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George Washington: A National Treasure

 

The Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery continues it's most important and ambitious touring exhibition to date: "George Washington: A National Treasure." The multi-city tour celebrating our nation's first president - the man, the icon, the hero - will arrive at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art on December 12, 2003 and will be on view through April 11, 2004.

 

Portrait of Heroism

The iconic portrait of George Washington, painted by Gilbert Stuart in 1796, is also known as the Lansdowne portrait. The portrait is a true national treasure, one whose historical and cultural importance has been compared to that of the Liberty Bell and the Declaration of Independence. In addition to providing funds to keep this treasure at the National Portrait Gallery, the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation has allowed for this first-ever national tour of the portrait, as well as educational materials, accompanying programs, and the creation of a special gallery at the National Portrait Gallery, where it will make its permanent home in Washington, D.C. following the tour.

"George Washington - and the heroism, patriotism, and self-sacrifice he embodied - is one of America's most precious treasures," said Marc Pachter, director of the National Portrait Gallery. "As the tour travels, it's been inspiring to see how Americans from across the country respond to the show. Washington's legacy and example may never have been as relevant as it is today."

 

Map of Our Nation

"George Washington: A National Treasure" represents a once-in-a-lifetime chance for millions of Americans to see this famous icon - one of the most significant visual documents of the founding of our nation - first-hand. The tour is traveling to eight cities across the nation through 2004. The tour has already stopped in Houston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and Seattle, and is currently in Minneapolis. After its stay in Oklahoma City, it will travel to Little Rock and New York City before making its permanent home in Washington, DC.

Education is a key component of this inspiring exhibition. The National Portrait Gallery has developed an expansive educational initiative that brings both the portrait and the man behind the image to life. The educational element of the tour has reached people of all ages in the venue cities and nationally. Each venue has been provided funds for free educational programming such as teacher workshops, brochures, family days, public lectures and bussing for schoolchildren.

The National Portrait Gallery is bringing the image of the painting to every state with its 50-state initiative chaired by Secretary of Education Rod Paige. The goal of this program is to distribute free educational materials to teachers and students in each state so that a new generation may learn about George Washington. Additionally, visitors may experience the Lansdowne online at www.georgewashington.si.edu. The Web site will serve as a resource for teachers, offering an array of free teaching materials at all grade levels. It will also serve history buffs, parents and children who would like to learn more about the man, the portrait and the country. The Web site will perform as an interactive teacher, allowing guests to download information, participate in online programs and order educational materials for the classroom.

 

About the Portrait

Painted by Gilbert Stuart, the most prestigious portraitist of his day, the 207-year-old painting has a storied past. A fixture in Washington since 1968, the painting actually belonged to a prominent British family until very recently. In spring 2001, the National Portrait Gallery rescued the portrait from potential auction thanks to a generous $30 million gift from the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation. This gift - as much an act of patriotism as of philanthropy - has allowed the National Portrait Gallery to preserve the iconic work for future generations.

 

Also on view

A satellite exhibit, organized by the Oklahoma City Museum of Art's Chief Curator Hardy George, Ph.D., will feature 18th and 19th Century paintings, engravings, prints, sculptures, decorative arts, documents, weapons, and currency. This exhibit will focus on various artists' interpretations of Washington's life, accomplishments and legacy, as well as the cultural context of the Revolutionary War period. Composed of three sections, portraits of Washington, his military campaigns and ideals, and relevant artifacts from the colonial era.

 

About the Oklahoma City Museum of Art

A Dream in the Making

The Oklahoma City Museum of Art has adhered to the fundamental purpose set forth by its predecessor, the Oklahoma Art League, in 1910: "to foster a love and a taste for art and to establish a permanent museum of art." For more than two decades, the Art League collected paintings and sponsored art exhibitions, and then in January of 1936, President Roosevelt's Works Project Administration helped open the OAL's first gallery, the WPA Experimental Gallery. Nan Sheets, a well-known local artist and OAL member, was named Technical Advisor of the WPA Gallery and almost immediately began a fund drive to procure more space for the Gallery's growing collections and programs. Two years later, in January of 1938, the OAL moved the WPA Gallery into five galleries on the fifth floor of the Municipal Building, and Sheets was named Director of the new Municipal Auditorium Federal Arts Center. Sheets maintained the original WPA Gallery's schedule of changing exhibitions and art classes and opened three extension galleries in local public libraries. Over the next few years, the Arts Center flourished while federal funding for the arts disappeared during WWII. In response, Sheets and Eleanor Blake Kirkpatrick, another OAL member, organized the first Beaux Arts Ball to raise funds for the Art Center, and on May 18, 1945, the Oklahoma Art Center was incorporated into perpetual existence.

 

Taking the High Road

Throughout the 40s and 50s, the Art Center continued to expand its programs and collections, and Nan Sheets again started looking for a more appropriate space for the Center. In 1958, with funds provided by John and Eleanor Kirkpatrick and land and utilities provided by Oklahoma City, a new facility was built on the State Fair Grounds. With the OAL's vision of a permanent museum realized, Nan Sheets retired in 1965, and her long-time friend, Eleanor Kirkpatrick agreed to chair the Museum's Acquisitions Committee. Then in 1968, the Museum's controversial purchase of the Washington Gallery of Modern Art Collection deepened a rift between Oklahoma's "conservative" and "modern" art communities, and the Museum splintered. A separate Museum of Conservative Art was established at the Red Ridge Estate in N.E. Oklahoma City that later moved to the Buttram Mansion and became the Oklahoma Museum of Art. Throughout the 70s and 80s, the Oklahoma art community struggled to maintain two museums, and in 1989, the Oklahoma Museum of Art and the Oklahoma Art Center merged to become the Oklahoma City Art Museum. With over 3,000 works in the combined collections, the Museum again outgrew its building and plans were discussed for a new homefor the Museum.

 

A New Facility

On March 16, 2002, with the success of a $40 million Legacy Campaign that included a $14.5 million grant from the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation, the Oklahoma City Museum of Art in the Donald W. Reynolds Visual Arts Center opened. This three-story, 110,000 sq. ft. facility features 15 galleries, 3 education rooms, a library/resource center, a store, a cafe, and the 252-seat Noble Theatre. Since relocating to its new facility, the Museum hosts approximately 100,000 visitors annually and has tripled its membership and increased its staff from 8 people in 1994 to over 60 in 2003. The Museum has been accredited by the American Association of Museums and houses an extensive, permanent collection of European, Asian, and American art, featuring such artists as Pierre Auguste Renoir, Gustave Courbet, Maurice de Vlaminck, Mary Cassatt, Thomas Moran, Robert Henri, Ellsworth Kelly, Alexander Calder, Henry Moore, and Frank Stella. The Museum also owns the largest, most comprehensive collection of Chihuly glass in the world, including a 55 foot tall Tower, commissioned for the atrium of the new facility in memory of Eleanor Blake Kirkpatrick. Since its small beginning in 1910, the Oklahoma City Museum of Art has worked to fulfill its driving purpose and now, in a new millennium and facility, continues to foster appreciation and enjoyment of the visual arts through exhibition, education, collection, and preservation.

The Oklahoma City Museum of Art is locaed at 415 Couch Drive, Oklahoma City, OK 73102. Please see the Museum's website for hours and admission fees.

 

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