The main exhibition building of Bethesda’s only museum is closed after a sprinkler pipe burst last week, sending water gushing throughout and likely requiring three months of repairs and restoration.
The Ratner Museum (10001 Old Georgetown Rd.) is a popular destination for tour groups, religious school classes and others interested in co-founder Phillip Ratner’s sculptures and paintings of the bible, the “five founders” of the Statue of Liberty and work that has been featured at Ellis Island, the Smithsonian and the Supreme Court.
Ratner said he and his wife were staying on the museum property on Jan. 8 when they found water bursting through the ceiling of the top floor of the building around midnight.
The alarms went off and MCFRS arrived, shutting off the water and electricity. Ratner said he was surprised only three of his sculptures were damaged and those works can be repaired. But a necessary total restoration to the building will take about three months.
“It’s all very dramatic,” Ratner said. “But we are safe and there are so many tragedies going on with people losing their homes, people who have to stay in shelters, so what can you say?”
Ratner will open the carriage house and his personal studio behind the main building during regular hours, where visitors will be able to see his sculptures of children’s book characters that were at the now-shuttered original location National Capital Children’s Museum.
The museum is free to visit and financed by Ratner and his family. Ratner said he doesn’t keep track of how many people visit annually, but it is a popular spot for bible study groups and Hebrew school classes because of Ratner’s extended work based on the Old Testament.
It also hosts study groups, lectures, concerts and readings. About two months ago, Ratner partnered with Cornerstone Montgomery to bring art from those with mental health disabilities to the ground floor of the museum. His original Ellis Island sculptures and bronzes of the “five founders” of the Statue of Liberty — pieces featured on the grounds of Ellis Island and the Liberty Island in New York — are also popular attractions.
“The miracle is on the second floor we have over 100 pieces of art and only three sculptures were damaged,” Ratner said. “We’re going to open up my studio to the public, make it a place where groups can come and make the best of it.”