Mingering Mike is in the House
February 26, 2015

Mingering Mike

Mingering Mike's DECISION: Fractured Soul

Billed on his website as "the Soul Superstar You've Never Heard Of," Mingering Mike is an enigma, wrapped in faux vinyl, and carefully packaged in cardboard. The artist, who wishes to remain anonymous but for his sobriquet, is a D.C. native, who, caught up in the sounds and images of his hometown in the 1960s and 1970s, dreamed of joining the ranks of singer-songwriter Marvin Gaye who was transforming the soundscape of the city and the nation. Mike never got the chance, but that didn't stop his prolific outflow of "albums," fabricated from cardboard and painted, replete with song titles and lyrics, liner notes that he created himself, along with lyrics and "reviews" by famous artists such as James Brown. Nor did it quash his dreams and aspirations. According to Leslie Umberger, curator of folk and self-taught art at the museum, "Mingering Mike's work mirrors the times in which it was made: he ruminates on the challenges of his generation, in his city, and aspires to a creative plane that will rise above it all."

Flash forward a few decades and Mingering Mike's collection, kept in storage for decades, was lost to him. The materials—discovered in a D.C. flea market by "record digger" and music lover Dori Hadar—were acquired by the Smithsonian American Art Museum in 2013. Beginning this Friday, February 27 and running until August 2, 2015, over 100 works of art, created between 1968 and 1976, will be presented in the exhibition, Mingering Mike's Supersonic Greatest Hits.

On Friday evening, February 27, at 6:30 p.m. in the museum's McEvoy Auditorium, Leslie Umberger, Dori Hadar, independent curator, writer Tom Patterson, and Carroll Hynson, Jr., a DC-based radio personality and '60s and '70s music expert, will sit down with Mingering Mike (who, as always in public discussions, will be in disguise to ensure his anonymity) to discuss the artist's work during a Roundtable Remix panel discussion.

Posted by Howard on February 26, 2015 in American Art Here
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Preserving Your Personal Collection: Daguerreotypes
February 24, 2015

Several weeks ago, my mother was sorting through some old family photos and found something unexpected. It was a small case with velvet lining that housed a shiny, hard photo-like image. After doing some research, we discovered that it was a daguerreotype. Daguerreotypes, popular from the early 1840s to the late 1850s, used an early photographic process to produce an image on a sheet of polished silver-plated copper. The images are shiny and almost mirror-like. And they are often housed in beautiful padded cases.

My mom and I are still trying to discover the identity of our ancestral sitter but in the meantime, we wanted to ensure the daguerreotype was stored safely to preserve the image and its case. Lucky for me, I work in the Lunder Conservation Center. Even luckier, our conservator of photography, Mirasol Estrada, was about to make an archival storage box for a daguerreotype in the museum's collection. She agreed to let me watch and document the process. If you have one of these and would like to ensure their longevity, these instructions will prove as useful to preserving your treasures, as they were to me and preserving mine.


How to Make a Storage Box for Your daguerreotype (click image for larger view).

How to make an archival storage box for your daguerreotype:

Tools needed: Sketching paper, Pencil, Letter opener (or dull blade object), Square, Heavy ruler, Sharp blade (x-acto knife or utility knife is best), and a cutting surface.

Materials needed: Acid free inert mat board of approximately 1.5 mm thickness (Perma/Dur Heavy Duty Folder Stock is best) and string.


  1. Measure the dimensions of the daguerreotype (and case if you have one) on all sides. You will want to add a few millimeters to the measurement to account for bowing of the case and the thickness of the mat board.
  2. Record your measurements on your sketching paper with your pencil.
  3. Draw out the shape and dimensions of your box on your sketching paper (Figure 1).
  4. The left flap (flap 2) will flip over the right flap (flap 1).
  5. The top flap (flap 3) will flip over flap 2 and will reach half way down the front of the box.
  6. The bottom flap (flap 4) will also flip over flap 2 and will reach flap three in the middle of the box.
  7. Using your ruler, square, and letter opener, trace all your measurements and dimensions on your poster board using a dull blade, such as a letter opener. Making your impressions with a dull blade is preferable to a pencil to prevent stray graphite from getting inside the box and landing on the surface of your daguerreotype (Figure 2 and detail: Figure 2a).
  8. After the outside shape of your box and the fold locations have been traced with the letter opener, use your x-acto knife to cut away the additional poster material (Figure 3).
  9. Make the folds of the box using your ruler to ensure that they are straight (Figure 4).
  10. Cut a small slit in flap 3 and flap 4, where you will insert your string to tie the box closed (Figure 5).
  11. Slide the string through the slits in flap 3 and flap 4 and place your daguerreotype onto the central part of the box, over the string (Figure 6).
  12. Fold flaps 1 and 2 over the front. Fold flap 3 and 4 over the front. Finally, tie your string in a knot to secure flaps 3 and 4 - and the entirety of the box (Figure 7).

The box will be one continual piece of mat board. The main support of the back will be the central part of the box. The right flap (flap 1) will cover the entirety of the front of the daguerreotype (ensure you include measurements for the depth of the daguerreotype).

And voilà! Your daguerreotype is protected! Be sure to safely store the box in an environmentally stable place, away from excess heat, cold, and humidity - but somewhere where you can easily access it, to show off your excellent handiwork and your personal treasure.

Posted by Chris on February 24, 2015 in Conservation at American Art
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Luce Artist Talk with Ben Tolman
February 18, 2015

What artworks in American Art's collection inspire you? As part of our Luce Local Art Series, local artists discuss their own work and how they connect to works in our Luce Foundation Center. This series is presented in collaboration with CulturalDC. All talks begin at 1:30 p.m. Our next artist talk is by Ben Tolman this Sunday, February 22.

Ben Tolman

Ben Tolman's Most

Ben Tolman's pen and ink drawings reveal the darker side of human nature in intricate detail. From suburbs to city high rises, his works show a world that is interacting closely with its seedier side. At first glance, these scenes seem familiar, but as you zoom in, you see people acting secretly—like the man hiding under his desk in Building, a person turning away from a robbery, or people engaged in various sex acts. The nudity of many of the figures creates the sense that secrets are being exposed. In Most (above), though, two groups of men wearing neckties are also wearing masks, as though uncomfortable with the chance of being fully exposed. Tolman, who says he is "more hardworking than talented," spends long hours in his studio creating these worlds, as you can see in his time-lapse videos. What the videos don't show is that some of his works can take up to six months to complete.

Tolman earned his BFA from the Corcoran College of Art and Design and his MFA from American University. He has exhibited his work nationally and was a finalist in the National Portrait Gallery's Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition. If asked to explain his work and the symbols, he hesitates; this is a language that cannot be translated. He likes the mystery his work conveys saying, "Mystery is a lot more interesting than answers."

In his show at Flashpoint Gallery, Civilized, Tolman uses video, sculpture, and drawing to explore the relationships between people and their environments, specifically the ones they construct for themselves. His works examine human behavior and daily patterns through detailed depictions of commonplace rituals. Civilized opens at Flashpoint on Friday February 27, 2015 and runs through March 28, 2015. But you can get a preview into Ben's work, Sunday, February 22 at 1:30 p.m. at the Luce Center here at American Art.

Posted by Gloria on February 18, 2015 in In This Case: Luce Foundation Center
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Valentine's Day Special: Five Questions with Smithsonian Gardens
February 11, 2015

We sure love Valentine's Day around here at American Art. On Friday, February 13th, we are hosting another SweetARTS and Valentines program where you can come to the museum all day to make handmade Valentines for loved ones (or for people you hardly know —we won't judge). This year, we have invited some of our friends at Smithsonian Gardens to join in the fun. They are going to be on site for part of the day helping folks make orchid corsages. Our in-house crafter and the coordinator of SweetARTS, Katie Crooks, sat down with the folks from Smithsonian Gardens to get some Valentine's Day-related plant information for our readers. Check out what they had to say.


From the Smithsonian Garden's Orchid Exhibition at the National Museum of Natural History, up now through April 26.

Eye Level: Roses seem to be the stereotypical Valentine's Day go-to for gift givers, and some would call that classic and romantic. But some might find it predictable or uninspired. Do you have any suggestions for flowers or other plants that are good alternatives for the romantically challenged this Valentine's Day?

Smithsonian Gardens: Think outside the box for your Valentine this year. An orchid plant will not only convey your love but will also stick with your Valentine much longer than those fading rose blossoms. Orchids typically bloom for a few weeks to as long as several months! That is a gift that will leave an impression with the one you love. Check out Smithsonian Garden's Pinterest page for photos of our blooming orchid beauties.

EL: At SweetARTS and Valentines, horticulturists will be helping visitors to make orchid corsages (for a materials fee, while supplies last). Is it hard to work with orchids? Aren't they finicky plants?

SG: No, not at all. That is the misconception about orchids that they are fussy and finicky! The orchid plants that you find readily available in the grocery and big box stores are actually rather tough hybrids, very adaptable to the home environment. And in terms of the flowers we are using for corsages, they are pretty substantial, usually from Cattleya and Cymbidium plants.

EL: There are so many varieties of orchids, do you have a favorite? And is it true there are ones out there that have been genetically engineered to smell like chocolate (talk about a great flower for Valentine's Day)?!

SG: My favorites are definitely orchids with a lovely scent, and what is better than chocolate? The chocolate-scented orchid of course! With Oncidium Sharry Baby, you'll get that chocolate blast without the calorie consequences and, the flower is actually quite pretty.

EL: Smithsonian Gardens has an orchid collection, right? Is it available for the public to view? (I figure you can plug the orchid show with this question!)

SG: Yes, Smithsonian Gardens Orchid Collection is one of the largest orchid collections held by a public garden in North America. The collection is currently on view during the annual orchid exhibition held in partnership with the US Botanic Garden at the National Museum of Natural History through April 26, 2015.

EL: OK, one last question. Say a person gets a dozen roses for Valentine's Day (we'll say their partner is classically romantic), in your expert opinion, what is the best way to keep those flowers looking their best for as long as possible? (And can we apply this advice to other bouquets?)

SG: Roses will typically last as a cut flower for about one week. There are several steps you can take to help them stay fresh.

  1. Upon receiving the roses, trim the stems underwater. This helps to prevent air from entering the bottom of the stems which can cause the flowers to deteriorate.
  2. Use a clean, sharp knife or hand pruners and cut at a 45 degree angle. This allows the flowers to easily take in water and last longer. Keep trimming the stems every couple of days.
  3. Remove the leaves from the portion of the stem that will be submerged in water. Leaves left underwater will rot causing bacteria to accumulate in the container.
  4. Display in a clean container with fresh water and add some of the flower "food" that comes with the cut flowers. Adding a penny will also help to reduce bacteria levels. Remember to change the water every few days.

Posted by Jeff on February 11, 2015 in Five Question Interviews, Post It
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Take the Richard Estes Challenge
February 4, 2015


Can you find the artist's signature? Click on image for larger view. Richard Estes, Bus with Reflection of the Flatiron Building, 1966–67, oil on canvas, Private collection. © Richard Estes, courtesy Marlborough Gallery, NewYork. Photo by Luc Demers

At the museum, some of us have become a bit obsessed not only with the paintings of Richard Estes, but in locating his signature (or name, really) in each of his paintings. Estes usually signs his work, but often in ways that make it nearly impossible to discover. Take one of my favorites from the exhibition, Bus with Reflection of the Flatiron Building. It is a composition of layered reflections, as a bus and a car ride side by side, and let their reflective surfaces bounce off each other like visual jazz, so that the bus is reflected in the car, as is the iconic Flatiron Building, the triangular-shaped icon at the crossroads of 23rd Street, Fifth Avenue, and Broadway, in Lower Manhattan. The building is now curved and reflected in the rear-view mirror of the car. Geometry bends as if this were one of Dali's gooey time-pieces. A lone rider at the back of the bus looks like he just had coffee at the Edward Hopper Bar and Grill. Where is he going? Where has he been?

And now for the challenge! Can you find the artist's last name in the painting? Here's an enlarged image of the painting above. And, (no peeking until you've given it a shot) here's the answer. All this week, as we anticipate the exhibition's closing this Sunday, we'll be featuring Estes' paintings and a search for signatures. Check our Facebook page and Twitter feed to play along. Game on!

Richard Estes' Realism remains on view through Sunday, February 8, 2015.

Posted by Howard on February 4, 2015 in American Art Here
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