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Smithsonian Associates - Entertaining, Informative, Eclectic, Insightful

This week's digest features a mini-gallery of art and design-related stories: news of major Smithsonian exhibitions about to open (or reopen); a modern take on the enduring power of fashion; and how an artist's letters and a newly discovered bookmark provide intimate glimpses into his creative and personal world.

They're among the offerings designed to make sure you continue to enjoy what you,ve come to value from Smithsonian Associates: programs and experiences that are entertaining, informative, eclectic, and insightful.

Great Waves and Caravans of Gold

Katsushika Hokusai, Breaking Waves, Edo period, 1847, ink and color on silk, 126 x 46.7 cm. Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.: Gift of Charles Lang Freer, F1905.276

Smithsonian museums continue to reopen, offering the chance to view exhibitions that closed at the beginning of the pandemic or never had a chance to open. When the Freer Gallery of Art reopens Friday, July 16, visitors can take in Hokusai: Mad about Painting, an exhibition that originally opened in the fall of 2019 and was on view until the museum closed in March 2020. The stunning collection of 50 works by Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai-best known for his iconic woodblock print Great Wave off Kanagawa-includes pieces large and small, from folding screens and hanging scrolls to paintings and drawings. Also included are rare hanshita-e, drawings for woodblock prints that were adhered to the wood and frequently destroyed in the process of carving the block prior to printing. Among the many featured works are Hokusai's manga, his often-humorous renderings of everyday life in Japan. Additional pieces will be added to the exhibition throughout the summer.

The National Museum of African Art also reopens on July 16. Its newest exhibition, Caravans of Gold, Fragments in Time: Art, Culture, and Exchange Across Medieval Saharan Africa, was scheduled to open in April 2020 and has been extended until Feb. 27, 2022. It's the first major exhibition to explore global medieval Saharan Africa and the pivotal role traders, artists, and intellectuals had in bridging connections between West Africa (including modern-day Morocco, Mali, and Nigeria) to places as remote from the Sahara as Italy, Iran, China and the U.K. The exhibition features over 300 works from the 8th to 15th centuries A.D. demonstrating the global reach of African peoples, ideas, and materials in the period.

These museums join other reopened Smithsonian locations, with more set to begin welcoming visitors on a staggered schedule through mid-July and August.

Museum Reopening Schedule

Psaki at the Podium

Jen Psaki (Photo: The White House)

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki knows her way around the West Wing. She served as the White House deputy press secretary and deputy communications director during the Obama administration, became spokesperson for the U.S. State Department, and in 2015 was named White House communications director. Along the way, she has learned the ins and outs of sharing the nation's chief executive's thoughts and policies. After four years of the Trump administration, when the role of press secretary changed dramatically, Psaki is reinventing this key position and attempting to restore comity and trust between White House officials, including the president, and the reporters who cover the administration.

In a wide-ranging Smithsonian Associates Streaming conversation with author and veteran White House correspondent Ken Walsh on Tuesday, July 27 Psaki defines her role as press secretary, describes changes in presidential communication in recent years, and shares her insights into President Joe Biden as a public leader and a private person.

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Timeless Fashion

Clockwise: "Faïence" by Lucien Lelong, 1946 (Maryhill Museum of Art); Donna Limerick wears a replica of her mother Mae Reeves' hat designs (Photo: Sharon Farmer); Silk scarves by Hermès (Photo: Samantha Viksnins)

Who wouldn't like to dress like a goddess-especially after more than a year of athleisure wear and Zoom outfits? Artist Nikolas Bentel turned to Sandro Botticelli's The Birth of Venus to create a delicately sprigged cream-colored dress and organza top inspired by pieces worn by the goddess of spring in the painting (she's the figure ready to wrap Venus in a sumptuous cloak). Bentel's limited-edition Botticelli capsule collection even includes a version of the cloak, a blanket in gold-embroidered cashmere.

Elizabeth Lay also focuses on aspects of the timeless power of fashion in her latest series of Lunchtime with a Curator programs for Smithsonian Associates Streaming. On Monday, July 19 she looks at how the Paris couture industry signaled to the world that it was alive and well after WWII: by creating the Théâtre de la Mode, miniature mannequins and fashions that were displayed in stage sets designed by prominent artists of the day. The meticulously crafted and clothed high-fashion figures were displayed in Paris, European capitals, and several American cities, demonstrating with style that an occupying army couldn't quash the creative force of couturiers.

An August 2 program celebrates the Hermès Carré, the patterned square silk scarf coveted by royalty, celebrities, and ordinary folk alike as the epitome of luxury accessories. The woman behind another must-have accessory, Mae Reeves of the legendary Mae's Millinery Shop in Philadelphia, is in the spotlight on August 16. For 56 years her stunning "showstopper' hats were popular with women of all backgrounds, from schoolteachers to socialites to stars like Ella Fitzgerald and Lena Horne.

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Smart Talk

Top: Christopher Wilson Bottom: Roberta Gasbarre (Photo: Amanda Corbett)

Here's another reason to look forward to the end of the week: Fridays at Noon, a lively monthly web podcast series designed exclusively for Smithsonian Associates members. Go behind the scenes and into the working lives of some of the most intriguing people from all across the Smithsonian and Washington's worlds of culture, science, and education in 30-minute informal conversations led by Roberta Gasbarre, a multifaceted veteran arts educator and creator and conversationalist extraordinaire. Members can enjoy the episodes live on Zoom at 12 p.m. ET, or in archived sessions. The programs are free, but registration is required.

On August 13, Christopher Wilson of the National Museum of American History discusses how history can be vividly brought to life in interactive museum theatre performances such as one that commemorates the 1960 student sit-ins at a Greensboro, North Carolina, lunch counter (on display at the museum) that inspired civil rights activists across the South.

During Hispanic Heritage Month, broadcaster Felix Contreras joins Roberta in a September 20 chat about the global influence of Latin and Latin American music and culture from his viewpoint of two decades behind the mic. He's the co-creator and host of Alt.Latino, NPR's pioneering radio show and podcast celebrating Latin alternative music and world Latino culture.

Fridays at Noon With Christopher Wilson

Fridays at Noon With Felix Contreras

Van Gogh: Artist and Writer

Self-Portrait, by Vincent Van Gogh, 1889, Musée d'Orsay

It's a bookmark like no other: a strip of figurative pencil sketches tucked into a book gifted to a friend. What makes it unique is that the giver was Vincent Van Gogh, then in his 20s, and that this intensely personal piece of art was discovered 135 years later. It's a rare find, since few drawings from Van Gogh's early period survive. Artnet reports on its significance.

Van Gogh's own words offer some of the deepest insights into his paintings. Letters written across almost two decades refer not only his artworks but also his views on art, life, religion, nature, and his aspirations as an artist. Their literary quality was recognized by readers such as the poet W.H. Auden, who published an anthology of the letters in which he wrote, "There is scarcely one letter by van Gogh which I, who am certainly no expert, do not find fascinating.'

The letters are the focus of the first of a three-part Smithsonian Associates Steaming series that explores the intersection of art and literature led by David Gariff, senior lecturer at the National Gallery of Art. The Sunday, October 3 program examines how these documents provide complementary written descriptions and small sketches related to specific paintings; van Gogh's thoughts on relationships with family, friends, and fellow artists; and poignant insights into his world. Subsequent programs examine the poetry of Michelangelo and how Joan Miró's painting The Farm served as lifelong personal touchstone between the artist and Ernest Hemingway.

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