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Becoming a Nation: Americana from the Diplomatic Reception Rooms, U.S. Department of State


The story of America's origins will come alive when the Cincinnati Art Museum presents Becoming a Nation: Americana from the Diplomatic Reception Rooms, U.S. Department of State, on view from March 2 to April 25, 2004. Visitors will see exquisitely crafted artworks, each with its own unique historic tie. Many of the objects on display were owned by or associated with famous Americans, such as Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Ben Franklin, Paul Revere, George Washington, Dolley Madison and Francis Scott Key, and they help tell the stories of their legendary contributions to the founding of the United States. (right: Plate, China for export, ca. 1805-10, porcelain with overglaze enamels and gilding. Funds donated by Mrs. Alexander O. Vietor)

"This exhibition offers a unique way to learn about our nation's history," said Amy Dehan, assistant curator of decorative arts at the Cincinnati Art Museum. "These extraordinary artworks tell stories of the fascinating people who shaped our nation."

The nearly 200 rare objects in the exhibition, all selected to furnish the nation's Diplomatic Reception Rooms, include silver by Paul Revere; china belonging to George Washington and James and Dolley Madison; heirloom side chairs owned by Francis Scott Key; and other objects made by the best American artists and craftsmen of the time.

"In addition to revealing stories about legendary Americans, Becoming a Nation also illustrates the cultural growth of the United States," said Dehan. "The objects in the exhibition include many of the finest examples of paintings, furniture, porcelain and silver from the Colonial and Federal periods. They are examples of the best craftsmanship and artistic talent of the golden age of American decorative and fine arts."

The artworks in the exhibition were selected from the Diplomatic Reception Rooms, where foreign and American dignitaries are hosted today. Secretary of State Colin Powell uses these rooms to conduct business with foreign heads of state in a warm yet venerable setting that conveys the cultural accomplishments of the United States. (right: Gilbert Stuart, George Washington, ca. 1803-05, oil on canvas. Gift of Mrs. Robert G. Stone)

"The Diplomatic Reception Rooms of the Department of State are not only cultural treasures, they are invaluable diplomatic assets," said Secretary Powell in the exhibition catalogue. In fact, Powell says that when meetings in his office take an awkward turn, he suggests a stroll through the Diplomatic Reception Rooms, where he lightens the mood by giving his guests a private tour.


More About Becoming a Nation

The nearly 200 works in Becoming a Nation tell the story not only of the nation's forbearers, but also of the early days of the Department of State and the origins of American foreign policy. They illuminate the stories of the events and personalities that were instrumental in the birth of the nation. They also highlight another important aspect of the early republic -- that America shared in the elegance and grandeur of the Age of Enlightenment. The early Americans who owned these works and the artisans who made them clearly had sophisticated aesthetics, a rational sense of function and high technical skills.

Families can learn the stories of people who shaped America by following the paths of statesmen, craftsmen, revolutionists and entrepreneurs. Examples of these stories are below.


Extraordinary Stories told in Becoming a Nation






Regional Connections in the Exhibition


About the Diplomatic Reception Rooms

The Diplomatic Reception Rooms of the Department of State and the White House are the two greatest mirrors of America's remarkable cultural accomplishments in fine and decorative arts of the 18th and 19th centuries. Here in these rooms, visiting chiefs of state, heads of government, foreign ministers and other distinguished foreign and American guests are entertained officially.

When the Diplomatic Reception Rooms opened in 1961, they were very much like the rest of the modern State Department building, with wall-to-wall carpeting on concrete floors, brown paneled walls and other elements typical to office buildings. The exterior walls of the entire eighth floor (where the Diplomatic Reception Rooms are located) were comprised of floor-to-ceiling plate glass with exposed steel beams. The Diplomatic Reception Rooms of today have been transformed into a setting worthy of the beautiful objects that reside there.


Exhibition Organizer

Organized by the Trust for Museum Exhibitions, Washington, D.C.


About the Trust for Museum Exhibitions

The Trust for Museum Exhibitions is a Washington, D.C. based nonprofit service organization committed to providing the finest in exhibition and technical support to museum and cultural centers throughout the U.S. and abroad.


Related Exhibition in the Closer Look Gallery: American Visions, January 24 to April 18, 2004

This exhibition of selected prints from the Kent Bicentennial Portfolio Spirit of Independence shows how some artists expressed what independence meant to them. These works, all from the Cincinnati Art Museum's permanent collection, were commissioned to commemorate America's bicentennial celebration in 1976. Jacob Lawrence, Audrey Flack, and Robert Indiana are among the nationally known artists featured in this exhibition. By exploring the works, families can learn how pictures help define the perceptions of America. American Visions includes an interactive area with books, touchable objects and simple art activities in the adjacent Education Resource Room.

Editor's note: RLM readers may also enjoy these earlier articles concerning this touring exhibit:


Read more articles and essays concerning this source by visiting the sub-index page for the Cincinnati Art Museum in Resource Library Magazine.

Search for more articles and essays on American art in Resource Library. See America's Distinguished Artists for biographical information on historic artists.

This page was originally published in 2004 in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information.

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