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Sister Wendy's American Collection

Sister Wendy's American Collection

by Wendy Beckett, Associates Toby Eady

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Sister Wendy Beckett has been dubbed a "pop star" by the New York Times and "a phenomenon" by the Washington Post. She is certainly one of the world's best-known and best-loved art critics, familiar to millions from her wildly popular art series on PBS.

In Sister Wendy's American Collection, she visits six of America's most prestigious museums: the


Sister Wendy Beckett has been dubbed a "pop star" by the New York Times and "a phenomenon" by the Washington Post. She is certainly one of the world's best-known and best-loved art critics, familiar to millions from her wildly popular art series on PBS.

In Sister Wendy's American Collection, she visits six of America's most prestigious museums: the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York City), the Museum of Fine Arts (Boston, Massachusetts), the Art Institute of Chicago, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Kimbell Art Museum (Fort Worth, Texas), and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. In each, Sister Wendy chooses a wide variety of artpaintings, sculpture, porcelain figures-and draws attention to the small details of the work, revealing hidden meanings and symbolism. She relates the background of the artist and explains the techniques and the histories behind each work in a straightforward language that speaks to all with humor and insight.

More than 250 full-color illustrations illuminate Sister Wendy's text. Sister Wendy's American Collection is a wonderful tour of six great American museums -- it is also the equivalent of taking a personal tour with Sister Wendy, studying and enjoying her favorite pieces of art, chosen from across the whole breadth of history to the present. It is a fascinating journey, one that can be taken again and again. Sister Wendy's American Collection is soon to be a PBS miniseries.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Sister Wendy Beckett strikes again with this discussion of works in six of America's renowned art museums, singing high praise for her choices. The enthusiastic art critic includes a variety of media paintings, sculpture, decorative arts, armor, and other art objects and the individual works originate from a dizzying array of time periods and several countries. The main criterion Sister Wendy uses for selection (a daunting task since most of the museums possess over half a million pieces) is how the particular work moves her. She allots two pages to each piece, giving tidbits of information regarding its history and technique, some fun insights, and brief biographies of the artists. The text is readable and enjoyable. This entertaining introduction to some of the country's best museum holdings serves well as art appreciation and as a guide to the featured museums; the PBS series this spring will also increase interest. Recommended for public libraries. Jennifer Mayer, Univ. of Wyoming Libs., Laramie Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Sister Wendy Beckett, a contemplative nun and author, presents this companion to a PBS series of the same name airing in the spring of 2001. She focuses on six encyclopedic American museums: the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. She has selected about 150 works and addresses the style and meaning of each, and the cultural and historical contexts within which the artists existed from ancient civilizations throughout the 20th century. Attractively formatted and contains about 250 color illustrations. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
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8.50(w) x 10.87(h) x 0.86(d)

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A country that has few museums is both materially poor and spiritually poor. Poverty, whether spiritual or economic, leaves us enslaved to work—having it or wanting it—and in either case, without time or energy to look beyond the immediate. Museums, like theaters and libraries, are a means to freedom. Here, we can move out of our personal anxieties and disappointments into the vast and stable world of human creativity. Here are displayed for us—to delight and enlighten us—the most beautiful objects that our race ever fashioned: objects from all cultures and all centuries. We can touch on the essence of our human potential, and come to understand what we are and what we could become—but, of course, we must make a choice. Self-determining creatures that we are, do we whiz around a museum, intellectually absorbing a few facts? Or have we the courage and intelligence to encounter the extraordinary beauty that is displayed for us? To look—as opposed to merely seeing—takes time and concentration. It is most richly rewarded.

Nowhere in the world are the rewards as great, or the opportunities as many, as in the United States: it is a very rich country, and dense with museums. What makes this even more impressive is that these museums were created from the ground up, so to speak. Nearly all of the major European museums are fashioned around the remnants of princely magnificence: the Hermitage in St. Petersburg was the collection of the czar; the Louvre in Paris, that of the French royal family (and Napoleon); the Kunsthistorisches in Vienna, that of the emperor of Austria. In the United States, however,cities started from scratch. Granted, there was our modern equivalent of royalty-t-he millionaire citzen—but the very rich were inspired to their acts of generosity by a genuine belief in the importance of culture. Cities actively desired their museums; they were prepared to make sacrifices to get them; and where there was no prominent single donor of land, or art works, or money, they set to work to raise these things among themselves. Fourteen men and eleven women banded together in Minneapolis, for example, "to advance the knowledge and love of art": it took them thirty years, but the city received a fine museum. Sometimes we can tell from the museum's name that there was one preeminent benefactor: the Frick, the Guggenheim, the Whitney in New York, the High in Atlanta, the Getty in Los Angeles and Malibu, the Norton Simon in Pasadena. More often, though, museums resulted from a concerted civic effort, drawing in countless donors, large and small—and still drawing them, people still deeply involved with what is seen as an essential good for the community.

If no country is richer in museums than the United States, it is because no country is more aware of what they can mean, more eager to enter into its human inheritance, more sensitive to the enthralments of the beautiful and the historic. If America's history is relatively brief in comparison, say, to that of China or Egypt, it fully compensates by taking on board the gamut of racial history, from every continent, and recognizing that everyone has a claim to every history. We are what we are today because of "the past"—not our own private or personal past alone, but also the generic past. It is this enrapturing past that we encounter in a museum (and in a museum of contemporary art, it is the equally enrapturing present, and even future).

I must now confess that I wrote all this to enlist your sympathy. From so many great museums, how was I to choose six, since choosing more would spread the book too thin? I had to begin by setting some arbitrary limits. To begin with, I decided I would only consider encyclopedic museums: those that cast their nets widest. I wanted to look at "everything": from medals to monuments, from dresses to musical instruments; and from "everywhere": Africa, Indonesia, the Far East, Polynesia, South America. I wanted to be free to contemplate all times: from the very dawn of civilization to the present. This entailed, of course, giving up the glories of the National Gallery in Washington and the Museum of Modern Art in New York, two of the best known museums in the country; and it also meant that I could not get to see special interests of mine, such as the Corning Museum of Glass.

Encyclopedic museums abound, however, in this civilized land, and I needed another limiting factor. It came from the constraints of geography, especially since I knew that there was to be a television series of the book on PBS. (In fact, the entire idea originated with the Boston branch, WGBH.) I needed to cover the country. Some museums chose themselves: nobody could omit the Metropolitan in New York, or the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, or the Art Institute of Chicago, or the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. These are among the greatest museums in the world. There was, sadly, a downside to this. New York and Boston represented the East, but this part of the country has other great museums that now could not be included. If I went to the Metropolitan, I could not go to the Brooklyn Museum, with its immense holdings of Egyptian art and—a particular love of mine—exquisite masterpieces of late medieval painting. If I chose the M.F.A. at Boston, that ruled out the Fogg, the Sackler, the Isabella Stewart Gardner—the last being one that I dearly love.

The Midwest, which I hazily thought of as "all that land around the Lakes, and down," is also teeming with museums. Several museum directors altruistically recommended Toledo, and I suppose the museum there encapsulates perfectly what I find so praiseworthy in this country. Toledo is not one of the great cities, yet it raised for Itself a great museum. There Is also Kansas City, Missouri: the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Fine Art. If Mrs. Mary Atkins and Mr. William Rockhill Nelson provided the wherewithal, it was the museum's own inspired direction that raised this relatively small city in a relatively poor state to its present status. I always wanted to visit the Nelson-Atkins, but I also always wanted to visit the Cleveland Museum—and the geographical constraints meant that it was one or the other. I admire the Cleveland Museum so deeply that I cannot now afford to think of what I missed in Kansas City, or Detroit, or St. Louis, or Cincinnati, or Pittsburgh...

Meet the Author

Sister Wendy Beckett is a Carmelite nun and the popular host of a variety of BBC television series, including Sister Wendy's Odyssey,Sister Wendy's Grand tour, and The Story of Painting. She is rapidly becoming familiar to American audiences through her programs here on public television. She is the author of a number of books, including The Mystical Now: Art and the Sacred, A Children's Book of Prayer in Art, and The Gaze of Love. Born in South Africa, raised in Scotland, and educated at Oxford University, Sister Wendy currently resides in a hermitage in Norfolk, England.

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