Thursday, February 7, 2008

Washington College, Smithsonian Museums Join Forces for 'American Pictures' Lecture Series

Chestertown, MD — Washington College announces a pioneering partnership with the National Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian American Art Museum. This spring the three institutions will launch the American Pictures Distinguished Lecture Series, a highly original approach to history and the visual arts with an all-star lineup of speakers.

On four Saturday afternoons in March, April and May, leading figures of contemporary culture—the critically acclaimed novelist Allan Gurganus, world-renowned musician and performance artist Laurie Anderson, Pulitzer-Prize-winning historian Garry Wills and the celebrated actress and playwright Anna Deavere Smith—will each unravel the meaning behind a single powerful image in American art. In the process, they will explore how works of art reflect American identity, provide a window into our shared history, and inspire creative minds in many fields.

The series director is Adam Goodheart, director of Washington College's C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience, who has worked closely with the two museum directors and their staffs, as well as with members of the college's Department of Art and Art History.

"We are thrilled to have this opportunity to work with two of the country's most important museums, to support new work by leading figures of American culture, and to build bridges between Washington College and Washington, D.C," said Washington College President Baird Tipson.

Each of the guests was invited to choose as a subject any work of American art or portraiture that especially 'spoke to' him or her. The images that they came up with range from an oil portrait of Walt Whitman to one of the most searing silkscreen images by Andy Warhol.

"This is a wonderful collaboration—one that serves the mission of both the College and the museums," said Carolyn Carr, Acting Director of the National Portrait Gallery. "For the National Portrait Gallery, a two-dimensional portrait of a renowned individual is an entry point into the multifaceted world of history, art, and biography. The distinguished speakers in this series are cicerones, leading the audience into the rich arena that is the past."

"The Smithsonian American Art Museum is happy to partner with Washington College and the National Portrait Gallery on these exciting interdisciplinary presentations," said Elizabeth Broun, the Smithsonian American Art Museum's Margaret and Terry Stent Director. "The series highlights the transformative power of art that inspires us all."

The lectures will be held in Washington, D.C., in the recently renovated Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture (formerly the Patent Office Building), which is home to the two Smithsonian museums. The 1836 landmark recently reopened after a six-year, $300-million renovation, inspiring the Washington Post's architecture critic to enthuse: "Arguably, it's the best public building in Washington ... [visiting it is] a gratifying, at times exhilarating, experience."

The inaugural lecture on March 8 features Allan Gurganus, who will discuss Thomas Eakins' famous portrait of Walt Whitman. The subject is especially appropriate—during the Civil War, the poet famously nursed wounded soldiers in the museums' historic home, which was being used as a hospital at the time. A painter as well as a writer, Gurganus is the author of, among other books, the bestselling Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All and Plays Well with Others.

On March 15, Laurie Anderson will explore Andy Warhol's "Electric Chair." On April 26, Garry Wills will talk about Eakins' mysterious and evocative painting "William Rush Carving His Allegorical Figure of the Schuylkill River." And on May 10, Anna Deavere Smith will examine Ruth Orkin's photograph "Member of the Wedding, 1950: Ethel Waters, Carson McCullers, and Julie Harris."

"At a time when images pervade our lives in ways difficult to imagine even a decade ago, and leading colleges and universities are rethinking their curricula in terms of visual as well as written literacy, a series like this is especially valuable," said Professor Donald McColl of Washington College. "We in the Department of Art and Art History are pleased to continue our longstanding partnership with the Starr Center, and we look forward to the collective conversations to follow."

Support for the series comes from the Hodson Trust, the Starr Foundation and other donors. Thanks to a generous gift from Valliant & Associates, Washington College will provide free bus service from Chestertown for students, faculty and community members who wish to attend the lectures. These trips will include informal tours of the two museums and time for dinner in Washington. For detailed information on the series, which will be free and open to the public, visit the Starr Center's website,

All lectures will take place at 4:30 p.m. in the museums' Nan Tucker McEvoy Auditorium. No reservations are required. Free tickets are available beginning at 3:30 p.m. at the G Street lobby information desk. Doors open for each lecture at 4 p.m. The museums are located at Eighth and F Streets, N.W. Washington D.C., just above the Gallery Place/Chinatown Metrorail station. For additional information about the museums, directions and parking information, visit

About the sponsors

Washington College

Founded in 1782 under the personal patronage of its namesake, Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland, upholds a tradition of excellence and innovation in the liberal arts. The American Pictures lecture series is a project of the college's C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience and the Department of Art and Art History.

Smithsonian American Art Museum

The Smithsonian American Art Museum, the nation's first collection of American art, is an unparalleled record of the American experience. The collection captures the aspirations, character, and imagination of the American people across three centuries.

National Portrait Gallery

The National Portrait Galley tells the stories of America through the individuals—poets and presidents, visionaries and villains, actors and activists—who have built our national culture. It is where the arts keep us in the company of remarkable Americans.

February 7, 2008

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