Day Tour

American Biography for Families (3 Hours)

Context Travel

Washington, DC United States

Valid for Travel Now Through: 30 Mar 2019

American Biography for Families (3 Hours )

Washington, DC United States

Tour Features


  • Culture, History & Arts
  • Sightseeing



Recommended Ages

All Ages

Activity Level



The collections of the National Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian American Art Museum, housed in adjoining buildings, provide a unique opportunity for children and their parents to learn about the development of art in America. During this three-hour walk led by an art historian or educator, we’ll use a range of paintings, sculptures, and decorative arts as our visual textbook to explore major themes in American history and learn about the methods and materials artists used to make art from the nation’s earliest years to the 20th century.

Starting with the revolutionary period, we’ll examine portraits of such major historic figures as Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson. As we look closely at their portraits, we’ll discover how to recognize features and details that tell us about their personalities, and learn how these important figures helped shape the nation. We’ll also visit with some less well-known faces such as those from George Catlin’s Indian Gallery and talk about the idea of manifest destiny as illustrated in magnificent landscapes such as Albert Bierstadt’s, Among the Sierra Nevada, and Emmanuel Leutze’s Westward Ho!. Moving into the late 19th century, we’ll spend time with the storied sculpture The Death of Cleopatra by Edmonia Lewis and Lilly Martin Spencer’s painting We Both Must Fade to learn about ways that women and minorities gained recognition in the late nineteenth-century as artists in their own right. As we pull apart these three themes, we’ll mine the sculptures and paintings we discover for clues of the methods and materials that the artists used to tell their stories.

During the second half of the walk, we’ll shift gears to the twentieth century and focus on the Smithsonian’s rich collections of American folk and contemporary art. Using what we’ve learned about traditional materials and methods for making art, we’ll learn how new industrial technologies and regional traditions have encouraged artists to experiment beyond traditional oil paint, canvas, plaster, and marble. With works like Mr. Imagination’s Bottlecap Figure with Mirror and Deborah Butterfield’s Monekana we'll discover how artists used found objects and the art of disguise to fool our eye. For the older children in the family, this part of the walk might also include an introduction to and discussion of a range of topics including early modernism, non-objective representation, and the rise of installation art.

We’ll cap off our walk by heading upstairs to the Lunder Conservation Center to learn about the ways in which the museum preserves the paintings, sculptures, and decorative arts we’ve encountered on our walk. For the youngest visitors in the group, we may also visit the Luce Center for American Art – the museum’s open storage facility– and conclude our time together with a treasure hunt.

This walk grounds children and their parents in the traditional themes, materials and methods of American art and can be adjusted to the particular needs and age ranges of the children. As with all of our family walks, our docents will tailor the experience for the family.

About Us

The Context vision is to create an atmosphere—a context, if you will—for curious travelers to engage with local experts; to give them access to places and cultures that might otherwise remain out of sight to the casual visitor; to invite them off the tourist track and into the real life of the people, history, and heritage that make these cultural capitals amazing. With no more than six people, you'll participate in an intimate, hands-on, conversational experience. No Tour Guides - Our docents are first and foremost scholars or specialists, with MAs, Ph.D.s, or other terminal degrees in their fields of study.

Insider Tip

Contact your Virtuoso Travel Advisor for insider knowledge to help enhance your experience.

Terms & Conditions

Context walks can be cancelled up to 48 hours prior to the walk with an 85% refund. Within 48 hours all reservations are final and cannot be refunded. Walks are held rain or shine with some variations to accommodate the weather. If you are running late for your meeting with our docent, we ask that you call to alert us so that we can relay the message to the docent. No shows are treated as last-minute cancellations and are non-refundable. Cancellations within three business days need to be made by phone to the emergency number provided in your confirmation email. Cancellations within three business days made via email or by calling our U.S. 800 number may not be honored. Other terms and conditions may apply.

The trademarks VIRTUOSO, the Globe Swirl Logo and SPECIALISTS IN THE ART OF TRAVEL are registered trademarks of Virtuoso, Ltd. Virtuoso, Ltd. has a U.S. copyright registration for the Globe Swirl Logo, ©2000. All rights reserved. Virtuoso CST#2069091-50. California CST# 2069091; TA# 808 - Registered Iowa Travel Agency; Washington UBI # 601 554 183. Registration as a seller of travel does not constitute approval by the State of California.

Reviews and Recommendations for Context Travel


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Italy trip

By: Joe C

Reviewed on: 27 Jun 2018

Without question they did a superb job.
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"The Great European Tour"

By: MJ

Reviewed on: 14 Aug 2018

The trip was our first experience with Context and it was amazing!
Travel Advisor:  Donna Peacock
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By: Shari

Reviewed on: 17 Nov 2018

The 6 person maximum of Context tours really made for an intimate learning experience. The docents they get to lead the groups were top notch!
Travel Advisor:  Kelly Millington