Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Washington College, Smithsonian, National Portrait Gallery Present Second Annual American Pictures Series

Bus Transportation Available From Chestertown

Chestertown, MD — Iconic filmmaker John Waters, novelist Jamaica Kincaid, presidential historian Harold Holzer and New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast will be offering their own original takes on great works of art in this spring's American Pictures Distinguished Lecture Series.

The American Pictures series - a joint program of Washington College, the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery - offers a highly original approach to art, pairing great works with leading figures of contemporary American culture. Each talk features an eminent writer, artist, critic or historian who chooses a single, powerful image and investigates its meanings, revealing how artworks reflect American identity and inspire creativity in many different fields. The series director is historian and essayist Adam Goodheart, Hodson Trust-Griswold Director of the C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience.

All of the American Pictures events take place at the Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery's McEvoy auditorium at 8th and F Sts., N.W., in Washington, D.C. Three of the talks will be on Saturdays and one will be on a Sunday; they all begin at 4:30 p.m. Free tickets are available beginning at 3:30 p.m. at the G Street lobby information desk on a first-come, first-served basis.

On Saturday, March 21, John Waters will explore the great abstract expressionist Cy Twombly's "Letter of Resignation." A cult figure since the 1960s, Waters is best known for his films, including Pink Flamingos, Female Trouble, Polyester and Hairspray. His work has reached a broader audience in recent years, when Hairspray became a hit Broadway musical and then a popular Hollywood film based on the musical. A serious photographer whose work has been exhibited in New York, London and Paris, he has also written five books.

Jamaica Kincaid has selected a resonant painting for her appearance on Saturday, April 11: Edward Lamson Henry's "Kept In." Kincaid's writing frequently touches on themes of race and coming-of-age, both of which are apparent in the painting she has chosen. Born in Antigua, Kincaid has made a lasting mark on the literary history of both the Caribbean and her adopted country, the United States. She draws on her own upbringing in creating her powerful and widely acclaimed works of fiction and nonfiction, which include Annie John, A Small Place and The Autobiography of My Mother.

On Saturday, April 18, Harold Holzer, a leading Lincoln scholar, will delve into John Henry Brown's Abraham Lincoln, one of the most unusual and deeply revealing portraits of the 16th president. A prolific writer, Holzer has authored or edited 31 books, and in 2008 was awarded the National Humanities Medal. His latest work is the critically praised Lincoln President-Elect: Abraham Lincoln and the Great Secession Winter, 1860-1861. Holzer is also Senior Vice President for External Affairs at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Roz Chast, the celebrated New Yorker cartoonist, has said she found her calling when she was 8 years old and came across some of Charles Addams' deliciously macabre cartoons. On Sunday, April 26, she will discuss Addams' famous "Boiling Oil." Addams was the creator of the Addams family of television and movie fame, and in the cartoon, a group of Christmas carolers serenades the family manse while the Addamses, hidden on the roof, prepare to douse them with a cauldron of boiling oil. Like Addams before her, Chast is a longtime contributor to The New Yorker, where editor David Remnick calls her "the magazine's only certifiable genius." Her work has been collected in nine books, most recently Theories of Everything, a 25-year survey. Chast is known for her cast of recurring characters, generally hapless, but relatively cheerful "everyfolk."

"The idea behind American Pictures is to have some of the most brilliant thinkers and writers and creators of the present day step inside some of the most powerful images from the past," said Goodheart, the series director. "The most exciting thing is that each talk is, in effect, a brand-new work that premieres here for the first time."

The series began in 2008, drawing large audiences for talks by novelist Allan Gurganus (on a Walt Whitman portrait), art-rock pioneer Laurie Anderson (on an Andy Warhol silkscreen), historian Garry Wills (on a Thomas Eakins painting) and actress/playwright Anna Deavere Smith (on a photograph of a 1950s Broadway cast party).

Support for the American Pictures Distinguished Lecture Series comes from the Starr Foundation, the Hodson Trust, the Hedgelawn Foundation, the Washington College Department of Art and Art History, and others. For more information, visit www.starrcenter.com. The Starr Center is sponsoring free buses from Chestertown to Washington for the series. Space is limited. To reserve tickets for the lecture or to ask about the bus, call Joan Smith during business hours at 410/810-7165 or send her an email at jsmith7@washcoll.edu.

About the Sponsors

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 its Department of Art and Art History.

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 from the colonial period to today.

The National Portrait Gallery 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.

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