WASHINGTON - The National Portrait Gallery selected three images from its vast collection last month and asked the Internet to pick one of them to hang in a prominent space.
The ballot gave biographical information about the choices - images of artist Georgia O'Keeffe, civil-rights activist James Meredith, and singer Bette Midler - but it raised a baffling question: Why these three images? What was the connection? The answer might surprise you.
But first - the winner was Arnold Newman's photograph of O'Keeffe, which received 43 percent of the 3,829 votes cast, according to the museum. Meredith came in a distant second with 30 percent, and Midler third.
As a result, the photograph of O'Keeffe has been placed on the museum's Recognize wall - off the gallery's G Street lobby - which is the space it uses to react to public events. The Recognize wall is where a portrait of Robin Williams was displayed after the comedian's death, for example.
Museum officials declared the crowd-sourcing project a success. They have plans for a second vote early next year.
Balloting lasted only two weeks because "the Internet doesn't have a long attention span," program manager Allison Jessing said. "We wanted that sense of urgency."
And the voting happened only online, as a way to avoid ballot-stuffing in the gallery and to engage audiences beyond the museum walls.
But why these three? Jessing said they couldn't just open the vault and bring out any image they wanted. So a small committee started with eight or 10 pieces that were "conservation-ready and display-ready" and pared the list down to these three.
The connective tissue is thin. Each had an anniversary during the time of the project, although none is a milestone. O'Keeffe's 127th birthday would have been Nov. 15 (she was born in 1887), and Midler turned 69 Monday. Meredith became the first African American student at the University of Mississippi - on Oct. 1, 1962, 52 years ago.
Ian Cooke, who manages the program with Jessing, said the head-scratching is welcome.
"One of the things we hope to do," Cooke said, "is showcase the breadth of our collection. . . .
"One of the things we're excited about, that's baked into what we do, is we are in a two-way relationship and we want to hear back from" visitors, he said. "We want to expand the conversation."