Art, biography, history and identity collide in this podcast from the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery. Join Director Kim Sajet as she chats with artists, historians, and thought leaders about the big and small ways that portraits shape our world.
Choreographer-in-Residence Dana Tai Soon Burgess traces his ‘hyphenated’ background— a journey that begins on a boat from Korea, disembarks at a Hawaiian pineapple plantation, meanders through Latino culture, and then arrives at a martial arts class in New Mexico… organized by Tibetan monks.
Dana also discusses the hyphenated artists featured in two of his favorite portraits at the Gallery. Both were pioneers, both were outsiders, and both had their ‘American-ness’ challenged.
See the portraits:
(“Tracings” duet music courtesy of Aaron Leitko.)
Author Rick Atkinson brings to life two men who played outsized roles during the founding of the United States— one a rich slave trader, the other a pamphleteer who died penniless. They both stood for liberty and equality, but their stories illustrate how the democratic ideals written into the Declaration of Independence often clash with historical reality.
See the portraits we discuss:
Thomas Paine, by Laurent Dabos
Henry Laurens, by John Singleton Copley
John Laurens, by Charles Willson Peale
On the Money
We look at the portraits on our money— the little history lessons we carry around in our pockets. But with such a limited array of people featured, what do our banknotes say about us? First up, curator Ellen Feingold takes us on a tour of our money’s vibrant early designs, including images of children, beloved pets, and George Washington in a toga. Then former Treasurer Rosie Rios tells us how she discovered that women have been missing from our bills for more than a century, and how she campaigned to get Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill.
See the images we discuss:
Sanford Bank (Maine), $2 note
Benjamin Franklin, by Joseph Siffred Duplessis
Martha Washington, copy after Gilbert Stuart
Martha Washington, $1 silver certificate
George Washington wearing a toga, National Bank (New York), $3 note
George Washington, Lansdowne Portrait
“History Instructing Youth,” $1 silver certificate
Indépendence des États-Unis, copy after Jean Duplessi-Bertaux
Portraying the Presidents
As the National Portrait Gallery works on its latest commission -- an official portrait of former President Donald Trump -- we take a spin through the ‘America’s Presidents’ exhibition. This episode draws back the curtain on earlier commissions that have drawn controversy and acclaim: a portrait of Bill Clinton with a shadow of scandal painted into it, and the Obama portraits that transformed the museum into a pilgrimage site.
Director Kim Sajet also digs into the thorny question of what a presidential portrait is meant to convey, especially if the president in question has been impeached. Should it carry the glow of prestige, or the markers of personal failings? Is this gallery hallowed ground, or a place to question power? "If you're in the business of showing these paintings," says Washington Post art critic Philip Kennicott, "you want to send people out a little hungry."
Also featuring former deputy director Carolyn Carr.
See the portraits we discuss here:
President James Buchanan
President Richard Nixon
President George H. W. Bush
President Bill Clinton
President George W. Bush
President Barack Obama
Season 3 Trailer
Kim Sajet, director of the National Portrait Gallery, draws back the curtain on the artwork that tells the story of the United States— from a presidential portrait with a shadow of scandal hanging over it, to a $3 bill featuring George Washington in a toga. Tune in starting March 23 as Kim chats with historians, journalists and educators to reveal key American figures as the flawed, complex, and at times, unexpectedly relatable human beings they were.
Holiday Edition: Renée Fleming on Music’s Special Place
Operatic soprano Renée Fleming has been called ‘the people’s diva,’ performing at key moments in our nation’s story, like when she sang at ground zero after 9/11. For this special episode, she talks with Kim about how music can help us mourn, heal, and celebrate as we send off a particularly tough 2020 and nestle into the holidays. She also describes a few portraits that hold special meaning for her, because portraits are what we’re all about!
See the portraits we discuss:
Renée Fleming by Annie Leibovitz is here.
Denyce Graves and Marc Mostovoy by Nelson Shanks is here.
Leontyne Price by Bradley Phillips is here.
Special thanks to Dr. Lonnie Bunch, Secretary of the Smithsonian, and the Smithsonian National Board for making this podcast possible.
One of my favorites.
I always look forward to this podcast! Educational, interesting, fun, & well made. I recommend it to everyone!
Level playing field for blind
Love everything about this. Smart, interesting, accessible. Delightful host and guests. Lets me see with my imagination what my eyes cannot . Thanks so much!
Love the ep about the JFK portrait