tv Women Artists in the White House Collection CSPAN April 24, 2021 9:20pm-10:01pm EDT
public history fellows. sarah fling talks about the women artists whose work is part of the collection as well as the first ladies who have made their own contributions the white house historical association. i'm absolutely thrilled to share some of the talented women that are featured in the white house collection with you all in honor of women's history month now, i just wanted to start by saying that this presentation is a brief overview of some of the highlights in the white house collection, but it's certainly not exhaustive. so if you're interested in more information, i'll be taking questions like colleen said, but you can also look on our website white house history.org now, let's head to the next slide. i'd like to begin our exploration of the white house collection by diving into its history now the white house has a long history of collecting and displaying impressive decorative
and fine arts pieces, but the process of acquisition and protection under the eye of a hired full-time curator actually didn't begin until the kennedy administration. in 1961. thanks to the leadership of first lady jacqueline kennedy the white house became an official museum protected by congress. so since 1960s any alterations made to public spaces must first be approved by the federal government. in addition mrs. kennedy hired lorraine waxman pierce to be the first white house curator. you can see lorraine pierce here on the left. she's pictured accepting an addition to the white house collection. now in 1964 president lyndon b johnson signed in an executive order officially establishing the office of the curator as well as the committee for preservation of the white house which helps to advise on acquisition. let's head to the next slide. now the white house collection has more than 65,000 objects that are stored both on and
offsite the early white house collection was mostly comprised of presidential portraiture donated by descendants of presidents or commission by congress. but today the white house collection includes fine arts decorative arts and furniture presidential china services and more. the collection and preservation of art at the white house is far more streamlined today too new additions are made in almost every administration and those are spearheaded by the curators who select paintings and art based on historical and cultural significance. the white house historical association now the curator's office oversees the selection of works for display in the public areas of the white house those that you might see if you came on a white house tour, but the first family has more leeway when it comes to selecting pieces for their private quarters or for private offices
like the oval office, for example they can also request loans for major museums across the country including the smithsonian the national gallery of art and the metropolitan museum of art. now the first ladies are often involved in this process as you can see pictured here first lady laura bush spearheaded the acquisition of this jacob lawrence painting titled the builders as part of her refurbishment of the green room in 2007 next slide. now i'd like to begin diving into the actual artists in the collection by sharing the stories of a few female portraitists the photo that you see here depicts the white house unveiling of first lady best truman's portrait, which would was painted by martha greta compton who will discuss in a moment, but let's head to the next slide. i'd like to start chronologically with harriet as murphy who's the first woman commissioned to paint the official white house portrait of a president now harriet murphy
was actually self-taught and she was born in england, but came to america as a young woman. in new york, she met and married another artist named william d murphy, and she ended up painting under his name now to people in the present day that might seem strange but in the 19th and early 20th century, she found that as a woman she made less money, but when she used her husband's signature on paintings, she earned more and she got more commissions so you can see in this quote here that when mr. murphy discovered that his wife's work was better than his own. he abandoned his own artwork and became her business agent. now here it went on to paint a number of prominent americans including presidents william mckinley theodore roosevelt and woodrow wilson the porter that you see here of president mckinley was painted after his assassination using photographs and previous artistic portrayals and harry murphy actually beat a bunch of male artists to win this presidential commission.
so his success is a painter is especially impressive as many women were excluded from the fine arts and the early 20th century next slide. however, as the century went on presidential portraits painted by women became more prevalent and one of these women is elizabeth schumachov who painted two american presidents and a first lady now schumachov was born in russia actually present-day ukraine and she took art lessons informally as a child, but her family permanently left russia following the october bolshevik revolution in 1917. like many of the artists will discuss today. she resettled in the united states, but following the tragic and unexpected passing of her husband. she needed a way to support her family. and so she turned to her artistic hobby to support them. luckily. she was very talented and she became a well known painter of high society new yorkers now it was through these connections with new yorkers and high places
that schumachov was introduced to president franklin d roosevelt. she painted a miniature of him in 1943 and he liked it so much that he invited her to warm springs, georgia two years later to paint a full portrait. so fdr sat for a watercolor portrait with elizabeth schumachoff on april 12 1945. if that date sounds familiar to you. it's because in the middle of their sitting roosevelt suffered a fatal cerebral hemorrhage and died just a few hours later schumachov's portrait was unfortunately incomplete only the head and torso had been finished but as you can see it hangs in warm springs, georgia today, and it's pictured here. during his administration lyndon b johnson later invited schumachov to complete another version of this portrait to hang in the white house and to accompany the recently completed portrait of first lady eleanor roosevelt. johnson later commissioned schumachov to paint his official white house portrait and first
lady lady bird johnson's next slide, please. so you can see here all three of those portraits completed by schumatof the portrait of roosevelt seen on the left was painted from her memory, which is incredibly impressive and the paintings of the johnsons were completed through in-person sittings at the white house and at their ranch in texas next slide. now greta kempton whose photograph you saw earlier was born in austria in 1903 and she began painting at a young age as so many women painters that i'll talk about today did. after she moved to the united states in the 1920s kempton became an art student in new york. and soon after she made a name for herself by painting the portraits of several prominent individuals including the trumans. so in 1947 president harry s truman commissioned his presidential portrait from kempton and for the rest of her career, she served as sort of a court painter creating paintings and portraits for harry truman
best truman and their daughter margaret. she even turned down offers to paint other us presidents out of loyalty to the truman family in particular kemptons likeness of truman, which you can see pictured here rosen popularity, and it was later used for his official campaign posters for a commemorative postage stamp and for a commemorative coin next slide. so now that we've talked about porter tests, i'd like to expand our view of the white house collection to include women's sculptors and painters some of whom you may actually be familiar with next slide. so we'll begin with mary cassat who is a prominent 19th and 20th century painter and she's known as the only american included in the french school of impressionists cassat exhibited her work alongside famous artists like dega monet and renoir in paris, and she popularized impressionism back home in america.
she was one of the few successful female artists of this period and she was especially known for her depictions of domestic life motherhood and children one of her works in the white house collection is titled young mother and two children and it came to the white house during the johnson administration and if we go to the next slide, we'll see it. so you can see on the left hand side here young mother and two children as i said, it's very characteristic of a cassat work as it shows motherhood femininity and domestic life. i also included this awesome photo of president lyndon johnson's daughter and and daughter in front of cassat's painting in 1968. not only is it a really sweet photograph, but i think it's a great reminder that the white house is both a home and a museum next slide, please. next we have another painter who you may be familiar with, georgia o'keeffe. who was a well known modernist painter that has had multiple
works in the white house collection in particular o'keefe is known for her depictions of flowers and of new mexico landscapes, both of which have been featured in the white house next slide. during the george w bush administration o'keefe's floral painting pictured on the left named jimson weed white flower number one came to the white house on loan and it hung in the president's dining room as you see it here on the right hand side. we also see a an o'keefe painting that's in the white house permanent collection. it's titled mountain at bear lake taos. it was painted in 1930 and acquired by the white house in 1997 during the clinton administration next slide, please. the painting which you see here above the fireplace in the white house library depicts land near taos, new mexico, which is a sacred area to the local taos indigenous people o'keefe employees shifting light deep colors and abstract outlines to show the beauty of the desert,
which is very characteristic of her works. next slide now i'd like to discuss one of my personal favorites alma thomas who was the first black woman represented in the white house collection on the thomas was a washington dc local and was also the first fine arts graduate of howard university in 1924. thomas spent most of her life teaching art in dc public schools, and it was actually not until her retirement in the 1960s that thomas became a well known painter at which point she was in her 70s, which i think is amazing. thomas was a part of the washington dc color school a group of abstract expressionist known for their work with colorful shapes and on the next slide. we'll see her 1966 work resurrection. it hangs in the family dining room in this photograph and it came to the white house during the obama administration and honor of black history month next slide.
and now i'd like to talk about a fascinating woman sculptor who's featured in the white house collection named adelaide johnson. now johnson has a very interesting back story. she was born in illinois in 1859 and she trained as an artist and a woodworker at the saint louis school of design. as a young woman. she moved to chicago to further her education at the chicago school of art, but she lost the money that she had saved to attend school to a pickpocket now. luckily a freak accident saved her career adelaide johnson fell down an empty elevator shaft and the insurance settlement for her accident provided 15,000 which she used to study art in europe. when johnson returned to the united states in the 1880s, she became a proud supporter of women's suffrage and she sculpted a number of prominent women's rights activists if you've ever been to the us capitol rotunda, you've seen her most famous work, which is
called portrait monument to not elizabeth cady stanton and susan b anthony the bronze bust that you see on the left here of susan b. anthony is a part of the white house collection next slide. now finally, i'd like to highlight one of my favorite topics the first ladies a number of first ladies were artists and art collectors, and i'd like to share their stories with you all today next slide. now we'll begin with harriet lane. who was white house hostess and niece of president james buchanan when lane moved into the white house in 1857, she became very popular because she was young vivacious and witty and she was also interested in the arts and began collecting art while living in the white house. after buchanan's administration harriet lane became a well-known philanthropist in washington dc and she also traveled europe dedicating time and energy to an art collection upon her death in
1903 harriet lane willed her entire collection of art toward the creation of a national gallery of art. now at the time no institution existed, so it fell under the control of the smithsonian institution. lanes collection of paintings sculptures and buchanan artifacts from her time in the white house became the foundation and the impetus for the creation of the smithsonian american art museum located in washington dc today next slide. now the smithsonian lovingly refers to harriet lane as the first lady of the national collection of fine arts and some of her art is pictured here. next slide the next first lady i'll discuss is caroline harrison the wife of president benjamin harrison. now mrs. harrison was incredibly artistic. she studied art and music in school and she later took lessons in indianapolis, indiana at home. she gave her own lessons and
established a studio and she also displayed her work in local indianapolis exhibitions. when the harrison's moved into the white house caroline harrison continued these art lessons and also invited congressional and cabinet wives to come take lessons from her at the white house. she was so passionate about art that she even proposed the edition of a new wing on the white house to house an art gallery. unfortunately this never happened, but i think it's so interesting to imagine what it would be like if an entire wing of the white house was a gallery next slide. now in particular mrs. harrison loved watercolors china paintings and florals. she even helped to design the harrison white house china service this photograph shows a tea set painted by mrs. harrison featuring orchids, which were her favorite flower mrs. harrison would often go to the white house conservatory a large indoor garden where orchids were grown and get her inspiration while sitting and enjoying the flowers next slide.
now here you can see a mahogany box which held mrs. harrison's watercolor supplies. it's in the collection of the benjamin harrison presidential site. and on the right is a sketch of her proposed white house expansion as you can see, it's quite palatial and it was too expensive to build. so that's why unfortunately the proposed expansion never happened next slide. when ellen wilson moved into the white house in 1913, she became the first and only first lady to be a professional artist mrs. wilson attended art school in georgia and later in new york city as a teenager. she exhibited her work at the paris international exposition in france and she won a prize for drawing. mrs. wilson later exhibited her works a number of times including one woman art shows and she lived in artist colonies for a time and the american northeast. when her husband woodrow wilson was elected she set up an art
studio in the white house and she continued to sell her paintings for a profit. but as first lady she didn't feel it was right to keep that money. so instead she donated it to the martha berry school for underprivileged girls, which was located in her hometown of rome, georgia, and i think that this quote here is really interesting and it it helps to illuminate mrs. wilson's talent, which says she's taken she has a high talent as a landscape painter not the kind of thing that goes with a few well decorated china plates, but a real big artist talent and if we go to the next slide you'll see here this princeton landscape, which is created by mrs. wilson, and it's in the white house collection. it's very representative of the impressionist art style that mrs. wilson painted in often focused around landscapes and natural scenes. now many other first ladies have supported the arts throughout the history of the white house bringing music and theater ballet fine arts to the
executive mansion assisting with the acquisition of works in the white house collection as i shared earlier and encouraging art appreciation in the united states. so if we go to the next slide i'd be remiss not to mention one of the most iconic examples of first lady sharing art with the american people. during the kennedy administration mrs. kennedy requested that the mona lisa one of the most iconic works in the world located in the french lieu of museum come to the united states now mrs. kennedy was a francophile. she studied art in paris. she spoke fluent french, and she wanted to share the iconic painting with american audiences. mrs. kennedy successfully persuaded the french minister of cultural affairs pictured here andre malrow though. the idea was unpopular to many french citizens and art critics who were concerned about transporting such a fragile and important work across the ocean. in fact, the painting had only
left france once before and it was after being stolen and smuggled out. still mrs. kennedy used her iconic charm to convince the minister that sharing the mona lisa with american audiences would be a symbol of american and french diplomatic ties and sheer french culture with the nation. in december 1962 the mona lisa was transported via temperature-controlled ship across the atlantic and protected by armed guards on its way to washington dc. it was exhibited at the national gallery of art in dc and the metropolitan museum of art in new york. between 1.5 and 2 million visitors saw the painting before it returned to france in march 1963. that is a lot of people for just three months. in so many ways mrs. kennedy improved american art appreciation and she worked tirelessly to preserve the white house and its collections. we celebrate her legacy this year as it's the 60th anniversary of the white house
historical association. i'll go to the next slide. thank you all so much for your attention, and i'm now happy to take any questions that you may have. well, thanks so much for that terrific presentation. we do have a lot of questions for you. first. a lot of people are curious about the position of white house curator and the office of the curator in the white house. can you talk at all about that? and also how maybe the curators typically work with the first family the first lady to make art selections and decide how the art is going to be displayed at the white house. absolutely. that's a great question. so the office of the curator as i mentioned is relatively new just since the kennedy administration the current white house curator is lydia tederick and the curator's office is
actually relatively small just due to the size of the white house and the ability to maintain an office there. so there's just under five employees there if i'm remembering correctly. includes the curator assistant and associate curators and registrars and so they do everything from you know, helping with the acquisition of art preserving it deciding what goes where for example right now there's an exhibit at the national portrait gallery with a number of first lady portraits. and so the white house curators office was of course very active in that and so the curator's office also helps the first family to sort of decide what their personal taste is because of course the white house is both the museum and a home and so off the top of my head, i think a good example is that the obamas were especially interested in modern art and so they worked with the curators to bring in modern art pieces, including all the thomas's work resurrection as well as a number of other pieces.
grant asks, what was the most surprising thing that you learned out of your research? grant that's a great question. you know, i think for me i found the most interesting part of my research the fact that harriet murphy was signing her husband's name when she was creating art, and that one of the coolest things that i wish i could have shown you all. is that on the back side of that portrait of william mckinley, you know, it is signed william d murphy and so, you know, there's there's just this great back story that at first glance you wouldn't realize that really this woman was so ahead of her time and had to persevere against you know up oppression in the art field and she it's just such a great story. and so i'm glad you asked grant. donna asks were any of the artists present when their paintings were unveiled at the white house if you if you paint something good ends up in the
white house do you get invited to the ceremony great question. so donna when it comes to portraits the portraits are invited back to the white house for that unveiling as you saw in that photograph of martha greta compton, she was invited to be there for the truman unveiling however when it comes to other art pieces, there's actually a rule that the artist must be deceased and 25 years past death in order to have like sculptures or regular paintings in the collection. and so people like alma thomas mary kassad, of course, they were not present because of that role. betsy asks a more about the story of jackie kennedy and mona lisa. she wants to know i mean, how did she pull that off? isn't it? france's greatest treasure, you know, that is a great question and i think that it really comes down to the power of jackie kennedy.
she's known by so many for her ability to make anybody feel at ease for her passion for arts and culture and so as a first lady who not only showed her appreciation of french culture through her love of art, but also, you know, she was able to speak french with these diplomats. she was able to make a serious relationship with them and she had first approached the topic in 1961 during the kennedy visit to paris, you know where jfk famously said. i'm the man who accompanying jack kennedy harris so she had approached it and it took about a year to really get the moving and so i think it's just a testament to her her grace and her willpower as first lady. regina wants to know do you know where the mona lisa was displayed during those three months. was it at the white house a smithsonian somewhere else so during the months that it was in america it traveled first to the national gallery of art where was on display and then to the
metropolitan museum of art in new york city, so it was not hung at the white house. it was displayed at those two major museums. and i do have to note that the white house historical association. danielle asks were there any first ladies who were not known for their love of art? was there any first ladies who just said they weren't interested and in this topic. you know, that's a great question. i mean throughout history there have certainly been first. ladies who are less involved in the you know cultural preservation side and the first ladies really get to use what they want to focus on while they're in the white house and so in jack jackie kennedy is example, she really liked art,
and she wanted to focus on it. whereas there certainly other first. ladies who did not focus on it as their center of attention and also looking back to the 19th century harriet lane and caroline harrison were really standouts because most first ladies and that time did not have a direct. how should i put this one certain thing that they focused on as their personal influence in the white house, you know today we look back and we see bullying childhood. obesity say no to drugs are very common the first lady to sort of what they want to focus on that was not always the case. sonya asked what have recent first ladies contributed to the white house art collection stan sonia recently just in the past administration the trump family contributed to helping acquire a noguchi sculpture for the rose garden. it's outside as i said the
obama's acquired that alma thomas painting the jacob lawrence painting the builders came to the white house during the bush administration. so you really see a long thread of first families trying to help with acquisition of works during their administration. natalie wants to know if you've thought about perhaps writing something on this topic and being able to share it with your notes and documentation. absolutely, so i will highlight that a few of these artists are in our diversity in the white house collection on our website and there are some full length articles on a few of the women that i mentioned today including alma thomas greta, kempton, georgia o'keefe. and so that's on white house history.org if you're interested, but we're always adding new items and i would certainly love to contribute more information to our website on this topic because it's it's very fascinating. so lena asks sort of a follow-up to this question. where can i see these works of art online somewhere if i want
to, you know see the alma thomas again, or i want to take a look at the america side again. where can i go to see these? absolutely. thank you lena for asking on white house history.org. we actually have a digital library. that is searchable so you can see a number of objects in the white house collection including many that i did not mention today and learn a little bit more about them individually, so i encourage you to go to our digital library to learn a little bit. more about these pieces and those that i couldn't mention. so i have a question for you sarah in the earlier part of your presentation. you may note that there were several of these artists mary cassat being one. for example that were somehow able to break through there weren't very many famous female artists at this time period in the case of cassat as you mentioned, she might be known as is the most famous female impressionist. how did these women who have
their their portraits or they're paintings or their sculptures included in the white house collection? how did they manage to be recognized particularly in eras in which, you know women were certainly not supported in the arts. yeah, that's a great question colleen and i think just to preface it, you know a number of these artists didn't come to the white house collection until long after their passing. and so you see a lot of artists that really weren't. recognized for their talents until the very end of their lives, but for those that really found their way into prominence during their lifetime. it seems to me that many of them had an in through their own will through their own perseverance that they found a way. so for harriet murphy, you know, that was masquerading as a man and certain instances or for mary. kassad. it was traveling abroad and you know becoming close with these free thinking impressions and so in a lot of cases, it just took a bit of creativity to sort
work around the average art world and to find their niche. jackie asks which presidential portrait is your favorite? hmm. oh, that's a tough question jackie calling. do you want to start? well, i'd have to think about it. i mean, i i really like the the full length portrait of george washington. i think that has just a storied history to it. it's probably the most famous painting actually in the white house collection. so that's sort of an easy out. but i also like the portrait of of grace coolidge. i think it's particularly colorful. i think that it's unusual for how a first lady is is typically depicted and portrayed so those might be two of my favorite ones when i go to the white house that i always keep an eye out for oh, that's a very good one. i love the coolidge portrait. i would say for myself. maybe the kennedy portrait just because the way that it
portrays, you know compared to other portraits. it's very melancholy and i think it perfectly captures, you know, the tragic ending to the kennedy administration and so favorite of mine amanda asked what kind of resources did you use to research harriet lane in her connections to art. she says remark that this story is not that well known. amanda i'm so glad you asked actually i am a graduate student as colleen mentioned earlier and so for my major research as a grad student to finish my degree program, i actually did a deep dive into the life of harriet lane because i think that she's the fascinating first lady who is unfortunately overlooked just because president buchanan is as popular and so that's sort of how i learned about harriet lane and her connections to the art world, but recently, i think they've been sort of unmasked and if you go to this smithsonian archives you can read all about her direct
contributions to the smithsonian american art museum. carol asks a question about the obama portraits and i think it's a good opportunity. maybe sarah you can clarify the difference between the portraits that are displayed at the white house and the portraits that are displayed at the smithsonian. yes. that's a great question. so carol, the recent obama portraits were actually unveiled at the portrait gallery. and so those are separate from the official white house portrait now each president does get a white house portrait now, it is become tradition in the last few decades, but those typically are a little more delayed than those immediate national portrait gallery paintings. and so that's why you're right. those artists were present at the time just because it's a different situation. matt asked a good question if you could add a piece of art to the white house collection, let's say you were first lady or president for a day and you were able to add a piece of art to
the collection. what would it be and why? now that is a great question that i would actually say since we're on the topic of the obama portraits. i'm a big fan of the work of kahindi wiley obviously he is not deceased so he is not up for grabs add to the white house collection yet, but i think that his works are really interesting social commentaries on race relations in america and about the american presidents and i would love to see a wiley piece in the art house in the white house art collection in the future. do you have a favorite piece of art by a first lady that you know of is there out of all the art that you kind of talked about first? ladies engaging and is there a piece that you've seen or you've taken a look at online? that really is struck you as remarkable? definitely. i love the works by caroline harrison and especially her watercolor paintings on china just because i think it's so fascinating to think about her sitting in the white house
conservatory surrounded by flowers. just painting what she saw and so i think it you know ellen wilson was a professional but caroline harrison was an amateur and the work that she was doing was just a full so probably her china painting. and winston asks, you said you mentioned in a gucci sculpture being added to the white house collection. can you tell us where it is? and are there other asian artists in the white house collection? great question winston, so actually the noguchi sculpture broke made history as the first work by an asian-american in the white house collection. it's called floor frame and it's in the white house rose garden. it was just unveiled last year. so it's very exciting. but i hope that it'll just be the start of collecting asian american art in the white house. so our last question this evening sarah tell us why you've become interested in this topic.
and why do you think it's important for there to be diverse artists in the white house collection? you know, i think that generally speaking the white house collection is representative of the people because the white house is the people's house and so it is so important in my opinion that the white house collection represents the american diverse narrative of you know, the great american melting pot and so to see all of these works by asian american artists black artists women. it's just amazing to watch them all come together in this amazing space where americans can come and see them when they tour the white house and so i think in particular for women, it was really interesting to me because a lot of times when you visit the white house or when you learn about it, you learn about prominent male artists like gilbert stewart or charles wilson peel and so it was really important to me to highlight
these women that are equally as talented if not more so that also have these amazing works that were lauded by presidents and their own. and that contribute to this diverse american narrative. and so i think it's really important to research and tell these stories to you know, give the full picture excuse my pun of what's in the white house. well, thank you so much sarah for a terrific presentation on women artists in the white house collection and really the role of women in the arts related to the white house and white house history. here this week we're looking
back to this date in history. the bombing in oklahoma city was an attack on innocent children in defenseless citizens it was an act of cowardice. and it was evil. the united states will not tolerate it. and i will not allow the people of this country to be intimidated. by evil cowards i have met. with our team, which we
assembled? to deal with this bombing and i have determined to take the following steps to assure the strongest response. to this situation first i have deployed a crisis management team under the leadership of the fbi. working with the department of justice the bureau of alcohol tobacco and firearms military and local authorities we are sending the world's finest investigators to solve these murders. second i have declared an emergency in oklahoma city. and at my direction james lee witt the director of the federal emergency management agency. is now on his way there to make sure we do everything we can to help the people of oklahoma deal with the tragedy. third we are taking every precaution to reassure and to protect people who work in or live near other federal
facilities. let there be no room for doubt. we will find the people who did this. when we do justice will be swift certain and severe. these people are killers and they must be treated like killers. finally, let me say that. i ask all americans tonight. to pray to pray for the people who have lost their lives. to play for the families and the friends of the dead and the wounded. pray for the people of oklahoma city may god's grace be with them. meanwhile, we will be about our work. thank you. follow us on social media at c-span history for more this day in history clips and posts.
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