HOST: BRIAN LAMB
GUEST: BRUCE COLE, CHAIRMAN, NATIONAL ENDOWMENT FOR THE HUMANITIES
BRIAN LAMB, HOST, Q&A: Bruce Cole, chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, you have a current project. It’s called Picturing America. What is it about?
BRUCE COLE, CHAIRMAN, NATIONAL ENDOWMENT FOR THE HUMANITIES: Picturing America sends 40 very large, extremely high-quality images of American art to schools and public libraries all across the United States.
It’s also accompanied with a wonderful teacher’s resource guide and a terrific Web site with 50 lesson plans we’re putting more on and hundreds of links. So, it’s a package that goes from low tech to high tech.
LAMB: We’re going to show our audience, or try to show our audience all 40 of these before this hour is over. But before we start that, if someone has never heard of the National Endowment for the Humanities, what is it?
COLE: The National Endowment for the Humanities is an independent federal agency located right here in Washington, D.C., that funds programs to disseminate the benefits of the humanities, to bring the wisdom of the humanities to all Americans.
Our founding legislation says democracy demands wisdom. We take that very seriously, so we support the study of history and languages and archeology all the humanities.
LAMB: Give us an example of a project over the lastover your seven years there that we might remember.
COLE: Well, we have a it’s hard to pick one. But one of the big projects that we’ve embarked on is the digitization of historic newspapers, the first draft of our history.
Over the last 25 years, the endowment has supported the microfilming of about 70 million pages of historic newspapers from all over the country news before it was history. We’re now digitizing them. We’ve got something like 600,000 pages. We’re working towards 30 million. They’re on the Library of Congress Web site.
LAMB: So, you go to the Library of Congress Web site. I did it, actually, after I read about this. And I could look over newspapers years ago.
COLE: Yes, you can search them. The thing is that the 70 million pages of microfilm was very impressive, but impossible to use. Now, once you digitize them and put them online at the Library of Congress site, you can search them and mine that information.
And that really is the first great draft of our history.
LAMB: What is your own personal profession, before you got into this business?
COLE: I was a professor at Indiana University. My specialty was the history of art, specifically Renaissance art Italian Renaissance art.
LAMB: Where were you from originally?
COLE: I was born in Cleveland, Ohio, but I spent more years in the great Hoosier State.
LAMB: And where did you get your different degrees? I know one of them was at your Ph.D. was at Bryn Mawr, if I remember.
COLE: Bryn Mawr, yes. I got my undergraduate degree at it was then called Western, Case Western, Western Reserve University. It’s not Case Western Reserve University. My M.A. at Oberlin, and my Ph.D. from Bryn Mawr.
LAMB: Who’s your boss?
COLE: My boss is the president.
LAMB: And how do you I mean, I know you’ve got a council. And where do the how many members are there on the
COLE: We have a 26-member, presidentially appointed, Senate-confirmed, national advisory council, the National Council on the Humanities.
LAMB: And you were appointed and took the job on what date?
COLE: December 10, 2001.
LAMB: And when’s your term up?
COLE: My term is up December 10, 2009.
LAMB: And how much of the taxpayers’ money goes to what you do?
COLE: Our budget is about $140 million. The name ”endowment” is a misnomer. All our money is appropriated.
LAMB: OK. Let’s just show one of these pieces of art.
COLE: Before we get started on that, just let me if I could just give a little bit of background.
One of the big programs in fact, the major program that we’ve worked on since 2001, is called We The People. And We The People is meant to improve the teaching and understanding of American history.
It’s based on the premise that we’re not united by blood or by land or by common religion, but by ideas and ideals. And if we don’t know those, then our democracy is imperiled.
And tests and polls and studies have shown that our citizens, but especially our young people, don’t know enough about where we’ve come from and how the past informs the present and have some bearings for the future.
So, what we’re going to talk about is part of our We The People initiative.
LAMB: Now, as people watch this, they should keep in mind that who can get this material? And what does it cost them?
COLE: It’s free. And schools of all types public, private, charter, home school associations all types of schools can get it, and public libraries.
It’s also going to all Head Start centers
LAMB: All right. Let’s look at some of the art, and we can go over this again. We had on the screen this particular piece of art there.
By the way, how big are those?
COLE: Two by three feet.
LAMB: And what is this?
COLE: They’re that big, by the way, so they can be seen from the back of the classroom. And they come plasticized and perforated for hanging.
That’s a selection of bowls and pots from about 1000 to the 20th century. And I like that a lot, because it speaks to the civilization that was in this country before we came to the Eastern seaboard or up through the Camino Real. And we can learn a lot about where we’ve come from, from studying those, their use.
Also, it introduces kids a little bit to the basic principles of archeology, of craft.
You know, this program does two things. It introduces our citizens to our history and culture in the most direct way, and that’s through pictures the least barriers. But it’s also meant to put art back in the classroom and to teach a little bit about how you look at a work of art and how you enter into it.
LAMB: Here’s the second one, and it’s called ”Mission Concepcion.” Is that correct?
COLE: Yes, that’s correct. And what you see there on the left is the actual mission. And on the right is a reconstruction of the way it looked when it was all painted. And then there’s the detail of the decoration there.
LAMB: In San Antonio.
COLE: Correct. Correct.
This shows something about the development of that area of the Southwest, about the Spanish presence there, about the relation between the Spanish and the indigenous peoples. It also tells you a lot about what church architecture was like, what a mission was like.
It’s a good way to get introduced to those various concepts in that part of the country. And it also tells the story of an early part of our history, away from the Eastern seaboard, which I like a lot.
LAMB: I have here, so that a couple of them so that the audience can understand how big they are.
LAMB: I mean, I can hold this up here. And this is what is this?
COLE: Well, this is a portrait of Paul Revere by John Copley. And this is a really interesting portrait for a lot of reasons. First of all, it’s 1768. It’s before the famous ride.
And I like it a lot, because it’s really sort of an unvarnished picture of an American craftsman. This artist is really one of the great depicters of materials. And you can see that in this wonderful pot, because, you know, Revere was really known as a silversmith. And we that’s sort of overlooked. But he was an important early American silversmith.
And there you see him as a simple workman, pondering something, maybe what he was going to do with the teapot, maybe the course of the country. And there’s this wonderful mahogany table with his engraver’s tools on it. And I think it’s a kind of wonderful portrait, psychologically incisive portrait.
And, of course, the students can tie this with the Longfellow poem and American literature and craft, as well.
LAMB: Is there information on the Web site backing up all this?
COLE: Yes. There’s a lot of information. You can go to the Web site. There’s a gallery. You can click on this image. You can get information about the artist and about the subject.
And then, there are all sorts of links that you can go to, to deepen or broaden your search.
LAMB: Next one is various artists, silver of the 18th, 19th and 20th century. What’s this?
COLE: Yes. One of the things we wanted to do here was have the whole range of American art, not only the whole span of our art, but also painting and sculpture and the decorative arts. And this is a good illustration of the decorative arts. And you see three types of silver.
One of the pieces is a teapot by Revere very different than this. And that teapot has all sorts of classical forms to it, which allude to the early republic’s interest in classical architecture and the origins of democracy in Greece and Rome.
You can also learn a lot about tea, which was an important and valuable item in early American history. We all remember the Boston Tea Party.
You can learn a lot about silver. That’s the Revere pot that’s coming up there.
LAMB: How many of these have already been sent to schools?
COLE: There over 26,000 schools and public libraries will receive these. That’s not including the 20,000 Head Start centers, which will receive them, and all Department of Defense schools, as well.
And we’re very proud of this, because we had a three-month application window. And in that small window, we funded more grants, more awards than the endowment has totally in the last 20 years.
LAMB: Here’s Paul Revere again. What’s this?
COLE: Yes. This is Grant Woods’ ”Paul Revere’s Ride.” And it’s wonderful. I think this really appeals to young kids. There’s a kind of fairytale quality to it.
There are lots of things kids learn from this. They can learn about the ride, of course. They can learn about the great poem. But they can also learn about wood and regionalism, and the various styles of American 20th century art.
Each of these images is very rich and yields a lot through continual viewing. And one of the terrific things about this program is that kids will see this as they progress through school from kindergarten to 12th grade.
LAMB: The next one is a portrait that you can see, I believe over at the Portrait Gallery here in town. It’s the famous George Washington, Gilbert Stuart painting very familiar.
COLE: Right. That is the quintessential Washington portrait. And Gilbert Stuart, a very important early American artist, who spent some time in England.
And one of the things I like about that is, that to think about the challenges that presented for Stuart. Here was the president. How do you represent the president?
Well, there’s a long tradition of representing kings and nobility. But how do you represent a democratically-elected president?
And he did this wonderfully. It shows Washington speaking, the Federalist Papers and the proceedings of Congress are there, and an inkwell. It shows how this country is built on documents. And Washington appears as it was sort of a natural nobility rather than an aristocratic nobility.
LAMB: We’re going to try to show all 40 of them in this hour, so we move to Washington crossing the Delaware, from 1851.
COLE: Yes. One of the things you can do with this series is, you can break it down and this is done on our Web site and in the teacher’s resource book into various categories, you know, heroism, democracy, leadership and the like. And you can pick out these themes.
And this is a wonderful one for leadership. There is ”Washington Crossing the Delaware,” standing in his boat. And this was the wonderful victory at Trenton, and then at Princeton, which really re-energized the Continental Army. And that’s probably James Monroe holding the flag.
And you see Washington with his men not behind, but leading this charge. It’s this great moment of leadership.
And it was interesting it’s very interesting. People like to point out the inaccuracies in this, and there are a lot of them. But it is the great symbol, I think, of this tremendous crossing of the Delaware, and Washington and his soldiers’ bravery in their own
LAMB: What’s the correct way to pronounce it? Emanuel is it Leutze?
LAMB: Leutze. Are these all American artists, by the way?
COLE: Not all of them were born in America, but all of them worked in America. I think they could all be called American artists.
Yes, Leutze was born in Germany, came to the United States, went back to Germany to study.
LAMB: Hiram Powers’, Benjamin Franklin statue. Where is that located?
COLE: That’s in the Senate. And it was commissioned for the Senate. And it’s a wonderful, contemplative portrait of Franklin. And it’s got a lot of interesting things. It’s based on a classical model. Kids can see how that derived from the past. But it’s also reference to Franklin and his inventions.
And one of the interesting things, he leans against that tree trunk. And that tree trunk is split by lightning. So, it’s a wonderful entree into Franklin the inventor, Franklin the thinker.
LAMB: That was from 1862.
How much does each one of these packages and I’ve got one right here. As a matter of fact, just to show it. These are really heavy.
COLE: Yes. It weighs about 40 I think it weighs about 40 pounds. But it’s got all the reproductions in it. And it’s also got this really wonderful teacher’s resource guide here, which has great appropriate teaching, activities and amplification on each of the works and the artist. And then, all sorts of connections that the teachers can use to amplify.
LAMB: The next painting is Thomas Cole, and it’s called ”The Oxbow,” 1836.
COLE: Right. That’s a view of the Connecticut River. And it’s one of the things that we talk about is landscape, and the idea of landscape. And there you can see two kinds of landscape. On the right is land sort of a tamed landscape. You can see farms and little towns.
And on the right is the wilderness, that idea of untamed wilderness, the majesty of wilderness which so fascinated, and continues to fascinate Americans. There’s a little picture of you can see Cole there painting. But that’s a stormy, wild part of the painting, contrasted with the right, the sunny valley there of the Connecticut River, but already settled. And there’s a kind of a nostalgia there, that this is happening.
So, it’s a wonderful way to talk about the westward movement and the contrast between urbanization and the American wilderness.
LAMB: What age group is this best for?
COLE: It’s best I think it’s best for everyone. The teacher’s resource book is aimed at K through 12. I think it’s terrific for Head Start.
You know, we all learn I have grandkids who are just learning to read. How do they learn to read? They learn to read first by looking at pictures.
I think it’s good for adults who want to come back and refresh or learn more about American history.
And the Web site is a wonderful resource, not only for Picturing America, but for American art and American culture, as well.
LAMB: Next is N.C. Wyeth’s picture painting from 1919, cover illustration for ”The Last of the Mohicans.”
COLE: Yes, this is interesting for a number of reasons. First of all, it says something about the role of illustration in American art, which is very, very important, sometimes neglected. It gives an idea of what the idea was not often particularly accurate of American Indians.
It can be, of course, tied to Fenimore Cooper’s ”Last of the Mohicans.” There’s landscape in it, as well. So, it’s got it’s a very rich image.
You know, I think that’s important, because today, all of us, but especially our kids, are bombarded by so many images, and so many of them are really not of any substance.
And I had this wonderful experience last week of talking to kids in a College Gate school in Anchorage. And one of these kids I think it was probably a fifth grader said, you know, you look at these pictures, then you look inside of these pictures. And there’s this kind of dialogue between the pictures and the viewer that unfolds and becomes richer.
LAMB: What was the first year of the National Endowment for the Humanities?
LAMB: And how does this project fit in with all the projects they’ve done over the years?
COLE: We do an awfully lot in teaching of American history and culture. This is the largest program that the endowment has ever undertaken. And I feel, as chairman, it’s my job to reach every American citizen in every corner of every state.
LAMB: From 1838, this is John James Audubon. I assume the Audubon Society is named after him. It’s ”American Flamingo.”
Where is this hanging?
COLE: Well, this is from a book. I think there are four volumes, I think of about 400 prints. This particular one is in the National Gallery.
And Audubon set out to chronicle the wildlife, this wonderful, newly-found wildlife on the continent. And it’s really interesting, because, you know, kids can learn something about natural history from this, about Audubon. It’s an absolutely spectacular print.
Audubon liked to have all of his images life-size. Of course, he couldn’t do this. I think this thing stands about four-and-half, five feet tall. So what he did is, he bent it over, and you have that wonderful sinuous neck, as if the bird looks for fish. I think that’s a wonderful and kind of amusing image.
LAMB: And this is called Picturing America. And as you started up, you said it was a We The People project. When was that started?
COLE: It’s going to celebrate its sixth anniversary this September on Constitution Day. It was launched in the Rose Garden of the White House. I believe you were there, Brian.
LAMB: I know our cameras were there.
COLE: Yes. And it’s had over 1,500 separate projects that have reached every state.
LAMB: Of the $140 million, your budget, how much is this project that we’re talking about costing, total?
COLE: It doesn’t cost very much. It’s probably going to cost around $100 minus shipping for each of these packages, which I think is pretty economical.
LAMB: And what is this on the screen now?
COLE: This is George Catlin, the painting, chief of the Mandan Indians around Bismarck. Catlin was a wonderful artist who set out West to chronicle what was then beginning to be the vanishing of so many of these important tribes. There you see he’s painting the chief.
I don’t know whether this is really about the chief, or it’s really about Catlin, because you see Catlin there. He’s got this kind of spiffy attire, and what you see is he’s painting a portrait of the chief.
LAMB: Where is he in the portrait? Is he in there?
COLE: He’s there. Yes. He’s actually painting. And you can see he’s got is easel there. And he’s got this this easel, it looks like it’s made out a little bit like a teepee. And he’s got his palette there.
But here you can learn about Native Americans. You can learn about Catlin. You can learn about the relation between Native Americans and the land. And this is a very important element of American history.
LAMB: Now, the next one I’m a little suspicious about the next one, because it’s the Ohio state capital. And I wonder if that has anything to do with the fact that you’re from Cleveland, Ohio.
COLE: No. Well, maybe a little.
LAMB: And this is another Thomas Cole?
COLE: Yes. Well, it’s a Thomas Cole. A whole bunch of people there was a competition for this. I think this is really a splendid building. And you can talk about the importance of states and what’s important about state capitals. It’s really interesting, because you can see behind it what modern buildings look like and what modern cities look like, and you can contrast that.
But this is a really interesting, a kind of eccentric building. But what it shows is, it’s really a democratic building. And I think we have a wonderful architecture of democracy, from Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello to Montpelier, the capital.
And what you see here is a building very much influenced by Greece and Rome. These architects, these people in the state legislature were looking back, as the country was, to the origins of democracy in Greece and Rome, and they wanted to emulate it.
LAMB: What year was this built?
COLE: This was built over a long, long period of time, starting
LAMB: It says here 1838 to 1861?
COLE: Yes. It went in fits and starts.
LAMB: Is it still the capital?
COLE: Yes. I believe it’s still the capital, yes.
LAMB: The next one is George Caleb Bingham’s ”The County Election.” And this was 1852.
COLE: Yes. This is very topical. It shows this county election in Missouri. And it’s actually interesting, because this depicts an election that Bingham ran in and lost.
And it shows you the difference between elections today and elections then. And I’ve been in classrooms and heard kids talk about this. You don’t see any blacks voting. You don’t see any women voting. It’s all white men.
LAMB: Let me see if we can get a close-up of that. That may be up in the right-hand corner there, as you’re talking, so we can see some of these faces.
COLE: It also shows how they were voting. You can see that they had to swear that they didn’t vote before. And then they had to declare out loud who they were voting for. And Bingham’s opponent there is the kind of slightly smarmy guy tipping his hat and holding the next voter, his card.
There’s also it’s pretty much alcohol fueled, some of this. You can see they’re pouring out some kind of hard cider, or something like that.
And that’s Bingham himself, right there sitting, either drawing the scene with the top hat and the white coat either drawing the scene or tallying the votes. And you see this kind of rowdy democracy on the frontier.
But kids can really learn a lot, I think, about how voting has evolved, how our rights have evolved.
LAMB: We’re a long way from the end yet, but there are some 40 of these pieces of art. Before we get to the end, do you have a favorite? Have we gotten there yet?
COLE: You know, they’re all my favorites. I think I love the Selma to Montgomery march.
LAMB: We’ll get there in a moment. Here’s Albert Bierstadt, ”Looking Down Yosemite Valley, California,” 1865.
COLE: It’s interesting. That’s just at the end of the Civil War. And that’s, I think, a promise of something else westward expansion. Bierstadt was one of the first artists to go out West. And it’s just a magnificent kind of Garden of Eden view of Yosemite with El Capitan there on the right. I mean, that is the promise of, you know, Manifest Destiny and the Westward movement, unspoiled landscape, which is such an important part of the American psyche.
LAMB: What was your specialty? Or what is your specialty in art?
COLE: My specialty was Italian Renaissance art. But I’m very interested in American art now, obviously, through this 40-image Picturing America.
LAMB: What was your Ph.D. dissertation in?
COLE: It was about some really obscure artist of the late 14th century in Florence, who has since remained obscure.
LAMB: Did you really live in Florence for two years?
COLE: Yes, yes.
LAMB: What years?
COLE: I was there during the flood, ’64 to ’66.
LAMB: Next is Black Hawk. This is 1880 to 1881.
COLE: Yes, ”Sans Arc Lakota.”
These are really interesting. This is a part of a series of paintings done by Native Americans on ledger books or on pieces of paper with pencil and colored pencils that they used. And this shows two very interesting things.
The Crows are on the top of it. Those are actually the Lakotas’ enemies. And on the bottom, you can see a dance of the Black Hawk people. And it’s a wonderful record, beautifully painted, of Native American ritual and costume.
And Black Hawk actually may have died at Wounded Knee. That’s the last record of him.
LAMB: For those who might have tuned in late, recapture what you said earlier about what Picturing America is. You said a project by the National Endowment for the Humanities.
But what specifically is this project? And how can a teacher get this?
COLE: A teacher or a library can get his by going to our Web site, PictureInAmerica.neh.gov, or just Googling ”Picturing America.” There’s an easy online application. We want it in every public library and school in the United States.
LAMB: How much time do they have to apply?
COLE: October 31st. So, I would urge them to get online right now. And what it is, it sends 40 very large, high-quality reproductions of American art to improve our understanding of American art and culture in the most direct way, you know, through pictures.
You know, pictures are different than books or text. Books, kind of, the work is already done for you. But pictures are kind of an unfolding dialogue that really change every time you go back to them, because your experience has changed.
LAMB: Who are some of the other people who have been chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities?
COLE: Lynne Cheney, Bill Bennett, Bill Ferris. I’m the eighth chairman.
LAMB: And are you you’ve served the longest?
COLE: I’m the longest serving chairman, yes.
LAMB: We’ve got to keep moving on this.
LAMB: This is Winslow Homer, 1865.
COLE: Yes, end of the Civil War. It’s called ”The Veteran in a New Field.” But you see it’s not a new field. It’s actually a field of wheat.
This has many this is a complex image, which tells you a lot about the war. It tells you a lot about Winslow Homer.
This is a veteran, because you can’t make that out maybe from the TV but his Union uniform and cantina are to the right. And what he does is, he’s harvesting this wheat. And there are so many references there. So many battles of the Civil War took place in wheat fields.
He’s returned from the war. This is the promise of new promise of the future. But it’s also something about the great carnage in the past.
And one of the most interesting things is that he originally did that scythe with this three- or four-pronged end to it. And that was the modern way. That was the scythe of about 1865. But then he painted it over. And what he does is, he just has that single-bladed scythe, which reminds you of the Grim Reaper.
This is really rich and complex. So, it’s about life and the promise of new life. It’s also about death and the huge carnage after the war. And it is about the promise after the war, like Bierstadt’s.
And one of the things is, you can mix and match these. And I have been when I’ve seen this used in schools and libraries, I’ve just been bowled over by what the librarians and the teachers and principals bring to this.
LAMB: This is one that everybody’s probably seen. It’s Alexander Gardner’s Abraham Lincoln from 1865.
COLE: It’s terrific, because it’s about photography. This is obviously the first and one of the earliest of the famous photographs. You know, Lincoln said ”Brady made me president,” because he was the first president really to use the photographic images.
Before that, not many people knew what the president or the candidate looked like. This is taken about three months before his assassination. You can see the toll it has taken from him, how gaunt he is.
You had to sit very still, but he couldn’t. And if you look at his hands, you can see they’re blurred, as he fidgeted with his glasses. It’s really moving image.
You know, you can learn about this war, you can learn about Lincoln from books. But seeing that tells you something else. I mean, there’s a sense of mood and feeling that comes across that really is impossible anyplace else.
LAMB: The next one is 1884 to 1897, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Robert Gould Shaw and the 54 Regiment Memorial.
COLE: Yes. This goes very nicely with the Lincoln. This is Robert Gould Shaw, from a very prominent Boston family.
LAMB: Where is this, by the way?
COLE: This is in Boston, Boston Commons.
It’s huge. And it’s he raised this regiment. They were then called the colored troops. Frederick one of Frederick, I believe Frederick Douglass’ son was in this.
And they fought heroically at Fort Wagner, outside Charlotte, North Carolina, and were slaughtered along with Gould. And when the colored troops were raised, the Confederates said, you know, that they would any colored troop found in uniform would be enslaved, and any commander would be killed.
LAMB: Our next one, various artists, ”Quilts of the 19th and 20th Century.” What is your point of putting this in here?
COLE: Well, there are a number of points for this. First of all, quilting is an important part of American craft. It is very expressive. It also deals with an important part of our art that is made by women. And they’re varied crafts. There’s this crazy quilt made by African Americans. There’s actually a Hoosier quilt, which is the one right below it, and then Amish quilts.
And each of these quilts I think is expressive of the particular group that made it. There’s a tradition and pattern. And they’re really wonderful and lively examples of American craft.
LAMB: Thomas Eakins?
COLE: Thomas Eakins, yes. This is of a famous sculler. Biglin is his name. He was a kind of superstar of sports. It’s interesting, we’re just getting over the Olympics. It’s also watercolor. It said something about the important role of sport
LAMB: Do you know where this is hanging?
in American art.
This is in
LAMB: It’s hard to keep track of all of them.
COLE: You’ve got me. I think it’s in the National Gallery, but I’d have to
LAMB: 1873. And the next one
COLE: And I have to check. I wish I could remember all of them.
LAMB: The next one we have James McNeill Whistler, ”Harmony in Blue and Gold: The Peacock Room,” 1876 to 1877.
COLE: Yes. Well, this is here in Washington in the Freer. And that is one of the works that does not tell you directly, I think, about American art and history, but it does tell you something very important about art, sort of the Aesthetic Movement, you know, late 19th, early 20th century.
And it’s Whistler’s idea that this whole work of art, which was made for a room in the mansion of a London merchant has now come back to the United States. The idea that a whole room could be a work of art, and this high kind of aesthetic that Whistler represents.
LAMB: From 1890, John Singer Sargent’s ”Portrait of a Boy.” No, that’s we missed one here.
COLE: Yes, well, this is a Childe Hassam, Flag Day, 1917. This is a wonderful way to teach about the First World War, about the Allies. It’s on Fifth Avenue and 52nd Street, I believe. You can see the New York Athletic Club. It tells you something about urbanism. It tells you something, as I said, about the war and about the Allies.
And this is very important, because we need to be continually reminded of our past and what we’ve been through. And certainly, this war was a very important part of it.
LAMB: I guess John Singer Sargent, we missed it.
This is Walker Evans’, ”Brooklyn Bridge.”
COLE: Walker Evans was a very interesting photographer. I think he’s probably best known for ”Let Us Now Praise Famous Men,” this book he did with James Agee, about the Depression in the rural South.
But this, again but this is different than the Gardner photograph. This is about this is really an art photograph. And it’s about a wonderful structure, the Brooklyn Bridge, and about his dynamism and energy. It’s the use of a small photograph.
A lot of this is about landscape and about intervention. This is a good idea to talk about the Brooklyn Bridge and about urbanism, and about art, photography. And it’s a very exciting, very dynamic work.
LAMB: And I’ve got right here, you know, the huge case that these are in, as I showed earlier.
How heavy is this? Do you know?
COLE: It’s about 40 pounds.
LAMB: And how do you ship it to the libraries and schools?
COLE: I actually think it goes FedEx.
LAMB: And how long if somebody is anybody turned down for this?
COLE: Yes, there are a few people turned down. They’re just they’re simply not eligible for one reason or another.
LAMB: And you send more than one to a school?
COLE: No. One to a school.
LAMB: And they are
COLE: I’d like to be able to send more than one to a school, but we can’t.
LAMB: If you order one now, when you can expect to get it?
COLE: You will get it for the beginning of the next school year.
The ones that were in the first round of applications will be delivered in September.
LAMB: All right.
COLE: But there was also a pilot of 1,500 just in schools.
LAMB: This is ”Autumn Landscape?”
COLE: Yes. By Tiffany. This is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This talks about the role of stained glass. It also talks about this and that’s another landscape. You can talk about the Gilded Age through this. You can talk about the craft of stained glass.
This can be talked about in the category of landscape or creativity and ingenuity.
LAMB: Where is this?
COLE: It’s in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
LAMB: The next one is one I think that people will be very familiar with, ”The Boating Party,” 1893-1894. Familiar especially in Washington. You can buy this in postcards and
COLE: Yes. And it’s in the National Gallery. Well, we wanted to also highlight the role of women in art, the idea of Impressionism, the idea
LAMB: Who painted this?
COLE: This is Mary Cassatt. She was a Philadelphia artist who spent a lot of time in Paris. It’s really a charming scene. I like it. It’s also got a child in there.
You can talk about leisure time activities, about the role of the important role and the increasingly important role of women in art, about Impressionism. It’s also a wonderful way to study the formal properties of art, the way the perspective is sort of cut off there.
LAMB: Did you come up with this idea?
COLE: I got the idea to do this, but this was a team effort. People we have a lot of very bright people in the endowment. One of the people who really worked on this was a wonderful art historian named Barbara Bay. She works in the endowment.
But we had help from outside specialists, and lots and lots of consultation.
LAMB: Another Brooklyn Bridge?
COLE: Another Brooklyn Bridge, because it shows you another perspective, the way you can see two images in a different way. And this is Joseph Stella. And it’s also, this talks about the role of urbanism and the kind of excitement of the Brooklyn Bridge and New York City in the early 20th century.
But it also tells you something about the role of other art movements that have influenced American artists, such as futurism, for instance. But there’s a kind of dynamism and excitement a kind of reality you just don’t get from looking at the Brooklyn Bridge. He expresses it and kind of encapsulates its excitement and dynamism.
LAMB: We are not going to be able to show you, honestly, John Singer Sargent, portrait at least we can these are numbered, and it’s 12A. It’s a mystery why we can’t find it.
COLE: You can find it on the Web site.
LAMB: We will find it on the Web site, and we’ll stick in right here.
LAMB: And so, why don’t you talk just a little bit about it. Who was John Singer Sargent?
COLE: Well, John Singer Sargent was an American artist who spent a lot of time in Italy and Great Britain. He was a kind of the quintessential Gilded Age portrait painter.
And his portraits of was American, mainly sort of American upper class, people who are really notable monuments of the Gilded Age, but was also a wonderful landscape painter. I like his definition of a portrait. He said a portrait is a picture of someone, with something wrong about the mouth.
LAMB: Speaking of landscape, Charles Sheeler’s ”American Landscape.”
COLE: Yes, this is another thing. When we talked about the Bierstadt landscape, we talked about the Cole landscape, that this is a varying interpretation of landscape.
And he called this landscape. But, you know, it is really an industrial landscape. It’s the River Rouge plant in Detroit, the Ford Motor Company.
And you see a river. A river is so important in so many landscapes, but this is actually not a river. It’s a canal, and it’s kind of there’s only one small figure on the railroad track there. But it’s a beautiful kind of precisionist kind of homage to the industrialism and the plants and manufacturing.
LAMB: The Web site the best way to get to the Web site is what address?
COLE: You can Google ”Picturing America,” or you can go to PicturingAmerica.neh.gov. There’s a wonderful gallery. You can break it down by themes.
But I would like people to go to apply now. And you get a very easy online application and form.
LAMB: This is ”The Chrysler Building” in New York.
COLE: Yes, again, this can be broken down in many ways. It can be we can talk about ingenuity. And the skyscraper is really an American invention, and it says something about our optimism and our confidence in ourselves. It’s American technology, the steel frame and the elevator.
And this is a wonderful Art Deco building that says something about New York City. It says something about the Chrysler Building. There are wonderful anecdotes associated with this building.
LAMB: Was William Van Alen a photographer?
COLE: No. He was an architect. But he was the architect of this building.
LAMB: And by the way, in the end, of all these 40 that you chose, how many people were involved in choosing them? And did you have the final say?
COLE: Yes. But it was a real team effort. There were many people at the endowment, probably 30 people or so. And we got, of course, lots of all together, we got lots of outside help.
And, you know, I can tell you how we chose them, what the criteria were. We wanted the whole scope of American art. We wanted the highest quality. We wanted each picture to be rich and tell us something about a person or a place, or an event. And we wanted all the as many media as possible covered.
LAMB: This is Edward Hopper.
COLE: Yes, this is I’m a big fan of Hopper. He’s a complex guy. And this is, of course, a Victorian mansion, it looks kind of abandoned. You can talk about architecture and the development of housing in the United States. You can see this railroad track.
Often, Hopper Hopper has a kind of nostalgia for the past. There’s this great, seemingly abandoned, Victorian mansion, a railroad track, empty railroad track in front of it. You know, there’s a kind of nostalgia, a kind of loneliness in Hopper’s feeling, a real mood that you can derive from it, that you can’t, say, if you studied this from a book or, you know, a lecture.
LAMB: When did he die? Do you know?
COLE: Hopper died in
LAMB: You don’t have to have the exact date. Was it a number of years ago?
COLE: Yes. I think he died about 1975, but I have to go back.
LAMB: Here’s Frank Lloyd Wright, 1935 to ’39, called ”Fallingwater.”
COLE: Well, this is great, because you can compare this with the Hopper or the Ohio state capital. You can talk about landscape.
I mean, Wright is certainly one of our greatest architects. And I think he is the quintessential American architect. And this is a kind of modification of his prairie house. It’s sort of pinned down with this great hearth, which is considered the center of the house.
LAMB: Where is this?
COLE: This is in Fallingwater, Pennsylvania. It’s built over a waterfall. I think it was probably totally like many of Wright’s houses totally uninhabitable, because it’s so damp. But
LAMB: Is it a monument to him now?
COLE: I think all Wright’s buildings are a monument to him. But it’s interesting the way it’s integrated into the landscape over the waterfall. And Wright and Wright’s houses have been such a, kind of almost overwhelming influence on American domestic architecture.
And what I’d like for especially kids is to think about what their own environment is like, and what their own houses are like, and how they differ or how they might be influenced by something like this Wright ”Fallingwater.”
LAMB: And the next one is Jacob Lawrence, ”The Migration of the Negro Panel no. 57,” 1940 to 1941. What does that mean by ”Panel no. 57”?
COLE: Well, I think there were 60 panels, very small panels, in which Lawrence talked about the great migration from the South to the North. And I’m a huge fan of Lawrence.
And this is really a laundress in a commercial laundry. It’s this is a wonderful series, which is it’s about freedom and democracy and the struggle for equal rights. It starts off in the South, and then moves up to the North through the many panels.
And this, you can also talk about abstract art in this. But what you see there is a wonderful it’s not propaganda it’s a wonderful, monumental view of this, of this woman toiling away.
LAMB: We’re getting closer to our current age. This next one is 1964.
COLE: Romare Bearden.
LAMB: Romare Bearden, called ”The Dove.”
COLE: Yes. He’s a very interesting artist.
LAMB: Can we get some close I want to get some close-up of that, so we can see what it is.
COLE: This is, yes, 1964. This is, again, about a landscape, but this is an urban landscape. It’s Harlem. These are sort of photo montages that have been together, put together. You get the wonderful vibrancy of this streetlight.
He was also interested in jazz and composed jazz, and you get this kind of rhythm, I think, of jazz, which, obviously, is one of the most important, significant American art forms a kind of wonderful cacophony and vibrancy and life that you get from it. It’s very exciting.
LAMB: Did you know any of these artists and architects yourself?
COLE: I knew some of them, but this has been a real learning experience for me, too.
LAMB: But I mean, did you know them personally?
COLE: Oh, no.
LAMB: Any of them?
LAMB: Any of them still alive?
COLE: One. Martin Puryear is still alive.
LAMB: This is a famous one, Thomas Hart Benton’s, ”The Sources of Country Music.”
COLE: This is just a terrific this is in the Country Music Hall of Fame. It’s a huge mural. It was Benton’s last work.
Benton went out one day to look at it. I think he was interested in that locomotive, which may be the Wabash Cannonball. And he died. He died while he was working on this.
But, you know, it just pulsates so, this kind of one rhythm. You’ve got gospel singers in the upper left. You’ve got country musicians with the lap dulcimer on the left. You’ve got square dancing in the center.
And if they can move over just a little bit to the right, this is Tex Ritter, Jr. And he’s really the real star of this. We’ve got a steamboat. So, this is all about the various origins of country music, and it comes together in this wonderful rhythm that just pulsates from this.
I love Benton. Benton was an artist who really wanted to speak to every American, and sort of rejected the New York school, and moved out to Kansas City.
And, you know, like Rockwell, I mean, I think he’s just one of the most quintessential American artists. Although, you know, like Rockwell, he’s really indebted to the past and to lots of traditions.
LAMB: The ”Migrant Mother,” 1936 came from what artist?
COLE: This is Dorothea Lange. She was working for the Farm Security Administration. I mean, they were out there with a number of other photographers like Walker. And then
LAMB: This is a photograph.
COLE: This is a photograph. Yes. And this is a photograph, that it’s not really just a straight documentary photograph. It’s a photograph that was made to show the plight, really, of the migrant workers. And when you think of that, of course, you think of the Depression. It’s a wonderful teaching tool for that.
You think about the obviously, there’s the image of the Madonna that comes through with these kids. But it is really this sort of hard-scrabbled mother with these tattered clothes.
And this really was when this was this was a migrant pea pickers’ camp, and the peas had all frozen. And this photograph was published, and immediately, food was sent to this camp.
But these were a whole series of photographs meant to really illustrate the plight of the farmers in the Depression.
LAMB: And one of ”The Four Freedoms,” from Norman Rockwell. This is ”Freedom of Speech.”
COLE: Yes. This is just an iconic image. I’m a huge fan of Rockwell. I think Rockwell has gotten a bad rap, and for me he’s the, in many ways, the quintessential American artist, the artist that I speaks most directly to the American people.
This was taken from Franklin Roosevelt’s address to Congress, State of the Union in 1941, where he talked about the Four Freedoms. This is the Freedom of Speech.
And, you know, it’s wonderful. You just see it from below, so it’s this monumental figure of this working man in his tattered jacket, and you can see his hands. His hands are rough. He’s standing in a crowd with people wearing white shirts and ties. And it’s about his right as an individual to speak.
And this was in a period, of course this is a wonderful teaching tool when these rights were being threatened by forces that wanted to destroy and take away Americans’ rights.
LAMB: Here’s the one you mentioned earlier, the Selma to Montgomery march for voting rights, ’65 to in 1965. This is James Karales?
COLE: James Karales. He was a wonderful photographer.
I like the contrast with ”Washington Crossing the Delaware.” They both go from left to right. They’re both about the struggle to gain freedom. This is a struggle to fulfill freedom.
This is, I think, the second of these marches. But it’s wonderful. You see it from below the looming sky, the American flag. The people in the front look like soldiers. But, you know, they are really the foot soldiers of the civil rights movement.
I think this is a dramatic and moving episode that I think tells us just about as much about the courage of the civil rights marchers and the struggle to win freedom as any book or as any movie. It’s just a staggeringly, I think, gripping and moving photograph.
LAMB: We only have two left. Are you going to stay till your term ends
COLE: I hope I will, yes.
no matter who’s elected president?
COLE: I intend to, yes.
LAMB: So, that would be the end of 2009.
COLE: Yes, December 2009.
LAMB: And have you been on leave from Indiana University? Or is that
COLE: No, I’ve left Indiana University.
LAMB: All right. Two to go.
This is ”Cityscape 1.”
COLE: Yes. This is a Diebenkorn. Again, this is about landscape. This is about invention. This is about a very important aspect of American life. And this is developing urbanism.
And it is also about abstract painting. It’s about as close as we get to pure abstraction with these fields of colors. It’s wonderful. I think about it as California.
You see the urbanism encroaching on the landscape, on the right, the road separating. And then again, it just seems to me almost like the Bierstadt or the Cole you know, a reverence for nature, but a worry about the creeping urbanization and the role it plays in sort of losing that American idea of the importance of nature.
LAMB: Is Tom Cole any relation to you?
LAMB: This is the last one here.
COLE: Oh, he was born in Ohio, in Steubenville.
LAMB: This is the last one. I want to show it, because it’s, again, to give the audience a sense of how big these are. You get the light reflection there.
What is this?
COLE: Yes. This is Martin Puryear’s ”Ladder for Booker T. Washington,” 1996.
Now, we had to really be interesting, because this title was only given by Puryear, who is a living artist, born in 1941, after the work was done. So, it’s a wonderful kind of armature, I think, which people can build around.
And to me what this is, first of all, it’s wonderful craft. Many of these rails of the ladder come from Puryear’s farm (ph). He’s a wonderful artist, but he’s also a meticulous craftsman. And where you see the ladder, it’s about a foot and something at the very beginning and tapers up in this crooked, upward manner to about an inch at the top.
And Booker T. Washington’s autobiography was ”Up From Slavery.” This to me is about that struggle, about the and it doesn’t really reach the ground. You’ve got to jump up on this ladder.
And this is about the long and arduous struggle towards freedom. And that that ladder ascends in this crooked way, it actually goes up towards the light. And it’s a wonderful metaphor.
LAMB: We’re out of time, but for those that, again, tuned in late, Picturing America, this whole series, 40 different paintings, portraits, photographs, available to high school and K through 12. How do they get
COLE: And public libraries. We want it in every public library and school in the United States.
LAMB: You’ve sent out 26,000 already.
LAMB: How many do you expect to send out in the next round?
COLE: Well, I’d like to equal that, or better it. So, if you just go to PicturingAmerica.neh.gov, or just Google ”Picturing America,” they’ll get a wonderful overview of this. And they can apply for it.
And I would urge them to talk to their librarians and teachers and principals, neighbors, friends anybody because we want this wonderful program to be seen by every citizen in the United States.
LAMB: And the taxpayers pay for this, about $100 for this package, plus the shipping costs?
LAMB: One quick question, and we really are out of time. Is there one painting or one photograph that people are complaining to you about through this process that you didn’t include that you can think of?
COLE: Not really. Everybody would like to have another edition. These are our 40. I’d love to have the viewers think about their 40.
LAMB: Bruce Cole, chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, thank you very much.
COLE: Thank you, Brian.