December Gallery Exhibit – Picturing America: a selection of the greatest contributions created by American artists

“Great art speaks powerfully, inspires fresh thinking, and connects us to our past.”

This December, our gallery features five of the 40 selections included in the Picturing America series. In this exhibit, the ‘Mission Nuestra Senora de la Concepcion, 1755’, ‘The Peacock Room, 1876-1877’ by James McNeill Whistler, ‘The Boating Party, 1893/1894’ by Mary Cassatt, ‘The Dove, 1964 by Romare Bearden, and ‘The Sources of Country Music, 1975’ by Thomas Hart Benton. The Kingston Public Library applied for and was awarded this grant in 2002.

Picturing America, a project of the National Endowment for the Humanities, told America’s story through its art in forty high-quality reproductions of selected masterworks of American art from 1100 to 1996. Designed to reach K-12 classrooms around the country, the project also features an in-depth Teachers Resource Book that provided educators with ideas and background information for using the works of art in core subjects, as well as a dynamic online compendium of lesson plans, interactives, and more.

During its lifetime, Picturing America was distributed to over 55,000 schools and public libraries. In partnership with the Administration for Children and Families in the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services, it also served 20,000 Head Start centers across the country.

Although the active life of the project has now ended, the National Endowment is very pleased to continue to offer educators access to the digitized version of the Teachers Resource Book in five languages, with activities organized by elementary, middle, and high school levels, as well as over a dozen lesson plans and interactives based on Picturing America works of art, through NEH’s EDSITEment website.

From the Chairman:

Picturing America is an initiative of the We The People program of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Launched in 2002, We The People seeks to strengthen the teaching, study, and understanding of America’s history and founding principles. To promote this goal, Picturing America brings some of our nation’s most significant images into classrooms nationwide. It offers a way to understand the history of America- its diverse people and places, its travails and triumphs-through some of our greatest artistic masterpieces. This exciting new effort in humanities education will expose thousands of citizens to outstanding American art, and it will provide a valuable resource that can help bring the past alive.”

In so doing, Picturing America fits squarely within the mission of the NEH.  The Endowment’s founding legislation declares that “democracy demands wisdom.” A nation that does not know where it comes from, or why it exists, or what it stands for, cannot be expected to long endure-so each generation of Americans must learn about our nation’s founding principles and its rich heritage. Studying the visual arts can help accomplish this. An appreciation of American art takes us beyond the essential facts of our history and gives us insight into our nation’s character, ideals, and aspirations. By using art to help our young people to see better, we can help them to understand better the continuing drama of the American experiment in self-government.”

My own experience testifies to art’s power to stimulate intellectual awakenings. When I was a young child my parents visited the National Gallery of Art in Washington, and they brought home a souvenir that would alter my life: a portfolio of illustrations from the collections of the National Gallery. As I pondered these great works of art, I had the first glimmerings of what would become a lifelong pursuit: to study and understand the form, history, and meaning of art. This was my gateway to a wider intellectual world. Through that open door, I would delve into history, philosophy, religion, architecture, and literature-the entire universe of the humanities.”

I hope that Picturing America will provide a similar intellectual gateway for students across America. This program will help today’s young Americans learn about our nation’s history. And that, in turn, will make them good citizens-citizens who are motivated by the stirring narrative of our past, and prepared to add their own chapters to America’s remarkable story.

Bruce  Cole Chairman                                                                                                                                                            National Endowment for the Humanities