KATE: Hail and Farewell!

Portrait of Katharine Hepburn
 Katharine Hepburn/Everett Raymond Kinstler, 1982/Oil on canvas/National Portrait Gallery; gift of Everett Raymond Kinstler/© 1982 Everett Raymond Kinstler

The National Portrait Gallery’s “One Life: KATE, A Centennial Celebration” is closing soon, so be sure to see the exhibition before September 28, its final day. In this blog post, NPG’s Amy Henderson, curator of “KATE,” bids farewell to this centennial celebration of Katharine Hepburn’s birth.

Katharine Hepburn was right—she was absolutely fascinating. She proved that again and again this year as “KATE” was visited by throngs of enthusiastic audiences. People clearly enjoyed seeing her four Best Actress Oscars, but I think they were particularly drawn by the wonderfully affectionate portrait by Everett Raymond Kinstler (above) that Hepburn deemed her “favorite.”

The ratty red sweater also had its fans, who understood with me that that well-worn personal artifact lent the exhibition something “real” of her spirit. And I was delighted to see how carefully visitors read the labels, most of which used Hepburn’s own words and resonated with her personality.

Oh, did I mention the color red, her favorite color?! The exhibition was a red showcase of Kate Color, instantly drawing the visitor onto the Hepburn stage.

One of the things that touched me most was a young student from Duke Ellington School of the Arts who used “KATE” as her selection for the Portrait Gallery’s 2008 Portraits Alive! program this summer. Chelsea Harrison, a marvelously talented actor, suffused herself into Hepburn’s personality and created a jaw-dropping characterization that left her audience (me among them) in awe. You could almost hear Hepburn chortling somewhere, saying “See? I told you I was fascinating….”

View of "One Life: KATE" exhibition