Skip to Content

Found 336 Resources

Saddle blanket

National Museum of the American Indian

Saddle blanket

National Museum of the American Indian

Salvatore Lascari

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Sash/Belt

National Museum of the American Indian

Sash/Belt

National Museum of the American Indian

See How Artists Have Turned Farm Silos Into Stunning Giant Murals

Smithsonian Magazine

It’s a hot day in Pingrup as the red sand of Western Australia dances across the pavement. A welcome sign reading “Small Town - Lots of Spirit” greets visitors as they enter the rural lakeside town, population 264. But until 2018, not many tourists made the four-hour drive from Perth. There wasn’t any reason to venture to Pingrup. Then three silos near the center of this tiny town were transformed into giant works of art.

In remote communities across Australia, water and grain silos have become the canvas for paintings inspired by their local communities, culture and way of life. Completed in September 2018, the PUBLIC Silo Trail—more than 620 miles of road linking Northam, Merredin, Katanning, Pingrup, Newdegate, Ravensthorpe and Albany—combines six different silo sites and one town (Katanning) filled with street art. A perfect road trip for art enthusiasts looking for something literally off the beaten track, the seven-town route offers visitors a different side of Australia.

American artist HENSE and British muralist Phlegm created the country’s first-ever silo mural in Northam, Western Australia, in March 2015, when FORM, a creative non-profit organization based in Perth, and CBH Group, the state’s main grain handler, commissioned them to paint eight silos. HENSE’s four depicted colorful shapes and patterns, while Phelgm’s portrayed whimsical, black and white flying machines. Perth-based artist Brenton See painted four silos in Newdegate showcasing the area’s wildlife: the western bearded dragon, the red-tailed phascogale (a rare marsupial) and a malleefowl bird. Also in 2018, New York-based The Yok & Shero painted a ruby seadragon, a rare marine creature found in the waters of Western Australia, across four huge silos in Albany. In the fall of that year, Miami-based artist EVOCA1 painted the three silos in Pingrup. In an effort to capture the essence of this farming town, the silos showcase a jockey on a horse, a man holding a lamb and a dog on top of a tractor. By September, FORM, inspired by the number of silo artworks across the region, established the PUBLIC Silo Trail. Since then, one-off silo art projects have blossomed across other states of Australia—Victoria, South Australia, Queensland and New South Wales—with the current count at 35 painted silos and 69 smaller painted water towers.

Image by Photograph by Bewley Shaylor, courtesy of FORM. Hense for PUBLIC Silo Trail, Northam (2015) (original image)

Image by Photograph by Bewley Shaylor, courtesy of FORM. Six Stages of Banksia baxteri by Amok Island for PUBLIC Silo Trail, Ravensthorpe (2016) (original image)

Image by Photograph by Bewley Shaylor, courtesy of FORM. Brenton See for PUBLIC Silo Trail, Newdegate (2018) (original image)

Image by PUBLIC Silo Trail. Phlegm for PUBLIC Silo Trail, Northam (2015) (original image)

Image by Photograph by Bewley Shaylor, courtesy of FORM. Kyle Hughes-Odgers for PUBLIC Silo Trail, Merredin (2017) (original image)

Image by Photograph by Bewley Shaylor, courtesy of FORM. The Yok & Sheryo for PUBLIC Silo Trail, Albany (2018) (original image)

Image by Photograph by Bewley Shaylor, courtesy of FORM. Evoca1 for PUBLIC Silo Trail, Pingrup (2018) (original image)

Annette and Eric Green are silo art enthusiasts and the creators of AustralianSiloArtTrail.com. In March 2018, during an epic road trip, they discovered a wildflower-inspired silo in Ravensthorpe, Western Australia. “When I stood in the shadow of my first painted silo, I was blown away by the sheer magnificence of it,” says Annette Green. “They are so huge, you marvel at how they were completed in the first place and how they painted them around a curve and at such great heights.”

After that, the Greens wanted to see as many silo murals as possible but couldn’t find a lot of information online. The couple created a Facebook page to document the artwork, and in September 2018, they released the Australian Silo Art Google Map, which clearly marks all silos, water towers and even street art. It gives detailed descriptions of each piece, including parking information. Today, the map has more than 526,000 views.

“For me, also it was the awakening that there was much more to this than the great works of art. It was also about the people of these struggling communities and the towns that they lived in,” says Green.

Image by Annette Green. GrainCorps Silos at Sheep Hills, by Adnate, Sheep Hills, Victoria (2016) (original image)

Image by Annette Green. Weethalle Silos, by Heesco Khosnaran, Weethalle, New South Wales (2017) (original image)

Image by Annette Green. GrainCorps Silos at Rochester, by Jimmy Dvate, Rochester, Victoria (2018) (original image)

Image by Annette Green. Wirrabara Silos, by Smug, Wirrabara, South Australia (2018) (original image)

Image by Planet Tex. Barraba Silos, by Fintan Magee, Barraba, New South Wales (2019) (original image)

Image by Annette Green. Kimba Silos, by Cam Scale, Kimba, South Australia (2017) (original image)

Image by Annette Green. Goorambat Silo, by Jimmy Dvate, Goorambat, Victoria (2018) (original image)

Image by Annette Green. Goorambat Silo, by Jimmy Dvate, Goorambat, Victoria (2019) (original image)

Image by Annette Green. GrainCorps Silos at Thallon, by Joel Fergie and Travis Vinson, Thallon, Queensland (2017) (original image)

Silo art isn’t just a beautiful addition to the local landscape; it's a lifeline. Small farming communities around Australia continue to face some of the worst droughts in recent history, forcing them to abandon their farms. So, towns throughout Australia have decided to invest in silo art as a tourism opportunity.

“Have you ever heard of the town of Goorambat in northeast Victoria? Neither had I. But now thousands of Australia's and international travelers have. Not only are they [Goorambat residents] seeing the benefits of their hard work in the way of tourism dollars, but there is also new community pride as the story of the town is also depicted on the silos,” says Green.

Jimmy Dvate, a Melbourne-based artist and graphic designer, has painted numerous silos around the outback of regional Australia, some depicting the massive Clydesdale horses harnessed for farming in Goorambat, Victoria.

“Having the human element of a harness really added an extra level of complexity, also trying to capture the movement and dust around the feet was really satisfying,” says Dvate of the artwork. “The town is also like a second home to us. The hospitality is ridiculous, and it's been so awesome to see the social and economic difference the silo art has made.”

While Australia’s borders are shut for an indefinite period of time due to COVID-19, these towns will need support once the country reopens. “Now, more than ever, it's so important to support our regional communities, and silo projects give people another reason to explore outside the city,” says Dvate.

Much of the art depicts native Australia flora and fauna as well as portraits of the locals. “Where possible, I choose a plant, bird or animal that is either endangered or threatened, helping to educate and raise awareness,” says Dvate. This includes Milli, a barking owl from a sanctuary in Badger Creek, Victoria, painted on one of the silos in Goorambat. Just over 75 miles west in Rochester, Victoria, Dvate painted an azure kingfisher and a wrist-wringed squirrel glider once thought to be extinct.

South Australia’s Wirrabara silo art, painted by the Glasgow, Scotland-based artist Smug, is an exceptional showing of native birds and the importance of the area’s foresting industry. The five silos show an arborist holding an ax and a red-capped robin perched on a branch against a beautiful forest backdrop. In Sheep Hills, Victoria, there are six silos painted with the faces of living Aboriginal elders and children against a vibrant night sky, a common subject for Melbourne artist Adnate.

According to Green, there are at least 50 towns seeking government grants to get proposed silo art projects off the ground.

“I would love to see the Australian Silo Art Trail get the recognition that it deserves,” says Green. “It truly is Australia's ultimate road trip.”

Self-Portrait

National Portrait Gallery
Aaron Douglas was one of the leading figures in the flowering of modernist African American culture in the early twentieth century. This 1925 self-portrait attests to the remarkable skill and draftsmanship, not to mention self-possession, of the young artist months after he had left his position teaching high school art in Kansas City, Missouri, and moved to Harlem, New York. Using red Conte crayon and exercising restraint to create highlights on the cheeks, chin, and forehead, Douglas depicts himself as a sensitive, sentient black man. During the Harlem Renaissance, when this work was made, many young African Americans were exploring their identities, their roots, and their place in the world. Douglas depicts himself just as his self- consciousness and his political yearnings were being stirred. At the time, he had begun creating illustra- tions for the Urban League’s journal, Opportunity, as well as for the landmark manifesto of the Harlem Renaissance, Alain Locke’s The New Negro (1925).

Aaron Douglas fue una de las figuras principales en el florecimiento de la cultura afroamericana modernista a principios del siglo XX. Este autorre- trato suyo de 1925 manifiesta no solo la extraor- dinaria destreza y técnica de dibujo de este joven artista, sino también su seguridad en sí mismo, habiendo abandonado meses antes su puesto de maestro de arte en una escuela secundaria de Kansas City, Misuri, para irse a Harlem, Nueva York. Empleando crayón Conté rojo, con discretos toques de luz en las mejillas, la barbilla y la frente, Douglas se representa aquí como un afroamericano sensible y lúcido. Esta obra se realizó durante el auge del arte afroamericano llamado Harlem Renaissance, cuando muchos jóvenes negros estaban explorando su iden- tidad, sus raíces y su lugar en el mundo. Douglas plasmó su imagen justo cuando se despertaba su conciencia personal y política. Había empezado a crear ilustraciones para la revista Opportunity de la Urban League y para el manifiesto emblemático del Harlem Renaissance, The New Negro (1925) de Alain Locke.

Self-Portrait (On Being Female)

National Portrait Gallery
Fiercely committed to worker’s rights, women’s equality, and other liberal causes, Pele deLappe pursued art in tandem with social activism. As a vivacious and precociously talented fifteen-year-old, she was befriended in 1931 by the Mexican muralist Diego Rivera and often sketched with his wife, the painter Frida Kahlo. Inspired by their social engagement, deLappe became a political cartoonist for newspapers associated with the labor movement and in 1952 helped found the Graphic Arts Workshop, a cooperative for artist-activists in San Francisco.

In this self-portrait, which deLappe made at the age of seventy-five, she contrasts the youthful features of an idealized mask with her own time-worn face, which she represents with unsparing frankness. The detailed rendering of hairstyle and jewelry betrays the necessity of presenting an attractive public facade. In the background, the signed drawing of a lithe female nude recalls the artist’s younger self.

Defensora tenaz de los derechos laborales, la igualdad de la mujer y otras causas liberales, Pele deLappe cultivó el arte en conjunto con el activismo social. En 1931, siendo una quinceañera vivaz y de talento precoz, entabló amistad con el muralista mexicano Diego Rivera y a menudo se reunía a dibujar con su esposa, la pintora Frida Kahlo. Inspirada por el activismo social de estos artistas, deLappe se dedicó a la caricatura política para periódicos asociados con el movimiento laboral y en 1952 ayudó a fundar el Graphic Arts Workshop, una cooperativa para artistas activistas en San Francisco.

En este autorretrato realizado a la edad de 75 años, deLappe contrasta los rasgos juveniles de una máscara idealizada con su propio rostro avejentado, que presenta con rigurosa franqueza. La detallada ejecución del peinado y las joyas delata la necesidad de presentar una atractiva fachada pública. Al fondo, el dibujo firmado de un esbelto desnudo femenino recuerda a la artista en su juventud.

Self-Portrait as Lady MacBeth

National Portrait Gallery

Self-Portrait with Rita

National Portrait Gallery
At the turn of the twentieth century, Thomas Hart Benton was among many young painters who embraced abstraction. He soon rejected that brand of modernism, however, and emerged in the 1920s as a leader of the regionalist school of realism, whose primary concern was the portrayal of local life and history in America. Benton made this portrait of himself and his wife (wearing the latest in bathing-suit fashion) at Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts, sometime around 1924. Best known for his panoramic murals, he brought to his works a boldness of composition that led one critic to describe him as “the most . . . vigorous and virile of our painters.” Benton was also interested in Hollywood’s star culture, and his bare- chested likeness in this work may reference Douglas Fairbanks Sr.’s appearance in The Thief of Bagdad (1924).

Comenzando el siglo XX, Thomas Hart Benton se contaba entre los numerosos pintores jóvenes que se entregaron a la abstracción. Sin embargo, pronto rechazó ese tipo de modernismo y en los años veinte fue uno de los líderes de la escuela de realismo regionalista, cuyo interés principal era la vida y la historia de las pequeñas comunidades de Estados Unidos. Benton hizo este retrato de él y su esposa (con un traje de baño de última moda) en Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, alrededor de 1924. Conocido sobre todo por sus murales panorámicos, el artista dotaba sus composiciones de tal fuerza que un crítico llegó a describirlo como “el más […] vigoroso y viril de nuestros pintores”. A Benton también le interesaba

la cultura del cine de Hollywood, y su torso desnudo en esta obra podría ser una alusión al papel de Douglas Fairbanks Sr. en El ladrón de Bagdad (1924).

Self-Portrait with chin in hand

National Portrait Gallery

Self-Portrait, Peterborough 57

National Portrait Gallery
Xavier Gonzalez was a painter, sculptor, and educator who was active in New York City and Wellfleet, Massachusetts. He was born in Almeria, Spain, but experienced a nomadic childhood in Spain, Mexico, and San Antonio, Texas. While his works draw from reality, he manipulated what he saw to conform to his vision and reflect a modern sensibility. In this self-portrait, which Gonzalez created in the middle of his life, a serious man looks out at the viewer with a determined set to his jaw. His round glasses, accented by prominent eyebrows, magnify his eyes and frame his penetrating gaze. The skillful use of ink with a light wash of paint translates human energy to a sheet of paper, capturing the artist’s spirit. Gonzalez stated that he had “to approach painting indirectly, slowly, because a painting like a flower can die from too much handling. The overstatement of a truth kills it.”

El pintor, escultor y educador Xavier González estuvo activo en Nueva York y Wellfleet, Massachusetts. Nació en Almería, España, pero tuvo una niñez nómada entre España, México y San Antonio, Texas. Aunque su obra parte de la realidad, manipula lo observado para adaptarlo a su visión y reflejar una sensibilidad moderna. En este autorretrato que hizo González en mitad de su vida, un hombre serio mira al espectador con actitud decidida. Sus lentes redondos, acentuados por las prominentes cejas, le agrandan los ojos y enmarcan su mirada penetrante. El hábil uso de la tinta con una ligera aguada de pintura transmite al papel una energía humana, captando el espíritu del artista. González comentó que tenía que “acercarme a la pintura de manera indirecta, lentamente, porque una pintura, igual que una flor, puede marchitarse de mucho manosearla. La exageración mata la verdad”.

Street Painting the Book of Omens

Smithsonian Magazine
Artist Michael Kirby spent four days painting an image from "Falnama: The Book of Omens" in front of the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery. Read more at http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/aroundthemall/2009/10/muralist-uses-the-sidewalk-outside-the-sackler-gallery-as-canvas/

Stuck at the Airport? Why Not Take In an Art Exhibit

Smithsonian Magazine

Airports, by nature, are a hectic, chaotic space, with planes jockeying for runway space as passengers file, seemingly endlessly, through lines and terminals. In a world of perpetual motion, it's easy to move with greater focus on the destination than the airport itself, but as more and more airports integrate art into their terminals, it's increasingly possible to stop and enjoy the airport itself before hopping on a jet.

"Art can make a space feel more human," says Laura Greene of Heathrow Airport's award-winning T5 Gallery. "It can evoke emotions and provide something that is often overlooked in large spaces such as airports."

Some airports dedicate permanent space to exhibits within their walls, integrating art as part of the airport's design. Passengers traveling through the Denver International Airport might not consider checking out some of the most lauded public art in the country the first thing on their to-do list, but it's easy to see why Denver has been touted as one of the best examples of art in airports. The airport is so well-known for its public art that it even offers a walking tour for non-ticketed passengers, featuring a rundown of the airport's permanent and temporary art exhibits. Famous pieces permanently on display include Blue Mustang, a 9,000-pound, 32-foot-tall blue horse sculpted by Luis Jiménez, and paintings by muralist Leo Tanguma. (Incidentally, both have been subject to some pretty crazy conspiracy theories over the years.)

For passengers looking to pick up a piece of art while they wait for their plane, London's Heathrow airport offers a full-fledged commercial art gallery, T5, with an emphasis on exhibiting work from both well-established artists and area up-and-comers. Throughout the year, the gallery exhibits group shows—the most recent show, on display through the end of the month, includes a wood sculpture of a sting ray crafted by Andy Baerselman, and a silver crocodile lounging lazily on a crate labeled "Danger: Handle With Care," by artist Michael Turner.

Some artists, like sculptor Ralph Helmick, seem to find special inspiration in the airport space. Helmick's work can be seen at the Philadelphia International Airport, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and Midway Airport in Chicago. Each installation is a mobile, made up of hundreds of delicate structures. At SeaTac, metal casts depicting local wildlife—like salmon and waterfowl—come together to create the silhouette of a snow goose landing in the rain. At Midway, a mobile of over 1,800 tiny aircrafts creates a bright red cardinal, suspended above the terminal. 

Rara Avis</I> by Ralph Helmick on display at Midway Airport in Chicago. (Wikimedia)

For some airports, creating an art program is as important to their customer service as any other amenity. "The art program does help to provide meaningful things for passengers to do when they have layovers and when they get to the airport early," says David Vogt, airport art program manager at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. But art programs also offer airline travelers—who might just be passing through on a quick layover—a chance to explore a city while remaining inside the airport's terminals. "This may be some passengers' only experience of Atlanta," Vogt says. "[The art] helps to tell the story of who we are." One way Hartsfield-Jackson tries to bring Atlanta inside the airport is through its permanent exhibit "A Walk Through Atlanta's History," which depicts the history of Atlanta from thousands of years ago—when it was first settled by native people—up to the present day.

In Philadelphia, artists have also worked to bring a taste of the city into the airport itself. Established in 1998, the Philadelphia International Airport's art program has the same goal as similar projects throughout the world—to humanize the airport experience. Featuring a mix of permanent and rotating exhibits, the airport hopes to introduce the millions of travelers that pass through its halls each year to a taste of Philadelphia's art. Currently on exhibit is Sarah Zwerling's installation "Hamilton Street, Philadelphia," which recreates, inside the terminal, the Philadelphia street where the artist lives. Using digital photography, Zwerling captured the facades of homes that line her street, placing them alongside images of trees on either side of the glass concourse to create the feeling of walking down her block. Zwerling's installation is far from the only piece on exhibit at the airport right now—the airport keeps a running tab on all art on display on their website.

Across the Atlantic, Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport offers travelers the chance to explore the work of Dutch masters such as Jan Steen and Jacob van Ruisdael, in a special offshoot of the city's famous Rijksmuseum. Schiphol is the first airport in the world to bring a world-class museum inside its terminals and beyond passport control. Since opening in 2002, the Rijksmuseum Schiphol has allowed travelers to catch a glimpse of the area's rich art history—and experience a major tourist highlight of Amsterdam—without ever leaving the airport.

Whether it's a delicately-suspended mobile or a world-class museum, remember to keep your eyes open when traveling this holiday season—a long layover or missed flight might be the perfect excuse to take in an art show.

Study for The Rebellion of Man [art work] / (photographed by Peter A. Juley & Son)

Archives and Special Collections, Smithsonian American Art Museum
Two studies for the right and left panels done for the larger "Rebellion of Man" mural at the auditorium of the University of Guadalajara. The right panel is titled: The Victims or Misery; the left panel is titled: The Leaders or Workers and Soldiers.

Rochfort, Desmond, "Mexican Muralists: Orozco, Rivera, Siqueiros," San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1998, fig. 147-149.

Black-and-white study print (8x10).

Orig. negative: 8x10, Safety, BW.

copy 1 negative: 4x5, Safety, BW.

University of Guadalupe, Mexico.

Study of Head for Westward (Iowa State Capitol, Des Moines Iowa) [drawing] / (photographed by Peter A. Juley & Son)

Archives and Special Collections, Smithsonian American Art Museum
Mott, Jacolyn A., ed., "Heroes in the Fight for Beauty: The Muralists of the Hudson County Court House," Jersey City, NJ: Jersey City Museum, 1986, pg. 19.

Black-and-white study print (8x10).

Orig. negative: 8x10, Nitrate, BW.

Study: Worker [drawing] / (photographed by Peter A. Juley & Son)

Archives and Special Collections, Smithsonian American Art Museum
Preliminary sketch for the fresco "Creative Man," University of Guadalarja Rotunda.

Title supplied by cataloger.

Rochfort, Desmond, "Mexican Muralists: Orozco, Rivera, Siqueiros," San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1998, fig. 150.

Time Magazine (October 1, 1965): pg. 86.

The New York Times, September 12, 1965, Sect. X, pg. 27.

Black-and-white study print (8x10).

Orig. negative: 8x10, Safety, BW.

Gallery of Modern Art.

Stuyvesant Van Veen at work

Archives of American Art
1 photographic print : b&w ; 21 x 25 cm. Stuyvesant Van Veen working on a mural in the Pittsburgh Post Office.

handwritten on verso: Pittsburgh Post Office Court House, S. Van Veen

Tate Modern’s Modigliani Exhibition Ventures Into Virtual Reality

Smithsonian Magazine

This November, Tate Modern is unveiling the U.K.’s most comprehensive Amedeo Modigliani retrospective. But the show, simply titled Modigliani,” is more than a survey of the artist’s work: It’s also an immersive experience complemented by the museum's first foray into virtual reality.

The retrospective, which runs from November 23 to April 2, 2018, includes almost 100 works by the modernist artist. According to Maev Kennedy of The Guardian, the Tate exhibition reflects Modigliani's lasting influence through a selection of the artist's creations, including 10 of the nudes displayed at his 1917 show, portraits of friends, like Mexican muralist Diego Rivera as well as some lesser-known sculptures. While much of the VR aspect of the exhibit remains under wraps for now, Jonathan Vanian of Fortune reports that the museum has partnered with VR company HTC Vive to create a digital world reminiscent of early 20th-century Paris.

A native Italian, in his early 20s, Modigliani moved to Paris in 1906 and soon ingrained himself in the city’s thriving art world. Working alongside such figures as Pablo Picasso, Juan Gris and Constantin Brancusi, he developed a distinctive style: Subjects portrayed with a semblance of realism, but with elongated faces and necks, as well as piercing, almond-shaped eyes.

"His art managed to bridge the stylistic chasm between classical Italian painting and avant-garde Modernism," wrote Doug Stewart for Smithsonian magazine in 2005.

Commercially unsuccessful during his lifetimehe had one solo show in 1917, but police shut it down after seeing the artist’s frank depictions of nude, unshaven women—Modigliani struggled financially to pay the bills and would often exchange a sketch for a meal or a drink. Plagued by alcoholism, ill health and self-destructive behavior, he died at the age of 35 of tubercular meningitis. At the time, his lover and frequent muse, Jeanne Hébuterne, was pregnant with the couple’s second child. The day after his death, she threw herself out of a fifth-floor window.

According to a press release, the exhibition will pay special attention to Hébuterne and the other women who proved influential to Modigliani, especially the English poet Beatrice Hastings.

As for the VR experience, the press release states that it will be integrated in "right in the heart of the exhibition" and "will bring visitors closer into the artist’s world, enriching their understanding of his life and art."

The Real Frida Kahlo

Smithsonian Magazine

Mexican painter Frida Kahlo is remembered today for her personal struggle and extraordinary life story as much as for her vibrant and intimate artwork. Kahlo was plagued by illness since youth and a bus accident at age 18 smashed her spinal column and fractured her pelvis, confining her to bed for months and leaving her with lifelong complications.

Though she had never planned on becoming an artist and was pursuing a medical career at the time of her accident, Kahlo found painting a natural solace during her recovery. It would become an almost therapeutic practice that would aid her in overcoming physical pain as well as the emotional pain of a turbulent marriage with muralist Diego Rivera and, years later, several miscarriages and abortions.

Despite the candidness of her work, Kahlo always maintained an image of poise, strength and even defiance in her public life. An exhibition at the National Museum for Women in the Arts (NMWA), "Frida Kahlo: Public Image, Private Life. A Selection of Photographs and Letters," on display through October 14, examines the dichotomy between Kahlo's self-cultivated public persona and the grim realities of her life. Commemorating Kahlo's 100th birthday, the exhibit is a collaboration between the NMWA, the Smithsonian Latino Center and the Mexican Cultural Institute.

The exhibit was inspired by the NMWA's recently acquired collection of Kahlo's unpublished letters to family and friends from the 1930s and 1940s, most of which document the four years Kahlo and Rivera spent living in the United States. The letters offer a glimpse into Kahlo's thoughts, her impressions of new and exotic places and her relationships with loved ones.

"She would pour her heart out into these letters," says Henry Estrada, public programs director at the Smithsonian Latino Center, who coordinated the translation of the letters. "She would do everything to convey these new experiences of San Francisco or New York. She would actually draw pictures of the apartment she was staying in and describe the beaches on the west coast. She would say things like 'mil besos,' which means 'a thousand kisses,' and kiss the letters."

Image by Frida Kahlo with Idol #11, Coyoacán, Mexico, ca. 1940. An exhibition at the National Museum for Women in the Arts (NMWA), "Frida Kahlo: Public Image, Private Life. A Selection of Photographs and Letters," examines the dichotomy between Kahlo's self-cultivated public persona and the grim realities of her life. (original image)

Image by Frida Kahlo, Coyoacán, Mexico, 1941. Why would an artist who is so explicit in her artwork take pains to construct a public image that seems to mask her private life? "I think when she was in front of the camera she felt very different than when she was in front of the canvas, and she expressed something different," says Jason Stieber of the NMWA, co-curator of the exhibition. (original image)

Image by Frida Kahlo with Idol #11, Coyoacán, Mexico, ca. 1940. Mexican painter Frida Kahlo is remembered today for her personal struggle and extraordinary life story as much as for her vibrant and intimate artwork. (original image)

Image by Frida Kahlo with old man and boy, Mexico, 1946. The exhibit was inspired by the NMWA's recently acquired collection of Kahlo's unpublished letters to family and friends from the 1930s and 1940s, most of which document the four years Kahlo and Rivera spent living in the United States. (original image)

Image by Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera at home, 1941. Painting became an almost therapeutic practice for Kahlo that helped her overcome physical pain as well as the emotional pain of a turbulent marriage with muralist Diego Rivera. (original image)

The letters, which are accompanied by a selection of iconic Kahlo photographs by renowned photographers such as Lola Alvarez Bravo and Nickolas Murray and never-before-seen photographs of Kahlo's private bathroom at the Casa Azul in Coyoacàn, Mexico, act as a bridge between the images of the stylized mexicanista decked in traditional Tehuantepec dresses and pre-Columbian jewelry and those of medical supplies and corsets that underscored Kahlo's troubled existence.

But why would an artist who is so explicit in her artwork take pains to construct a public image that seems to mask her private life? "I think when she was in front of the camera she felt very different than when she was in front of the canvas, and she expressed something different," says Jason Stieber of the NMWA, co-curator of the exhibition. "She expressed her glamour, her Mexican heritage, her Communist leanings. She was expressing her strength, whereas in her paintings she's expressing her pain."

More than just a link between the two sides of Kahlo's persona, the letters may also offer significant new information for Kahlo scholars. Though biographers often depict Kahlo's relationship with her mother as strained and conflicted, the letters show remarkable tenderness and affection between mother and daughter and may prompt scholars to re-evaluate the way they look at her mother's impact on Kahlo's life and work.

"People credit her father with the fact that she was as strong a woman as she was, but it’s possible that her mother was also in large part responsible for that," Stieber says. "Her mother ran the household."

The letters track a particularly emotional time in Kahlo's relationship with her mother, as they coincide with her mother's declining health. Stieber believes the NMWA collection has the last letter Kahlo's mother ever wrote to her, where she describes how wonderful it had been to talk on the telephone—the first time she had spoken on the phone in her life.

Regardless of the problems Kahlo may have been facing, her letters reveal a love of life that never faltered. "The thing that really struck me was how much this artist enjoyed life and lived life to the fullest," Estrada says. "She was just vivacious and articulate and engaged with her environment, with people, with lovers, with friends, with family. She communicated and she did so with passion in her heart, not just in her artwork, but in her relationships with people."

Julia Kaganskiy is a freelance writer in Boston, Massachusetts.

The Victor [painting] / (photographed by Peter A. Juley & Son)

Archives and Special Collections, Smithsonian American Art Museum
Negative marked: "70/ Presented to Mercersburg Academy by Mr. Bok to commemorate on of their/ graduates having won a worlds championship at teh Olympic Games Stockholm."

Mott, Jacolyn A., ed., "Heroes in the Fight for Beauty: The Muralists of the Hudson County Court House," Jersey City, NJ: Jersey City Museum, 1986, pg. 94.

Black-and-white study print (8x10).

Orig. negative: 4x5, Glass, BW.

Thomas Hart Benton

National Portrait Gallery

Thomas Hart Benton

National Portrait Gallery
289-312 of 336 Resources