On January 24, 1906, the Smithsonian’s Board of Regents unanimously voted to accept Charles Lang Freer’s gift of a remarkable American and Asian art collection and the means to sustain it. This vote capped several years of contentious negotiation that led a frustrated Freer to seek the intervention of President Theodore Roosevelt. This important moment in the nation’s cultural history played out against the background of Japan’s shockingly swift rise as a modern society with territorial expansionist aims and America’s attempts to construct an East Asia policy. The arrival of Freer’s gift in Washington, DC, is a story of cultural diplomacy with “big stick” backing, as told by Senior Curator of Japanese Art James Ulak.
This talk is part of the series The Freer Story, celebrating the reopening of the Freer Gallery of Art.
James Ulak joined the Freer|Sackler in 1995. He has developed and produced numerous exhibitions, including Masters of Mercy: The Buddha’s Amazing Disciples (2012); Kiyochika: Master of the Night (2014), Sōtatsu: Making Waves (2015–16), and Inventing Utamaro: A Japanese Masterpiece Rediscovered (2017). In 2010, the Government of Japan conferred on Dr. Ulak the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Rosette, in recognition of exceptional achievement in strengthening Japan-US bilateral relations in the area of cultural exchange.