In the Fall of 2020, the National Portrait Gallery, in collaboration with the White House and the National First Ladies’ Library, opened a temporary exhibition entitled “Every Eye Is Upon Me: First Ladies of the United States”, in recognition of the innumerable contributions made by these 52 women to our history and culture. The exhibition brings together more than sixty objects to illuminate the accomplishments, personalities, and lives of the nation’s first ladies. A supporting bilingual website for this most anticipated exhibition was desired to reach a larger audience and provide a pandemic solution for visitors. The First Ladies site was modeled after NPG’s signature permanent exhibition entitled “America’s Presidents”, a bilingual website that provides in-depth information on each of the President’s time in office along with the portrait displayed in the permanent exhibition.
The site has two main components: the online version of the exhibition and a research portal that mines resources from the entire National Portrait Gallery’s collection. The easy to navigate Exhibition site groups the women into six different eras of American history in chronological order. Because the portraits are the focus of the exhibit, each high-resolution image opens in its own modal and can be enlarged to view the incredible details of the portraits. Large imagery along with personal details captures the historical significance each of these ladies brought to the White House. The digital images are available for download for research purposes and accessible icons make sharing this site easy for users.
The research portal features a robust search engine that examines the entirety of the National Portrait Gallery’s collection. This makes it easy to discover additional information, imagery, and artifacts in one central location. Filters help to narrow your search results by medium or date of work. The portal also features curated blog posts dedicated to various First Ladies and two NPG podcasts featuring the late journalist Cokie Roberts. The portal introduces a section entitled “Connecting with the First Ladies” which shares social media and podcast links for recent First Ladies. An Educational Resources section is available that not only outlines all the sources of information for the site’s contents but also provides teacher-created curricula specifically for Classroom Resources such as Smithsonian Learning Lab interactives and downloadable activities.
The “First Ladies of the United States” website was built with a “mobile-first” strategy that allows all the ease of use of mobile, without sacrificing content. The portraits appear full screen and the site utilizes expandable functionality to show or hide content with a single tap. Horizontal swiping helps to eliminate long scrolling, and “close” buttons will bring a user back to a central navigation strategy.
Because this site launched in an election year, the ability to add a potential new First Lady was imperative for the National Portrait Gallery staff. The Drupal administrative dashboard makes it easy for content managers to keep the site up-to-date using the custom documentation we provided. NPG staff can add new First Lady portraits and content, create curated searches and add them to the Research materials, and expand the Educational Resources section with new and revised content.