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“Orale ese Vato”

National Museum of American History
As this paño humorously titled Orale ese vato (Spanish for roughly, right on, man) shows, one characteristic of Chicano art is that it avidly consumes and reconfigures both American and Mexican pop culture with its own slang, looks, and attitude. A paño is a hand-drawn handkerchief traditionally designed by Chicano prisoners. Like a letter that retells memories of both good and bad times, paños are often mailed as gifts to friends and loved ones. Valued as a vibrant popular art that overlaps with muralism, tattoo design, graffiti, and auto airbrushing, paños and their makers are receiving increased exposure for their visual storytelling abilities. An illustrator and a muralist known for depicting Chicano themes, Walter Baca (1947-1993) designed this paño in New Mexico in 1992.

Winold Reiss

National Portrait Gallery

William Morris Hunt

National Portrait Gallery

William Morris Hunt

National Portrait Gallery

William Morris Hunt

National Portrait Gallery

Willem de Kooning

National Portrait Gallery

Willem de Kooning

National Portrait Gallery
Elaine de Kooning sometimes made detailed pencil drawings during the 1950s as the starting point for one or more paintings of her subjects. This precise rendering of Willem de Kooning is related to at least one painting, now unlocated. Its casual pose, with Willem holding a glass or can and another container on the ground, is typical of Elaine’s candid, informal approach to portraiture. She has used the drawing to sketch out a compositional arrangement and to delineate Willem’s characteristic features with fluid pencil strokes.

En los años cincuenta, Elaine de Kooning solía hacer dibujos detallados a lápiz como punto de partida para una o más pinturas del mismo sujeto. Esta imagen fiel de Willem de Kooning se ha relacionado con por lo menos una pintura (sin localizar hasta la fecha). La pose relajada de Willem, con un vaso o lata en la mano y otro en el suelo, es típica del tono cándido e informal con que Elaine aborda el retratismo. La artista usó el dibujo para definir una composición y delinear con trazos fluidos los rasgos característicos de Willem.

Willem de Kooning

National Portrait Gallery
In this portrait of Willem de Kooning, whose career as an Abstract Expressionist painter was just taking off in the early 1950s, the seated pose is open and informal and Willem’s facial features are essentially missing. However, the outlines of the head and body define individual likeness through sharp, jagged strokes of paint and contrasts of dark and light within a field of warm color.

Elaine drew and painted her husband often during the early to mid-1950s. This painting makes clear her interest in individual bodies and their recognizability. As she wrote in 1959, "I love the particular gesture of a particular expression or stance. I’m enthralled by the gesture of the silhouette (for portraits or anything else), the instantaneous illumination that enables you to recognize your father or a friend three blocks away."

Este retrato sentado de Willem de Kooning es de principios de los años cincuenta, cuando su carrera como pintor expresionista abstracto apenas estaba despegando. La pose es franca e informal, y las facciones son básicamente inexistentes. No obstante, la individualidad del sujeto queda definida en el trazado de la cabeza y el cuerpo con pinceladas firmes, de bordes accidentados, y contrastes de luz y sombra en un campo de colores cálidos.

Elaine dibujó y pintó a su esposo con frecuencia durante 1950–55. Esta pintura evidencia su interés en individualizar los cuerpos y hacerlos reconocibles. Tal como escribe en 1959, “Me gusta el gesto particular de una expresión o una postura. Me fascina el gesto de la silueta (en retratos o cualquier otra cosa), ese esclarecimiento instantáneo que te permite reconocer a tu padre o a un amigo a tres cuadras de distancia”.

Willem de Kooning

National Portrait Gallery

Willem de Kooning

National Portrait Gallery

Willem de Kooning

National Portrait Gallery

Violet Oakley

Archives of American Art
1 photographic print : platinum print ; 17 x 12 cm.

Photo shows muralist and stained-glass designer Violet Oakley wearing a robe, standing next to a tree.

Violet Oakley

Archives of American Art
1 photographic print : platinum print ; 17 x 12 cm.

Photo shows muralist and stained-glass designer Violet Oakley wearing a robe, standing next to a tree.

Violet Oakley

Archives of American Art
1 photographic print : platinum print ; 17 x 12 cm. Photo shows muralist and stained-glass designer Violet Oakley wearing a robe, standing next to a tree.
Signed lower right: "EW".

Violet Oakley

Archives of American Art
1 photographic print : platinum print ; 20 x 13 cm.

Photo shows muralist and stained-glass designer Violet Oakley wearing a robe, standing next to a tree.

Violet Oakley

National Portrait Gallery

Vassar Dormitory designed by Marcel Breuer, architect. Muralist: Adolph Gottlieb

Archives of American Art
1 photographic print : b&w ; 19 x 25 cm

Three new collections represent Latinas from L.A.

National Museum of American History

As a curator at the National Museum of American History, I find that exhibitions are one space in which I can bring history to the public. While exhibitions are truly impactful—around five million people visit our museum each year and our exhibitions are sometimes up for twenty years—curators are also responsible for research and collections that may not be slated for immediate display. Most recently I have been collecting important artifacts from Latinas who have changed the landscape of Los Angeles, California, in various ways. This work is about making sure diverse stories are represented in the national collection.

Over the past two years, I have worked with local Latina leaders to develop collections connected to the lives of three pathbreaking L.A. artists: Judith F. Baca, muralist and professor at University of California, Los Angeles; Martha Gonzalez, lead singer of the Grammy Award-winning band Quetzal; and Josefina López, author and screenwriter of Real Women Have Curves, a 2002 movie directed by Patricia Cardoso.

At the museum, the Division of Home and Community Life preserves objects at the intersection of our private and public lives that are significant to individual experiences, social environments, and community development throughout our nation's past. The artifacts collected from Judy Baca, Martha Gonzalez, and Josefina López represent larger stories about people in Los Angeles making a place for themselves. Their artifacts are about artistic expression and new perspectives.

Photograph of white overalls splattered with paint

Photograph of baseball cap, work boots, and brushes

The artifacts donated by Judy Baca include a pair of painter's overalls that Baca used in the restoration of the Great Wall of Los Angeles, a well-known mural in California's San Fernando Valley that depicts the cultural history of people living in the area from prehistoric times to the 1950s. The paint splattered on the overalls provides its own archive of Judy's work and art. The brown tones are from her restoration of the Great Wall, the blues are from her mural depicting an Olympic runner on the Harbor Freeway (110) North in downtown Los Angeles, and the reds are from her Highland Park mural of the landscape and people of the Arroyo Seco area of Los Angeles. Baca is one of the artists most responsible for L.A.'s reputation as a city of murals.

Photograph of brown box with handle and stickers and black shoes

Martha Gonzalez, lead singer of the band Quetzal, has adapted Son Jarocho folk musical traditions from Veracruz, Mexico, into an Afro-Chicano mix that is reflective of American cultural fusions and can only be described as contemporary Chicana/o rock. Their music is emotional and intellectual. And it is distinctly L.A. Artifacts from Gonzalez include her performance tarima and black dance shoes. A tarima is a five-sided stomp box, with roots in African and Mexican musical traditions, that is used like a drum. The shoes are handmade with tire tread soles and toe-tips and heels dotted with nails for percussive effect. The tarima and shoes are used in community musical traditions as a percussion instrument.

Photo of cover of book of poems

Photograph of award

Josefina López is the author and screenwriter of play-turned-film Real Women Have Curves, a production that revolutionized body image and how Latinas can be featured in Hollywood films. Objects from López include her personal journals from childhood, scripts with notations throughout, and her famed Humanitas Prize trophy, which she received in 2002 for Real Women Have Curves. It has been said that the Humanitas Prize is to screenwriting as the Nobel Prize is to literature. It is awarded for writing that demonstrates and encourages human dignity and freedom. López is the first Latina to win this award.

I present these three examples of recent collections because including their stories in the national repository and knowing that their lives will be forever preserved alongside President Abraham Lincoln's hat, President Thomas Jefferson's Bible, and a piece of Plymouth Rock is not only powerful, it is political. These Latinas from L.A. are officially part of our national story.

Photograph of three scripts with cursive writing on them

Margaret Salazar-Porzio is a curator in the Division of Home and Community Life.

This blog post is an excerpt of a lecture titled "Practicing Public History: California Stories at the Smithsonian," which will be published in the Southern California Quarterly 98:1 (Spring 2016), due to be released in February.

Posted Date: 
Thursday, September 24, 2015 - 11:30
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Thomas Hart Benton Self-Portrait

National Portrait Gallery

Thomas Hart Benton Self-Portrait

National Portrait Gallery
Thomas Hart Benton 1889-1975

In this lithograph and the painting on which he based it, leading regionalist artist Thomas Hart Benton showed himself as "Grandaddy [sic] Benton." For the feisty painter of the American scene who fearlessly traveled back roads to find subjects for his works, it was not easy to admit that he was aging. Yet he delighted in such visual play as likening the wrinkles of his neck to the folds of the jacket that hung over his skinny arms. He vigorously scratched on the lithographic stone to highlight the bulging belly that strained his belt. In a 1973 interview with Mike Wallace, Benton boasted that he still drank and painted. In fact, he said, "I think I paint better than ever." In this proud old-age self-portrait with brushes firmly in hand, Benton asserted the truth of that statement.

Thomas Hart Benton Self-Portrait

National Portrait Gallery

Thomas Hart Benton

National Portrait Gallery
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