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"Transportation" painting

National Postal Museum
Mounted between wood and glass, Transportation is a 2 foot by 2.5 foot oil painting on canvas by Vincent Aderente. Similar to much of Aderente's work, the painting depicts a female allegorical figure, most likely representing progress, standing with each hand upon a particular mode of transportation--shipping and the railroad. Her right hand touches a ship with the wide expanse of ocean extending beyond it. Her left hand touches a train that stands adjacent to various smokestacks and factories indicative of industrialization.

The size of this particular painting is very small compared to the rest of Vincent Aderente's portfolio. Consequently, it can be assumed that this painting was a study for a larger mural to be produced at a later date. Markings on the back indicate that Aderente painted this work in 1918, a time when his reputation was growing.

Vincent Aderente was born in 1880 in Naples, Italy, and came to the United States with his parents at the age of six. Much of his early career was as an assistant to the muralist Edwin Blashfield where he worked to build the murals now seen at the Detroit Public Library in 1922. Although most of Aderente's larger work was limited to the New Jersey and Hudson area, Aderente did some small commissions involving printed poems for the American Weekly and the New York Sunday Americans in 1924 which paired his illustrations of allegorical women with poetry. Vincent Aderente is perhaps best known for his work on a series of World War I posters entitled “Columbia Calls,” along with designing eight US Government Bonds in 1935. Aderente died in 1941.


Aderente, Vincent Papers, 1906-1960. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. [D32].

14 Fun Facts About Giant Pandas

Smithsonian Magazine

The 21-year-old Mei Xiang, the National Zoo’s female panda, is taking a breather from entertaining visitors because Zoo keepers saw she was exhibiting potential signs of a pregnancy. The Zoo has announced that the Giant Panda House is now closed, but reminds visitors that they can still see the other pandas, Tian Tian and Bei Bei, playing in their outdoor yards.

Mei Xiang’s ambiguous maternal behaviors (is she, or isn’t she pregnant?) delivers heightened anticipation this time of year around Washington D.C., where cub births are welcomed with universal joy.

But just because Mei is spending most of her time sleeping, and is sensitive to noise, and is showing an increase in her hormone levels, that also could mean that she is experiencing a pseudopregnancy. The question of pregnancy will remain unanswered until either the keepers detect something in an ultrasound, or she gives birth.

Meanwhile, here for reader edification, we present our list of 14 Fun Facts About the Zoo’s Giant Pandas.

1. What other behaviors do female pandas show when they are experiencing hormonal changes?

In her den, Mei Xiang also began building a small nest of shredded bamboo. Keepers expect her to start showing less interest in food in the coming weeks. She might also cradle her toys and exhibit body-licking.

2. How many giant pandas are there in the world today?

There are only 1,864 giant pandas living in their native habitat in central China's provinces of Sichuan, Shaanxi and Gansu. Another 500 pandas live in zoos and breeding centers around the globe. For more about at-risk panda populations, check out our story “Panda Habitat is Severely Fragmented, Placing Pandas at Risk.” The Smithsonian’s National Zoo is one of the top leaders in conservation. Working closely with experts in China, researchers at the Zoo are leading efforts to better understand giant panda ecology, biology, breeding, reproduction, disease and proper animal care.

Mei Xiang, born on July 22, 1998, has oval eye patches and a faint black band across the bridge of her nose. (National Zoo)

3. What do the names of the three pandas at the National Zoo mean?

Mei Xiang, who was born on July 22, 1998 at the China Research and Conservation Center, is an adult female with a pale black band across the bridge of her nose and oval eye patches. Her name means “beautiful fragrance.” The male Tian Tian, who was also born at the China Conservation Center on August 27, 1997, has eye patches shaped like kidney beans and two black dots across his nose. His name means “more and more.” Bei Bei is the male cub of Mei Xiang and was born at the Zoo on August 22, 2015. His name means “precious treasure.”

4. How many times has Mei Xiang given birth?

Six times. On July 9, 2005, she delivered Tai Shan, who stayed four years at the Zoo and then, by agreement, left for China on February 4, 2010. Another cub was born September 16, 2012, but died a week later from liver damage. Bao Bao was born August 23, 2013 and left for China on February 21, 2017. A stillborn cub was delivered a day after Bao Bao’s birth. Two years later Mei Xiang again delivered two cubs on August 22, one was Bei Bei, the other cub died.

5. Why must the panda cubs leave Washington, D.C. for China?

Giant pandas are on loan to the Zoo and by agreement, when the cub reaches the age of four, the animals are sent to China to become part of the breeding population. To learn more about the breeding center, check out our story “The Science Behind the Unbearably Cute IMAX Movie Panda.” The four-year-old Bei Bei is soon to leave for China, as well. Bao Bao’s departure in 2017 was delightfully reported in this piece “How to FedEx a Giant Panda.” The adult pandas Mei Xiang and Tian Tian will continue to live in Washington, D.C. through 2020.

Bao Bao was born at the National Zoo on August 23, 2013 and left for China on February 21, 2017. (National Zoo)

6. How long is a panda pregnancy?

It takes 90 to 180 days, with the average gestation lasting 135 days. Ovulation for a female panda occurs only once a year in the spring and it lasts just two to three days. Panda breeding is a specialized science, for much on that, see our story “How Does Science Help Pandas Make More Panda Babies?”

7. How are the pandas cared for at the Zoo?

They are fed bamboo, sweet potatoes, pears, carrots and apples and biscuits, all carefully monitored for proper nutrition requirements. The bamboo is grown by the Zoo’s nutritionists at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal, Virginia. Keeping the panda’s busy with fun activities is also a key to their proper care. This video shows the way keepers keep the animals entertained. Keepers are especially attuned to the animals’ needs, but are always mindful that the creatures are dangerous and are much stronger than humans. So, they never enter into the animals’ spaces.

8. Do the pandas like living in Washington, D.C.?

Because pandas are adapted to the high-altitude forests in the mountainous central regions of China, snow is their happy place. Take a look at the Zoo’s “Panda’s Play in the Snow” videos to see how much the animals love the city’s winter weather. But for hot, humid summer days, the Zoo keeps air-conditioned spaces with misting sprays where the animals can go to remain comfortable.

One of the giant panda cubs born on Aug. 22, 2015 at the Smithsonian's National Zoo is examined by veterinarians. (National Zoo, Pamela Baker-Masson)

9. What does a giant panda sound like?

The Zoo’s popular Giant Panda Cam is one of the best ways to listen in for the chirps, honks, bleats, barks and squeals. According to the Zoo, the vocalizations can indicate distress (chirps and honks), pain (squeals), a friendly gesture (bleats), a defensive threat (chomp—a teeth clattering rapid opening and closing of the mouth), or a bark to scare off an enemy.

10. Why are the animals black and white?

There is really not a certain science for this question. The Zoo tells visitors that when a giant panda is sitting quietly without moving in a patch of dense bamboo, they are nearly invisible. On snow-covered rocky outcrops in their mountainous habitat, they are also quite hard to find. So likely their characteristic black and white patches are a very effective form of camouflage. The black and white patterns might also be a way for giant pandas to see and identify each other. They are solitary creatures. So a panda might use the patterns to identify other pandas in order to keep their distance. The black and white markings could also help with temperature regulation—black absorbs heat and white reflects it.

11. Do pandas have thumbs?

They have a “pseudo thumb” that helps them hold onto bamboo stems. It is formed from an elongated and large wrist bone that is covered by a fleshy pad of skin.

At the Smithsonian American Art Museum, muralist Kelsey Montague (above) created a cheeky panda bearing posies. (SAAM, courtesy of the artist)

12. How long do pandas live?

The National Zoo’s Hsing-Hsing lived until the age of 28. Pandas in the wild likely have shorter lifespans than zoo animals, but some pandas have reportedly lived to the age of 38.

13. Whats’ the best time to visit the pandas?

Mornings are best, if only to avoid long lines. The panda house is currently closed for Mei Xiang’s comfort, but the outdoor yards are open all day from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., during the summer. One cautionary item is that the pandas get to make the decision about when they want to see you. All of the animals at the Zoo have spaces where they can go to get away from the crowds. In the summer, the giant pandas prefer the cool air conditioning indoors.

14. Where else are pandas represented at the Smithsonian?

There’s a large taxidermy specimen at the entrance to the mammal hall at the National Museum of Natural History on the National Mall. Near the Luce Foundation Center on the third floor of the Smithsonian American Art Museum at 7th and F Streets, muralist Kelsey Montague created a cheeky panda bearing posies and perfectly poised for Instagram poseurs.

5 examples of rebellious women's workwear throughout history, inspired by objects from our collection

National Museum of American History

Go to college, get a job, lose your style. Is that how this works? I am grateful for my college education and internship at the National Museum of American History, but the world of professional wear in Washington, D.C., poses some unprecedented challenges for me, a 23-year-old with holes in her stockings and a closet full of short skirts and pink.

I turn to history to navigate this dilemma. In the American Enterprise exhibition located in the Mars Hall of American Business, I came across a section featuring The Woman's Dress for Success Book written by a man named John T. Molloy in 1977. Molloy, whose previous work Dress for Success was tailored to white masculine notions of "successful" appearances, researched businesswomen's clothing and respective levels of "success" in their fields. Throughout the guide, he advises women to dress as simply, modestly, and sophisticatedly as possible, and encourages women to "adopt a business uniform" with "a skirted suit and blouse," much like the one above.

Photo of gray woman's suit. Consists of a skirt, a jacket, and a blouse. Skirt has a slight flare.

Molloy harks that in the workplace women must avoid low necklines, midi-length dresses and skirts, bright colors and patterns, boots, handbags, and long hair.

And he insists that African American women must dress most conservatively (blandly) of all.

Black and white portrait of an African American woman looking at camera, sitting at desk with pen and papers in front of her. Her expression is somewhat serious but friendly. She wears a ring, bracelet, and necklace. Probably an office setting.

Oh, okay.

Interestingly, Molloy emphasizes that his study is rooted in scientific data. In his mind, Molloy is only the messenger, claiming that he hopes to help women elevate themselves in the workplace. ("Women, pick yourselves up by your bra straps!" I imagine him barking into a megaphone.)

To be fair, Molloy's book was successful. Published during a time of recession, it hit the market as more women went to work. At the same time, mainstream second-wave feminism was focusing on equal rights at work. So many women must have willingly traded their favorite polka-dot sweaters for professional gains that would propel their careers.

Nevertheless, Molloy's book highlights very real expectations of women to appear and behave simultaneously professional, sexually attractive, and submissive in male-dominated workplaces. His guidelines also bring up questions of popular imaginings of what a "successful woman" looks like.

It seems that not all female-identifying people who excelled at their jobs adhered to these codes, however, as some of our museum objects appear to indicate. Of course, we don't know how these outfits were worn, whether in workplaces or other spaces, and we can't get inside the wearers' heads to understand what messages they intended to send with their attire. But I love exploring clothing of the past and its possible messages.

1. Men's suits

Gray suit with tie

Molloy cautions women away from what he calls the "imitation man look." Women throughout history from actress Sarah Bernhardt to artist Frida Kahlo have worn menswear, thus unsettling mainstream ideas of femininity, masculinity, and acceptable appearance.

2. Creative colors

Orange dress with many white and orange ruffles on sleeves and at lower skirt.

Molloy outlines in excruciating detail the dangers of bright colors and bold patterns in the ensemble of a woman striving for success. While he's not talking about performers here, he might think differently after meeting people working in creative fields, such as Celia Cruz in her Cuban rumba dress.

3. Announcing a protest

Black and white photo of two women looking at camera. Large hats. They wear sashes/signs that says "Picket ladies tailors strikes." Street scene.

Under the umbrella of "working women" exist the women who work in factories, often withstanding (and protesting) countless violations of their rights, to produce clothes for middle and upper-class women. The garment worker women pictured below dared to wrap themselves in materials announcing to the world their opposition to inhumane working conditions.

4. Identity expression

Photo of woman's headwrap on a mannequin. Headwrap has green flowers and neutral background.

Dominant notions of professional appearances assume all workers not only have equal access to certain types of clothing, but also have similar body types and ways of expressing themselves and their intersecting identities. This object is only an example of the infinite ways people have expressed their complicated identities through the clothes they wear to work. Workplaces that acknowledge various modes of expression make work a safer and more comfortable space for all.

Photo of four buttons supporting Harvey Milk, three of which include a portrait of him.

5. Choosing comfort

Photo of white overalls splattered with paint

Stiff suits and pantyhose can constrict bodies and stifle comfort, focus, and creativity at work. Renowned painter and muralist Judith Baca chose comfort and flexibility over conformity.

Kathryn Anastasi is a graduate of Macalester College and a Hagan Broadening Access intern for the National Museum of American History. She is focusing on improving the accessibility of diverse and intersectional women's history resources to the public.

Intern Kathryn Anastasi
Posted Date: 
Thursday, March 10, 2016 - 10:00


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A Prominent Street Artist Just Destroyed All of His Works

Smithsonian Magazine

Street art is a medium that can be as frustrating as it is intriguing—just look at the scientific campaign to confirm the identity of Banksy or Joe “Graffiti Guerilla” Connolly’s attempts to keep Los Angeles free of tags and murals. But for some creators, one of the most upsetting acts against street art is having their work put in a museum. That’s what happened to Blu, a muralist who’s been transforming the streets of Bologna, Italy, for more than 20 years. When he learned that his murals would be removed from the streets and featured in a museum exhibition, he grabbed a chisel and a bucket of gray paint and destroyed them all.

As artnet’s Sarah Cascone reports, Blu spent all weekend destroying his artwork. The symbolic act was in protest of a Bologna exhibition which features more than 250 pieces of street art plucked from their urban settings and placed inside a museum. Blu objected to both the exhibit’s backers—prominent bankers—and its tactics of removing street art from the streets themselves.

“This exhibition will embellish and legitimise the hoarding of art taken off the street, which is only going to please unscrupled collectors and merchants,” said the artist in a statement. “This “street art” exhibition is representative of a model of urban space that we must fight, a model based on private accumulation which commodifies life and creativity for the profits of the usual few people.” Blu’s actions seem to be related not just to the affront of having his work appear in a museum, but also to the rising street art market that is causing works from artists like Banksy to command huge prices.

Image by Mario (Tonsoffun) Rimati/Demotix/Corbis colorful. Blu's murals had become landmarks in Bologna over the past 20 years. (original image)

Image by Massimiliano Donati/XianPix/Corbis cats. Blu's murals had become landmarks in Bologna over the past 20 years. (original image)

Image by Massimiliano Donati/XianPix/Corbis cats. Blu's murals had become landmarks in Bologna over the past 20 years. (original image)

This isn’t the first time street art has been removed to make a point—or even the first time Blue's own art has gone away to protest the concept of public murals as a private commodity. In 2014, Blu and his co-creator Lutz Henke buffed over several of their iconic murals in Berlin to protest the city's gentrification and the use of street art imagery to promote tourism.

Blu’s act may be one of protest, but the absence of his murals changes cities as much as their presence. “I understand the protest, but at the same time it is sad that now even regular people like us who live in this neighborhood are losing it forever,” a Bologna resident told the Telegraph’s Andrea Vogt.

Who really owns street art, anyway? It’s often created illegally and ephemerally, but debates still rage over whether graffiti artists even retain copyright to their own work. You could argue that once street art makes its way to a wall, it becomes the property of the people—or that, since it could be painted over at any time, it doesn’t belong to anyone. When it comes to street art, seemingly nothing is simple—and that can be the most frustrating (or wonderful) thing of all.

A cartoon of Air for the National Academy of Sciences mural.

Archives of American Art
1 photographic print : b&w ; 6 x 9 cm.

This cartoon was the initial design for what Hildreth Meiere would eventually paint on to gessoed tiles that would adorn the dome in the Great Hall at National Academy of Sciences, Washington, DC.

A cartoon of Earth for the National Academy of Sciences mural.

Archives of American Art
1 photographic print : b&w ; 6 x 9 cm.

This cartoon was the initial design for what Hildreth Meiere would eventually paint on to gessoed tiles that would adorn the dome in the Great Hall at National Academy of Sciences, Washington, DC.

A cartoon of Fire for the National Academy of Sciences mural.

Archives of American Art
1 photographic print : b&w ; 6 x 9 cm.

This cartoon was the initial design for what Hildreth Meiere would eventually paint on to gessoed tiles that would adorn the dome in the Great Hall at National Academy of Sciences, Washington, DC.

A cartoon of Water for the National Academy of Sciences mural.

Archives of American Art
1 photographic print : b&w ; 6 x 9 cm.

This cartoon was the initial design for what Hildreth Meiere would eventually paint on to gessoed tiles that would adorn the dome in the Great Hall at National Academy of Sciences, Washington, DC.

Aaron Douglas

National Portrait Gallery
The Harmon Foundation, a philanthropic organization based in New York City and active from (1922-1967) included this portrait in their exhibition “Portraits of Outstanding Americans of Negro Origins” which documented noteworthy African Americans’ contributions to the country. Modeling their goal of social equality, the Harmon sought portraits from an African-American artist, Laura Wheeler Waring and Euro-American artist, Betsy Graves Reyneau. The two painters followed the conventional codes of academic portraiture, seeking to convey their sitters extraordinary accomplishments. This painting, along with a variety of educational materials, toured nation-wide for ten years serving as a visual rebuttal to racism.

Albus Cavus and the Renaissance of Washington, D.C.

Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage

Peter Krsko, coordinator of artists’ collective Albus Cavus, recently gave Smithsonian interns a tour of the murals of Washington, D.C. As showcases of creativity and talent, these murals challenge negative connotations associated with graffiti art and are among the many murals that can now be found all over D.C. As demonstrated by the Citified program at the Festival, members of the Albus Cavus cooperative are engaging the residential communities east of the Anacostia River.

Peter believes that public art has the ability to transform a city, and that Washington, D.C., is in the midst of an invigorating arts revival. Peter talked enthusiastically about local artists who are working collaboratively on these community art projects. He described the people of Wards Seven and Eight as welcoming and open to him as both an individual and as an artist.  He also stressed that mural projects been taking place not only east of the Anacostia River, but also throughout all of D.C.

Murals have the ability to motivate people of all ages to work together and beautify their neighborhoods. These murals reflect what the people of the community want to see outside their homes and thus showcase the strengths, perseverance, and ideals of the community. From back alleys to major thoroughfares, murals have become an important form of communal representation in the D.C. art scene.

Peter Krsko and other local artists and members of Albus Cavus are painting a mural of their own as part of the Festival's Citified program.

See images from Krsko's tour of D.C. Click on images to enlarge.  All photos by Kate Aebischer

Kate Aebischer is an intern with the Citified program at the 2012 Smithsonian Folklife Festival. She is studying anthropology at The College of New Jersey.

Allyn Cox conducting a tour of his studio

Archives of American Art
1 photographic print : b&w ; 9 x 9 cm.

Identification on verso (handwritten): Mr. Allyn Cox, world famous muralist, conducts a "tour" of his studio of Directors of American Art Week who attended the A.A.W. Director's Dinner in NY City. Directors came from all over the nation. Pictured with Mr. Cox are Mrs. Elise Long and Lrs. Jessie Metcalf, delegates from Las Vegas, Nevada.

Alumni, Art Student's League

National Portrait Gallery

Amelia Earhart

National Portrait Gallery
Amelia Earhart and Female Beauty

Earhart was known to have been sensitive about her appearance and the clothes she wore. Given the limited space and the awkward design of the planes of this period, she always wore pants when flying—which prompted comment from those who believed pants to be unladylike. For public appearances, though, she abandoned her leather jacket, flight pants, and boots and presented herself in a fashion consistent with traditional femininity. In this 1932 drawing by Philadelphia artist Edith Emerson, Earhart appears as an exemplar of conventional female beauty. Emerson was a noted portraitist and muralist who had been educated at several of America’s leading art schools. The only hint of Earhart’s piloting fame is the faint outline of an airplane in the top left-hand corner.

American Muralist Tom Lea

Smithsonian American Art Museum
ThumbnailOn September 24, the Smithsonian American Art Museum will co-host a national conference that examines the importance of preserving WPA-era murals using the work of celebrated American muralist Tom Lea as a case study.

Arshile Gorky

National Portrait Gallery

Arthur Sinclair Covey painting mural for Kohler Company

Archives of American Art
1 photographic print : b&w ; 26 x 21 cm.

Identification on verso (handwritten): Arthur Covey working on Kohler Co. mural

Artists File Taxes Too!

Smithsonian Magazine

It's that time of year, again, the deadline for filing your federal and state income tax returns. And if you've procrastinated until the absolute last day—extended from April 15 until April 18 because of the Emancipation Day holiday as celebrated in Washington, D.C.— you still have some time. You are also in good company. Filing taxes is probably one of the few remaining equalizers that exists in society; everyone has to do it— including the rich, the famous, and the rich and famous. But the way we do it—before time or at the last minute; happily or begrudingly—cuts across all sections the population.

The Archives of American Art boasts over 6,000 different collections, many of which include the financial papers and tax returns of U.S. artists.  But what can looking at the tax returns of artists tell us about them, and possibly ourselves? Curatorial Archives Specialist Mary Savig shares some of what she learned.

Where did this collection come from?

Normally when we acquire papers, we do get a lot of tax material included in them. The gamut of collections usually runs between personal letters, tax returns, financial records and sketch books. It really ranges, but we do tend to have a lot of financial material.

What can looking at an artist's tax returns tell us about him or her?

You learn what their studio conditions were like, what they were making on their art at the time and what they were spending their money on. So, tax returns can reveal information about their level of success at the time and whether or not they were charitable with their money.

Did you find anything interesting?

We have a great tax return from the artist Mitchell Siporin, who was a muralist during the Works Progress Administration (WPA). We have a lot of WPA artists in our collections, but what’s notable about these tax returns it that their only source of income during the Great Depression was from the federal government. It’s just a financial record, but it is poignant to show that if they had not been supported by the WPA, they probably wouldn’t have been able to remain artists and they would’ve had to find work doing other things. So the fact that the federal government was able to support their art was really great because it allowed them to flourish after the depression as well.

The collection seems fairly mundane. Was that surprising?

I think what’s so great about some of these financial records is that they’re pretty mundane. Tax returns are kind of a burden that we share with artists, so it show that artists can also be relatable —they also have to do their taxes.It's the irksome tasks that we all have to do which kind of bring us together, so we can understand kind of their work, too.

Since many of the financial records in the archives contain personal material, there aren't any plans for a public display, however; they collections are open to researchers who may find the information useful to their scholarship.

Happy filing!

Arturo Rodríguez painting his mural, The Great Theater of the World

Archives of American Art
1 photographic print : col. ; 13 x 18 cm. Arturo Rodríguez painting his mural, The Great Theater of the World in the courtyard of the Norton Gallery of Art in West Palm Beach, Fla., for the exhibition Walls: Glier, Rodríguez, Wojnarowicz, held Oct. 11- Nov. 30, 1986.
Identification on verso (handwritten): Arturo Rodriguez at work.

Arturo Rodríguez, Demi, David Wojnarowicz and Milke Glier

Archives of American Art
1 photographic print : col. ; 9 x 13 cm. Artists in front of the mural, The Great Theater of the World in the courtyard of the Norton Gallery of Art in West Palm Beach, Fla., for the exhibition Walls: Glier, Rodríguez, Wojnarowicz, held Oct. 11- Nov. 30, 1986.
Identification on verso (stamped): From left to right: Arturo Rodríguez, Demi (Arturo's wife), David Wojnarowicz, and Mike Glier.

Artwork by Muhammad Ali Is Going up For Auction

Smithsonian Magazine

During his life, Muhammad Ali was many things to many people: a legendary boxer, a civil rights activist, a skilled showman. But what many may not know is that he was also a visual artist who took joy in making brightly colored drawings inspired by the life experiences that made him an iconic figure of the 20th century. Now, several prints by Ali, who died on June 3, are being auctioned off in New York City’s RoGallery sale next Wednesday. 

Ali was not a trained artist, but he came from a family of artists, musicians, and craftspeople. His father, Cassius Clay, Sr., was a sign painter and muralist who lamented that he couldn’t be a recognized artist because of racial discrimination, Robert Lipsyte reports for the New York Times. In high school, Ali’s best subjects were art and gym; while the latter became the basis for his boxing career and subsequent celebrity, he also continued to draw throughout his life.

"He was not trained in poetry; he was not trained in drawing… he had a natural talent," Robert Rogal, RoGallery’s owner, tells Sarah Cascone for artnet News

Ali’s artwork may not be technically masterful, but there is an undeniable joy in his drawings. Whether depicting a boxing match, a fighter jet, or Muslim people dressed in white and headed for prayer at a mosque, Ali’s drawings show another side of the man whose brash, boisterous personality nabbed him headlines and fans around the world, Steven Thrasher writes for the Guardian.

“The racist world Ali inhabited requires black men to be tough and hard. Ali’s drawings allow him a way not to be hard, or loud – but to be soft, joyous, kidlike, tender,” Thrasher writes. “Tenderness is often denied to black men, and giving it up becomes a price of our survival. As with his smile, it is a beautiful thing to see Ali indulge his tender side.”

The pieces up for auction on June 15 were all created in 1979 and printed in limited runs of 500 each. The drawings reference many of Ali’s strongest political statements, like his outspokenness about his Muslim faith and the impact of slavery and discrimination on his life and the lives of his ancestors. They also point back to his career in the ring, depicting himself triumphantly standing over an opponent’s body, surrounded by a sea of black, brown, white, yellow, red and green faces.

“Ali was not just one of world’s greatest international athletes but a cultural phenomenon whose influence is impossible to quantify,” Thrasher writes. “He was, until 2016, one of America’s greatest living artists, whose body, visage and soul personified an African American artistry in everything he did.”

Austin Purves

Catalog of American Portraits

Back to the Drawing Board

National Portrait Gallery

Ben Shahn

National Portrait Gallery
Ben Shahn, a painter, photographer, and graphic artist, infused his works with a passion that made them both works of art and political statements. In 1932 he created a famous series on the Italian-American anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti, whose trial was widely criticized for its denial of due process. Shahn, a staunch New Dealer, painted murals and did other commissions for the government arts and public works programs. In this photograph by Ronny Jaques, Shahn, a strong supporter of labor, is shown with his poster, commissioned by the Congress of Industrial Organizations, urging workers to register to vote. Shahn's later work became more abstract and allegorical, although still politically charged, and in his last years he turned to religious themes, creating illustrated versions of books from scripture and the Torah.

Ben Shahn

National Portrait Gallery
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