“Spaces attract people,” attests
Washington, D.C., native and sculptor John Dreyfuss. As if to prove
his point, Dreyfuss, 55, has created 20,000 square feet of urban
space as a home, a studio and a very stylish setting that he rents
out for parties.
Halcyon House, an 18th-century Georgian mansion in Georgetown’s west
village, was originally built for the first secretary of the Navy,
Benjamin Stoddert—who named the house for the spirit that
calms winds and waters. In something of a contradiction to its name,
Halcyon House is said to be haunted by ghosts, though illustrious
ones to be sure––one resembling Stoddert and the other
very like Albert Clemens, another previous owner of the house and
an eccentric nephew of Mark Twain. The silver-haired Dreyfuss has
seen neither: “Some people have felt certain there was a presence,”
he says. “I have not felt it.”
With credentials from the University of Pennsylvania
and the Harvard Design School at Harvard University, Dreyfuss began
renovating Halcyon House and its gardens in the late 1970s, building
a cavernous, 9,000-square-foot studio in the basement. Dreyfuss
has also restored the 11 original fireplaces to working order, and
his attention to historical detail goes as far as hiding the heating
and cooling ducts inside columns.
Halcyon House, 3400 Prospect Street NW, Washington, D.C.,
What would one expect from an artist but
the same meticulous attention that goes into his other passion,
sculpting? While his work is predominantly cast in bronze, Dreyfuss
uses a computer to help him visualize what his work will look like.
But not before making a wax model: “I wouldn’t want
the computer to make anything I haven’t made first,”
explains Dreyfuss. The computer allows him to view his pieces in
three dimensions—perspectives he once had to keep in his head.
Dreyfuss’ sculpture has been honored
by the National Museum of American Art. His public and private commissions
include one for the Library of Congress, a Kennedy Center production
and works for various law firms. He has also been commissioned to
make the Key to the City, to represent D.C. in the 21st century.
The work John Dreyfuss has invested in Halcyon
House allows him the space to create, but also provides his admirers
with a setting to glimpse a slice of the sculptor’s life.
Halcyon House is routinely rented for weddings, charity and corporate
events. Private individuals as well as MCI, Lockheed Martin and
the World Bank, to name just a few institutions, pay $3,000 to $10,000
for the space. Guests meander throughout the first-floor rooms of
this showplace filled with the artist’s extensive collection
of art and antiques. Its huge subterranean studio is resplendent
with bronze and stone sculptures.
With so many pieces of art and so much history
animating the grounds and every corner of this rambling and graceful
mansion, who needs ghosts? “Every home carries its special
energy,” says Dreyfuss, “and this house is no different.”