As part of our ongoing effort to share the operation of the National Portrait Gallery with our readers, here is a short Q& A with one of our staff members, Amy Baskette.
Q: Can you tell us a little about where you grew up, how you came to live in Washington, your educational background, and how you prepared for your career in museum work?
A: My dad was career military, so I grew up all over the place. I spent high school and college in New Mexico, where I attended New Mexico State University. (GO AGGIES!) I earned a dual degree in anthropology and history.
After graduating I spent a year in Indianapolis working as an intern with the Indiana State Library’s manuscripts department. That gave me a good baseline experience with working with paper objects. From there, I went to Savannah, Georgia, where I got my masters degree in public history from Armstrong Atlantic State University.
I spent a summer as an intern here in Washington with the National Park Service, working at Rock Creek Park. That summer I just fell in love with the city, so when my husband got a job here, we jumped at the chance to move.
Q: Do you have a story about your time at the NPG you would like to share with us?
A: One of my most recent projects has been working with caricature artist John Kascht on one of the Gallery 360 programs. Along with our public programs manager and the curator of prints & drawings, we have put together a short video about the process of creating a likeness.
While John was the creative force and much of the energy behind the project, it would not have been possible without the support from the NPG staff. John and I selected images from our collection and then cleared permissions to use those images in his film. This project took several months, but the finished product should be posted soon. It was very interesting to work so closely with John on this. He has a way of seeing the world and explaining what he does that is very engaging and his energy is contagious.
Another wonderful moment was when The Colbert Report filmed a segment at NPG just prior to the unveiling of Stephen Colbert’s portrait in the winter of 2008, I was lucky to be able to help our External Affairs staff manage crowds and try to keep the galleries quiet during filming (see photo, below). It took almost an entire afternoon to film all the different clips that went into a 4–5 minute segment. It was fun to see the crew of the show at work.
Q: What is your favorite object in the collection?
A: The Portrait Gallery has such a large number of beautiful, interesting, and inspiring portraits, and so many of them have great stories about their creation or acquisition. I could list ten must-see portraits, but my all-time favorite piece in the collection has to be the Ronald Reagan hologram by Hans I. Bjelkhagen, John Landry, Michel Marhic, and Fred Untersheher (below).
I think it's great that one of the oldest presidents wound up being holographed. It was done in 1991, after he left office, but the artists had spent five-and-a-half years trying to convince Reagan to sit for them. It’s just such a quirky image and the only hologram that we have of a president.
After viewing the result of the sitting, the former president was quoted as saying, “If I had known about this, I would have had it done sooner.” I hope we will have a chance to put it up on the walls during the centennial year of Reagan’s birth.
Q: What is the most interesting aspect of your job?
A: Since we have an active acquisitions and exhibitions program, the staff meets a lot of artists. It is always interesting to meet the folks who create the portraits.
Ronald Reagan / Hans I. Bjelkhagen, John Landry, and Michel Marhic / Hologram, 1991 / National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Holicon Corporation