Handi-Hour: "Put a Bird on It"
December 1, 2014

Handi-hour returns on Wednesday, December 3rd, just in time to craft some goodies for the gift giving season. This time our inspiration comes from our newest exhibition The Singing and the Silence: Birds in Contemporary Art. Program coordinator Katie Crooks has whipped up another Handi-hour how to video for our featured craft; check it out above for a preview of what we'll be making at the event.

Join us in the Luce Foundation Center from 5:30 to 8 p.m. in the Smithsonian American Art Museum as we craft the night away while drinking delicious brews and enjoy live music by The Torches. Admission is $20, cash only at the door. You must be 21 or older to enter.

Posted by Jeff on December 1, 2014 in In This Case: Luce Foundation Center, Post It
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Film: James Castle: Portrait of an Artist
November 27, 2014

The Smithsonian American Art Museum is screening James Castle: Portrait of an Artist in conjunction with our installation of James Castles' work, on view at the museum through February 1, 2015. In 2013 we acquired 54 pieces by James Castle, and we have one of the largest public collections of Castle's work. Untitled: The Art of James Castle features a representative selection of the artist's immense oeuvre, including drawings, handmade books, texts, and constructions.

The screening will take place Monday, December 1, 2014 at 6:30 p.m. in American Art's McEvoy Auditorium. And the program is free. Public programs coordinator, Katie Crooks, spoke with the film's director Jeffrey Wolf, who will be on site to field questions after the screening, to find out more about his work and his fascination with Castle.

James Castle

James Castle's Untitled

Eye Level: I looked you up on IMDb, and you have an impressive number of film credits under your belt. Can you tell us a bit about your professional history —how you came to work in film?

Jeffrey Wolf: I am a born storyteller. As a young man photography, journalism, fish tales, humor, and a good imagination were always part of my résumé. My parents both immigrated here from Europe, having been chased out of their respective homes in (Austria and Germany). As you can imagine there were many harrowing tales told to me from that experience. After getting a college degree I set out for New York City and took every film job I could wrangle my way into. I found that medium most appeaing to me. I draw on these life experiences every day.

EL: How did you first learn about James Castle and decide to make A Portrait of an Artist?

JW: I first saw James Castle's work at the Outsider art fair ten years ago. I have shown an interest in self taught artists for many years. This interest started when I first came upon the artist/woodcarver Elijah Pierce. My interest expanded following the Black folk art in America show at The Corcoran Museum in 1982. This led to me wanting to make films about this art. It was only after years of gestation that I was able to form a perspective to start from. I started a foundation with towards the goal of making films and education, James Castle proved to be the first film we were able to make. I felt Castle was a great example of all the elements that I found interesting in the field. So, I was able to talk about self taught art and tell the story of James Castle at the same time.

EL: What did you learn about Castle during the film making process that was most surprising?

JW: That is a very interesting thing about his work. It is very surprising. It's like peeling an onion. There are layers and layers of depth to his work.

First you think it's childlike and then all of a sudden you're looking at an intricate coding system that somehow came out of his minds eye. There are so many stages of amazing work in between as well. There is so much of 20th century art reflected in the work as well. Another big component of this American story is the fact that his family was such an important part of it. Without the family saving his work we may never have been able to see it.

EL: What is the most important thing you'd want viewers of this film to take away?

JW: Art can be looked at in so many different ways and it has so many different labels. I want the viewer of my film to consider James Castle's output, his context, and the supreme quality of the work in evaluated his place in art history. In the end it's all about what new ideas, concepts and connections the artist has produced that enriches us.

EL: If you were able to communicate with Castle today, what one question would you ask him?

JW: I would want to know if he felt I did a good job in telling his story.

Posted by Jeff on November 27, 2014 in American Art Here, Five Question Interviews, Post It
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Q and Art: Thanksgiving Edition, A Pilgrim Tale
November 26, 2014

This post is part of an ongoing series on Eye Level: Q and Art, where American Art's Research department brings you interesting questions and answers about art and artists from our archive.

Question: Can you tell me more about the story portrayed in John Rogers' sculpture "Why Don't You Speak for Yourself, John?"

Answer: John Rogers was just one of the many artists who contributed to our mental image of the Pilgrims through his portrait of John and Priscilla. His sculpture illustrates a scene from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem The Courtship of Miles Standish, which tells the story of a love triangle between three members of the Plymouth Colony: Captain Miles Standish, John Alden and Priscilla Mullins. The poem begins by introducing the friends Captain Miles Standish and John Alden. John is portrayed as scholarly, reserved and handsome. He is writing letters in which he frequently mentions Priscilla, barely hiding his secret love for her. Miles is older, brash and pompous. He recounts his past accomplishments in war and compares himself to Julius Caesar. We learn that his wife has died during the winter, and he has decided to remarry. The woman he has in mind is the "the Puritan maiden Priscilla". Because he is afraid of rejection, Miles convinces John to speak to Priscilla on his behalf.

Priscilla is working at her spinning wheel and singing Psalms, when John arrives at her home. He wishes he had mentioned his affection for her during a past visit, but realizes that he missed his chance and quickly bursts out with the Captain's desire to marry her. The surprised Priscilla asks why Miles cannot come and woo her himself, and after John goes on about the virtues of his friend, Priscilla says her famous line, "Why don't you speak for yourself, John?" It is in that moment that John understands that Priscilla returns his affection.

John is torn between his loyalty to his friend and his love for Priscilla, and he decides that he will return to England on the Mayflower, which is to set sail the next day. He returns to Miles and tells all that was said in his interview with Priscilla, and Miles angrily accuses him of betraying their friendship. In the middle of his tirade, Miles is called away to discuss threats to the colony. The next morning, Miles prepares for battle. John wishes to speak to his friend, but pride keeps him quiet.

John goes to the beach to board the Mayflower, however, when he sees Priscilla among the colonists who have gathered to watch the ship depart, he decides that he cannot leave her. She later finds him lingering at the shore and the two discuss their previous conversation. When news of Captain Standish's conquests during the battle with the Indians arrives at the village, Priscilla is horrified, and dreads the day Miles will return and repeat his offer of marriage. Months later, John and Priscilla are at her spinning wheel, when a messenger arrives with news that Miles has been killed in battle. John is saddened by the death of his friend, but he also feels the freedom to marry Priscilla. The two fall into each other's arms. On the day of the wedding they are surprised by the return of Miles, who had not died as reported. After the vows are exchanged the Captain steps forward to say that all is forgiven. The colonists celebrate the wedding and the return of Captain Standish. Then they return to their work, and John guides Priscilla to their new home on the back of a snow-white bull.

Longfellow published The Courtship of Miles Standish in 1858, more than two hundred years after the Pilgrims landed in Plymouth in 1620. John Alden, Priscilla Mullins and Miles Standish were passengers of the Mayflower; however, the Plymouth Colony records do not document any of the details of the romance between John and Priscilla. Historians know that John and Priscilla were married had ten children, but the truth of the rest of the legend is impossible to confirm. It was not until 1815 that the first written version of the romance appeared in Timothy Alden's A Collection of American Epitaphs and Inscriptions with Occasional Notes. Longfellow, who was a descendant of John and Priscilla Alden, claimed that the story of the courtship was passed down through his family.

For additional information about John Rogers' sculpture look for the following exhibition catalog at your library or bookstore: John Rogers: American Stories, edited by Kimberly Orcutt, New York: New York Historical Society, 2010. To learn more about the lives of the Pilgrims visit the Plimoth Plantation and Pilgrim Hall Museum websites.

Posted by Alida on November 26, 2014 in Q and Art
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Njideka Akunyili Crosby Wins the 2014 James Dicke Contemporary Artist Award
November 25, 2014

Njideka Akunyili Crosby

Njideka Akunyili Crosby, 5 Umezebi Street, New Haven, Enugu, 2012, acrylic, charcoal, pastel, colored pencil and transfer on paper. Image courtesy of Max Yawney. © Njideka Akunyili Crosby

The museum is delighted to announce that Njideka Akunyili Crosby is the 2014 winner of our biennial James Dicke Contemporary Artist Prize. Akunyili Crosby was selected by an independent panel of jurors who wrote in their decision, "Her bold yet intimate paintings are among the most visually, conceptually, and technically exciting work being made today."

Akunyili Crosby was born in 1983 in Enugu, Nigeria. She creates vibrant paintings that weave together personal and cultural narratives drawn from her experience as Nigerian and American. She uses an array of materials and techniques, such as collage and photo-transfer, which serves as a visual metaphor for the intersection of cultures as well as the artist's own hybrid identity.

"Akunyili Crosby's paintings speak to a figurative tradition in American painting that is a strength of the Smithsonian American Art Museum's collection," said Joanna Marsh, The James Dicke Curator of Contemporary Art. "Her work both upholds this tradition and expands upon it in exciting new ways."

Akunyili Crosby is the 11th winner of the $25,000 award, which recognizes an artist younger than 50. She was selected by a panel of five jurors: Thelma Golden, director and chief curator of The Studio Museum in Harlem; Byron Kim, artist; Harry Philbrick, The Edna S. Tuttleman Director of the Museum at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts; Walter Robinson, artist, critic, and founding editor of Artnet Magazine; and Sheena Wagstaff, the Leonard A. Lauder Chairman of modern and contemporary art at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Posted by Laura on November 25, 2014 in Post It
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Luce Foundation Center: Artist Talk by Martine Workman
November 20, 2014

Local artists discuss their work and process in the context of artworks on view in the Luce Foundation Center as part of American Art's Luce Local Art Series. This series is presented in collaboration with CulturalDC. All talks begin at 1:30 p.m. Our next artist talk is by Martine Workman this Saturday, November 22.


Poster for Martine Workman's exhibition, Dusk Woods, at Flashpoint Gallery

Have you ever considered the pen or pencil strokes that make up a drawing, or how they would look if transposed from paper to another medium? D.C.-based artist Martine Workman explores these possibilities with her work, which varies from whimsical drawings of figures to zines that explore life experiences. Workman will talk about her work and its evolution over the last few years since moving to DC from the Pacific Northwest in her Luce Artist Talk this Saturday, November 22 at 1:30 p.m. Her various works on paper bring together different element--such as food in pop culture, like in her zine, Prince Food. Other works explore the enjoyment of nature, as in her large work, The River, which depicts the experience of floating down a river in an inner tube.

Workman is a graduate of the California College of the Arts and has shown her work at small press fairs since 2004. This year, she was a Sondheim Artscape Prize semi-finalist, 3rd Place Trawick Prize recipient and was awarded the DCCAH Artist Fellowship Grant for 2015. Her current show, Dusk Woods, will run at Cultural DC's Flashpoint Gallery from November 21 to December 20, 2014.

Posted by Gloria on November 20, 2014 in In This Case: Luce Foundation Center
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