Last month, the “Watching Oprah: The Oprah Winfrey Show and American Culture” exhibition opened at the National Museum of African American History and Culture of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC. It will be on view through June 2019.
The exhibition explores the era that shaped Winfrey’s life and early career in television, highlighting the impact of her long-running talk show that dominated daytime TV for 25 years. Also, the exhibition and its interpretation show how Winfrey and her work in broadcast journalism has influenced American popular culture. It features original artifacts from the Harpo Studios in Chicago, and from the Smithsonian collections such as photographs, video clips and other vintage materials. The exhibition was co-curated by Rhea Combs and Kathleen Kendrick.
Artifacts have been part of Winfrey’s allure for some time, and the television powerhouse is no stranger to art, antiques and collectibles. At a recent auction of her personal stuff, Winfrey sold off many items that no longer fit the way she wants to live. Like many of my appraisal clients, Winfrey found as she prepared to sell her objects that the objects that she had bought and lived with spark emotions, carry memories and are difficult to part with.
An important tip that I share with my clients when I consult with them and conduct in-home appraisal sessions or video chat appraisals nationwide is to select 10 precious objects that you just will not give up. After that, prioritize objects that you can sell by getting input from family members. Did you know that Winfrey loves dolls? She noted in an interview that she was not allowed to have dolls growing up, so she collected antique and vintage dolls. Her rare dark-skinned Jumeau doll from the 1800s was an object that she put a high priority on and was not willing to sell. You may have items like this in your collection, too.
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Winfrey sold off a massive 19th-century French crystal chandelier attributed to Baccarat, an original canvas banner for her film, "The Color Purple," a brass bed designed especially for napping, comfy sofas from her movie screening room, a set of library steps, armoires in various woods and styles, chairs from her office at Harpo studios dating to circa 1996, Staffordshire lions and the list goes on. Winfrey liked fine French antiques such as a French Empire period chaise with melon-shaped feet and a set of six 18th-century Louis XVI style armchairs with hand-embroidered upholstery. The auction raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to further the education of all the graduates of Winfrey's Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa.
The exhibition at the Smithsonian will certainly attract many visitors and give patrons a look at how a talk show host with a vision can have a major impact on American culture and the future of education around the globe.