The Peabody Institute Library’s Picturing America Series
Peabody Institute Library, Peabody, MA
Project Director: Kelley Unger
Target Audience: Adult
Library Size: 25,000–100,000
“The Peabody Institute Library’s Picturing America series not only provided the community with a chance to explore American art and history, but the series also encouraged participants to build a sense of community amongst themselves. After a Picturing America event, it was not uncommon to see audience members get together for coffee or lunch as an opportunity to continue their discussions and build on friendships made during classes.”
The Peabody Institute Library (PIL) presented a scholar-led lecture and discussion series that focused on American Art and History, targeting an audience of active, older adults in Peabody, Massachusetts, and its surrounding communities. Events included a seven-week series of lectures and two hands-on painting workshops. Featuring a broad representation of the Picturing America poster collection, lecture topics include early American portraits, silver craft, Civil War art, Black Hawk, John James Audubon, American Impressionism, African American Art, 1930s documentary photography, and Norman Rockwell.
Use of the Artwork
The entire PIL Picturing America lecture series was based on works from the Picturing America image collection, and the library also promoted the events with a public display of the most relevant prints in the library’s elevator lobby, along with information about upcoming Picturing America lectures and workshops. In addition, during the time of the display, the prints were included in the Peabody Institute Library’s Art Tour, which is given upon request and highlights the library’s eclectic art collection that includes works from John James Audubon’s Birds of America, Emile Gruppe, George Catlin, Charles Osgood, and others. Lectures in the series were directly inspired by the works of John Singleton Copley, Winslow Homer, John Singer Sargent, John James Audubon, Black Hawk, Jacob Lawrence, Romare Bearden, Dorothea Lange, and Norman Rockwell present in the Picturing America collection.
Programs and Ideas
Lecture: “Merchants, Ministers, Ladies, and Children: Portraits of Early Americans,” focusing on early American Portraits.
Lecture: “Silver in American Life.” This talk traced the developments of the American silver trade and craft industries, from the Colonial period to the 20th century, and discussed the silver objects selected for the NEH Picturing America poster series.
Lecture: "From ’Horrible Things’ to National Icons: American Impressionism.” The lecture explored American Impressionism, a style that has become so well-known and accepted, but was initially rejected by most artists and viewers. The presenter also addressed the role Boston played in the increasing American acceptance of impressionist technique, and how an international style came to be associated with expressions of national and local pride. Special emphasis was placed on North Shore (Massachusetts) painters.
Lecture: “The Birds of America by John James Audubon: Its Production and Conservation.” The Peabody Institute Library is fortunate to have in its collection a near complete set of the 435 hand colored life size prints which were contained in the four volumes of the great ornithological record “Birds of America.” The production of the oeuvre and the conservation of the individual prints in the Library collection were discussed.
Painting workshop: “Wildlife Painting in the Style of John James Audubon.” Workshop participants copied the print Passenger Pigeon using Audubon’s technique of making a detailed, life-size drawing using a grid, and then painting over the drawing with watercolors. In addition, participants visited the library’s historic Sutton Room to view the original Passenger Pigeon print from the Birds of America collection.
Lecture: “Winslow Homer’s Civil War Art,” discussing several of Homer’s Civil War paintings, such as The Bright Side, The Brush Harrow, Veteran in a New Field, and Prisoners from the Front.
Painting workshop: “Landscape Painting in the Style of Winslow Homer,” in which participants learned some of Homer’s painting techniques, and worked with acrylic paints to copy Homer’s Sunlight on the Coast.
Lecture: “Black Hawk’s Ledger Drawings: Images of Lakota Everyday Life and Spiritual World,” in which attendees learned about Native American ledger art as well as Lakota culture.
Lecture: “The African American Experience, 1940s–1960s, in the Art of Jacob Lawrence and Romare Bearden,” which focused on the visual expression of African Americans’ experiences with a focus on Lawrence’s Migration series of the 1940s to Bearden’s collages of street scenes in the 1960s.
Lecture: “Dorothea Lange and 1930’s Documentary Photography,” which explored Lange’s photography in the historical context of the period and also provided a closer look at how she made some of her most important images.
Lecture: “Norman Rockwell,” an illustrated talk explored Norman Rockwell’s experiences as a working illustrator, the artist’s creative and technical process, and the extensive body of work that became a defining national influence.
- Peabody Institute Library, Birds of America by John James Audubon
The Picturing America programs strengthened the library’s reputation not only as a destination for high-quality cultural programming, but also as a community center. As a result of the series’ enthusiastic reception, the library will continue to offer lecture series’ that focus on common topics, beginning with a 2011 lecture and discussion series that focuses on groundbreaking American poetry. The library’s hope is that these lectures will continue to provide participants with enrichment opportunities and also build a sense of community amongst program attendees. The Picturing America series also put the library in contact with a network of talented scholars who will likely be helpful in future event planning.