Japanese Pebbles for the Pre-Columbian Collection Wing
James N. Carder (June 2012)
Beginning in 1959, the American architect Philip Johnson (1906-2005) designed the exhibition wing for the Robert Woods Bliss Collection of Pre-Columbian Art at Dumbarton Oaks. The building was completed in 1963 and opened to the public for the first time on December 10 of that year. During the design-development phase of this project, it was decided to add “four small courts [to the interior of the pavilion] that would hold planters and be glazed on the court side and vaulted with translucent but opaque plastic domes.” (See image below.) Johnson specified that polished Japanese pebbles be used on the floors of these planter courts, and his firm sent to Japan for samples sometime after October 17, 1961. The sample pebbles chosen by Johnson were submitted to Dumbarton Oaks for approval. The printed label on the top of the sample box has Japanese characters indicating (1) region, (2) beach, (3) small, (4) coast, (5) pebble, and (6) typical product. The printed and inscribed label on the side reads: # 86183 MADE IN JAPAN. This box of sample pebbles (seen at the right) is retained in the Dumbarton Oaks Archives, AR.OB.Misc.011.