Washington — Allan Gurganus, critically acclaimed author of Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All, will kick off the new American Pictures Distinguished Lecture Series at the Smithsonian on March 8, as he unravels the mysteries of Thomas Eakins' famous portrait of Walt Whitman.
Sponsored by Washington College in partnership with the National Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the series features an all-star lineup of eminent cultural figures—Gurganus, performance artist Laurie Anderson, author Garry Wills and actress/playwright Anna Deavere Smith—who, on four Saturdays this spring, will each explore a single powerful image in American art.
The Eakins portrait was Whitman's favorite, and the making of it the foundation of a great friendship, according to Gurganus, who will explore that alchemy in the very building—the Old Patent Office, which now houses the two Smithsonian museums—where Whitman nursed wounded soldiers during the Civil War.
For more than 30 years, Gurganus's fiction has been celebrated for its dark humor, erotic candor and folkloric sweep. John Cheever called him "the most technically gifted and morally responsive writer of his generation." He has won numerous awards for his work, which includes White People, Plays Well with Others, and, most recently, The Practical Heart: Four Novellas. Gurganus himself studied painting at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where Eakins taught, and will appear on the documentary "Walt Whitman, An American," in April on PBS.
All of the lectures will begin at 4:30 p.m. in the Nan Tucker McEvoy Auditorium of the Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture at 8th and F Sts., N.W. in Washington, D.C. There will be free bus service, courtesy of Valliant & Associates, from Chestertown. Call 410-810-7165 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org to reserve seats on the bus and/or at the lectures. For more information about the series, visit http://starrcenter.washcoll.edu.
March 3, 2008