Leslie Umberger is the curator of folk and self-taught art at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. She joined the museum staff in September 2012. Her research interests include artists who navigated their own artistic path, often in oppressive environments. She has specialized also in artists who transformed their personal realms into comprehensive art environments, often over extended periods of time. Umberger is known for situating such artists within specific cultural contexts and establishing meaningful frameworks for the art they have made.
Umberger curated the exhibition Between Worlds: The Art of Bill Traylor (2018), the first retrospective ever organized for an artist born into slavery and the most comprehensive look at Traylor’s work to date. She recently oversaw the re-installation of the museum’s galleries for folk and self-taught art, which feature nearly 60 new acquisitions. At SAAM, she organized Mingering Mike: Supersonic Greatest Hits (2015) and Ralph Fasanella: Lest We Forget (2014), and contributed an essay to the catalog for SAAM’s exhibition Untitled: The Art of James Castle (2014).
From 1998 to 2012, Umberger was senior curator of exhibitions and collections at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan, Wisc. During her tenure, she organized more than 50 exhibitions including Emery Blagdon: The Healing Machine (2012) and Sublime Spaces & Visionary Worlds: Built Environments of Vernacular Artists (2007), which was accompanied by a major book on artist environment builders.
Umberger has written or contributed to number of exhibition catalogs, including No Idle Hands: The Myths & Makers of Tramp Art (Museum of International Folk Art, 2017), As Essential as Dreams: Self-Taught Art from the Collection of Stephanie and John Smither (The Menil Collection, 2016), and Something to Take My Place: The Art of Lonnie Holley (Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art, 2015). She also has written for numerous publications, including the Archives of American Art Journal and Raw Vision.
Umberger earned a bachelor’s degree in fine arts (1990) from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and a master’s degree in art history (1998) from the University of Colorado at Boulder.
About the Smithsonian American Art Museum and its Renwick Gallery
The Smithsonian American Art Museum is home to one of the most significant and inclusive collections of American art in the world. Its artworks reveal America’s rich artistic and cultural history from the colonial period to today. The museum’s main building, located at Eighth and G Streets N.W., is open daily from 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. The museum’s Renwick Gallery, a branch museum dedicated to contemporary craft and decorative arts, is located on Pennsylvania Avenue at 17th Street N.W. and is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Check online for current hours and admission information. Admission is free. Follow the museum on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube. Smithsonian information: (202) 633-1000. Museum information (recorded): (202) 633-7970. Website: americanart.si.edu.