NMWA @ Home: Creative Coping with Christina Knowles and Lori Brubaker Morales

As NMWA remains temporarily closed due to COVID-19, along with other museums and cultural institutions around the world, we’ve been diligently working to bring the museum to you at home. In this series, we’ll check in with NMWA staff in their own homes for a personal look at the creative ways they’re staying connected, inspired, and grounded.

Do you have recommendations? Let us know in the comments below or share on social media @WomenInTheArts!

Christina Knowles, director of development, annual giving, and membership

Renewing: Time seems to be standing still, yet the view from my window tells me otherwise. Nature is generously reminding me that a new season is just ahead. The green nubs along my front walk have unfurled into buoyant Hostas, tempting the deer that call our street home. My favorite blended Camellia tree has almost run its cycle with chipmunks gathering up the pink petals and feasting on them like cotton candy.

Camellia flower; Photo by Christina Knowles

Observing: The season unfolding is a daily meditation in seeing. Taking inspiration from Maria Sibylla Merian, I strive to hone the discipline of an observant eye and share her reverence for the magnificent architecture of the natural world. I strongly recommend her book Chrysalis: Maria Sibylla Merian and the Secrets of Metamorphosis.

Reading: As someone who appreciates a hand-written letter, I enjoy absorbing history through the intimate lens of individuals who put pen to paper. Letters of the Century: America 1900–1999 includes letters from inspiring women like Elaine de Kooning, Amelia Earhart, and Georgia O’Keeffe. O’Keeffe writes to art critic and friend Henry McBride, “The daylight is coming Henry McBride—I am going up on the roof and watch it come—we do such things here without being thought crazy—it is nice—isn’t it.”

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Lori Brubaker Morales, director of special events

Reflecting: For the first time in ages, I am in tune with spring. I recall being a young girl skipping home from school with the warm sun on my face, the birds chirping in the trees, the smell of the earth waking from winter. I was a child without a care in the world. Creation is speaking to me again. These memories remind me of a favorite poem by Emily Dickinson, “I have a Bird in spring.” I have rediscovered the beauty in her words.

Learning: Artist Rosa Bonheur’s powerful work is a favorite. Over the last weeks, I have read about her life. Like us, she was social distancing. At ten years old, she endured the cholera epidemic that swept through France—with no technology or modern conveniences. Surely, the struggle was great.

Rosa Bonheur, Sheep by the Sea, 1865; Oil on cradled panel, 12 3/4 x 18 in.; NMWA, Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay

Creating: Recently, I decided to bring out favorite dishes made by my mom and grandmothers. From my mom’s recipe file, I made her refreshing mandarin salad with sesame dressing, and from Grandma Brubakers’s catalog, I cooked up her famous Pennsylvania Dutch spare ribs with sauerkraut.

Energizing: Having loaded up on enough comfort foods and television for a lifetime, I designed my own dance-based exercise routine. If anyone saw me they’d laugh, but I am having fun dancing to Ella Fitzgerald, David Bowie, Aretha Franklin, Blondie, and Heart, just to name a few! As David Bowie sings, “Let’s dance!”

NMWA @ Home: Creative Coping with Carolyn Higgins and Fiona McNally

As NMWA remains temporarily closed due to COVID-19, along with other museums and cultural institutions around the world, we’ve been diligently working to bring the museum to you at home. In this series, we’ll check in with NMWA staff in their own homes for a personal look at the creative ways they’re staying connected, inspired, and grounded.

Do you have recommendations? Let us know in the comments below or share on social media @WomenInTheArts!

Carolyn Higgins, senior membership manager

Reading: Along with Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles, I’m reading several historical biographies, from Rodin to Queen Victoria. And I now have time to enjoy all the magazines I subscribe to: Bon Appétit, Martha Stewart Living, and National Geographic!

Creating: I love adult paint-by-numbers. They take time, but are very calming.

Carolyn Higgins channels the floral still-lifes of Rachel Ruysch and Clara Peeters in her paint-by-numbers piece

Cooking: My mother and sister taught me to cook, and since we can’t be together physically, we’ve been calling to talk about what we’re making. It’s so therapeutic. I’m experimenting with new recipes, including bread and sweets, to share when friends “social distance visit” through the window.

Listening: I’ve been dancing around my apartment to Lady Gaga and Beyoncé—they’re like coworkers now. I also do calming guided mediations with jellyfish via Monterey Bay Aquarium’s YouTube channel.

Inspiration: I’m using this time to check in with longtime museum Charter Members. These calls are so uplifting. NMWA @ Home has also been helpful. I look forward to “Art Fix Friday” to see what women in the arts are doing around the world. And I love examining floral works in the museum’s online collection, from Alma Thomas to Amy Lamb. There are so many amazing details in Rachel Ruysch’s paintings. Try to count the bugs!

Maintaining Perspective: My 92-year-old grandmother and I speak regularly. She has survived so much in her long life. While she says this is the craziest thing she’s experienced, she remains in great spirits and reassures me that we will get through this even stronger.

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Fiona McNally, development officer, events and partnerships

Reading and Watching: A friend started a virtual “Quarantine Book Club.” We’re reading Elizabeth Wetmore’s first novel Valentine. I’m finishing Sally Rooney’s Normal People and eagerly anticipate its upcoming TV adaptation. I’m also enjoying Hulu’s mini-series based on Celeste Ng’s wonderful book Little Fires Everywhere. Otherwise, I limit my TV viewing to comedies like Curb Your Enthusiasm and Schitt’s Creek.

Making: Cooking is my escape. I’m following recipes from Alison Roman and another favorite home-chef, Smitten Kitchen’s Deb Perelman.

Fiona Murray’s “Lemony Tumeric Tea Cake”; Recipe by Alison Roman

Supporting: It’s inspiring to see museums, performing arts organizations, and nonprofit institutions creatively engage with supporters digitally, even as they’ve had to cancel exhibitions, conferences, or entire performance seasons. I’ve been able to donate to D.C.’s Arena Stage and Kennedy Center, West Virginia’s Contemporary American Theater Festival, and Rhode Island’s Highlander Institute, and hopefully those who are able will consider extending contributions to the organizations they care about.

Maintaining Perspective: I’m reaching out to loved ones across the country. Some have had to postpone weddings, change birth plans, or quarantine solo. I can’t wait to see people again—not just loved ones, but strangers on the bus, fellow movie theater-goers, and everyone at D.C.’s music venues. There’s much to look forward to when this ends.

NMWA @ Home: Creative Coping with Melani N. Douglass and Orin Zahra

As NMWA remains temporarily closed due to COVID-19, along with other museums and cultural institutions around the world, we’ve been diligently working to bring the museum to you at home. In this series, we’ll check in with NMWA staff in their own homes for a personal look at the creative ways they’re staying connected, inspired, and grounded.

Do you have extra suggestions or recommendations for us? Let us know in the comments below or share on social media @WomenInTheArts!

Melani N. Douglass, director of public programs

Reading: I find comfort in books. I’ll have a recipe, poetry, research book, and a magazine going at the same time, plus a book that I read with my daughter. I also have books that are always in rotation—my staples.

Melani N. Douglass’s quarantine reading collection; Photo by Melani N. Douglass

The staples: These are always on the shelf, ready to add to any mental meal. Anything by J. California Cooper, Octavia Butler, Queen Afua, Twyla Tharp; Aperture magazine’s Vision & Justice issue, edited by Sarah Lewis; Eat Yourself Sexy by Lauren Von Der Pool; Rituals & Celebrations by B. Smith; You Should Have Been Here Yesterday by Elaine Eff

On the stove: What am I cooking with right now? High on the Hog by Jessica B. Harris; A Bound Woman is a Dangerous Thing by DaMaris B. Hill; Children of Virtue and Vengeance by Tomi Adeyemi

On the menu: What am I looking forward to? MFON: Women Photographers of the African Diaspora; Ageless Vegan by Tracye and Mary McQuirter; Religion in the Kitchen by Elizabeth Pérez; Building Houses Out of Chicken Legs by Psyche A. Williams-Forson.

Exploring: I am in love with Colette Fu’s pop-up art books. The world’s current situation feels like a series of pop-up books with all kinds of characters, events, and dynamics unfolding in real time. Social media allows each person’s life, thoughts, and experiences to pop open, providing commentary and revealing much about the human condition. I especially enjoy Fu’s works Ashima, Stone Mountain and Dai Food from the series “We are Tiger Dragon People,” 2008–14.

Centering: Our mornings begin with Ama Chandra’s sound bath meditation on Facebook Live. Twice a week we take free Instagram Live dance classes with @therealDebbieAllen. After my little one is asleep, I join @ErykahBadu’s Quarantine Concert Series.

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Orin Zahra, assistant curator

Reading: The exhibition catalogue for Indian Ocean Current: Six Artistic Narratives, a show at the McMullen Museum of Art at Boston College that I was hoping to catch this spring. The exhibition showcases six contemporary artists with deep ties to the lands surrounding the Indian Ocean. These days, questions about relationships between humans, our territorial borders, and the planet seem all the more potent.

Exploring: I’ve enjoyed exploring online exhibitions and taking tours of landmarks and monuments abroad through Google Arts and Culture. In a time where physical travel has become impossible, virtually walking through Agra to see the Taj Mahal or the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles is a welcome escape.

Touring landmarks and monuments in NMWA’s collection is possible, too, with Candida Höfer’s The Palazzo Zenobio Venezia III, 2003; Chromogenic color print, 60 7/8 x 60 7/8 in.; NMWA, Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection; © 2003 Candida Höfer/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn; Photo by Lee Stalsworth

Making: My family and I have been cooking up a storm, trying new recipes, getting creative with what’s on hand, and enjoying our meal times together.

Remembering: I have been reorganizing old photographs, which makes for many fun trips down memory lane—and laughing at the hairstyles of bygone days.

NMWA @ Home: Creative Coping with Lynora Williams and Adrienne Poon

A photograph of an in-progress, hand-stitched quilt, made from bright, vibrant colors including yellow, green, blue, pink, and red. Some squares appear tie-dyed, others are solid.

Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center Director Lynora Williams’s in-progress quilt; Photo by Lynora Williams

As NMWA remains temporarily closed due to COVID-19, along with other museums and cultural institutions around the world, we’ve been diligently working to bring the museum to you at home. In this series, we’ll check in with NMWA staff in their own homes for a personal look at the creative ways they’re staying connected, inspired, and grounded.

Do you have extra suggestions or recommendations for us? Let us know in the comments below or share on social media @WomenInTheArts!

Lynora Williams, director, Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center

Reading: Susan Orlean’s The Library Book, about the destruction of the Los Angeles Public Library by fire. It’s not exactly cheerful reading, but I’ve been trying to get to it for a while. I’m also enjoying Melanie Falick’s Making a Life: Working by Hand and Discovering the Life You are Meant to Live—for inspiration, but mostly for the pictures! On my current reading list are also Kamila Shamsie’s Home Fire and poet Dunya Mikhail’s In Her Feminine Sign. Can you tell I have a short attention span?

Making: I am hand-stitching a small quilt with hand-dyed fabrics—very meditative.

Watching: I’m occasionally watching Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Crown, and old sports events, like the 2006 Women’s NCAA Basketball Championship, a thriller won by (spoiler alert) the Maryland Terps.

Extra Inspiration: I am finding inspiration in other strong women. Right now I have what my colleague Emily Shaw calls a “social justice crush” on Ugandan feminist activist Stella Nyanzi, who was released from prison last month. She is mind-blowingly fierce.

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Adrienne Poon, digital content coordinator

Grounding: On my last day before our temporary closure, I spent time with Spiritualist (1973) by Helen Frankenthaler. I stood for about 15 minutes, just looking and feeling an overwhelming sense of calm and awe. I don’t normally favor abstract expressionist works, so this experience was a complete surprise and delight! That memory—of how art can make you feel, how art can soothe, and how beautiful art can be—has been grounding for me even now that I’m not able to see it in person.

Helen Frankenthaler, Spiritualist, 1973, Acrylic on canvas, 72 x 60 in., Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay

Helen Frankenthaler, Spiritualist, 1973; Acrylic on canvas, 72 x 60 x 1 1/4 in.; NMWA, Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay; © 2012 Estate of Helen Frankenthaler / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Reading: I love reading books written by former Fresh Talk speakers or featured in our library. They make me feel connected to a greater community of women artists and creators around the world. My favorites include The Poet X by Fresh Talk speaker Elizabeth Acevedo, and I Was Their American Dream by Malaka Gharib and Cook Korean! by Robin Ha, which were featured in our Library and Research Center’s recent exhibition DMV Color.

Connecting: I’ve also been turning to my friends and family for inspiration. This situation has spurred many of us to chat more regularly, which has been great. Additionally, I’ve always admired my friends who create things, and I’ve been even more intently following their creations—illustrated comic diaries, genre-bending music, textile weaving, watercolor painting, cardigan knitting, video producing, bread baking, and more. It has been so rewarding. I love cheering on my friends from afar.

Director’s Desk: A Letter From Susan Fisher Sterling

Yael Bartana, What if Women Ruled the World, 2016; Neon, 98 1/2 x 38 1/2 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Museum purchase, Belinda de Gaudemar Acquisition Fund, with additional support from the Members’ Acquisition Fund; © Yael Bartana; Photo by Lee Stalsworth

Yael Bartana, What if Women Ruled the World, 2016; Neon, 98 1/2 x 38 1/2 in.; NMWA, Museum purchase, Belinda de Gaudemar Acquisition Fund, with additional support from the Members’ Acquisition Fund; © Yael Bartana; Photo by Lee Stalsworth

Unfortunately, I don’t have a way to fix the world right now. The museum is now nearly two weeks into an unprecedented closure—public health requires that museums, along with performance halls, movie theaters, and sports arenas join together to close our doors and slow the spread of coronavirus. During this unsettling period of isolation, though, we need to connect with one another more than ever, and I believe that the arts can provide that bridge.

In that spirit, I wanted to reach out to say that NMWA is here for you. We hope that in the days ahead, the museum and its art will become welcome resources as we face the impact of this coronavirus.

We realize that art is best experienced in person—it offers powerful ways for us to visualize our shared humanity, and museums have often served as places of refuge and solace. It is truly unprecedented and paradoxical that now, when we need it most, we are unable to physically come together to experience all that great art has to offer. Thank goodness so many of us have the capacity to share digitally…and share we shall!

Although NMWA is temporarily closed, we stand with our communities—both here and around the world. We are available online with artists, objects, and stories to lift the spirit, inspire the soul, and champion women artists.

Our new resource NMWA@Home is now up on our website, so please visit us. We are open online 24/7 with rich content that shares our collection and programming with audiences whenever and wherever they are ready to engage with us. NMWA’s staff is working to enhance our online offerings for children, students, families, and adults. We look forward to sharing new materials with you regularly in the coming days and weeks.

We value your participation and appreciate your comments and opinions, so please continue to share with us on social media. Connection is more important than ever.

Looking forward to hearing from you, and sending heartfelt wishes for your well-being.

Susan Fisher Sterling
The Alice West Director