John Blee: The Poetry of Color

May 3, 2012

If color is a language, then John Blee can be considered a lyric poet.
The Washington painter, whose solo exhibition will be seen at The Ralls Collection in October, produces abstracts lit with the sheen of a summer sunset.

Vivid oranges and yellows play against sky blues that shade into purples, punctuated by pinks that range from the palest of roses to vibrant corals. In less skillful hands, the effect could be garish. Instead, Blee’s colors, no matter how surprising their combinations, sing with an assured harmony.

“You paint out of the whole experience of your life,” says Blee, and an important part of that life was spent growing up in India and Pakistan, where his father was a State Department officer. “Indian color is off the scale—it’s not subdued,” he says, and his paintings reflect its sun-drenched intensity. Blee also points to the richly hued Indian Basohli miniature paintings of the 17th and 18th centuries as inspiration for his colors. His artwork—and life—is also informed by another influence nurtured during those years, the spirituality of India.

Blee counts among his mentors painter Helen Frankenthaler, whose work helped shape the Color Field movement of the 1940s and 50s. “I remember when I met [her], when I was still an art student. I found her color amazing. Colorists are very rare. I asked her how she chose colors and she replied it was like a poet choosing a word for a poem. I feel the same.”

Jane Roberts, whose Paris gallery hosted exhibitions of Blee’s work in 2008 and in June of this year, singles out his “supreme sense of color and light, like late Bonnard, whom he particularly loves. His paintings seem to glow from inside and have a joyous life of their own, unlike many abstract paintings which are merely formal exercises. A French collector, a busy lawyer, who bought a painting in 2008 told me that she has John’s painting opposite her desk and it literally calms her down after difficult meetings!”

Blee’s exhibition will focus on his latest works, paintings he groups into his “Orchard Suite,” whose genesis originated two years ago after seeing an exhibit of late Bonnards at the Metropolitan Museum of art. “There was one with a checked tablecloth in the bottom of the canvas with a still life on it,” Blee says. “It suggested to me the space of a landscape—the checks were like small farms seen from a mountain—and the fruit spilled over them the fruits of the land. From that picture I made ‘Eastern Orchard,’ the first of what I think of as my continuing suite”

“But,” he adds, “Klee in the series of ‘Magic Square’ pictures [of the 1920s and 30s] always has played inside of me. Those works are like the purest sounds in music and they deeply engage me. I first started looking at Klee seriously when I was 14 or 15 in Delhi and bought a book of his work, my first thick art book. I still look at it.” The rhythmically deployed, rectangular forms that appear in much of Blee’s work often echo Klee.

Gallery director Marsha Ralls finds other parallels in the “Orchard Suite” paintings: “These particular works of John’s really are a continuation of the Washington Color School. The color really glows.”

The series also has literary roots, a 1920s collection of French-language poems by writer Rainer Maria Rilke, grouped under the title The Orchard. “The word ‘orchard’ has a sense of the seasons to me, of ripening and flowering,” says Blee. “It encompasses fruition, growth, decay, and transformation.”

That John Blee’s paintings are underscored by both visual and literary sources—as well as philosophical ones—isn’t surprising. Spend time talking to him and he’ll weave a rich thread of references that range from Baudelaire to poet Hilda Morley to Hindu mythology to Braque. It’s this sense of connection and synthesis that fuels Blee’s creativity.

“I believe very strongly that all the arts, though focused differently, have the same source. We speak in words, and where words are the most like painting is in poetry. It is not just or solely the images of poetry, it is the power of language itself. For me music and dance and theater are all the same as poetry and painting.”

Blee says that “in the New York School of painting, which I descend from, as with the [pre-World War I] School of Paris, poets have allied themselves with painters and vice versa. I read Frank O’Hara’s criticism in art magazines when I was a kid in Delhi. All my own critical work is based on those pieces, the verbal part anyway. O’Hara had a real love of painting that I share. His poetry is very much alive and accessible in the moment, coming right from life and spilling out.”

“Rilke, though, was a far greater influence,” he says. “I read him first as a late teen, and really only began to ‘get’ him after a year or two. But his vast poetic landscape and a desire to go beyond all and put it together in a larger vision has always been part of my own search in my painting.”

“For me, the poet of my own life is Hilda Morley whom I met at the artists’ colony Yaddo in 1973 and knew until her death in 1998. She knew all the New York painters and composers and had been married to composer Stefan Wolpe. She was the real thing. Her poetry mirrored the New York School of painting. One needs living examples to understand this complicated thing called ‘life,’ and being an ‘artist’ is not something that is easy. Hilda knew instinctually how to carry on and to be.”

John Blee seems to have taken the lesson of “how to carry on and to be” to heart. He’s one of the city’s most notable painters, selected by critic and writer F. Lennox Campello among those included in his new book, 100 Artists of Washington, D.C. The top-floor studio of his house (whose color-splashed floor is a painting in itself) is filled with works in progress. He’s found a rewarding avenue in the courses he teaches at U.D.C and the Art League of Alexandria. And there’s always that next painting on the horizon, another opportunity, as Blee says, “to put the impossible in front of you, to aim as high as you can.”


John Blee’s work can be seen in “20 Years, 20 Artists at The Ralls Collection” through Sept. 24. Dates for his October exhibition are to be announced. (The Ralls Collection, 1516 31st St., NW,
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Show Boat

November 3, 2011

In “Make Believe,” one of the classic songs from Show Boat, Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II celebrate the power of imagination, as the show’s heroine professes, “Our dreams are more romantic than the world we see.” The world that audiences will see in Signature Theatre’s new version of the legendary 1927 musical will most likely be a startling one. Artistic Director Eric Schaeffer has stripped Show Boat of generations of gingerbread and ballyhoo to find a more realistic world at its heart, and in doing so hopes to make its characters and its theatricality more vibrant than ever.

The most startling fact may be that Signature is tackling Show Boat at all. Yet Signature and Schaeffer welcomed the challenge for more reasons than one. “It’s our 100th production and so we wanted to do something that was iconic,” said the director during a break in a recent rehearsal.

“It was also a show that we really felt was ready to be rediscovered.”

In an era of featherweight plots, Show Boat was the first musical making racial inequality one of its themes, and the show’s unflinching look at relations between whites and African Americans still “has a lot of important things to say.” The last major revival was directed by Hal Prince in 1993, so “it just felt like it was time” to see Show Boat on stage again, asserts Schaeffer.

Not only is the show laden with history (“It was ground-breaking in its form. It actually invented
the musical theatre.”), but it calls for a large orchestra and cast and elaborate sets. As fashioned for the 276-seat MAX Theatre, this Show Boat sails with 15 musicians and a new overture and orchestrations by longtime Sondheim collaborator Jonathan Tunick. Twenty-four actors inhabit James Kronzer’s evocative, multi-level unit set of blue-gray washed wood flanked by prop-laden wings. It’s a lovely visual metaphor for the interplay of theatrical “make believe” and often-grim reality that echoes through the lives of several generations of show folk.

Unlike most musicals, Show Boat has gone through a significant number of revisions since its premiere, and part of the problem is simply choosing which version to present. Working with the Rodgers & Hammerstein organization, Schaeffer solved that dilemma by creating a new adaptation, using the 1946 Broadway revival as the starting point and drawing material from both the 1927 original
and a version done by the Bern Opera in 2005.

“It’s like we’re doing a brand-new musical,” says Schaeffer. One major restoration is the song “Mis’ry’s Comin’ Round,” cut after the very first tryout performance. He also found a clue in the book that provided the basis for Kern and Hammerstein’s musical: “When you look at the Edna Ferber novel, it’s Magnolia’s story.” So the woman who grows from sheltered girl to wife of a gambler to Broadway star is the center of Signature’s production.

Schaeffer also addresses a lack of balance he finds in the existing versions of Show Boat in that its African American characters virtually disappear after the first act. He’s restored scenes for Joe and his wife, Queenie, the showboat’s cook. His direction, too, finds ways to keep a focus on the social journey of African Americans during the more than 40 years that the show spans.

The concept of change, as relentless as the Mississippi, is one of the Show Boat themes that Schaeffer emphasizes for both whites and African Americans. “I think how the show’s interpreted is really going to be new to people who have seen the old, grand productions that feel more like pageants. I think the show’s a lot more haunting than what people may think of Show Boat.”

Schaeffer knew from the start that his staging would not feature a grandly ornate Cotton
Blossom drifting in from the wings. (“It’s ‘No-Boat’,” he jokes.) “I just want people to be moved,” by this smaller-scaled, emotion-driven Show Boat, declares Schaeffer. In this production the interior of the floating theatre is suggested by a small footlit stage and a faded painted curtain. “I wanted it to be on a boat that’s breaking down,” he explains. “It’s much more interesting, because people are fighting for survival.”

Characters are also fighting prejudice. A racial epithet appears in the show’s dialogue, and the word still has the power to sting. In an early rehearsal, Schaeffer encouraged his cast to discuss
their feelings about the show’s language and racial attitudes, “and it was fantastic,” he says. “They were really passionate—and that’s exactly why I want to do this show,” since the conflicts in Show Boat are still with us.

“Yes, it’s going to offend some people,” he acknowledges. “Some people are going to get uncomfortable, but you’ve got to get people talking about it.”

“I just want people to be moved,” by this smaller-scaled, emotion-driven Show Boat, declares Schaeffer. Signature’s production has another goal: to reinvigorate one of the richest, if sometimes problematic, shows in American musical theatre. “The hope is that it will bring renewed life to the show. What’s so great about stripping it down is that you realize how important it is. You think, ‘I can’t believe this was written 82 years ago.’ It’s amazing!”

Show Boat plays at Arlington’s Signature Theatre through January 17, 2010. For ticket information
call 703-573-7328 or go to

‘American Buffalo’: A Slice of Chicago Style

For Joy Zinoman, Studio Theatre’s upcoming production of “American Buffalo” has elements of both a homecoming and a leave-taking.

David Mamet’s 1975 play has its roots in Chicago (it premiered at the city’s Goodman Theatre), and for Chicago-born Zinoman, the work holds a special resonance. “I’ve always loved the play,” she says, noting that it appeared “at a seminal time for me”— the period when Studio Theatre was just beginning.

Now, as Zinoman prepares to step down from her role as the theater’s artistic director, it will be the final production she’ll direct.

Zinoman programmed “American Buffalo” as part of this season’s trio of “Money Plays” at Studio, joining “Adding Machine: The Musical” and “The Solid Gold Cadillac” as works that explore themes of commerce and capitalism. For Zinoman, “American Buffalo” is “the best play ever written about American business.” More than three decades after its debut, the work has also taken on new levels of meaning. “Now it is a play about fathers and sons, loyalty and friendship. It reminds me of a certain Chicago style. It’s gritty, real, and unpretentious.”

The plot of “American Buffalo” centers on a crime that doesn’t happen, the heist of a supposedly valuable buffalo-head nickel. As Don, the owner of a secondhand shop and his young protégé, Bobby, spin out their plans to recover the coin from a customer who bought it, they’re joined by the volatile Teach, who offers to pull off the job himself. The scheme devolves into betrayal and violence, with shifting loyalties and suspicion undermining the trio’s relationships. Dark, often profane, yet deeply funny, “American Buffalo” has entered the canon of classic plays of the last century.

It’s also a work that offers rich roles, and Zinoman has put together “three amazing actors” to bring them to life. “I’m incredibly excited to work with Ed Gero,” says Zinoman of the well-respected local actor who plays Don. Bobby will be played by Jimmy Davis, who Zinoman had seen in a role light years away from the typical Mamet man: Juliet in the Shakespeare Theatre’s all-male production of “Romeo and Juliet.” At his audition, Zinoman “found his originality intriguing,” and he was selected for the part.

Teach is “one of the great American roles,” says Zinoman, and she’s landed an actor who, according to his mentors, “was born to play this part.” “I almost fell down dead” when viewing the video submitted by actor Peter Allas, she recalls. A Chicago-born son of immigrants, she describes him as “rehearsing his whole life” for Teach. It didn’t hurt that in his video the actor who created the role of Don in the play’s first production read opposite him. A Washington audition clinched the part for Allas, and it’s clear that Zinoman is looking forward to the sparks the three actors will create.

More than three decades after “American Buffalo” burst onto the scene, the play’s themes have deepened and new contours have emerged — just as the nation’s economic roller coaster rides during the same period have shifted how we look at money and business. “I think it’s a real, human story about petty criminals and their schemes to make money and the greed that drives and divides,” says Zinoman. “It’s also about honor, morality, and friendship.” It’s a play that explores “how good people can get to violent, greedy, and life-destroying places in the name of business.”

She hopes audiences “will come with an open mind” and see “American Buffalo” “freshly, as a new play.” “I hope they’ll come to laugh,” she says, since much of Mamet’s work in the play is funny. “And the language is just delicious.”

For all satisfaction Zinoman finds in this directing assignment, “American Buffalo” is also a particularly emotional experience. At the play’s first production meeting, she recalls, the director and her long-time design and technical team “found ourselves weeping” with the realization that this would be the very last time they’d work on a show together in the same way. (Zinoman steps down as artistic director on Sept. 1 this year.) “Everyone is highly aware of the significance [of the production] for us, and we appreciate being able to do it together.”

So what’s next for Joy Zinoman after the Studio Theatre? “The first next” is a four-month European sojourn in Italy and France, a chance to “create a real breathing space between this great, unbelievable life at Studio Theatre and what is next.”

Teaching at the theatre’s conservatory will still be part of Zinoman’s life, and she’s considering offers from other quarters as well. “What’s great,” she concludes, “is a sense of jumping off a cliff.” It’s certain that wherever Joy Zinoman lands after that leap, it will be an interesting place to be.

“American Buffalo” plays at Studio Theatre May 5 through June 13. For more information, go to [](

Marston Luce

The lure of history and architecture has led Marston Luce into some less-than-attractive places — with some beautiful results.

In the early 1980s, he would “prowl D.C. in areas where buildings were being torn down” and he vividly recalls the rats that often scurried around as he was on the lookout for the decorative brickwork and architectural ornaments that his excursions would unearth. (“I was recycling before it was fashionable,” he chuckles. “I’m an environmentalist.”) His finds were sold from the trunk of a red MG at the Georgetown Flea Market.

Today, the stock of his eponymous upper Wisconsin Avenue shop, which opened in 2001, comes from far more congenial spots. “I do my buying in France, where I have a house in the Dordogne, and some in England and in Sweden.”

His eye, though, still is trained on the beautiful, no matter the source. He describes his aesthetic as “humble elegance.”

“I deal with very elegant things, but they have a humble soul. I like the tension between the two.” He points to an early-19th-century English bulls-eye mirror as a perfect example of that outlook. The elaborately carved frame is not gilded, the way a grander piece might be. Instead, it gets its character from a warm white finish that gives it a welcoming lightness.

Look around Luce’s airy, light-filled shop (which he shares with Dink, a Jack Russell terrier, and Penny, a schnauzer) and you’ll find tabletop arrangements that mix refined objects, folk art and furniture ranging from a Swedish comb-painted armoire to an iron table fashioned from industrial salvage from Belgium. You’ll also see charming juxtapositions, such as a 19th-century French tin weathervane in the shape of a rooster and a cement version of the same animal that sports an equally extravagant curving tail.

That sense of combination is part of a trend that Luce sees among his customers: “People are buying fewer things, but better quality, and they are mixing styles more.”

On a recent visit, a shop associate was unfolding a circa-1800 painted French screen that depicts a hunting expedition in a tropical landscape. Who knows what those long-ago gentlemen may be stalking? It might be fun to imagine that they, like Marston Luce, are on the trail of something beautiful.

Marston Luce
1651 Wisconsin Ave.


Christian Zapatka: Reinventing the Georgetown Townhouse
Frank Randolph: Interior Designer Extraordinaire
John Rosselli: Georgetown’s Antique Aficionado
Marston Luce: In Search of Elegance
Scandinavian Antiques & Living: International Accents
Susquehanna Antique Company: Redefining Tradition
Sixteen Fifty Nine: A Mid-Century Renaissance

Scandinavian Antiques & Living

Enter Georgetown’s newest antiques shop, Scandinavian Antiques & Living, and you’re struck by the colorfully eclectic selection of merchandise and the warm welcome of its owner, Elisabeth Wulff Wine.

Wine, who opened her store a month ago, is a native of Denmark who spent a number of years in Milan as an art and antiques dealer and decorator before moving to Washington a year and a half ago.

Her distinctive eye is reflected in tablescapes whose elements cross the boundaries of countries and centuries. For example, one desktop display combines an 1810 bronze ormolu clock and a pair of Swedish empire candlesticks with a 1950s toilet set and a 1960s Murano glass platter in swirling pastels.

The shop’s walls, too, are home to an array of art that ranges from mid-century modern abstracts to 19th-century portraits and flower paintings.

That sense of aesthetic freedom is at the heart of Wine’s shop: “Today we mix antiques with other objects,” she says. “A home today does not have to be the same — there are so many possibilities.”

Swedish furniture forms the centerpiece of the store’s collection, and Wine is understandably fond of its distinctive style. “I love the Swedish look. It’s so simple and so elegant. And it looks nice to mix it.”

One of her favorite pieces is a Gustavian clock cabinet, a drop-front secretary topped with a clock framed in soft curves. (The Gustavian style takes its name from a late 18th-century Swedish monarch.) More graceful curves characterize a standing clock, whose case has been weathered to a beautiful pale turquoise since it was made in 1750, and Wine has chosen it for her shop’s logo.

There’s an elegant sense of femininity to much of the shop’s stock, such as a fanciful Italian crystal-beaded chandelier in the shape of a pagoda (perfect for a fabric-tented boudoir, perhaps) and sensuously shaped Murano glass torchieres. Along with objects such as vivid Murano glass vases from the middle of the last century, these play off the pastel tones and neoclassical lines of the Scandinavian furniture to create a lively, unexpected harmony.

It’s exactly that sense of personal expression that Wine emphasizes as she sums up her outlook on décor: “People’s own taste is very important, even when working with a decorator. That’s what makes a home very personal.”

Scandinavian Antiques & Living
3231 P St.


Christian Zapatka: Reinventing the Georgetown Townhouse
Frank Randolph: Interior Designer Extraordinaire
John Rosselli: Georgetown’s Antique Aficionado
Marston Luce: In Search of Elegance
Scandinavian Antiques & Living: International Accents
Susquehanna Antique Company: Redefining Tradition
Sixteen Fifty Nine: A Mid-Century Renaissance

Sixteen Fifty Nine

Don Draper and his fellow “Mad Men” have been very good for Mike Johnson.
The hit series has kicked off a renaissance of interest in mid-century modern furnishings and the swanky decorative accessories of the 60s — exactly the focus of Johnson’s Wisconsin Avenue shop, Sixteen Fifty Nine.

Antiques run in Johnson’s family — his grandmother owned a shop in Michigan — and he recalls “going to auctions since I was a little kid.” It wasn’t until he left a long career in corporate sales, though, that his passion for collecting turned into a full-time business. Sixteen Fifty Nine has just hit the seven-year mark.

He started the shop because “I had been collecting mid-century modern, but felt the lines I was looking for were not as accessible as they could be” in existing outlets.
Johnson specializes in iconic designers like Dorothy Draper, T. H. Robsjohn-Gibbings, Paul Frankl, and Donald Deskey, creators whose work is not being commercially reproduced today.

Draper (Dorothy, not Don) is currently represented at Sixteen Fifty Nine by a striking jade-green lacquered dresser with white accents and nine-ringed drawer pulls. (A similar pair in a black-and-gold color scheme made an appearance in Candice Bergen’s fictional Vogue office in the “Sex and the City” movie.)

You also can’t miss a pair of Bernhardt loveseats, produced in the 1950s by the company’s Flair division, upholstered in an eye-popping lime-blue and green (which had, in true ’50s style, been preserved under plastic slipcovers). The pieces would not look out of place in a contemporary showroom.

“I like to do things that are very clean-lined, that come across as a current piece of
furniture,” Johnson says of his collector’s eye. “I always try to throw odds and ends into the mix” as well — such as his array of mid-century pottery, paintings and photos.

As more buyers and dealers climb on the sleek mid-century modern bandwagon,
Johnson finds that locating top-quality merchandise is becoming more difficult. “I get excited when I find a big-name piece of furniture.”

Johnson points to a massive buffet in Sixteen Fifty Nine’s window as a current favorite among his pieces, describing in detail its provenance from Michigan’s Mastercraft Furniture Company. With four doors elaborately paneled in Carpathian burled elm and a travertine marble inset top, it is indeed a beauty.

And it’s exactly the type of piece you could imagine Don Draper lounging beside.

Sixteen Fifty Nine
1659 Wisconsin Ave.


Christian Zapatka: Reinventing the Georgetown Townhouse
Frank Randolph: Interior Designer Extraordinaire
John Rosselli: Georgetown’s Antique Aficionado
Marston Luce: In Search of Elegance
Scandinavian Antiques & Living: International Accents
Susquehanna Antique Company: Redefining Tradition
Sixteen Fifty Nine: A Mid-Century Renaissance
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Lessons from a Military Dad

The June 1970 memo that records Air Force General Peter R. DeLonga’s first staff meeting as Deputy Chief of Staff, Materiel at Tan Son Nhut Airfield in the Republic of Vietnam includes a section that clearly sets out the expectations of the new leader.

“The General will be rough and questioning,” it begins. “He will play the ‘Devil’s Advocate.’ Though things will get hot he will not hold a grudge. He expects the truth and facts — no B.S. He wants a straight YES or NO.”

The no-nonsense tone continues through more admonitions (“Be sure your brain is in gear before you activate your mouth” is one) and concludes with, “when I ask something to be done I mean NOW.”

The memo provides a snapshot of a dedicated, demanding but fair officer with high standards, and that’s how his son Steven DeLonga remembers his father.

“Military was first in his mind,” he recalls, although, he adds, “he was one of the few military officers who did not speak of his past successes.”

In DeLonga’s case, those successes were notable. With a distinguished career that spans the China-Burma-India theatre of operations in World War II, the Berlin Airlift, Vietnam, and beyond, Peter R. DeLonga achieved the rank of major general and was the Deputy Inspector General of the Air Force. In that post he provided the Secretary of the Air Force and chief of staff evaluations of the effectiveness of Air Force units and monitored worldwide safety policies and programs. He also directed the counterintelligence program and was responsible for security policy and criminal investigation within the Air Force.

A roster of decorations — including two Air Force Crosses, the Distinguished Service Medal, Legion of Merit with two oak leaf clusters and Air Medal with five oak leaf clusters, among others — attests to Major General DeLonga’s career achievements.

Despite his father’s professional responsibilities, Steven DeLonga remembers “We’d have dinner every night at six.” At those dinner tables, no matter where in the world the family was stationed, he learned valuable life lessons.

“My father would put a quarter on the table and ask us what it was,” DeLonga says. The object was to think before answering. “Once you made a statement,” according to his father, “you made sure it’s 100 percent correct. Your credibility is on the line, and you may never be able to get it back.”

That emphasis on integrity and honor was the foundation of his father’s philosophy, and part of the code of what DeLonga describes as “a John Wayne era when your handshake was your bond. It was a different world from what we have today.”

DeLonga closely observed how his father treated the people under his command. “My dad was known as an enlisted man’s general,” who believed they were the backbone of the Air Force. “He was very considerate” of those men.

Steven DeLonga still marvels at his 24-year-old father’s resourcefulness and courage in April 1945 when he was forced to spend 16 days in the Himalayan jungle after his plane was disabled during one of the 86 missions he flew during World War II. “He thought of other people before himself and had the presence of mind to rescue two fellow crew members,” says Delonga.

He’d parachuted into the “Tin-Tin Jungle” — so called because the terrain was strewn with the remains of American and Japanese planes. “He ate lizards, snakes, rats and talked himself out of being eaten” by tribesmen. (“Headhunters Are Friendly to Three Yankee Aviators” was one headline back home in Pennsylvania.) “I don’t know how I could have survived,” says the younger DeLonga.

His father’s was a generation that put country before considerations of financial reward, Steven observes. He cites Chuck Yeager, a good friend of his father’s, who, when asked why he continued to face the dangers of test flying despite being pursued by lucrative opportunities, replied: “I like flying. That’s my life.”

It was also a generation that saw military service as a chance to advance themselves as Americans. Peter DeLonga’s Italian-immigrant father was a foreman in a coalmine, and, says his son, “the military was an equal ground, where people were judged on merit and performance, not family.”

Though Steven DeLonga’s own military career was a brief stint in the Army (“My military bearing was non-existent”), his brother, Peter, spent a decade in service, receiving the Army’s Bronze Star for heroism in ground combat in Vietnam. His nephew, Nick, is a Marine captain who’s a veteran of tours in Afghanistan and Iraq.

“Dad would be disappointed” at how the military is generally viewed today, suggests DeLonga. “The caliber of Army recruits is probably the highest it’s ever been, but we’re not fully supporting them. We need a commitment from the executive branch to support the military for the future.”

DeLonga attributes much of his own success (he is the founder and CEO of Ste-Del Services, an Alexandria company that deals in corporate apartment rentals) to some of his father’s qualities “that carried over to me.” He knows which are the most influential: “Honesty and integrity are things I pride myself on.”

“How do you measure success?” he asks. “In business, it’s monetary. But for the older generation it was more about altruism,” citing John F. Kennedy’s famous “ask what you can do for your country” challenge. “They saw a bigger picture.”

“Honesty. Integrity. Devotion to country and to duty. That is why my father succeeded,” says Steven DeLonga. “His was a generation I was lucky to be around.” [gallery ids="99133,102725,102721,102712,102704,102689,102696" nav="thumbs"]

Susquehanna Antique Company

May 23, 2011

“Traditional” is a word David Friedman admits is a good description of both himself, an antiques dealer, and his shop, the Susquehanna Antique Company. But he’s quick to add that in a modern marketplace exactly how tradition is defined is often subject to different interpretations.

One thing that’s clear is that antiques are a tradition in Friedman’s family. His grandfather started the business in Port Deposit, MD, and his father worked as an auctioneer and used furniture salesman. “I was close to my dad, and was brought into the business at a young age. He could buy something for $10 and sell it for $15. Not everyone can do that. I inherited that from him.”

Friedman has been a dealer since the late ’70s, with the Washington incarnation of the family firm established in 1980. He’s seen Georgetown’s prominence as an antiques district wax and wane over the years, but his own O Street shop has become something of a landmark.

To enter Susquehanna Antiques is almost to go back in time, to an era when antiques dealers were neither interior designers nor merchants in home décor. Baronial-sized dining tables and Philadelphia highboys jostle for space with Continental chests and Chinese porcelains. Centuries of portraits and landscapes fill the walls and are stacked in the aisles. Up the narrow stairs is a warren of rooms with more furniture and art, as well as Friedman’s collection of more than 600 period frames. It’s exactly what an old-fashioned antiques shop should look like — a place where discoveries wait in every corner.

But old-fashioned antiques are often a harder sell in an era when a mahogany sideboard and silver tea service aren’t always part of everyone’s lifestyle. “Traditional furniture, Old Masters, and 19th-century paintings are less of a broad-based focus for people,” says Friedman. “The market is more and more diverse.”

He’s weathered that changing market by virtue of business acumen (“You need a commercial sense of things”), high standards, and a having “a knack for buying what your customers want.”

He’s also an educator for customers for whom a familiarity with antiques may not come naturally. Friedman deals in history and passion, not just objects. He emphasizes that “people want to buy something that’s been selected,” vetted not only for its beauty or utility but also for its meaning and significance.

“Standards stay the same. That’s what collecting is about,” he says. And that just may be one definition of tradition on which everyone can agree.

Susquehanna Antique Company
3216 O St.


Christian Zapatka: Reinventing the Georgetown Townhouse
Frank Randolph: Interior Designer Extraordinaire
John Rosselli: Georgetown’s Antique Aficionado
Marston Luce: In Search of Elegance
Scandinavian Antiques & Living: International Accents
Susquehanna Antique Company: Redefining Tradition
Sixteen Fifty Nine: A Mid-Century Renaissance