Work Title: A History of the Smithsonian American Art Museum: The Intersection of Art, Science, and Bureaucracy
Work Author(s): Lois Marie Fink
University of Massachusetts Press
248 pages, 38 illustrations, Hardcover $34.95
Reviewer: Aimee Houser
"Within a year after the nation's political center had moved to Washington." begins History of the Smithsonian, "when roads were still little more than paths through the trees, government buildings stood half-built, private housing was grossly inadequate, and no established water or sewage system existed---one resident declared that what the city really needed was a museum." Lois Marie Fink is research curator emerita of the Smithsonian American Art Museum and author of American Art at the Nineteenth-Century Paris Salons. A scholar and a twenty-three-year veteran of the Smithsonian, Fink ably pulls from the mundane details of her primary sources---memos, reports, plans---a robust narrative. Organized around major historical developments in the museum, each chapter provides an account of the vertiginous developments in what would eventually become, after more than a century, the Smithsonian American Art Museum. The narrative starts with private and governmental holdings from which the collection was originally derived, and a half a million dollar bequest from an Englishman who'd never seen America, John Smithson, in 1938. Then through fire, building changes, congressional wrangling, a legal case to establish one of several names for the museum, further bequests and behind-the-door manipulations, more...