Decorating the White House with Smithsonian Art- page 13 | Arts & Culture | Smithsonian
The tradition of Smithsonian museums loaning art to the White House began in the 1940s. (iStockphoto)

Decorating the White House with Smithsonian Art

Continuing a Washington tradition, the Obamas selected artwork from the Smithsonian collections to hang in their historic home


Booker T Washington Legend
(Maura McCarthy)

William H. Johnson
c. 1944-45
Oil on plywood
Smithsonian American Art Museum

This painting depicts Booker T. Washington (1856-1915)—who despite being born a slave went on to become a prominent African-American leader—teaching a group of students. “Johnson had a very strong political conscious,” Broun says. “He did a series called Fighters for Freedom where he painted those who had stood up for racial oppression.” This painting features a shovel, wheels, a plow, books and writing implements, tools that Washington said were vital to advancing African-Americans after Emancipation.

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