With more than an estimated 137 million artifacts, 19 museums, galleries and the National Zoological Park, one may think that there’s not a lot that the Smithsonian doesn’t have. But Smithsonian curators and researchers frequently reach out to other experts, borrowing objects to complement Smithsonian exhibitions.
Smithsonian Affiliations promotes the mutual sharing of ideas and expertise; and Smithsonian Affiliates are proud to help when called upon. Currently, five Smithsonian Affiliates have objects and images from their collections on view in Smithsonian exhibitions. So what’s out there?
At the National Portrait Gallery, One Life: Echoes of Elvis commemorates the 75th anniversary of Elvis Presley’s birth. The High Museum of Art (Atlanta, GA) lent two paintings by Howard Finster to tell the story of this iconic American, as popular today as he was during his lifetime. The exhibition’s curator, Warren Perry, explains the importance of the High’s contribution: “The mission behind our Elvis show was to find works that paid tribute to Elvis since his death. Howard Finster’s work—he began painting images of Elvis shortly after Elvis died—fit the bill exactly, if not to the extreme. Finster believed that Elvis was an emissary of God and often he painted him as such, as we see in the High Museum’s portrait of Elvis with angel’s wings. The composition of these pieces is wonderful; Finster’s appreciation of Elvis exudes from them both. I am really grateful to the High Museum for making these works available to us.”
Objects from the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum (McMinnville, OR) help tell the story of another legendary American, Howard Hughes. The Hughes H-4 Hercules aircraft (nicknamed the “Spruce Goose”) was built during World War II to transport materials. As wartime rations limited the use of metal, the massive aircraft was mostly built of wood; its wingspan is still the largest of any aircraft in history. While the “Spruce Goose” is on display at the Evergreen in Oregon, objects related to its groundbreaking construction are on view at the National Air and Space Museum. Chris Moore, Museum Specialist in the Aeronautics Division at the Air and Space Museum said, “The exhibit includes objects related to the aircraft’s manufacture. We don’t have any artifacts from the aircraft in our collection, so borrowing them allowed us to tell a story we could otherwise not have told.”
The Japanese American National Museum (Los Angeles, CA) lent three artifacts to The Art of Gaman: Arts and Crafts from the Japanese American Internment Camps, 1942-1946, organized by author and guest curator, Delphine Hirasuna. “The Japanese American National Museum was pleased to lend artifacts from its extensive permanent collection to the traveling exhibition, The Art of Gaman,” stated National Museum President & CEO Akemi Kikumura Yano. “Delphine Hirasuna’s work in exploring the cultural connections between the objects and art created in the camps by the inmates helps to illuminate the spirit of those falsely incarcerated. As an Affiliate, the Japanese American National Museum was delighted to collaborate with this show and the Renwick Gallery, since all parties seek to explore and share this important chapter of U.S. history.”
At the National Zoo, the Center for the History of Psychology (Akron, OH) shared its collections — permanently — by giving a gift of early 20th century IQ tests to the Zoo. “Think Tank interprets animal thinking and the challenges of measuring human and animal intelligence. The gift of the artifacts from the Center for the History of Psychology helps us to interpret this topic for our visitors,” says Lisa Stevens, Curator of Primates and Giant Pandas.
Institute of Texan Cultures (San Antonio, TX) works to document the multicultural history of the state of Texas. Their photo archives supplied images to the Anacostia Community Museum’s latest exhibition, Word, Shout, Song: Lorenzo Dow Turner Connecting Communities through Language. The exhibition documents the historical journey made by people from Africa to the Americas. “It’s a great pleasure and privilege to share our resources with the Smithsonian Institution’s Anacostia Community Museum,” said Tim Gette, executive director of the Institute of Texan Cultures. “We have nearly 3.5 million historic images of Texas and Texans, including the Black Seminole or Gullah peoples and their descendants. This is a wonderful opportunity to showcase a unique culture whose influence can be felt throughout the Southern States.”
Each of these collaborations highlight the best part of the Affiliate relationship – museums working together to share knowledge and ideas with visitors.