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Monday, November 25, 2019

More Than Just Anthropologist and “Other”: A Legacy of Action by Lakota Native Dr. Beatrice Medicine in Educational Anthropology [1]

A “Woman of Action and Activism" was how American anthropologist and educator Faye V. Harrison poetically encapsulated the legacy of Dr. Beatrice Medicine. Medicine—whose Lakota name was Hinsha Waste Agli Win, or “Returns Victorious with a Red Horse Woman” —was a cultural anthropologist who dedicated her life to the field of anthropology through her roles as scholar, activist, author, and educator, most notably in the fields of Indigenous languages, cultures, and history. Her interests in American Indian Studies covered a variety of social and educational concerns, including, but not limited to, bilingual education, alcohol and drug abuse, women’s issues, the socialization of children, and identity needs. For more than six decades, Medicine dedicated her life to researching, teaching, and serving American Indian communities, eventually earning (among other awards) the American Anthropological Association’s (AAA) Distinguished Service Award (1991) and George and Louise Spindler Award (2005) for her lifelong contributions to the anthropology field, especially educational anthropology.

Beatrice Medicine with William C. Sturtevant at Powwow Conference at the British Museum in February 2003. ([2003 Powwow Conference, British Museum], Box 485, William C. Sturtevant Papers, National Anthropological Archives)

Dr. Beatrice Medicine was born on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in Wakpala, South Dakota on August 1, 1923. As a young adult, she studied at South Dakota State University, where she earned her Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology in 1945, and at Michigan State University, where she received her Master of Arts in Sociology and Anthropology in 1954. In time Medicine would also go on to earn her Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin in 1983, making her, as of that year—according to Medicine’s own acceptance speech for the 1996 Society for Applied Anthropologists Bronislaw Malinowski Awardone of only eighty-six total qualified anthropologists to come from a Native background. Medicine was also awarded several honorary doctorates; however, one of the highest honors of her life was being a Sacred Pipe Woman for the Sun Dance at Sitting Bull’s Camp in 1977.

Medicine began her career as an educator working first as a home economics teacher at the Haskell Indian Institute in 1945 and would go on to teach Native American/Indian Studies university courses, “[embracing] the broadest context of Native peoples’ lives as she sought to understand gender identities, families, physical and mental health, Native religious practices, alcohol and drug treatment, social justice, education, and public policy." In total, Medicine worked as faculty, visiting professor, and scholar-in-residence at thirty-one universities and colleges in the United States and in Canada, even after her official retirement in 1989.

Medicine sought to use her insider’s knowledge as a member of the American Indian community to reduce the “othering” of her people and to improve their overall well-being and treatment by non-Natives. “I am part of the people of my concerns,” she would reflect. Aware of her unique status as a female Lakota among her mostly male Caucasian colleagues, Medicine worked to emphasize the importance of bicultural and bilingual education, challenging institutionalized forms of racism, linguicism, and the lingering effects of colonization in an educational system that sought to “‘whiten’ American Indian children and thereby transform and ‘uplift’ a ‘race.’" Instead of this “antagonistic acculturation," Medicine believed that multicultural education—especially in the form of bilingual education—was essential for American Indians to have anchors to their heritages and the chance to be viewed as students who were capable of academic achievement.

In addition to her aforementioned research interests, the Beatrice Medicine papers at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Anthropological Archives showcase Medicine’s interest in creating greater education opportunities for American Indians. Among the collection items are decades worth of Medicine’s original teaching material (syllabi, course assignments, tests, etc.) and correspondence with her peers from the Committee of Anthropologists at Primarily Minority Institutions (CAPMI). This AAA sub-group brought anthropologists out of retirement and back into the classrooms of primarily minority colleges and universities across the U.S. This provided institutions—especially tribally-controlled ones—with cross-cultural experiences and curricula as a basis for future Native Studies courses. Although short-lived, CAPMI was an important step in addressing systematic “cultural and racial warfare” that limited the educational and economic opportunities of American Indians. Educational programs rooted in accurately portraying American Indian history through lectures by American Indian educators legitimized American Indian students’ senses of cultural identity. They provided a space for American Indians to confront a field that historically misrepresented them, to reclaim their narratives and languages, and to instigate positive change, perhaps as anthropologists themselves.

Self portrait of Beatrice Medicine. (Beatrice Medicine Papers, National Anthropological Archives)

The significance of Beatrice Medicine’s work to the field of anthropology and to the larger American Indian population cannot be understated. For Medicine, professionally researching her own community began as a “survival strategy,” a way to stay connected to her roots as she navigated a life as both insider and outsider, anthropologist and Lakota native. Although much of Medicine’s research and the narrative of her life bring up “the question of belonging,” what she left behind was a legacy of action. Through action showed assertion, a proclamation of her strong sense of personal, professional, and cultural identity, and the opportunity for those living between two worlds to find and assert their own answers.

The Beatrice Medicine Papers will soon be available for researchers at the National Anthropological Archive thanks to generous support from the Smithsonian Women's Committee.

-          Katrina Schroeder, Project Archivist
 National Anthropological Archives

[1] Author’s note: Medicine self-identified as “American Indian” (rather than “Native American”) and will be referenced as such in this piece. The term “American Indian” will also be applied when discussing Medicine’s work in educational anthropology, in which she researched Indigenous peoples under the representation and protection of the National Congress of American Indians, which includes American Indians (i.e. individuals from U.S. mainland tribal nations) and Alaska Natives.


American Anthropological Association (2019). “AAA Commission on Minority Issues in Anthropology Report: Recommendation for a Committee for Minority Issues in Anthropology within the American Anthropological Association.” Retrieved from

American Anthropological Association (2019). “Franz Boas Award.” Connect with AAA. Retrieved from

American Anthropological Association (2019). “Franz Boa Award Previous Winners.” Retrieved from

Council on Anthropology and Education (2019). “George and Louise Spindler Award.” American Anthropological Association. Retrieved from

Deyhle, Donna (1995). “Navajo Youth and Anglo Racism: Cultural Integrity and Resistance.” Harvard Educational Review, 65(3), 403-444. Retrieved from

Deyhle, Donna, and Teresa L. McCarty (2007). “Beatrice Medicine and the Anthropology of Education: Legacy and Vision for Critical Race/Critical Language Research and Praxis.” Anthropology & Education Quarterly, Vol. 38, Issue 3, 209-220.

Garner, Ted (2001). “Forward.” Learning to Be an Anthropologist and Remaining “Native”: Selected Writings. By Beatrice Medicine. Chicago, Il. University of Illinois Press.

Haskell Indian Nations University (2019). “School History.” Retrieved from

Harrison, Faye V. (2001). “Forward.” Learning to Be an Anthropologist and Remaining “Native”: Selected Writings. By Beatrice Medicine. Chicago, Il. University of Illinois Press.

Medicine, Beatrice (1998). “American Indians and Anthropologists: Issues of History, Empowerment, and Application.” Human Organizations, 57(3). Retrieved from

Medicine, Beatrice (2001). Learning to Be an Anthropologist and Remaining “Native”: Selected Writings. Chicago, Il. University of Illinois Press.

National Congress of American Indians (2019). “Mission & History.” Retrieved from

National Museum of Natural History (2019). “Collections and Archives Access.” Retrieved from

“NEW: Human rights advocate Beatrice Medicine dies.” (2006 January 6). Rapid City Journal. Retrieved from

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (2019). “Profiles: Faye V. Harrison.” Illinois Experts. Retrieved from

Ruoff, A. LaVonne Brown (2006). “Beatrice Medicine: A Strong Lakota Woman, Pioneering Anthropologist, and Dedicated Mentor.” Meeting Ground, 49, 4. Retrieved from

Society for Applied Anthropology (2019). “Bronislaw Malinowski Award.” Retrieved from

Standing Rock Sioux Tribe (2019). “History.” Retrieved from

Wolcott Harry F. (2003). A Kwakiutl Village and School. Walnut Creek, CA. AltaMira Press.

Zelitch, Jeffry (1970). “The Lakota Sun Dance.” Expedition Magazine, 13(1). Penn Museum, 1970 Web. 14 Aug 2019. Retrieved from

Thursday, October 31, 2019

America's Pastime Saved by Beer

It is October and the World Series is on the minds of fans, especially here in Washington D.C. For many people baseball revives memories of sitting in the stands drinking an ice-cold beer on a hot Sunday and watching the game from the cheap seats. To the fans, this is paradise and a way to enjoy America’s national pastime. But as American as this seems, there was a time when Sunday baseball, beer, and the cheap seats not only did not exist, they were banned.

Rewind to the early 1870’s, a time when the future of baseball looked bleak. Stadium attendance was low and fans were leaving the game. Corrupt and drunken players on the field and gambling in the darkest corners of the stadiums were running off baseball’s fan base. It was not uncommon for players to throw games for gamblers or not show for games with teams refusing to finish tournaments or seasons. This behavior threatened the end of an American sport.

The game’s salvation came in the form of William Ambrose Hulbert, in 1875. Hulbert, owner of the Chicago White Stockings, had enough of the chaos, dysfunction and corruption of baseball. Desiring a change, Hulbert started a new league that we know today as the National League. Not only did he take his team with him, but he took some of the wealthiest teams for his league. From the start Hulbert used an iron fist to institute rules. Most notably, the league controlled the teams and the players, instead of the other way around as it had been. If teams or players failed to heed the rules, Hulbert showed no mercy expelling the violators for life.

Baseball Score Counter, Peter Doelger Brewing, Warshaw Collection of Business Americana, ca. 1724-1977, Beer Series, Archives Center, National Museum of American History

Keeping in line with his crackdown, Hulbert banned alcohol at stadiums. The fans had to quench their thirst with something other than beer and whiskey. Today this seems unbelievable: who would ban beer at the ballpark? But times were different. The Temperance Movement during the 1870’s was in full swing throughout the United States, and banning alcohol fell within the societal norms.

Baseball Score Counter, Pfaff's Brewery, Warshaw Collection of Business Americana, ca. 1724-1977, Beer Series, Archives Center, National Museum of American History

Lastly, Hulbert wanted to clean up the sport’s riffraff fan base. He raised ticket prices to 50 cents, which at the time was a stiff price to pay. Hulbert believed this would prevent the lower classes from attending games, making games more inviting to women and families.

But then a German immigrant came along to throw a wrench, or actually a mug of beer, into Hulbert’s best-laid plans. Christian von der Ahe pictured baseball for the working man. He and several other team owners formed the American Association baseball league in 1881. Many of these owners were connected to alcohol in some form, whether by owning breweries or saloons, or being based in beer cities such as Milwaukee, St. Louis and Cincinnati.

This American Association presented an immediate challenge to the National League in that they allowed beer in the parks, sold tickets for 25 cents, and held games for the first time ever on Sundays. Sunday games were extremely important in that for the average American laborers, Sundays were their only day off. The effects of the American League’s changes were swift. In the beginning Hulbert did not view the new league as a threat to his more puritanical National League, but within the first year the wet American league saw more than four times the profits of Hulbert’s dry league. Von der Ahe’s league quickly was nicknamed the “Beer and Whiskey League.”

By the early 1890’s the National League began to see the errors of its ways. In 1891, as the American Association folded, the National League not only absorbed many of the American Association teams and players, but also the practices of Sunday games, 25 cent tickets and beer in the park.
In the end, the National League’s strict rules attempted to save the floundering sport, but it was the development of the American League that laid the founding traditions that truly saved baseball: cold beer. So while we cheer our favorite team this October, we cannot forget that these traditions we have known and loved were instituted by people who made and sold our beer.

Joe Hursey
Reference Archivist
Archives Center
National Museum of American History

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Soaring through the Archives of Air and Space with Transcription Center

Have you ever wondered what you should pack for a trip to the moon? Or what female aviator clubs were like in the 1930's? How about the history of grape soda and its relationship to America's first transcontinental flight?

                             Inflight Coverall Garment, Jacket, Apollo,                     Items taken aboard Apollo 11, NASM Archives.
                                 D19791187000, National Air and Space Museum.

Well you're in luck! The answers to these questions -- recorded in the pages of diaries, letters, and scrapbooks held in the Archives of the National Air and Space Museum (NASM) -- are now more easily discoverable thanks to volunteer transcription.

Vin Fiz Art Poster, Armour & Co., 1911,  A1935044000, National Air and Space Museum.
Since 2015, staff in the NASM Archives have launched (pun intended) over 200 projects in the Smithsonian Transcription Center--including stowage lists from six different Apollo missions, records from Calbraith (Cal) Perry Rodgers' 1911 transcontinental flight (which was sponsored by the makers of the popular grape soda, the Vin Fiz), and the scrapbook of female pilot, Manila Davis Talley, containing multiple photographs and  news articles on twentieth century women's aviation clubs and flying competitions. 

Page from Scrapbook of Manila Davis Talley, NASM.XXXX.0041, National Air and Space Museum.

The Archives' collections span the history of flight, from ancient times to the present day, and include materials from military officers and personnel, NASA astronauts, Smithsonian staff, civilian pilots and engineers, astrophysicists, nineteenth-century balloonists, flight attendants, and more. Over the past four years 1,062 volunteers (or 'volunpeers' as we say here in TC) have transcribed close to 13,000 pages from the archival collections at NASM. These TC projects only constitute a small portion of NASM's archival collections, yet the work of digital volunteers transcribing and reviewing these materials increases accessibility and awareness of the rich information held within every page. (Want to learn more about how volunteer transcription makes Smithsonian collections accessible and text-searchable? Head to our About page and follow us on Twitter for ongoing updates, discoveries, and behind-the-scenes sneak peeks!)

Here's some highlights from NASM TC Projects:

Apollo 11 Flight, Crew, Training, NASM Archives.
Velma Maul Tanzer, NASM.2005.0036, NASM Archives.
  • World War II diaries and scrapbooks from Harold Raskin (Army Airways Communications System, 7th AACS Wing Ground Control Approach (GCA) unit), William Jones (aerial photographer in the Army Air Corps), and a Japanese man named Yamada (much information on him is still unknown). 
                           General Benjamin O. Davis,                                   William Jones, NASM.2006.0067 NASM Archives.
                          NASM.1992.0023, NASM Archives.                                              

Click here to explore all of the completed and ongoing Transcription Center projects from NASM. And keep an eye out for more projects coming soon, including a letter from astronaut John Glenn, Jr., diaries from WWI Pilot Zenos Miller, and collections documenting the groundbreaking work of female aviators Rubye Berau, Mary Charles, and Helen Richey.

-Caitlin Haynes, Transcription Center Coordinator

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Letting the Cat out of the Archives

October, according to National Today, is a month with not one, not two, but four cat-related holidays! There was both Global Cat Day and National Feral Cat Day on October 16, National Black Cat Day on October 27, and National Cat Day on the day that this is scheduled to be posted, October 29. Therefore, it seems only logical that I write a post fit for the occasion.

I simply needed to search “cats” on SOVA – the Smithsonian Online Virtual Archives – to find a veritable plethora of cat-related content, containing everything from family photos to paper dolls. The largest clowder of cats appeared to be in the “Warshaw Collection of Business Americana: Animals Series,” so that’s where I started. I looked through a few folders until I came across one which contained two old books with intriguing titles and covers: The Cat Doctor, by Dr. A.C. Daniels (date unknown) and Christopher Cricket on Cats, by Anthony Euwer (1909). The former is an old cat-care guide with a deceptively cute cover – causing me to initially assume it was a children’s story about a cat with a medical degree. The book contains fascinating advertisements for such items as “Cat Crumbs” and “Dog Bread,” as well as some rather… unusual advice for cat-owners. It is definitely worth looking through, but for the sake of not writing a ten-page blog post, I’ll be sticking with the latter.

AC0060-0005049-01. Archives Center, National Museum of American History
Above: the spooky cover of Christopher Cricket on Cats, depicting the nine lives of a cat who has just died:  Anthony Henderson Euwer, with Introduction by Wallace Irwin. Christopher Cricket on Cats: with Observations and Deductions for the Enlightenment of the Human Race from Infancy to Maturity and Even Old Age. 2nd ed., the Little Book Concern, 1909.

AC0060-0005049-02. Archives Center, National Museum of American History.
Above: a portrait of the fictional narrator, Christopher Cricket, also surrounded by nine cats in various positions.

Christopher Cricket on Cats is a book of “observations and deductions for the enlightenment of the human race from infancy to maturity and even old age.” What this means is that it is a wonderfully strange book. For those familiar with Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, by T.S. Eliot – from which we have the musical, and soon-to-be movie, Cats – this book is comparable and was published thirty years earlier. Written from the point of view of a child, but intended most likely for an adult audience, Euwer’s book contains poems, limericks, “observations,” and a lovely selection of his illustrations – varying from highly realistic to truly cartoonish.

Part of the humor of his writings is in the spelling mistakes, grammatical errors, and obvious misinterpretations of common words and phrases that are attributed to the author’s age and meant to be charmingly incorrect. For example, the worship of “Sack-red” cats by ancient Egyptians, the use of nine-tailed cats as weapons against transgressors, or the assumption that when it rained cats and dogs, “they wuz only ghosts,” since no animals could be found once the rain had cleared.

AC0060-0005049-03. Archives Center, National Museum of American History
 Above: a rather exhausting number of puns on the left, and one of the most disturbing illustrations of a cat on the right with the caption, “Cataleapsy.”

These mistakes often rely on one literary device which fully saturates every page of this book: the pun. From the list of “Principle Dizeezes” and products above, to the explanations of the names of “Different Breeds” below, there is no escaping the cat-related puns. Any chance that Euwer had to add in a “cat”-anything, he used it. The owner of this book seems to have appreciated these puns, since they tried their own hand at punning on the very last page of the book: “A cat had a fit and it died – another cat had a fit and it lived [Result:] Survival of the fittest.” However, for those – like myself – who start to go a bit crazy at hearing too many of the same type of pun, there are plenty of other acceptable jokes:

“Some comes and rubs against you which, / Means you will scratch them where they itch, – / While others is so mean all through / They like lots better scratchin you.”
– “Cats and Humans – All the Same”
“Cats has been known to save hundreds of dollars’ worth of things frum bein robbed, by lettin Burglars stumble over them in the dark and wakin up the house-hold.”
– “Uses of Cats”
“Cats dont bark cause they’re afraid they might be taken for Dogs,– which would be very humiliatin.”
– “Reasons for Different Things”

It’s basically the original book of cat memes.

AC0060-0005049-04. Archives Center, National Museum of American History
Above: more puns, with the names of cat breeds transformed into illustrations of “The Angorrie Cat,” “The Magnifie Cat,” and “The Maltease Cat” on the left, and a cat on the right with the caption, “Cats with deep feelins is called Feline Cats.” Underneath this “Feline Cat,” an amusing observation on the “Uses of Cats.”

Much like the creators of cat memes, Anthony Euwer may have made all these jokes about cats, but he clearly loved and admired them. Even the fact that he capitalizes the “C” in every variation on “Cat” implies a deep respect for these feline companions. In the very same section as the first quote of the previous paragraph, Christopher Cricket lists many positive qualities to balance and even outweigh the negative, the entire time showing that “Cats and Humans [are] all the same.” Later on, in a story about the “Cumpuss Cat,” he praises cats’ ability to always land on their feet. More touching, however, is his last sentence of this section. Speaking about cats who run away, Christopher says, “Bet I’d never come back if I wuz some Cats that live some places I know, but Cats is wonderful good-hearted that way and dont seem to mind nothin.” However, you don’t even need to read this far into the book to sense Euwer’s affection for cats; simply open the book and read his “Deadication”:

To all the Cats that ever meowed
On this or any other sphere,–
From the beginning of all time
Unto this present year;

To all the Cats that’s still to come
And to all those that lives,
And to their ghosts,– each countin nine,
And to their relatives;

And to each one who likes some sort
Of Cat, no matter what,–
I deadicat this little book
With kind and lovin thought.

AC0060-0005049-05. Archives Center, National Museum of American History
Above: an illustration of a more scruffy-looking cat with the contemplative and uncharacteristically solemn short poem/caption, “Oh what’s the use of anything / In this life anyhow – / Won’t nothin matter much I guess / A hundred years from now.”

Contrary to what the caption on the image above states, over one hundred years after Christopher Cricket on Cats was published, I at least can still benefit from Euwer’s humor! However, if I had not looked through the collection myself, I would never have known that this book existed. When I first searched for cats, it simply never showed up. The SOVA entry – at the time that I am writing this – moves straight from folder 5 to folders 8-13 in box 5, completely skipping folder 7 in which these items are contained. The Warshaw Collection is vast, and so it only makes sense that the online finding aid would need continual addition, and that even when complete not every item would be listed. So, there’s a moral to this story: don’t be shy, and don’t be lazy; look through the archive collections for yourself!

Even if it’s a small collection that you’re interested in, with every single item listed and categorized online – a somewhat rare occurrence – you cannot possibly obtain the same feel, smell, and sight of the object from a screen alone. Even if there are images online, you could miss a scrawled note, a fingerprint, or even a hair (not always pleasant, but still). The only way to truly explore the archives is to find a collection, make an appointment, and come in ready to soak up information through all your senses. After all, why else would we be keeping all this stuff?

AC0060-0005049-06. Archives Center, National Museum of American History
Above: on the left, several witches ride cats above the caption, “The Whitches they used to beat em with the broom switches that they had.” On the right, a single witch and cat above the caption, “With great big eyes like fire in the dark.”

Side note: there are a handful of witches in this book, so it’s entirely appropriate for Hallowe'en!

To learn more about the Warshaw Collection of Business Americana, or view any number of our collections yourself, please visit our website and make an appointment today!

Kira Leinwand
Intern, Fall 2019
Archives Center
National Museum of American History

Monday, October 28, 2019

Archives Contextualize Artist's Work for Conservator

As a textile conservator I am trained to search for clues in textiles; a small label, a repair, or the structure of the fabric help me to understand the history of an object. Much like a detective I sometimes have to dig deeper to solve an object’s mysteries. This past year I had the opportunity to conduct in-depth archival research on a set of quilts in the AnacostiaCommunity Museum’s collection (ACM).

Several quilts that are part of an artwork titled The Shroud Series  incorporates fabric patches with photographic images printed on them. The artist Fay Fairbrother designed the quilts based on traditional patterns, and kept them “simple in order for the photographs to speak.”  The quilts juxtapose historic photographs of early twentieth century lynching and gatherings of the Ku Klux Klan with period portraits of African American and white families. This harrowing subject matter made me want to know more about the artists’ life and sources.  

A quilt from The Shroud Series, 2002.0011.0001 Courtesy of Anacostia Community Museum. Photo by Lisa Anderson.

I started my research on Fay Fairbrother by surveying the National African American Museum Project (NAAMP) files in the Anacostia Community MuseumArchives.  The Shroud Series appeared in NAAMP's 1994 inaugural exhibit Imaging Families: Images and Voices. Reading the documents in the files was eye-opening! My archival discoveries include an artist statement and resume, and installation notes and correspondences between the artist, staff members and close friends. From these documents, I learned that the artist studied art history and earned her master's degree in photography at the University of Oklahoma. Installation notes provided important details about how the series was displayed. Through the letters I was able to locate a close friend of Fairbrother and a former professor of hers at the University of Oklahoma. Through interviews with them I learned about the artist’s sources of inspiration, challenges, and working practice.

The research also led me to locate the family photographs and several of the KKK images in the Western History Collection at the University of Oklahoma in Norman.  Several of the lynching images are held at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York, and the Allen-Littlefield Collection at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Georgia.

Detail of a quilt from The Shroud Series, 2002.0011.0001
Courtesy Anacostia Community Museum. Photo by Lisa Anderson.

Further research revealed the identity of the lynching victims Bennie Simmons, Thomas Shipp, Abram Smith, and Claude Neal (Allen 2000 and the New York Public Library digital collections) but  the identity of the African American families remains unknown. I also found information about other exhibits of Fairbrother's work which helped to contextualize The Shroud Series.

Detail of a quilt from the Shroud Series,2002.0011.0001
Courtesy Anacostia Community Museum. Photo by Lisa Anderson

Copies of documents I gathered from all these archives are now within ACM object files as documentation for the quilts. The archival information I reviewed not only provided context to the quilts I was conserving but helped me to understand the intentions of the artist and how she intertwined her art with her personal experiences.

Annaick Parker
Textile Conservator
Anacostia Community Museum

Friday, October 25, 2019

The Interplay of Art, Music, and Portraiture

American portraiture captures rich conversations between artists, musicians, and singers. On the occasion of the Smithsonian’s Year of Music, this essay explores the interplay of art, music, and portraiture in the United States, from the Early Republic to today.

During the eighteenth century, artists were often inspired to portray individuals and groups in the act of playing instruments or singing. A popular theme was the informal family concert, which exemplified the harmony and personal values shared by the represented members. An example is the painting Family of Dr. Joseph Montégut (c. 1797-1800), which has been attributed to José Francisco Xavier de Salazar y Mendoza. It depicts a French surgeon who has settled in New Orleans. He is surrounded by his wife, great aunt, and children, who are about to play for their parents. Two hold flutes, while a daughter’s hands are poised on the pianoforte keys. This composition of a French Creole family in Spanish-governed New Orleans presents a vision of musical and domestic harmony, which had precedents in European art tradition.

From the 1790s through the 1830s, theater and concert performances proliferated and by the mid-nineteenth century, music had become a public commodity. A leading European virtuoso, the Swedish singer Jenny Lind, toured the United States from 1850-1852, in part with the sponsorship of P.T. Barnum. Many American artists portrayed the popular “Swedish Nightingale,” including Francis Bicknell Carpenter, whose 1852 oil painting depicts Jenny Lind in costume, holding a musical score book.

Jenny Lind by Francis Bicknell Carpenter, oil on canvas, 1852. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Eleanor Morein Foster in Honor of First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton (NPG.94.123)

From 1892 to 1895, the Czech composer Antonín Dvořák was director of the National Conservatory of Music in America. His famous symphony From the New World (1893) reflected his interest in African American and Native American music. He promoted the idea that American classical music should follow its own models instead of imitating European composers. Dvořák helped inspire our composers to create a distinctly American style of classical music. By the twentieth century, many American composers, such as Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland, George Gershwin, and Charles Ives incorporated diverse musical genres into their compositions, including folk, jazz, and blues.

As a composer, pianist, and conductor, Leonard Bernstein made a profound impact on American music by collaborating with the performing arts. His interests ranged from classical music and ballet to jazz and musicals. In an oil portrait of 1960, René Robert Bouché portrayed Bernstein in a moment of reflection, with the papers of the musical score he is writing scattered across the desk in front of him.

Leonard Bernstein by René Robert Bouché, oil on canvas, 1960. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Springate Corporation. © Denise Bouche Fitch (NPG.92.3)

The composer George Gershwin and his brother, lyricist Ira Gershwin, were also highly versatile, having collaborated on popular musicals and a folk opera. Both brothers also painted interesting self-portraits, which can be viewed in the Gershwin collection in the Music Division of the Library of Congress. In a 1934 oil portrait in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery, George Gershwin represented himself in profile with a musical score and his hand alighting upon the piano keys.

Self-Portrait by George Gershwin, oil on canvas board, 1934. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Ira Gershwin. © Estate of George Gershwin (NPG.66.48)

The following year, the Gershwin brothers debuted Porgy and Bess, “an American folk opera,” which broke new ground in musical terms. Soprano Leontyne Price appeared in the 1952 revival touring production of Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, which brought her first major success. Less than a decade later, in 1961, Price became the first leading African-American opera star when she made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera. Bradley Phillips created this formal oil painting of Leontyne Price within a stage setting in 1963. It is one of several portraits he made of the singer. The artist expressed the admiration he felt for her immense talent when seeing her perform onstage.

Leontyne Price by Bradley Phillips, oil on canvas, 1963. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Ms. Sayre Sheldon (NPG.91.96)

Artists Thomas Eakins and George P.A. Healy also created portraits of singers and musicians. In the medium of painting, these artists were able to convey the intensity and precision of the musicians in their performances. Thomas Eakins asked his model Weda Cook to repeatedly sing a particular phrase from Felix Mendelssohn’s oratorio Elijah, so he could explore the position and movement of her mouth and vocal chords for his portrait Concert Singer (1890-1892). In this manner, he recreated the immediate sense of a formal concert with the contralto singing on the stage and the conductor’s hand and baton raised in the lower corner.

George P.A. Healy visited virtuoso Franz Liszt in Rome and created this 1868-1869 oil portrait of him playing the piano in an inspired moment. Healy even convinced the composer to allow Ferdinand Barbedienne to cast his hands in bronze, an artifact Healy later kept in his studio. Both artists not only portrayed the physical characteristics of musicians and singers but also the inner passion and mental concentration they brought to their performances. As such, they recreated the emotional spirit of the music for viewers.

James McNeill Whistler thought about his paintings in terms of musical titles and themes. He created not only portraits of musicians but also discussed the subtle tonalities of his more abstract urban scenes and landscapes in musical terms. In 1878, Whistler defended the titles of his paintings: “Why should not I call my works ‘symphonies,’ ‘arrangements,’  ‘harmonies,’ and ‘nocturnes’?...As music is the poetry of sound, so is painting the poetry of sight, and the subject-matter has nothing to do with harmony of sound or of colour.” This analogy between music and painting was Whistler’s primary means for defending his paintings against criticism. Indeed, he published this defense in the journal The World during his libel lawsuit against critic John Ruskin, who referred to Whistler’s 1875 oil painting of fireworks in London, Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket, as “flinging a pot of paint in the public’s face.” Whistler’s use of music as a metaphor for painting was intended to build support for the concept that color, form, and painterly technique were the primary elements of an artwork. Whistler brought this correlation of painting and music to public attention with his artworks, which in turn influenced other artists and musicians.  

Regional painter Thomas Hart Benton praised “James McNeill Whistler[’s art]...tone, colors harmoniously arranged…Whether you can distinguish one object from another or not, whether the thing painted looks like a man, woman, or dog, mountain, house or tree, you have harmony and the grandest artistic aim, it is the truly artistic aim.” Benton was a self-taught and performing musician who invented a harmonica tablature notation system used in current music tutorials. He was also a cataloguer, collector, transcriber, and distributor of popular music. He had musical gatherings for family and friends at his home in Kansas City. These sessions were commemorated on a 1942 recording by Decca Records called Saturday Night at Tom Benton’s, which featured chamber and folk music. Benton’s friend, the popular actor and singer Burl Ives, shared his passion for American songs. During the Great Depression, Ives traveled the country gathering and playing folk songs, and Benton made sketches of folk musicians in different regions. In a 1950 lithograph titled the Hymn Singer or the Minstrel, Benton portrayed Ives playing the guitar. 

Burl Ives by Thomas Hart Benton, lithograph on paper, 1950. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution. © T.H. Benton and R.P. Benton Testamentary Trusts/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY (NPG.85.141)

In 1973, Benton was commissioned to paint his last mural, The Sources of Country Music, for the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville, with support from the National Endowment for the Arts. He decided the mural “should show the roots of the music–the sources–before there were records and stars,” and he created a lively, flowing composition of country folk musicians, singers, and dancers.

Artist LeRoy Neiman featured Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Charlie Parker, Benny Goodman, and other famous jazz performers in his group portrait Big Band (2005), which is held at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. It took Neiman ten years to complete this mural-size tribute to eighteen jazz masters, which the LeRoy Neiman Foundation presented to the Smithsonian after the artist’s death in 2012. Neiman frequented jazz clubs, where he befriended and sketched these performers. In 2015, the LeRoy Neiman Foundation donated funds to the Smithsonian towards the expansion of jazz programing during the annual celebration. See the following two part guide to this group portrait of jazz greats: and

One can discover further portraits and biographies of notable composers, musicians, and singers in the Catalog of American Portraits (CAP). In 1966, the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery founded the CAP, a national portrait archive of historically significant subjects and artists from the colonial period to the present day. The public is welcome to access the online portrait search program of more than 100,000 records from the museum’s website:

The Smithsonian is celebrating the Year of Music with a wide variety of collection highlights and programs. To learn more, please visit:

Patricia H. Svoboda, Research Coordinator

Catalog of American Portraits, National Portrait Gallery

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