Category Archives: Chapter 9






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.


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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