Throwback Thursday: The Last Waltz: Lincoln's Second Inauguration
March 12, 2015

President Lincoln celebrated his second inaugural ball 150 years ago on March 6, 1865, at the U.S. Patent Office Building, now home to the American Art Museum as well as the National Portrait Gallery. Though the president's words were somber at his inauguration—the country was just coming out of the Civil War—the ball featured dancing, refreshments, and one unfortunate food fight. Today's blog post, written by Howard, first appeared on Eye Level in 2008 and is part of our Throwback Thursday series in which we reprint interesting posts you might have missed.

Daguerrotype of Patent Office Building

Patent Office Building, 1846, Daguerreotype by John Plumbe Jr., Library of Congress

On the evening of March 6, 1865, a ten dollar ticket admitted "one gentleman and two ladies" to President Lincoln's second inaugural ball, held in the very building that is now American Art: the Patent Office Building. Estimates of attendance ranged from 4,000 to 6,000 people. A band played in each of the three third-floor galleries: dance music for the north hall, promenade music for the east gallery (now the Lincoln Gallery), and dinner music for the west wing.

The President and Mrs. Lincoln arrived at 10:30 p.m. and stayed for three hours. According to the local paper they were dressed to the nines. "The President was dressed in black, with white kid gloves. Mrs. Lincoln was attired in admirable taste." And for those of you who think fashion and attention to detail are hallmarks of twentieth century celebrity gazing, here's how the newspaper went on to describe Mrs. Lincoln. "She wore a white silk skirt and bodice, an elaborately-worked white lace over her silk skirts . . . completed a most recherche costume." But all was not glamorous as hungry guests apparently mobbed the buffet, leaving the room in a shambles. The guests departed early in the morning, with the last rustle of silk skirts on the stairs leading down into the streets as the sky brightened.

Five weeks later, on the evening of April 14, the president would be assassinated at Ford's Theater, just a few blocks away.

This small exhibition at American Art, The Honor of Your Company is Requested: President Lincoln's Inaugural Ball takes a look back at the evening of March 6, 1865, providing such detail as period costumes, the evening's menu, and a replica of President Lincoln's Brooks Brothers coat. On the floor of the gallery are instructions on how to do the waltz. When I was at the exhibit last week a lot of people were trying their best to learn the steps. And when was the last time you were encouraged to dance at a museum?

Posted by Jeff on March 12, 2015 in Throwback Thursday
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Yoga in Luce
March 10, 2015

Do to unforeseen circumstances, this program has been cancelled. But keep an eye on American Art's calendar for future dates.

Yoga in Luce is a new monthly program that pairs yoga and art appreciation. Alongside the artworks of the Luce Foundation Center, participants will practice an hour of Vinyasa yoga, a style that prioritizes flowing movement and breath, taught by a credentialed instructor from Flow Yoga Center. Afterward, Luce staff will invite participants to spend 15 minutes taking a focused look at an artwork of their choosing. Our first Yoga in Luce session will be on March 11 at 6pm. Please see the online calendar for more details, including how to register.

Yoga in Luce

New program Yoga in Luce will pair Vinyasa yoga with art appreciation.

You have to give a painting more than a quick glance to appreciate the elegance of a single brushstroke.

But often when I visit a museum I don't have more than a quick glance to spare. A single brushstroke has a lot to compete with: the wall text, the gift shop, the urge to Snapchat a #museumselfie, not to mention the hundreds of other artworks that vie for my attention. With so much to see, it's not surprising that researchers estimate that the average visitor spends only 15-30 seconds looking at a given painting.

The famous art historian Kenneth Clark once said that the proper amount of time to view a painting is the "time it takes to peel and eat an orange." Others argue longer. Personally, I'd feel stuffed and sour if I consumed every painting on a museum trip as slowly as I eat oranges. Now and then, however, I take Clark's suggestion and, for a few minutes, devote my full attention to a single painting. Without fail, the painting rewards my effort and reveals secrets concealed from those in a rush: that oil paint looks three-dimensional up close, how many blues make up an ocean, or there's something timeless in the eyes of devious young boys. These paintings, the ones I've taken the time to sit with, are the ones that stay with me even after I've deleted their pictures from my phone.

Both the challenge and the payoff of intensely focusing on an artwork parallel my experience with practicing yoga. A common yoga class reminder is presence —drowning out concerns of the past moment or the next to fully receive what the current one has to offer. In Yoga in Luce, we'll silence our agendas, our to-do lists, our cell phones to deeply tune in to what we're experiencing in our bodies as we move them through space. Then, with our minds quieted and distractions removed, we'll switch our focus, from physical experience to visual experience, and spend 15 minutes getting lost in a single painting.

Posted by Amelia on March 10, 2015
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3D Scanning: The 21st-Century Equivalent to a 19th-Century Process
March 6, 2015

Karen Lemmey, American Art's sculpture curator is organizing an installation that will include Hiram Power's Greek Slave, one of the most popular sculptures of the 19th century. As part of her preparation, she is working with Smithsonian X 3D, part of the Institution's Digitization program, to create a 3D model of the Greek Slave. Karen, fills us in on the process.

Scanning Hiram Powers' Greek Slave

3D Scanning of Hiram Powers' Greek Slave

Recently, Smithsonian X 3D, the Smithsonian Digitization Program's efforts to create 3D models of important collection objects, scanned a plaster example of Hiram Powers's Greek Slave at the American Art Museum. The data collected from the scan will be used to create a permanent digital record and model of this fragile and unique object offering scholars and the public the chance to study the sculpture in closer detail. But the scan also opens the door for the replication of this sculpture through 3D printing. In fact, the data will be used to create a 3D digital model of the Greek Slave that will be publicly accessible and printable!

In many ways, 3D scanning is the twenty first-century equivalent of pointing, the mechanical method used to replicate sculptures in the nineteenth century. Both 3D scanning and pointing precisely measure the surface of the object. The recent scan of the Greek Slave employed three processes: laser scanning, structured light scanning, and DSLR photogrammetry. Hiram Powers meticulously recorded the laborious process of replicating his Greek Slave in his Studio Memorandum, preserved in the Archives of American Art.

Powers conceived of the Greek Slave as a sculpture to be produced in marble replicas, a common nineteenth-century studio practice. Powers and his contemporaries rarely carved the marble replicas themselves and instead relied on teams of artisans to produce the finished works. After completing a full-scale model of the sculpture in clay, Powers entrusted the model to professional plaster casters (formatori) who created a multi-part plaster mold, which was used to cast a durable plaster version of the sculpture. Master carvers then used the plaster cast as a measuring tool as they translated the composition into marble, covering the surface of the plaster cast with hundreds of pencil marks and metal pins (points) that served as registration marks for the pointing machine. The pointing machine, which resembles a drawing compass, was moved repeatedly from points on the plaster cast to corresponding areas on the block of marble to guide the carver's tools.

While the pointing machine was used in marble carving, a reductive process that involves removing mass from a solid block, the data collected from 3D scanning can be used to produce replicas through both reductive methods, such as routing, and additive methods, such as printing.

In July 2015, Smithsonian American Art Museum, in collaboration with the United States Patent and Trademark Office, will present Measured Perfection: Hiram Powers's Greek Slave, an exhibition featuring the pointed plaster of the Greek Slave along with sculpting tools, a pointing machine, and other materials exploring the replication of this famed sculpture.

Related Posts: Conservation: Cleaning Hiram Powers' Greek Slave and The Best of Joan of Art: Why Are There Holes in That Sculpture?

Posted by Jeff on March 6, 2015 in American Art Here, Museums & Technology
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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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