By National Portrait Gallery

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Art, biography, history and identity collide in this podcast from the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery. Join Director Kim Sajet as she chats with artists, historians, and thought leaders about the big and small ways that portraits shape our world.

Episode Date
Holiday Edition: Renée Fleming on Music’s Special Place

Operatic soprano Renée Fleming has been called ‘the people’s diva,’ performing at key moments in our nation’s story, like when she sang at ground zero after 9/11. For this special episode, she talks with Kim about how music can help us mourn, heal, and celebrate as we send off a particularly tough 2020 and nestle into the holidays. She also describes a few portraits that hold special meaning for her, because portraits are what we’re all about!

See the portraits we discuss:

Renée Fleming by Annie Leibovitz is here.

Denyce Graves and Marc Mostovoy by Nelson Shanks is here.

Leontyne Price by Bradley Phillips is here.

Special thanks to Dr. Lonnie Bunch, Secretary of the Smithsonian, and the Smithsonian National Board for making this podcast possible.

Dec 15, 2020
Self Made with Elle Johnson and Janine Sherman Barrois

Born just two years after the abolition of slavery, Madam C.J. Walker built a business empire by marketing her homemade haircare formula to the black community. Along the way, she became the United States’ first female self-made millionaire.

Our guests, Janine Sherman Barrois and Elle Johnson, helped bring Walker’s story to millions of viewers in the Netflix limited series, “Self Made.” They discuss Walker’s barrier-busting entrepreneurship, as well as her decision to use her own portrait as part of her brand.

See her trademark photograph here: https://npg.si.edu/object/npg_NPG.2008.20

Aug 04, 2020
Bataan's Boogaloo with Eduardo Díaz

We look at a black and white photograph that encapsulates a very American story— about the magic that can happen when you throw together people from different backgrounds and languages and… beats. The concoction that resulted is known as Latin Boogaloo.

Eduardo Díaz, director of the Smithsonian Latino Center, explains how one of the genre’s pioneers, Joe Bataan, got his degree in ‘streetology’ and went on to establish himself as the King of Latin Soul.

See the photo we discuss on our website:


Jul 21, 2020
The Rockefeller Pose with LL Cool J and Richard Ormond

The sitter was rapper LL Cool J. The artist was Kehinde Wiley, who's made a name for himself by portraying African American men and women in regal poses taken from art history.

In this episode, LL Cool J recounts what happened when they met, and why he turned to a 100-year-old masterpiece depicting the richest person in modern history-- John D. Rockefeller Sr.-- for his power pose. He also discusses how portraits can help build new paradigms in the face of systemic racism.

Stepping in to complete the picture, art historian Richard Ormond draws a line from a gilded age of luxury and elegance to a celebration of hip hop royalty.

See the paintings we discuss here:


Jul 07, 2020
Getting Real with Robert McCurdy

As a portrait artist, Robert McCurdy has painted some of the most famous and visionary people of our time-- the Dalai Lama, Nelson Mandela, Toni Morrison. But first he tells them, "It's not about you."

The goal, he says, is to create a photorealistic image with no expression and no implied past or future, so the viewer and the subject can simply encounter one another. The true subject, he says, is the gaze.

See the portraits we discuss on our website: https://npg.si.edu/podcasts/robert-mccurdy-portraits

Jun 23, 2020
Seeing Truth with Gwendolyn Shaw

After 'walking away' from slavery, abolitionist Sojourner Truth chose her own name, told her own story at speaking engagements, and sued for her young son's freedom. (She won.) The Gallery’s senior historian, Gwendolyn DuBois Shaw, says there’s something else she took control of— her portrait.

You can see the carte de visite we discuss here: https://npg.si.edu/object/npg_NPG.79.209

Jun 09, 2020
Painting Through a President's Assassination, with Brandon Fortune

It commands attention among the more sober portraits in the Presidents’ gallery, interrupting a room of men in dark suits with an explosion of green and gold. Chief curator Brandon Fortune recounts the tragic backstory behind this standout portrait of President John F. Kennedy by one of the few women who gained a foothold in the abstract expressionist movement— Elaine de Kooning.

You can see de Kooning’s remarkable painting on our website:


May 26, 2020
Focusing on Ruben Salazar, with Taína Caragol

Ruben Salazar was one of the first Latinx journalists to rise through the ranks of a major U.S. newspaper. Initially, he was careful to avoid being pigeonholed as a reporter on minority issues, but eventually he became known for digging into stories about police brutality and racial profiling— subjects also championed by the Chicano Movement. Curator Taína Caragol takes us through his life, frame by frame, and explains why some call him a martyr.

See the portraits we talk about on our website:


May 12, 2020
Growing Younger with Harriet Tubman

Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden and film director Kasi Lemmons love Harriet Tubman, but they weren't in love with her portrait as an older woman in a heavy dark dress. Then Hayden got a call.

See the photographs we talk about here:


Apr 28, 2020
Close Looking with Briana Zavadil White

In the first of our ‘social distancing’ episodes, educator Briana Zavadil White takes us to stand in front of one of her favorite paintings at the National Portrait Gallery. It commemorates a brutal boxing match that was fought 100 years ago, but Briana brings it alive… from the sound of the bell, to the smell of popcorn, to the sweltering heat.

See the portraits discussed on our website:


Apr 14, 2020
Removing the Sting with Will Rogers

Long before Coronavirus upended our lives, Will Rogers saw the United States through another difficult and divisive time. The good-humored cowboy is perhaps best remembered for his movies, but he was also a prolific social commentator who managed to cross divides with his comedic wit… and also advocated for those hardest hit by the Great Depression.

Check out the portraits we discussed on our website!


Mar 31, 2020
Season 2 Trailer

Why was it so startling to find a photograph of Harriet Tubman as a young woman? Why did Elaine de Kooning stop painting after the assassination of John F. Kennedy? We offer a series of virtual visits to the National Portrait Gallery for all our listeners forced to hunker down during the coronavirus pandemic. Join museum director Kim Sajet as she chats with curators and educators about their favorite portraits and the remarkable stories behind the art, starting March 31.

Mar 24, 2020
Crossing the Border with Hugo Crosthwaite

Hugo Crosthwaite, winner of the 2019 Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition, traces his artistic influences to his parents' curio shop in Tijuana, where statues of Aztec gods co-existed with Bart Simpson. Fast-forward to his winning entry, and he walks us through the first scene of his stunning stop-motion drawing animation about a woman who crosses the border from Mexico into the United States.

You can see Hugo’s video at this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JJcmmWaW0nY&feature=youtu.be

Check out earlier episodes plus the images we discussed at our website: https://npg.si.edu/podcasts

Nov 05, 2019
Civil War Spies with Ann Shumard

Ann Shumard, the Gallery's senior curator of photographs, narrates the stories of Rose O'Neal
Greenhow and Belle Boyd-- Civil War spies whose images were circulated in a popular photographic format called a carte de visite.

Check out the portraits we discussed in this episode on our website: https://npg.si.edu/podcasts/behind-enemy-lines

Oct 22, 2019
In Memoriam: Cokie Roberts

It wasn’t long after Cokie Roberts came on Portraits that we learned the sad news of her passing, on Sept. 17. We quickly realized we has a ton of great material from our interview with her on First Ladies that never made it into the final edition. So this episode we reprise some of those special moments from the cutting room floor— where her smarts, her compassion, and her moxie are on full display.

Find our original interview with Cokie at our website: https://npg.si.edu/podcasts

Oct 08, 2019
Speaking with the Secretary

Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution Lonnie Bunch says a portrait can restore humanity, as in the case of Henrietta Lacks. She's the woman whose 'immortal' cells were taken without her knowledge and then used to pioneer important medical advances. Bunch, a scholar of American history, also describes images of one of his favorite presidents, Lyndon B. Johnson. As a lawmaker, Johnson had a 20-year record of voting against civil rights. Then he became a force for racial justice.

Check out the images we discuss on our website: https://npg.si.edu/podcasts/speaking-secretary

Sep 24, 2019
Remembering Marian Anderson with Leslie Ureña

Classical vocalist Marian Anderson became a civil rights icon in 1939 when she sang before 75,000 spectators at the Lincoln Memorial — a concert organized after she was barred from singing at Constitution Hall because of her race. But curator Leslie Ureña wants people to know there’s much more to her story than a single performance.. including a pretty good pancake recipe.

Check out the portraits we discuss on our website: https://npg.si.edu/podcasts/remembering-marian-anderson

Sep 10, 2019
Firsts with Cokie Roberts

Journalist Cokie Roberts laments the fact that Martha Washington’s portrait depicts her as an old lady. Perhaps if it had been painted sooner, when Washington was young and vivacious, we’d have an easier time remembering her as the trailblazing, politically engaged woman she was. Roberts describes four portraits of First Ladies, outlining their bold contributions and the challenges that come with the job.

You can see the portraits we discuss on our website: https://npg.si.edu/podcasts/firsts

Aug 27, 2019
Discovering Pocahontas with Paul Chaat Smith

If the 1995 animated Disney film is your guide, Pocahontas was a free-spirited Native American heroine who sang to the wind. So why is she dressed like European royalty in her painting at the National Portrait Gallery? Curator and author Paul Chaat Smith separates out what we know and what we think we know about this iconic figure.

Check out the portraits we discuss on our website: https://npg.si.edu/podcasts/pondering-pocahontas

Aug 13, 2019
Underwater with Julie Packard and Hope Gangloff

Julie Packard is a leading ocean conservationist, so when the National Portrait Gallery approached her to sit for a portrait, she had one request: She wanted to work with an artist who could paint water. That artist, it turns out, is Hope Gangloff. Kim talks to both women on the day of the portrait's unveiling for a behind-the-scenes account of what it's like when the Gallery is your matchmaker.

Check out Hope’s portrait of Julie on our website: https://npg.si.edu/podcasts/underwater

Jul 30, 2019
On the Beat with Wendy MacNaughton

You might see her leaning against a building on the street, or sitting across from you on your morning commute, pad in hand. Or, you might not have noticed her at all. Wendy talks about her 'drawn journalism' -- sketches and snippets of conversation that convey little slices of life, and connect us to bigger stories in the news.

Check out the illustrations we discussed on our website: https://npg.si.edu/podcasts/on-beat

Jul 16, 2019
Loving with Sheryll Cashin

When author Sheryll Cashin looks at a photograph of Mildred Loving, she doesn't just see a woman who went to the Supreme Court to strike down a ban on interracial marriage. She sees a complicated person, struggling herself with questions of race and identity. Cashin puts Loving's life in historical and geographical
context, and also discusses another of her favorite portraits in the Gallery.

See the portraits we discussed with Sheryll at our website: https://npg.si.edu/podcasts/loving

Jul 02, 2019
Lopsided with Jill Lepore

If you were a man with property in the 19th century, there's a good chance you sat for a portrait at some point. If you were an enslaved person, a Native American, or an immigrant, there's a good chance you did not. Jill Lepore addresses this lopsidedness, or asymmetry, of history as she shares her own efforts to excavate the stories of people overlooked in the official account. Sometimes this means tracking down a portrait.

You can see the portraits we discussed with Jill at our website: https://npg.si.edu/podcasts/lepore

Jun 17, 2019
Coming Soon: Portraits

Art, biography, history and identity collide in this podcast from the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, launching on June 18, 2019. Join Director Kim Sajet as she chats with artists, historians, and thought leaders about the big and small ways that portraits shape our world. Subscribe now!

Find the portraits we discuss at our website: https://npg.si.edu/podcasts

Jun 04, 2019