Susan Stamberg

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Behind the scenes at major art museums, conservators are hard at work, keeping masterpieces looking their best. Their methods are meticulous — and sometimes surprising.

The painting conservation studio at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., is filled with priceless works sitting on row after row of tall wooden easels, or lying on big, white-topped worktables.

There's no rain in her clouds, no gray in her shadows; Maud Lewis' small paintings are bright with sunshine, and filled with blue skies, crystal snow and calm waters. Now, a new movie tells the true story of a painter from Nova Scotia whose joyful works hardly hint at the difficult life she led.

One hundred years ago Tuesday, in a working-poor neighborhood of Newport News, Va., a laundress and a shipyard worker had a baby girl. The father soon disappeared, and the mother and child moved north to New York. The mother died. The girl ran away and became one of the most important singers of the 20th century.

Ella Fitzgerald could sing anything: a silly novelty song, like her breakthrough hit, "A-Tisket, A-Tasket." A samba that scatted. A ballad, spooling out like satin.

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A big blue rooster has appeared on top of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. It's part of the museum's renovated East Building, which recently opened to the public with several new exhibitions — including a handful of pictures by the highly regarded German art photographer Thomas Struth.

In Paris, a really old dress has sold for more than $150,000. Now, if that sounds like an unreasonably high price tag, keep this in mind: The 1730s dress is in mint condition, it might have been worn at Versailles, and it was part of a fashion revolution.

Known as a robe volante — or flying dress — the long, luscious yellow brocade gown is patterned with silver thread. It's loose-cut, with soft pleats in the rear, a deep V in front and graceful flow-y sleeves.

Georgia O'Keeffe, Edward Hopper and George Bellows were very different artists, but they did have at least one thing in common: They all studied with painter William Merritt Chase. Now, the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C., is marking the centennial of the artist's death with a retrospective.

"You walk around these galleries and the paintings are gutsy and bold and scintillating and brilliant," says Dorothy Kosinski, director of the Phillips.

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When Louis XV, King of France, first met the woman who would become his chief mistress, she was dressed as a domino, and he was dressed as a plant. It was 1745, and Jeanne Antoinette Poisson, the pretty young woman who would become Marquise de Pompadour, had been invited to a masked ball at Versailles. If this sounds like a chance meeting, it wasn't — her family had been strategizing to orchestrate this very moment for years.

Los Angeles is a city of extremes: There are neighborhoods so luxurious only millionaires can afford them and neighborhoods so poor that residents work several jobs to pay the rent. Now, a young LA painter is bringing these neighborhoods together on his canvases.

You don't expect a bunch of 80-pluses to be working up a sweat, but at the Motion Picture and Television Fund gym, they do. An exercise instructor encourages them. "Squeeze your tush. ... Tushies, tushes, tushies. Squeeze your buns," she urges.

It's hard to imagine a more magical way to begin a museum visit than to step inside The Infinity Mirrored Room at The Broad Museum. Artist Yayoi Kusama has covered the walls, floor and ceiling with mirrors. LED lights hang from the ceiling and are reflected everywhere you look. The lights sometimes move with the closing of the door, and create a wonderland of infinite color.

The question of who is represented and who is left out is rocking the country these days, from Hollywood to politics. And, in Venice, Calif., representation is at the heart 19 dramatic portraits, now on display at the L.A. Louver.

The paintings are of talented female artists, all working right now in Los Angeles. Campbell felt women artists are over-looked, not getting shown in museums and galleries, becoming invisible.

One of the world's most precious volumes starts a tour on Monday, in Norman, Okla. The Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., is sending out William Shakespeare's First Folio to all 50 states to mark the 400th anniversary of the bard's death. Published seven years after he died, the First Folio is the first printed collection of all of Shakespeare's plays.

Just in time for the holiday travel season, the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum has an exhibit about one aspect of flying that most of us ignore: airport control towers. Those beacons of the landscape — where landings and takeoffs are orchestrated — are now the stars of some dramatic photographs.

Editor's note: For more years than we can remember, the Friday before Thanksgiving has meant that NPR's Susan Stamberg would try to sneak a notorious and, yes, weird family recipe into NPR's coverage. And 2015 is no exception. Here's Susan.

Smack in the middle of all the political clatter in Washington, D.C., stands a solitary, serene woman in a pale blue satin jacket, reading a letter. She's from the 17th century, and her visit marks an important anniversary for the National Gallery of Art.

She was painted by Dutch Master Johannes Vermeer around 1663. Twenty years ago, in 1995, the National Gallery put on the first Vermeer retrospective ever, featuring 22 of only some 35 Vermeers known to exist. The show was a hit — despite some pretty serious hurdles.

With sculptural swoops and sweeps and unusual materials, Frank Gehry changed the course of architecture. His creations, such as the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, and the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, created a new architectural language.

It might be considered nosey to thumb through someone else's little black address book, but that doesn't bother Mary Savig, curator of manuscripts at the Smithsonian Archives of American Art. "It is very nosey and that's why I really enjoy doing it," she says.

The "Little Black Books" of some major and minor American artists are currently on view in a show at the Archives of American Art in Washington, D.C.

In 1906, 16-year-old Yasuo Kuniyoshi came to the U.S. alone from Japan. He made his name as a painter and at 40 he was showing his work at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. But there was one thing Kuniyoshi longed for that he was always denied: American citizenship. In fact, he was classified as an "enemy alien" during World War II.

If you're planning to become an artist, here's one nice way to do it: be independently wealthy, easily pay your bills without needing to sell your own work, buy up the paintings of your marvelously talented friends, and then give their works to the nation. A little-known 19th-century artist named Gustave Caillebotte did just that, and there's a big show devoted to him at the National Gallery right now.

An artist has just converted a legendary piece of 19th-century art into an utter ruin. And two Smithsonian institutions — the Freer and Sackler galleries of Asian art — have given their blessings.

The Peacock Room at the Freer Gallery is an actual dining room from London, decorated by James McNeill Whistler in 1876. Its blue-green walls are covered with golden designs and painted peacocks. Gilded shelves hold priceless Asian ceramics. It's an expensive, lavish cocoon, rich in beauty with a dab of menace.

In New York City in the 1940s, painters Willem de Kooning and his wife, Elaine, were the people you wanted at your dinner party. He was inventing abstract expressionism. She, his former student, was part of that movement, but also painting landscapes and people.

Elaine de Kooning felt that making portraits was like falling in love — "painting a portrait is a concentration on one particular person and no one else will do," she said.

Art galleries are generally quiet, hushed spaces, but at the Los Angeles County Museum a show called Islamic Art Now is sparking some heated discussions as visitors ponder the photographs, paintings and neon sculptures on display.

Moroccan photographer Lalla Essaydi has covered every inch of a reclining odalisque with graceful Arabic calligraphy. The woman is staring right at us, and viewers wonder: Is the writing protection? A shield? Imprisonment?

The first president of National Public Radio has died. Don Quayle was 84 years old. He had a long career in public broadcasting — both television and radio. NPR's Susan Stamberg reflects on his impact.

Don Quayle gave me my first radio job. It was the early '60s and he was head of the Educational Radio Network — the precursor of NPR — a skinny little network of 12 East Coast stations that developed a daily drive-time news show. He hired me to help produce it. When this national network arose, he was an obvious choice to run it.

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