May 2021 Events at Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery

By Editorial Team on May 3, 2021
Courtesy of Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery.

Art AfterWords: A Book Discussion
Tuesday, May 11, 5:30-7 p.m.
Online via Zoom

The National Portrait Gallery and the DC Public Library would like to invite you to a virtual conversation about power, gender and collective memory. Join us as we analyze portraits from the exhibition “Every Eye Is Upon Me: First Ladies of the United States” and discuss the related book “Rodham” by Curtis Sittenfeld. Participants are encouraged to visit the exhibition before the event. DCPL cardholders can access “Rodham” here.

Enduring Images: Enslaved People and Photography in the Antebellum South
Tuesday, May 11, 5 p.m.
Online via Zoom
Closed captioning provided
Presented by Matthew Fox-Amato, Assistant Professor of History, University of Idaho

From the 1840s to the end of the Civil War, some enslaved people paid to have their photographs taken and then used these portraits to shape their identities and social ties. Slave narratives, newspapers and studio records reveal that some enslaved individuals bought images from local photographers, stowed images of sold family members in their cabins and carried images of family on their persons. Considering enslaved people as active agents of early photography, this talk examines what their photographic practices meant, especially in relation to the violent disruptions of the domestic slave trade. It also reflects upon possibilities for writing the history of portraiture when the relevant images are not available. Free—Registration required.

Kate Clarke Lemay, Portrait Gallery acting senior historian, will moderate the Q&A. This program is a part of the Greenberg Steinhauser Forum in American Portraiture and is hosted by PORTAL, the Portrait Gallery’s Scholarly Center.

In Dialogue: Smithsonian Objects and Social Justice
Thursday, May 13, 5 p.m.
Online via Zoom

Heighten your civic awareness through conversations about art, history and material culture. Each month, educators from the National Portrait Gallery will partner with colleagues from across the Smithsonian to discuss how historical objects from their respective collections speak to today’s social justice issues. Why is it important to have agency in how we are portrayed?  Together with our co-hosts from the Freer and Sackler, Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art, we will explore this key question about representation in relationship to a 1937 photograph of actress Anna May Wong and an early 21st century photo-performance by Pushpamala N. Free—Registration required.


Ongoing Programs


Writing Hour
Tuesdays, 5 p.m.
Online via Zoom

Join us weekly for a virtual creative writing hour. We’ve set up an online space where writers can create, connect and draw inspiration from the Portrait Gallery’s collection. Free—Registration required.

Wednesdays, 11 a.m.
YouTube @smithsoniannpg

  • May 5: Roger Shimomura
  • May 12: Jhumpa Lahiri
  • May 19: Yuri Kochiyama
  • May 26: Lili’uokalani

Introducing… a new kind of story time! Each week, a Portrait Gallery educator will shine a light on some of this country’s lesser-known historymakers and their portraits. Children will learn more about art, hear the stories behind the portraits and even learn some new vocabulary. Select story times will be in Spanish. For children ages 3 and up and their families.

Young Portrait Explorers
Wednesdays, 11-11:30 a.m. & 3-3:30 p.m.
Online via Zoom

  • May 12: Roger Shimomura

Explore portraits of astronauts and activists, scientists and star athletes – and discover the stories behind them. Join the Portrait Gallery each week for a close look at a featured portrait. Then we’ll dig deeper with some discussion questions and get moving with fun activities on the day’s topic. Download PDF activity guides from the “Visit at Home” page of the Portrait Gallery’s website. For children ages 3 and up and their families. Free—Registration required.

Drawn to Figures LIVE
Thursdays, 11:00 a.m.
Online via Zoom

  • May 6: Stretching and Prepping a Canvas for Painting
  • May 20: Creating an Underpainting

Discover your inner artist in this live virtual drawing workshop. Facilitated by artist Jill Galloway, the workshop will include guided instruction on the techniques and challenges of figure drawing. Participants will be offered the chance to share their work at the end of the session. Each program will highlight a Portrait Gallery exhibition or portrait from the collection. Open to all skill levels, ages 18 and up. Required materials will be listed on the Eventbrite program page. Free—Registration required.

Drawn to Figures
Thursdays, 11 a.m.

  • May 13 & 17

YouTube @smithsoniannpg

Discover your inner artist in this online workshop on sketching the human body. Artist Jill Galloway will highlight the techniques and challenges of figure drawing while providing guided instruction and helpful tips. Open to all skill levels, ages 13 and up.

Open Studio Workshops
Fridays, 11 a.m.
YouTube @smithsoniannpg

Enjoy weekly art workshops from the comfort of your own home. Each Friday, we will post a video with a new activity or technique. Grab a family member or your roommates, or make a virtual date with a friend, and get creative with artist Jill Galloway. Artists of all ages and skill levels will enjoy creating art inspired by the Portrait Gallery’s collection.


Online Docent Tours

Group Tours
By reservation
Online via Zoom

Since we can’t get together in person, let’s meet up remotely! In January 2021, the National Portrait Gallery will begin offering docent-led group tours for adults online. The following tours will be available by registration: America’s Presidents, Highlights of the National Portrait Gallery, Docent’s Choice, and Special Exhibitions. Reservations are required, and a three-week advance notice is appreciated. E-mail to receive a tour request form. All tours are subject to availability; last-minute cancellations may occur.