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Elizabeth Broun

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Name  Elizabeth Broun

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Elizabeth Broun was the director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Renwick Gallery in Washington, D.C. for 27 years, from 1989 until December 2016. At the time of her retirement, she set the record as the second longest–serving Smithsonian museum director, after Spencer Fullerton Baird, and as the longest-serving female museum director in Smithsonian history.


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Early life and education

Elizabeth Broun was born in 1946 in Kansas City and grew up in Independence, Kansas. She completed a B.A. in French and art history (1968), a M.A. in medieval art history (1969), and a doctorate in history of art (1976) at the University of Kansas. In the early 1970s, Broun also served as a Ford Foundation Curatorial Fellow at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland.


After completing her doctorate in 1976, Broun remained at the University of Kansas for several years as assistant professor in the History of Art Department as well as the curator of prints and drawings at the Spencer Museum of Art. In her final year at the museum, she also served as acting director. In 1983, Broun moved to Washington, D.C. and became Chief Curator and Assistant Director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum and its Renwick Gallery. Five years later, she became the first female director of that museum and has served in the role ever since, making her one of the longest standing directors at the Smithsonian Institution.

Broun has overseen many significant projects during her time as director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. These include a $250 million renovation of the museum's main building from 2000 to 2006, and the renovation of the Renwick Gallery from 2013 to 2015. The building projects included completely renewed infrastructure, enhanced historic features and other 21st century upgrades. She oversaw the launch of a large-scale traveling exhibition program, a national education program, and advances in web-based resources and research databases.

Selected major exhibitions at the museum under Broun's leadership include George Catlin and his Indian Gallery (2002), William Wegman—Funney/Strange (2006), Joseph Cornell: Navigating the Imagination (2006), Saul Steinberg: Illuminations (2007), Georgia O'Keeffe and Ansel Adams: Natural Affinities (2008), What's It All Mean: William T. Wiley in Retrospect (2009), Alexis Rockman: A Fable for Tomorrow (2010), The Great American Hall of Wonders (2011), The Civil War and American Art (2012), The Art of Video Games (2012), and Nam Jun Paik: Global Visionary (2012).


Broun has done extensive curatorial work on the artists Albert Pinkham Ryder, Thomas Hart Benton, Stuart Davis, Childe Hassam, Patrick Ireland, Pat Steir, and James McNeill Whistler. Published works include:

  • Free Within Ourselves: African-American Artists in the Collection of the National Museum of American Art, Pomegranate Art Books (1992)
  • Albert Pinkham Ryder, Published for the National Museum of American Art by the Smithsonian Institution Press (1989)
  • Images on stone: two centuries of artists' lithographs, University of Houston (1987)
  • Form, illusion, myth: prints and drawings of Pat Steir, Spencer Museum of Art, University of Kansas (1983)
  • Benton's Bentons: selections from the Thomas Hart Benton and Rita P. Benton trusts, Spencer Museum of Art, University of Kansas (1980)
  • The prints of Anders Zorn: catalogue, Spencer Museum of Art, University of Kansas (1979)
  • In 1990, she received the Alfred H. Barr Award from the College Art Association in honor of her book on Albert Pinkham Ryder.


    Elizabeth Broun Wikipedia