Last autumn in this space I wrote about some of the younger folks I have been pleased and heartened to meet in the course of my work—still in their twenties and with a deep, abiding interest in the fine and decorative arts and architecture of the past.
We hadn’t heard much about Betsy Ross for—oh, about forty years or so. At the time of the Bicentennial, she was the most famous woman in American history, a figurative mother of the country who “gave birth to our collective symbol.”
America has been many things to many people: a city on a hill; a beacon of freedom; a melting pot. Now, the worry is that we’ve become a piggy bank.
The Statue of Liberty Museum opened in May on Liberty Island with much fanfare and celebrity wattage, Oprah Winfrey leading the lights.
Downtown Philadelphia is organized around a Calder family retrospective. It was my Uncle Fred, who has lived in the city for more than fifty years, who first pointed this out to me.
When the Trump presidency ends, commentators will doubtless launch into a furious round of assessment. Among the motifs in this stock-taking, a humble article of clothing is sure to take on an outsize role: the red baseball hat, machine-embroidered with the legend “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN.”
Some thoughts on Notre Dame Cathedral, which caught fire Monday.
It’s not often you get to celebrate the 150th anniversary of a twig. Yet that is exactly the opportunity that presented itself this past October 13. On that date, back in the year 1868, Sophia Thoreau leaned over a sprig of five shagbark hickory leaves and inscribed them, in indelible ink, with some lines from a poem by her brother Henry.
Imagine this: you’ve gotten hold of an antique quilt, perhaps 150 years old. It’s in pristine condition. It has an attractive pattern—a classic wedding ring, say, or log cabin, or even a crazy quilt. It is probably not the sort of object a museum would want, but it preserves a rich history all the same, of its maker, the family that retained it, and the craft itself.
It’s only late summer, but I believe we can already declare an award for bravest museum of the year: the National Portrait Gallery, in Washington, DC.