About MsSusanB

Arts and technology writer who is in the know about the latest and greatest that the City has to offer, what's going on in the Cloud, and the fossils that are being dug up around the world

Virtual NYC Museum Events – Women with a Message, Pop Shop History, and Toxic Titan

Gloria Steinem and Julie Taymor at Asia Society on Monday

So many virtual NYC museum events are happening online this week – an opportunity to meet amazing women, bring organization to your life, attend a premiere at The Met, and get the inside story on Saturn’s moon, Titan. Check the daily listings on our virtual events page to for these events and details on many, many others.

Today (January 25), at 6:30pm, you can join an exciting event at Asia Society – a conversation with Gloria Steinem and director Julie Taymor, followed by a panel of visionary activists discussing how visionary women are serving as agents of change as people in our world grows more interdependent.

Tuesday talk at Japan House

Is it time to pare down? Purge stuff? Feel more organized? On Tuesday (January 26), at 6pm, join Japan House to hear Fumio Sasaki talk about how to live a more ordered, fulfilling life – all included as part of the theme of his new book, Habit-Making: A Minimalist’s Tips for a Better Life.

At 7pm, enjoy The Met will debut a music and film collaboration on the life of Armenian-American abstract painter Arshile Gorky, who immigrated with his family in the early 20th century and influenced a generation of abstract expressionists. Watch the digital premiere of They Will Take My Island.

Curious about why Manhattan has such a big park in the center of the island?

Wednesday history of Central Park (NYHS)

On Wednesday (January 27), at 3pm, hear the New-York Historical Society talk about the origins of Central Park. You’ll get to see what’s in the NYHS archive, view the plans for its design, see construction photos, and learn about the shocking removal of Seneca Village, a thriving African-American community.

At 6pm, you can learn about more recent history with the Brooklyn Museum. Amy Raffel will talk about her latest book on the legendary Keith Haring, how he created New York’s most popular memes, and what he sold in his famed downtown retail experiment, the Pop Shop.

Composite infrared image of Titan from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft. (University of Arizona/University of Idaho/NASA/JPL)

At 7pm, join planetary scientists at the Haden Planetarium at AMNH to examine Titan, Saturn’s large but toxic moon. Understand the questions scientists are trying to answer, and whether Earthlings have lessons to learn from their solar-system neighbor.

Love gardening?  Why is that? On Thursday (January 28), spend the morning at the New York Botanical Garden with UK psychiatrist-gardener Sue Stewart-Smith, who will share insights revealed in her book, The Well-Gardened Mind – how people’s minds and gardens interact.

Gardens at the New York Botanical Garden

Get a perspective that you’ve never had before from people you’ve never met – participants in a ground-breaking filmmaking workshop. At 6:30pm on Thursday night, go behind the scenes at MoMA P.S.1 to meet the organizers of the workshop and watch films made by imprisoned artists in “Pens to Pictures” – a media showcase that accompanies P.S. 1’s art exhibition, Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration that critics at The New York Times said was one of 2020’s best.

At 8pm, join the New York Public Library to hear Amber Ruffin, one of the funniest women in late-night TV, and her sister Lacey Lamar compare notes on hilarious and harrowing experiences with racism in New York City and Nebraska – all drawn from their new bestseller, You’ll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey

Yes, it’s serious, but it’s also really, really funny.  Amber’s first African-American woman to write for a late-night network show, and if you’ve seen her with Seth Myers, you know what we’re talking about. Don’t miss this!

There’s a lot more, so check our complete schedule. Most of the events are free, but it’s always nice to add a thank-you donation.

Mexican Muralists and The Whitney Rewrite Art History

1932 Zapatistas by Alfredo Ramos Martínez. Courtesy: San Francisco Museum of Art

When you enter the Whitney Museum exhibition, you’re surrounded by tropical settings, Oaxacan beauties, lush floral compositions, and the romance of Mexico. But a few steps beyond, Vida Americana: Mexican Muralists Remake American Art, 1925–1945  delivers epic struggles, monumental murals, revolutionary fervor, inspirational triumphs, and heroic views of everyday people.

It’s the most important art exhibition currently on view in New York, on view through January 31, because it shows how three acclaimed, radical Mexican artists – Orozco, Rivera, and Siqueiros – influenced a generation of artists in the United States with their commitments to public works, no-holds-barred graphic depiction of social injustices, and masterful, innovative techniques.

Diego Rivera’s 1931 fresco The Uprising – everyday people showing heroism in extraordinary times. Private collection

Take a tour through the show on the Whitney exhibition site, listen to the audio guide, and see some of our favorite works here.

The paintings, photos, and films in the first gallery celebrate a romantic vision of Mexico’s native heritage alongside works evoking poignant, sometimes violent moments in the country’s recent revolution. It’s a rich experience, with modernist photos by Modotti, evocative footage by Eisenstein, and riveting works by Khalo, Rivera, and Alfredo Ramos Martínez.

Orozco’s 1930 mythic mural Prometheus for Pomona College, California

But just beyond, you’ll glimpse galleries that promise deeper stories of emotional, turbulent, modernist angst. A half-scale reproduction of Orozco’s mythic Prometheus mural occupies an alcove, surrounded by works by artists he inspired –Jacob Lawrence’s pictorial history of African-American northern migration in 1910-1940 and Jackson Pollack’s early Thirties paintings that channel Orozco’s depiction of writhing life forces.

Take a look at The Whitney’s introduction to Orozco, Rivera, and Siqueiros, which shows life in Mexico at the time they developed their distinctive styles, gained international acclaim, and came to the United States:

Another startling Pollack reveal lies in the Siqueiros gallery that tells the story of the experimental workshop that the Mexican master ran in New York, where New York artist were encouraged to experiment with airbrushes, stencils, and paint splatters.

Pollack’s 1937 airbrushed litho Landscape with Steer – influenced by his workshop with Siqueiros. Courtesy: MoMA

Siqueiros was big on pushing the boundaries and using modern materials to create truly revolutionary work. Pollack’s experiments are here, along with the revelation that workshop participants were encouraged to lay unstretched canvas down on the floor and work from above. Sound familiar?

The magic of this exhibition is the side-by-side mounting that allows visitors to ponder the many ways that young Depression-era US artists took so many of the lessons of the Mexican muralists to heart.

Detail of 1939-1940 Charles White Progress of the American Negro: Great American Negroes. Courtesy: Howard University

The exhibition goes on to chronicle artists who were inspired to tell epic stories of the American frontier and forgotten African-American success stories. In one room alone, you can pivot and take in expansive, monumental paintings by Thomas Hart Benton, Aaron Douglas, and Charles White.

Another section of the show looks at Diego Rivera’s fascination with American industrialization and assembly-line workers, including a wall-size video of Rivera’s 1932 mural of Detroit’s Ford assembly line. The adjacent gallery shows his influence through WPA-funded works by Ben Shahn, Phillip Evergood, Thelma Johnson Streat, Marion Greenwood, and others. Gears, machines, heroic workers, and strivers in an industrial age.

Reproduction of Rivera’s 1934 mural Man, Controller of the Universe, originally created for Rockefeller Center

A “wow factor” at the far end of the gallery is the reproduction of the infamous Rivera mural commission for Rockefeller Center that was destroyed due to Rivera’s refusal to take out Communist references. You experience the uproar it caused by reading original newspaper clippings and magazine articles. When his work was destroyed, Mexico City’s Palace of Fine Arts invited him to recreate it. That’s the reproduction at the Whitney, giving everyone a chance to experience a piece of lost New York art.

Many exhibition visitors miss one of the most satisfying components of the show – a three-channel video of the murals done by a host of painters (under Rivera’s direction) in a market in Mexico City. Walk to the right corner of the big Rivera mural and step inside the Abelardo L. Rodriguez Market to see murals created by Ramón Alva Guadarrama, Marion and Grace Greenwood, Noguchi, and others:

Virtual NYC Museum Events – Art, Activism, and Fun

Andre Leon Talley and Darren Walker at MAD on Tuesday

Nearly all of this week’s virtual museum events in New York are packed into Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday to make way for Martin Luther King’s birthday and the inauguration. So, check the daily listings on our virtual events page and dive into interesting sessions on African-American innovators and artists, art with a conscience, and flat-out fun.

1969 anti-Nixon poster from the Poster House archive

On Tuesday (January 19), it will be hard to choose: At 5pm, you can join MAD Museum at 5pm to hear a conversation on equity and design between author and style guru Andre Leon Talley and Ford Foundation president Darren Walker.

At 5:30pm, you can join Poster House and NY Adventure Club for Democracy on Paper to review political posters from the Sixties and Seventies from the museum archives.

At 6pm, New-York Historical Society hosts an in-depth look at Harriet Tubman’s life with biographer Erica Armstrong Dunbar, and the Whitney offers a program on art and social change, illustrated with works from its collection.

Book discussion on Tuesday at the Schomburg Center

At 6:30pm, join author Catherine E. McKinley at NYPL’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture to see and hear about 100 years of African women’s style and looks, as featured in The African Lookbook.

At 8pm, join the Museum of the City of New York for a special trivia contest with the MCNY curators.

On Thursday (January 21), several programs begin at noon – a lunch hour session at the Staten Island Museum on the work of famed social realist artist Raphael Soyer; a tour of the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, courtesy of the Newark Museum of Art; and a tour of the Whitney’s amazing photography exhibition, Working Together: The Photographers of the Kamoinge Workshop.

Take a tour of the Whitney’s Kamoinge Workshop show on Thursday

At 2pm, meet the New York Transit museum for Underground Heroesa look at how transit was portrayed in satirical cartoons, comic strips, and comic books.

At 6pm, join the American Folk Art Museum for a fun “drink and draw” session on New York landmarks.

There’s a lot more, so check our complete schedule. Most of the events are free, but it’s always nice to add a thank-you donation.

Museum Updates

We joined the marathon on-line session with Neil deGrasse Tyson this week to hear his year-in-review on astronomical and planetary science. The AMNH chose to produce this via Zoom, so everyone was able to see who was asking the fascinating questions and allowed Neil to have some fun interactions, just as he does at his sold-out events.  Lots of geeky questions and answers for over two hours!

Diego Rivera’s 1931 fresco “The Uprising” in the Whitney’s Vida Americana: Mexican Muralists Remake American Art, 1925-1945

We also joined the weekend crowds at The Whitney to see the epic work again in Vida Americana and see the beautiful photographs of the Kamoinge Workshop.

To end the week, we watched Andrew Bolton describe the work behind creating the Met’s unusually prescient fashion exhibition, About Time: Fashion and Duration. Check out the YouTube (already posted!) on what it took to design this unforgettable exhibition.

MAD History of Modern Art Jewelry

45 stories about modern art jewelry, such as Greenwich Village designer Arthur Smith

Sleek, modern, space-age, intricate, architectural, political, satirical, and comic – all descriptions of the array of modern-art jewelry selected by the Museum of Arts and Design exhibition, 45 Stories in Jewelry: 1947 to Now, on display through January 24.

The second-floor space features a tour through modern-art jewelry’s evolution from a craft pioneered by studio artists like Art Scott and Alexander Calder to its current status as a respected and valued sector of today’s international art market.

MAD has shown art jewelry since it was founded in 1956, and its full collection now numbers 930 pieces. After redesigning its art jewelry exhibition area, MAD decided to mount a show to honor the extraordinary scope of its collection and place selected artworks into the broader context of art history.

1966 sterling silver body ornament by Arlene Fisch

Two rings of white cases offer visitors opportunities to peer into each story, see a spectacular or provocative piece, and read about its designer and context.

In every visit to this show, we saw jewelry lovers fully engaged, pouring over every detail of the craftsmanship.

The first case that drew our attention was a Constructivist pin by Margaret De Patta, a passionate California artist became immersed in modernism through her New York art studies in the Twenties, but really hit her stride in the Forties after training with Moholy-Nagy in Chicago. (This spectacular pin is prominently depicted on the museum’s timeline of modern art jewelry.)

John Paul Miller’s 1969 molten gold Armored Polyp

The museum highlights the stories of Forties artists working in studios, like Art Scott, who created body-conscious pieces for the jazz artists and modern dance innovators who visited his Greenwich Village studio.

Another early innovator honored in the exhibition is John Paul Miller, who created stunning gold pieces using ancient, forgotten techniques discovered in his archeological research.

Stories from the Fifties show how an entire generation of American designers was influenced by Danish design, particularly the sleek work of master silversmith Henning Koppel, whose work was featured internationally through the Georg Jensen brand.

Charles Laloma’s 1968 inlaid silver bracelet and 1960 bracelet with inner turquoise inlay

Art works from the Sixties include the way-out sterling body ornament by Arlene Fisch, space-age jewelry by Danish designers Gijs Bakker and Emmy van Leersum, and modernist Hopi jewelry design Charles Laloma, a ground-breaking Native American artist.

Stories in the exhibition from subsequent decades show how designers used their work to tell stories, make clever social comments, turn recycled materials into wearable art, display technical virtuosity, make magic, and create conceptual wonders.

Gésine Hackenberg’s earthenware 2008 Kitchen Necklace

The timeline in the exhibition details how art jewelry grew in popularity, entered museum collections, and began being shown at international art fairs.

Take a look at some of our favorites in the exhibition in our Flickr album and be sure to visit MAD in person.

Meet the 45 Stories committee members, who selected which works in MAD’s collection that embody key developments in the evolution of the art form:

Virtual NYC Museum Events – Stars, Cocktails, and Social Discourse

It’s a packed week with over 35 virtual events planned by New York City museums, featuring evenings with celebrities, conversations about society, the future of museums, and even an escape game. Find the daily listings for everything on our virtual events page.

Scandals recounted in the Tenement Museum’s Tuesday YouTube Live book talk

Tomorrow afternoon (January 12) at 6:30pm, the Fraunces Tavern Museum again collaborates with the Keeler Tavern Museum & History Center to explore the role apples played in food, drink, and the economy of colonial and revolutionary America in the continuing “Tavern Tastings” series.

At 7pm, the Tenement Museum hosts Tyler Anbinder, to talk about his book, Five Points: The 19th Century New York City Neighborhood that Invented Tap Dance, Stole Elections, and Became the World’s Most Notorious Slum.

Mystical transformation with St. Francis and the Morgan Library on Wednesday

 At 8pm, travel to the mountains of Arizona with the Newark Museum, whose planetarium experts host an evening of stargazing with Steward Observatory’s Mt. Lemmon SkyCenter.

On Wednesday (January 13) at 2pm, train fans can take a rare trip deep into the Transit Museum archives.

At 5pm, art fans can travel back to the 15th century with the Frick Collection to explore Bellini’s painting St. Francis in the Desert.

At 6:30pm, the Center for Brooklyn History (formerly Brooklyn Historical Society) hosts a discussion and book talk “The Authoritarian’s Playbook,” which links 20th century history with the events of the last week.

AMNH’s Neil deGrasse Tyson will summarize 2020’s important space news on Wednesday. R. Mickens/© AMNH

At 7pm, you’ll have to choose between three equally compelling events:

  • The astronomical year-in-review with Neil de Grasse Tyson at AMNH
  • A talk with David Byrne and Maira Kalman about their new American Utopia book at the Museum of the City of New York
  • The “standing ovation” meet-up at Poster House featuring an array of posters of the world’s most celebrated theatrical performers and five cocktails to match.

    MCNY hosts collaborators David Byrne and Maira Kalman on Wednesday. Photos: Jody Rogac, Cyndi Stivers

On Thursday (January 14) at noon, visit the Salman Toor painting exhibition at the Whitney, and at 3pm, see (and hear about) nature paintings in the collection of the New-York Historical Society.

At 6pm, enjoy a delicious trip to Naples with the Museum of Food and Drink, and dip into the Poster House archives at 6:30pm. At 7pm, join the escape game at the Newark Museum’s historic Ballantine House.

Brian Clarke’s stained glass panels at MAD

There’s more on Friday and Saturday, so register for as many of the topics and events that you can fit into your schedule.

On Saturday at 2pm, be sure to join MAD to meet acclaimed architectural artist Brian Clarke, whose work is on display for the next month. Don’t pass up this chance to encounter a legend and hear about the entire scope of his incredible international body of work.

And a reminder for Sunday (January 17): at 1pm, take a tour of the incredible costume exhibition at the Metropolitan, About Time: Fashion and Duration. Even if you’re in New York, it’s not easy to snag a ticket to this show, so the virtual visit is the next best thing.

Most of the events are free, but it’s always nice to add a thank-you donation.

At MoMA, 1923 Gum department store lightbulb ad by Rodchenko and Mayakovsky’s ad agency

Museum Updates

We visited MoMA this past week for last looks at the Felix Feneon, textile, and Judd exhibitions. The galleries were full of visitors looking at the Parisian posters, African carvings, Seurat and Matisse paintings, Anni’s loom, and Judd’s super-slick sculptures.

As hard as it is to say good-bye to these three terrific shows, we encourage you all to visit the latest at MoMA – Engineer, Agitator, Constructor: The Artist Reinvented.

About Time: Fashion and Duration tour on Sunday

Lots of Russian avant-garde, typography and collage running wild, and branding in the early 20th century that you’ve never seen quite like this.  The extensive exhibition uses many works from the little-seen Berman collection, so you’ll be in for some surprises when you see it.

Although its virtual events are still happening, the Museum of the City of New York has announced a temporarily closure on Fifth Avenue for some emergency construction work.

Online Museum Events – Virtual Trips to the Sixties, the 20th Century Limited, and the Arctic

Poster by Bonnie McLean for Fillmore Auditorium July 1967. Courtesy: Bahr Gallery

New York City museums are kicking off the first week of the New Year with a look at music and transportation history, far-away places (on Earth and beyond), and artist hang-outs. Find the daily listings for everything on our virtual events page.

Tomorrow afternoon (January 5) there are two fun historical programs: at 4pm, you can take one last look at the New-York Historical Society’s great rock-and-roll extravaganza (which ended yesterday!), Bill Graham and the Rock & Roll Revolution. If you did not get to see the exhibition, don’t miss this … psychedelic posters, the story of the Fillmore East and West, how Bill’s artists got booked for Woodstock, how The Last Waltz concert happened, and lots of photos of the legendary stars he promoted.

The streamlined 1947 lounge car for the 20th Century Limited.

At 5:30pm, you go back a little further in time. Join New York Transit Museum educator Joe Hartman to hear the incredible story of the legendary 20th Century Limited luxury train that ferried celebrities between New York’s Grand Central and Chicago’s LaSalle Street Station in high style for decades. Learn all about how red-carpet obsessions were born.

On Wednesday (January 6) at 7pm, hang out with a few hundred science geeks at the monthly SciCafe at the American Museum of Natural History. This month’s topic is Arctic Dragonflies with museum curator Jessica Ware, who will explain how these little guys keep from freezing. The Q&A is always fascinating with this group, so stick around for that part of the program, too!

Reproduction of Orozco’s 1930 Prometheus mural at The Whitney

On Thursday, (January 7), delve into great art: at Noon, the Whitney presents a look at the three Mexican muralists – Orozco, Rivera, and Siqueiros – whose passion and techniques inspired a generation of socially conscious artists of the Thirties and Forties. Find out more about their work in the United States and hear how Pollack, Benton, Noguchi, Lawrence, and many others learned at the feet of the masters in this talk about the blockbuster Vida Americana exhibition.

Jesse Wine, 11:10 am / 15.10.1983 / 75 Heath Lane / Chester / United Kingdom / CH3 5SY, 2020, installation view

At 7pm, take a trip to the Sculpture Center to meet Jesse Wine, see highlights of his solo show in Long Island City, and hear about his past work and inspirations.

Many more programs are on the schedule, so register for as many of the topics and events that you can fit into your schedule. Many of the events are free, but it’s always nice to add a thank-you donation.

How Textiles Became Modern at MoMA

1977 Águila Beige (Brown Eagle) by Spanish artist Aurèlia Muñoz

Dramatic fiber sculptures welcome visitors at the entry to MoMA’s modern textile history exhibition, Taking a Thread for a Walk, on view on the third floor through January 10.

When the show initially opened back in 2019, visitors were greeted by Magdalena Abakanowicz’s imposing Yellow Abakan textile sculpture; today, it’s the wall-size Red Marca by Aurèlia Muñoz in its place. Inside the main gallery, Aurèlia’s Brown Eagle spreads out to fill the entire corner. But these fiber sculptures are really the finale to the exhibition’s story.

Yarn, prints, and fabric in Vuillard’s 1896 painting of his mother at home

Your journey through 20th century textile art is fleshed out using MoMA’s unparalleled collection of modern paintings, furniture, posters, film, and ephemera. Every time we’ve visited the exhibition, we’ve observed museum goers who are fully engaged, taking in every detail of the big story told by quiet works – how textile craft transitioned from small-time “women’s work” to statements within the big-time worlds of fine arts, commercial furniture, and interior design.

The first thing you hear upon entering is the clacking sound of a working loom. The sound draws you right toward an actual loom. Nearby, there are fourth-century Coptic textile fragments that were the first textiles to enter MoMA’s collection and a delicate sculpture by Ed Rossbach that echoes weaving’s ancient origins.

1952 loom used by Anni Albers in Connecticut

The pristine loom was used by Anni Albers, who revolutionized how American artists began thinking about, making, and innovating with textiles. In a way, Anni’s educational philosophy is the “thread” that connects nearly every other section in the show – teach students to execute the basics but push them to experiment in unconventional ways.

Using fiber and weaving to “learn by doing” extends back to the 1850s and the beliefs of German early-childhood educator Friedrich Froebel, who suggested that parents and teachers use “playthings” – balls of yarn and colorful weaving slats to spur kids’ creativity. His ideas caught on, with toy manufacturers offering commercial creativity kits. MoMA has 1898 versions from Boston in the show.

Vienna: corner of 1905 tablecloth by Josef Hoffman and Berthold Löffler

Around the same time, the British Arts & Crafts movement and rampant industrialization inspired continental innovators to create new schools and interdisciplinary movements that elevated textile design in the design and art-school hierarchy.

MoMA displays a beautiful tablecloth by Hoffman and Loeffler that exemplifies the design direction Hoffman and colleagues took with the Wiener Werkstätte.  Fabric designs by Elena Izcue are nearby, showing how pre-Columbian textiles served as inspiration for artists and students exploring an “American” design direction.

An entire wall is devoted to the ground-breaking work by Anni Albers and others from the textile workshop at the Bauhaus, led by innovator Gunta Stölzl, who encouraged interdisciplinary students to experiment by incorporating unusual materials, proportions, and colors.

Bauhaus Weaving Workshop: 1923-1924 work by Benita Koch-Otte

A short black-and-white film that takes you inside the workshop is projected next to a dramatic large-scale woven modernist statement by Benita Koch-Otte.

The back wall tells the story of 20th-century textile production and commercialization – a Soviet children’s book to explain how cotton is grown and turned into mass-market fabric, and commercial brochures, posters, and catalogues created by graphic artists who founded branding agencies to help European manufacturers market stylish rugs, draperies, and furniture to buyers.

1964 wall hanging woven by Delores Dembus Bitterman, an Albers student at Yale

Like Anni Albers, many design innovators fled Europe in the Thirties, worked as educators in the United States, and influenced the next generation of textile modernists through Cranbrook, the New Bauhaus in Chicago, and Black Mountain College.

MoMA shows plenty of expressive wall-sized works, fabric-covered modern furniture, and textile room dividers used to stunning effect by architects and interior designers in commercial spaces and open-plan homes in the Fifties and Sixties. A Seventies poster promoting furniture by Knoll reminds you that Brazilian and other Latin American designers were fully on board, too.

Stretch fabric: Bruno Manari’s 1964 hanging lamp and Pierre Paulin’s 1967 Tongue chair

Finally, the story comes back to where it began – liberation for textile artists in the Sixties and Seventies, like Sheila Hicks and others, to create large-scale sculptural work.

Walk through the exhibition with MoMA on its website and look at our favorites in our Flickr album.

To get an idea of how one contemporary master thinks about creating with textiles, here is a short video with Sheila Hicks, featuring her Pillar of Inquiry installation last year for MoMA’s reopening:

Folk Art Museum Tells 85 American Stories

Eliza Gordon, as she arrived in 1833 for her first job at a New Hampshire textile mill

When you enter the exhibition American Perspectives: Stories from the American Folk Art Museum Collection, on view at Lincoln Square through January 3, you may experience a nostalgic feeling seeing images of early Americans, spectacularly pieced quilts, and finely carved wooden relics of bygone eras.

But the purpose in bringing all of these small masterpieces together is to present the in-depth stories behind the creators and subjects, which adds a completely different, lively layer to the journey through the three galleries – tales of itinerant portrait painters, stagecoaches along America’s first turnpikes, independent women surviving husbands and adventures in the Wild West, and back-country singing masters making their own teaching tools from roots and berries.

1790 love letter drawn by Christian Strenge, a former Hessian mercenary who settled in Pennsylvania

The stories make each work come alive, taking you back to the founding of America, looking at how people moved around in the Nation’s early years, made social-justice and political statements through their art, and used their artistic skills to transform their lives. 

The first section of the show has several works with early German immigrants, many of whom came to America as Hessian mercenaries fighting for the British and stayed as citizens, using their artistic skills to pen intricate love letters and embellish important documents.

Portraits come alive as you see the fresh face of a 20-year-old mill worker (Eliza Gordon) who just arrived to take on her first independent job after leaving the family farm, portraits of new arrivals from the East Coast (the Bosworth siblings) who were starting new lives in up-and-coming Illinois, or a wife (Mrs. Bentley) committed to abolition who ran a famous spa in upstate New York in the early 1800s.

1983 Freedom quilt by Jessie B. Telfair of Parrott, Georgia

It’s not always easy to tell just from looking when works were made, and many come from the 20th century, often from a period later in the artist’s life – the drawing made by a Romanian immigrant (Ionel Talpazan) who used his art to work out his experience with a UFO as a child, the artist (Jessie B. Telfair) who made quilts in the Eighties to channel her feelings about being punished for registering to vote in Georgia in the Sixties, and a painter (Lorenzo Scott) whose portraits cast Atlanta beauties as Renaissance royalty whose style impressed him when he hung out at the Met in the years he lived in New York.

1918 Coney Island carousel horse by Charles Carmel and 1965 Workers’ Holiday by Ralph Fasanella

In the stories told about artworks involving far-away destinations, we learn that sea captain portraits were used as substitutes for husbands gone for years at a time, that many 18th-century students learned geography by copying intricate maps of exotic animal habitats, and that overhead rail was the magical mechanism that brought working-class people to the over-the-top fantasy destination of Coney Island.  

The curators point out that the grand 1888 Grover Cleveland quilt was created by a woman who was a passionate political supporter. The quilt was her way of casting a vote for her favorite candidate, even though she did not yet have the right to vote. She even used the red-bandana campaign swag as the center!

Next to this, there’s a masterful “quilt” made out of wood by New Orleans artist Jean-Marcel St. Jacques, an Afro-Creole artist living in Treme.

Detail of 2014 wood “quilt” by Katrina survivor Jean-Marcel St. Jacques, Mother Sister May Have Sat in That Chair When She Lived in This House Before Me

The spectacular wall-sized work is pieced together from pieces of furniture that he salvaged from his home following his neighborhood’s devastation by Hurricane Katrina. Some of it pre-dated his residency, so the assemblage contains layers and layers of local history.

The final gallery contains works by people who used art to transform their lives ­– one of the thousands of abstract drawings made each night in West Virginia by Eugene Andolsek to relieve his workplace stress, and a large tiger with a personality carved and painted by Felipe Benito Archuleta, who was out of work in the Sixties and began carving animals to sell in Santa Fe.

1977 Tigere by Felipe Benito Archuleta

His whimsical creations not only led to a wildly lucrative art career, but jump-started an entirely new direction for the New Mexico art market.

These tales are only a few of the 85 told by this exhibition.  Download all the stories here, and enjoy some of our favorite works of art in our Flickr album.

Exhibition curator Stacy C. Hollander provides a virtual tour and shares some of her favorite stories about early-American artists and 19th-century travelers in this video below.

Stacy provides lots of background on Eliza Gordon and what her work was like in the textile industry. The video also tells the incredible story of Emma Rebecca Cummins (maker of the crazy-quilt trousseau robe), who was married four times, lived in five Eastern and frontier states (also Canada!), and worked as one of the first female Western Union telegraphers out West.

Enjoy getting to know the backstories of some of the incredible artists among the 85 featured in this tribute to American working artists, activists, and visionaries:

Genius Artist Reinterprets Brooklyn’s Native American Archives

Moccasins at the feet of 1904 Dying Indian sculpture by Charles Cary Rumsey. On Gibson’s mural, a study for Rumsey’s Manhattan Bridge buffalo-hunt frieze.

The Brooklyn Museum invited a MacArthur genius to dig through its vast Native American collection and archives, use it alongside his own thought-provoking contemporary art work, and take visitors minds for a spin. The colorful, creative, memorable results are on display across three galleries in Jeffrey Gibson: When Fire Is Applied to a Stone It Cracks, on view through January 10. Take a look in our Flickr album.

Gibson, a big thinker whose heritage is Choctaw/Cherokee, does work that challenges people to think differently about Native Americans today and to question the assumptions about their “disappearance” from the national dialogue. Flying above art-world silos, he works at large and small scales, employs colleagues who are experts in beadwork and mural making, and shows art-gallery works as well as more conceptual projects.

Custom 19th and early 20th-century moccasins from the Brooklyn Museum collection.

His Brooklyn show begins by presenting a monumental 1904 “Dying Indian” bronze by Victorian-era classical artist, Charles Cary Rumsey, and an array of moccasins from the museum’s collections made by unknown tribal artists in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

To the right, there’s a giant stained-glass work that says, “Whose World Is This? It’s Yours It’s Mine.” To the left, there’s a colorful gallery packed with Gibson’s contemporary art work, and historic beaded, painted, and pieced items made by tribal artists.

Scores of museum visitors who exited Brooklyn’s Studio 54 show were captivated by Gibson’s dynamic installation, entered, and explored.

Gibson’s stained-glass Whose World Is This? It’s Yours It’s Mine. Private collection.

Below the massive statue, Gibson wants us to witness how carefully Native American makers created and customized footwear for specific practical purposes and ceremonial occasions for specific individuals. Unfortunately, the beautiful beadwork and deft, custom designs by tribal craftsmen are unattributed – a contrast to the society artist’s imposing vision of Native Americans who are sad, vanquished, and gone.

To change the statue’s narrative, Gibson asked contemporary Pawnee/Cree artist John Little Sun Murie to design moccasins for the figure atop Rumsey’s horse, so the rider is now presented as an individual member of an historic tribe – not just a generalized stereotype. Listen as Jeffrey talks about moccasins:

To drive home the point that Victorian-era artists and anthropologists incorrectly generalized and romanticized Native Americans, Gibson adds two other small bronzes and a study for Rumsey’s buffalo-hunting frieze made to embellish the entrance to the Manhattan Bridge. (Just ignore the fact that the Lenape didn’t hunt buffalo on our shores!) His beaded works say it all – “I Don’t Belong to You” and “You Don’t Belong to Me.”

Gibson’s 2018, Tribes File Suit to Protect Bears Ears.

In the second gallery, Gibson shows his own recent creations with those bought on early 20th-century expeditions and added to Brooklyn’s ethnographic collection.

Gibson’s bright, geometric murals – which complement the museum’s vintage geometric-patterned tiled floors – provide a joyful backdrop for a brightly colored Seminole jacket, beaded hats, and other art. Gibson’s new paintings, sculptures, and patchwork garments use beads, colors, and messages on fabric – contemporary statements that hearken to the creativity and innovation of these unattributed artists. Take a look:

Ba:lawahdiwa, Zuni’s governor, and his family in 1890

The final gallery presents other artifacts and art that Gibson curated from museum’s vast Native American holdings, expedition records, and archives, and contrasts them with some of Gibson’s recent photography.

A large case displays a range of commercial, ancient, and ceremonial pots, expedition photographs, and drawings of Pueblo life made by expedition artists over 100 years ago. In one instance, Gibson reunites several photos of a Zuni family, normally stored apart from one another the museum’s archives.

Gibson relishes showing how Native American artists still thrive today and how over the centuries they have adapted their materials and creativity for both commercial art-markets and their own expressive purposes.

Gibson’s 2019 photo Regan De Loggans. Courtesy: Gibson & Sikkema Jenkins

For example, he features a photograph of a young early 20th-century Navajo weaver, creating traditional Indian” rugs for a trading post with new, more colorful materials that Mr. Hubbell supplied. Gibson also unearthed a tourist map on where to find different California tribes and buy their wares – a direct rebuke to the concept that all these people “vanished.”

Best of all, Gibson also features several gorgeous recent photographs, including tribal artist-activists.

Visit Jeffery’s studio in this video produced for the 2019 Whitney Biennial. Hear him talk about his evolution, his creative process, and his team up in Hudson:

Online Museum Events – Cheese Tetrahedrons, Exoplanets, and a Virtual Pub Crawl

Coqui is fun to make and delicious! Try it Tuesday with El Museo del Barrio

New York City museums are pulling out the stops on their pre-Christmas on-line offerings with craft workshops, food tastings, and pub history. Find the daily listings for everything on our virtual events page.

El Museo del Barrio hosts several bilingual events this week as part of the new series, El Barrio en Tu Casa, including a cooking class (direct from Puerto Rico!) with Chopped Chef Santana Benitez (6pm today Dec. 14) and a coquito-making workshop  and social with Jonathan Rivera (Thursday, Dec. 17).

Join the Noguchi and Buckminster Fuller event on Monday

Why not mix food, architecture, and design? At 7:30pm today, the Noguchi Museum will host a session on the “Dymaxion Dining” cookbook that honors Buckminster Fuller, talk about baking Geodesicandy, and show how to make Cheese Tetrahedrons.  Bring your own knife, block of cheese, ruler, and cutting board!

MetLiveArts presents the beautiful Monteverdi Vespers of 1610 with the Handel and Haydn Society at 7pm on Tuesday (December 15), and follows up with its regularly scheduled Friday concert with ETHEL (virtual music on the balcony).

Kepler-1652 b, a super-Earth exoplanet [JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle/NASA]

On Wednesday (December 16) at noon, you can join the cool kids at the Hayden Planetarium in “Hot Takes on Cool Worlds” to find out the latest on exoplanets (4,000 and counting!).  The program will feature planetary atmosphere expert Laura Kreidberg of Heidelberg’s Max Planck Institute for Astronomy (MPIA), who will discuss whether planets (like Kepler-1652 b) are habitable and explain approaches to future research.

Later that day at 8pm, you can join the Museum of Food & Drink and WNYC’s The Green Space for a super-fun holiday-themed Filipinx cooking demonstration, conversation, and a little Karaoke (a revered Filipino holiday tradition) – all part of MOFAD’s Food for Thought speaker series.

Serving it up at Charlie’s Tavern, New York in 1946

You can close out the week with a Friday night virtual holiday pub crawl with pub buffs from the New-York Historical Society. They’ll send you a list of libation recipes spanning New York’s 400-year history, and spin you off into hang-outs to discuss, compare, and tell tales of favorite bars.

Many more programs are on the schedule, so register for as many of the topics and events that you can fit into your schedule. Most of the events are free, but it’s always nice to add a thank-you donation.