Singing the Praises of American Art

It's hard to say which soared highest over the weekend at the Corcoran Gallery of Art: the voices of the Howard University Gospel Choir or the spirits of hundreds of alumni from historic black schools here to see a special exhibit.

"I feel like these pieces are friends of mine," said Fisk graduate Gloria Akers, who came to Washington yesterday with a bus load of former classmates to see "To Conserve a Legacy: American Art From Historically Black Colleges and Universities"--more than 200 freshly restored works from Clark Atlanta, Fisk, Hampton, Howard, North Carolina Central and Tuskegee universities.

In conjunction with the exhibit, the Corcoran honored alumni from the six universities and offered lectures, seminars and workshops on genealogy, art and conservation--not to mention yesterday's raise-the-roof gospel brunch.

After seconds of waffles, scones, sausages, strawberries, mimosas and coffee, the alums headed upstairs to view the paintings, photographs and sculptures by artists such as William H. Johnson, Jacob Lawrence, Aaron Douglas and Roy DeCarava. Henri Edmonds, chair of the theater department at Howard, studied the weary face of "Susan," a 1930 portrait by Edmund Minor Archer. "I know so many black women like her," he said. "It's got to be after a hard day's work."

"I am thrilled to see this," said Bette Ann Lawrence, a Temple alumna, teacher and art lover. "I knew this would be a watershed show because conservation is so important--and it's not something people pay attention to."

Throw in a gospel brunch and . . . well, it was a great way to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday.

A Man of World Affairs

It was a Jimmy Carter love-fest Wednesday night at the National Geographic Society's "Challenges for the New Millennium" dinner. The most honored ex-president (below with wife Rosalynn and NGS President John Fahey) was feted by 400 friends including his former security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, ex-press secretary Jody Powell, former FBI chief William Webster, explorer Wade Davis, Mayor Anthony Williams, NPR President Kevin Klose, ambassadors from Brazil, Spain, Sweden and South Africa--and received a surprise tribute by his grandson Jason Carter, who flew in from South Africa for the event. The 39th president managed to make his speech on world affairs seem smart, funny and charming. Are we sure we can't persuade him to run for president again?

Seeing Czars

Is it better to be a White Russian or to drink a White Russian? Both provided a kick at the Mayflower Hotel Friday night, where descendants of the exiled imperial aristocracy gathered for the czar-studded 30th annual Russian New Year's Eve Ball. Prince Alexis Obolensky, who can trace his family back to 864, and his Alabama-born wife, Princess Selene Obolensky, below, invited more than 300 friends to the quirky fete, which is held on the Orthodox New Year and designed to re-create an Imperial Court ball.

The party drew an eclectic mix of political, military and diplomatic types, including Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, former congressman James Symington, Channel 4 weatherman Bob Ryan, a number of ambassadors and international lobbyist Edward von Kloberg, who gave out boxes of (what else?) Czar Nicholas chocolates to the ladies at his table.

CAPTION: The Howard Gospel Choir, left, writer Bette Ann Lawrence, above, and right, physician Ed Beatty.