conn.; Toronto, Canada; and the collection itself accumulated over a period of 30 – 40 years, now housed in the Morgan Brothers Storage facility on 23rd street and 10th Ave., NYC.  The apartment was tastefully furnished despite the paintings and sculptures arrayed in every nook and cranny.  Mr. Hirshhorn was having breakfast, and I joined him in a cup of coffee.  He was a tough hombre to deal with.  He kept a close hand on everything connected with the creating of a home for his “children”, as he lovingly referred to the works of art.  He never sold anything that he collected – he did not “deal” in art.  After he had donated his art to the U.S. he continued his buying binge, retaining ownership of these new purchases, but subsequently bequeathing them to the government on a periodic basis.  He selected the curator of the collection, Mr. Abram Lerner, who advised Mr. Hirshhorn on art, but it was Mr. Hirshhorn who made all the decisions on what he wanted. In many cases, the first Mr. Lerner learned about an acquisition was when he would get a notice from U.S. Custom office that a huge box containing paintings or sculpture, was at the pier, and had to be signed for.  The inventory of paintings and sculpture donated to the U.S. Government in 1965 was valued at $ 75,000,000.  Eventually, when the collection was ready to be turned over to the Government in 1974, the estimated value was $125,000,000. (Art experts documented this estimate at current value). Mr. Hirshhorn was friendly, talkative and chatty. But when it came to business, he was stern and directly to the point.  He asked me, “Can you be strict with the employees?”


“If you have to fire them, can you do it?

“Yes. But in the Federal Civil Service, you can’t dismiss an employee without following regular grievance procedures”.

That seemed to satisfy him and the interviewed ended.  It was a strange discussion because I would be the only individual on the entire staff of 10 that enjoyed prior Civil Service longevity.  It was this Federal status, my knowledge of personnel procedures, familiarity with the obligation of controlled funds that gave me the edge in being selected.  Another thing that helped was my extensive experience in preparing and executing a financial plan that could project our requirements for the next five years. Other factors were my extensive experience in purchasing supplies, equipment and services.  We had to find justification for purchasing white Formica desks and file cabinets, and library shelving when government regulations required colors of olive green be regular issue?

The staff had previously submitted the required Civil Service Application Form 72, and based on qualification requirements were accepted for positions commensurate with their education and experience.  This small cadre was comprised of working curators, art historians, and art handlers with Undergraduate and Master degrees in their fields of specialty.  They were a young, enthusiastic and loyal group, and Mr. Hirshhorn was our Patriarch.

It was a complicated plan.  The museum was being constructed in Washington, D.C.  The staff of 10 was New Yorkers – a group of dedicated individuals consisting of would be artists, curators, historians, but all with the ability to do the moving and lifting of the paintings and sculptures they were working with. I would take care of the hiring selection process.  In addition, some of us were working on the important job of taking inventory and cataloguing the collection, preparatory to writing and editing the Inaugural catalogue for the Opening Exhibition. Part of my initial responsibilities were to hire a small cadre of dedicated workers in the arts. I was very fortunate that this group of dedicated and sincere workers who would follow me through this transitionary period. Many of them still remained with the Hirshhorn long after I retired. There were some that retired recently after 40 years of service

I had taken some related art subjects in my undergraduate studies – but nothing very deep and the one thing that stayed with me – were the classical Greek columns: Corinthian, Doric and Ionian. My initial exposure to modern art was a book by Milton W. Brown “The Story of the Armory Show,” [The Joseph H. Hirshhorn Foundation – Library of Congress Catalog No. 63-13496.) The author had done a treatise for Mr. Hirshhorn, which was a historical account of the Armory Show of 1913, (**show picture to appear in manuscript) reassembling the show and relying on documents created by a small group of artists banding together as the Association of American Painters and Sculptors.  Being a nostalgia buff, what intrigued me was that this show debuted February 17, 1913, and was for a whole generation of artists the introduction to Modern Art, which slowly crept into the American psyche.

Being a Management Analyst qualifies one for any field, similar to being a stenographer, where having experience in a field is not a prerequisite to being hired. I was able to continue, into the maze of daily challenges, which included adjusting to the personal lives of the staff.  The Abram Lerner, Director of the Museum had a chronic back disorder which required constant medical supervision, and at times was hospitalized because of pain and discomfort.  But he still was on the job and was always available.  Having been Hirshhorn’s personal curator for many years, it was only natural that the Smithsonian selected him to be the Director of the new Museum.

Mr. Lerner deftly brought together each part of the museum into one integrated and smoothly operating entity. He appreciated the fact that I was a neophyte in the realm of art. He was patient with me and his guidance was like a helping hand rather than that of the teacher. The staff was involved in different art related areas, and I worked with them daily. In effect, we had three workstations first and foremost for our administrative offices at hundred and 35 E. 65th St. on the corner of Lexington Avenue, NYC. Second was the Morgan brothers moving storage company located at 21st and 10th Ave., NYC; and the last but not least was the budding Hirshhorn Museum and sculpture Garden, Seventh and Independence Ave., Washington, DC.

In June 1970, when I reported to work in New York City, the 65th St. office was the hub of our museum activities. It was a three story brownstone type building, with staff occupying the top two floors. We broke out the walls on the second floor and set up the library area; on the third floor, space was allocated for the administrative office. A cadre was assigned to the Morgan brothers storage facility, when they began the huge task of taking inventory of all the artwork stored at that facility. This was a very important assignment because on completion, we had to computerize listings; one was the itemized 6,000 artworks that Hirshhorn had donated to the Smithsonian and the second contained Hirshhorn’s personal collection, which was not part of his gift to the nation.

Al Lerner, with the help of his learned staff, developed an initial list of about 1,000 paintings and sculptures from the initial Hirshhorn donation of 6,000 works of art. Then Mr. McGagy, the chief of the exhibition department concentrated on the setting that would be most appropriate for exhibiting each work. Mr. Simon’s staff came up with the idea of creating a scaled-down model of the circular floor (1/4 inch per foot). The miniaturized replica of the Museum that was 11 feet across with cutaway sections. We created the floors in the museum, our staff photographer made copies of each painting, which were reduced in scale to the size of the walls, in this way it was easy to magnetically attach the photo to the wall. This painstakingly task of comparing the different views offered an opportunity to select the most aesthetic combination of size, shape and relationship between the various paintings and sculptures. The result of this checking and rechecking reduced the number of objects to be shown to 900. Of course, no one could project how the art would look when the paintings would be hung on the walls or how the “live” sculpture would look on the museum circular floors or if the sculpture would appear in the ethereal of the sculpture garden.

The schedule was Spartan – for both my wife and I. It was more difficult for her than for me.  While she was involved in rearing our two children, and keeping the homes fires burning in Washington, DC, I was engrossed in a new undertaking requiring me to be away from home four days and returning for the weekend.  This enabled me to spend Friday on the construction site of the new museum.  The weeks flew by into months and years.  Sounds unending!  But I managed to survive.  My wife was a real “trooper”.

Flying schedules were very accommodating. Monday mornings I boarded the 8:00am. flight from Washington, D.C. to New York – Eastern Airlines had inaugurated a no-advance reservation shuttle flight, which departed Washington National Airport every hour on the hour, to NY La Guardia Airport.  If a plane was completely filled, Eastern assigned another plane, even if only one passenger was waiting.  It was an hour flight, frequently on time; I arrived at LaGuardia Airport, hopped a cab, and scooted over the 59th Street Queensboro Bridge and a half-hour cab ride to 65th St. and Lexington Avenue.  I reported to my office by 9:30am where I worked to 5:00pm and usually took work home.   My social life was limited, by choice.  I had the opportunity to meet some of my family for dinner, but regularly I had dinner at my sister-in-law’s apartment, which was my home away from home.  Working at night included poring over the building floor plans, and assuring that sufficient office space was allotted to the administrative and professional staff.  Furniture and equipment requirements also received a lot of prior attention.

Returning to Washington on Thursday afternoons worked out very well.  By a stroke of scheduling luck, American Airlines had regular service between NY La Guardia Airport to Washington National Airport, which departed every hour on the half-hour.  If I missed an American Airlines flight at 4:30pm, I could catch the Eastern Airlines at 5:00pm.  This convenient schedule helped me develop an acceptance of this difficult separation.  The Washington departures were similarly convenient – Eastern Airlines left at 8:00am and if I was delayed, American Airlines had an 8:30am flight.

What helped in the beginning was Hirshhorn’s agreement with the Smithsonian that the museum would be constructed within two years.  It was a lonely existence.  Having been a New Yorker, I did not feel that I had to take advantage of the bright lights and Broadway shows.  I just wanted to do my work and high tail it back to Washington every weekend.  During the first two years, I did get my vacation time and managed to take some trips overseas.  The planning was progressing very well, but the construction was behind schedule.

For example, in October 1971, my wife and I were able to get away for a trip to Israel.  Her two sisters, Yetta and Renee, and Renee’s husband, Harry, accompanied us.  It was a stellar trip.  The cost of our trip was bankrolled by a legacy left by my mother, who had succumbed to declining health at age 85. She left an equal amount to my brother and four sisters.  This was all she had left, and it was due only to a quirk of circumstance.  My father had predeceased her by 5 months, and his life insurance of $5,000.00 with the world famous AT&T, which provided this windfall for us, went to her as the survivor.

While our trip was escorted, with a travel guide to take us sightseeing we undertook some spontaneous tours on our own.  One we hadn’t planned in advance was a visit to the Israel museum in Tel Aviv.  What turned out to be one of the most exciting to me was seeing the sculpture garden adjoining the museum.  An interesting fact was that an American who donated the sculpture to the museum. He was the famous showman, Billy Rose, who through his successful investment in AT & T stock was able to amass a fortune.

There were two aspects of the sculpture garden which were very coincidental; the ground cover was a layer of light brown pebbles that surrounded each sculpture.  The other fact was that many of the sculptures duplicate castings of several that were in the Hirshhorn collection.  For me it was like finding a gold mine.  I feverishly snapped slide photos of the sculpture and the layout of the garden (** pictures to appear in the book).  The ground cover motif was exactly what was planned for the Hirshhorn Museum.  It was a feather in my cap – but had no effect on the plans already approved for the Museum in Washington.  Something funny happened in the lobby of our Hotel Dan in Tel Aviv.  We were sitting there, chatting, when I noticed a closely folded wad of paper in an ashtray.  I idly picked it out, and noticed it was a heavy parchment type paper.  As I unfolded it, I could see it was a poster.  I eagerly straightened out the 14 x 20 poster; I could see that it was the Knight of Death by the 14th Century engraver Albrecht Durer.  It was only a printed poster, commemorating the 1971 showing of Durer’s work, but to me it was pure gold. I had just happened to see an exhibition catalogue before of a Dürer exhibition at the Smithsonian Museum. When I returned after three weeks things were progressing very well, but the construction was still behind schedule. The photos below taken through my eyes show what this vacant space of prime real estate looked like.

Official and professional photos of the excavation site, construction of the building, exhibits and sculptures appear later in the chapter.


Figure #9-3 Excavation site and initial construction site for the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden (HMSG)


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# 9-4 Visiting Museums out West   Figure #9-5 Visiting Museums in Israel????

a b


c d


30 years of my federal service career leading up to major budget management, organization conundrums came in handy when dealing with all the facets of this undertaking. This would include the major responsibility of handling Congressional inquiries. The Board of Trustees included any illustrious figures, officials: New York US Sen. Daniel P Moynihan; Theodore E. Cummings, Hal B. Wallis, etc., it was quite a world wind but I felt confident the many challenges that I had faced prior to this magnificent assignment would make the odds of success at least better than 50-50.

It was during one of my lunch hour meanderings on the Capital Mall visiting the likes of the splendid museums such as National Gallery of Art and US archives that I came upon an “old piece of parchment,” that was none other than the Constitution of the United States. This piece of parchment has kept this country intact and guided our leaders exceptionally well. So I would take this out every so often to refresh my memory about what transpired here almost 200 years ago; when we were just a fledgling nation. “We the people of the United States in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America and the Articles,” forthwith.


Figure #9-7 Parchment of the Constitution of the United States that I kept in my desk to help keep me focused on how I can make a contribution to this great Nation.


Copyright © 2016      William Sefekar

** Material will appear in book.

We are always interested in hearing comments and suggestions about how the blog could be better. Sound off below with your ideas.