In a collection of nearly 25,000 objects, it’s easy to overlook a hidden gem. While reading an art blog , I came across a link to a photographic portrait of George Washington, carved in snow (I’m not joking). Amazing, but something you might not look twice at in a gallery, or even in a database. Sometimes it takes a spotlight to recognize the brilliance, humor, history, subtlety, or whimsy in this collection. I asked some of my colleagues to share their favorite overlooked, underappreciated object—these are the objects that they wish you, the visitor, knew all about.
– Sarah Berman, Research Associate
Walt Whitman, 1887, Frank P. Harned, albumen print, 99.63
I love Walt Whitman—love his poetry, his magnificent face, his love for Abraham Lincoln and his beautiful and mournful elegy, “When Lilacs Last in the Door Yard Bloomed.” My husband and I planted a lilac bush in our own dooryard last spring, to have a physical reminder of Whitman’s poem and through it, to remember our own connections to lost loved ones.
Few figures had as much impact on American culture as Whitman. He was in the 1860s and he remains still the voice of the modern age in America. He was revered on both sides of the Atlantic as an original, his poetry giving lie to the notion that modernism came to America only from European artists and writers in the first years of the 20th century.
Few lived as nobly as he did. I see a noble life in his majestic face. Photographers did, too, no doubt, for Whitman was photographed dozens of times in the years following the first publication of his Leaves of Grass in 1855. I am fascinated by photographs of him. It surprised me to find that we have this print in our small photography collection.
I value this image of Whitman as a touchstone, and I believe that others would, too.
– Patricia Junker, Ann M. Barwick Curator of American Art
Cuvette (flower vase), 1755-1756, Vincennes Manufactory, painted by Louis-Denis Armand l’aîné, 99.8
This flower vase sits front and center in our amazing Porcelain Room. But, perhaps because there are so many eye-catching works in this room, you many not have noticed this particular one. Initially, I was drawn to it because of its beautiful blue color (bleu celeste) which is rare for this type of Vincennes porcelain.
When I learned of its lineage, I was astounded. It was once owned by Madame de Pompadour (Jeanne Antoinette Poisson, Marquise de Pompadour, 1721-1764), mistress of King Louis XV of France. It was part of a five-piece set that sat on a mantel above a fireplace at her Saint-Ouen residence.
This piece is connected to an important historical figure – an important woman, nonetheless. It’s definitely one of my favorite SAM pieces.
– Traci Timmons, Librarian
Top photo: Frank P. Harned, Walt Whitman, 1887; Albumen print, 6 1/2 x 4 in., Mary Arrington Small Estate Acquisition Fund and Margaret E. Fuller Purchase Fund, 99.63