Sunday, March 13, 2016

Another low light exhibit

Where: National Portrait Gallery

When: through June 5, 2016

There's an alcove at the Portrait Gallery where the curators exhibit items that require dim lighting in order to be displayed.  You don't find blockbuster shows here, in part because it's a small space.  The Alexander Gardner show, which also requires low lighting, is in several rooms; it would never have fit in this little area.

But, if you're interested in the history of American portraiture, and I can only assume you are, at least to some extent, if you've come to the Portrait Gallery, these small shows are worth a look.  They usually deal with a little known aspect of the subject, and I always learn something from my visit.

The current display is on Peace Medals.  These were created by the U.S. Government beginning in the Washington administration and continuing until the early 20th century.  They were used in making treaties with various Native American tribes, as they (the tribes) valued them very much.  In addition to several medals on display, this exhibit shows portraits of Native American leaders wearing the medals they had been given.

I saw something I don't believe I've seen before in this display: a daguerreotype and a painting of the same person.  It was fun to examine both and see if the painting was a good likeness.  The subject was Appanoose, a leader of the Sac tribe.  He came to Washington, D.C. in 1837, as part of a large delegation of Native American leaders to sign a peace treaty.

Happily, the wall notes make mention of the "Nation to Nation" exhibit at the American Indian Museum.  This show tells the full story of treaties between Native American tribes and the U.S. Government; I recommend seeing it if you have any interest in the subject.  The more the Smithsonian can help visitors see shows of interest to them, the better.   I'm willing to check the institution's website regularly to see what's on display, but the more casual viewer will most likely head to a museum they've heard of (like Air and Space or Natural History), never realizing what other treasures are on offer just a few feet away.  Thank you curators for giving visitors more information!

Verdict: A fine small display - if you're there to see another show, set aside a few minutes to check this out.

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