Earl A. Powell III, Director, National Gallery of Art (1992-2019)
In 1992, Earl A. Powell III, known as "Rusty," became the fourth director of the National Gallery of Art, which opened to the public in 1941. This world-renowned collection has more than 107,000 European and American paintings, sculptures, drawings, photographs, books, and decorative arts dating from the 13th century to the present. Five to six million people a year view the Gallery’s masterpieces of Western art, including one of the world’s finest collections of French impressionism and the only painting by Leonardo da Vinci in the Western Hemisphere.
Born in Spartanburg, South Carolina, Powell graduated with honors from Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts, and received an A.M. and a Ph.D. from the Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, where he specialized in 19th- and 20th-century European and American art. He served as an officer in the U.S. Navy from 1966 to 1969 and in the U.S. Naval Reserve from 1976 to 1980 as a commander.
Powell served as curator of the Michener Collection and assistant professor of art history at the University of Texas at Austin from 1974 to 1976. During the next four years, while he held curatorial posts at the National Gallery of Art, he was deeply involved in the installation and opening of the East Building. From 1980 to 1992 Powell was director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, which he transformed, according to Art in America magazine, "from a local institution to a museum of international stature." Powell’s book on the American landscape painter Thomas Cole was published in 1990.
Under Powell’s leadership, the National Gallery of Art, which represents a partnership of federal and private resources, has added more than 12,000 works of art to its collection, established an award-winning Web site and a visitor-friendly interactive Micro Gallery, created innovative programs for children and families, opened a 6.1-acre Sculpture Garden and a 25,000-square-foot suite of sculpture galleries featuring 900 works of art, and presented some 150 exhibitions, including international blockbusters such as Johannes Vermeer, Van Gogh’s Van Goghs, and The Quest for Immortality: Treasures of Ancient Egypt.
The Gallery is exploring new ways of utilizing technology to further its mission of making the collection accessible to the citizens of the United States. According to Powell, "Technology offers phenomenal potential for the Gallery to be helpful in the area of public education and cultural awareness for all ages."
Powell was recently appointed by President Bush to serve on the National Council on the Arts, the advisory body of the National Endowment of the Arts. He also serves as a trustee of the American Federation of Arts, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the White House Historical Association, and the Georgia O’Keeffe Foundation, among others. He is a member of numerous arts organizations, including the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities and the National Portrait Gallery Commission.
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