Susan Stamberg | WYPR

Susan Stamberg

One hundred years ago, the U.S. entered the first global war — an ugly, dirty, agonizing conflict that cost millions of lives and changed the world. Now, the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., is observing the centennial with art and artifacts in an exhibition called Artist Soldiers.

When I moved to Washington, D.C., in 1962, St. Elizabeths Hospital was notorious — a rundown federal facility for the treatment of people with mental illness that was overcrowded and understaffed. Opened with idealism and hope in 1855, the facility had ballooned from 250 patients to as many as 8,000. Its vast, rolling patch of farmland had fallen into disrepair, too, in the poorest neighborhood in the U.S. capital.

Behind the scenes at major art museums, conservators are hard at work, keeping masterpieces looking their best. Their methods are meticulous — and sometimes surprising.

The painting conservation studio at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., is filled with priceless works sitting on row after row of tall wooden easels, or lying on big, white-topped worktables.

There's no rain in her clouds, no gray in her shadows; Maud Lewis' small paintings are bright with sunshine, and filled with blue skies, crystal snow and calm waters. Now, a new movie tells the true story of a painter from Nova Scotia whose joyful works hardly hint at the difficult life she led.

One of the most glamorous creatures ever to grace the silver screen is back in pictures at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. A dazzling new exhibition features dozens of photographs of the seductive, German-born movie star Marlene Dietrich.

France's ambassador to the United States, Gérard Araud, is a fan of 19th-century French painter Frédéric Bazille. But I had a confession to make when I spoke with him about the National Gallery's "Frédéric Bazille and the Birth of Impressionism" exhibition. I said that I usually walk right past Bazille's paintings and go straight to the impressionists — and I assume I'm not the only one who does that.

Intellectual, philosophical, literary, rebellious, Simone de Beauvoir spoke a mile a minute, and wrote quickly, too — novels, essays, a play, four memoirs. She was an atheist, bisexual, pioneer feminist, and her longtime lover, Jean-Paul Sartre, wrote the book on Existentialism. When she died in 1986 she was world-famous — now the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C., is saluting her again.

With his large-scale, exuberant paintings, artist Kerry James Marshall is on a mission: to make the presence of black people and black culture in the art world "indispensable" and "undeniable." Now 61, Marshall was a young artist when he decided to paint exclusively black figures.

"One of the reasons I paint black people is because I am a black person ..." he says. "There are fewer representations of black figures in the historical record ..."

If you've ever spent an afternoon with "Under the Sea" or "A Whole New World" or "Be Our Guest" stuck in your head, you can thank composer Alan Menken.

Menken scored The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast and many other Disney classics. He says he prefers his songs "to be hummable."

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