February 4, 2016

visiting Affiliate artifacts… in Washington

In Affiliations, we like to say that our partnerships are two-way streets. We learn as much from our Affiliates as we share. Our Affiliate partners lend ideas, energy and expertise not only to the Smithsonian, but to each other. They also lend artifacts, and often, the very best, rare ones they have in their collections.

Recently, I took an afternoon out of the office to visit the handful of loans currently on view from our Affiliate partners to the Smithsonian. What better pleasure to run in to our Affiliate friends across the country than by discovering pieces from their collections here in Washington?!

A case featuring inductees to the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

A case featuring inductees to the National Inventors Hall of Fame

My first stop on this walkabout was the National Museum of American History and its newly-opened innovation wing. The Inventing in America exhibition features a case that honors inductees to the National Inventors Hall of Fame, our Affiliate in Canton, OH. Visitors can marvel at a selection of inventions made by some of the 500 men and women who have been inducted into the Hall of Fame, and learn about inventions such as the first intravascular stent from 1984, 3M sticky notes, the first digital camera from 1975, and the 1976 Apple computer.


Descriptions of the inventions of Hall of Fame inductees

Notably, the case explains the invention of Kevlar, the high strength fabric (used for example, in bullet-proof vests) invented by Stephanie Kwolek in 1965 while she worked at DuPont. Luckily, our Delaware Affiliate, the Hagley Museum and Library in Wilmington, has an extensive collection of material about Kevlar (including Kwolek’s papers) and lent two artifacts from their collection to bring her story to life.

I wandered over to the National Portrait Gallery to see its Dark Fields of the Republic: Alexander Gardner Photographs, 1859-1872 exhibition. At one time, Gardner worked for the famous photographer Matthew Brady before casting out as an influential documentarian in his own right. The profound Civil War-era images on view in these galleries are haunting still. Among them are important works from three Smithsonian Affiliates.


Field of Antietam photo book on loan from the National Civil War Museum

The National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg, PA lent a photographic book titled the Field of Antietam from 1962. Before photomechanical reproduction, books like this one were made by printing each of the original photographs by hand, adhering them to mounts, and binding them as a book. Knowing this process makes the book feel all that more special.

Our Affiliate in Indianapolis, the Indiana Historical Society lent chilling images of the executions of the Lincoln assassination conspirators. Notably, Alexander Gardner was the only photographer allowed to document the hangings, and his position on the wall of the prison grants a panoramic view that is searing and unforgettable.

Sketchbook of the War, on loan from the Western Reserve Historical Society

Gardner’s Photographic Sketchbook of the War, on loan from the Western Reserve Historical Society

Finally, the Western Reserve Historical Society, our Affiliate in Cleveland, OH also lent several works to the exhibition, including what feels like an incongruous view of a picnic in the woods. Alas, one discovers its main subject is Walt Whitman, who lived in Washington, D.C. for part of the war, writing letters for injured soldiers. It’s an unsettling yet bucolic image among the battlefields represented on the walls around it. Another impressive loan is Gardner’s Photographic Sketchbook of the War in two volumes. This large-scale folio published in 1866 features 100 images from Gardner’s vast collection that successfully distill the chronological narrative of the war in a meaningful and emotional way.

Finally, I ended my excursion at the Kay WalkingStick: An American Artist exhibition at the National Museum of the American Indian. This retrospective – her first major one – traces the artistic journey of WalkingStick, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation. Emerging from the art world of New York in the 1960-70s, the show traces her 40+ year career from early figurative work through her famous diptychs to recent paintings of monumental landscapes with symbolic references to their Native links.

Three Affiliates are represented in this exhibition as well. One of our newest, The Rockwell Museum in Corning, NY lent a diptych, Letting Go/From Chaos to Calm from 1990. These rich paintings of mixed dry media on sculptmetal juxtapose the figurative and abstract, the visual and visceral in stimulating and thought-provoking ways.

Visitors can leaf through a touchable version of WalkingStick's artist book, on loan from the Heard Museum.

Visitors can leaf through a touchable version of WalkingStick’s artist book, on loan from the Heard Museum

The Heard Museum in Phoenix, AZ (where the show will travel after Washington) lent two works. One canvas, Cardinal Points from 1983-85, uses acrylic paint and saporified wax to achieve a textured and active surface that rewards prolonged study. Her artist book on loan from the Heard contrasts depictions of herself with the kinds of stereotypical comments about her identity that continue to plague Native people. (Flip through the book here.)

Finally, the Denver Art Museum lent a commanding diptych of a different style, Farewell to the Smokies from 2007. This oil painting on wood blends two views of a majestic mountain landscape, with silhouettes of figures walking across their base. It’s a powerful reminder of Native history, and at the same time, of the indelible legacy of Native peoples on the American landscape.

Thank you Affiliates, for all the ways that you enrich the Smithsonian!

Farewell to the Farewell to the Smokies, 2007. Oil on wood panel, 36 x 72 x 1 in. Denver Art Museum: William Sr. and Dorothy Harmsen Collection, 2008.14. Photo courtesy of the Denver Art Museum

Farewell to the Smokies, 2007. Oil on wood panel, 36 x 72 x 1 in. Denver Art Museum: William Sr. and Dorothy Harmsen Collection, 2008.14. Photo courtesy of the Denver Art Museum



December 17, 2015

Smithsonian Institution and Affiliate Collections Come Together for “Super Indian” at the Denver Art Museum

Special thanks for this guest post to: Eric Berkemeyer, Curatorial Assistant of Native Arts, Denver Art Museum

This October the Denver Art Museum opened Super Indian: Fritz Scholder, 1967-1980 which explores how Fritz Scholder used color and composition to create the powerful and innovative works of his Indian series. The exhibition features more than 40 monumental paintings and lithographs, including works loaned from Smithsonian Institution and Affiliate museums. With the support of these institutions the Denver Art Museum was able to realize an exhibition that fully engages with Scholder’s work from the period of 1967 to 1980; highlighting major themes and artistic approaches within the series.


Fritz Scholder, “Indian and Rhinoceros,” 1968, Oil paint on canvas, 68 × 120 in. Collection of the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution, 268066.000 Photographer: Walter Larrimore, NMAI, © Estate of Fritz Scholder.

From the National Museum of the American Indian comes two works that draw attention to Scholder’s Pop art sensibilities with their bright color, scale, and use of popular, everyday imagery. These paintings, Indian and Rhinoceros (1968) and Walking to the Next Bar (1974), also exhibit his interest in social issues such as the conflicted relationship between American Indians and the Federal government and alcoholism respectively.

Also on view is Indian in Contemporary Chair (1970) from the Smithsonian American Art Museum. With the figure’s gritty, expressionistic rendering, its inclusion contributes to the interpretation of English artist Francis Bacon’s influence on Scholder’s style and composition. Furthermore, the contrast of an Indian subject within a contemporary setting serves to challenge viewers’ assumptions of the place of American Indians in the present day, another theme that runs throughout the exhibition.

Fritz Scholder, Indian at a Gallup Bus Depot, 1969, Oil paint on canvas, 40 × 30 in. Booth Western Art Museum permanent collection, Cartersville, GA, 2013.011.001 Photo courtesy Louis Tonsmeire, Jr., © Estate of Fritz Scholder.

Fritz Scholder, “Indian at a Gallup Bus Depot,” 1969, Oil paint on canvas, 40 × 30 in. Booth Western Art Museum permanent collection, Cartersville, GA, 2013.011.001. Photo courtesy Louis Tonsmeire, Jr., © Estate of Fritz Scholder.

In addition to the fourteen works from the Denver Art Museum, works from two other Smithsonian Affiliates are also featured in the exhibition. From the Booth Western Art Museum is Indian at a Gallup Bus Depot (1969) depicting what Scholder called an “Indian cowboy” in front of an arcade machine, highlighting Scholder’s Pop art sensibility as well as the influence of his teacher Wayne Thiebaud. And, from the Heard Museum comes Indian Dying in Nebraska (1972) adding to the exhibitions exploration of dark and mysterious subjects.

With generous institutional support such as this, visitors to the exhibition are better able to explore the rich work of Fritz Scholder. The exhibition continues at the Denver Art Museum until January 17, 2016. It will then travel to the Phoenix Art Museum February 16, 2016 to June 5, 2016 and the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art in Overland Park, KS June 23, 2016 to September 18, 2016.

October 8, 2015

Kids go bonkers for Superman suit

The signature blue, red and yellow suit worn by mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent wore as Superman is at the Ohio History Center, the headquarters of Ohio History Connection, a Smithsonian Affiliate in Columbus, Ohio, thanks to a loan from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. The suit, worn by actor George Reeves in the 1950s televeision show, is part of 1950s: Building the American Dream, a new exhibit at the History Center.

Read the O Say Can You See? blog about this loan.

The Columbus Dispatch posted this video the day the suit was unveiled. They were on hand to see some local school children go bonkers over the suit. Check it out below.

And read the entire Columbus Dispatch story here.

Follow @SIAffiliates, @amhistorymuseum, and @OhioHistory on Twitter to follow the #superman weekend (October 10, 2015 the exhibition opens to the public).

May 27, 2015

What to see while you’re in town for the National Conference

While you’re in D.C.,  don’t miss the opportunity to see what’s new at the Smithsonian! We know that it can be daunting to choose among all the museums and exhibitions, so here are a few suggestions, tailored to your time at the Affiliations conference.

Monday, June 15, 12:15 pm, Freer Sackler Gallery of Art
Before the conference starts, take advantage of a tour of Darren Waterson’s Filthy Lucre, a remix of the iconic Peacock Room (details here).

A decadent ruin collapsing under the weight of its own creative excess, Filthy Lucre forms the centerpiece of an unprecedented exhibition that highlights the complicated tensions between art and money, ego and patronage, and acts of creative expression in the nineteenth century and today. It’s a way to see Whistler’s Peacock Room in a completely new light.

Filthy Lucre

Tuesday, June 16, 5:30 pm, Smithsonian American Art Museum

Mingering Mike: SICKLE CELL ANEMIA, 1972. Smithsonian American Art Museum Gift of Mike Wilkins and Sheila Duignan and museum purchase through the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment

Mingering Mike: SICKLE CELL ANEMIA, 1972.
Smithsonian American Art Museum Gift of Mike Wilkins and Sheila Duignan and museum purchase through the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment

Head to the Smithsonian American Art Museum a little ahead of Congressional Night at the Smithsonian to catch a tour of the Mingering Mike’s Supersonic Greatest Hits exhibition.  If you’ve seen the retrospective documentary Searching For Sugar Man, you will love Mingering Mike, the soul superstar nobody has ever heard of. Learn about him and his visionary collection of fabricated music ephemera with Leslie Umberger, curator of folk and self-taught art. She will discuss the artist’s influences, share how the museum came to own the collection, and guide you through a collection of over 150 works of art.

Wednesday, June 17, 1 pm, Haupt Garden
Why not spend your lunch break learning “What Makes a Victorian Garden Victorian?”  Join one of the Smithsonian Gardens’ knowledgeable horticulturists who will describe the various features of the Enid A. Haupt Garden, including its plants and flowers, the Asian-inspired moongate garden, and the Moorish-inspired fountain garden.  Meet outside in the Haupt Garden, near the south entrance doors to the Smithsonian Castle.  Click here for complete information.

And if you can, take a peek at these new and exciting exhibitions:
Hear My Voice: Alexander Graham Bell and the Origins of Recorded Sound, National Museum of American History
In this new exhibition, see documents, recordings, laboratory notes, and apparatus from the Volta Laboratory. Learn about the early history of sound recording in the United States. Hear some of the earliest sound recordings ever made including the only known example of Graham Bell’s own voice, thanks to sound recovery techniques developed by Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory in partnership with the Library of Congress and the Museum.

Photographer Zack Brown shooting dapper men in Harlem, c. 1937 by Eliot Elisofon, Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, © Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin

Photographer Zack Brown shooting dapper men in Harlem, c. 1937 by Eliot Elisofon, Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, © Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin

Through the African American Lens: Selections from the Permanent Collection, National Museum of African American History and Culture gallery at the National Museum of American History
The much anticipated National Museum of African American History and Culture is expected to officially open its doors in 2016. Check out what all the excitement is about right now!  A new exhibition at the National Museum of American History offers a preview of the artifacts and moments chronicled in the collections.

The Divine Comedy: Heaven, Purgatory, and Hell Revisited by Contemporary African Artists, National Museum of African Art

Yinka Shonibare MBE How to Blow Up Two Heads at Once (Gentlemen) 2006 Sindika Dokolo Collection, Luanda Photograph by Axel Schneider ©Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt

Yinka Shonibare MBE
How to Blow Up Two Heads at Once (Gentlemen) 2006  Sindika Dokolo Collection, Luanda
Photograph by Axel Schneider
©Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt

Right down the hall from conference sessions in the Ripley Center, you will find The Divine Comedy: Heaven, Purgatory, and Hell Revisited by Contemporary African Artists exhibition.  A combination of new commissions and recently produced works of art come together in this exhibition to demonstrate the ongoing global relevance of the themes addressed in Dante Alighieri’s 14th-century epic poem, The Divine Comedy. Forty of the best known and emerging artists from 18 African nations and the African diaspora working in media as diverse as video projection, installation, painting, sculpture and textiles explore diverse issues of politics, identity, faith, and form. In so doing, they reveal that each person’s vision of heaven, purgatory, or hell is unique.

Shirin Neshat: Facing History, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
Grab lunch nearby and walk to the Hirshorn Museum to stroll the gardens.  Then, go upstairs to the second level to see the Shirin Neshat: Facing History exhibition. In her mesmerizing films and photographs, Shirin Neshat examines the nuances of

Shirin Neshat, I Am Its Secret (Women of Allah), 1993. Photo: Plauto. © Shirin Neshat. Courtesy Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels

Shirin Neshat, I Am Its Secret (Women of Allah), 1993. Photo: Plauto. © Shirin Neshat. Courtesy Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels

power and identity in the Islamic world—particularly in her native country of Iran. Shirin Neshat: Facing History presents an array of Neshat’s most compelling works, illuminating the points at which cultural and political events have impacted her artistic practice.


For a complete list of all the events and exhibitions at the Smithsonian, click here!

May 4, 2015

Katharine Hepburn at The Durham Museum

Special thanks for this guest post to Amy Henderson, National Portrait Gallery’s historian emerita. Amy is a cultural historian specializing in “the lively arts”—particularly media-generated celebrity culture. Her books and exhibitions run the gamut from the pioneers in early broadcasting to Elvis Presley, Katharine Hepburn and Katharine Graham.

In the late 1980s, I met writer-director Garson Kanin at a Washington dinner party, and he set the stage for one of my happiest adventures as a cultural historian at the National Portrait Gallery. When I discovered that Garson, who wrote and directed all of the Katharine Hepburn-Spencer Tracy movies, lived next door to Herself in New York, I whined until he promised to give me her address. My excuse? The Portrait Gallery needed a fine portrait of the iconic actress!

Garson’s introduction worked, and I got to know Miss Hepburn in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. I would have coffee and cookies with her when I traveled to New York, and we always went on an exploration of all the portraits she kept in her townhouse; there were a lot, since she had known artists her entire life.

She mentioned “all the costumes” on the upper floor, but I never got a glimpse. Now, thanks to the Durham Museum in Omaha, the costumes are on full view. “Katharine Hepburn: Dressed for Stage and Screen” is drawn from the Kent State Museum’s Hepburn Costume Collection, and features more than 35 costumes worn in 21 films and 6 stage productions—and some of her private life clothes.


Mick Hale, Director of Education at the Durham, heard that I had curated a 2007 Portrait Gallery exhibition celebrating Hepburn’s centennial, and invited me to speak about her life in conjunction with the Durham’s costume show. I eagerly accepted, and spoke at this Smithsonian Affiliate in April. Talking about her life, I focused mainly on Hepburn’s remarkable ability to fashion her own image, even in the heyday of the Hollywood studio system when studios configured their stars to reflect their own particular movie “brand.”  E.g., Warner Bros. had a “Murderers’ Row” of gangsters, while MGM boasted “all the stars in the heavens.”

The Durham has been a Smithsonian Affiliate since 2002, and Mick Hale estimates that they have hosted 25 or so traveling exhibitions such as the Hepburn costumes. Other recent speakers have included Mike Neufeld from the National Air and Space Museum, who spoke about the Apollo 8 mission during the Durham’s “1968” exhibition; and Smithsonian Under Secretary for History, Art, and Culture, Richard Kurin, who shared his stories about 101 Smithsonian artifacts last Fall when the Durham hosted the Franklin Institute’s traveling exhibit “Identity: An Exhibition of You.”


My visit was enormous fun. First, the museum itself is lodged in what had been a stunning Art Deco train station that opened in 1931; lofty ceilings and a sense of bustle create an instantly uplifting “wow” museum experience. Second, for me it was great to see the costumes Hepburn wore during her long stage and screen career. Her waist was TINY—20”—and it was fascinating to see costumes from such landmark performances as the Broadway version of the Philadelphia Story. I also lingered over the section that spotlighted her impeccably tailored tan slacks, of which she had dozens.

My visit came at the end of Mick Hale’s tenure as education director at the Durham. After ten years, he is heading toward new challenges, directing a leadership initiative in Lincoln. But his dynamic partnership with the Smithsonian will remain firmly rooted at the Durham. “The museum and I are very proud of what we have done with the Smithsonian,” he told me, “and I know the quality work and collaboration will continue for a long time.”

image003All photos courtesy of the Durham Museum.

March 24, 2015

A First Look at New Traveling Exhibitions from the Smithsonian

singerAmong other benefits, Smithsonian Affiliates learn about new Smithsonian traveling exhibitions first!  We’re pleased to bring you two exciting new exhibitions that will travel.  The first, Armchair Archaeology: Paul Singer’s Search for Ancient China from the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery details the amazing story of collector Dr. Paul Singer, a psychiatrist by trade who amassed a wide-ranging Chinese art collection, now part of the Sackler Gallery at the Smithsonian.

He collected most aggressively after he immigrated to the United States in 1939, making discoveries at art dealers, auction houses, and thrift stores alike. A self-taught, amateur scholar-collector who never learned the Chinese language, Singer managed to secure a research appointment at the Metropolitan Museum of Art due to his remarkable visual memory and extensive experience in the field.

singer2fsga The exhibition examines both archaeology and miniatures through topical groupings of objects dating from the Bronze  Age (circa 1800–300 BCE) to the Ming dynasty (1368–1644.)  In addition to exploring form, function, and meaning,  the ninety-five objects in the exhibition also represent a range of media, including jade, marble, fluorite, bone,  ivory, amber, gold, silver, bronze, and ceramics from earthenware to porcelain. This breadth reflects Singer’s  ambition to amass “a sequential development in all the materials worked by Chinese artists.”  For more information  and a pdf with an overview of the exhibition, Please email us.

BIG_11EDI_6621F310_13rz copy Across the Mall, from National Air and Space Museum, comes Art of the Airport Tower.  The exhibition is the  second to feature photographs from Museum Specialist, Carolyn Russo. The first, In Plane View, traveled to  many Affiliates over its multi-year run, and is currently on view at the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum.  Both exhibitions feature stunning photographs of their subjects; Art of the Airport Tower shows these often overlooked utilitarian structures as beautiful art in our everyday lives.   It is a photographic journey to airports in the U.S. and around the world.
DXB_8150F2rz copy

Russo documents these important architectural structures to bring a heightened awareness to their simple beauty and call for their preservation.  She is available for lectures and public programs to venues hosting the exhibition.

Art of the Airport Tower includes historic towers such as the Ford Island Tower, which stood the day of the attacks on Pearl Harbor, as well as today’s heavily trafficked airports such as London’s Heathrow Airport. International towers–including several of the world’s tallest towers, one of which is the Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok, Thailand–are also highlighted. Captions describe the airport and the towers’ significance, and an introduction by F. Robert van der Linden tells the history of airport towers to contextualize Russo’s work.

This exhibit will attract a diverse audience, appealing to anyone with an interest in aviation, aerospace, art, photography, technology, history, culture, and architecture. Please let us know if you’re interested!


February 25, 2015

Brand New Exhibitions from SITES

Special thanks to our friends at SITES for this update.

SITES has been busy planning several new exhibits to meet the needs of our diverse host venues. Whether you are looking for a unique and affordable photography exhibit or an epic blockbuster, we’ve got the show for you. Here’s what’s new:

Apart_BikeV2_7x9Things Come Apart
Through extraordinary photographs, disassembled objects and fascinating videos, Things Come Apart reveals the inner workings of common, everyday possessions.  Images of dozens of objects explore how things are made and how technology has evolved over time.  For example, the exhibition juxtaposes the components of a record player, Walkman, and an iPod.  As a visual investigation of design and engineering, Things Come Apart celebrates classic examples of industrial design, technological innovation and more recent ideas about re-use.  The exhibition explores STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) concepts and provides an ideal environment for hands-on investigation.

Contents:  ~40 framed photographs, 4 disassembled objects, video content, and educational component
Fee:  $9,900 per 12-week slot plus outgoing shipping
Size:  200-250 running feet
Security:  Moderate

Tour begins: fall 2016

Contact:  Ed Liskey, liskeye@si.edu, 202.633.3142SWcostumeSITES

Rebel, Jedi, Princess, Queen: Star Warsand the Power of Costume
Presenting 60 of the finest hand-crafted costumes from the first six blockbuster Star Wars films, the exhibition uncovers the challenges, the intricate processes and the remarkable artistry of George Lucas, the concept artists and costume designers. Featured costumes include the robes of Jedi masters Obi-Wan Kenobi and Luke Skywalker; the yak hair and mohair costume of the Wookiee Chewbacca; the elaborately detailed gowns of Queen Amidala, and many more of your favorite Star Wars characters. Learn more about Rebel, Jedi, Princess, Queen  here.

NARA-cars Searching for the Seventies: The DOCUMERICA Photography Project
Modeled after the Farm Security Administration’s photography project of the 1930s and 40s, DOCUMERICA was launched in 1971 by the newly established U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to document the environmental troubles and triumphs across the country.  What emerged was a moving and textured portrait of America in a rapidly changing society. Includes  90 framed, color photographs and a video. Learn more about Searching for the Seventies here.

Patios, Pools, & the Invention of the American Backyard
From the beauty of postwar garden design to the history of the rise of the suburbs and the environmental movement, Patios & Pools is a groovy look back at how the mid-century backyard became an extension of the house: a “room” designed for relaxing, recreation, cooking, and entertaining. Featuring period photographs, retro advertisements, pop culture references, and influential landscape designs. Learn more Patios & Pools  here.5-farnham2

Looking to fill an opening in your calendar? These exhibitions are available for immediate booking:

IndiVisible: African-Native American Lives in the Americas
Available: 7/25/15-10/4/15 (reduced fee:  $2,000) and 10/24/15-1/3/16

The Evolving Universe
Available: 10/3/15-1/31/16 and 2/20/16 to 5/15/16

Patios, Pools, & the Invention of the American Backyard
Available: 12/19/15-2/28/16

I Want the Wide American Earth: An Asian Pacific American Story
Available: 12/19/15 – 2/28/16 and 3/19/16 – 5/29/16

Contact us at sites_schedule@si.edu or 202-633-3140.

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