Leo G Mazow discusses: “Edward Hopper’s Hotel Consciousness”

Portrait photo of Leo at VMFA, Feb. 2017

For our first lecture of the new “twenties,” January 22, 2020, we  hosted Dr. Leo Mazow, Louise B. and J. Harwood Cochrane Curator and Head of the Department of American Art at the Virginia Museum of Fine Art in Richmond.

He is a specialist in nineteenth-and twentieth-century American painting and cultural history.

Prior to joining the VMFA, Dr. Mazow was an art history professor at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville.  From 2002 through 2010 he was Curator of American Art at the Palmer Museum of Art at Penn State University.  While there he organized a number of critically acclaimed traveling exhibitions, all of which were accompanied by scholarly publications including:  Picturing the Banjo, Taxing Visions:  Financial Episodes in Late Nineteenth-Century American Art and Shallow Creek:  Thomas Hart Benton and the American Waterways.

His book Thomas Hart Benton and the American Sound was awarded the 2013 Eldredge Prize for Distinguished Scholarship in American Art, presented by the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Dr. Mazow received his BA from the University of Denver, his MA from the University of Colorado, Boulder and was awarded his Ph.D. at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

In 2015, he held a Paul Mellon Senior Visiting Fellowship at the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts at the National Gallery of Art, where he worked on his forthcoming book project: Hopper’s Hotels.

During our lecture, Dr. Mazow discussed his exhibit, Edward Hopper’s Hotel Consciousness, which ran during the winter of 2019 into February of 2020 at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, and actually allowed visitors to “check in” to fabricated rooms that replicated Hopper’s hotels, motels, tourist homes, and boarding houses.

Dr. Mazow is currently working on an upcoming exhibit,  The Art of the American Guitar.  He has a personal interest, since he plays the guitar with a band called the “Coverlets” that has performed in various museums including The National Gallery of Art, the Smithsonian and The Metropolitan Museum.

He did not bring his guitar to our stage, but maybe next time?  Many thanks to Dr. Mazow for a wonderful lecture!

(This lecture was organized by the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and supported in part by the Paul Mellon Endowment and the Jean Stafford Camp Memorial Fund.) 



CLAY S. JENKINSON brought history to the stage with, “Thomas Jefferson: Architect and Palladian Scholar”


Clay Jenkinson is a humanities scholar, author and social commentator who has devoted most of his professional career to public humanities programs and is considered one of the most entertaining public speakers in the United States.  His performances are always humorous, educational, thought provoking and enlightening, while maintaining a steady focus on ideas.  Jenkinson is widely regarded as one of the most articulate public speakers in the country and he brings a humanities perspective – partly learned as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University – to everything he does.


Clay is one of the nation’s leading interpreters of Thomas Jefferson.  He has lectured about and portrayed Jefferson in forty-nine states over a period of 20 years.  He also portrays Theodore Roosevelt, Meriwether Lewis, John Wesley Powell, J. and Robert Oppenheimer, hosts the nationally broadcast weekly radio program The Thomas Jefferson Hour, and it the author of such books as The Character of Meriwether Lewis-explorer in the Wilderness, Becoming Jefferson’s People:  Re-Inventing the American Republic in the Twenty-First Century, and Theodore Roosevelt in the Dakota Badlands.

He is the Director of Dakota Sky Education, Inc., Chief Consultant for the Theodore Roosevelt Center at Dickinson State University, and a consultant for the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library Foundation.

He lives in Bismark, North Dakota but can draw a breathtaking crowd in Virginia, a state somewhat partial to the man he brought to life in a conversation with the Chrysler Museum of Art’s Director, Erik Neil–

Thomas Jefferson himself.


IMG_5396Director Neil and Mister Jefferson took the stage on 20 November 2019 at Norfolk’s Harrison Opera house, with more than eight hundred Jefferson enthusiasts in attendance, for an unusually long (by NSA standards) “lecture” of seventy-five minutes, including a Q&A with Mister Jefferson after the talk.

We were honored to have Mr. Jenkinson in Norfolk with us, and many thanks go out to him, as well as the Virginia Opera, whose collaboration allowed us a larger venue for the event.

And a huge thanks to the Chrysler Museum of Art, where afterwards their special exhibit, “Thomas Jefferson, Architect:  Palladian Models, Democratic Principles, and the Conflict of Ideals,” running from October 2019 through January 2020, could be enjoyed by anyone interested in further study.

During his presentation, Mister Jefferson commented, looking out from the stage, that, had he known the crowd was to be so large, he might not have come.  He claimed he is shy.  It did not show.  His presentation and presence enthralled.

Many thanks, Clay Jenkinson. IMG_0083

And to our devoted NSA membership, whose support made this free and open to the public lecture possible.

Art Advisor CYNTHIA BRONSON ALTMAN presents: “A Reflection on Kykuit’s Collection and Gardens.”

In the 17th century, Dutch settlers named one particular hill, that stood four hundred feet above an expansive river, “Kykuit,” meaning “high point” or “lookout.”

That’s the name given to the Rockefeller Estate located on a wide sweep of the Hudson River known as the Tappan Zee in Pocantico Hills , New York, which was the country home for four generations of the Rockefeller family, beginning with the philanthropist John D. Rockefeller himself.

hhv, kykuit facade

Our 2019-20 season’s first speaker, Cynthia Bronson Altman, a graduate of Middlebury College in Vermont, has an M.A. in Art History specializing in Asian Art from Columbia University.  She served as the Curator of Collections at Kykuit for the Rockefeller Brothers Fund from 1991 until 2018, and privately for the Rockefeller family for several years prior.  She oversaw the conservation and care of their 20th century outdoor sculpture collections and fine and decorative arts within the house.

She has published and lectured on the history of the collections and gardens, and has arranged exhibitions at Pocantico and the Rockefeller University.  She has also advised on Curatorial issues for the National Trust at Philip Johnson’s Glass House and at Rockefeller University.

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Ms. Altman currently serves on the Nelson A. Rockefeller Empire State Plaza Art Commission and the exhibitions committee of the International Center for Photography.  She is a sustaining member of the Association of Professional Art Advisors.

And we were thrilled to welcome her to the stage at the Chrysler Museum of Art to kick off our season to a full house this past September 25th.



Journalist and author WILLIAM MIDDLETON, on “The Enlightened Patronage of John and Dominique de Menil”

blackwhite © Tim WalkerWilliam Middleton spent more than ten years researching and writing the story of two of the most influential yet intensely private collectors of the 20th Century, John and Dominique de Menil and his book, Double Vision:  The Unerring Eye of Art World Avatars Dominique and John de Menil  covers the joint biography of two family histories.

The scale of the de Menil collection is significant, over 15,000 works of art.  They collected everything from prehistoric to contemporary pieces.  And then they built a free museum so Houstonians, and, happily, the rest of us, could see it.

Mr Middleton is a journalist and editor who has worked in New York and Paris.  He has been the Fashion Features Director for Harper’s Bazaar and the Paris Bureau Chief for Fairchild Publications, overseeing W Magazine and Women’s Wear Daily.

He has written for The New York Times, The New York Times Magazine, Vogue, House & Garden, Esquire, Texas Monthly, Travel & Leisure, Departures, and The International Herald Tribune.

Middleton grew up in mid-century Kansas with, as he referred to them, “Creative Parents.”  They believed in the importance of traveling and took him with them from an early age.  On his first trip they went to the Kasbah in Tangiers where he was told that he needed to stick with their small group because American boys and girls were often kidnapped, and he remember thinking why can’t I just go to Disneyland like other children?

He is currently living in Paris and working on his next book on the life of Karl Lagerfeld.


IMG_5188 2We welcomed him to Norfolk as our MABEL BROWN LECTURER on 23 October, thoroughly enjoyed his fact and anectodote-filled talk, and likely wore his writing hand out afterwards at a book signing.  All best, Mr. Middleton!


Author DIDIER GHEZ charms us with a lecture on THE HIDDEN ART OF DISNEY

In the world of animation, anything is possible.  An ordinary pumpkin can be transformed into a splendid carriage.  Four mice can become the stallions transporting Cinderella to the ball.

Our children, our grandchildren, we have all experienced the incredible artistry and animation magic of Walt Disney Studios, but what of the illustrators who actually made that possible?

A page from Didier Ghez’s book, “The Hidden Art of Disney’s Golden Age.”

On May 6th, our speaker, Didier Ghez, an author, editor, Disney historian and Disney  History blogger with more than thirty books about the Disney Studio and its artists to his credit, entertained a full house with a lecture about exactly that, the artists!  Entitled, “They Drew as They Pleased:  the Hidden Art of Disney.”


“Hidden” in that many of the talented illustrators working for Disney through the years have gone unsung as simply cogs in the Disney magic.  They drew, it was a job, and yet their works are now parts of our collective childhood.

Mickey in “Through the Mirror,” released May 30, 1936. Story sketch, graphite and color pencil. Disney Studio Artist.

Ghez researches and rediscovers the individuals behind images we all know and love, and some we never saw because they did not make the screen.

Among Ghez’s publications are books titled Disney’s Grand Tour, Disneyland Paris:  from Sketch to Reality, and Walt’s People, a series  of twenty-two volumes released to date.

In his Hidden Art of Disney book series, the topic of our lecture, Ghez takes things by decade, beginning in the 1930’s when the Walt Disney Studios were formed.  He is currently working on the fifth book, “They Drew as They Pleased:  the Hidden Art of Disney’s Renaissance Era,” which deals with the 1970s and ’80s.

Ghez grew up in Paris.  And when Disney opened a theme park there in the eighties, it more than captivated him.  It inspired him towards what’s become a lifetime of research.  Today he is considered the leading historian of Walt Disney Studios.





He was honored at the 2018 “Annie Awards” with the International Animated Film Society’s June Foray Award for significant and benevolent impact on the art and industry of animation.



The significance of the joy he literally radiated from the stage during his lecture on 6 May can’t be overstated.  The whole house felt childlike and lighthearted as he spoke.

Outgoing NSA President Ann McCarthy with Ghez and his wife, Rita.

We lined up for a book signing afterwards, and then the sunshine in the Chrysler Museum of Art’s Huber Court during our fundraising luncheon in his honor could have been Disney magic itself!

Thank you, Mr. Ghez, for your inspiring visit.


FREDERICK ILCHMAN discusses “TINTORETTO: the Artist of Venice at 500”

Just a few days before our March lecture, a major exhibit of over fifty works of art by the Venetian artist Jacopo Tintoretto opened at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.  The exhibit, presented on the five hundredth anniversary of the artist’s birth, is the first retrospective of Tintoretto in North America.

Tintoretto AT
the Chrysler Museum of Art’s “Spring,” Jacopo Tintoretto ca. 1549


Along with Titian and Veronese, Tintoretto is considered one of the “big three” of sixteenth century painters.  Whereas the other two may be familiar names, Tintoretto is less familiar for perhaps two unfortunate reasons.  He worked on such a large scale, in general, that it’s difficult to move his paintings out of Venice.  And past scholarship has concluded that many works thought to be his were likely produced by assistants or imitators, resulting in a downgrade in his reputation.  Someone needed to rescue Tintoretto, and fortunately for us, Frederick Ilchman took up the cause.




Currently the Chair of Art of Europe and the Baker Curator of Paintings at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Dr. Ilchman has long been involved with Tintoretto.   Early in his career, he spent five years in Venice.   In a church in a quiet area of Venice, he found himself gazing up at forty-eight foot paintings and struck by their sheer power.  “This,” he recalls thinking, “is an artist with something to say.”

And so, as a graduate student at Columbia, Dr. Ilchman wrote his dissertation on Tintoretto.  He went on to be involved with a major exhibit of Tintoretto at the Prado in 2007, and was lead curator of a 2009 exhibition on Tintoretto, Titian and Veronese.

Now, along with his co-curator of the National Gallery exhibit, Robert Echols, Dr. Ilchman is widely considered the scholar responsible for a new and more accurate understanding of Tintoretto’s entire body of work and chronology.

He is also doing everything he can to save Tintoretto’s home town as chairman of Save Venice, an organization dedicated to conserving the art and architecture of a sinking city.

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The Chrysler’s own Chief Curator, Lloyd DeWitt, treated Mr. Ilchman to an insider’s tour after his lecture.

To a full house on Wednesday, March 27th, Dr. Ilchman proved himself a man “with something to say!”

Many thanks go out to him from our membership and the lucky audience present that day.


SUSAN J. RAWLES brought “Of Glitter and Grit: American Painting from the McGlothlin Collection” to us in February-

Traffic permitting, the Virginia Museum of Art is a quick trip up the road from Hampton Roads and, as is true of our own Chrysler Museum of Art, you don’t need a special exhibit to lure you into the car.

Instead, you can enjoy the particular pleasures of getting to know a permanent collection.  Visit, revisit, pick out favorites, pretend to own one.  It’s a nice feeling to have a relationship with a collection.

And Susan J. Rawles, Associate Curator of American Painting and Decorative Art at the VMFA, brought us exactly the glimpse we needed to lure us up the road during her lecture on February 27th.

VMFA George Bellows, “Tennis at Newport” 1920

The VMFA’s James W. and Frances Gibson McGlothlin Collection of American Art provides ample material to love- seventy-three works spanning a century from 1830 to 1930 and encompassing periods from the Hudson River School to Modernism.

Opened in November 2015 as a permanent installation, the collection was carefully and caringly assembled by a Virginia couple.   Their love of the American art scene and dedication to their community now provides all of us an opportunity to enjoy a broad collection of American masterworks right in our own backyard.  “Up the road.”

Photo: David Stover © Virginia Museum of Fine Arts August 2013 Dr. Susan J. Rawles has been the Assistant Curator of American Decorative Art at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts since 2008, serving previously as Research Associate for the American department from 1995. She received a PhD in American studies from the College of William and Mary, an MA in the history of art from Rice University, and a BA in economics and government from Smith College. A specialist in American material culture of the colonial and revolutionary periods, she is particularly interested in the socio-historical context of art and has written and lectured on topics ranging from colonial portraiture to period interiors. Part of the 2010 reinstallation team for VMFA’s American art galleries, she co-authored the accompanying publication, American Art at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (2010).




NICA GUTMAN RIEPPI discusses her hands-on experience with Leonardo’s SALVATOR MUNDI

There was a “little” story in the news last year…

Salvator Mundi attributed to Leonardo da Vinci
(Salvator Mundi by Leonardo da Vinci, photo: wikipedia.org)

… about a painting which, after decades lost to public view, resurfaced in the deep south and SUDDENLY – it’s attributed to Leonardo da Vinci himself.  One of only twenty known da Vinci’s anywhere in the world.

After attribution, it sold at auction for the astronomical amount of four hundred and fifty million dollars, the highest price ever achieved by a work of art at auction.  And the buyer, initially anonymous, was later identified as a Saudi Prince.

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The intended home of the painting was the new Louvre, Abu Dhabi.  A public display of the painting was scheduled for this past September, 2018.

That same month, the Department of Culture and Tourism of Abu Dhabi announced that the painting’s display would be indefinitely delayed, leaving the world abuzz with questions, theories, rumors, and a twinge of fear over the painting’s fate.

This is a story of Saudi princes, Russian billionaires, Instagram-posting former directors of renown art museums.

And restoration specialists, including our January 23rd, 2019 speaker, who helped bring solid science to bear on the re-discovery of the SALVATOR MUNDI, precipitating it’s eye-watering price at auction.


NICA GUTMAN RIEPPI is a Principal Investigator at the firm Art Analysis and Research, in New York City, with over twenty years experience in the field.  She holds a dual masters in art conservation and art history and has worked at world class institutions including the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

For twelve years, she was responsible for the technical analysis of old master paintings from the Samuel H. Kress Collection.

And she has taught art forensics for esteemed graduate programs, including the Institute of Fine Arts at NYU.

Her lecture for the Norfolk Society of Arts detailed the four years she spent, with a small team of other experts, using the latest art forensics technology to analyze raw data and amass information towards authentication of the SALVATOR MUNDI.

As she described that experience and very frankly answered questions after the talk, the audience were wrapt by the topic and also the impression Rieppi gave each of us, in just over an hour’s time, of a shared intimacy with the story and the painting itself.

Nica Gutman Rieppi took time for a tour after her lecture with her friend, Chrysler Museum of Art’s Conservator, Mark Lewis.

Rieppi brought into poignant clarity for our community the ongoing mystery of this masterpiece and its fate.

HEATHER LENZ discusses YAYOI KUSAMA and other adventures in filmmaking!

IMG_1444Art Historian and filmmaker HEATHER LENZ presented a lecture entitled “Kusama:  Connecting the Dots” on November 28th to a packed house.  Art and film enthusiasts and many students from local universities attended, well aware that Lenz’s film “Kusama:  Infinity,” about world renown modern artist, Yayoi Kusama, had premiered at the Sundance Film Festival earlier in the year to great acclaim.  Screenings began in select theaters in September 2018.

It was a long road getting to that point for Ms. Lenz.  She began working on the film seventeen years ago, when Kusama was an unrecognized name in the art world.

As a fine arts student at Kent State University, Ms. Lenz was introduced to Kusama’s work by one of her sculpture professors.  She was immediately drawn to it.  Later, after receiving an MFA in Cinematic Arts from the University of Southern California, Lenz’s thoughts turned to filmmaking.  The combination of film and Kusama was yet to come.

Lenz’s first short documentary, “Back to Back,” about a bicycle inventor, was nominated for a Student Academy Award and screened in film festivals worldwide.

Her first film, “Intertwined Lives,” was the story of identical twins.

She worked as a researcher for the History Chanel, the Food Network and PBS.

She never forgot Kusama, a complex, creative personality, and a perfect fit for Lenz’s desire to combine art and filmmaking, two things Lenz now knew well.  Except that’s where the perfect fit ended.  Kusama spoke no English, lived half way around the world, and most problematic of all, was an unknown name to investors in the film making world.

Fortunately for us, Ms. Lenz persevered and began a documentary on Kusama which took seventeen years to make.

Early in her work with Kusama, and well before Kusama’s meteoric rise to fame, Lenz travelled to Japan to meet her.  After spending a rousing few hours visiting with Kusama, young Heather said her thank you’s and goodbye’s and exclaimed, “This was the happiest day of my life!”

To which Kusama, then in her seventies, replied, “Mine, too.”

And happily for us, quite unexpectedly Ms. Lenz gave permission for the Norfolk Society of Arts to premiere her documentary film, “Kusama:  Infinity” on the evening after her lecture at Norfolk’s own Naro Expanded Cinema.

It was fully attended and enjoyed to rave reviews!

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Our thanks go out to Heather Lenz, and also to the Naro Expanded Cinema for a wonderful Kusama-filled event!


JED PERL, “The Finest American (Art) Critic at work today,” discusses ALEXANDER CALDER’s early years…

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The Norfolk Society of Arts was pleased to host Jed Perl as our October speaker.

Born in New York City to parents who were artistically and intellectually inclined, Perl went to museums and concerts and talked about ideas from an early age.

He drew and painted as a child and young adult.  But he also had early leaning towards critical writing.  In his words, he was always interested in the “intense experiences” that the arts, in all their forms, can provide.

He wrote movie reviews for his high school newspaper and art criticism for the Columbia Spectator at Columbia College where he attended as a student.

It comes as no surprise, then that Mr. Perl grew up to become what one reviewer at The Atlantic described as perhaps “the finest American critic at work today in any field.”

Mr. Perl began writing for The New Criterion in the early eighties and eventually became the art critic for The New Republic, a post he held for twenty years.  He was a contributing editor for Vogue for ten years and currently publishes regularly in the New York Review of Books.

He is a professor at the New School in NYC where he teaches and, very importantly, mentors young people interested in pursuing careers in the creative professions.

He has written several historical books including New Art City:  Manhattan art Mid-Century, which was a 2005 New York Times Notable Book.  He has also written several collections of criticism, as well as edited a nine hundred page anthology on art in America from 1945 to 1970.

Most notably for us, he just recently produced his first work of biography, the monumental first volume of Alexander Calder’s life, entitled, Calder:  The conquest of Time:  The Early Years:  1898-1940.

In her review of the book, the novelist Fran Lebowitz writes, “All artists are critics, but very few critics are artists.  Jed Perl is one of those few.”