Smithsonian Celebrates the 2009 Presidential Inauguration with a Series of Exhibitions

December 8, 2008
News Release
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In celebration of the 2009 Presidential Inauguration, the Smithsonian will feature exhibitions that will offer visitors a chance to explore the life and times of the nation’s presidents.

Smithsonian American Art Museum
“The Honor of Your Company Is Requested: President Lincoln’s Inaugural Ball” celebrates President Lincoln’s second inaugural ball, held March 6, 1865, in what is now the museum’s historic home. The ball took place as Lincoln’s second term began, with the Civil War in its final stages, and only six weeks before Lincoln was assassinated at nearby Ford’s Theatre. The exhibition features ephemera from the inaugural ball, including the invitation and menu, as well as engravings illustrating the night’s events and other artifacts. (On view through Jan. 18, 2010.)

National Portrait Gallery
“Presidents in Waiting” includes portraits of the 14 vice presidents who became president. About one-third of America’s vice presidents became president, either by the death or resignation of the incumbent or by winning an election on their own. The exhibition will feature a video kiosk with interviews—granted exclusively for the exhibition—with recent vice presidents. (On view from Jan. 20, 2009, through Jan. 3, 2010.)

“America’s Presidents” lies at the heart of the Portrait Gallery’s mission to tell the American story through the significant individuals who have shaped it. The exhibition showcases an enhanced and extended display of multiple images of the 43 presidents, including Gilbert Stuart’s iconic “Lansdowne” portrait of George Washington, a painting of Lincoln by Alexander Healy and whimsical and satirical sculptures of Presidents Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter, Richard Nixon and George H.W. Bush by noted caricaturist Pat Oliphant.

“One Life: The Mask of Lincoln” examines Lincoln’s use of the era’s new art of photography to convey his image to Americans. The exhibition, which draws on the Portrait Gallery’s extensive collection of Lincoln portraits—an archive that charts Lincoln’s passage from a fresh-faced Illinois congressman to his grizzled presidential visage—will allow visitors to ponder the many dimensions of the 16th president. The exhibition offers a rare opportunity to view the original cracked-plate portrait of Lincoln by photographer Alexander Gardner. (On view through July 5, 2009.)

National Museum of American History
“First Ladies at the Smithsonian” showcases premier objects from the nearly century-old collection, including 14 dresses ranging from those of Martha Washington to Laura Bush. An introductory section explores the evolution of the collection and how it has been displayed at the Smithsonian. The centerpiece of the gallery is a large exhibit case that will feature selected gowns, portraits, White House china, personal possessions and associative objects from the Smithsonian’s unique collection of first ladies’ material. The final section focuses on the contributions of America’s first ladies and the ways in which they have influenced the most powerful office in the country—through their shaping of the first ladies’ role, the country’s expectations of public women and the needs of the presidential administration.

This exhibition was conceived as a bridge to the museum’s plans for an expanded exhibition on first ladies history scheduled to open in a few years. (Opens Dec. 19 and continues indefinitely.)

“Abraham Lincoln: An Extraordinary Life” will showcase more than 60 historical treasures associated with Lincoln’s life, from an iron wedge he used to split wood in the early 1830s in New Salem, Ill., to his iconic top hat he wore the night he was shot at Ford’s Theatre. Each highlighted object will be augmented with personal stories told by Lincoln and the people who knew him best.
(On view from Jan. 16, 2009, through January 2011.)

“America’s New Birth of Freedom: Documents from the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum” features 10 rare and important documents on loan from the Lincoln Library in Springfield, Ill. These documents have become the cornerstone of current thinking on Lincoln and his legacy and will include a signed copy of the Emancipation Proclamation. Also on view will be letters expressing Lincoln’s views on emancipation and the conclusion of the Civil War, including his letter to James C. Conkling in which he makes his forceful defense of the Emancipation Proclamation and his letter to Francis Blair on his unwavering demands for peace. (On view from Jan. 16, 2009, through March 22, 2009.)

“The American Presidency: A Glorious Burden” explores the personal, public, ceremonial and executive actions of the 43 men who have had a huge impact on the course of history in the past 200 years. More than 900 objects, including national treasures from the Smithsonian’s vast presidential collections, bring to life the role of the presidency in American culture. The visitor discovers the nation’s highest office through multiple sections, a timeline and media presentations.

National Museum of the American Indian
“A CENTURY AGO: ‘they came as sovereign leaders’” focuses on President Theodore Roosevelt’s 1905 inaugural parade and the six great chiefs who participated in the parade arriving with their own purposes in mind, representing the needs of their people. The chiefs included Buckskin Charlie (Ute), American Horse (Oglala Sioux), Quanah Parker (Comanche), Geronimo (Chiricahua Apache), Hollow Horn Bear (Brule Sioux) and Little Plume (Piegan Blackfeet). The exhibition goes beyond the intent of President Roosevelt’s inaugural committee, which was to add color to the show. The six Native leaders had their own questions and actively sought President Roosevelt’s attention to their concerns. (On view from Jan. 14, 2009, through Feb. 18, 2009.)

National Postal Museum
The National Postal Museum’s Philatelic Gallery will feature an exhibition of 11 certified plate proofs for postage stamps honoring Lincoln issued from 1994 to 1959. Certified plate proofs are the last printed proof of the plate before printing the stamps. These plate proofs are each unique, with the approval signatures and date. (On view through October 2010.)

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