June 11, 2012
Events June 12-14: Temple of Invention Tour, A Healthy Future in Renewable Energy, and Painting with Maya-Mam
Tuesday, June 12 Temple of Invention Tour
The building that houses the American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery once served a very different function, as the Patent Office Building, the nation’s “temple to the industrial arts.” Built in 1868, the building is one of the country’s finest examples of Greek Revival architecture. Discover its rich history on a tour led by curator Charles Robertson, who will also discuss the patent exhibition “Inventing a Better Mousetrap: Patent Models from the Rothschild Collection.” Free. 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Meet in the F Street Lobby, American Art Museum.
Wednesday, June 13 A Healthy Future in Renewable Energy
How do we balance sustainable energy production with responsible environmental stewardship? In this evening seminar, Philippe Fauchet, director of the University of Rochester’s Energy Research Initiative, grapples with one of the biggest challenges facing the world population. Learn about global energy use and the potential of alternative energy sources like solar and wind power. $40 for general admission, $30 for members. 6:45 p.m. to 8:45 p.m. S. Dillon Ripley Center.
Thursday, June 14 Painting with Maya-Mam
Local Mayan artist Ubaldo Sánchez (Maya-Mam) uses this colorful family-friendly painting workshop to explain Mayan culture and art. Sánchez comes from a family of artists from Concepcion Chiquirichapa, Guatemala, whose projects represent the rich, crafts-based art of Guatemala here in the United States. Sánchez’s work includes painted pottery, sculpture, silkscreening, and painting. His 2009 painting of Barak Obama, New Dawn, was selected to represent Virginia students in the White House. Free. Repeats daily through June 17 at 10:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. American Indian Museum.
For a complete listing of Smithsonian events and exhibitions visit the goSmithsonian Visitors Guide. Additional reporting by Michelle Strange.
September 20, 2011
Each year the MacArthur Foundation embraces “genius” in many forms, providing a $500,000 no-strings-attached five-year fellowship to select individuals that show an innate creativity in their respective fields. Plus, of course, the potential for more of that creativity in the future.
Proudly, one of this year’s recipients has a Smithsonian connection. Silversmith Ubaldo Vitali, age 67, was one of four artists featured in the recent Renwick Gallery exhibition History in the Making: Renwick Craft Invitational (March 25 – July 31, 2011).
Vitali fuses old-world style craftsmanship with modern design. I spoke with him this past spring and he told me that silver was in his blood, and that it “always kept pulling me back.” The Italian-born and trained, Vitali came up in the old-school guild system in Rome, later emigrating to New Jersey in the late 1960s. And he maintains those roots, still a member of a Roman goldsmith’s guild. In fact, he’s the only member allowed to reside outside of Rome. Read the full interview.
Congratulations Ubaldo Vitali!
June 2, 2011
Friday, June 3 Meet Shango, the Yoruba Diety of Lightning and Thunder
According to oral tradition, Shango, the 16th-century Yoruba warrior-king of Nigeria acquired a special “medicine.” He could bring forth lightning and rout his enemies on the battlefield. His powers enabled him to control much of southwestern Nigeria between the 17th and 19th centuries. Upon his death, Shango was deified and thereafter identified with thunderstorms, forces of nature that the Yoruba peoples interpreted as a sign of supernatural justice. Shango worship, which spread beyond Nigeria to the Americas via the transatlantic slave trade, promotes the material and spiritual well-being of humanity and protects the powerless. Join Nigerian art historian Babatunde Lawal from Virginia Commonwealth University as he explores the changing interpretations of Shango symbols in Africa and the Americas. Free. 12 PM. Lecture Hall. African Art
Saturday June 4 Renwick Craft Invitational Family Day
Like to cut and paste the old fashion way? Gather at the Renwick for a family activity day making arts and crafts inspired by the work of the four artists on view. Docents will be on had to lead family-oriented tours through the exhibition History in the Making, featuring the work of stain glass artist Judith Schaechter, ceramicist Cliff Lee, silversmith Ubaldo Vitali and furniture maker Matthias Pliessnig. There will also be live music and a scavenger hunt. Free. 11:00 AM to 2:00 PM. Renwick Gallery
Sunday, June 5 DC Jazz Festival at American Art Museum
The award-winning drummer and composer Nasar Abadey is the founder and leader of the band SUPERNOVA. Come out to here the group’s performance as part of DC Jazz Festival. Abadey defines his music as “mult-D,” which he calls multi-dimensional and multi-directional—a broad eclectic mix of Classical African American music, that includes everything from traditional to bebop to free form. Free. 3:00 PM to 5:00 PM. American Art Museum
For updates on all exhibitions and events, visit goSmithsonian.com
April 19, 2011
Porcelain artist Cliff Lee spent 17 years trying to recreate a glaze. He succeeded. Then, he lost the formula. Three years would pass before he could successfully (and continually) reproduce the imperial yellow glaze of the 15th-century Ming court. The glaze is one of his biggest discoveries and remains, perhaps, his biggest secret.
More than 20 of Lee’s works are currently on view at the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Renwick Gallery (located at Pennsylvania and 17th Street, NW) in the exhibition, “History in the Making: Renwick Craft Invitational 2011″ through July 31.
A self-described “type-A person,” Lee demands perfection—from himself and, by extension, from his art; he will not rest until he achieves it— if he rests at all. Ironic, since “rest” is what brought Lee to the craft in the first place.
Born in Vienna, Austria, in 1951 and raised in Taiwan, Cliff Lee was exposed early on to Chinese porcelain through his parents’ vast collection of Chinese antiques. The son of a diplomat, Lee attended college and medical school in the United States, specializing in neurosurgery. The stress of the job led Lee in search of a release and, after a patient introduced him to ceramics, he began taking classes. Soon after, he left his surgical practice to pursue ceramics full time. Lee began his career creating vessels of clay painted with standard glazes. He then switched to porcelain, where impurities are difficult to mask, and began mixing his own glazes and firing his own work in the kiln so that he could understand and control the entire process from start to finish. Blending technical precision and artistic vision, Cliff Lee’s one-of-a-kind pieces reflect his dedication to a purist aesthetic. And, true to form, Lee does not spend much time on the computer, preferring, instead to speak by phone, or face-to-face. He recently chatted with ATM, revealing what he could about his technique, from his studio in Lancaster County, PA, where he was, of course, working.
How do you go about designing a piece?
Most of the time, I get inspired by my environment. I live in the county and I have very beautiful surroundings. Because I have high blood pressure—I am a type A person—I need beautiful surroundings to cool me off, calm me down. By observing nature, the surroundings, most of the time I get inspired for my work. I get ideas in my mind, sometimes for many months and I try to solve the technical problems. Then I start working on it and slowly, slowly it comes to reality. It’s a gradual process. It doesn’t just come out. The ideas incubate slowly and then I try many many times and fail many many times. Every time I try and fail, I learn from the mistake and it eventually comes. That’s why my work is one of a kind. Every one of them that comes out is different.
Does your training as a neurosurgeon ever play a part in how you go about crafting a piece?
Yes. Like chemistry, physics, calculus, surgical procedures are very tedious and require patience. I’ve got precision, I’m precise. You cannot make any mistakes, so all that training comes into practice. I’m a workaholic. I’m still working. If I don’t work on the potter’s wheel, in my studio, I’m reading or either studying, doing experiments.
What are you currently working on?
Now, I’m trying to perfect my persimmons glaze, a beautiful persimmons glaze. I saw one piece in the Sotheby’s catalogue. I studied it, looked at it and I said, ‘hey, I can do this.’ So, I’m working on it and it slowly comes out to be very beautiful. I want to perfect it. Because, when you do firing in a kiln, each one has a different location which is good for certain glazes. So, when you do experiments, you accumulate knowledge and when you know, the problem then becomes your knowledge. The ‘know’ comes from knowledge. You know something, then it becomes your knowledge.
Why did you decide to work with a notoriously difficult sculpting material like porcelain?
I like the challenge. Life is full of challenges. If there’s no challenge, what’s life for? There’s no meaning any more. It’s too easy. That’s not in my nature. Just like doing sports. I was watching the NCAA man’s basketball [championship game]. The first half was terrible—they all missed all the shots. I say, ‘what’s going on with these kids,’ you know? They’re supposed to be very good at it; they’re supposed to be able to make the easy shot. If they cannot keep their cool, and take a deep breath before they take a shot, that means that they are not there. They need to practice. It’s the challenge, everyday life is just a challenge.
You have had an enormous amount of success thus far in your craft. Is the work still challenging?
Oh yes, because I have set a standard. I want to be better. Every year, every month, I want to be better. So it’s just the beginning for me, everyday is just the beginning. I want to go one step beyond. I’ll never be happy, satisfied, isn’t that terrible? It’s a curse.
Why did you decide to focus on traditional Chinese ceramic forms and glazes?
In the early days, I lived with a whole bunch of Chinese porcelain; my parents have a vast collection of Chinese antiques. And when we were young, they took us to museums very often so I got attracted to those beauties, the color, the shape. So, subconsciously I got educated, that left an imprint in my mind. So I did not learn ceramics overseas in Taiwan. I learned everything in the United States. I owe everything to the U.S. They gave me a good education and they gave me good opportunities. I think that, in the United States, if you set your mind to it, you can do anything you want. The sources are infinite. Anything you want to get, you want to know, you can get it, if you work harder.
It took you 17 years to recreate a previously lost Chinese glaze—imperial yellow. What can you tell us about it?
Some of my personal secrets, I cannot tell. Everyone wants to know. You know that right? It was a very difficult process, long process. Like [the PBS show] “Craft in America,” next week is coming to my studio for four days. They are coming to my studio, a film crew, six people, for four days, to tape. They want to know all this too, but I cannot tell them, you know. Someday maybe I will give all the secrets to the museum. Maybe the Smithsonian, maybe the art museum; they can decide what they want to do. They can sell my secrets for a lot of money. That’d be fine.
How do you keep people from finding out?
I don’t tell them. I keep my mouth shut. Everybody wants to know. Sometimes when you get online you can see the people say, ‘How did Cliff Lee do the yellow? We really want to know.’ That’s for me to know, for you to find out.
Hear Renwick curator Nicholas R. Bell discuss Lee’s Guan-ware Vase at the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Renwick Gallery tomorrow, April 20 at 12 PM in the first floor lobby. See more of Lee’s work, including pieces painted in the famed imperial yellow glaze, on display in the exhibition “History in the Making: Renwick Craft Invitational 2011,” at the Renwick Gallery through July 31. The artists were selected by Bell, Ulysses Dietz, senior curator at The Newark Museum and Andrew Wagner. The exhibition also features the work of silversmith Ubaldo Vitali, stained glass artist Judith Schaechter and furnituremaker Matthias Pliessnig.
This post was updated to clarify the role of the visiting scholars.
April 14, 2011
Friday, April 15: Latin Jazz
The John Santos Sextet will perform jazz from Cuba, Puerto Rico and the United States. Santos, a four-time Grammy nominee, is an expert of Afro-Latino music and is known for his innovative use of traditional forms and instruments in combination with contemporary music. He has performed, recorded and studied with some of the masters of Afro-Latin Jazz such as Cachao, Dizzy Gillespie, Tito Puente, Bebo Valdés, Lázaro Ros, Armando Peraza and Eddie Palmieri. Sextet members include Santos, Saul Sierra, Marco Diaz, John Calloway, Melecio Magdaluyo and David Flores. Free. Natural History Museum. 6:30 PM to 8:00 PM.
Saturday, April 16: Celebrating the Crocheted Coral Reef
Families with kids take note. At the crochet coral reef exhibition over at the Natural History museum, a festival of fun is planned. Kids are invited to learn how to crochet, color a coral reef button and meet Sanctuary Sam, the sea lion mascot for Quiksilver. Smithsonian zoologist Stephen Cairns will be answering questions about coral reefs and the creatures who live in and around them. Check out this article about the reef exhibition from Smithsonian. Free. Natural History Museum. Exhibition closes April 24. 11:00 AM to 3:00 PM.
Sunday, April 17: Meet the Artist, Silversmith Ubaldo Vitali
Silversmith Ubaldo Vitali is one of only four artists to be selected for this year’s Renwick Craft Invitational. Vitali trained under the guild system in Italy and is the only member of the Roman goldsmith’s guild who lives outside Italy. He designs using traditional techniques with a modern flair. The artist be in the gallery Sunday to answer questions about his life and work. ATM blogger Jeff Campagna interviewed Vitali earlier this month. Free. 1:30 PM. Renwick Gallery
For updates on all exhibitions and events, visit our companion site goSmithsonian.com