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

May 22-July 18, 2004


(above: Possibly by John Haley Bellamy (1836-1914), Eagle wall plaque, Portsmouth, N.H., ca. 1860-1880, painted and gilt pine)


The grand splendor of the Diplomatic Reception Rooms in Washington, DC, is usually reserved for high-ranking State Department personnel and foreign dignitaries. However, the public now has a unique opportunity to see the decorative and fine arts that fill these magnificent rooms.

This exhibition consists of approximately 120 objects including furniture, silver, porcelain, paintings, rugs, clocks, looking glasses, sconces and candlesticks from the Diplomatic Reception Rooms of the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C.


(above: Archibald Willard (1836-1918),  The Spirit of '76, 1875, oil on canvas Attributed to the shop of Duncan Phyfe [1768-1854[)


The collection includes some of the finest examples ever produced of American fine and decorative art. Representing the "best and the brightest" of American achievements in the arts between circa 1740 and 1825, there are many masterpieces that visitors are sure to enjoy, including a Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington; a silver bowl made by Paul Revere; the Portrait of Thomas Jefferson attributed to Charles Wilson Peale; the View of Boston Harbor by Fitz Hugh Lane and many more.

"This is an exhibition not to be missed," Chief Curator Peter J. Baldaia said. "All of the objects on view are beautiful to behold. But more importantly, they tell a story -- one that chronicles how our nation progressed from Colonial status to the first great modern democracy, expanded across the vast interior to the Pacific Coast, and consolidated our ideals to emerge as a world power."

The works featured in Becoming a Nation tell the story of our young country and its developing culture and aesthetics. These icons of United States history also document the beginnings of the Department of State and the origins of American foreign policy. More than impressive decorations, these works highlight an important aspect of our nation's early years -- the fact that America shared in the elegance and grandeur of the age of enlightenment.

"There is great enthusiasm in Huntsville as we prepare to share the city's many cultural attractions with visitors and our local audiences," President and CEO Clayton Bass said.

(above: Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828),  George Washington, ca. 1803-1805,  oil on canvas)


The Huntsville Museum of Art is one of eight Museums selected to host Becoming a Nation: Americana from the Diplomatic Reception Rooms, U.S. Department of State. The exhibition is organized by The Trust for Museum Exhibitions in Washington, D.C.

The itinerary for Becoming a Nation is:

Portland Art Museum - Portland, OR
April 11 - June 8, 2003
Georgia Museum of Art - Athens, GA
July 3 - August 31, 2003
Fresno Metropolitan Museum - Fresno, CA
September 26 - December 14, 2003
Society of the Four Arts - Palm Beach, FL
January 2 - February 8, 2004
Cincinnati Art Museum - Cincinnati, OH
February 27 - April 25, 2004
Huntsville Museum of Art - Huntsville, AL
May 21 - July 18, 2004
Sioux City Art Center - Sioux City, IA
August 13 - October 10, 2004
Portland Museum of Art - Portland, ME
November 4, 2004 - January 2, 2005



Opening Presentation and Members' Reception with Jonathan Fairbanks, Guest Curator of Becoming a Nation, and Gail Serfaty, Director and Curator for the Diplomatic Reception Rooms

Saturday, May 22, 6 p.m. -- Great Hall
An evening of entertainment, education, and enticing art kicks off at 6 p.m. in the Great Hall with Jonathan Fairbanks, guest curator of Becoming a Nation , and Gail Serfaty, director and curator for the Diplomatic Reception Rooms. They will discuss the history and development of the Diplomatic Reception Rooms collection and the exhibition Fairbanks curated from the collection.
A reception hosted by The Women's Guild will follow the presentation. Museum members may enjoy hors d'oeuvres, a cash bar, and entertainment. This will be a perfect time to view the exhibition at your leisure. The evening will end with a magnificent fireworks display at 9 p.m. At that time, the Museum will give away a three-day, two-night trip to Washington, D.C., donated by CVTravel Agency of Birmingham. The event is open to members only.


Film Series: Founding Fathers: The Men Who Shaped Our Nation and Changed the World

Actors James Woods, Brian Dennehy, Burt Reynolds, Michael York, and others become the voices of our founding fathers in this special film series, which helps us understand the men who forged our nation. From the first events of discontent to the fight for independence and the ratification of the Constitution, Founding Fathers reveals the personalities behind the legends and offers an intimate take on the pivotal events in the creation of the nation. The four episodes in this special collection are listed below. All videos are 50 minutes in length and free to all.

Thursday, June 3 ­ 6:30 p.m., Museum Great Hall
Rebels With Cause
50 minutes 
Thursday, June 10 ­ 6:30 p.m., Museum Great Hall
Taking Liberties
50 minutes 
Thursday, June 24 -6:30 p.m., Museum Great Hall
You Say You Want a Revolution
50 minutes 
Thursday, July 8 ­ 6:30 p.m., Museum Great Hall
A Healthy Constitution
50 minutes


The Women's Guild Visiting Lecturer Series: Mount Vernon: A True Reflection of George Washington, Lecture by James C. Rees, Executive Director, Historic Mount Vernon

Saturday, June 12, 7­9 p.m. ­ Great Hall and Parlor
Join James C. Rees as he talks about one of our most famous forefathers George Washington and Mount Vernon, the estate Washington called home for more than 40 years. Rees will also share his insight into Washington's contributions to architecture, landscape design, and agriculture. Following the presentation, The Women's Guild will host a reception in the Parlor.


Patriot's Festival Day

Sunday, June 13, 1:30 ­ 4:30 p.m. ­ Great Hall and
Museum grounds
Meet various figures from the days of the American Revolution. There will be music, hands-on activities, storytelling, and more! Come dressed as your favorite colonial figure to enter the "Best Dressed" contest! This program is free to all.


Summer 2004 Camps: Becoming a Nation: Passport Through Time

Join the Museum and some of Huntsville's attractions this summer for a journey through history, art, nature, science, and space to celebrate our nation's heritage in conjunction with the Museum's exhibition Becoming a Nation: Americana from the Diplomatic Reception Rooms, U.S. Department of State .

Monday - Friday, June 14-18, 2004
9 a.m.-3 p.m.  
Monday - Friday, July 12-16, 2004*
9 a.m.-3 p.m.
(*repeat of the June 14-18 camp above) 
HMA Instructor: Sheila Cape
Learn about our founding fathers, including George Washington and Ben Franklin, Native American plant life, history of flight, and painting and sculpture of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and MUCH MORE!
The participating area attractions will include Alabama Constitution Village, Huntsville Museum of Art, EarlyWorks Children's Museum, Huntsville-Madison County Botanical Garden, Huntsville-Madison County Public Library, U.S. Space and Rocket Center, and Sci-Quest Hands-On Science Center.
Students will rotate to each indicated area attraction during the camp. Transportation must be provided by parent or guardian. Schedules will be provided for each student.  Students should bring a sack lunch each day. Camp t-shirt, drinks and snacks will be provided.


The Brass Band of Huntsville in Concert

Sunday, June 20, 3 p.m. ­ Great Hall
This group of talented musicians was formed in 2001 and is comprised of 32 members who are dedicated to musical excellence and the advancement of brass band music. Under the "baton-ship" of Dr. Daniel Hornstein from UNA and Dr. David Spencer, band director for Huntsville High School, they will play patriotic selections as well as other compositions dedicated to the brass instrument.


Additional Museum Programs

The Huntsville Museum of Art will also present a theatrical portrayal of Ben Franklin in the galleries, musical performances, special lectures on early American furniture and silver, a Family Activity Day, docent-guided tours, and more!



(above: Benjamin Frothingham, Jr. (1734-1809),  Bombé desk and bookcase, Charlestown, Mass., 1753,  mahogany, white pine, Eastern red cedar, Spanish cedar)



(above: Attributed to the shop of Duncan Phyfe (1768-1854),  Sofa, New York, ca. 1810-1820,  mahogany, mahogany veneer; cherry, soft maple)


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