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Pentedium curator Kier

NMNH - Paleobiology Dept.

First-Person Curator

Smithsonian Magazine

First-Person Curator

Smithsonian Magazine

Curator’s Pick: Johnstown Mailbox

National Postal Museum
By Nancy Pope, Curator and HistorianJohnstown mailbox

Curator Talk Experimental Airmail

National Postal Museum
Curator Nancy A. Pope shared the dangerous and fascinating story of early experimental airmail flights on February 18, 2011, the centennial of the Wiseman-Cooke flight from Petaluma to Santa Rosa, California. From 1911 to 1914, postmasters across the country were urged to get involved with local aviation events and encourage pilots to carry mail on their flights. Ms. Pope refers to the following pilots and aviators: John Wise, the Wright Brothers, Glenn L Curtiss, Frederick Wiseman, Henri Pequet, Gustav Hamel, Jule Vedrines, Earle Ovington, Cal Rogers, Walter Brookins, Lincoln Beachey, Charles Walsh, Farnum T Fish, Horace Kearney, Max Lillie, Paul Peck, Walter Edwards, Katherine Stinson, and Joseph Stevenson.

A curator’s wake-up call

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Ask a Curator Day 2014

National Air and Space Museum
On September 17th, Museum staff  participated in the international Ask a Curator Day on Twitter. People asked questions on topics ranging from how we select exhibitions to the most difficult object or display to maintain to the most unusual object in our collections. Here is a selection of those questions and answers. @airandspace Good morning   ...Continue Reading

Waves of Matsushima Curator Tour

Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
Zoom in on this masterpiece by Japanese artist Tawaraya Sōtatsu as our narrator presents Curator James Ulak's insights into the biography of the artist and his historic impact on Japanese and European artists alike.

Zoo Jobs: Meet a Curator

National Zoo
Middle school students watch the last video in the series, “Other Duties as Assigned: The Secret World of Zoo Jobs” If you wondered about what it’s like to work with great cats, bears and other animals, meet Curator Craig Saffoe! #STEM #WeSaveSpecies

Curator John Hasse "Rewirement" Speech

Smithsonian Music
On June 30, colleagues gathered to honor John Edward Hasse for his 32 years of service as Curator of American Music at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History. The speakers are: David J. Skorton, Secretary of the Smithsonian; John L. Gray, Director of the National Museum of American History; and Rep. John Conyers, Congress's leading champion of jazz. Secretary Skorton has named Hasse "Curator Emeritus," a lifetime honor. Rep. Conyers surprised Hasse by presenting him with a tribute he inserted into the Congressional Record

African American Art Curator Talk

Smithsonian American Art Museum
Virginia Mecklenburg, senior curator, explores the work of Jacob Lawrence, Norman Lewis, Lois Mailou Jones, Melvin Edwards, and other artists featured in the exhibition African American Art: Harlem Renaissance, Civil Rights Era, and Beyond. These artists participated in ongoing dialogues about art, black identity, and individual rights that engaged American society in the twentieth century. Using documentary realism, painterly expressionism, and the postmodern assemblage of found objects, they rewrote American history and its art.

Curator’s Talk: How Posters Work

Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
Cooper Hewitt curator Ellen Lupton and guests will talk about how to look at posters as visual language. What does it mean to take graphic design out of context and put it in a museum? How Posters Work uses posters to explore principles of visual thinking and storytelling. Dutch designers Rianne Petter and René Put will talk about their own experimental dissection of design language, Poster No. 524: Exploring the Contemporary Poster.

Curator's Cut: An Imperial Romance

Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
In this edition of Curator's Cut, we learn about the affection of the Qianlong emperor for Empress Xiaoxian. It's not often that history can tell us about the emotional intensity of a relationship, but we're lucky to have the evidence! Watch the full video to learn all about it and then get yourself to the #FreerSackler to see "Empresses of China's Forbidden City, 1644-1912" before it closes this Sunday, June 23! #FSEmpresses

Curator’s Picks – Alaskan Dog Sled

National Postal Museum
By Nancy Pope, CuratorCurator's Picks will be a regular feature on the NPM Blog. Historian & Curator Nancy Pope (a walking encyclopedia of American postal history) is a 25-year veteran of the Smithsonian.The irresistible lure of gold drew thousands of Americans to the Klondike and Alaska in the late 1890s. Words from home were a desperately-sought comfort in the strange, harsh land. It fell to the Post Office Department to ensure that these stampeders could maintain contact with family and friends thousands of miles away. For several years, most of the contractors who were hired to deliver mail used dog sleds during the long, dark winters.

Curator Robert Vogel at Desk

Smithsonian Institution Archives
Also known as 77-10297-4A.

Original film available in SIA Acc. 11-009.

Featured in the "Torch," October 1977.

Robert Vogel, curator in the Division of Mechanical and Civil Engineering at the National Museum of History and Technology (NMHT), now known as the National Museum of American History (NMAH), at his office desk.

Curator Ann Yonemura on Hokusai

Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
Hokusai: 36 Views of Mount Fuji March 24--June 17, 2012 Arthur M. Sackler Gallery The most acclaimed print series by Japan's most famous artist, Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji by Katsushika Hokusai (1760--1849) contains images of worldwide renown, including Under the Wave off Kanagawa, better known as the "Great Wave." First published for the New Year of 1831, the series was a landmark in Japanese print publishing, incorporating innovative compositions, techniques, and coloration and establishing landscape as a new subject. As part of the Japan Spring celebration, the Sackler presents examples of all 46 prints in the series—which was continued under its original title due to the great popularity of Hokusai's designs—including several rare, early printings featuring unusual coloration. The exhibition lends context to these iconic designs and explores the artistic methods and meaning behind Hokusai's depictions of Mount Fuji. This exhibition complements two Hokusai installations in the Freer. Hokusai: Japanese Screens, on view through July 29, 2012, features a magnificent pair of six-panel folding screens of Mount Fuji. Hokusai: Paintings and Drawings, on view February 18--June 24, 2012, features such highlights as Boy Viewing Mount Fuji and three masterworks of Hokusai's last years, Thunder God, Fisherman, and Woodcutter.

Curator's Pick -- SNOWBIRD

National Postal Museum
By Nancy Pope, CuratorThe groundhog has seen his shadow and you’re leaving the snow tires on while looking over your shoulder at the weather report and wondering if another big storm was on its way.Snow is certainly a challenge to driving these days. But imagine what it was in the 1920s when automobiles were still relatively new additions to the American road. Among those who purchased automobiles hoping to make their work life easier were a number of Rural Free Delivery carriers. Unlike their city cousins, RFD carriers were, and are, responsible for purchasing their own transportation. And while a new car could make those daily rounds go a lot faster and easier in good weather, bad weather forced many carriers to return to their horses and buggies.

American Enterprise: A curator's perspective

National Museum of American History

On July 1, 2015, we will open a new exhibition: American Enterprisein the Mars Hall of American Business. It is the largest of thirteen exhibitions and program spaces that will constitute the new "Innovation Wing" on the first floor of the museum. American Enterprise is the first exhibition in the museum's history to explore the history of business, tracing how the United States grew from a small, dependent agricultural nation to one of the world's most vibrant economies. I sat down with David Allison, director of curatorial affairs at the museum and the exhibition's project director, to learn about what makes American Enterprise unique.

Photograph of the exhibition's "Exchange" section

Why did the museum create an exhibition on the history of business?

Probably a better question is "Why hasn't the museum done an exhibition on business history before?" Every American is deeply involved in business activities: in what they do for a living, where they live, and what they buy and consume. So it really is surprising that this is the first exhibition we have mounted that focuses specifically on American business and the economy.

Our museum was founded in 1964 as the Museum of History and Technology. We became the Museum of American History in 1980. So traditionally we emphasized the development of new ideas and innovations in our exhibitions. Often we carried the story to product development, but rarely did we look at the story from the perspective of workers and consumers as we now do in American Enterprise. Innovation is still a big part of our story, but by treating it in the context of American business as a whole, we provide a broader and deeper look at how American business shapes American life than we have ever done before.

Some museum visitors might expect that an exhibition on the "history of business" would be pretty dry. How did the exhibition team try to overcome this stereotype?

Since this was the Smithsonian's first exhibition on the history of business, relevance to our visitors was a major goal. This exhibition was years in planning, and the curators, designers, educators, and project developers who put it together paid close attention to crafting the myriad details of the exhibition. It is full of great objects, stories about interesting people, and lots of interactive experiences. Our goal was to make it engaging, thought-provoking, and meaningful for audiences of all ages and interests, from both the United States and around the world.

Business and economic history traditionally focus on businesses themselves: how they were formed, how they operate, how they earn or lose money. To make our exhibition relevant to all visitors, however, we thought it needed to focus as much on consumers as on producers; as much on workers as on managers; as much on ordinary life experiences with business as on the innovations and breakthroughs that have been the sources of fundamental historical change. We wanted to show how producers and consumers interact in marketplaces, and how marketing and advertising mediate between what businesses make and what consumers buy.

Color photo of turquoise fridge on black background. Door open to reveal interior shelves and drawers.

So as we chose objects to exhibit, we included many from everyday life experiences: shoes, gloves, tea cups, a Monopoly game, a refrigerator stuffed with common food items, popular phonograph records, and electronic devices that have faded into the past. These stand beside some of the Smithsonian's treasured artifacts, such as Eli Whitney's cotton gin model, Thomas Edison's light bulb, Alexander Bell's telephone, and a 1918 Fordson Tractor. We even have a piece of Google's first computer server. We hope this blend of objects will help visitors see their own personal story linked to a larger national narrative about the history of United States economic development from the 1770s to the present. We hope they will say, "We had one of those," or "That reminds me of something I saw in my grandparents' house!" Much of our intent is to help people discover the stories behind the objects that have touched their lives.

Photograph of Eli Whitney’s courtroom cotton gin model


Besides these amazing objects, what will visitors find in the exhibition?

Our audience studies tell us that our visitors come to us with one or more of four basic interests: ideas, objects, people, and interaction, and that a successful exhibition must integrate all of them. We have worked to mix them all together in American Enterprise. As visitors enter the exhibition, they will find a touch wall where they can interact with images of people, objects, and ideas that they’ll find throughout the exhibition. They'll also find some surprise effects if they touch the images and boxes on the screen more than once! This is an appropriate introduction, because throughout the exhibition, visitors will be challenged to explore the ideas that underlie the history of American business, the people who were key actors and agents of change, and original artifacts that were integral elements of historical moments. People will also be able to interact with over sixty electronic or mechanical displays to explore many topics more deeply. Besides giving visitors choice, we gave them variety by continually changing the form and style of our presentation.

Photograph of the entrance to the American Enterprise exhibition in the Mars Hall of American Business. The exhibition's large introductory touch screen is visible.


Screenshot of an interactive display included in the exhibition's "Business of Slavery" section.

Does the American Enterprise exhibition have a big idea or takeaway—something you would like all visitors to learn during their visit?

We organized our exhibition around key themes, which you will find echoed in the labels and interactive content in the exhibition. Our overarching goal was to explore what we thought was particularly characteristic about business in America. We concluded that American distinctiveness came from the dynamic relationship in our nation between capitalism and democracy. As a nation, we are fully committed to supporting both. The capitalist system propels our economic development, while democratic government modulates and regulates economic change and its social impact. This dynamic relationship at the national level is mirrored in our individual lives by a balance between our seeking individual opportunity and advancement on the one hand, and our commitment to supporting the common good on the other. We Americans consider the best citizens those who not only succeed in their own lives, but also help others and work for the betterment of society as a whole.

Within this general context, we focused on four topics: opportunity, innovation, competition, and a concern for common good. They are highlighted continually in the stories and descriptions of people, objects, and events that make up the body of the exhibition. Our visitors will find that overall, the exhibition is a blend of achievements, mistakes, and unintended consequences—of high points and low points in American history. We know that the development of American business has always been multifaceted and complex. And as we point out in a series of "Debating Enterprise" panels, leaders throughout history have disagreed on how the economy should be managed, just as they continue to do today.

Photograph of a space devoted to Thomas Edison in the exhibition's "Biography" section, which includes a historic light bulb and a talking doll.


The exhibition is not intended to convey a single thesis or conclusion about American business. Rather it is intended to be an engaging and thoughtful environment for people to explore this topic in three dimensions, informed by authentic objects, powerful graphics, and compelling interactive displays. If we have helped our visitors get more engaged in this subject, given them new perspectives, and spurred them to want to learn more, then we have achieved our goal.

What are your hopes for the American Enterprise exhibition?

The fundamental purpose of history is to examine and better understand social change. In an exhibition, this learning is less conceptual than experiential. We know that people come to an exhibition to see and experience more than to read and think, so we invite our visitors to pay attention to the visual and sensual features of our exhibition as you go through. Notice how we endeavored to enrich our presentations by using space, color, light, juxtaposition of objects and images, size and scale, and interactive explorations. Reflect on how our environment takes you through hundreds of years of historical change that impacts your life every day. In sum, we hope that visiting the exhibition will help our visitors achieve our museum's mission of understanding the past to make sense of the present and shape a more humane future.

Jordan Grant is a New Media Assistant working with the American Enterprise exhibition.

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Curator Lynn Heidelbaugh: WWI Mail

National Postal Museum
During WWI, Americans sent millions of packages, postcards, and letters in an effort to stay connected to loved ones. Join Postal Curator Lynn Heidelbaugh for a live Lunchtime Lecture to learn more about these firsthand accounts of love, longing, and loss, as well as the logistics of internationally mobilizing the postal service. Date of lecture: November 15, 2017

Cara McCarty, Curator: An Astonishing Career

Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum
Cara McCarty, an elegant woman with a fair complexion and wind-swept silver hair, gazes thoughtfully into the distance while standing in the Cooper Hewitt Terrace. She is wearing a light blue blouse and a long silver necklace.This appraisal of  Cara McCarty was contributed by Andrea Lipps, Associate Curator of Contemporary Design Cara McCarty is a curator, lecturer, and writer on modern and contemporary design. Celebrated for her multidisciplinary approach to design, McCarty began her curatorial career in 1980 at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) where she held several curatorial positions....

Exhibition talk: A Democracy of Images Curator Talk with curator Merry Foresta

Smithsonian American Art Museum
Guest Curator Merry Foresta selected 113 photographs from the American Art Museum's permanent collection to uncover recurring motifs of American life. In this talk she discussed the American experience through the images in the exhibition. June 28, 2013

Renwick Curator Nicholas Bell on WONDER

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Smithsonian curator seeks one storied FFA jacket

National Museum of American History
Curator Peter Liebhold is collecting your memories of agricultural education and seeks one FFA jacket for inclusion in the upcoming American Enterprise exhibition.

Get to know NMAH curator Steve Velasquez

Smithsonian Latino Center
Steve Velasquez works at the National Museum of American History as a curator focused on Latino history. In this brief interview, Steve shares how he came to work as a curator.
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