Monday, March 5, 2012

Nationally Renowned Speakers Headline 2012 "American Pictures" Series at the Smithsonian

Maira Kalman Launches Series on March 24 with
Discussion of a Diane Arbus photograph.
CHESTERTOWN, MD— Four of America’s most celebrated and multi-talented writers will headline Washington College’s 2012 “American Pictures” series at the Smithsonian Institution starting March 24. Renowned illustrator and writer Maira Kalman; journalist, travel writer and historian Tony Horwitz; biographer Edmund Morris; and memoirist, novelist, and musician James McBride will bring audiences on a journey through four iconic American images – from a Diane Arbus photo to a 19th-century portrait – in this spring’s series.
The “American Pictures” series, a joint program of Washington College, the National Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian American Art Museum, 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 favorite image to explore, revealing how artworks reflect American identity and inspire creativity in many different fields. The series director is historian Adam Goodheart of Washington College. Events take place at the Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery in Washington., D.C.
The series begins Saturday, March 24 with Maira Kalman, who will explore a strange and haunting Diane Arbus photograph of five adults in Halloween costumes (1970-71). A frequent contributor to the New Yorker and the New York Times, Kalman has written and illustrated many books for children and adults, including And the Pursuit of Happiness (2010) and 13 Words (2010), a collaboration with Lemony Snicket.
The program continues Saturday, April 7 with Pulitzer Prize winner Tony Horwitz, author of five bestselling books, including Confederates in the Attic and, most recently, Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid that Sparked the Civil War (2011). Horwitz will examine an image in the National Portrait’s Gallery’s collection, Ole Peter Hansen Balling’s John Brown (1872), a gripping portrait of Brown in captivity that hides as much as it reveals. Since this painting is on display onsite, visitors will have an opportunity to view the original after the talk.

Edmund Morris will take the stage on Saturday, April 21 to speak about a short video sequence from Ronald Reagan’s 1985 visit to the concentration camp at Bergen-Belsen that helped inspire his bestselling biography Dutch: A Memoir of Ronald Reagan (1999). One of the most celebrated biographers of our time, Morris is the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of three volumes on the life of Theodore Roosevelt, the last of which, Colonel Roosevelt, was published in 2010.

The series will conclude on Saturday, May 12 with James McBride, who will explore a dynamic 1969 Julian Wasser photo of soul music legend James Brown performing at the Shrine Auditorium. McBride’s memoir, The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother, was a New York Times bestseller and has sold millions of copies worldwide. McBride is also a saxophonist who tours with his own jazz/R&B band and has written songs for Anita Baker, Grover Washington, Jr., and others.
“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 series director Goodheart, who is Hodson Trust-Griswold Director of Washington College’s C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience. “Each speaker chooses a picture and then has several months to think about what he or she will say. The most exciting thing is that each talk is, in effect, a brand-new work that premieres here for the first time.”
This is the fourth year for the “American Pictures” series, which has drawn large audiences for such diverse speakers as historian Garry Wills, art-rock pioneer Laurie Anderson, actress/playwright Anna Deavere Smith, and filmmaker John Waters.
All “American Pictures” events take place at the Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery, located at 8th and G Streets, N.W., in Washington, D.C. These Saturday talks, held in the museums’ Nan Tucker McEvoy Auditorium, will begin at 2 p.m. (a change in time from previous years). Free tickets are available beginning at 1:30 p.m. at the G Street lobby information desk on a first-come, first-served basis. No reservations are necessary for the general public.
Students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends of Washington College may reserve tickets to American Pictures events on a first-come, first-served basis. The Starr Center will also run free buses from Chestertown to Washington for each talk. Buses will depart at 11:00 am and leave DC for the return trip at 7:30 pm. For details or to make a reservation, please call 410-810-7165 or e-mail For more information, visit
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 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’s National Portrait Gallery tells the history of America through the individuals who have shaped its culture. Through the visual arts, performing arts and new media, the Portrait Gallery portrays poets and presidents, visionaries and villains, actors and activists whose lives tell the American story.
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.

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