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Susan Stamberg

Updated December 2, 2021 at 11:41 AM ET

Canadian photographer Jeff Wall says, "I begin by not photographing." That's right: no snaps, no selfies. He doesn't like the idea — in his words, of "Just running around for something to photograph."

Updated November 19, 2021 at 11:13 AM ET

NPR has been celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, and most of the past half-century has featured a Thanksgiving recipe from Special Correspondent Susan Stamberg. She persists in the face of grins, groans, and gripes – "oh, no! That again!"

Aminah Brenda Lynn Robinson didn't quite understand. The phone rang in her small house in Columbus, Ohio and a voice mentioned something about her art ... an award...money. "Oh," Aminah said. "You want me to do a portrait of General MacArthur?"

I just met Henry Ossawa Tanner. Nice trick, since he died in 1937. Tanner was the first African American artist with an international reputation. His paintings are in many museums, but I've walked past them countless times. Now, preparing for this column, I got to know a bit about his life and times (as well as new revelations about his artistic thinking) and thought I'd make the introductions.

This is not a photograph. Looks like one, right? Nope. Artist Robert Longo used maybe the oldest medium known to man/woman to create it. It's a drawing he made with ... charcoal.

Would you buy a headband from this woman? Lee Miller took the picture for a fashion article. A pretty woman could sell lots of headbands to avid photo magazine readers. And Lee Miller (1907-1977) was certainly pretty.

Gorgeous. Serene. You won't believe the rocky life this glorious young woman has led since Botticelli painted her in Italy around 1475. First off, she doesn't look her age. And with a passport that would make jet setters seem slug-a-beds, she's seen parts of Europe that Americans flock to, and ends up right now in an American city that rarely tops European's bucket lists: Cincinnati, Ohio.

That's Adelyn Breeskin's nude. Well, actually it's Matisse's. He painted it for a rich collector in Baltimore. The collector bequeathed it to the Baltimore Museum of Art. Breeskin (the staff called her "Mrs. B") was museum director. Thanks to the director's wooing of the rich lady, the BMA ended up with the most Matisse's in any public institution in the world!

Not only did Breeskin get Baltimore the Matisse nude up top, among a total of some 730 Matisses, she got this one, too.

Alice Neel made it to the Met! At last. Born in 1900, she painted all her life, often in obscurity. In the 1970s, feminists discovered and lauded her. She got attention. Right now visitors are crowding a big retrospective of paintings by this remarkable artist, feminist, champion of justice, Communist, radical, mother.

And wouldn't she love it? People coming to see HER people — portraits she made when very few others were making them, in that macho Age of Abstract Expressionism. Anyway, none of those guys would have done anything like this:

What's your guess? Is that a photograph? The face is so close and specific. Did the photographer hold the camera in one hand, and an umbrella in the other? Maybe want to hold the umbrella over the woman so she wouldn't get any wetter? Not a bit of that. It's a drawing. A most remarkable, painstakingly created drawing. I'll tell more about it later, but since drawing is the subject of this essay — and a New York exhibition — that includes Alyssa Monks' gorgeous example, let's linger a while on the many faces that drawing can express.

A dream of a day at the Centre Pompidou in Paris. We'd come out of a huge David Hockney exhibition, and my family and I were pooped. So granddaughters, their mother Myndy and I sat on a rim of the Stravinsky Fountain to rest a bit, while my son Josh took our picture.

The fountain makes me smile four years later, as it did the first time I saw it decades ago. It's a 1983 collaboration between sculptors Jean Tinguely (he did the black mechanical parts) and Niki de Saint Phalle (the puffy colorful figures — something/someone in a crown, serpent, heart, lips).

Powerful, no? And gorgeous. Helen Frankenthaler did it in 1973 — 20 years after making a painting that took Jackson Pollock's abstract expressionism a step further. In 1950 she was wowed by the ropes and squiggles of paint Pollock was wrestling onto unstretched canvas on the floor of his barn.

What more is there to say about Frida Kahlo?

She died in 1954 at age 47. By now she's a cottage industry. Her face (that unibrow, the red lips, the scores of self portraits) reproduced on mugs, matchbooks, pandemic masks, of course tote bags.

Fans can recite her story: The terrible accident when she was 18 — a bus/tram collision in Mexico City smashing her body, and creating a lifetime of surgeries and pain.

She was 22. One of three women in a class of 24. Her professor at the Philadelphia College of Art told her she was "taking up a good man's space" in his class. All she'd do when school was over was get pregnant and raise her child. "Meanwhile," said the professor, "a good man could have been in that space."

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.

This is Emma Amos' moment. Her themes — gender and race — press on our minds now. For six decades Amos explored them in prints, paintings and fabrics. She died May 20, just months before a retrospective of her work, "Emma Amos: Color Odyssey," is to open at the Georgia Museum of Art, in Athens. Complications from Alzheimer's took her at age 83, but she knew the show was in the works.

That picture above is a self-portrait. Here's her photograph.

I hate snow. Which means I most especially hate this week of the year. The week winter begins. It means snow could come. Or, G*d help us, snow is already here. I know, bah humbug. Still ...

I did like it once. Laughed my way through an 8-foot snowstorm years ago in Boston. But I was young. Now ... not so much. Although every time I look at this painting, it takes me back to those happy Boston snow days.

It's such a peaceful image. A woman handing out fruit to a group of young people. But the print is the product of conflict and pain. The bloody, brutal Mexican Revolution (1910-1920) is the theme of an exhibition of prints at the McNay Art Museum in San Antonio, Texas.

For more years than I like to put in print, I've been sharing my late mother-in-law Marjorie Stamberg's delicious Thanksgiving side dish recipe with NPR listeners. (And more recently, readers like you, though this tradition was two decades old by the time NPR.org was born.)

It's become a tradition, a taste delight, and yes, at times, a source of groans and grimaces. Before I go into all that, here are the ingredients:

2 cups raw cranberries, washed
1 small onion
3/4 cup sour cream
1/2 cup sugar
2 tbs horseradish (!!!)

My grandfathers (a tailor and a carpenter) came to America from Lithuania in the late 1800s. I've been thinking about their journeys lately, as immigrants from Central and South America dare to dream of futures here. These days, immigrants from Asia make up the largest share of new U.S. arrivals. And a Korean American artist in Los Angeles is capturing the experience of immigration in works that capture my attention and admiration.

Do you have a shrine? Religious, maybe, but not necessarily. A place where you are filled with awe?

I have several. One (you won't believe this) was the former Liberace Museum. Liberace, who died in 1987, was a fabulous musician with a collection of pianos, including one that once belonged to George Gershwin. (You must take a moment to watch this video of the understated, dignified Wladziu Valentino Liberace playing Gershwin on another piano in his collection.)

In 1939, anticipating the German invasion of Paris in World War II, designer Coco Chanel closed up shop. "This is no time for fashion," she said. And, to put it delicately, she shacked up at the Ritz with her lover — a Nazi intelligence officer.

In World War I, however, Chanel was selling hats, and kept selling them throughout that war.

Years back, a friend visited the Barnes Foundation, a wonderland of Cezannes, Matisses, and zaftig Renoir gals. After going through the galleries she observed, "All those naked women! What's with that?!"

In the Old Normal, you bought a new shirt, wore it to work and people noticed. "Oh, new blouse!" Or, "Mmmm, new shirt." These Now Normal pandemic days, working at home means wearing the same thing (in my case an old T-shirt and ancient huge blue shorts that are fitting better day after imprisonment day). The only thing people comment on when you go out — if you go out — is your face mask. And if the comment is positive, they can't even see you smile.