- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 24, 2001

First lady Laura Bush yesterday urged Americans to visit museums, saying it's a great family outing during this time of uncertainty.
"I think there can be something very comforting about art, about the visual arts as well as music," said Mrs. Bush, who visited the National Gallery of Art yesterday morning with her mother, Jenna Welch, and about 20 of her East Wing White House staffers.
The first lady, who was escorted by Earl A. Powell III, director of the gallery, said she hoped that families would "remember to take their children to museums" and Washington workers would stop in during their lunch hours.
"It's just important to try to do things that are very normal in this time of such uncertainty for all of us," she said, adding that art shows offer a taste of how people once lived, and "how time passes and what history is."
Museum visits are down since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
The National Gallery of Art typically sees between 5 million and 7 million visitors a year, with an average of 17,000 to 21,000 visitors a day, said Deborah Ziska, spokeswoman for the gallery.
In the two weeks after the attacks, museum traffic fell to between 3,000 and 7,000 visits a day, she said.
Sundays the most popular day for visits saw fewer than 10,000 visitors in September and between 14,500 and 17,500 visitors in October, she said.
With the recent opening of three new exhibits, including "Virtue and Beauty: Leonardo's Ginevra de' Benci and Renaissance Portraits of Women," which Mrs. Bush and her entourage visited, traffic is starting to pick up, said Ms. Ziska. "We have some good, loyal museum goers around here."
During yesterday's tour, art lecturer Russ Sale explained how the portraits were among the first done of merchant-class women by themselves.
Before the 1430s, he said, the only females likely to appear on canvas were religious figures or the wives of powerful men.
The "Virtue and Beauty" exhibit, which extends through Jan. 6, includes works by Filippo Lippi, Sandro Botticelli, Domenico Ghirlandaio, and Agnolo Bronzino, as well as the portrait of Ginevra de' Benci, which is the only portrait by Leonardo da Vinci showing in the Western Hemisphere.

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