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“Growing Up” with American Encounters

Raphael Peale

On May 16th the last of the American Encounters exhibition series, The Simple Pleasures of Still Life, will open to the public. This exhibition is part of a four-year-long collaboration between Crystal Bridges; the High Museum in Atlanta, GA; The Terra Foundation for American Art in Chicago, IL; and the musée du Louvre in Paris, France. Each show brings together artworks from the partner institutions that are representative of a central theme. In looking back on the American Encounters series, I have noticed that the course of the series is in essence a history lesson in the development of the Exhibitions program at Crystal Bridges over the last three and a half years.

Trying to Figure it All Out header-encounter1 American Encounters: Thomas Cole and the Narrative Landscape, the first exhibition in the series, was only the second traveling exhibition ever installed at Crystal Bridges after the grand opening on November 11, 2011. It was also one of the first exhibitions that I ever worked on from start to finish. The show was installed in the upper level of our North Exhibition Galleries. Other than the original white wall paint, the paint that we used for this show was the first gallery paint ever used in the space. At the time, there was no Exhibitions Department. Planning exhibitions was a cooperative effort between curators, registrars, preparators, educators, and facilities staff. We were all very new to transitioning and designing our exhibition spaces, and this exhibition helped start us down the path to finding our style. Checklist:

  • Thomas Cole, The Cross in Wilderness, 1845 (Musée du Louvre)
  • Thomas Cole, Landscape with Figures: A Scene from ‘The Last of the Mohicans’, 1826 (Terra Foundation)
  • Thomas Cole, The Good Shepherd, 1848 (Crystal Bridges)
  • Thomas Cole, The Tempest, 1826 (High Museum of Art)
  • Asher B. Durand, View near Rutland, Vermont, 1837 (High Museum of Art)
  • Pierre-Antoine Patel the Younger, The Summer, 1699 (Musée du Louvre)

Still Learning american-encounters2 American Encounters: Genre Painting and Everyday Life, the second exhibition in the series, was like a friend coming back for a visit. We knew what to expect this time, and with the creation of the new Exhibitions Department, we had basic processes for design, production, and installation in place. Many of the elements from the year before returned (gallery location and marketing identity), but we made small changes to refine the functionality and look of the gallery. Exhibition planning had started to become a more comfortable idea for us.

Tait meets Gericault One of my fondest memories of this exhibition was receiving an image of our Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait The Life of a Hunter: A Tight Fix, 1856 rolling through the galleries of the Louvre on its way to be installed. Our painting was in the same room with Théodore Géricault’s The Raft of the Medusa, 1819!


  • Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait, The Life of a Hunter: A Tight Fix, 1856 (Crystal Bridges)
  • Eastman Johnson, Negro Life at the South, c.1870 (High Museum of Art)
  • George Henry Yewell, Self Defense, 1854 (High Museum of Art)
  • George Caleb Bingham, The Jolly Flatboatmen, 1877–78 (Terra Foundation)
  • Jan Steen, Festive Family Meal, 1674 (Musée du Louvre)
  • William Mulready, Train Up a Child, 1841/1853 (Musée du Louvre)

Trying New Things ae_3 American Encounters: Anglo-American Portraiture in an Era of Revolution, the third exhibition in the series, was presented much differently at Crystal Bridges that the previous two. First, we tried a different gallery space. Instead of the small top floor of the North Exhibition Gallery, we used the oval-shaped gallery space within our Colonial to Early Nineteenth-Century Gallery. Second, we took advantage of this larger space by presenting additional examples of portraiture within the Crystal Bridges collection alongside the magnificent portraits of the exhibition.  We also used two paint colors instead of one (reckless, I know!) and more complex designs for wall graphics and text. Our growing comfort level with American Encounters gave us the freedom to focus on more creative ways to present the works.

catalogue proofsThis iteration also challenged us to manage the production of the exhibition catalog for the first time. This responsibility moved between the partner institutions each year.


  • Attributed to Charles Willson Peale, George Washington after the Battle of Princeton, January 3, 1777, ca. 1779. (Palace of Versailles)
  • Gilbert Stuart, Portrait of Hugh Percy, Second Duke of Northumberland, ca. 1788 (High Museum of Art)
  • Sir Henry Raeburn, Lieutenant Robert Hay of Spott, ca. 1790-94 (Musée du Louvre)
  • Gilbert Stuart, George Washington (The Constable-Hamilton Portrait), 1797 (Crystal Bridges)
  • Rembrandt Peale, George Washington, Porthole Portrait, after 1824 (Terra Foundation)

Adding to the Experience

Raphael Peale "Corn and Cantaloupe,"

Raphael Peale
“Corn and Cantaloupe,” c. 1813

American Encounters: The Simple Pleasures of Still Life, the fourth and final exhibition in the series, has been incredibly fun to plan. There will be more works than usual (10 instead of the usual 5-6). We will be providing more content and immersive experiences. We have also had a little more fun with the gallery design. Most of all, this final exhibition is a reflection of all of the confidence we have developed in exhibition planning over the last three and a half years from our “teacher” American Encounters. Please join us in saying farewell to an incredibly valuable part of Crystal Bridges’ history by visiting and enjoying American Encounters: The Simple Pleasures of Still Life.

Here are some highlights:

  • Jean-Siméon Chardin, Pipes and Drinking Pitcher, 1737 (Musée du Louvre)
  • Raphaelle Peale, Corn and Cantaloupe, c. 1813 (Crystal Bridges)
  • William Sidney Mount, Fruit Piece: Apples on Tin Cups, 1864, (Terra Foundation)
  • William Michael Harnett, Still Life with Bust of Dante, 1883 (High Museum)

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