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Henrietta Lacks, An Overdue Tribute

Recently, the National Portrait Gallery and the National Museum of African American History and Culture jointly acquired a painting of Henrietta Lacks, as portrayed by Kadir Nelson. Lacks died from cervical cancer at the age of 31, and her cells were subsequently studied and used over the past 60+ years. Lacks’s cells (named HeLa, for Henrietta Lacks) were instrumental in developing treatments for a variety of illnesses, such as polio, AIDS and Parkinson’s Disease.

I was familiar with Lacks’s story from many years back, as she was a Virginia native and never forgotten here, in her state of birth. Thus, I knew that I had to see the painting, titled “Henrietta Lacks (HeLa): The Mother of Modern Medicine”, for myself.

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Henrietta Lacks (HeLa): The Mother of Modern Medicine, Kadir Nelson, oil on linen, 2017

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Information card as displayed in the National Portrait Gallery

The painting is large and breathtaking: Lacks smiling sweetly and posed with her bible. Nelson incorporated some very special details that refer to Lacks’s legacy. As stated on the National Portrait Gallery press release:

“Commissioned by HBO, Nelson used visual elements to convey Lacks’ legacy. The wallpaper features the “Flower of Life,” a symbol of immortality; the flowers on her dress recall images of cell structures; and two missing buttons allude to the cells taken from her body without permission.”

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Close up of the background, featuring the “Flower of Life”

Henrietta Lacks’s story raises issues surrounding ethics, right to patients’ genetic information, and privacy. The fact that she died but her cells made it possible for other people to live is heartbreaking, but what’s even more tragic is the fight that her family had to undertake to challenge the medical industry that used HeLa cells without Lacks’s, or her family’s, consent.

I’m so happy that Henrietta Lacks is being featured at the Smithsonian Museum and is taking her rightful place in American history. I really enjoyed seeing this beautiful portrait for myself, and I hope that you all get a chance to check it out, too! It will be at the National Portrait Gallery until November 4, 2018, and then it will be at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. You’ll be glad that you made the visit!

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New Exhibitions Coming to Washington DC

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Happy Thursday, friends! Before we welcome the month of June, I thought you all might enjoy a list of some of the exhibitions coming to DC during the month. Have fun planning your museum trips! I know that I will.

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Kreeger Museum, June 5 – July 31, 2018: The art for this exhibit is coming from the Museum of Art, Architecture, and Technology (MAAT) in Lisbon. This museum is fairly new: it opened to the public in October 2016.  This is a special exhibition because it is the first group exhibition of 21st century Portuguese art of the 21st century to be presented in the United States.

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Fabergé piece on display at Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

Hillwood Estate, Museum and Garden, June 9, 2018 – January 13, 2019: As a lover of all things bejeweled and antique, Peter Carl Fabergé’s work is an eternal fave. So I won’t miss this exhibition at Hillwood Estate, Museum and Garden in DC.  Fortunately, this exhibit will be here for several months, so if you can’t make it this summer, you have until early 2019 to visit and check it out.

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Daguerrotype of Louis Daguerre, one of the fathers of photography

National Portrait Gallery, June 15, 2018 – June 2, 2019: The National Portrait Gallery (NPG) will be exhibiting daguerrotypes collected over 50 years. This early form of photography was the predecessor to photography as we know it today. The collection has some very famous faces, like P. T. Barnum and Matthew C. Perry, within it. The museum is celebrating it’s golden anniversary this year, so you can bet that there will be a lot of great exhibits throughout the year. 

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Smithsonian Folklife Festival

National Mall, June 27 – July 1, 2018; July 4 – 8, 2018

June ends on a strong note with the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. This year’s festival will highlight Armenia, Catalonia and the Sisterfire Concerts. It’s technically not an art exhibition, but if you’re in the area, you can’t miss the festival. This is always a great opportunity to take in international culture over several days.

art · life curation

A Day at NGA

A couple of weeks ago, I had a free afternoon and I was feeling artsy (to be honest, I can’t think of a time when I’m NOT feeling artsy). So I took a stroll to National Gallery of Art (NGA) to check out the exhibits. It’s been nearly two years since my last visit, so I was overdue.

Tomorrow’s post will be “heavier”, as far as subject matter goes, so today, I’m taking it light and easy. Here are a few photos from my last visit to NGA. This post features a few of the sculptures that I saw at the museum. Enjoy!

Nymph and Satyr by Edward McCartan (1920)

This satyr is nothing but trouble! Look at how he’s looking at the nymph.

Play coy, little nymph! Maybe that naughty satyr will leave you alone.

Justice by Barthelemy Prieur (1610)

It’s hard to believe this lovely lady is over 400 years old! It was completed the year before Prieur’s death.

I had to do some research on this one: I’d never heard of “zephyr” before.

A Garden Allegory: The Dew and Zephyr Cultivating Flowers by Benoit Massou, Anselme Flamen and Nicolas Rebille (1683/1732)

This beautiful woman depict dew, the gentle moisture found on vegetation in the morning hours.

The charming little cherub next to Dew is Zephyr, the soft gentle breeze that can be felt on a pleasant spring day

art · life curation

5 Lessons from Amy Sherald, An American Success Story

A few months back, the official portrait of former First Lady Michelle Obama was unveiled and put on display at the National Portrait Gallery. The painter, Amy Sherald, quickly became a household name, as her unique portraiture captivated art appreciators and stirred discussion on what makes an “acceptable” political portrait.

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Michelle Obama as portrayed by Amy Sherald (I took this photo a few weeks ago)

But today, I’m not talking about whether Sherald’s painting was aesthetically pleasing or suitable for a First Lady (though, after seeing it in person, I agree that it is both beautiful and a fitting tribute to Mrs. Obama). I want to talk about Sherald and what makes her the ultimate American success story. Here are five lessons we can learn from Amy Sherald:

  • Be committed to your craft.

Sherald studied art in her undergraduate and graduate years. Before committing to art school, she practiced her craft daily and participated in arts camps during the summer. Much like Sherald, if you want success, you have to be committed to your craft

  • Seize as many opportunities as you possibly can.

Sherald apprenticed for art historians, curated for museums abroad, and she also lived and studied in Norway, China and Panama. She didn’t let distance keep her from seizing opportunities that brought her closer to her dream. Likewise, the opportunities we need are rarely in our own backyard: we have to seize them wherever they are, even if that takes us around the world and away from everything familiar.

  • Don’t allow discouragement to distract you.

Despite Sherald’s immense talent, her family wasn’t particularly supportive of her decision to be a full-time artist. In fact, it wasn’t until she won the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition that her mother view art as a viable career for Amy. Our loved ones mean well, but we may have to “tune out” their well-meaning advice that doesn’t bring us closer to what we want.

  • Be courageous enough to choose discomfort in service to your vision.

Sherald herself mentioned that she chose “discomfort” in order to create art that inspires. Discomfort means that we sacrifice certainty for the possibility of realizing our highest selves. Try a little discomfort to help you make strides toward your goal.

  • It’s never too late to be what you envision yourself to be.

Sherald was 42 when she won the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition. Dreams aren’t just for the young and wide-eyed: consistency and focus will bring you the success you desire, even if it’s a little later than you expected. By consistently following the previously mentioned steps, you’ll be prepared for your “big break” whenever it comes along.

Have you had a chance to check out Amy Sherald’s work? Let me know in the comments below!

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Smithsonian Highlights – April

Hey friends! As you all know, it’s hard for me to stay out of the Smithsonian’s museums, because 1) I work right by several of them and 2) I’m addicted to art exhibits. I figured I would create a list of some of the Smithsonian’s highlights for the month of April. If you’re planning a trip to DC, or you are already in the area, here’s some of the must see/must do activities hosted by the Smithsonian Institute. 

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DIANE ARBUS: A BOX OF TEN PHOTOGRAPHS exhibit opens on April 6 at Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM). Arbus is credited as being the artist that elevated photography into a “serious” art discipline. Her photos bridged reality and artistry, and SAAM has a exhibit for us to enjoy for the remainder of 2018.

Marlene Dietrich: Dressed for the Image : I talked about this exhibit in this post. It will be leaving National Portrait Gallery (NPG) on April 15, 2018. You won’t want to miss this stunning and stirring photos of Dietrich. For those that don’t know, NPG is housed in the same building as SAAM, so from April 6 to April 15, you can check out A Box of Ten Photographs then swing by Dressed for the Image without missing a beat.

GALLERY EXPERIENCE: SLOW ART DAY April 14, 2018, 10:30 AM5:00 PM at the Hirshhorn Museum (and at pretty much every museum nationwide) If you can, stop by any art museum on April 14th to participate in Slow Art Day where, instead of rushing through the exhibits trying to absorb a little of everything, you can take your time and enjoy the art for the perspective-broadening experience that it is.

If this quick summary of the Smithsonian’s juiciest exhibits has been helpful, then I’ll be sure to make it a regular feature. Hope you enjoy!
art · life curation

Edmonia Lewis’s Work at the Smithsonian’s American Art Museum

Happy Friday, friends! We made it through another week – hurrah!

Earlier this week – before the Mid-Atlantic region got hit with another round of snow – I stopped by the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM). Visits to the museum are good for my soul, and, since most schools are still in session, I don’t have to navigate around a lot of tourists. I can usually get to the museum, tour to my heart’s content, and return to my desk in under an hour. Sometimes I really love working in DC!

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Anyways, I recently went to SAAM for a very specific reason. I had researched Edmonia Lewis’s existing artwork and confirmed that one of her most famous pieces, The Death of Cleopatra, was located at SAAM. After learning that it was currently on view, I knew that I had to go and see it for myself.

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Photo of Edmonia Lewis (as shown on SAAM’s website)

I talked about Lewis when I wrote about my current favorite app. In that same post, I referenced an Art History Babes podcast episode that discussed Lewis’s life. I saw a few of her works on Google Arts & Culture but viewing art in person is so much more enjoyable. The surprise for me was that several of Lewis’s pieces were on view, so I took lots of pictures during this visit.

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Here is The Death of Cleopatra. This depicts Cleopatra seated on her throne, life slowly slipping away after being bitten by a poisonous snake. She’s dignified even in death, wearing her crown and full regal attire.

 

She’s substantial and powerful, and has chosen to die on the throne that she worked so hard to preserve. It’s a moving piece and a fine example of Lewis’s marble sculpting prowess.

 

A close up of the throne detailing and Cleopatra’s lifeless hand.

Lewis also sculpted Moses, a replica of the statue of Moses rendered by Michaelangelo (the original is at St. Peter’s in Rome). The original is much larger than Lewis’s version, but the resemblance is uncanny. Lewis skillfully imitated the works of great masters.

 

I wish I could have gotten some better photos, but it’s in a case so the reflection off the glass makes it hard to capture the detailing.

This whimsical statue is Poor Cupid, depicting the god of love caught in a trap. Cupid’s “aww shucks” expression made me chuckle.

 

 

As always, I enjoyed my trip to SAAM. There are a few other pieces by Edmonia Lewis on display: I may do a follow-up post about those works. In any case, I hope you enjoyed this post! This weekend, see if you can spend a little time at your local museum. You’ll be glad that you did. Until tomorrow . . .