Too often swept under the rug by the chroniclers of history, the contributions of dedicated women to artistic innovation, social reform, and scientific advancement are worthy of our recognition and admiration. This tour, whose stops will bring you into contact with such pioneering heroines as aviatrix Amelia Earhart, suffragette Carrie Chapman Catt, civil rights crusader Mary Church Terrell, impressionist painter Mary Cassatt, author Harriet Beecher Stowe, Supreme Court justice Sonia Sotomayor, and computer science revolutionary Grace Hopper, is a celebration of the dauntless hidden figures who managed to alter humanity's trajectory in spite of a social system designed to check their progress.
National Museum of American History
The Smithsonian's National Museum of American History collects and preserves more than 3 million artifacts—all true national treasures. The museum is home to everything from the original Star-Spangled Banner and Abraham Lincoln’s top hat to Dizzy Gillespie’s angled trumpet and Dorothy’s ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz. The collections form a fascinating mosaic of American life and comprise the greatest single collection of American history.
Constitution Avenue between 12th and 14th Streets NW
Artist J. Howard Miller produced this work-incentive poster for the Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing Company. Though displayed only briefly in Westinghouse factories, the poster has since become one of the most famous icons of World War II.
As women were encouraged to take wartime jobs in defense industries, larger-than-life characters like Rosie the Riveter emerged as proud symbols of female patriotism and determination in the U.S. But when the war ended, many industries forced women to relinquish their skilled jobs to returning veterans.
Billie Jean King's "Battle of the Sexes" Tennis Dress
Tennis dress, worn by American professional tennis player Billie Jean King (b, 1943.) The dress, designed by Teddy Tinling, London, was worn by King in her famous exhibition match against male competitor Bobby Riggs known as "The Battle of the Sexes." King handily won the nationally televised event, held in Houston, Texas on September 20, 1973.
King has won over 129 singles matches in her career, including 12 Grand Slam singles titles. She was the founder of the Women's Tennis Association and has been an influential advocate for the sport of tennis and women's rights.
Made in New York, New York by ready-to-wear 1950s fashion pioneer Claire McCardell, this stylish but sturdy suit consists of a skirt, a jacket, and a blouse.
The jacket is made of gray poodle cloth with wide, circular three-quarter-length sleeves. Three brass and black buttons fasten the center front opening, and the left and right front edges are cut in a wide circular shape.
Also gray poodle cloth, the skirt is cut with a slight flare and has a narrow waistband with a hook-and-eye closure on the left side. There is also a left side zipper opening, and a large patch pocket extends from the right side seam to the center front. A wide brown leather belt with a gold buckle was worn with the skirt.
The striped blouse is a gray, black, and tan jersey knit with sleeves cut in one with the bodice. The sleeves taper at the ends, the horizontal neckline has a hook and eye at the back left shoulder, and there is a left side zipper opening.
In July, 1848, several days before the first woman’s rights convention at Seneca Falls, New York, a group of five women that included Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott drafted a declaration of rights for women on this table as a statement of purpose for the convention. Now known as the Declaration of Sentiments, the document was based on the Declaration of Independence. It proclaimed that “all men and women are created equal” and resolved that women would take action to claim the rights of citizenship denied to them by men. The Declaration of Sentiments was adopted officially at the Seneca Falls Convention in July 1848 and signed by sixty-eight women and thirty-two men. The convention and Declaration mark the start of the formal women’s rights movement in the United States.
During the Great Depression, government photographer Dorothea Lange took this picture at a migrant farmworkers' camp near Nipomo, California. Lange's brief caption recorded her impressions of the family's plight: "Destitute pea pickers ... a 32-year-old mother of seven children."
First published in a San Francisco newspaper, this poignant image became one of the most famous photographs of the Depression era, emblematic of the hardships suffered by poor migrant families. The "migrant mother," anonymous for many years, was later identified as Oklahoma native Florence Thompson.
Sixteen-year-old Judy Garland wore these sequined shoes as Dorothy Gale in the 1939 film classic The Wizard of Oz. In the original book by L. Frank Baum, Dorothy's magic slippers are silver; for the Technicolor movie, they were changed to ruby red to show up more vividly against the yellow-brick road. One of several pairs used during filming, these size-five shoes are well-worn, suggesting they were Garland's primary pair for dance sequences.
This white infant’s dress with short raglan sleeves was made by African American dressmaker Elizabeth Keckley for her goddaughter Alberta Elizabeth Lewis-Savoy in 1866. Keckley bought her freedom and moved to Washington D.C., where her dress-making skills were valued by clients such as First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln. A dress she designed for Mary Todd Lincoln is on view in the “First Ladies” exhibition. The neckline has two rows of casing with a narrow gathering ribbon. The center back opens with ribbon ties and a placket. The back waist is detailed with four rows of gathering ribbon and the front waistband is covered with lace, which is partially stitched down. A full skirt with twenty pleats is gathered to the waistband. Handmade Bucks point bobbin lace trims the sleeves and hem.
This "Solar System" quilt was made by Ellen Harding Baker of Cedar County, Iowa, in 1876. The top of the quilt is embellished with wool-fabric appliqué, wool braid, and wool and silk embroidery. Included in the design is the appliqued inscription, "Solar System," and the embroidered inscriptions, "E. H. Baker" and "A. D. 1876." The lining is a red cotton-and-wool fabric and the filling is of cotton fiber.
The design of Ellen's striking and unusual quilt resembles illustrations in astronomy books of the period. Ellen used the quilt as a visual aid for lectures she gave on astronomy in the towns of West Branch, Moscow, and Lone Tree, Iowa. Astronomy was an acceptable interest for women in the nineteenth century and was sometimes even fostered in their education.
This gold record for the Staple Singers single “If You’re Ready (Come Go With Me)” was presented to the Annapolis, Maryland radio station WANN in 1973. In 1973, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) certified a single as “gold” when it sold a million units sold to retailers. This gold record was presented to WANN by the Staple Singers record label Stax Records. WANN, a white-owned radio station, cultivated an African American audience during the 1950s by focusing its programming on African American news and music, and starring the charismatic African American DJ Hoppy Adams.
Harriet Powers, an African American farm woman of Clarke County, Georgia, made this quilt in about 1886. She exhibited it at the Athens Cotton Fair of 1886, where it captured the imagination of Jennie Smith, a young internationally trained local artist.
Of her discovery, Jennie later wrote: "I have spent my whole life in the South, and am perfectly familiar with thirty patterns of quilts, but I had never seen an original design, and never a living creature portrayed in patchwork, until the year 1886, when there was held in Athens, Georgia, a 'Cotton-Fair,' which was on a much larger scale than an ordinary county fair, as there was a 'Wild West' show, and Cotton Weddings; and a circus, all at the same time. There was a large accumulation farm products--the largest potatoes, tallest cotton stalk, biggest water-melon! Best display of pickles and preserves made by exhibitor! Best display of seeds &c. and all the attractions usual to such occasions, and in one corner there hung a quilt-which 'captured my eye' and after much difficulty I found the owner, a negro woman, who lives in the country on a little farm whereon she and husband make a respectable living . . . . The scenes on the quilt were biblical and I was fascinated. I offered to buy it, but it was not for sale at any price."
Four years later, Mrs. Powers, at the urging of her husband because of hard times, offered to sell the quilt, but Miss Smith's "financial affairs were at a low ebb and I could not purchase." Later Jennie sent word that she would buy the quilt if Harriet still wanted to dispose of it. Harriet "arrived one afternoon in front of my door in an ox-cart with the precious burden in her lap encased in a clean flour sack, which was still further enveloped in a crocus sack. She offered it for ten dollars—but—I only had five to give." Harriet went out to consult her husband and reported that he said she had better take the five dollars.
Mrs. Powers regretfully turned over her precious creation, but only after explaining each of the eleven panels of the design, which Jennie Smith recorded. Briefly, the subjects are Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, a continuance of Paradise with Eve and a son, Satan amidst the seven stars, Cain killing his brother Abel, Cain going into the land of Nod to get a wife, Jacob's dream, the baptism of Christ, the crucifixion, Judas Iscariot and the thirty pieces of silver, the Last Supper, and the Holy Family.
This unusual watch, originally made to tell time in the dark, made the perfect present for Helen Keller. Deaf and blind from the age of nineteen months, Keller (1880-1968) grew up to become an accomplished writer and renowned champion for human rights.
In 1892, when she was twelve, Keller met John Hitz, the superintendent of Alexander Graham Bell's Washington, D.C. establishment for the deaf, the Volta Bureau. Hitz, a retired diplomat, was the proud owner of a Swiss-made "touch watch." This uncommon watch has a case studded around the edge with pins that correspond to the hours on the watch dial. A revolving hand stops at a point between the pins that corresponds to the hour and approximate minute. With the hand and pins as locators, it was possible to feel the approximate time in the dark or, in the case of a diplomat like Hitz, discreetly. Hitz presented the watch to Keller, who prized it and used it her entire life.
FOOD: Transforming the American Table: 1950-2000, One East
This is the kitchen where Julia Child, the legendary cookbook author and first star of food TV, cooked for her family and friends, as well as for millions of viewers who tuned in to her three cooking shows that were taped in the kitchen in the 1990s. The exhibition place's Julia Child’s kitchen within the context of the last half of the 20th century, blending her impact on American culinary history with other significant strands of food history.
When a reporter asked Laura Bush if she would be a first lady more like Barbara Bush or Hillary Clinton, the new first lady replied, “I think I’ll just be like Laura Bush.” The former librarian and teacher had a quiet reputation, but when she arrived for the inaugural ball in 2001, she made a bold statement in red. The crystal-embroidered Chantilly lace over silk georgette gown had long sleeves, a scoop neck and close fit. Designed by fellow Texan Michael Faircloth, who also outfitted the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders, the gown's bright red color brought a burst of Texas spirit to D.C. The New York Times described her “down-home-Texas-designed dresses” as “illustrating with equal clarity the America-first outlook of the new president's administration.”
In 2009 Michelle Obama became the first African American First Lady of the United States of America. The designer of her inaugural gown, Jason Wu, is a case study in transnationalism today. Born in Taipei, Taiwan, Wu immigrated with his family to Vancouver, Canada. His education took him around the world— attending schools in Canada, the United States and France, and studying sculpture in Japan, and eventually moving to New York City to pursue his career as a fashion designer. First Lady Obama wore Wu designs for several other historic occasions, including President Barack Obama’s first official European trip and at the 2013 Presidential Inaugural Balls. This silk chiffon gown is displayed at the National Museum of American History’s “The First Ladies” exhibition.
This pink outer parka was used by DeeDee Jonrowe during many of her sled dog races and Iditarod runs after being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2002. DeeDee Jonrowe moved to Alaska in her teens and began competing in sled dog races in 1978. She ran her first Iditarod in 1980 and consistently finishes in the top 10 or 20 and winning both the Copper Basin 300 and Klondike 300 races. She is most proud of the awards she has won for dog care, including the Leonhard Seppala Humanitarian award given by the veterinarians of the Iditarod for the musher who has provided the best care and treatment to their dogs.
Jonrowe is the founder of M.U.S.H. with Pride, an organization that assists with training of kennel owners on the fair treatment of dogs. Her public battle with breast cancer in 2002 has cast Jonrowe as the inspirational role model for many and in 2003 she became an honorary chairperson for the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life. Jonrowe lost her home and kennel in 2015 during the Sockey Wildfire but managed to save all of her dogs and is currently rebuilding.
Woman’s rights activist Susan B. Anthony wore this red shawl when advocating for women’s rights at suffrage conventions, speaking engagements and congressional sessions. Red shawls became one of her trademarks, making her instantly recognizable to reporters and the public. It was said in Washington that there were two signs of spring: the return of Congress to the nation’s capital and the sight of Anthony’s red shawl as she also returned to lobby congressmen.
Lady Bird Johnson's love of wildflowers inspired a national campaign to beautify hundreds of miles of highways. “Masses of flowers where masses pass,” she wrote of the effort in her diary. Her affection for the nation’s native blooms also proved inspiration for the state china service of the Johnson administration. The delicate Tiffany-designed china juxtaposes imperial eagles with dainty, indigenous blooms. In the nation's capital, entertaining is a form of diplomacy. From the bright red borders on Nancy and Ronald Reagan's dishes to the oyster and game plates featuring American flora and fauna of the Rutherford Hayes administration, the White House china reflects both popular fashions and the personal ambitions of the presidential families.
This cape was worn by Jennie Griswold, a member of a cavalry unit during the 1913 suffrage march in Washington, D.C.
On the day before the 1913 presidential inauguration, more than 5,000 women marched up Pennsylvania Avenue demanding the right to vote. Women from around the country came to Washington in a show of strength and determination to obtain the ballot. More than 10,000 spectators crowded the parade route.
Some were simply boisterous but others were hostile. They spilled past the barriers and off the sidewalks, clogging Pennsylvania Avenue. Police officers were unable or unwilling to hold back the crowds and after the first four blocks the parade stalled as the marchers couldn’t pass through the mob. A cavalry unit from Fort Myer was finally called in to restore order and the parade finished hours late. The public was horrified, and a one-day event became an ongoing story, with demands for an investigation of the police department’s failure to protect the women.
Originally a bakery or milk delivery wagon, legend has it this conveyance carried Lucy Stone to her speaking engagements, and helped her to distribute copies of The Woman's Journal. Around 1912, suffragists found the wagon in a barn on Stone's property. They painted it with slogans and continued to use it to sell The Woman's Journal, as well as to drum up rallies and publicity.
Lucy Stone, one of the so-called “19th century triumvirate” of woman’s suffrage and feminism (along with Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton), helped organize the first National Women’s Rights Convention in 1850. In 1869, she founded the American Woman Suffrage Association. More moderate than Susan B. Anthony's National Woman Suffrage Association, it admitted men as well as women and was committed to passage of the 15th amendment. In 1870, Lucy Stone founded The Woman's Journal to disseminate information about women’s rights topics.
In 1917 as the United States prepared for World War I, the Navy faced a crisis. Skilled clerks and secretaries were desperately needed, but men didn't possess these skills in the numbers required. The Secretary of the Navy, Josephus Daniels, asked his staff "Is there any law that says a yeoman must be a man?" The Naval Reserve Act of 1916 did not specify gender for members of the Naval Coast Defense Reserve, and so the Navy began enlisting women. While most women performed secretarial or clerical jobs, other skills needed included telegrapher, draftsman, translator, mess attendant, ship camouflage designers, and recruiting agents.
The women were only permitted to serve at shore stations, but confusion occurred when some of the women were given orders for sea duty. To avoid this error the Navy added the suffix (F) for female after yeoman to make it easier to separate the women from the men. The work done by about 11,000 women in the Navy was highly regarded, but all women were discharged in July 1919 as the Navy returned to peacetime activities. To compensate for the sudden loss of administrative talent, the Navy got special permission to expedite hiring of some women veterans through the Civil Service. Navy nurses, who were employed as civilians, continued to serve during the period between the two world wars. Women were not become a part of the Navy again until World War II.
The Renwick Gallery is home to the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s collection of contemporary craft and decorative art—one of the finest and most extensive collections of its kind. The museum’s home is a National Historic Landmark, and was the first structure built expressly as an art museum in the United States. It is named in honor of its architect, James Renwick, Jr., and exhibits the most exciting works by artists exploring traditional and innovative approaches to making.
Beatrice Wood’s interest in ceramics and luster glazes began in 1933 when she could not find a teapot to match a set of antique luster plates she had bought, and so she decided to make her own. In the 1950s the emergence of abstract expressionism led Wood to coat the entire body of her ceramic works with shimmering lusters. This style became her trademark and was used throughout her long career. The large round body and oversized handle of this teapot balance precariously on the small foot.
Pilot Amelia Earhart (1897-1937) earned revenue by carrying philatelic materials on her flights. Earhart owned and wore this leather wool-lined flight suit manufactured by Arnold, Constable & Company, of Paris and New York. Such suits were essential for long-distance flights. Early airplanes offered scant protection from the elements, especially the icy cold at altitudes of 20,000 feet.
Tells the multifaceted story of America through the individuals who have shaped its culture. Through the visual arts, performing arts and new media, the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery portrays poets and presidents, visionaries and villains, actors and activists whose lives tell the American story.
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In 1962, when César Chávez and Dolores Huerta cofounded the National Farm Workers Association, they agreed that he would be the public face of the union and she would handle the logistics. Chávez became the charismatic president of the union, the figure on whom the media and, ultimately, history focused. Huerta was highly visible as well, although clearly in a vice-presidential capacity. An articulate and energetic speaker, Huerta led the union’s public relations efforts, conveying the movement’s values and aims to the larger public in print, radio, and television. She was also instrumental in bolstering the morale of workers on the picket line. Her cry to arms, ¡Sí se puede! (Yes we can!), evinced her faith in social change and her determination to empower farm workers.
This image of Huerta addressing a crowd at a rally was captured by Rudy Rodriguez in 1974.
Katharine Hepburn’s Academy Award, Best Actress, "Morning Glory," 1933
20th Century Americans: 1950 to 1990, Third Floor, S342
This statuette, presented by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 1933, is likely the first nicknamed “Oscar.” Katharine Hepburn, touted as “cinema’s wonder girl” for her towering performances in such classic films as Bringing Up Baby, The Philadelphia Story and The African Queen, was honored first for her role in Morning Glory. Reporting on the ceremony in 1934 and stumped on the spelling of “statuette,” entertainment columnist Sidney Skolsky instead wrote that Hepburn “won the Oscar for her performance as Eva Lovelace in Morning Glory.” All four of Hepburn’s Best Actress Oscars are on view on the third floor.
Musician, writer, and artist Patti Smith is known for her paradigm-shifting creativity throughout her career. Fleeing suburban life for New York City in 1967, Smith wrote poetry and dabbled in photography and drawing before releasing her cutting-edge debut album Horses (1975), which fused her love of poetry with songwriting. Smith memorialized this time in her life in the memoir Just Kids, which won the National Book Award in 2010.
Photograph of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr., 1955-1956
The Struggle For Justice, Second Floor, W220
Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr. at a mass meeting during the Montgomery bus boycott. A little more than a year after King began his ministry in Montgomery, longtime resident Rosa Parks committed a courageous act of civil disobedience that culminated in one of the modern civil rights movement’s seminal victories.
On December 1, 1955, Parks was arrested and jailed after refusing to surrender her seat on a public bus to a white male passenger. Four days later, when Parks was convicted of violating local segregation laws, Montgomery’s African American community staged a massive boycott of the city’s bus system. Planned as a one-day protest, the boycott expanded under the leadership of the newly formed Montgomery Improvement Association, which selected the twenty-six-year-old King as its president and spokesman. In this image by Constantine Manos, Rosa Parks leans forward in her front-row seat as King, with his hand on the Bible and his back to the camera, prepares to speak from the pulpit.
In 1955, Althea Gibson contemplated retiring from competitive tennis. Had she done so, she would have denied herself her greatest moment. Two years later, this "lanky jumping jack of a girl," who had begun her sports career playing paddle tennis in New York’s Harlem, was arriving home from England, winner of the women’s singles and doubles titles at the prestigious Wimbledon championships. Within another two months, she had won the U.S. women’s singles crown at Forest Hills and emerged triumphant as America’s clay court champion as well.
"Althea Gibson," TIME magazine told its readers in the wake of these victories, "is not the most graceful figure on the courts, and her game is not stylish." Nevertheless, it was clear that at 30—an age when most tennis players lose their competitive edge—she was still sharp. Her fighting spirit comes across clearly in this portrayal by TIME artist Boris Chalipain.
The organizational talents of Carrie Chapman Catt, pictured here by Mary Eliot Foote, are credited with making the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) an effective force in winning the struggle for women's right to vote. In NAWSA, Catt worked with such leaders as Susan B. Anthony to secure the franchise state by state and campaign for a constitutional amendment.
Initially condemning America's flood of immigrants, whom she believed were influenced by their paternalistic Old World cultures to vote against women's suffrage, Catt eventually discarded such xenophobic simplifications, founded the International Woman Suffrage Alliance, and became a crusader for internationalism and world peace. In 1900, she replaced Anthony as president of NAWSA, and was again elected president in 1915, leading the organization during the successful passage of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920, which guaranteed all American women the right to vote.
When Franklin Roosevelt began his first term as president in 1933, his wife Eleanor, captured in this portrait by Clara Sipprell, declared that she was “just going to be plain, ordinary Mrs. Roosevelt. And that’s all.” The reality proved to be quite different, however, for Eleanor Roosevelt soon took public stands on issues ranging from exploitive labor practices to civil rights.
When the Daughters of the American Revolution refused permission in 1939 for acclaimed African American contralto Marian Anderson to sing at Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C., Roosevelt resigned from the DAR and helped arrange for Anderson to perform at the Lincoln Memorial instead. The activism that characterized Eleanor Roosevelt’s years as first lady did not end with her departure from the White House. As a United States delegate to the United Nations (1945–53), she was instrumental in formulating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and securing its ratification by the General Assembly in 1948.
Frederick Douglass became the first nationally known African American in U.S. history by turning his life into a testimony to the evils of slavery and the redemptive power of freedom. He had escaped from slavery in 1838 and subsequently became a powerful witness for abolitionism, speaking, writing, and organizing on behalf of the movement; he also started a newspaper, the North Star. A staunch supporter of women's suffrage as well, Douglass co-founded with Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony the American Equal Rights Association, which was dedicated first and foremost to winning women the franchise. He said that "Right is of no sex; truth is of no color."
Douglass's charisma derived from his ability to present himself as the author of his own destiny at a time when white America could barely conceive of the black man as a thinking and feeling human being. The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass is not only gripping nonfiction account of one man's struggle for freedom; it is also one of the greatest American autobiographies. This powerful portrait shows Douglass as he grew in prominence during the 1840s.
Grace Murray Hopper is one of the most important figures both in the creation of modern computer science and in the history of the U.S. Navy. A Phi Beta Kappa student at Vassar, she earned her Ph.D. at Yale (1934). Entering the Navy in World War II, she helped create the operation protocols for the first American computer. After the war, Hopper taught at Harvard and worked in the defense industry while also serving in the Navy Reserve. She led the team that helped compile the first computer language (1952), as well as later evolutions that led to COBOL and FORTRAN, building blocks of computer programming.
In 1966 she retired, but her work was so valuable that she was almost immediately recalled, serving for nineteen more years and rising to the rank of admiral. In addition to her academic prowess, Hopper was an inspirational figure, known as “Amazing Grace” in both the armed forces and the scientific community.
Hopper posed for this Lynn Gilbert portrait in 1978. Gilbert made a name for herself photographing eminent 20th-century women.
Long before the first blast of cannon fire at Fort Sumter, writers had begun the battle, armed only with their pens. One of those was the abolitionist Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896), the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852), which sold more than 300,000 copies in its first year and converted many to the cause. Upon meeting Stowe in 1862, Abraham Lincoln remarked: “So you’re the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war!”
This portrait of Stowe by Alanson Fisher was commissioned in 1863 by the owner of New York City’s National Theatre, which was staging a play based on the novel. It hung in the theater’s lobby, meant to reveal the inner resolve of the writer who left an indelible mark on the nation’s conscience.
Named Araminta Ross and born a slave, Harriet Tubman rebelled against her servitude from her earliest years, running away as early as age seven. At fifteen, she defied an overseer and was nearly killed when he gave her "a stunning blow to the head." Barely recovering, she regained her health, cultivated her toughness, and nurtured her anger.
In 1844 she married a freedman, John Tubman, and in 1849 she escaped to Philadelphia, discarding her slave name for her mother's name, Harriet. After her husband refused to join her, Tubman became the lead conductor on the Underground Railroad, guiding escaping slaves to freedom. She made 19 recorded trips out of the South and was reputed never to have lost a soul. Tubman was active throughout the abolitionist movement and conspired with John Brown about raiding the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, although she did not participate.
This portrait of Tubman is the work of H. Seymour Squyer.
The daughter of former slaves, Ida B. Wells sued the Chesapeake, Ohio, and Southwestern Railway in 1883 after being dragged from her seat for refusing to move to a segregated railcar. Her anger over this incident spurred her to begin contributing articles to black-owned newspapers; she became part owner and editor of the Memphis Free Speech and Headlight in 1889. After three black businessmen were lynched in Memphis in 1892, Wells launched what became a four-decade-long anti-lynching crusade. She vigorously investigated other lynchings and published a groundbreaking treatise on the topic, Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases.
Julia Ward Howe (1819-1910) was a self-taught intellectual, poet, and women’s rights activist. Her husband, Samuel Gridley Howe, strongly disapproved of her pursuits outside the home, thus she published her poetry anonymously. In 1861, on a visit to Washington, D.C. a friend suggested she rewrite the lyrics of a popular song, “John Brown’s Body.” The result was her most famous poem, “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” which became the anthem of the Union Army. Her poem also appeared in a unique 1864 volume entitled Autograph Leaves of Our Country’s Authors, alongside Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, Francis Scott Key’s “Star-Spangled Banner” and works by Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Harriet Beecher Stowe and Edgar Allan Poe.
This portrait was begun by John Elliott c. 1910 and completed by William Henry Cotton c. 1925.
Singer and actress Lena Horne helped break the color barrier in mainstream popular culture in the mid-twentieth century, beginning her stage career in 1933 as a member of the chorus at Harlem's Cotton Club, where Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway mentored her. In 1942, Hollywood beckoned, but her roles were often musical cameos that southern theaters could cut. Horne once said that Stormy Weather and Cabin in the Sky were the only films "in which I played a character who was involved in the plot."
Nonetheless, Horne became Hollywood's highest-paid African American actor, and her renditions of "Stormy Weather" and "Just One of Those Things" are considered classics. During this time, Horne also became a vocal spokesperson for civil rights. She also continued to enjoy a successful nightclub and recording career, and triumphed in the 1980s with her one-woman show, Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music.
This painting is the work of Philadelphia-born portraitist Edward Biberman.
This Henry Koerner oil portrait of Maria Callas (1923-1977) appeared on the cover of TIME magazine the week she debuted at the Metropolitan Opera in the title role of Norma. Grand opera has long been characterized by larger-than-life singers and even larger egos—and by some accounts, Callas was the grandest diva of them all. Renowned for her soaring soprano, riveting stage presence and volcanic temperament, she did not have the word “compromise” in her vocabulary. “I will always be as difficult as necessary to achieve the best,” Callas said.
Of the outstanding voices of the 20th century, contralto Marian Anderson—like many African American artists of the time—first achieved success in Europe. Impresario Sol Hurok convinced her to return to America, and a triumphant 1935 concert secured her reputation. In 1939 she became embroiled in a historic event when the Daughters of the American Revolution banned her appearance at its Constitution Hall because she was black. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt intervened and facilitated Anderson's Easter Sunday outdoor concert at the Lincoln Memorial—an event witnessed by 75,000 and broadcast to a radio audience of millions.
In 1955, Anderson was invited to appear at the Metropolitan Opera, becoming the first African American to sing an important role with that company. Laura Wheeler Waring painted this portrait for the Harmon Foundation, an organization that promoted appreciation of African American heritage. The picture was part of a collection of likenesses that the foundation circulated around the country for many years.
Mary Church Terrell's determination to encourage the development of self-help and social service programs among black women resulted in her founding and presiding over the National Association of Colored Women in 1896. But her life was also dedicated to the achievement of equity for all. Terrell's influence quickly spread across the nation as she eloquently addressed audiences and composed numerous articles, poems, and short stories, which often embodied the themes of race and gender equity. Her autobiography, A Colored Woman in a White World, was published in 1940. In Washington, Terrell served on the D.C. Board of Education for more than ten years, and participated in numerous protests to end segregation in restaurants, hotels, and theaters in the city.
In this Betsy Graves Reyneau portrait of 1946, Terrell appears as coolly formidable as ever, her advanced age notwithstanding.
The greatest influence on writer Pearl Buck’s career was the time she spent in China, first as a child with her missionary parents and later with her husband. The experiences of more than thirty years’ residence in that country served as subject matter for her best work, including her second novel, The Good Earth, which became an instant bestseller at its publication in 1931 and won a Pulitzer Prize. Her subsequent fictional explorations of China also drew much attention and praise. Yet it was the pair of biographies of her parents—The Exile and Fighting Angel—that were decisive in her being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1938. The author of more than seventy books, Buck engaged in a variety of humanitarian endeavors, placing particular emphasis on fostering better understanding between East and West.
Buck is captured here by Canadian photographer Clara Sipprell.
In 1981, President Ronald Reagan fulfilled a campaign promise to appoint the first woman to the U.S. Supreme Court by nominating Arizona lawyer and judge Sandra Day O'Connor to a seat on the bench. After announcing the nomination, Reagan wrote in his diary, "Already the flak is starting and from my own supporters. . . . I think that she'll make a good justice." O'Connor served from 1981 to her retirement in 2006 and left a reputation as a conscientious associate justice, one inclined toward narrowly based judgments rendered on a case-by-case basis, thereby avoiding setting sweeping precedents. A lifelong Republican, O'Connor came to the court after a career in the law and politics in both Arizona and California.
This portrait by Jean Marcellino, along with twenty-four others by an equal number of artists, was created on October 10, 2006, when O'Connor agreed to be the model for a longstanding informal painting group that meets weekly in New York City.
This photograph of Sonia Sotomayor, taken by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, shows her smiling and amiable yet cast in the no-nonsense persona she has cultivated. Since her 2009 confirmation to the Supreme Court, she has been one of the most visible members of the bench, becoming almost a popular icon. She has tossed the first pitch at a Yankees game, dropped the ball at Times Square on New Year’s Eve 2013, and drew large crowds during the tour for her best-selling memoir, My Beloved World.
Her public appeal derives not just from her apparent accessibility but also from the power of her personal story as a child raised by her widowed mother in the housing projects of the Bronx. Through determination and discipline, Sotomayor earned degrees from Princeton University and Yale Law School. A self-described Nuyorican (“New York–Puerto Rican”), Sotomayor is the first Latina and third woman to serve on the country’s highest court.
Throughout her life, Wilma Rudolph overcame adversity. Born prematurely, she was a sickly child who was not expected to walk, much less run. After wearing a leg brace and undergoing years of therapy, Rudolph gained strength and emerged as a stellar athlete. Invited to train with the Tennessee State track team while she was still in high school, Rudolph became the first American woman to capture three track and field gold medals in a single Olympics with her first-place finishes in the 100-meter and the 200-meter dashes, and the four-by-one-hundred relay, at the 1960 Rome Olympiad.
When Rudolph later refused to attend segregated events in her hometown of Clarksville, Tennessee, the parade and banquet held to honor her Olympic victories became that town's first integrated functions. This image by Life magazine photographer George Silk captures Rudolph's finish in the 100-meter dash at the 1960 Olympics.
The Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History is dedicated to inspiring curiosity, discovery and learning about the natural world through its unparalleled research, collections, exhibitions and education outreach programs. Opened in 1910, the green-domed museum on the National Mall was among the first Smithsonian buildings constructed exclusively to house the national collections and research facilities. The museum connects people everywhere to Earth’s unfolding story.
Three million years ago, a female hominid walked upright across the grassy woodlands of east Africa. She stood three and a half feet tall and weighed 60 to 65 pounds. When her relatively complete skeleton was discovered in 1974, the bones transformed our understanding of human evolution. Lucy, a member of a species now known as Australopithecus afarensis, had a pelvis and legs similar to ours, but her skull was quite small, revealing that human ancestors evolved the ability to walk on two legs before they acquired a large brain and the ability to make tools. View an artist’s rendering of what she would have looked like in the Hall of Human Origins.
The Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, a leading voice for contemporary art and culture, provides a national platform for the art and artists of our time in the celebrated Gordon Bunshaft designed cylindrical building and adjoining plaza and sunken sculpture garden.
Part of an initiative to bring art to new sites within and around the building, this installation by Barbara Kruger fills the Lower Level lobby and extends into the newly relocated Museum bookstore. Famous for her incisive photomontages, Kruger has focused increasingly over the past two decades on creating environments that surround the viewer with language. The entire space—walls, floor, escalator sides—is wrapped in text-printed vinyl, immersing visitors in a spectacular hall of voices, where words either crafted by the artist or borrowed from the popular lexicon address conflicting perceptions of democracy, power, and belief.
At a moment when ideological certitude and purity seem especially valued, Kruger says she’s “interested in introducing doubt.” Large areas of the installation are devoted to open-ended questions (“WHO IS BEYOND THE LAW? WHO IS FREE TO CHOOSE? WHO SPEAKS? WHO IS SILENT?”), while the section occupying the bookstore explores themes of desire and consumption. At once addressing the individual, the museum, and, symbolically, the country, Kruger’s penetrating examination of the public sphere transforms one of the Hirshhorn’s key public spaces.
Tucked in a lower courtyard in the Hirshhorn’s Sculpture Garden is a Japanese dogwood tree, where you might find in the summer months some scribbled tags dangling from the branches. This is a Wish Tree; it is among a series of trees planted by conceptual artist Yoko Ono in different cities around the world. Ono was born in Japan but has been influential in the American art world ever since she moved to New York in the 1950s. An early example of a transnational artist, Ono has lived between the United States, Japan and Europe, actively presenting work as social commentary about each setting. Wish Tree is an interactive installation that invites visitors from around the world to share their visions for world peace, and the one in Washington, D.C. is the only permanent version in the U.S.
Although Yayoi Kusama is a Japanese artist, she had her heart set on being an American for the 15 years that she lived in the United States. First moving to Seattle and settling in New York City, she quickly became influential in the burgeoning avant-garde scene in the city, but eventually moved back to Japan for health reasons.
Kusama’s work creates a conversation between her experiences in Japan and in the U.S., addressing feminism, the effects of nuclear war, and mental health. Pumpkins are one of the artist’s most beloved motifs, and represent a source of radiant energy. Both endearing and grotesque, the giant gourds have been a source of inspiration for the artist since her childhood, when she was surrounded by her family’s seed nursery in prewar Japan. Viewed by Kusama as both humble and amusing, this whimsical vegetable comes to represent an alternative self-portrait of the artist.
The Smithsonian Institution has two museums of Asian art: the Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery. The Freer, the first art museum of the Smithsonian, opened to the public in 1923 and is home to some of the world’s most important holdings of Asian art. It also houses the largest collection in the world of works by James McNeill Whistler and his celebrated Peacock Room. Established in 1987, the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery has a growing collection of Asian art and regularly hosts national and international loan exhibitions, including contemporary art from Asia. The entire Freer and Sackler collection is available digitally on Open F|S.
American Art: A Perfect Harmony (Freer Gallery 10)
Inspired by early Renaissance portraiture, this is George de Forest Brush’s earliest painting of his wife and fellow artist, Mary Taylor Whelpley Brush, better known as Mittie Taylor Brush. The couple met at the Art Students League in 1884 and eloped less than two years later. Mittie Taylor Brush was a friend and one time neighbor of Amelia Earhart, and was a skilled pilot in her own right. She and her husband were interested in the science of camouflage, and Mittie invented several (patented, but never produced) concepts for diminishing the visibility of airplanes against the sky using counter-illumination techniques.
Queen Sembiyan as Goddess Uma, also known as Parvati
Body Image: Arts of the Indian Subcontinent (Freer Gallery 01)
For many years, this sculpture was thought to depict the goddess Uma, wife of Lord Shiva, because she characteristically raises one hand, now missing, to hold a lotus. Yet artists’ treatises stipulate that Hindu deities have perfectly straight shoulders. The steeply sloping shoulders of this bronze thus suggest that it represents a historical queen, likely the powerful Queen Sembiyan, whose portrait was cast in bronze around the year 990.
In a male-dominated world, Queen Sembiyan commanded real influence by establishing temples and irrigation works. Nonetheless, cultural convention demanded that her body be represented with metaphors that signify physical perfection. Sembiyan’s figure displays poetic paradigms of beauty, including a nose shaped like a parrot’s beak, breasts like mangoes, and arms like pliant plantain stems. Indian artists traditionally represented Hindu royalty as beautiful deities because beauty signified excellent character and the right to rule.
The mission of the Smithsonian’s Anacostia Community Museum is to enhance understanding of contemporary urban experiences and strengthen community bonds by conserving the past, documenting the present, and serving as a catalyst for shaping the future.
In 2002, the U. S. Postal Service honored four female reporters for their contribution to American journalism by issuing commemorative postage stamps. Among the honorees was "First Lady of the black press" Ethel L. Payne, who covered the White House through seven presidents and the civil rights movement.
The award-winning journalist was known to ask difficult questions, especially pertaining to segregation, and to blend advocacy with journalism. A trailblazer, Payne became the first African American woman commentator employed by a national network when CBS hired her for their television series “Spectrum.” The journalist was also the first black female to focus on international news, and one of the first female White House correspondents of African descent. President Lyndon B. Johnson (1908 – 1973) invited her to witness his signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and she traveled with Secretary of State Henry Kissinger during his tour of Africa in 1970s.
A collection of Ethel Payne materials including photographs, awards, passports and artifacts was donated to the Anacostia Community Museum in 1991. The bulk of Payne’s personal papers were donated to Howard University before the reporter’s death. This unflinching, colorful portrait by Brian McFarlane is a fitting reminder of Payne's impact.
The Smithsonian American Art Museum, the nation’s first collection of American art, is an unparalleled record of the American experience. Its artworks capture the aspirations, character, and imagination of the American people across four centuries. The museum is home to one of the largest and most inclusive collections of American art in the world, revealing America’s rich artistic and cultural history from the colonial period to today.
Defying social and family expectations, the wealthy, often eccentric Alice Pike Barney (1857–1931) zestfully committed herself to the arts and became known for her lively art salons, bohemian lifestyle, and unusual family.
Alice and her counterparts in other cities represented a new social type: women who lived proper upper-class lives but did not follow the rules, using their wealth and privilege to buy themselves freedoms and to promote causes the rich did not customarily embrace. As an artist, writer, theater director, philanthropist, civic leader, and patron of the arts, Alice moved in the turn-of-the-century artistic circles of Paris, London, and Washington, D.C.
Throughout Alice's life, which often seemed a dramatic play of her own writing, she encoutered a brilliant cast of characters: among them Oscar Wilde, James McNeill Whistler, and the legendary explorer Henry Morton Stanley, whose impassioned offer of marriage she rejected. Her easygoing personality and charming wit dazzled the artistic circles she traversed with such ease, winning the freindship of Anna Pavlova, Ara Bernhardt, Ruth St. Denis, and Emma Calvé, among many others.
Barney produced this punchy pastel drawing in 1927.
Amalia Mesa-Bains's "An Ofrenda for Dolores del Rio"
An Ofrenda for Dolores del Rio draws viewers in with its sumptuous pink fabric, rows of black-and-white pictures, and an arrangement of fanciful objects set in a niche. Mesa-Bains created this work to honor Dolores del Rio, the Mexican actress who dazzled audiences in the United States and Mexico from the 1920s until her death in 1983. The artist retooled the vernacular and domestic practice of the ofrenda (an offering to the deceased) to memorialize a cultural icon whom she and other Chicanas admired. Mesa-Bains implied this relationship through her ample use of mirrors, which reflect and incorporate the viewer into her installation.
Barbara Kruger's "We Will No Longer Be Seen and Not Heard"
Barbara Kruger’s dramatic juxtaposition of found photographs and provocative text examines the representation of power in mass-media images. Using sign language, gesture, and words to create and contradict meaning, she employs language to question cultural stereotypes. Because of her feminist sympathies, one assumes the “we” of this message refers to women, but its meaning is less specific and encompasses all groups of people without power. Kruger came to art from a background of graphic design. Her work investigates the seemingly innocuous yet potentially insidious ways in which ideological messages infiltrate daily life by means of the mass media. (Multiplicity, 2011)
Catherine Critcher's "Indian Women Making Pottery"
Catherine Critcher visited New Mexico for the first time in 1920. The people and the landscape thrilled her. “Taos is unlike any place God ever made,” she wrote, “and no place could be more conducive to work, there are models galore and no phones.” Four years after she arrived, Critcher became the only woman to join the Taos Society of Artists. She painted portraits and genre scenes that captured the ancient communal rituals of Pueblo Indians in northern New Mexico.
The three figures in this painting form a triangle that echoes the decoration on the white earthenware vase in the foreground. A cabinet behind the women holds more pots bearing the distinctive shapes and colors favored by different southwestern pueblos. The cabinet and the open door show that this is an Anglo household—probably Catherine Critcher's studio—and the artist likely composed this image from different moments she had sketched in the Indian villages.
In these communities, men as well as women dedicate their lives to crafting pots, but early in the twentieth century the best-known potters were women. Critcher's canvas is a tribute to the traditions handed down through generations. The matriarch of this group very likely taught the two younger women how to build a clay vessel and how to grind colored corn and other natural pigments for paint. Indian Women Making Pottery indirectly reflects Critcher's own success as an artist. She painted this canvas at about the time she was invited to join the Taos Society of Artists, the only woman to be so honored.
Dorothy Brett, whose father was an advisor to Queen Victoria, grew up in a posh London house and took dancing classes at Windsor Castle. She dressed in bohemian clothes and wore her hair very short, and as a student at London’s Slade Art School, became friends with prominent writers of her day, including D. H. Lawrence. In 1924, Lawrence and his wife traveled to Taos, and Brett accompanied them. She was thrilled by the exotic new landscape and ended up staying. A contemporary magazine quoted Brett on her new environment: “I like it better than England. O, for the bigness of it! . . . Here I’m free from the old conventions . . . Here I’m truly free.” Brett built a successful career creating children’s book illustrations and colorful paintings of the New Mexico landscape. (Cassidy, New Mexico Highway Journal, March 1933)
Summer in the Pueblo is a fast study that captures the impact of brilliant fabrics against the dun-colored sand of southwestern cliffs.
Eastman Johnson's "The Girl I Left Behind Me," 1872
East Wing, Second Floor
The Civil War defined America and forever changed American art. American artists of this era could not depict the conflict using the conventions of European history painting, which glamorized the hero on the battlefield. Instead, America's finest painters captured the transformative impact of the war. Through landscapes and genre paintings, these artists gave voice to the nation's highest ideals and deepest concerns — illustrating a time that has been described as the second American Revolution.
Eastman Johnson imagined a soldier's wife standing on the hill where they parted. The crimson lining of her wind-whipped cape suggests their passionate love for one another, while her wedding ring, appearing almost at the center of the painting, ensures the young bride's devotion. Johnson had witnessed the Battle of Manassas in 1862, and the painting's title refers to an old Irish song that became a popular regimental ballad during the Civil War. His viewers might have recalled the lyrics:
My mind her full image retains
Whether asleep or awaken'd
hope to see my jewel again
For her my heart is breaking.
Edmonia Lewis was the first professional African-American sculptor. She was born in Ohio or New York in 1843 or 1845. Her father was a free African-American and her mother a Chippewa Indian. Lewis began sculpting in Boston and eventually moved to Rome, where she set up a studio and worked in the neoclassical style popular in her day. In addition to Biblical and mythological figures, she created portrait busts of abolitionists and patrons such as Anna Quincy Waterston, and subjects depicting her dual African-American and Native American ancestry.
One of her most famous works is The Death of Cleopatra (1076). Cleopatra (69 - 30 BCE), the legendary queen of Egypt from 51 to 30 BCE, is often best known for her dramatic suicide, allegedly from the fatal bite of a poisonous snake. Here, Edmonia Lewis portrayed Cleopatra in the moment after her death, wearing her royal attire, in majestic repose on a throne. Unlike her contemporaries however, who often depicted an idealized Cleopatra merely contemplating suicide, Lewis showed the queen’s death more realistically, after the asp’s venom had taken hold.
Emma Amos's "American Girl," from the portfolio "Impressions: Our World, Volume I"
In 1974, when artist Emma Amos made American Girl, the country was roiling with social protest movements—for women’s liberation, for Black Power, for LGBT rights, for Native American rights. Once-silenced groups demanded to be seen and heard. Artists supported these protests not just by marching and writing but through visual arts. Black artists discussed whether particular mediums or styles advanced racial justice.
Amos was attuned to both the civil rights movement and the burgeoning women’s movement. Born in 1938, she grew up in Martin Luther King Jr.’s hometown, segregated Atlanta, where “she would not have been welcome in the museum,” says Mary Ryan, co-owner of Ryan Lee Gallery in New York, which represents Amos today. Shortly after Amos moved to New York in the early ’60s, a group of prominent black artists formed a collective called Spiral, to discuss the best ways their work could support the cause of racial justice. They invited Amos to join them as the group’s youngest member and only woman.
By the time she made American Girl, Amos had begun breaking away from the Spiral group, questioning “whether the older male black artists who had supported her were taking her seriously and offering her full opportunity,” Mann says. A few years afterward, Amos joined the feminist art collective Heresies, and later on she reportedly became one of the anonymous art-world activists the Guerrilla Girls.
American Girl is part of a portfolio called Impressions: Our World, Vol. 1. Made up of prints by seven black artists, both men and women, it was produced at the Printmaking Workshop, run by the African-American artist Robert Blackburn. (Susannah Gardiner, Smithsonian Magazine)
Dizzying heights, soaring verticals, and spectacular views of New York City’s skyscrapers inspired some of Georgia O’Keeffe’s most memorable paintings. O’Keeffe not only painted these wonders of modern architecture, she was also one of the first American artists to live in a skyscraper. In the mid-1920s, she and her husband, photographer and gallery directory Alfred Stieglitz, had an apartment on the thirtieth floor of the Shelton Hotel.
Grandma Moses painted many winter scenes of farm life in which adults and children happily do their chores and play in the snow. She painted only cheerful images that were based on her memories of growing up on a farm and of being a farmwife herself. In this painting the people talking and laughing together evoke a nostalgic ideal of community life, which the artist emphasized through small stylized buildings and bright colors. The buildings and looping fences create a two-dimensional pattern on the pure white snow that underscores the picturesque, storybook scene.
Helen Frankenthaler's breakthrough as an abstract painter came when she discovered that paint thinned with turpentine and poured on raw canvas yielded rich colors and unexpected forms. Her titles were inspired by images that seemed "to come out of the pictures." When a shape that struck her as "Persian" emerged on this canvas, Frankenthaler thought of the word paradise--derived from pairi diz, Persian for a walled enclosure or garden. She had been to a New York City nightclub called Small's Paradise not long before, so when she put the associations together the painting became an emblem of a particular moment in her life.
Helen Hyde, born in New York in 1868, moved with her family to San Francisco two years later, where her father prospered in a business associated with the gold rush. Educated at Wellesley and the California School of Design, she found her inspiration in Japan and moved there in 1899. A woodblock printmaker, she considered Tokyo her home, and Japanese women and children were her frequent subjects. Later, she became disillusioned with the encroaching industrialization and westernization in her adopted homeland and returned to California in 1914.
In this print, a young child hurries along a dark path in the woods carrying a rice-paper lantern, which lights the evening scene. Their traditional footwear, or geta, do not look like they were made for a quick getaway. The dark goblins in the trees appear as if they have come out of a Japanese folk tale, with branches ready to entrap.
Greek Slave became the most famous sculpture of the nineteenth century, propelling its American artist, Hiram Powers (1805-73), to international stardom. The work was so provocatively lifelike that certain exhibition venues in the United States required that men and women view the sculpture separately. Powers justified the sculpture's full nudity by claiming his work depicted historic events: a Greek woman, captured by Ottoman forces during the War of Independence, had been stripped and chained for sale at a slave market in Constantinople.
American viewers in the 1840s and '50s, many of whom had never before seen a sculpture of a nude woman, felt licensed to admire the Greek slave because she was "clothed all over with sentiment." Powers encouraged this interpretation of his work and indicated his subject's modesty by turning the figure's gaze demurely downward and including a cross and locket as symbols of Christian piety and faithfulness to a remembered loved one. The Greek slave was almost immediately associated with slavery in the United States, where abolitionists used images of it to promote their cause.
Jenny Holzer (b. 1950) is an internationally renowned artist best known for her pioneering work incorporating texts into light-based sculptures and projections. For SAAM (2007) is Holzer's first cylindrical column of light and text created from white electronic LEDs (light emitting diodes). The piece, according to the artist, is "sensitive to the formal integrity of the museum and attuned to the experience of the collection and space."
The sculpture, which is approximately twenty-eight feet tall and four feet in diameter, features texts from four of the artist's series—Truisms, Living (selections), Survival (selections), and Arno—and includes some of her best-known statements. The texts are programmed to swirl and travel around the body of the piece. By varying the height, font, intensity and direction of the scrolling letters, Holzer activates the transparent column and the surrounding space with light that reflects off surfaces in the gallery.
For SAAM is the latest work that is part of Holzer's ongoing exploration of art and architecture. She has created site-specific work for the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, the Reichstag in Berlin, and 7 World Trade Center in New York City, among others.
Kara Walker's "Harper's Pictorial History of the Civil War (Annotated)"
South Wing, Second Floor
For her series Harper’s Pictorial History of the Civil War (Annotated), Kara Walker appropriated and enlarged select illustrations from Harper’s Pictorial History of the Civil War, a two-volume publication of 1866. She chose fifteen wood engravings, enlarged them through offset lithography, and overlaid them with large, black stencils.
Walker’s signature silhouettes interrupt and transform the nineteenth-century narratives of battle, death, and retreat in these large-scale prints. According to the artist, the Civil War prints from Harper’s “are the landscapes that I imagine exist in the back of my somewhat more austere wall pieces,” namely the large black silhouette compositions for which she is best known.
Walker’s scenes are set in the American South before and during the Civil War. They play off stereotypes to portray, often grotesquely, life on the plantation, where masters and mistresses and slave men, women, and children enact a subverted version of the past. Walker suggests a critical understanding of the past and proposes an examination of contemporary racial and gender stereotypes.
Requiem for Charleston honors the nine men and women who died in a shooting on June 17, 2015, inside the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Tambourines with black lambskin heads are inscribed with the victims' names, while the drums of others are made of polished black acrylic that reflect the faces of viewers, suggesting the collective tragedy of the attack.
Artist Lava Thomas chose to memorialize the dead with tambourines because of their cultural and historical significance, particularly their role in African American musical traditions--including protest songs of the civil rights era. In the days following the Charleston massacre, tambourines, cymbals, and bells rang throughout the community as a call for unity and support. Here the instruments hang motionless, in silent tribute to the lives lost.
Born in 1931, Lee Bontecou was deeply affected by World War II and remembers her mother working in a factory, wiring submarine parts. After studying at a small Boston college, she joined the Art Students League in New York City, working with William Zorach. Her early work was conservative and depicted animals and birds. In 1957, Bontecou traveled to Rome, where she was attracted by the “inartistic” objects she found in the streets and in machinery.
She began making soot drawings that she called “worldscapes,” and used a wide variety of materials like wire, old clothes, wood scraps, and plaster in her sculpture. Her work became bigger and more aggressive as she grew more troubled by world news, including the Cuban revolution’s betrayal of its ideals and the beginnings of the Vietnam War. Unhappy with the art world and wanting to focus on motherhood, Bontecou withdrew from exhibiting in the early 1970s and moved to rural Pennsylvania with her daughter and husband, the artist William Giles.
Cocoon I and Cocoon II are two of several small wooden sculptures that Lee Bontecou made in the 1960s. She states that her works are “about space, or adventure, or freedom of one kind or another.” In many cultures, cocoons are associated with transformation and rebirth. Inspired by natural organic forms, these sculptures were transitional pieces between the artist’s large, dark relief canvases and her later, environmentally conscious works. They grew out of Bontecou’s experiences constructing small model airplanes from balsa wood. Resembling both a cocoon and an airplane model, each sculpture underscores the fragile relationship between technology and nature.
In Les Fétiches, five overlapping masks from different African tribes convey a mysterious spiritual dimension summoned by ritual dance.
The artist, Loïs Jones, came from a comfortable Boston background, and did not experience the racial discrimination that was common before the civil rights years until she lived in New York and Washington. When the Corcoran Gallery gave her an award in 1941, she sent a white friend to claim it, rather than risk having it rescinded.
Jones spent many summers in France, where she enjoyed the same artistic and intellectual freedom as her peers. When her Paris teachers questioned the African themes in her paintings, Jones answered readily: if masters like Matisse and Picasso could use them, she said, "don't you think I should?" Jones taught at Howard University for many years thereafter, encouraging her students to travel to Africa to understand its art. The multiple masks and vivid red fetish figure suggest the artist's effort to draw strength and protection from her cultural heritage in the face of prejudice.
Loïs Mailou Jones, 1938, oil on linen, Museum purchase made possible by Mrs. Norvin H. Green, Dr. R. Harlan, and Francis Musgrave
Born in France to parents who made their living repairing tapestries, Louise Bourgeois moved to New York City in 1938 and lived and worked there for the rest of her life. She gained attention for her provocative artworks late in life and is often most recognized for her giant spider sculptures known as Maman. The Maquette for Facets to the Sun is a small piece from 1978 in the collection of American Art. Here Bourgeois has created the model for a larger work of painted steel that explores the natural world. The wooden pieces have all turned to face the same direction, pulled (like the artist's need to create) by a force that's greater than themselves.
Nevelson's wall sculptures have an architectural scale and dramatic impact that suited the artist’s grand personality. The artist liked black paint because it conjured "totality, peace and greatness." Here, the light gently picks up the spectral outlines of the fragmented objects to create an elusive handwriting across the velvety black field. Sky Cathedral evokes what Nevelson called "the heavenly spheres, the places between the land and the sea" lying beyond our experience of ordinary things.
Mary Cassatt is best known for her paintings of mothers and children in relaxed, informal poses. She was the first American artist to associate and exhibit with the French impressionists in Paris. Cassatt first traveled to Europe with her family when she was eleven, and by the age of sixteen had decided to be a professional artist. Her family did not approve of this decision, but they eventually relented and allowed her to attend the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. (Effeny, Cassatt, 1991)
She did not like the formal training at the academy, however, and went back to France, finally settling there in the 1870s. She lived in Paris for most of her life, but considered herself an American and was proud of her Philadelphia roots. She was a close friend of the French painter Edgar Degas, who invited her to show with the impressionists in 1877. She “accepted with joy” and in this circle of friends felt that she first “began to live.” Cassatt pursued her painting in the remaining decades of the nineteenth century, and the 1890s became her most creative period. By 1915, however, diabetes compromised her eyesight and robbed her of the ability to paint for the last eleven years of her life.
Over the last ten years, Mickalene Thomas has become known for large-scale paintings of American women provocatively posed against boldly patterned backgrounds adorned with rhinestones. Her work explores notions of beauty, sexuality and black female identity. Thomas's use of rhinestones and vivid textile patterns adds an even greater sense of drama and sensuality to her paintings. She is one of many contemporary artists experimenting with non-traditional materials, particularly glitter and sequins. For Thomas, the rhinestones evoke folk art traditions and Haitian voodoo art. They also serve as a metaphor for female beauty products, which can both enhance and mask a woman's identity.
Thomas's work stems from her study of art history and the classical genres of portraiture, landscape, and still life, and is inspired by a wide range of sources, from Hudson River School landscapes to Henri Matisse’s nudes and Romare Bearden's collages. Although her paintings often reference the familiar compositional arrangements of odalisque paintings, Thomas imbues her subjects with an agency and action seldom seen in the canon of figurative painting.
Portrait of Mnonja is a stunning example of Thomas's recent work. The reclining figure is posed in a sassy contrapposto and situated against a wood-paneled background redolent of a seventies-era living room. She wears a loose-fitting white blouse with a plunging neckline, and her hair is pulled back in a low bun. Her right hand rests on her knee, revealing nail polish that matches her audacious pink heels. She exudes dignity and self-assurance.
Miriam Schapiro collaborated with Sherry Brody on Dollhouse as part of Womanhouse, an installation by a feminist art cooperative sponsored by the California Institute of the Arts. Womanhouse was a condemned Hollywood mansion transformed by the artists into a series of rooms dealing with different aspects of women's experience, and Dollhouse provided another level of imagination and fantasy as a set of "rooms within rooms." The compartments are filled with bits of lace, handkerchiefs, tea towels, miniature furniture, and personal mementos that Schapiro and Brody had collected from women all over the country.
Dollhouse grew out of a series of works that Schapiro called her "shrines," in which she explored her shifting identities as artist, wife, and mother. A parlor, a kitchen, a Hollywood star's bedroom, a "harem" room, a nursery, and, on the top floor, an artist's studio suggest these conflicting roles. The different symbols challenge the idea that the domestic lives of women prevent them from making "serious" art. At the same time, the tiny rooms in Dollhouse evoke cells in which the hopes of women are often imprisoned.
Twentieth-century sculptor Richmond Barthé fused Italian Renaisssance, African, and African American sources in his work Blackberry Woman. The title of the sculpture is from Wallace Thurman's 1929 book, The Blacker the Berry: A Novel of Negro Life, a story of the discrimination against dark-skinned women within the African American community.
The woman's bare feet, simple cotton dress, and thatched baskets evoke the extreme poverty of Barthé's youth in rural Mississippi, where he often saw black women carrying bundles on their heads. But she is more than an echo of an image once observed. She has the frontal, linear form found in West African sculpture, which Barthé first saw in Chicago, in an exhibition during “The Negro in Art Week” in November 1927. The figure also echoes the work of Italian Renaissance sculptor Domenico Ghirlandio. The work embodies the emotional power, technical prowess and commitment to black subjects that brought Barthé fame.
In this painting, Romaine Brooks portrayed herself in the dark colors of a man's outfit, her eyes veiled under the shadow of her hat brim. Brooks lived most of her life in Paris, where she crafted an androgynous appearance that challenged conventional ideas of how women should look and behave. The shadowed face in this portrait suggests that her true self is hidden behind a carefully constructed facade. The tiny flash of red on Brooks's lapel represents the ribbon of the Legion of Honor she received for her artistic achievements, but it might also hint at the secret passions of her personal life.
Romaine Brooks, 1923, oil on canvas, gift of the artist
Walking between these rich fiber walls evokes the feeling of entering a rainforest. Hicks's architectural installations are considered ambitious expressions in post-war American art and contributed to shifting the perception of fiber from simply a domestic pursuit to an artist's medium. She has shown a particular sensitivity to weaving traditions, as well as the interplay of color, texture, and space, demonstrating the influence of her education under renowned colorist Josef Albers, his wife, the prominent weaver Anni Albers, and architect Louis Kahn. She was recognized by the American Institute of Architects in 1974 with a gold medal for "the successful integration of art and architecture."
Martha Dandridge was born on a plantation near Williamsburg in 1731. At the age of 18, she married a rich Virginia landowner, Daniel Parke Custis. He died eight years later, however, leaving Martha one of the wealthiest women in Virginia. She became the “first of First Ladies” in 1759 with her marriage to George Washington, and together they traveled between the early capitals of New York and Philadelphia. Martha was known for her hospitality and once commented that she was “fond of only what comes from the heart.” This miniature is unusual because the artist added color over the top of a black silhouette, and spent less time capturing Martha’s features than he did painting her elaborate costume.
Best known for his canvases, Thomas Wilmer Dewing (1851–1938) painted graceful and refined women in a subdued manner. His models, clad in flowing dresses, often appear carefully perched on chairs, holding books or musical instruments, or conversing with one another in lush fields of grass, as they do in this 1890 piece, entitled Spring. Carefully blurred edges between the light-colored, feathery landscape and the delicate pastel hues of the women’s long gowns create an ethereal, dreamlike springtime scene reflecting an idealized view of femininity in the 19th century.
Winslow Homer's "A Visit from the Old Mistress," 1876
East Wing, Second Floor
A Visit from the Old Mistress captures a tentative encounter in the postwar South. The freed slaves are no longer obliged to greet their former mistress with welcoming gestures, and one remains seated as she would not have been allowed to do before the war. Winslow Homer composed the work from sketches he had made while traveling through Virginia; it conveys a silent tension between two communities seeking to understand their future. The formal equivalence between the standing figures suggests the balance that the nation hoped to find in the difficult years of Reconstruction.
In 1991, Patty Wagstaff became the first woman to win the title of U.S. National Aerobatic Champion, a title she then defended in 1992 and 1993. She was the first woman to win this title since the men's and women's aerobatic competitions were merged in 1972. Wagstaff was also a six-time member of the U.S. Aerobatic Team, which competes in word competition every two years, until her retirement from competition in 1996. Today, she is a premier aerobatic pilot in air shows throughout the United States, performing dynamic and precise routines in her Extra 300L. The aircraft in which she became U.S. National Aerobatic Champion is the Extra 260, a German-built aircraft which is on display in the Museum.
The Congressional Gold medal is awarded to an individual or group who performs an outstanding deed or act of service to the security, prosperity, and national interest of the United States. The Senate and the House of Representatives recognized and awarded the Women Airforce Service Pilots this medal for their service, record, and "revolutionary reform in the Armed Force" during World War II. It was presented to the WASPs on March 10, 2010 and specifically designated to come to the collection of the Smithsonian in Public Law 111-40 on July 1, 2009.
Barron Hilton Pioneers of Flight Gallery, Second Floor
A century after the Wilkes Expedition, a new campaign for American expansion in the Pacific began. In 1934, Congress enacted a tariff on all foreign sugar exporters to the United States—including Hawaiʻi, which at the time was not a U.S. state but a territory. Incentivized to prove that this cluster of islands was a lucrative and strategic part of the United States, the sugar industry of the territory worked with members of the U.S. government to coordinate a plan toward statehood.
The famed aviator Amelia Earhart was tapped with the challenge to become the first person to fly nonstop from Hawaiʻi to California—an act that would bring the Hawaiian islands closer to the rest of the nation, at least in the eyes of the American public. On January 11, 1935, Earhart departed from Honolulu, and successfully landed in Oakland the following day. This historic flight paved the path for Pan American Airlines to begin service flights from California to Hawaiʻi later that year, expanding American tourism there and eventually leading to statehood in 1959. The pennant shown here, given to Earhart by the Society of Woman Geographers, was one of the possessions she took on her flight.
Amelia Earhart set two of her many aviation records in this bright red Lockheed 5B Vega. In 1932 she flew it alone across the Atlantic Ocean, then flew it nonstop across the United States-both firsts for a woman. Amelia Earhart bought this 5B Vega in 1930 and called it her "Little Red Bus." After a nose-over accident later that year, the fuselage was replaced and strengthened to carry extra fuel tanks. Three types of compasses, a drift indicator, and a more powerful engine were also installed.
On May 20-21, 1932, flying in this airplane, Earhart became the first woman (and the only person since Charles Lindbergh) to fly nonstop and alone across the Atlantic Ocean. She took off from Harbor Grace, Newfoundland, Canada and landed 15 hours and 2,026 miles later in a field near Londonderry, Northern Ireland. The feat made Earhart an instant worldwide sensation and proved she was a courageous and able pilot.
Shuttle astronauts wear pressure suits for launch and landing, but their in-flight wardrobe consists of comfortable trousers, shorts, and shirts. Velcro strips on the trouser legs are a convenience for keeping small items easily accessible. Eileen Collins wore trousers like these aboard the shuttle Columbia during the STS-93 mission in 1999. Collins was the first woman pilot of a shuttle mission in 1995, and on STS-93 she became the first woman to command a shuttle mission. The main task of the STS-93 mission was to deliver the Chandra X-ray observatory into orbit. NASA sent these trousers to the Museum shortly after Collins' 1999 flight.
Geraldine Ferraro Campaign Button (owned by Sally Ride)
Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall, First Floor
This Geraldine Ferraro campaign button was owned by Dr. Sally K. Ride. Ferraro was Walter Mondale's running mate on the Democratic ticket in the 1984 presidential election, and had she been elected, she would have been America's first woman Vice President. During her acceptance speech at the party convention, Ferraro cited Sally Ride's achievement as the first American woman in space as evidence that "change is in the air."
Ride saw Ferraro's nomination as inspirational, and said about the DNC speech, "I was as moved by that as many women had been by my flight into space. For the first time, I understood why it was such an emotional experience for so many people, to see me accomplish what I had, as a woman." Ride was a strong supporter of Ferraro and visited her at her congressional office a few months prior to the election, posing for photos with her and a t-shirt that Ride had given her bearing the vice-presidential insignia.
One-half right front view of Ruth B. Law (Oliver) seated at the controls of her Curtiss Model D Headless biplane on the ground at the Minnesota State Fair, Rochester, Minnesota; circa 1915.
Law was the first woman to fly at night, in a biplane purchased from Orville Wright. She was the first woman to make a living as a professional pilot, ferrying guests to and from the Clarendon Hotel near Daytona, Florida, and she thrilled crowds flying in exhibitions. In 1915, she purchased the pictured Curtiss pusher “loop” model, and became one of the very first female pilots to perform a “loop the loop” aerobatic maneuver, not once but twice in a row.
In 1916, she joined the ranks of the great early aviators – male and female – when she set the American nonstop flight record by flying 950 kilometers (590 miles) in her Curtiss pusher biplane, which everyone thought was too small and outdated for such a flight. She became a national sensation, was honored and feted by luminaries, and was an inspiration to an entire nation of admirers young and old. Her popularity and flying skills made it possible for her to earn as much as $9,000 a week for exhibition flights, a fortune in those days.
This aviator helmet belonged to Dr. Sally K. Ride, who became the first American woman in space when she flew on the STS-7 shuttle mission in 1983. As a scientist astronaut rather than a pilot, Ride trained for flight in the backseat of a Northrop T-38 training jet, learning navigation and communication procedures. This is one of the helmets she wore on those flights. She so enjoyed the experience of flying that she took private lessons and earned her pilot license. Dr. Ride’s partner, Dr. Tam O’Shaughnessy, donated this helmet to the Museum in 2013.
Original Image Tube Spectrograph built in the early 1960s by W. Kent Ford, Jr., which he then used in collaboration with Vera Rubin to explore an observational problem she had developed: to determine the detailed rotational properties of galaxies. The cascaded image tube developed by Ford at the Carnegie and then manufactered by RCA improved quantum efficiency of photographic detectors by over a factor of ten and made it feasible to perform difficult observational programs like this.
Analysis of observational data from this instrument led Rubin to the conclusion that there was a huge amount of unseen mass distributed throughout the visible matter in galaxies causing them to rotate like rigid bodies. This observation yielded evidence for the existence of dark matter that stimulated general acknowledgement that it forms a majority of the mass in the Universe. For her revolutionary work, Vera Rubin was the second woman in history to be awarded the Gold Medal of England's Royal Astronomical Society.
Stewardess's Shirt, Transcontinental and Western Air
America by Air, First Floor
In 1935, Thelma Jean Harman became the first stewardess for T.W.A. She wore this summer uniform while flying aboard Ford Tri-Motors along T.W.A.’s “Lindbergh Line” from New York to Los Angeles. The stewardess badge on her coat was a later addition to the uniform.
Inspired by a ship’s figurehead that comes toward us but is always just beyond reach, the sculpture Contact by artist Nandipha Mntambo is simultaneously an invitation and a warning, a play on the contradictory notions of isolation and exchange. Cast from her own body and sheathed in cowhide and hooves in a tribute to her cattle-raising Swazi heritage, Contact explores the tensions between presence and absence, and attraction and repulsion, while also probing how ideas of identity, femininity, and contemporaneity can be shaped—or emptied of value.
Depictions of Mami Wata testify to the dynamism and creativity with which Africans respond to imported ideas and images. Mami Wata is recognized today by peoples throughout Africa as a powerful water spirit. Her origins can be traced to a late 19th century lithograph of a female snake charmer in Hamburg, Germany. In the 1950s this image was reprinted in a calendar from an Indian company that was circulated widely in western and central Africa. In southeast Nigeria among the Anang Ibibio, figures and masks of Mami Wata blended with ideas of earlier water spirits and deities. She was considered a giver of wealth and was also linked with curing problems of infertility. Her brightly painted images often include long fiber tresses.
Sokari Douglas Camp's "Woman with Palm Leaf Skirt," 1986
African Mosaic, Sublevel One
Artist Sokari Douglas Camp creatively integrates time-honored cultural traditions with contemporary artistic technologies. She is noted for her large, semi-abstract figurative works, some of which are kinetic, that are inspired by the activities, sounds and colors of Kalabari masquerades, funerals, regattas and festivals. The openwork that enlivens this sculpture of a standing woman clearly represents the patterns and movements found in the cloth wrappers worn by Kalabari women attending festivals. Douglas Camp transcended a number of conventions to become a sculptor and to work in steel, an art form and a material long restricted to male artists in both Africa and the West.
National Museum of African American History and Culture
The National Museum of African American History and Culture was established in 2003 by an Act of Congress, making it the 19th Smithsonian Institution museum. The museum will be a place where all Americans can learn about the richness and diversity of the African American experience, what it means to their lives and how it helped us shape this nation. A place that transcends the boundaries of race and culture that divide us, and becomes a lens into a story that unites us all. The museum's grand opening is September 24, 2016.
Constitution Avenue, N.W., between 14th and 15th Streets
Mae Reeves’s Millinery operated for over 50 years in the bustling retail neighborhoods of Philadelphia. A southern migrant and single mother, Reeves opened her first shop on South Street in 1941. With creativity and business acumen, she established herself as a one-of-a-kind ladies’ hat maker who attracted customers from all walks of life. From simple cloches to elaborate showstoppers, Reeves’ creations embody the spirit of creativity, skill, and love that she brought to her craft.
Marian Anderson's 1939 Lincoln Memorial concert outfit
The skirt and the decorative trim on the orange jacket were worn by Marian Anderson in 1939 when she sang at the Lincoln Memorial. In 1993, with Anderson’s permission, the original velvet jacket was remade using silk fabric..
Marian Anderson (1897-1993) was one of the great voices of the 20th Century. Her rich, vibrant contralto and extensive vocal range captivated audiences worldwide, while the grace and dignity she displayed as an artist and as a citizen of the world made her a symbolic figure in the struggle for civil rights.
Born in Kosciusko, Mississippi, Oprah Winfrey is a media mogul, talk show host, actress, producer and philanthropist. She is best known as host of The Oprah Winfrey Show, which aired for 25 seasons from 1986 to 2011. Winfrey’s career took off when she moved to Baltimore in 1976 to host "People Are Talking." She was then recruited for a morning show by a TV station in Chicago, where she went on to become the host of her own wildly popular program. In 2011, she launched her own television network, the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN), and in 2013, President Barack Obama awarded her the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. A passionate entrepreneur, Winfrey is the first African American woman billionaire.
This peach dress and pleated chiffon belt were designed by L'Wren Scott, and worn by Oprah Winfrey during the series finale of The Oprah Winfrey Show in May 2011.
Outfit worn by Carlotta Walls to Little Rock Central High School
Defending Freedom, Defining Freedom: The Era of Segregation, 1876-1968
Carlotta Walls LaNier was the youngest of the nine students to desegregate Little Rock Central High School in September, 1957. She wore this matching skirt and blouse on her first day of school, which was also the first day she was turned away.
Segregationists backed by the state’s Governor Orval Faubus and the Arkansas National Guard would attempt to prevent Walls and her classmates from integrating the school. This led to President Dwight Eisenhower calling on the 101st Airborne Division of the U. S. Army and federalizing the Arkansas National Guard to protect Walls and the other students and ensure their attendance at the school. (Laura Coyle, Head of Cataloging and Digitization, NMAAHC)
White button with black and white image of Shirley Chisholm inside a red female symbol at center. Above the image, in red letters, is the phrase "Shirley Chisolm for President." Below the image is the quote "...To Represent All Americans."
Chisholm (1924-2005) was the first African American woman elected to Congress, where she served for seven terms beginning in 1969. The daughter of immigrants from Barbados and Guyana, Chisolm had a significant impact on anti-poverty policy and educational reform. In 1971, she was a founding member of both the Congressional Black Caucus and the National Women’s Political Caucus.
Chisholm was also the first African American woman to campaign for the Democratic Party presidential nomination in 1972 with the slogan “Unbought and Unbossed.” Beset by both racist and sexist opposition, she failed to win her party’s nomination, losing to anti-Vietnam War candidate Senator George McGovern. Always an advocate for poor, inner-city residents, Chisolm said, “I am and always will be a catalyst for change” and would go on to serve another 11 years in Congress.
African American women organized on local, state and national levels to promote education, self-help, and support for black communities. This banner, created by the Oklahoma Federation of Negro Women’s Clubs, features the motto of the National Association of Colored Women, founded in 1896.
The Chumash are a group of related Native peoples of coastal southern California whose homelands are centered around Santa Barbara and the Northern Channel Islands. For thousands of years, Chumash women made baskets for domestic use. There were trays, basins, and deep bowls for food preparation; large burden baskets; globular storage baskets; and jar-shaped baskets for keeping valuables. Women’s basketry hats served as a standard measure when trading acorns and other seeds. Cooking baskets, used for stone-boiling mush, were so tightly woven that they held water.
Only six of these heraldic design baskets are known to exist today. Three of them are inscribed with words in Spanish that had been written out for the weavers to copy as they wove. These inscriptions include the weavers’ names—Juana Basilia, María Marta, and María Sebastiana. Traditionally, weavers did not sign their baskets. That these women were asked to do so shows the high regard in which their art was held. Although this basket does not bear her name, its weaving technique and design layout are nearly identical to another presentation basket known to have been woven by Juana Basilia Sitmelelene.
Jan Timbrook, curator of ethnography, Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History
These Inuit parkas are called tuilli because of their big shoulders. They were made this way so that nursing mothers could put their baby’s feet in there, and there was plenty of room to nurse. This tuilli was made for a woman with a newborn baby, but she wouldn’t wear something this beaded for everyday. It would be more for drum dancing or celebrations.
Each piece of work is about creative self-expression; it’s about making something that is different and unique, a desire to be different, unique, and beautiful. The design and make are still the same—it’s a most practical amauti for traveling. The late Captain Comer designed some of the patterns on Shoofly’s tuilli, which is in the collection of the American Museum of Natural History. Perhaps it was the stars on the chest piece. The boots on her parka represent the boots that Captain Comer brought back to Shoofly. The actual boots were too small, so a replica of the boots went on the chest piece. Was it a symbol of their love for each other?
Bernadette Driscoll Engelstad, curator, researcher, and writer on Inuit art and material culture
Wedding Dress Worn by Inshata-Theumba (Susette la Flesche)
Infinity of Nations: Plains/Plateau
Susette La Flesche was born south of present-day Omaha, Nebraska, into a family descended from significant tribal leaders on both sides. As a child she lived in a traditional earthlodge, though she also attended a mission school and later a school on the East Coast, returning to work as a teacher in her Omaha community.
In 1877 La Flesche witnessed the expulsion of the Ponca from Nebraska to Indian Territory and the subsequent imprisonment of Standing Bear and other Poncas who attempted to return to their homeland. These events launched her career as an activist arguing against the involuntary removal of Native people and for Indian citizenship rights. La Flesche performed in eastern cities to great effect. Wearing an Omaha deerskin dress, she enlightened Boston and New York audiences on the suffering of tribal communities and American injustice and called for a new direction in federal Indian policy.
La Flesche found a soulmate in Thomas Tibbles, a reporter for the Omaha Herald. Both La Flesche and Tibbles played major roles in the 1879 civil rights decision that ended the Ponca imprisonment and led to the historic ruling, “An Indian is a person within the meaning of the law of the United States.” Bicultural and bilingual, schooled in Western ways and Omaha culture, La Flesche wore this elegant skirt and jacket trimmed in hand-stitched silk, satin, and lace when she married Tibbles on July 23, 1881. The wedding was held on restored Ponca land.
The only museum in the nation devoted exclusively to historic and contemporary design, Cooper Hewitt educates, inspires and empowers people through design by presenting exhibitions and educational programs and maintaining active publications.
Ilonka Karasz (American, b. Hungary, 1896–1981) is an important yet overlooked figure in 20th-century design. During her long and prolific career, she worked in a wide variety of media, producing designs for wallcoverings, textiles, carpets, lighting, ceramics, metalwork, toys, and furniture. She is perhaps most well known for her popular cover illustrations for the New Yorker magazine. Through her ambitious creative output, Karasz helped popularize a modern aesthetic in the United States. In addition to highlighting the depth and breadth of Karasz’s creativity, this exhibition presents the museum’s recent acquisition of exquisite Karasz drawings and related wallpapers from the 1940s.