Looking for Light in American Art

View artworks from the collection that illuminate our world

From SAAM
December 22, 2020

On these short December days we’re all looking for a little extra light to break through the darkness. The idea of warmth, whether literal flame, spiritual comfort, or an intellectual spark, lends a distraction from seemingly endless cold, dark days. From a cozy lamp-lit scene to a lustrous pot that reflects the light to a shimmering, blinking display that never repeats itself, let’s take an art and light-filled break together.

Unexpected sparkle

Media - 1994.57.4 - SAAM-1994.57.4_1 - 52010
James VanDerZee, GGG Photo Studio at Christmas, 1933, gelatin silver print with applied color, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase through the Julia D. Strong Endowment and the Smithsonian Institution Collections Acquisition Program, 1994.57.4
James VanDerZee, GGG Photo Studio at Christmas, 1933, gelatin silver print with applied color, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase through the Julia D. Strong Endowment and the Smithsonian Institution Collections Acquisition Program, 1994.57.4

Glittering found objects

Media - 1998.84.33 - SAAM-1998.84.33_1 - 62733
Simon Sparrow, Assemblage with Found Objects, after 1960, carved and painted wood with collaged pieces of costume jewelry, keychains..., Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Herbert Waide Hemphill, Jr., 1998.84.33

Tranquil glow

Media - 1975.43 - SAAM-1975.43_1 - 70125
Horatio Shaw, Barnyard in Winter, ca. 1885-1890, oil on canvas, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase, 1975.43
Horatio Shaw, Barnyard in Winter, ca. 1885-1890, oil on canvas, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase, 1975.43

Cozy embrace

Media - 2006.24.15 - SAAM-2006.24.15_1 - 67170
Loïs Mailou Jones, Greetings, ca. 1937-1948, pen and ink on paper, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Bequest of the artist, 2006.24.15
Loïs Mailou Jones, Greetings, ca. 1937-1948, pen and ink on paper, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Bequest of the artist, 2006.24.15

Spiritual warmth

Media - 1981.153.41 - SAAM-1981.153.41_2 - 130041
Abraham Rattner, God's Light, color lithograph, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Bequest of Abraham Rattner, 1981.153.41
Abraham Rattner, God's Light, color lithograph, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Bequest of Abraham Rattner, 1981.153.41

Light in the dark

Media - 1974.28.157 - SAAM-1974.28.157_1 - 89579
Unidentified (American), (Untitled) (Village Street on a Winter Night), ca. 1933-1943, lithograph on paper, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Transfer from the General Services Administration, 1974.28.157
Unidentified (American), (Untitled) (Village Street on a Winter Night), ca. 1933-1943, lithograph on paper, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Transfer from the General Services Administration, 1974.28.157

Endless digital dazzle

Media - 2016.13 - 2016.13_1a.jpg - 124817
Leo Villareal, Volume (Renwick), 2015, white LEDs, mirror-finished stainless steel, custom software, and electrical hardware, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Janet and Jim Dicke, Tania and Tom Evans, Paula and Peter Lunder, and Debbie Petersen in honor of Elizabeth Broun, 2016.13, © Leo Villareal
Leo Villareal, Volume (Renwick), 2015, white LEDs, mirror-finished stainless steel, custom software, and electrical hardware, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Janet and Jim Dicke, Tania and Tom Evans, Paula and Peter Lunder, and Debbie Petersen in honor of Elizabeth Broun, 2016.13, © Leo Villareal

Words light the way

Media - 2020.25.2 - SAAM-2020.25.2_1 - 138937
Miguel Luciano, Pa-lan-te, 2017, neon, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase made possible by Marianna and Juan A. Sabater, 2020.25.2, © 2017, Miguel Luciano. photo: Jason Wyche

Radiant gleam

Media - 1989.26A-B - SAAM-1989.26A-B_1 - 72639
Beatrice Wood, Gold Lustre Teapot, 1988, earthenware with lustres, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase, 1989.26A-B
Beatrice Wood, Gold Lustre Teapot, 1988, earthenware with lustres, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase, 1989.26A-B

Almost luminescent

A photograph of a woven sculpture installed in the grand salon for WONDER at the Renwick Gallery.

Janet Echelman, 1.8 Renwick, 2015. Photo by Ron Blunt

May art and curiosity help everyone find new perspective in the new year.

Recent Posts

Detail of Phoebe Kline. She is sitting in front of orchids and smiling.
Docent Phoebe Kline began at SAAM in 1974 and she's still going strong
A photograph of a woman in front of artwork
More visitors and new exhibitions highlight a season of change.
 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
Marian Anderson and symbols that surround her life
William H. Johnson portrayed the singer in multiple paintings, including in his Fighters for Freedom series.