American Masterpieces: Visual Arts Sharing the Depth and Richness of American Art


Dorothea Lange's photograph Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California (1936)

Dorothea Lange's photograph Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California (1936), which became an iconic image of the Great Depression, is one of the images traveling in the George Eastman House's exhibition Seeing Ourselves: Masterpieces of American Photography. Photo courtesy of George Eastman House.

In the first two years of American Masterpieces: Visual Arts, 27 museums have received $2,423,000 to support exhibitions ranging from American Chronicles: The Art of Norman Rockwell (Norman Rockwell Museum) to Modernism in American Silver: 20th Century Design (Dallas Museum of Art) to Puerto Rico in the Artistic Imagination (Museo de Arte de Ponce). This diversity of genre, geography, and period underscores the program's goals. Robert Frankel, NEA Director of Visual Arts, explained, "The idea behind the Visual Arts component is to bring to this country the material that highlights the extraordinary depth and richness of the history of visual arts in this country."

The itinerary of exhibit sites is extensive, with tours reaching communities from Cooperstown, New York, to Naples, Florida, to Anchorage, Alaska. "These exhibitions are scaled to be able to be shown not only in large institutions but small and medium-sized institutions in small and mid-sized communities throughout the country, and to bring to these communities works of art that in many instances would not be available," says Frankel.

While some of the touring works are familiar to American audiences, Frankel insists it's still important for the originals to be introduced to new generations. "You may be familiar with the materials from seeing reproductions, but seeing the object itself is a very different thing."

In FY 2005, the George Eastman House received $200,000 to support the touring exhibition Seeing Ourselves: Masterpieces of American Photography. In FY 2006, Artrain received $140,000 to support a tour of Native Views: Influences of Modern Culture. Eastman House curator Alison Nordstrom and Artrain President/ CEO Debra Polich spoke with the NEA about what makes each exhibition an "American masterpiece," why it's important that all Americans have access to these works of art, and the impact of the NEA American Masterpieces grant on their projects.