Celebrating the Year of the Rooster at SAAM
February 2, 2017
This year, SAAM was delighted to host our annual celebration of the Chinese New Year on the first day of the year, Saturday, January 28. So many friends and families (all 7,000 of you!) turned out to enjoy the activities and performances in the Kogod Courtyard.
Cui Tiankai, Ambassador to the United States of the People's Republic of China, and David Skorton, the Smithsonian's Secretary helped us "awaken the lion" and ring in the Year of the Rooster before visitors enjoyed incredible performances by the Yong Han Lion dance troupe from Johns Hopkins University. Secretary Skorton noted in his opening remarks that Chinese Americans have made significant contributions to the development of American culture, and the Smithsonian is proud to celebrate that heritage with crafts and activities. We definitely loved seeing guests of all ages make beautiful masks, paper lanterns, and cards throughout the day! Everyone was invited to engage with Chinese culture by learning about the art of calligraphy and trying on traditional costumes from the Chinese embassy. What activities did you enjoy the most? Comment below with your favorite performance or activity, or share with us on social media with #atSAAM!
SAAM's festival was the first in a series of "Chinese New Year D.C." events—all presented in partnership with the Embassy of the People's Republic of China—that run through February 6. Upcoming events include a family day Saturday, February 4 from 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, a celebration Sunday, February 5 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Smithsonian's Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, and a ticketed performance by the Beijing Symphony Orchestra at 8 p.m. Monday, February 6 at the Kennedy Center.
Let's Begin Black History Month with Edmonia Lewis' Google Doodle
February 1, 2017
To celebrate Black History Month, SAAM has just launched an online exhibition of Edmonia Lewis' sculpture on Google Arts & Culture. And to promote the exhibition, Google has made Lewis and her sculpture, The Death of Cleopatra, its Google Doodle for today!
Mary Edmonia Lewis was born in Greenbush, New York in 1844 to an African American father and Native American (Chippewa) mother. Orphaned at a young age, Lewis was raised by her mother's nomadic family and given the name "Wildfire." In Boston, Lewis began sculpting portraits of well-known abolitionists, including William Lloyd Garrison, Charles Sumner, and Wendell Phillips. The sale of her portrait busts of abolitionist John Brown and Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, the Boston hero and leader of the celebrated all-African-American 54th Regiment of the Civil War, helped finance Lewis' first trip to Europe in 1865.
Lewis traveled to Rome, where she became acquainted with Harriet Hosmer and other American sculptors, many of whom had been drawn to Rome by the availability of fine white marble and skills of Italian stone carvers, who were often hired to transfer a sculptor's design from a plaster model to finished marble. Lewis was unique among sculptors of her generation in Rome as she rarely employed Italian carvers and completed most of her work without assistance, in part due to her limited financial resources.
Carved in 1876, The Death of Cleopatra is one of Lewis' most well-known works. Not long after its debut at the Philadelphia Centenntial Exhibition in 1876, it was presumed lost for nearly a century. See more of Lewis' work and read about the interesting, and often circuitous path it took before it found its final home at SAAM in 1994 thanks in part to a Boy Scouts troop in suburban Chicago.
On January 27, Feedel Band and Insect Factory will perform at our Winter Luce Unplugged Community Showcase in the Luce Foundation Center. Feedel Band, an "EthioJazz" band, blends native Ethiopian tunes and jazz of the '60s and '70s to create soulful, textured music. Each member brings one-of-a-kind experiences to the band’s performances, from opening for Beyoncé and working with The Temptations and Dizzy Gillespie, to playing at the Kennedy Center and presidential inaugural celebrations. We sat down with this local band to hear how their unconventional sound is making waves in D.C.'s music scene.
Eye Level: As an "EthioJazz" band, your original sound combines Ethiopian funk, jazz, and soul. How would you describe your creative process?
Feedel Band: We think it's a real gift, and we believe that everyone has this gift too. But sometimes external barriers keep people from exploring music and receiving this gift.
EL: Where do you seek your musical inspiration?
FB: We are inspired by the sound of legendary Ethiopian bands like Ibex and Walias from the '60s and '70s. And they continue to be our musical icons to this day.
EL: How does being in D.C. influence the band's music?
FB: The music scene here is not just for young hippies, but is also for fans of blues, jazz, and reggae music as well. There are times when the entire band can't be together for the show, and in D.C., we always have someone we can count on to fill in, even on short notice.
EL: Feedel in Amharic means "alphabet." How did you decide on this name?
FB: Feedel is, by definition, the Amharic word for letter or alphabet. In fact, it is one of the few written systems that has survived on the African continent to this day. Feedel is unique. Ethiopian characters are entirely phonetic structured in seven columns. In other words, each character in the Feedel system has seven sounds and has the ability to represent virtually every sound. The Feedel system is not only a dazzling display of human creativity but also, in practical terms, a powerful medium for communication and social interaction. The power of Feedel resides in the characters ability to represent virtually every sound. In music theory, we call these characters Diatonic scale, which has seven pitches, and the scale has five whole steps and two half steps. In other words, Feedel could be used as synonyms for a musical scale.
EL: What is one of your favorite memories together as a band?
FB: Our first big instrumental music show at FestAfrica in 2011 was interesting. We were very nervous before the show because we thought the majority of the people in the audience were not very familiar with "EthioJazz" music, but the outcome was very surprising. They were enamored with our warm and engaging style of music. We will never forget that day.
EL: How can fans access your music and are you releasing any upcoming albums?
Hear Feedel Band play Friday, Jan. 27, at 7 p.m. following a performance by Insect Factory. The concert, presented in collaboration with Washington City Paper, will include free tastings from 3 Stars Brewing Company as well as a cash bar with additional drinks and snacks. Check out more details on Luce's Facebook page. See you Friday!
Stephanie Stebich Appointed New SAAM Director
January 24, 2017
Stephanie Stebich, executive director of the Tacoma Art Museum in Tacoma, Wash., since 2005, has been named The Margaret and Terry Stent Director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, effective April 3. Stebich was assistant director at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and the Cleveland Museum of Art and served on the board of the Association of Art Museum Directors and currently serves on the board of the American Alliance of Museums.
"Stephanie brings a wealth of experience to the directorship of SAAM, having served in leadership roles in major and regional museums across America," said Smithsonian Secretary David Skorton. "She has the knowledge, skill and stellar reputation that will enable her to build on and extend the museum's marvelous success in the years ahead."
As head of the Tacoma Art Museum for almost 12 years, Stebich has raised funds for a major renovation that doubled the museum's exhibition space, developed and implemented a strategic plan as well as a 10-year collection plan. She increased the collection by 2,000 works of art, including the Haub Family Collection of Western American art and art of the Northwest. She added major pieces to form the largest collection of works in glass by Tacoma native Dale Chihuly on view in a museum. She also developed through gift and purchase the most important collection of studio art jewelry by artists from the Northwest and one of the nation's premier western American art collections.
Stebich is known to be an effective fundraiser—she launched a capital campaign with a goal of $17 million in 2010 and has raised more than $37 million to date. She increased the full-time staff by 20 percent and added endowed curator, educator and fellow positions in recent years. More than 100 exhibitions opened during Stebich's tenure, including Matika Wilbur's "Project 562," "Edvard Munch and the Sea" and "Art AIDS America" and traveling exhibitions of works by Norman Rockwell and Georgia O'Keeffe.
As a trustee of the Association of Art Museum Directors, Stebich chaired the membership committee leading a major effort to enhance diversity in museum leadership. As a trustee of the American Alliance of Museums, she chairs the global steering committee and is the incoming national program chair.
As assistant director of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (2001-2004), she was responsible for visitor services, public programs, interactive media and special events. Stebich also co-chaired a free city-wide festival of world arts. During her six years at the Cleveland Museum of Art (1995-2001), Stebich coordinated the strategic and facilities planning processes in support of the director and board of trustees. She managed the architect selection process for the major expansion and renovation project.
"I am honored to have been chosen to lead the national museum of American art in our nation's capital," Stebich said. "I am eager to tell the inspiring stories of American art through the museum's phenomenal collections and dynamic programs. I look forward to working with the museum's talented staff and the other directors of Smithsonian museums."
Stebich grew up in Scarsdale, N.Y., and graduated from Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, N.H. She received her bachelor's degree from Columbia University and her master's degree at New York University's Institute of Fine Arts. In addition, she has a certificate in non-profit management from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland and is a graduate of the Getty Leadership Institute in Los Angeles. She was a fellow at the Guggenheim Museum and studied at the University of London's University College. She is fluent in German and French.
Seeing Things (17): Art and Healing
January 20, 2017
This is the seventeenth in a series of personal observations about how people experience and explore museums. Take a look at Howard's other blog posts about seeing things.
The story behind Emery Blagdon's The Healing Machine had captivated me even before I saw the installation in SAAM's reimagined galleries for folk and self-taught art. I find myself coming back to it frequently, just staring into it, and wondering about the artist and his belief in the ability of his artwork to be a catalyst for healing.
Blagdon created his healing environment in a small building he constructed on his farm near Callaway, Nebraska, in order to alleviate pain and illness. He cared for family members who suffered from cancer and felt there must be ways to alleviate such suffering. Blagdon began working on his creation in the late 1950s, and was still working on it when he died in 1986. His installation used found objects such as hay baling wire, magnets, and remnant paints from farm sales, as well as mineral salts and other "earth elements" that he obtained from a local pharmacy. Some of the wire pieces bent into hoops remind me of dreamcatchers or talismans. The paintings feel rife with symbolic gesture. In the thirty years he worked on the piece, he added to and rearranged his array and made constant adjustments in order to channel positive, healing forces. The individual paintings and sculptures, which Blagdon called "his pretties," are suspended from the ceiling and also occupy spaces on the floor. Blagdon believed that energies were drawn upward from the building's earthen floor into the space and worked with the hanging pieces to create a functional machine.
Healing is a theme that finds itself present in other works in the folk and self-taught galleries, and is an idea that artists throughout time and across cultures have grappled with. But, in many ways, isn't healing one of the reasons we seek out art in the first place? We often come to a museum to let a work of art find us, whether it be to fix a broken heart, a troubled soul, or even a failing body.