Stephanie Stebich is The Margaret and Terry Stent Director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
As SAAM's new director, the opportunity to select banners that reflect the amazing strength and diversity of our collections was a treat. The banners help reflect on the outside the treasures on the inside of our building. For a banner, the key is to find a work of art with visual punch and that also works well in a vertical format. Many beloved American landscape images, for example, don’t fit the bill. So, how did we come up with the most banner-worthy works of art?
With a collection as rich as SAAM’s, choosing this first round of banners, was not an easy task.
First, we reached out to our visitors—those who walk through our doors as well as those who visit virtually—to help us narrow the field and select which works of art resonated with them. With visitor and also staff feedback in hand, I made the final selection based on visual power and wanting to showcase the variety of works and artists that reflect the American experience—knowing that we have many strong works of art for future banners in the collection.
The banners, each more than twenty-feet tall, were installed with a custom rigging system to protect our historic building, and flank all sides of the museum. The six artworks we chose for this initial run are The Eclipse by Alma Thomas, Cape Cod Morning by Edward Hopper, Flowers by William H. Johnson, Radiante by Olga Albizu, Manhattan Bridge by Berenice Abbott, and Achelous and Hercules by Thomas Hart Benton.
The banners are just the beginning. We invite you inside to discover the rich world of American art at SAAM.