The Foreign Service Journal, April 2024

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | APRIL 2024 63 and oil paintings to exquisite hand-painted dinnerware imported from China, sterling silver teapots, grandfather clocks, maps, and consular seals. As an added plus, the book contains documentation of provenance for all items shown. is adds greatly to its authoritative stance as a reference work, not simply a picture book. No one who visits the Diplomatic Reception Rooms can help but be amazed at the incongruity of discovering ornately furnished period rooms, 42 in all, tucked atop a high-security installation in the middle of Foggy Bottom. But in the early 1960s, when Deputy Chief of Protocol Clement Conger rst proposed creating appropriate settings for receiving foreign dignitaries, and then launched the e ort to make that happen, the Truman Building was essentially open to the public and not the inaccessible bastion that it is today. What Conger envisioned was realized over a period of some 30 years as the modern “motel-style” interiors of Main State’s top two oors were transformed into classically detailed spaces inspired by elegant interiors of colonial- and federal-era public buildings and country houses. is was accomplished by a team of architects and artisans trained in traditional building crafts. Looking to the past for inspiration, the design team still used ingenuity and imagination to entirely transform the shoebox rooms into workspaces where period artifacts can be exhibited in context to their best advantage. From generous donors, Conger was able to amass paintings, ceramics, silver, and furniture that make the rooms feel instantly old and authentically grand. In her essay, managing editor Carolyn Vaughn traces the origins of “the Americana Project” to the 1960s, a decade that “began with a spirit of optimism,” she says, “of looking forward to a boundless future, of the promise of progress.” It is ironic, perhaps, that such promise led Conger and his colleagues to seek inspiration in the period decor of Monticello, Philadelphia’s Powel House, and Kedleston Hall in England rather than in the modern masterpieces that were at the very same moment inspiring the design of U.S. embassies worldwide as part of a major postwar foreign building program that featured glass walls, sunscreens, sleek modern furnishings, and little overt ornamentation. is architecture made a point of looking to the future for inspiration, not to the past. By the 1960s, prominent American architects had designed major new U.S. embassies in Havana, Rio de Janeiro, London, New Delhi, e Hague, Accra, and Karachi. But within the same time frame that it took to refurbish the diplomatic reception rooms, those embassies and many more became obsolete as a dramatically changed security landscape rapidly overwhelmed their openness and accessibility. Embassy architecture turned defensive. And as it lost its welcome, it lost its ability to convey a positive diplomatic message. e ongoing e ort to place ne art in embassies abroad may be the last e ort linking embassies to public diplomacy, because there is little or no value in trying to showcase the work of American artists in settings no longer accessible to the public. As the diplomatic reception rooms now nd themselves in a building that is BOOKS The Story of American Diplomacy in Art America’s Collection: e Art and Architecture of the Diplomatic Reception Rooms at the U.S. Department of State Virginia B. Hart et al., Rizzoli Electa, 2023, $100.00/hardcover, print only, 352 pages. R J L Congress has never been keenly interested in funding the business of diplomacy, particularly those aspects of the craft associated with entertainment. us, it surprised no one that when the State Department built its postwar headquarters in Washington, the utilitarian o ce block, known as the Truman Building, contained no spaces deemed suitable for diplomatic exchanges. e story of how a small group of committed collectors and preservationists transformed the ordinary o ce interiors of the seventh and eighth oors of that building into the State Department’s Diplomatic Reception Rooms, now a showpiece of American art and architectural know-how, is told in a sizable new co ee-table book edited by the rooms’ curator, Virginia B. Hart. With a foreword by John F. Kerry, the book is divided into two sections, each comprising ve essays by noted experts. e rst ve detail how the collection was formed and how it came to be displayed as it is, and the second group focuses on highlights of the collection. Curators from major U.S. museums have contributed the essays here. Each is devoted to one portion of the collection—painting and sculpture, works on paper, furniture, ceramics, and metals (silver). e essays are illustrated with art objects ranging from mahogany desks