Forces of Nature: Voices that Shaped Environmentalism

October 20, 2023 - September 2, 2024
woman standing before a colorful aquarium
Julie Packard by Hope Gangloff Acrylic on Canvas, 2019. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; funded by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Board of Trustees. Copyright Hope Gangloff 


“Forces of Nature: Voices that Shaped Environmentalism” presents some of the key people—scientists, politicians, activists, writers and artists—whose work has influenced attitudes toward the environment in the United States from the late 19th century until today. The exhibition traces a history of the movement from turn-of-the-20th-century conservationism to mid-20th-century environmentalism and its backlash. It also addresses present-day action on environmental justice, biodiversity and climate. Drawing mainly from the National Portrait Gallery’s collection, “Forces of Nature: Voices that Shaped Environmentalism” features more than 25 portraits of people who have made an enduring impact on public perceptions of the natural world, including the well-known figures Rachel Carson, George Washington Carver, Maya Lin, Henry David Thoreau and Edward O. Wilson. The exhibition will bring together portraiture, visual biography and the sitters’ own words to probe this important—and complicated—history.

“Forces of Nature: Voices that Shaped Environmentalism” is guest curated by Lacey Baradel, former science historian at the National Science Foundation, and will be on view from Oct. 20, 2023, through Sept. 2, 2024.