From the Archives: Stokely Webster Sketch

Library and Archives Detail Megan Sommerfeld on a favorite find in the Phillips’s archives.

During my Library & Archive Detail I focused on processing the Research Office’s documents on the artists whose work is represented in The Phillips Collection. The goal of Archival Processing is to improve both the physical and intellectual access to information. To achieve such improvements many steps must be taken such as surveying, arranging, describing, and preserving materials with archival safe storage materials. One aspect I love about processing is that it is so hands-on. In order to properly process archival materials, one must go through the file thoroughly to ensure all materials contained are housed safely. While processing the file of artist Stokely Webster, I came across a very special find: A sketch by Mr. Webster, created in 1994 when he visited The Phillips Collection. Mr. Webster graciously left the sketch with the Director’s Office after his visit. The sketch depicts Richard Diebenkorn’s Girl with Plant (1960). Currently, Richard Diebenkorn’s Girl with Plant is on display; you can pay it a visit on the second floor of the Goh Annex.

Sketch by Stokely Webster at The Phillips Collection in 1994

Regarding sketches, Stokely Webster once stated, “If your observations in making this ‘sketch’ have been keen and sensitive, the very fact that they were done quickly and without hesitation may make them more telling than a version of the subject done later from the sketch in the studio.”[1] Looking at Webster’s sketch it is clear he completed the sketch quickly and without hesitation. What stands out in most detail is the figure in front of Diebenkorn’s Girl with Plant; Webster emphasizes the figure’s side profile and stance in relation to the painting and the doorway of the gallery. I personally wonder what sparked Webster’s interest to capture this moment. I found it fascinating how he labeled different areas of his sketch “red” and “yellow” to recall which colors were used by Diebenkorn. In the end, Webster was far less concerned with technique and instead focused on, “Finding for himself a simple way to get what he sees transferred to the Canvas.”[2]

Now, I invite you all to visit The Phillips Collection with your sketchbook and pencil and sketch what inspires you during your visit, just like Stokely Webster did during his visit in 1994.

P.S. If you’re interested in learning more about Stokely Webster or other artists with work represented at the Phillips Collection, please email to make an appointment.

[1] Stokely Webster, Stokely Webster and His Paris, New York, London, and Venice, 2001.

[2] Webster, Stokely Webster and His Paris, New York, London, and Venice.

Shifting Perspectives through Photography

Phillips Educator Kimberly Willison reflects on the Phillips’s 2023 Summer Teacher Institute, which focused on how photography can empower us to see differently.

Photo of Frank Stewart by Cheriss May, Ndemay Media Group

With the school year underway, it’s a wonderful time to reflect on the powerful impact professional learning can have on the lives of teachers and ultimately their students. A collaboration with the University of Maryland, The Phillips Collection’s 2023 Summer Teacher Institute had the theme of Focal Point: Shifting Perspectives through Photography. The five-day institute inspired by Frank Stewart’s Nexus, attracted over 35 educators from public and private institutions near and far, including many teachers from schools in Washington, DC, northern Virginia, and Maryland, and even some from as far away as Navajo Nation, Chinle, Arizona and Ecuador.

Photography is all about perspective—we see a person, place, or object through the lens of the photographer and also through the lens of our own perceptions. Teachers brought their rich perspectives to the week-long institute motivated by a desire to join a community of arts integration educators, a belief that arts integration can improve student learning, and an interest in exploring photography as an artistic medium for themselves and their students. The participants learned strategies to support social and emotional learning while learning about the Phillips Collection’s artworks, artists, and resources.

During the week, the educators learned from three local artists. Phillips Education Assistant and artist Davinna Barkers-Woode led a workshop about elements of photography including composition, viewpoint, and perspective.

Photo by participating teacher Jon Berg exploring viewpoint and perspective

Phillips Educator, artist, and former special needs art teacher Monica Cohen Lenoff led participants through a workshop to create masks expressing hidden and revealed parts of their identities.

Photo of Reveal/Conceal Mask by participating educator Elizabeth Clarke

DC-based portrait and editorial photographer Cheriss May led an interactive photography workshop about storytelling and shifting perspectives. She provided professional guidance on techniques for capturing powerful moments through photography and inspired educators to make meaningful connections with those they photograph.

Photo by participating educator Amanda Dempsey working with reflective surfaces

Working with some of the themes explored in Frank Stewart’s photographs, the educators considered how photography might be used to explore, refine, and communicate our understanding of our ancestors, our culture, and the world around us. They thought about how a shift in perspective might open up possibilities for seeing our everyday surroundings, ourselves, and others in a new light. They considered how photography might be used to open up lines of communication in their classrooms to allow for deeper interpersonal connections and awareness and acceptance of varying perspectives.

Photo by participating teacher Angela Cirillo capturing elements of culture

As a culminating project, the participants constructed a visual autobiography through photographs to consider how their personal identity, culture, and life experiences impact how they see the world. They examined how varying perspectives, composition, and other elements of photography can empower us to see differently. Through this process, they explored how factors like power, empathy, self-awareness, and respect play into the art of photography.

Reflecting on the Summer Institute, one participant commented, “This was a very enriching experience and one I am so happy to have participated in. I look forward to sharing techniques with colleagues and students.” Likewise, the Phillips Education team looks forward to welcoming students and teachers to the museum this school year.

Fueled by Connection

Development Intern Lucy Phillips reflects on her internship over the summer.

The work of The Phillips Collection is fueled by connection.

In my final week as a Development Intern, I met with Anne Taylor-Brittingham, Deputy Director of Education and Responsive Learning Spaces. Anne explained that the intent of her work is to help visitors find a personal connection to the art. I gained tremendous, meaningful experience and insight during my summer at the Phillips, but this particular conversation gave me the clearest perspective on the impact of my work. No matter the project I was assigned—from researching French corporations, to soliciting support for future exhibitions and summarizing for donors the impact of their contributions to the Frank Stewart’s Nexus exhibition—the intent was to connect people to the art and the mission of the Phillips.

In preparing for the final presentation of my internship, I recalled all the ways the idea of personal connection had impacted my work. One project focused on identifying corporate prospects for a French Impressionist exhibition debuting at the Phillips in 2024. My task was to find companies that demonstrated an interest in the arts, French heritage, or a presence in the DMV and, once identified, prepare a solicitation strategy for support of the exhibition. As I look back, it’s clear that the answer was always personal connection. Understanding company history, mission, and culture helped me understand how to connect. For some it was education and for others it was diversity and social progress. Regardless, to forge a connection with The Phillips Collection, I had to start with learning about them.

Visitors enjoying Frank Stewart’s Nexus during Phillips after 5: All that Jazz. Photo: AK Blythe

The importance of personal connection came into even sharper focus throughout a stewardship report project for Frank Stewart’s Nexus: An American Photographer’s Journey, 1960s to the Present. The materials I created provide a comprehensive recap of the exhibition to engage donors, maintain relationships, and express gratitude—and will also be used throughout the department as a template report for future exhibitions. A scan of the public programs associated with the exhibition makes clear that the Phillips emphasized bringing the exhibition to life beyond the walls of the museum. From portfolio reviews with the artist himself, to a Phillips after 5 in partnership with the DC Jazz Festival, these programs were designed draw visitors in and create deeper and more personal connections to the exhibition. Through this project, I was exposed to and inspired by the work of the Education department, the Marketing and Communications team, and countless other colleagues that brought the exhibition to life through interdisciplinary collaboration.

The key takeaway from my summer internship? The work is fueled by connection. It’s not solely about the masterpieces hanging on the walls. It is about everything else—how these works inspire conversation, progress, learning, empathy and, most importantly, how we connect.