Susan Stamberg

One hundred years ago, America's first museum of modern art opened in a private mansion in Washington, D.C. Founder Duncan Phillips was an early collector of Picasso, Matisse, Van Gogh. The Phillips was the first to buy a Georgia O'Keeffe. Decades ago, in this city of museums, it became my favorite one.

"Mister! Mister!" she yelled. "Take my photo!"

A demand, not a request. Mama had spotted the three cameras hanging from straps around Ruben Natal-San Miguel's neck as he walked around her Bronx neighborhood. Her demand intrigued him.

"I said 'absolutely.' "

Natal-San Miguel likes to photograph people where they live. He calls his pictures "environmental portraits." No formal poses. Just a pause, in front of his camera.

Mama stopped by a red truck and crossed her arms. He liked the reflection of a tree on the truck's side.

Dwight David Eisenhower was one of the towering figures of the 20th century: A five-star general, he led the D-Day invasion and helped defeat the Nazis. A two-term president, he brought stability to postwar America.

Since his death in 1969, memories of the man called Ike have faded. But this week, the dedication of an Eisenhower Memorial in Washington, D.C., will bring him vividly back to mind.

This memorial is not like any other presidential monument in Washington. No sky-piercing white obelisk (George Washington), no massive, looming statue (Abraham Lincoln.)

A guy in his 30s, handsome behind his mask (this is pre-pandemic), carries a chisel, drills, jigsaws, sometimes explosives, and walks up to a dilapidated wall. Looks like trouble. What's going on? Is he on a march toward destruction? Yup. Sorta. About to create graffiti? Nope. Make something beautiful? Yup.

Sometimes it's good to be irrelevant. Too much relevance can get you down. Especially in these days of virus, economic pressures, racial discord. We need a break. In that spirit I offer something that has nothing — and as you'll see everything — to do with our turmoiled lives and times:

For decades, I've managed to sneak my family's controversial, Pepto-Bismol-pink cranberry relish recipe onto the air, and 2019 will be no exception. This year I went straight to the source: Bobby J. Chacko, President and CEO of Ocean Spray.

To start off, I want to know: Has he ever stood in a bog? "Absolutely," he answers. "It's one of the most exciting feelings when you're in waders and in water and all you have around are cranberries."

Standing in a sea of crimson, up to his hips in berries and cold water, Chacko says he feels like a kid again.

Many people may think of pastels as a medium for kids in art class. But at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., the "Touch of Color" exhibition celebrates the history of pastel from the Renaissance to the modern day.

These works of art are hard to exhibit — "They're very rarely loaned from other museums or to other museums because the medium is so delicate," explains National Gallery Director Kaywin Feldman.

Ingrid Bergman was a so-so typist. Katharine Hepburn's signature was indecipherable. Marlene Dietrich signed her letter to Ernest Hemingway as "Your Kraut."

A collection of letters, memos, telegrams and other written communiques from the golden age of Hollywood are collected in a new book. Letters from Hollywood, edited and compiled by Barbara Hall and Rocky Lang, is a delicious peek into very famous people's private lives.

A 10-minute drive from the White House — where immigration has a top spot on the President's "to-do" list — a museum has filled three of its floors with artists' reactions to displacement, relocation and flight.

Legend has it that when Jacopo Tintoretto was 12 years old, he was so good at drawing that he rattled Titian — the master artist of Venice, 30 years his senior. Young Tintoretto was an apprentice in Titian's workshop and — as the story goes — the old master gone away for several days, and when he came back he found some of Tintoretto's drawings.

The legendary Musso & Frank Grill on Hollywood Boulevard opened before there was a Hollywood sign. For 100 years now, stars, studio heads and writers have settled into the restaurant's red leather banquettes to negotiate, gossip, drink and eat.

Anyone who has dined at Musso's has an opinion about it — and after 100 years, that adds up to a lot of opinions. They include: "It's our favorite place to go for special events," and "We go for the martinis, not the food" and "The food's not bad, especially the chicken pot pie every Thursday."

Painter Robert Rauschenberg really loved his job. "My greatest joy is in working," he told PBS in 1998. "That's when I feel a wholeness and a celebration of a unity with everything about me."

So when Rauschenberg walked the quarter mile from his house to his studio in Captiva, Fla., that short commute was a journey toward joy.

"He talked a lot about working in that fertile, creative space between art and life," says Katia Zavistovski, an assistant curator at Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

André Previn, a celebrated musical polymath, died Thursday morning; he was a composer of Oscar-winning film music, conductor, pianist and music director of major orchestras. His manager, Linda Petrikova, confirmed to NPR that he died at his home in Manhattan.

There are three pianists involved in making the music of the Oscar-nominated film Green Book. The first is Don Shirley, who was popular in the 1950s and 60s, both in person and on vinyl. The second is actor Mahershala Ali, who portrays Shirley in the film but does not play piano. And so, the third pianist is Kris Bowers, who does all the playing for Ali in the film.

A mysterious young woman has come from abroad and taken up residence in Pasadena, Calif. She wears a white satin dress, pearls and a ruby ring and has a slight smile — and nobody knows who she is.

In letters, the Venetian Renaissance master Titian referred to the elegant woman as his "most precious being" and the "mistress of my soul." But he never named the subject of his 1561 painting Portrait of a Lady in White.

Love it, hate it, or just hate the traffic, everyone has an opinion about Los Angeles. A new literary olio gathers hundreds of those opinions together, in a book called Dear Los Angeles: The City in Diaries and Letters, 1542 to 2018.

Editor David Kipen has dug up centuries' worth of excerpts about California's largest city. The book, he says, is "a collective self-portrait of Los Angeles when it thought nobody was looking." The excerpts he's picked roughly divide up between Los Angeles as heaven and Los Angeles as hell.

Why do artists paint so many self-portraits?

For starters, they're always available, says Kim Sajet, Director of the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. "In the middle of the night when the urge strikes, you've got yourself."

"I'm fascinated by the necessity of quick decisions," Inge Morath told me more than 30 years ago, when she came to NPR for an interview. Morath was in the business of quick decisions — as a photographer and photojournalist she was the first woman to be accepted as a full member of the Magnum photo agency.

Now, her life is the subject of a new biography by Linda Gordon. It recounts Morath's escape from Nazi Germany, her boundary-breaking career, and her marriage to playwright Arthur Miller.

For more years than we can count, on this Friday before Thanksgiving NPR Special Correspondent Susan Stamberg has presented her mother-in-law's unconventional recipe for cranberry relish — it's tart, time-tested, terrific for some tasters and terrible for others.

The recipe is controversial — especially if you only like sweet cranberry sauce. Mama Stamberg's has the usual cranberries and sugar, but then you tart it up with onion, sour cream and — wait for it — horseradish.

Mark Bradford is an activist and abstract artist who tends to get described with a lot of adjectives — tall (he's 6'8"), black and gay; he's been both a hairdresser and a MacArthur Fellow.

"What's most important to me is that I'm an artist," Bradford says. "The rest of it is just — the rest of it is just who I am."

Sam Gilliam found inspiration for his signature artworks in an unlikely place — a clothesline. In a Washington, D.C., studio that was once a drive-through gas station, the 84-year-old artist works surrounded by yards of vividly-painted fabric, hung like laundry from a line. The sheer, silky polyester puddles to the floor, catching light on the way down. The idea, he explains, is "to develop the idea of movement into shapes."

Jackson Pollock's painting Number 1, 1949, is a swirl of multi-colored, spaghettied paint, dripped, flung and slung across a 5-by-8-foot canvas. It's a textured work — including nails and a bee (we'll get to that later) — and in the nearly 70 years since its creation, it's attracted a fair bit of dust, dirt and grime.

It's not often that a parent and child become masters of two different art forms, but an exhibition at the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia proves it's possible: Renoir: Father and Son explores the work of 19th-century Impressionist painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir and his 20th-century filmmaker son, Jean Renoir.

Like many fathers and sons, they had a loving, but complicated relationship. Take, for example, the fact that in 1920, the year after his father died, Jean married his father's last model.

I fell in love recently — with Mel Brooks. It was my almost-next-to-last day in Los Angeles, and I'd gone with my producer, Danny Hajek, to interview the great writer-director-producer-composer-lyricist-mensch, whose movies include Young Frankenstein, Robin Hood: Men in Tights (my favorite film title ever), Blazing Saddles and other knee-slapping hilarities.

Rufus Hale was just 11 years old when artist David Hockney painted his portrait. Rufus' mother was making a movie about the prolific, octogenarian artist, and brought her son with her to work one day. He was sketching in the corner of the studio when Hockney asked, "Why don't I paint you?"

Now Rufus' portrait is among 82 currently on display at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, in an exhibit titled "82 Portraits and 1 Still-life."

One hundred years ago, the most powerful woman in Hollywood was a producer, a studio head and a major force onscreen.

Margery Simkin is a casting director. Her job is to look at thousands of faces, and her gut reaction — how she feels about what she sees — can lead to movie and TV roles.

But for this story, she isn't looking at a headshot — she's looking at a painting. "This wouldn't be somebody that could be a bad guy," she says. "There's a softness. There's a kindness in his eyes."

For the past almost-50 years, I've been sharing an old family Thanksgiving recipe with NPR listeners. Mama Stamberg's Cranberry Relish comes from my late mother-in-law Marjorie Stamberg, who served it in Allentown, Pa., when I was brought there to be inspected by my future in-laws.

In 1880, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, age 41, wrote to a friend that he was in a riverside town near Paris painting oarsmen. He'd been "itching" to do it for a long time: "I'm not getting any younger," he wrote, "and didn't want to defer this little festivity." Now that painting, Luncheon of the Boating Party, is the star of a new exhibition at The Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C.

From baseball caps to saris to the little black dress, there's a social history woven into the clothing we wear. A new exhibition at New York's Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) explores that history. "Items: Is Fashion Modern?" looks at some of the garments that changed the world — but the show less about fashion, and more about design, history and why things last.

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