Back In Business

Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History reopens after major renovations

As you mount a shallow ramp in the heart of the Smithsonian's newly renovated National Museum of American History (NMAH), your eyes dilate in the dimming light. Turn left and there lies the Star-Spangled Banner, the flag designed with 15 stars and 15 stripes, so close that it seems you could reach out and touch its tattered fly edge. It's tattered because one star and many, many swatches—about eight-feet worth—were cut away and sold for souvenirs before this surviving 30-by-34-foot icon came to the Smithsonian for safekeeping. Read more »

Thomas Gilcrease And His Western Museum

How Creek Indian number 1501 repaid a debt

In August 1902 a twelve-year-old farm boy named Thomas Gilcrease, being one-eighth Creek Indian on his mother’s side, received a 160-acre allotment in the land of the Creek Nation, one of the Five Civilized Tribes, which occupied what yet remained of Indian Territory in America. Not long before, by act of Congress, the Creeks had ceased to be a self-governing tribe.Read more »

The Force Behind The Whitney

American art was hardly more than a cultural curiosity in the early years of this century. Now it is among the world’s most influential, and much of the credit belongs to a self-made woman named Juliana Force.

Today, when a painting by a living American artist fetches seventeen million dollars at auction, as a picture by Jasper Johns did last year, or when hundreds of people stand in line to get into a museum, as they did for the retrospectives of Edward Hopper, Willem de Kooning, and Georgia O’Keeffe, it is almost impossible to imagine the hostility and suspicion long encountered by American artists. In the early years of this century, a painter of independent or nonconformist leanings was a pariah.Read more »

A Fascination With The Common Place

The vast jumble of objects that once brought solace to an eccentric heiress has become a great museum of the middle class

When Margaret Woodbury Strong died in her sleep on July 17, 1969, the demise of the seventytwo-year-old widow did not go unnoticed in Rochester, New York. For one thing, Mrs. Strong was one of Rochester’s richest inhabitants. She also wore sneakers and dressed, people said, “like a charwoman.” Most of all, Mrs.Read more »

A New Kind Of American Plan

Victorian art, collected for patriotism and profit, finds a home in a New York hotel 19

There is a stretch of some twenty blocks or so on upper Fifth Avenue known as Museum Mile, where art collections of every description fill former turn-of-the-century mansions that have been converted into galleries open to the public. Now a fashionable twentieth-century hotel has joined Museum Mile: it is the fifteen-story Stanhope that faces the Metropolitan Museum of Art directly across Fifth Avenue.Read more »

Electra Webb And Her American Past

How a brave and gifted woman defied her parents and her background to create the splendid collection that is Shelburne

What do the following items have in common—a peerless collection of old American juilts, a 220-foot steam-driven side-wheeler, last of its noble race, and the exact replica of six beautiful rooms in a millionaire’s Park Avenue apartment? The answer is nothing except that they all can be found at one of the most amiable public places in America: the Shelburne Museum at Shelburne, Vermont—”35 buildings on 45 acres and the S.S. Ticonderoga ,” as the little guide to the place puts it.Read more »

England’s All-american Corner

At Bath the British can catch glimpses of their rebellious daughter country’s history in an unusual museum

The scene is one of a quintessential Englishness: a stately manor house with sparkling bay windows giving out upon a broad expanse of finely trimmed lawn that reaches out toward the river Avon in the valley below, an exquisite formal garden with pebbled walks and a delicate fountain, the whole set off against a stone balustrade supporting a majestic row of classical stone urns. But there is something weirdly wrong with the picture nevertheless—what is that huge tepee, with all the children running in and out of it, doing out in front of the manor?Read more »

“American Art Really Exists”

said a New York newspaper when the Metropolitan opened its American Wing in 1924. This spring, a new, grander American Wing once again displays the collection that Lewis Mumford found “not merely an exhibition of art,” but “a pageant of American history.”

The reopening of the Metropolitan Museum’s American Wing this spring deserves the great attention it is likely to get. During the several years that the Wing has been closed for rehabilitation and for new construction that will more than double the size of the old premises, most of the museum’s collections of American art have been in storage. But even in such confinement they continued to grow in size, scope, and importance.Read more »

“whoso Would Learn Wisdom, Let Him Enter Here!”

So read a welcoming sign over the door of Charles Willson Peale’s great ill-fated museum

In the summer of 1786, an advertisement heralding the appearance of a revolutionary new institution appeared in the Pennsylvania Packet: MR. PEALE , ever desirous to please and entertain the Public, will make a part of his House a Repository for Natural Curiosities—The Public he hopes will thereby be gratified in the sight of many of the Wonderful Works of Nature which are now closeted but seldom seen.Read more »