Same great stories, fancy new location. The Portrait Gallery’s Face to Face blog now has a new home at http://npg.si.edu/blog. See you there!
IMAGE: Paul Morigi, 2015.
Dave Mirra / Rick Chapman / 2006 / National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution / Gift of the artist and ESPN / © 2006 Rick Chapman
Dave Mirra, a star athlete of the X-Games and a host on MTV, died on February 4 at age forty-one.
The X-Games—named after Generation X—grew out of the street culture of skateboarding and BMX bicycling for kids who were turned off by traditional American sports. A growing community of alternative sports, in both summer and winter activities, has now coalesced into an official alternative to mainstream sports, replete with Olympic-style games and world championships.
Mirra, along with athletes like Shaun White, was a signature performer in the X Games, and he parlayed his athletic performance into television and film appearances, as well as endorsements for athletic gear. Mirra became a BMX rider while living in North Carolina in the 1990s, going on to dominate X Games BMX categories in the Freestyle events—especially the Freestyle Vert[icle]—winning fourteen gold medals, and twenty-four overall. Mirra also transitioned into automobile racing as a rally and rally cross driver racing a Subaru Impreza.
One of Mirra’s friends said he wished he had known Mirra was troubled so he could have been there for him, a comment heard tragically all too often by those who are left helpless and uncomprehending in the aftermath of a friend or family member’s suicide.
David Ward, Senior Historian
George Washington ("Athenaeum" portrait) / Gilbert Stuart / 1796 / Owned jointly with the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
The National Portrait Gallery owns more than one hundred portraits of George Washington (1732–1799) in a variety of mediums, including prints, sculptures, and paintings. Although many date from the American Revolution, even more were created during and after Washington’s presidency. His likeness adorned almanacs and illustrated magazine articles; some prints were sold separately and meant to be framed. So many artists asked the president to sit for them that at one point he wrote, “I am so hackneyed to the touches of the Painters pencil, that I am now altogether at their beck, and sit like patience on a Monument, whilst they are delineating the lines of my face.”
One of the most popular and iconic images of Washington was Gilbert Stuart’s “Athenaeum” type likeness, named after the Boston institution that owned it for many years (fig. 1). Commissioned in 1796 by Martha Washington, it was Stuart’s favorite image. He purposely left the original painting unfinished so that he could use it as a model for the numerous copies that the first president’s admirers commissioned for decades. This painting has also served as the basis for the engraving on the one-dollar bill. John Neal, an early nineteenth-century writer and art critic, wrote, “Though a better likeness of him were shown to us, we should reject it; for, the only idea that we now have of George Washington, is associated with Stuart’s Washington.”
Figure 2: George Washington / Unidentified artist / After 1796 / Gift of the McNeil Americana Collection / Conserved with funds from the Smithsonian Women's Committee / Figure 3: George Washington / William Russell Birch / 1810-1820 / Gift of the McNeil Americana Collection / Conserved with funds from the Smithsonian Women's Committee / George Washinton / Ellen Wallace Sharples / c. 1803 / Gift of the McNeil Americana Collection / Conserved with funds from the Smithsonian Women's Committee
Many other artists also copied Stuart’s Athenaeum likeness, in paintings, engravings, and miniatures. The Portrait Gallery owns two miniature portraits copied from Stuart’s likeness. One, meticulously painted in watercolor on ivory (fig. 2), is by an artist whom scholars have not yet identified; it was probably created during the first few decades of the nineteenth century. William Russell Birch created the other in his preferred medium, enamel on copper, around 1810–20 (fig. 3). Birch, working in Philadelphia, made about sixty miniature portraits of Washington. The Portrait Gallery has also acquired Washington’s portrait by Ellen Wallace Sharples (fig. 4). It is one of two watercolor on ivory miniatures she made around 1803 from a 1790s pastel by her husband, James Sharples.
All three miniature portraits are on display in the “America’s Presidents” exhibition until the summer of 2016. They are surrounded by other likenesses of Washington—replicas created by better-known artists such as Gilbert Stuart, Charles Willson Peale, and Rembrandt Peale. Together they give us a sense of the popularity of Washington’s image in the early nineteenth century. Each of these portraits is in excellent condition today, having received conservation treatment in 2014, funded by the Smithsonian Women’s Committee.
For further reading:
Ellen G. Miles, George and Martha Washington: Portraits from the Presidential Years (Washington, D.C.: National Portrait Gallery, in association with the University Press of Virginia, 1999)
Wendy Wick Reaves, George Washington, an American Icon: The Eighteenth-Century Graphic Portraits (Washington, D.C.: National Portrait Gallery, 1982)
By Brandon Fortune, Chief Curator
The Portrait Gallery’s first-ever performance art series, IDENTIFY, focuses attention on activism, visibility, and experimentation in portraiture. This Thursday, artist J. J. McCracken examines the history of women penalized for publicly expressed opinions.
The Mouth of the Scold grows out of McCracken's The Huntress (2012), which examined the 1829 arrest of Capitol Hill resident Anne Newport Royall, one of America's first female journalists. McCracken uses Royall's trial and its wider challenge to free speech to construct a portrait of a contemporary woman peering at her gender through the lens of the past.
Here’s what McCracken says about her performance:
“The Mouth of the Scold” re-envisions the National Portrait Gallery's Great Hall—a traditionally male-dominated space—with the installation of a female presence. It honors Marion B. Dunlevy and the long lineage of American women who were convicted as "common scolds." This archaic charge targeted "troublesome and angry women" who disturbed the peace by habitually arguing in public.
In 1972—the year I was born—Dunlevy became the first woman to legally beat the common scold charge on the grounds of unconstitutionality. The law remains on the books in at least three states, including Maryland, where I live. Dunlevy's triumph sets a precedence for equality in free speech that we can now use in a court of law to gain our own freedom.
“The Mouth of the Scold” performance honors the defiance, strength, and hard-earned freedom of these women, as well as the legacy they leave to the rest of us.
McCracken’s performance will take place in the museum’s Great Hall on Thursday, February 4 at 5:30 p.m. Associate Curator Dorothy Moss will introduce the performance. For more information, visit our website.
Support for the IDENTIFY performance art series has been provided by an anonymous donor, the Philip and Elizabeth Ryan Fund, the Director’s Visionary Fund, Carol and John Boochever, The Skanby + Gould Foundation, and other individual contributions.
The Portrait Gallery’s first-ever performance art series, IDENTIFY, focuses attention on activism, visibility, and experimentation in portraiture. This Saturday, January 16, artist James Luna will present Ishi: The Archive Performance, which pays tribute to the man known during his lifetime as the “last wild Indian.”
In my creative process in presenting live art, I have developed characters such as the ShameMan, Uncle Jimmy, and the Artifact to speak to issues affecting Native Americans globally.
I don’t set out specific goals as to the scenes. As I work, the concepts begin to roll on their own, and then I begin to add the details to make it an interesting presentation. This is not the process that happened with the Ishi piece.
One evening as I began to script at my kitchen table, I realized that many of these ideas, thoughts, and feelings were not mine but his. I had entered a spiritual space. There are moments when I have presented the performance that I do all I can not to become overwhelmed with emotions of sadness and loss to complete work. Then there comes the feeling of relief and accomplishment that I have shared an important story on behalf of the Native peoples of California and the phenomenal story of Ishi.
Luna’s performance will take place in the museum’s Great Hall at 4:00 p.m. Associate curator Dorothy Moss will introduce the performance. For more information, visit our website.
James Luna portrays Ishi (d. 1916), the last member of the Yahi—Native Americans indigenous to Northern California. Through his performance, Luna and Sheila Tishla Skinner not only pay tribute to Ishi but also give voice to indigenous women.
Support for the IDENTIFY performance art series has been provided by an anonymous donor, the Philip and Elizabeth Ryan Fund, the Director’s Visionary Fund, Carol and John Boochever and other individual contributions.
IMAGE: Ishi: "If I Could Only Tell You," Photo by Mark Velasquez.
Lebron James / Rick Chapman / Selenium-toned gelatin silver print, 2006 / National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution / Gift of the artist and ESPN / © 2006 Rick Chapman
Plan on winning the Powerball jackpot? Maybe that will get you featured in this month’s Pop Quiz trivia contest. Test your knowledge of Americans who went from rags to riches on Wednesday, January 13, at 6:30 p.m. From makers of cars to slam dunk stars, this night is bound to be rich in fun.
Pop Quiz takes place once a month in the Robert and Arlene Kogod Courtyard and can be played individually or in a team of up to six people (bonus points awarded for clever team names). The team with the highest score will take home a special prize and solid bragging rights. Be sure to get sustenance at the Courtyard Café, which will offer snacks and drinks for purchase.
Get a sneak peek by taking a look at this month’s bonus question, worth ten points.
Question: LeBron James was born to a single mother in Akron, Ohio. For much of James’s childhood, his family struggled financially and was forced to move frequently. James received international fame playing for the Cleveland Cavaliers and has won several of basketball’s highest honors.
Before James played a single NBA game, he famously signed a deal with NIKE for how much?
This December, take a look back at the Portrait Gallery in 2015, including the amazing programs, exhibitions, and events that took place this year.
The year 2015 has proved to be a monumental one for the National Portrait Gallery. From incredible exhibitions to black tie galas and everything in between, the only way to describe it is “seriously amazing.” Scroll through to see some of the highlights of what we have done this year
1. We opened five special exhibitions.
Sitters from Abraham Lincoln to Audra McDonald found homes in our special exhibitions this year. We also proudly installed “One Life: Dolores Huerta,” our first One Life exhibition devoted to a Latina.
2. We kicked off the America Now series.
We were awed by the dance troupe Pilobolus and artist Bo Gehring, who joined us over Memorial Day as part of our first America Now program. We can’t wait to host similar programs over the next nine summers.
3. We honored the anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act on our front steps.
We partnered with Google to honor three individuals in an art installation on the steps of our museum on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the ADA. One of the honorees, Tatyana McFadden, visited her likeness in person.
4. We began our first-ever performance art series, IDENTIFY.
One of the Portrait Gallery’s ongoing efforts is to acknowledge those who are missing from the museum’s historical collection. Our first two IDENTIFY performances by Wilmer Wilson IV and Martha McDonald were huge successes, and we’ll be continuing the series with three more artists in 2016.
5. We threw a black tie gala that raised $1.7 million.
At the inaugural American Portrait Gala, we were proud to honor five exemplary individuals—Hank Aaron, Kyle Carpenter, Aretha Franklin, Carolina Herrera, and Maya Lin—while establishing a fund for future exhibitions.
It’s been a great year for us, and we know that 2016 will only get better. Be sure to follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram so you don’t miss a thing.
-Ellie Skochdopole, Public Affairs Assistant
Brave, ingenious, and startlingly original, American shoe designer Beth Levine (1914-2006) seems also to have held generous doses of common sense and a ready wit. Looking at Philip Pearlstein’s mid-1980s portrait of her, one can’t help but feel this is someone you already know, or should know. As photographer Bruce Weber wrote in memory of Levine, “Beth spoke Yiddish as elegantly as she spoke French. She could sip her scotch and tell risqué jokes to royalty and truck drivers alike—in other words, ‘she was the life of the party.’ Her shoe designs were world famous, but what she loved most was that she was always a farm girl who knew a good tomato when she saw one.”
The National Portrait Gallery’s loan of Pearlstein’s painting was one of the essential starting points for our exhibition “Beth Levine: The First Lady of Shoes” (August 21, 2015-January 3, 2016). Pearlstein’s wife, Dorothy Cantor Pearlstein, was Levine’s first cousin and both of their respective families had immigrated to the United States from the same village in Lithuania. The artist has captured a real quiet strength and inimitable beauty in his depiction, one that also bespeaks a lifetime of friendship.
The painting is one of nearly 150 artifacts and works of art in the exhibition—many shoes, photographs, film clips, and more. Our guest curator, Helene Verin, a Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) professor, author of Beth Levine Shoes (2009), and herself a former shoe designer “to boot,” was the perfect person to spearhead this effort. She also knew Beth personally, as she relates below.
-Joshua Ruff, Director of Collections and Interpretation, The Long Island Museum
When I moved to New York City in the late 1970s and decided to become a shoe designer, the reigning queen of that realm was Beth Levine. Although Herbert and Beth closed their factory in 1976, Beth remained active until her death in 2006. She became an enormous presence and influence to me as an inspirational mentor and friend.
The story of how Bessie Katz, growing up on a farm in Patchogue, Long Island, became one of the great designers of the twentieth century is a fascinating one. Intending to enroll at Pratt Institute, Beth moved to New York City in 1938. Needing a job and having size four feet (the sample size at the time), she worked as a shoe model. Consequently, she had outstanding intuition about how different styles fit.
In fashion design, American manufacturers have idolized and copied European designers (primarily from France and Italy). Fortunately, Beth was able to be as inventive and avant garde as she pleased. In 1946, she married Herbert Levine, whose name was on the company label (a woman’s name had never appeared on footwear before). Beth Levine became a legendary designer whose contributions changed the history of shoe design.
When Herbert and Beth Levine opened their factory in 1949, “Made in New York City” was synonymous with quality footwear. They hired Italian shoe lasters; Jewish stitchers from Poland, Hungary, and Romania; and Irish leather cutters. Their head of production, Tony Acuti, once said, “Here, everyone had to coddle the shoes, handle them, kiss them before they went into a box...—and then they look up and say ‘thank you.’”
As a shoe designer myself, I kept up a regular correspondence with Beth during my career. Upon my return to New York City in 1996, Beth and I reconnected. Stopping by for lunch three times a week, I began going through her archives and talking with her for hours about her accomplishments and the frustration of being a shoe designer with a new idea. Her love and knowledge of contemporary culture mirrored mine, and I found a great friend. Her apartment was full of books, art (Milton Avery, Philip Pearlstein, Pablo Picasso, Pierre Bonnard, Joseph Solman, Chaim Gross, and Theodore Bikel) great furniture, and, of course, shoes and boots from her private collection. I would giddily try on her couture clothes (Balenciaga, Halston, Geoffrey Beene, Adele Simpson, and Michael Vollbracht). We would eat her homemade chopped liver, laugh hysterically, and sometimes cry. Together we visited her factory storage in the basement of 161 Avenue of the Americas, and she gave me buckets of old samples, shoe ornaments, press cards, and other items. Later, I’d go home and wash the dust off the ornaments and try to imagine what Beth was thinking in sampling them.
So many mid-century women remain unknown for their amazing contributions. My students at FIT had never heard of Beth Levine which is why I felt compelled to tell her story. By writing Beth Levine Shoes and curating exhibitions about her, my intention is to keep Beth’s unique vision alive for generations to come.
Beth always said that the only mistake in design is “playing it safe.” She introduced revolutionary silhouettes in ingenious materials that were flawlessly comfortable. “Shoes off” to the most important American shoe designer of the twentieth century!
-Helene Verin, Curator of “Beth Levine: The First Lady of Shoes”
The winner of the grand prize for the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery Teen Portrait Competition is Tiffany Vargas, 17, from the Bronx, New York, for her charcoal-and-graphite work titled Deep Thought.
The Portrait Gallery received a record number of entries—449, from 34 states across the nation—for this third annual online competition. The artwork by Vargas will be displayed at the museum just outside of the museum’s exhibition “The Outwin: American Portraiture Today,” from March 12, 2016, through January 8, 2017.
Three more teenagers received prizes under three categories: painting and drawing, photography, and video. The award for painting and drawing went to Rebecca Siqueiros, 17, from Miami Shores, Florida, for her acrylic on canvas work Contentment. Alisha Solaiman, 16, from Clarksville, Maryland, was awarded the prize for photography for Crossed. Ashley Marsh, 15, from Washington, D.C., received the prize for video for her work, “Who I am: Ashley Marsh.”
Ten honorable mentions were also awarded in two categories (ages 13–15 and ages 16–17). These names are published on the National Portrait Gallery website.
Created under the rubric “for teens, by teens,” Washington, D.C., metro–area teenagers designed the competition for their peers under the guidance of the museum’s Education Department. The theme for the 2016 competition was “interact and interaction.” Teens needed to consider how they interact with their subject and the art of portraiture as well as any interactions that take place between the subject(s) and the setting.
Applications were submitted online and evaluated by a panel of judges composed of nine teens, National Portrait Gallery Curator Dorothy Moss, and guest juror Sheldon Scott, a multidisciplinary artist in Washington.
*This program has been made possible through the support of the Honorable Richard Blumenthal and Mrs. Cynthia M. Blumenthal, Capital Group Companies Charitable Foundation and the Reinsch Family Education Endowment.
El gran premio de la Competencia de Retratos de Adolescentes de la Galería Nacional de Retratos fue otorgado a Tiffany Vargas de 17 años de edad, quien reside en el Bronx, Nueva York, por su obra de carbón y grafito titulada “Pensamiento Profundo”.
El museo recibió un número récord de postulaciones, 449, de 34 estados de todo el país en esta tercera edición de la competencia anual en línea. La obra de arte de Vargas se mostrará en el museo a las afueras de la exposición “The Outwin 2016: Retrato de América Hoy”, del 12 de marzo de 2016 al 08 de enero de 2017.
Otros tres adolescentes recibieron premios en tres categorías: pintura y dibujo, fotografía y vídeo. El premio a la pintura y dibujo fue otorgado a Rebecca Siqueiros, de 17 años de edad, residente de Miami Shores, Florida, por su trabajo de acrílico sobre lienzo “Contento”. Alisha Solaiman, de 16 años, proveniente de Clarksville, Maryland, fue galardonada con el premio a la fotografía por “Cruzada”. Ashley Marsh de 15 años, residente de Washington, D.C., fue condecorada por su representación en video “Quien soy yo: Ashley Marsh”.
También fueron adjudicadas diez menciones honoríficas en dos categorías (edades 13-15 y edades 16-17). Estos nombres están publicados en el sitio web de la Galería Nacional de Retratos.
Creado bajo el concepto “para adolescentes, de adolescentes”, jóvenes del área metropolitana de Washington, D.C., diseñaron la competencia para su generación bajo la dirección del Departamento de Educación del museo. El tema para el concurso de 2016 fue “interactuar e interacción”. Los adolescentes debían considerar cómo interactuaban con el sujeto y el arte del retrato, así como cualquier interacción presente entre el sujeto (s) y el escenario.
Las inscripciones fueron recibidas en línea y evaluadas por un panel de jueces compuesto por nueve adolescentes, Dorothy Moss, curadora asociada de pintura y escultura del museo, y un jurado invitado Sheldon Scott, artista multidisciplinario en Washington.
Este programa fue posible gracias al apoyo del Honorable Richard Blumenthal y la señora Cynthia M. Blumenthal, Capital Group Companies Charitable Foundation y el Fondo Educativo Familiar Reinsch.
This December, take a look back at the Portrait Gallery in 2015, including the amazing programs, exhibitions, and events that took place this year.
Back in the nineteenth century, photojournalist Alexander Gardner’s photographs of Civil War battlefields helped bring the conflict into the home. Americans didn’t have to travel great lengths to see the sweeping fields that became graves for so many soldiers. Even those on the home front could understand the immense tragedy of the war through Gardner’s images, which were published in volumes and viewable in his studio.
Because his images were so accessible, it’s amusing that 150 years later, the Portrait Gallery dragged 40 people out of bed on a Saturday morning to drive out to Manassas in Gardner’s name, especially since the location can be seen via Google Maps. But that’s exactly what we did on the morning of October 24, 2015.
Back in September, the museum opened “Dark Fields of the Republic: Alexander Gardner Photographs, 1859–1872.” In honor of the exhibition, we decided that it would be interesting to bring members of the public on a tour of the site featured in the show. For our first-ever off-campus “Instameet,” the Portrait Gallery invited members of the group Instagrammers DC (IGDC) to tour the battlefields with “Dark Fields” curator David C. Ward. Much like Gardner, IGDC documented the experience through photography. Unlike Gardner, however, their images were shared via smartphone and viewable by people around the world.
A couple of images from the trip are included in this blog, but if you would like to see it all, I encourage you to search the hashtag “#DarkFields” in Instagram. While scrolling, it’s interesting to think back on the history of Manassas, as well as the history of photography. It’s pretty incredible that in under two centuries, America has gone from a country torn by war to a nation united by technology.
–Ellie Skochdopole, Public Affairs Assistant