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Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM)

Stephanie Stebich, The Margaret and Terry Stent Director

The Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM), the nation’s first collection of American art, is an unparalleled record of the American experience. The collection captures the aspirations, character, and imagination of the American people from the colonial period to the present. The museum’s emphasis on research, publications, exhibitions, and public programs reflects its mission to promote the understanding and appreciation of American art. In addition to welcoming visitors to its historic landmark buildings in Washington, D.C., SAAM serves global audiences through online outreach, traveling exhibitions, and distance learning programs. The museum’s fellowship program is the oldest, largest, and preeminent program for the study of American art and visual culture.

Resources and Facilities

SAAM is home to one of the largest and most inclusive collections of American art in the world. This collection of over 45,000 works by more than 13,000 artists includes special strengths in nineteenth- and twentieth-century sculpture, nineteenth-century landscape painting and imagery of the American West, Gilded Age and American impressionist painting, twentieth-century realism, New Deal art, photography and graphic art, self-taught art, Latinx art, work by African American artists, and time-based media. Recent exhibitions organized by the museum include: Sargent, Whistler, and Venetian Glass: American Artists and the Magic of Murano; Welcome Home: A Portrait of East Baltimore, 1975-1980; Alexander von Humboldt and the United States: Art, Nature, and Culture; ¡Printing the Revolution! The Rise and Impact of Chicano Graphics, 1965 to Now; Artists Respond: American Art and the Vietnam War, 1965-1975; American Myth & Memory: David Levinthal Photographs; Tiffany Chung: Vietnam, Past Is Prologue; and Between Worlds: The Art of Bill Traylor.

SAAM’s main building is a National Historic Landmark located in the heart of Washington’s downtown cultural district that includes both permanent-collection galleries and innovative public spaces. The Luce Foundation Center for American Art, a site for study and a visible art storage facility, displays around 2,500 artworks from the museum’s permanent collection in a three-story skylit space. The museum shares the building with the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery; both museums share the Nan Tucker McEvoy Auditorium, the Lunder Conservation Center—state-of-the-art labs with glass walls that allow the public permanent behind-the-scenes views of the preservation work of the museums—and the Robert and Arlene Kogod Courtyard. The museum’s office and research functions operate out of the nearby Victor Building at 750 Ninth Street NW.

The Renwick Gallery is SAAM’s branch museum for contemporary craft and decorative art. Exhibitions at the Renwick showcase the work of artists exploring traditional and innovative approaches to making. The Renwick Gallery is located in a Second Empire–style, National Historic Landmark building designed by architect James Renwick Jr. in 1858 and completed in 1874. Recent exhibitions organized by the Renwick include: Forces of Nature: Renwick Invitational 2020, Ginny Ruffner: Reforestation of the Imagination, No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man, and Murder Is Her Hobby: Frances Glessner Lee and The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death.

SAAM, combining its own facilities with those available in and around the Washington area, constitutes an unparalleled center for the study of American art. Its extensive collections are supplemented by specialized research resources that include the Inventory of American Paintings, a database listing more than 367,000 works in public and private collections by artists active in America by 1914; the Inventory of American Sculpture, a database providing information on more than 96,000 sculptures in public and private collections throughout the country, including outdoor monuments surveyed through the Save Outdoor Sculpture! Program; the Pre-1877 Art Exhibition Catalogue Index of nearly 137,000 artworks shown in over 1,000 exhibitions in the United States and Canada through the centennial year; and the Photograph Archives, with nearly a half million photographs, negatives, and slides. Scholars have access to a specialized branch library of more than 180,000 volumes and 150,000 ephemera files, the Graphic Arts Department and Study Room with more than 32,000 works on paper (prints, drawings, watercolors, and photographs), the Joseph Cornell Study Center of source materials and studio effects, the Nam June Paik Archive, the archive of Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s Running Fence, and the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art, with its vast holdings of more than twenty million items.

Research Opportunities

A major advantage of study at SAAM is the opportunity to work within a community of scholars actively engaged in research on history, conservation, and criticism of American art and related topics. The research programs of the museum are considered an essential part of its operation. The professional staff is concerned with exhibitions and educational programs as well as collections research and other curatorial duties. Facilities are provided for visiting scholars at all levels and for interns in museum training. Pre- and post-doctoral scholars are in residence each year. A regular series of professional development workshops, lunchtime seminars, public lectures, and symposia provides a forum for the lively exchange of ideas among scholars. The museum publishes the peer-reviewed journal for new scholarship American Art as well as exhibition and collection-related catalogues and books, and sponsors several publication prizes.

Research Staff

ATKINSON, Nora E., the Fleur and Charles Bresler Curator-in-Charge, Renwick Gallery. B.A. (2002); M.A. (2006) University of Washington. Research specialties: modern and contemporary craft; American art, craft, and design. Contact: AtkinsonN@si.edu

GRAYSON, SaishaCurator of Time-Based Media. B.A. (2001) Sarah Lawrence College; M.A. (2008) Columbia University; Ph.D. (2017) The Graduate Center, City University of New York. Research specialties: contemporary American art; time-based media art; film studies; performance art; feminist theory; and art and politics. Contact: GraysonS@si.edu

HARVEY, Eleanor Jones, Senior Curator. B.A. (1983) University of Virginia; M.A. (1985), M.Phil. (1987), Ph.D. (1998) Yale University. Research specialties: American art, 19th-century landscape painting, 20th-century landscape art, Civil War and Reconstruction-era art, Texas and Southwestern Regionalism. Contact: HarveyE@si.edu

HO, Melissa C., Deputy Head Curator and Curator of Twentieth-Century Art. B.A. (1992) Princeton University; M.A. (2005) University of Pennsylvania. Research specialties: post-war American painting; art of the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. Contact: HoM@si.edu     

JACOB, John, the McEvoy Family Curator for Photography. B.A. (1981) College of the Atlantic; M.A. (1994) Indiana University. Research specialties: American vernacular, especially tintype, memorial, and spirit photography; photojournalism, especially Magnum Photos; photography archives. Contact: JacobJP@si.edu

LEMMEY, Karen, the Lucy S. Rhame Curator of Sculpture. B.A. (1995) Columbia University; Ph.D. (2005) CUNY Graduate Center. Research specialties: American sculpture, Hiram Powers, Henry Kirke Brown, expatriate art colonies in Italy, direct carving, plaster casts, history of bronze casting. Contact: LemmeyK@si.edu

MECKLENBURG, Virginia M., Acting Head Curator and Senior Curator. B.A. (1968), M.A. (1970) University of Texas; Ph.D. (1983) University of Maryland. Research specialties: 20th-century American art, Ashcan art, New Deal and abstract art of the 1930s, art of the 1960s and 1970s. Contact: VMecklen@si.edu

NEWMAN, Sarah M., the James Dicke Curator of Contemporary Art.  B.A. (1995) Williams College; M.A. (1999), Ph.D. (2005) University of California at Berkeley.  Research specialties:  contemporary art, art of the 1980s and postmodernism, art of the early 20th century. Contact: NewmanS@si.edu

SAVIG, Marythe Lloyd Herman Curator of Craft. B.A. (2006) University of Wisconsin, Madison; M.A. (2008) The George Washington University; Ph.D. (2019) University of Maryland, College Park. Research Specialties: Contemporary craft, feminist art movements, material culture, digital humanities. Contact: SavigM@si.edu

UMBERGERLeslie, Curator of Folk and Self-Taught Art. B.A. (1990) The School of the Art Institute of Chicago; M.A. (1998) The University of Colorado, Boulder. Research specialties: the work of folk, self-taught, and vernacular artists and art environment builders. Contact: UmbergerL@si.edu

VEDER, Robin, Executive Editor, American Art. B.A. (1991) San Francisco State University; M.A. (1995), Ph.D. (2000) College of William and Mary. Research specialties: American modernism; body cultures, landscape studies, visual pedagogy, and physiological aesthetics of the long 19th century. Contact: VederR@si.edu

Conservation Staff

FINN, Daniel, Media Conservator. B.A. (2008) University of Virginia; M.A. (2014) New York University. Research specialties: time-based media conservation, preservation, and archiving; media archaeology. Contact: FinnD@si.edu

KERR, Amber, Head of Conservation Center and Painting Conservator. B.A. (2000) Virginia Commonwealth University; M.S. (2008) University of Delaware. Research specialties: paintings conservation, preventive conservation, materials and techniques of Henry Ossawa Tanner (American, 1859-1937). Contact: KerrA@si.edu

MANTHEY, Gwen, Paintings Conservator. B.A.S. (2007) University of Delaware; M.S. (2011) University of Delaware. Research specialties: paintings and mural conservation, technical analysis of 19th century materials and techniques, Benjamin West (1738-1820) and Richard Caton Woodville Sr. (1825-1855). Contact: MantheyG@si.edu

MAYNOR, Catherine I., Paper Conservator. B.A. (1978) University of Toronto; M.A. and Certificate of Advanced Study (1983) Cooperstown Graduate Programs. Research specialties: history of artists’ materials, techniques; conservation materials and methods. Contact: MaynorC@si.edu

O’CONNOR, Ariel, Objects Conservator. B.F.A (2003) Tulane University; M.A. and C.A.S. Certificate of Advanced Study (2009) Buffalo State College. Research specialties:  Objects conservation, inorganic and composite materials, historic and archaeological bronze casting techniques, technical investigations of sculpture manufacture. Contact: OConnorA@si.edu

Affiliated Research Staff

GOERLITZ, Amelia A., Chair of Academic Programs and Acting Co-Head, Research and Scholars Center. B.A. (1994) Earlham College, M.A. (2003) University of Texas at Austin. Research specialties: U.S. art in a global context, Latin American art of 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. Contact: GoerlitzA@si.edu

TRUETTNER, William H., Curator Emeritus. B.A. (1957) Williams College; M.A. (1959) University of Michigan. Research specialties: 18th- and 19th-century American painting, George Catlin, art of the American West. Contact: TruettnerW@si.edu

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