Director’s Letter: A Season of Artful Changes

 Stephanie Stebich, SAAM's Margaret and Terry Stent Direction in the museum's Lincoln Gallery. Photo by Gene Young. 
Stephanie Stebich
The Margaret and Terry Stent Director, Smithsonian American Art Museum and Renwick Gallery
October 19, 2022
A photograph of a woman standing in front of a black sculpture.

SAAM's Director, Stephanie Stebich, in front of Louise Nevelson's Sky Cathedral. Photo by Libby Weiler

I am delighted to report that SAAM has a new head curator, Dr. Randall Griffey. Randy is one of the most dynamic curators and influential scholars in the field of American art today. He comes to us from the Met in New York City, where he had been curator of modern and contemporary art since 2013. His recent exhibition, co-curated with Kelly Baum, Alice Neel: People Come First was recognized as the Exhibition of the Year by Apollo magazine. Randy will lead the major reinstallation and reinterpretation plan for all three floors of the museum’s permanent collection galleries. When the project is completed, we’ll have more welcoming and dynamic gallery spaces and more new acquisitions on view, compelling artworks that speak to the challenges and conversations of our times. (This is a homecoming of sorts for Randy. From 1997 to 1998, he was a Sara Roby Fellow in 20th American Realism in the museum’s prestigious fellowship program, the oldest and largest program for the study of American art in the world).

In September, we published online a second set of our stellar web comics series, Drawn to Art: Ten Tales of Inspiring Women Artists, featuring Judy Baca, Tiffany Chung, Sonya Clark, Sarah Goodridge, Ester Hernandez, Loïs Mailou Jones Jaune Quick-To-See Smith, Kay WalkingStick, Nellie Mae Rowe, and Augusta Savage. Highlighting women artists is a passion of mine, and inspiring young people to learn more about these amazing women who overcame societal and personal challenges to pursue their art, makes it even more exciting. The web comics are illustrated by the talented students at the Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota, Florida, and show the power of visual storytelling. There are now 20 comics for you to check out on our website and share with a young person in your life. You never know who you may inspire. We are already working on a new set that will debut next fall and thank the Smithsonian American Women’s History Initiative for a generous grant to make the 2023 series a reality.

Telling a less well-known story in American art of underrepresented communities and artists is at the forefront of our current exhibition, We Are Made of Stories: Self-Taught Artists in the Robson Family Collection, featuring artworks by 43 self-taught artists in the Robson Collection, including Nellie Mae Rowe, who is featured in Drawn to Art. I am grateful to the Robson family who assembled this incredible collection driven by the passion of the family matriarch Margaret Z. Robson and continues with the generosity of her son Douglas O. Robson. In 2016, Douglas donated nearly one-hundred works from the Margaret Z. Robson Collection to SAAM. We Are Made of Stories features this original gift, along with a major painting by Dan Miller he donated to the museum in 2022 and thirty-two artworks that are promised gifts. You can read an interview with Douglas, who discusses his family's collecting journey, on our blog. Margaret and Douglas both valued these artworks and personal stories, believing both offered a truer, more complete portrait of our nation’s makers and redefined who could be an artist in America.

We are grateful to you and all our many supporters of SAAM who make gifts of artworks, who volunteer their time, and who fund our many public programs from lectures to family programs to behind-the-scenes tours of artists in their studios. There are so many ways to ensure SAAM remains excellent, relevant and accessible to all, now and in the future. As the season of giving is upon us, please remember the museum in your philanthropic plans.


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