When Sister Wendy Beckett first shared her love of European paintings with public television viewers in 1997, the New York Times observed that the 67-year-old nun from a British monastery was "fast on her way to becoming the most unlikely and famous art critic in the history of television." Now Sister Wendy is crossing the Atlantic to share her artistic passion once again in a new six-part series premiering over three consecutive Wednesdays, September 5, 12, and 19 from 8 to 10pm on PBS (check local listings).
In Sister Wendy's American Collection, the engaging art critic moves beyond the world of daVinci and Monet to explore the wider riches of six of America's greatest museums: Boston's Museum of Fine Arts, Forth Worth's Kimbell Art Museum, New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Cleveland Museum of Art. Each one-hour episode focuses on one of the featured museums, showcasing its treasures from around the world.
"The United States, the land of the free, is particularly rich in museums," Sister Wendy says. "That is appropriate, because museums are a means to freedom."
Exuding her signature blend of intellect, reverence, and admiration for great works of art, Sister Wendy glides from gallery to gallery, illuminating the cultural and creative history of a diverse range of artistic works. From portraits by Rembrandt to Egyptian sculptures, Early American furniture to Islamic calligraphy, Sister Wendy takes viewers beyond the household names of the art world, introducing them to the greatest treasures from cultures both famous and obscure.
"One of the wonderful things about a museum is how you're jolted into confronting art from strange and wonderful civilizations," Sister Wendy says. "And you look and learn and expand your horizons."
In Sister Wendy's American Collection, each work of art is the launching point for a brief but fascinating history lesson: A gold and turquoise ceremonial knife introduces viewers to Peru's lost Chimu Empire; ancient Egyptian statues spark the tale of Hatshepsut, the queen who defied tradition and her gender to become pharaoh.
What's more, each work of art is described in typical Sister Wendy style. Noting that a delicate porcelain figurine is making an obscene hand gesture, the nun remarks, "I won't sully your ears by telling you what it means, but there are contemporary equivalents." And while admiring an Issey Miyake dress from the 1990s, she concedes, "You won't be surprised to learn that I know absolutely nothing about fashion."
At times, however, the contemplative nun -- who leads a life of complete solitude when not sharing her artistic vocation with television viewers and readers of her many books -- surprises with her commentaries. Describing a 15th-century pitcher that depicts the great Aristotle being played for a fool by a young maiden, Sister Wendy comments, "I defy any feminist not to smile at Phyllis the dominatrix, tugging on Aristotle's beard and patting him condescendingly on the rump!"
Even when presenting well-known artistic treasures, Sister Wendy manages to impart some new and interesting nuggets of information. Who knew that Edward Hopper began painting Nighthawks immediately after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, channeling the nation's collective anxiety into his desolate bar scene, or that Grant Wood based his American Gothic farm couple on his sister and his dentist?
Sister Wendy is a treasure trove of such intriguing tidbits, transferring to the viewer both her vast knowledge of art and her awe at the creative spirit that inspired it. "Americans are so lucky to have some of the greatest museums in the world," Sister Wendy says. "I would like to share with people my delight in just a few of the treasures people can find on their own doorsteps."
Sister Wendy's American Collection is a co-production of WGBH Boston and Spire Films. Jill Janows is series executive producer for WGBH; David Willcock is executive producer for Spire Films.
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The Web Site
The Web site for Sister Wendy's American Collection is www.pbs.org/sisterwendy.
Sister Wendy's American Collection by HarperCollins is available in hardcover at bookstores ($40) and libraries nationwide or by calling HarperCollins at 1-800-242-7737.
Each of the series' six programs is available on home video for $19.95; a boxed set of the complete six-part Sister Wendy's American Collection series is available for $79.95. For additional information or to receive a free catalogue, please call WGBH Boston Video at 800-949-8670.
Sister Wendy's American Collection is closed captioned for deaf and hard-of-hearing viewers by The Caption Center at WGBH Boston. Narrated descriptions are provided by Descriptive Video Service® (DVS®), a national service of WGBH Boston that makes television, cable, and home video programming accessible to people who are blind or visually impaired.
The Web site is also accessible, designed for use with screen reader devices which render text into speech for blind and low-vision Web users. To learn more about providing access to Web content for users with disabilities, please visit the CPB/WGBH National Center for Accessible Media on the Web at ncam.wgbh.org.
Funding for the series is provided by public television viewers. Thank you.
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