Monday, December 16, 2013

A visit to the Castle of Portraits

Generations of remarkable Americans are kept in the company of their fellow citizens at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.

 The following is a guest post by Hanaa Ashqar, a 550 student from Northern Virginia.

Since I arrived in the U.S. last year, museums have become my passion. I appreciate the generosity of the Smithsonian Institution to offer us, art lovers, this unique opportunity to enjoy our time and enthusiasm for art. It was not my first visit to the art wonder palace -- that is, the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. I have visited the gallery many times, but this time differed in many ways. Previously, as Virginia Tech students, we had visited so many beautiful places in the nation’s capital in which we both expanded our knowledge and enjoyed ourselves.

As usual, the visit to the National Portrait Gallery was organized by Virginia Tech instructors who were kind enough to assist us in many educational field trips. When we first reached the huge white Greek Revival building, we were astonished by its wide porch and boardwalks. Inside the building, we were charmed by the enormous arched galleries and white marble corridors. After we were grouped in the grand sunshade courtyard café, we were escorted by three curators who explained the details of some of the portraits and paintings. The curators were knowledgeable enough to answer all of our questions and interests about certain artists and works.

During our tour of the museum, we tried to cover the most distinguishable galleries. First, we stopped at the Twentieth-Century American Art gallery which was on the third floor. In this gallery, we saw more than 50 portraits of the most acknowledged American figures of the 20th century in major fields such as politics, science and culture. Then, we descended to the second floor where the Struggle for Justice Gallery is located. This exhibition features several artworks including paintings, photographs, posters and sculptures of civil rights leaders.

In a separate hall, there was a recognizable exhibit named One Life, which is dedicated to the civil right leader Martin Luther King Jr. We were attracted by a particular portrait of the African-American leader as a cover page for the well-known Time magazine. The portrait displayed a painting of MLK as an important icon of the modern civil rights movement in America. Inspired by his movement, a shadow represents Rosa Parks, the trigger of the Montgomery bus boycott, shown in the back of the portrait. This particular portrait had a unique influence on me because it represents three most recognizable icons of the American culture.

Finally, we reached the heart of the museum where the America’s Presidents Portrait Gallery is located. This exhibit is the only complete collection of presidential portraits outside of the White House. Additionally, there are portraits of important people who contributed to the establishment of the country and influenced its history. The main portrait at the entrance of the hall is a painting of George Washington, also called the Father of the Nation.

The National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., is an exceptional place where visitors can enhance their knowledge and spend remarkable moments within its valuable collections. At the end of our tour, we thanked the amazing curators who mentored us during this trip with a promise to revisit the gallery to explore its noteworthy possessions of individuals’ portraits who formed the American culture.