Feed aggregator

Flashback Friday: Stettheimer Sisters

Smithsonian Collections - Fri, 10/24/2014 - 8:00am
This October, the Smithsonian Collections Blog is celebrating American Archives Month with a month-long blogathon! We will be posting new content almost every weekday with the theme Discover and Connect. See additional posts from our other participating blogs, as well as related events and resources, on the Smithsonian’s Archives Month website.

I wrote a post for this blog in 2011 after cataloging images in the Peter A. Juley & Son Collection of art work by Carrie and Florine Stettheimer. In that post I introduced paintings by Florine, as well as the fabulous dollhouse created by Carrie. I also mentioned the private salons and artist parties that were frequently hosted by the two, along with a third sister, Ettie. The sisters were well known in Manhattan’s early 20th century artist circles and were themselves huge champions of the Modern Art movement. Some of their artist friends included Carl Van Vechten, Marcel Duchamp, and Georgia O’Keeffe.

Florine Stettheimer, Carrie with Dollhouse, 1923   Florine Stettheimer, Cathedrals of Art, 1942Thanks to a recent permissions request, we’ve ‘discovered’ more Stettheimer images in the Juley Collection -- photographs of the interiors of the Stettheimer’s home, and of the studio Florine later kept in Bryant Park. I was thrilled to find these as they really help the viewer’s imagination in bringing the salons out of the fantastical world of Florine’s paintings and placing them in a real time in history. It’s easy to picture the sisters and their friends hanging out in the Stettheimer home or in Florine’s studio. 


Florine was also interested in interior design, as evidenced by the colorful décor from her studio. The rooms there were adorned in lace, cellophane and floral patterns, echoing a similar aesthetic found in her paintings and theatrical design.
Interior of Stettheimer home, New YorkThese images were originally mislabeled as depicting an unknown location, but after a bit of searching we were able to locate the entire set and correctly catalog them in SIRIS. You can see the rest of the images, along with other works by the Stettheimer sisters here.
Rachel BrooksPhotograph ArchivesSmithsonian American Art Museum

Throwback Thursday: Peter Blume, From Concept to Realization

Smithsonian Collections - Thu, 10/23/2014 - 8:00am
This October, the Smithsonian Collections Blog is celebrating American Archives Month with a month-long blogathon! We will be posting new content almost every weekday with the theme Discover and Connect. See additional posts from our other participating blogs, as well as related events and resources, on the Smithsonian’s Archives Month website.


Russian American artist Peter Blume’s highly detailed surrealist allegoric paintings helped define American modernism.  Active from the mid-1930s through the 1980s, Blume’s creative process included sketching and drawing many drafts of his large-scale paintings.  Here, we see a sampling of sequentially numbered sketches Blume completed for his painting Tassos Oak, 1957-1960. The artist’s creative process is documented in numerous sketches and photographs found among the circa eight linear feet of Peter Blume’s papers at the Archives of American Art, as well as in an oral history interview with the artist conducted by the Archives in 1983.

Photograph of the actual Tasso's Oak tree in Rome, undated. Peter Blume papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
Tasso's Oak study (#DPS60-24), circa 1950- 1960. Peter Blume papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
Tasso's Oak study (#DPS60-29), circa 1950-1960. Peter Blume papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
Tasso's Oak study (#DPS60-8), circa 1950-1960. Peter Blume papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
Tasso's Oak study (#DPS60-12), circa 1950-1960. Peter Blume papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Peter Blume working on his painting Tasso's oak, between 1957 and 1960 / unidentified photographer. Peter Blume papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
Peter Blume reflected in a mirror standing in front of his painting Tasso's oak, most likely in his studio, circa 1957-1960
Barbara Aikens, Head of Collections Processing
Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution

75th Anniversary of "Gone with the Wind"

Smithsonian Collections - Wed, 10/22/2014 - 8:00am
This October, the Smithsonian Collections Blog is celebrating American Archives Month with a month-long blogathon! We will be posting new content almost every weekday with the theme Discover and Connect. See additional posts from our other participating blogs, as well as related events and resources, on the Smithsonian’s Archives Month website.
Bulk-mail (postcard) hanging advertisement for the Marlboro Theatre, Upper Marlboro, Maryland, advertising the program for the week of April 14th, 1940, highlighting the premiere of ‘Gone With the Wind’. Robinson and Via Family Papers, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, AC0475-0000269-02).The David O. Selznick film version of Margaret Mitchell’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, “Gone With the Wind” (GWTW) celebrates the 75th anniversary of its premiere in December 2014. In the current era, when blockbusters, or would-be blockbusters, are released at regular intervals, the excitement around the original opening of GWTW may seem strange to us.  This object of advertising ephemera from the Marlboro Theatre in Upper Marlboro, Prince George’s County, Maryland provides a window into the film’s promotion to a rural audience.  The Marlboro, designed by John Eberson, was built for theatre entrepreneur Sidney Lust and had opened for business in January 1938. 

GWTW did not go into general release until after a star-studded premiere in Atlanta in December 1939.  With immediate popularity and wide critical acclaim the film became the “must see” motion picture event of 1940.  GWTW did not reach Upper Marlboro until April 28, 1940 and Lust used bulk mail to advertise its coming to the Marlboro Theatre’s largely rural customer base.  Lust cleverly used a hanging card and on the reverse side of the GWTW promotional postcard advertised the theatre’s April 14-27 program.  At .75 for unreserved and $1.10 for reserved seating (roughly $12 and $18 in current money), the cost of a GWTW ticket was quite an investment for local tobacco farmers and their families.  The Washington Post reported the day after the opening, “'Gone With the Wind’ opened in three of Sidney Lust’s Maryland theaters yesterday before large and appreciative audiences.  The famous Selznick production was presented simultaneously at the Hyattsville Theater, in Hyattsville; the Milo Theater, in Rockville; and the Marlboro Theater, in Upper Marlboro.” (“Gone With the Wind”, The Washington Post, April 29, 1940, page16.)

Verso of image above.  A bulk-mail hanging advertisement for the Marlboro Theatre, Upper Marlboro, Maryland advertising other films on the schedule for April 14-27, 1940.   Robinson and Via Family Papers, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, AC0475-0000269-01.Other Archives Center collections contain material related to this film.  Only a few weeks earlier and about twenty miles away, African Americans had picketed the showing of "Gone with the Wind" at the Lincoln Theatre in the segregated Shaw neighborhood of Washington, D.C.  The film's racist assumptions and stereotyped portrayals of African Americans roused normally complacent residents to mount a protest that foreshadowed the civil rights activism of the 1960s.

"Jim Crow" showing of "Gone with the Wind" / at the uptown Lincoln Theater. Rufus Byars, manager of Lincoln on left.
Probably photographed by Roberts S. Scurlock, March 9, 1940.  Scurlock Studio Records, Archives Center, NMAH

Franklin A. Robinson, Jr.
Archivist, Archives Center
National Museum of American History

Artful Collaborations at the Howard Theatre

Smithsonian Collections - Tue, 10/21/2014 - 11:00am
This October, the Smithsonian Collections Blog is celebrating American Archives Month with a month-long blogathon! We will be posting new content almost every weekday with the theme Discover and Connect. See additional posts from our other participating blogs, as well as related events and resources, on the Smithsonian’s Archives Month website.

For decades the Howard Theatre, located at 620 T St NW, Washington, DC has collaborated with notable African American artists. Throughout its influential history, since 1910, almost every African American musician and singer has performed at the Howard Theatre. Some of the most notable appearances at the iconic theatre include Billie Holiday, Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington and Charlie Parker. Add to the roster the talent of Louis Armstrong, Sara Vaughn, Pearl Bailey, Ella Fitzgerald and Count Basie. Clearly the Howard has a significant contribution to the history of African American theatre.

In 1968, segregation and the ensuing riots presented the venue with many challenges. As a result of the societal and cultural climate, the Howard closed in 1970. The Howard Theatre Foundation was organized in 1973 by a group of local citizens in effort to preserve the cultural legacy of the Howard Theatre. The purpose of the foundation was to preserve the Howard Theatre as a viable cultural institution through fostering recognition and appreciation of the African American contribution to the performing arts. Due to the efforts of the Howard Theatre Foundation, the theatre was placed on the national register of historic places and reopened on February 15, 1975.  The Theatre Foundation also collaborated with other local cultural and historic organizations including Operation Heritage, Market 5 gallery, Museum of Temporary Art, and the African Heritage.

Harold Curtis Brown illustration, 1924. Henry P. Whitehead Collection, Anacostia Community Museum Archives, Smithsonian Institution, gift of Michael A. Watkins.Through recognizing outstanding local talent and providing suitable facilities for the presentation of theater, music and dance, the Howard Theatre has had a direct and dynamic impact on the history of African American culture. A local talented artists illustrations can be seen in two 1924 programs recently found within the collection. Harold Curtis Brown, today an unknown figure in American Art illustrated three known Howard Theatre programs. Brown was an artist, designer, illustrator, and decorator. Brown spent a year in Washington, DC where he ran an art shop “Blakra” on U Street a few blocks from the Howard Theatre. At the time these programs and one known other were distributed Brown was currently living and working in New York City beautifying the homes of the elite. Harold Curtis Brown worked primarily in interior decorating a field which was vastly unexplored by African Americans at the time.          
Henry P. Whitehead was a local Washington, DC historian who led efforts to restore Washington's U Street cultural corridor and achieved recognition as an authority on and collector of black theatrical memorabilia. Mr. Whitehead worked to promote and preserve Washington, DC’s rich African American cultural heritage. His collection was donated to the Anacostia Community Museum in 2005 and is currently being processed and will soon be available for research.

Claire Norman
Project Archivist
Anacostia Community Museum Archives

Taking Flak-Bait for a Walk

Smithsonian Collections - Mon, 10/20/2014 - 8:00am
This October, the Smithsonian Collections Blog is celebrating American Archives Month with a month-long blogathon! We will be posting new content almost every weekday with the theme Discover and Connect. See additional posts from our other participating blogs, as well as related events and resources, on the Smithsonian’s Archives Month website.

With much of the work of the National Air and Space Museum taking place behind the scenes, the glass-enclosed Mary Baker Engen Restoration Hangar allows visitors to discover and connect to our work in real time.  Time and again we hear a very popular question: “How did that get there???”  In the case of the newest hangar occupant, the Martin B-26B Marauder Flak-Bait, the answer is: “With the help of the Archives.”

View of the Mary Baker Engen Restoration Hangar floor from the visitor overlook.  Taken during the 2014 Hazy Open House (hence, the visitors on the shop floor).  NASM 2014-00195The Archives?  As told in last week’s Flashback Friday, in the past, we have provided drawings and information in order for restoration specialist to build new parts, such as clips.  But moving an entire airplane?

Flak-Bait was the first Allied bomber in the European Theater of WWII to complete 200 missions.  It was transferred to the National Air and Space Museum in 1949 but it did not come to DC until 1960.  When the Museum building opened in 1976, the forward fuselage section was a highlight in the World War II gallery.  The entire airplane has never been exhibited intact.  In fact, the forward fuselage section had never left the World War II Gallery and was already in place when the overhead walkway was built.  Questions abounded.  Could Flak-Bait go back under the walkway?  Would Flak-Bait even fit into the freight elevator all the way at the other end of the Museum?!

Flak-Bait leads other Martin-B-236 Marauders of the 332nd Bombardment Group over Belgium to Magdeburg, Germany, on 17 April 1945.  This was Flak-Bait's 200th mission.  NASM A-42346The Archives again scoured our collections for manufacturer’s drawings of the B-26B.  Fortunately, unlike with the Helldiver, the set of reels contained an index!!   Based on these drawings, Archives and Restoration made a life-sized cutout of the nose section of the B-26.  First, the freight elevator was mocked up on the floor of the Restoration Hangar.  So far, so good.

A life-size cutout of the B-26B Marauder Flak-Bait on the floor of the Mary Baker Engen Restoration Hangar.  Green tape marks represent the dimensions of the freight elevator on the Mall.  NASM 2014-02801The next step was to take the cutout, affectionately dubbed “Flat-Bait,” to the Mall and walk it through the complicated route.

Starting out in the WWII Gallery.  Flak-Bait on the left.  Flat-Bait on the right.  NASM 2014-03656With careful direction and measuring, Flat-Bait made it out of the gallery and into the museum corridor.

Taking Flat-Bait for a walk.  NASM 2014-03657Then came the next test—the freight elevator.  Success!

Flat-Bait fits!  NASM 2014-03665June 18 was the big day!  Flak-Bait moved down the hall to the freight elevator and…fit!

The real Flak-Bait enters the freight elevator.  NASM 2014-03304Flak-Bait was then loaded into a truck and carried to the Udvar-Hazy Center, where it has since been reunited with the other two sections of the fuselage.

Hangar Sweet Hangar!!  NASM 2014-03788Although currently you can only view Flak-Bait with your face pressed up against the glass of the hangar, the National Air and Space Museum has found ways for you to still connect with the work that we’re doing.  The Museum is constantly updating our Twitter, Facebook, and Flickr accounts with Flak-Bait photos.  Another great source for information is our AirSpace blog.

We in the Archives can’t wait to see what else we will discover in our collections to help!!

Elizabeth C. Borja, Archivist
National Air and Space Museum Archives

Friday Flashback: Hello, Helldiver!

Smithsonian Collections - Fri, 10/17/2014 - 8:00am
This October, the Smithsonian Collections Blog is celebrating American Archives Month with a month-long blogathon! We will be posting new content almost every weekday with the theme Discover and Connect. See additional posts from our other participating blogs, as well as related events and resources, on the Smithsonian’s Archives Month website.

During Archives Month 2013, the National Air and Space Museum Archives told one of the many true stories behind the restoration of the Museum’s Curtiss SB2C-5 Helldiver.  In this story, restoration specialist Will Lee created a new clip for the outboard trailing edge using Curtiss manufacturer’s drawings from the Archives’ collections.
NASM Restoration specialist Will Lee with drawings from the Archives Department and newly fabricated parts for the Museum's Curtiss SB2C-5 Helldiver.  NASM 2013-03245On April 1, 2014, the Helldiver finally went on display at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia!  Although you can’t see the clip Will constructed under the fabric, dope, and paint, we all know it’s there! 
The Curtiss SB2C-5 Helldiver on display at the Steven F. Udvar Hazy Center.  NASM 2014-01742And that isn’t quite the end of the story. Will gave the Archives duplicate copies of his work. We now pair these pieces with reproductions of the drawings as show and tell in Museum events, such as Become a Pilot Day and the Hazy Open House.
Will's duplicate pieces were part of the NASM Archives showcase in front of the Helldiver at Become a Pilot Day 2014.  (I'm very excited about something!)  NASM 2014-03501What is the National Air and Space Museum up to next?  Stay tuned for Monday’s post!

Elizabeth C. Borja, Archivist
National Air and Space Museum Archives

Throwback Thursday: Making Discoveries and Connections through Photography

Smithsonian Collections - Thu, 10/16/2014 - 8:00am
This October, the Smithsonian Collections Blog is celebrating American Archives Month with a month-long blogathon! We will be posting new content almost every weekday with the theme Discover and Connect. See additional posts from our other participating blogs, as well as related events and resources, on the Smithsonian’s Archives Month website.

Alexander Gardner, Kaw Delegates, Washington, D.C., 1867. William T. Sherman Collection of Alexander Gardner Photographs. National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian InstitutionIn the 1920s, two of General William Techumseh Sherman’s descendants donated the general’s sixty large-format albumen prints to the Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation, predecessor institution to the National Museum of the American Indian. Civil War photographer Alexander Gardner had printed these for Sherman from a selection of his negatives of American Indian delegates to Washington, D.C. (1867-1869). These included both views along the Kansas Pacific Railroad (1867), and scenes from the Fort Laramie Treaty signing (1868). The photographs belong to Gardner’s “Scenes in the Indian Country” series and were likely intended to recognize and celebrate Sherman’s role in the Fort Laramie treaty negotiations with the “hostile” Lakota, Crow, and Cheyenne and Araphaho people of the Northern Plains.

The MAI-Heye Foundation individually cataloged Sherman’s photographs but this summer the National Museum of the American Indian Archive Center decided to reunite and re-describe the collection. Although the collection record is not yet available in SIRIS, the project gave me the opportunity to discover and connect. The cultural affiliation of the American Indian delegates pictured in the above photograph is often cited as Sac and Fox, but I recognized important Kaw leader Allegawaho seated at the far right. With this discovery, I contacted Dr. Crystal Douglas of the Kanza Museum of the Kaw Nation for assistance. So far Dr. Douglas has been able to provide definite identifications of two additional sitters, father and son Wahtiangah (standing far right) and Kahtega (standing far left). Gardner also circulated this photograph on a printed mount, and Dr. Douglas pointed out to me that on his mount Gardner reversed their names. By connecting with Native experts like Dr. Douglas, I hope to continue to correct the errors of the past so that future discoveries in the archive will be reliable.

Heather Shannon, Photo Archivist
National Museum of the American Indian, Archive Center


Archivist on the Road

Smithsonian Collections - Wed, 10/15/2014 - 8:00am
This October, the Smithsonian Collections Blog is celebrating American Archives Month with a month-long blogathon! We will be posting new content almost every weekday with the theme Discover and Connect. See additional posts from our other participating blogs, as well as related events and resources, on the Smithsonian’s Archives Month website.

In my capacity as a collector at the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art, I am lucky to be one of those with the opportunity to travel the country to discover new collections to add to our holdings in American art history. In August and September of this summer, I made a circuit around the Rocky Mountains and along the West Coast of the United States in search of letters, sketchbooks, photographs, journals, and other primary resources to acquire for our collection. These voyages of discovery are an incredibly rewarding part of the work we do at SI.

My August trip’s direct route was about 4000 miles, but with side trips to places like Hondo, New Mexico and Aspen, Colorado, among others, I put over 6500 miles on my rental car. There are many means by which we discover the existence of a new cache of papers we may want to acquire. The first, and most common, is from unsolicited offers from artists, dealers, collectors, scholars, or their heirs. Although we can’t accept everything offered to us, we do often run across collections of exceptional depth and scope, like that of Santa Fe dealer Dwight Hackett. Hackett ran an art foundry in New Mexico and worked to realize in metal the work of some of America’s most highly-regarded artists. The records of Art Foundry and his subsequent business Dwight Hackett Projects contain a wealth of research-ready material on artists like Kiki Smith, Lesley Dill, Bruce Nauman, Luis Jimenez, and Lynda Benglis.

The Art Foundry records and the Dwight Hackett Project records comprise over 40 linear feet of correspondence, photographs, drawings, and project files. Another method that we employ for discovering interesting collections for potential acquisition is to build networks in art communities throughout the country. Our friends in the field often suggest people whose papers we might be keen to collect. Such was the case on this trip with metalsmith Tom Joyce, another Santa Fean, to whom I was introduced through a mutual friend. Joyce is a self-made man in every sense of the word. This includes his breathtaking home and studio, which he built by hand without any formal training in architecture. Joyce also collects widely in African metalwork. His papers include a shelf of dense sketchbooks with drawings by Joyce of each new acquisition in his metalwork collection.

Tom Joyce in his studio. In addition to his enviable collections of books and African metalwork, Joyce has a remarkable number of tools for his craft.
Tom Joyce draws each new acquisition of his African metalwork collection so that he can “get to know the piece better.”
Often, we look for collections with a connection to people already represented in our holdings. While in Seattle, Washington, I looked at the papers of the artist Byron Randall. Randall was married to Emmy Lou Packard, whose papers contain important material on her friend, the Mexican painter Frida Kahlo. Randall and Packard also ran a gallery together in Northern California. Collecting in “circles” like this allows us to build on our strengths and comes with the added bonus of getting both sides of a correspondence. 



Ahren Hertel in his Reno, Nevada studio.
My favorite thing to do while I’m on the road is to meet young, emerging artists, whose archives may not be of interest to us yet, but whose promising careers mean we may be knocking on their doors later in life. A friend of mine in Reno, Nevada told me I had to meet two local painters, Jaxon Northon and Ahren Hertel. Both work in similar styles but have very different processes and themes. Not only is it important for us to develop these relationships early, but painters like Northon and Hertel represent a generation of artists whose “papers” will contain virtually no paper at all. Learning how they work, communicate with one another, and market their work is crucial to understanding what archives will look like in the coming decades.


Jason Stieber, National CollectorArchives of American Art

Uncovering the Institute on Race Relations

Smithsonian Collections - Tue, 10/14/2014 - 9:00am
This October, the Smithsonian Collections Blog is celebrating American Archives Month with a month-long blogathon! We will be posting new content almost every weekday with the theme Discover and Connect. See additional posts from our other participating blogs, as well as related events and resources, on the Smithsonian’s Archives Month website.

Having a background in History, I found processing collections is almost like working with a puzzle. At the start, all the pieces are laid before you, and it is your task to organize it bit by bit, photo by photo, news clip by news clip. Once a complete stranger to the material, you come to know it like the back of your hand, and sometimes more thoroughly than a researcher who will later come to use it. By creating a finding aid, especially the biographical scope, you come to regard the collection as a work of art and as a way to help bridge the gap between past and present.

Letterhead from the Institute on Race Relations collection, Anacosita Community Museum Archives, gift of Henry P. Whitehead 
For me, processing the Institute on Race Relations collection was just that— a way to connect with the past and expand my knowledge of the fight for equality in the African American community
mid-20thcentury.
Created in 1943 and based in Washington, D.C. , the purpose of the Institute was multi-fold. It aimed to reform communities in the U.S by advocating for democracy and challenging segregation. It attacked discriminatory practices like Jim Crowism and the segregation of African American soldiers in the U.S military, and advocated for the use of non-violent political action as a way of creating a sense of togetherness in the community.

The main focus of the Institute, however, was to build multi-racial relationships with the hope of allowing collective action to flourish and strengthen the community. America was to look inward and challenge itself to become the greatest democratic nation imaginable. This was the ultimate desire of the Institute, and its message was broadcast to the public through various means.

1949 Banquet announcement, Institute on Race Relations collection, Anacosita Community Museum Archives, gift of Henry P. Whitehead

One of the pieces in the collection that I found interesting was a banquet announcement from President of the Institute Tomlinson D. Todd to members of the Institute advocating support for the Americans All Radio program.  The program featured notable figures in academia, politics and entertainment who professed similar ideas of racial tolerance and democracy in an effort to spread the need for social change.

Such change often came in the form of requests for political action as these documents below demonstrates.
Institute on Race Relations collection, Anacosita Community Museum Archives, gift of Henry P. Whitehead                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             

Institute on Race Relations collection, Anacosita Community Museum Archives, gift of Henry P. Whitehead
Although the Institute on Race Relations operated domestically, it challenged the way in which other oppressed minorities were treated globally. Calling for a march on Washington, the Free India Committee of Reconciliation urged DC residents and citizens alike to march for the liberation of the Indian and Puerto Rican people from their oppressors. This notion of spreading democratic ideals was a major theme found in the Institute on Race Relations collection, and highlights the efforts that all of its members took in order to bring about social change.

This connection between India and America however is one that requires further exploration. Greater emphasis is needed in discovering the history of the Institute on race relations— the history between Gandhi and the desire to utilize non-violent political action in the African American community.

Institute on Race Relations collection, Anacosita Community Museum Archives, gift of Henry P. Whitehead
All in all, I discovered this small collection in its entirety helps to shed light on the necessity of nonviolent political action and the need to develop methods of bringing about peace and harmony in multiple communities.

In processing the Institute on Race Relations records, I was able to take some of the rhetoric, some of the material, and apply it to my own life. At times I became so immersed with the documents that they began to take on a life of their own. In reading the material, I was able to put myself in the shoes of the demonstrators, to fight alongside them as they fought for change in a world that seemed static and inflexible. Their hopes for social transformation in the past mimicked mine in the present, and allowed me to connect with the collection at its core. I had such pleasure processing this collection, and hope that researchersdiscover and connect with this material as much as I have.

Bremacha La Guerre
Volunteer
Anacostia Community Museum  Archives

Band Aid for American Culture: Brass Bands, Marching Bands, Women's Bands, Jazz Bands...

Smithsonian Collections - Mon, 10/13/2014 - 8:00am
This October, the Smithsonian Collections Blog is celebrating American Archives Month with a month-long blogathon! We will be posting new content almost every weekday with the theme Discover and Connect. See additional posts from our other participating blogs, as well as related events and resources, on the Smithsonian’s Archives Month website.

Three years ago I published a blog in this space about the Archives Center’s Hazen Collection of Brass Band Photographs and Ephemera and its wealth of photographs of American brass bands.    Below is another example, which was not published at that time, showing the U.S. Indian School Band of Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

U.S. Indian School Band of Carlisle, Pennsylvania, on trip to Long Branch, New Jersey, 1906.  Photographic postcard.
From the Hazen Collection of Band Photographs and Ephemera, Archives Center, National Museum of American History. The plethora of bands in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century America can be suggested by visual evidence in a number of our other collections as well.  The Underwood & Underwood Glass Stereograph Collection, one of the Archives Center’s original core photographic collections, contains many examples of both American and European marching bands, including military and non-military ensembles.  The murky quality of these images in our online database, SIRIS, is pretty atrocious, thanks to the fact that they represent a transition from videodisc technology to digital.  They were scanned at a very low resolution from analog videodisc images on a television monitor, and the videodisc images themselves were two generations removed from the original glass plate negatives and interpositives (used for making duplicate negatives).  So I’m illustrating one of these photographs in a small size!  Needless to say, we hope to upgrade these scans, and currently are doing so as needed.

White Oak band, White Oak Cotton Mills, Greensboro, North Carolina, ca. 1900-1910.
Silver gelatin stereoscopic interpositive for stereographs published by H.C. White Co., photographer unidentified.
Underwood & Underwood Glass Stereograph Collection, NMAH Archives Center.  A small but fascinating collection of papers and photographs relates to the career of Helen May Butler, a woman bandmaster who directed an all-female traveling military band from 1898-1913.  The Helen May Butler Collection contains photographs such as these:"Ladies' orchestra," Providence, Rhode Island, ca. 1900.  Silver gelatin (?) print by unidentified photographer.
Helen May Butler Collection, NMAH Archives Center.Helen May Butler's Military Band, ca. 1900.  Silver gelatin photographic print, photographer unidentified.
Helen May Butler Collection, NMAH Archives Center.American music is certainly one of the strengths of the Archives Center collections.  We have other collections related to all-women bands, especially in the categories of jazz and other popular music.  The Virgil Whyte “All-Girl” Band Collection contains photographs, papers, and interviews related to an all-female (except the director!) jazz band from Racine, Wisconsin, which toured during World War II to provide entertainment for servicemen at U.S.O. venues.

Virgil Whyte's Musical Sweethearts, ca. 1943.  Silver gelatin photographic print by unidentified photographer.
Virgil Whyte "All Girl" Band Collection, NMAH Archives Center.A companion archive is that of the International Sweethearts of Rhythm, a racially and ethnically mixed swing band, whose members were women. They toured the American South and Midwest, and toured overseas with the USO in 1945.Members of International Sweethearts of Rhythm in performance at Club Plantation, Culver City, California, May 1944.  Silver gelatin print, photographer unidentified.  International Sweethearts of Rhythm Collection, NMAH Archives Center.Of course, as far as professional jazz bands were concerned, all-male groups were the norm.  The Duke Ellington collection contains hundreds of photographs of his orchestra, and the Scurlock Studio Records include photographs of the African American dance bands and jazz orchestras (including "all girl" bands) which once made U Street, N.W. in Washington renowned as the “Black Broadway.”  

Johnson's Capital Rhythm Girls : acetate film photonegative, 1938.  Addison N. Scurlock, photographer.
From the Scurlock Studio Records, NMAH Archives Center. 
Club Prudhom orchestra, in band box : acetate film photonegative, ca. 1930s.  Addison N. Scurlock, photographer.
The negative is taped for cropping.  From the Scurlock Studio Records, NMAH.  Archives Center.Music has been an important aspect of the National Museum of American History's collections, exhibitions, and public programs for decades.  The Museum actively collects and displays musical instruments and sponsors concerts.  The Archives Center works closely with music curators to collect original music manuscripts, published sheet music, ephemera, photographs, and other archival materials related to our American musical heritage.  Search SIRIS to discover additional examples of the wide variety of music-related documents we collect. 

David Haberstich, Curator of Photography
Archives Center, National Museum of American History

Flashback Friday: Turner Returns to Brazil

Smithsonian Collections - Fri, 10/10/2014 - 8:00am
This October, the Smithsonian Collections Blog is celebrating American Archives Month with a month-long blogathon! We will be posting new content almost every weekday with the theme Discover and Connect. See additional posts from our other participating blogs, as well as related events and resources, on the Smithsonian’s Archives Month website.

In 2010 for American Archives Month celebration, I wrote a blog post on the pioneering linguist Lorenzo Dow Turner and the Anacostia Community Museum efforts to preserve and digitize his field recordings created between 1930s and 1950s.  Since that post, the museum has successfully recovered and preserved folktales, songs, and interviews Turner collected in West Africa and Brazil. The museum also presented a groundbreaking exhibition on Dr. Turner titled, Word, Shout, Song: Lorenzo Dow Turner Connecting Communities through Language in 2011.  The exhibit looks at the life, research and scholarship of Professor Turner and is based almost entirely on his archival papers and objects in the museum collection.

A section of the exhibition focuses on Turner’s research on African survivals in Afro-Brazilian culture, especially within the Candomblé religion.  The show along with a museum symposium on Turner helped Brazilian scholars unfamiliar with Turner to discover and connect to his work in their country during the 1940s. As a result, “Word, Shout, Song.  . .” exhibition is scheduled to travel in Brazil starting in July 2015.

This will allow the Candomblé communities to connect with the research and documentation conducted by Turner. As an archivist, it gives me professional pleasure to see the materials one has arranged, described, and cataloged as a source for reconnecting a community to their heritage.  In addition, we plan to ingest some of Dr. Turner’s research and appointment books in the Smithsonian Transcription Center for the benefit of scholars, researchers, and the communities he researched.

In the meanwhile, here are some images from Turner’s research in Brazil:

Woman dressed as Iyansã goddess of the wind and storms and the wife of Sangõ, the god of thunder, in the Candomble pantheon. Lorenzo Dow Turner papers, Anacostia Community Museum Archives, Smithsonian Institution, gift of Lois Turner Williams.Afro-Brazilian holding a Berimbau, an Angolan musical instrument.Lorenzo Dow Turner papers, Anacostia Community Museum Archives, Smithsonian Institution, gift of Lois Turner Williams.

Mãe Meninha do Gantois and her followers.Lorenzo Dow Turner papers, Anacostia Community Museum Archives, Smithsonian Institution, gift of Lois Turner Williams.See more images here!Jennifer MorrisArchivistAnacostia Community Museum Archives           

Throwback Thursday: The Early Days of Computing at SI

Smithsonian Collections - Thu, 10/09/2014 - 8:00am
This October, the Smithsonian Collections Blog is celebrating American Archives Month with a month-long blogathon! We will be posting new content almost every weekday with the theme Discover and Connect. See additional posts from our other participating blogs, as well as related events and resources, on the Smithsonian’s Archives Month website.
Nicholas Suszynski, Director of Sl's Information Systems Division, Reginald Creighton, senior systems analyst for the MNH computer project, and Dr. Donald Squires, Deputy Director of the Museum of Natural History, with a computer tape containing scientific data, 1968. Acc. No. 11-008, Smithsonian Institution Archives.
In 1967 the Smithsonian Institution launched a project to develop an information storage and retrieval system for the Museum of Natural History's (MNH) biological and geological data. Data processing machines were set up at the museum for the capture of information from record cards. These machines would produce a tape that could be read by a computer. The Honeywell 1200 computer, which can be seen in the background here, occupied space in the Smithsonian Institution Building, or Castle, and was used to store the data. The computer gave the Smithsonian a record-keeping system capable of storing and retrieving all of the specimen data compiled by MNH.  This was an early effort to better understand and provide access to our collections. We continue to strive for deeper understanding and broader access to collections throughout our vast museum and research complex.

Marguerite Roby, Photograph Archivist
Smithsonian Institution Archives

From Sambusas to Pupusas: Washington, D.C. Foodways at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival

Smithsonian Collections - Wed, 10/08/2014 - 8:00am
This October, the Smithsonian Collections Blog is celebrating American Archives Month with a month-long blogathon! We will be posting new content almost every weekday with the theme Discover and Connect. See additional posts from our other participating blogs, as well as related events and resources, on the Smithsonian’s Archives Month website.

In the Foodways and Home Life area of the African Immigrant Culture in Metropolitan Washington, D.C., program, African cooks prepare traditional meals and talk about how food plays an important role in affirming ethnic identities at the 1997 Smithsonian Folklife Festival. Smithsonian Folklife Festival Records, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections, Smithsonian Institution.When I travel, the first thing on my mind is what I'm going to eat. The minute breakfast is over, I'm thinking about lunch, and then I'm onto answering the eternal question, "How many snacks can I physically manage without getting too full for dinner?" (I truly live life on the edge). I probably have a list of foods to check off in my pocket--I shudder to think of missing out on anything delicious that I can't get anywhere else. That might make me very grumpy.

Unfortunately, I'm no jetsetter, so I get my kicks in my own Washington, D.C. Fortunately, I work at the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, the unit that puts on the Smithsonian Folklife Festival every summer on the National Mall, and for two beautiful and scorching weeks every year I make my way down to the foodways tents to learn how to make something new. As an archivist, I can easily look through extensive documentation of these demonstrations from past Festivals: from the very beginning, the organizers of the Folklife Festival knew that food is one of the most meaningful ways humans can connect to each other.

Jodie Kassorla, presented by Michael Twitty, demonstrates Sephardic Jewish food traditions in the program Washington, D.C.: It’s Our Home at the 2000 Smithsonian Folklife Festival. Photograph by Christine Parker, Smithsonian Folklife Festival Records, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections, Smithsonian Institution.
In his introduction to the Smithsonian Folklife Cookbook, Ralph Rinzler, the namesake of our archives, says,
The fact is, food is still one of the important ways in which people indicate that a guest is welcome in their home. In the Appalachians, Ozarks, Cajun country, Native American communities, and inner-city cultural enclaves, carefully prepared food invariably reaffirms the other assurances that you are welcome.He also spoke of foodways in the 1971 Festival of American Folklife program book as "the more persistent of cultural traits, lasting among the descendants of immigrants  long after language, song, dance, religious and secular rituals have been eradicated or thoroughly diluted." In his introduction to the 1992 Festival of American Folklife Cookbook, James Deutsch, a curator at the Center for Folklife of Cultural Heritage, expands upon this idea:
To be sure, this does not mean that foodways are forever fixed. Like other forms of traditional behavior, foodways adapt to modern technologies and changing environments as they are passed from generation to generation and from group to group. But their persistence and durability are remarkable.
A participant in the program Migration to Metropolitan Washington: Making a New Place Home grinds corn in a metate at the 1988 Festival of American Folklife. Photograph by Laurie Minor, Smithsonian Folklife Festival Records, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections, Smithsonian Institution.
The Smithsonian Folklife Festival has incorporated foodways into its programming since 1968. Every year since, the foodways programming has welcomed the public to discover and connect to food traditions from all over the world. In looking at the documentation and other materials created for the Festival over the years, I gravitated towards the times when the D.C. metropolitan area was celebrated for both its Mid Atlantic-flavored regional cuisine as well as its thriving immigrant cuisine. The Festival has presented DC-centric programming a handful of times over the years, as well as programming featuring locals with ties to the region or group being presented that year. As I've dug in to the program books, cook books, photographs, and audio recordings, I feel the need to dash out of the office and track down the nearest wat, pupusas, and pho or I'm going to  throw a tantrum.

Edith Ballou demonstrates how to make rolls in the program Washington, D.C.: It’s Our Home at the 2000 Smithsonian Folklife Festival. Photograph by James Di Loreto, Smithsonian Folklife Festival Records, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections, Smithsonian Institution. 
When researching foodways in the Rinzler Archives, the Festival documentation is our richest resource. Using the various forms of documentation of D.C.-centric foodways programming as an example, here are the ways in which you can use the Festival in your research.

The photographs in this post represent a small selection of the D.C.-flavored foodways at the Festival. These photographs, in addition to tens of thousands more, are accessible by appointment in the Rinzler Archives.

Many Festival program books are accessible in their entirety online via the Collections Search Center thanks to the efforts of Smithsonian Libraries. Program books provide context and perspective on some of the traditional foods demonstrated on the Mall. In the book for the 2000 Festival, which featured a program called "Washington, D.C.: It's Our Home,"  a college-aged Michael Twitty writes in his essay "Haroset and Hoecake: The African-American/Jewish Seder in D.C." about the joint Seder dinner held by Shiloh Baptist Church and the Adas Israel Congregation:
Matzo and hoecake sit side by side as breads of poverty and affliction. Parsley is wed with collard greens, symbolizing the bitterness of oppression. Salt water reminds us both of the tears of the Israelites and the waters of the Atlantic during the Middle Passage. Tasting haroset and hoecake, I am reminded that in both traditions food expresses the soul. For the D.C.-centric 1988 program "African Immigrant Folklife," the essay "A Taste of Home: African Immigrant Foodways" by Nomvula Mashoai Cook and Betty J. Belanus highlights how the city's large African immigrant population has both maintained and adapted their culinary traditions:
Other types of celebrations bring communities together seasonally. one example is the braai, a South African cookout celebrated in the summer. Typically, the women congregate in the kitchen, cooking and singing. The men bond with each other and with their sons while preparing imbuzi ne mvu (goat and lamb) for the barbecue grill with such savory condiments as South African curry or cumin.
Beautiful examples of the art of Thai fruit carving by local Nit Malikul for the Asian Pacific Americans program at the 2010 Smithsonian Folklife Festival. Photograph by Laraine Weschler, Smithsonian Folklife Festival Records, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections, Smithsonian Institution.
Of course, there's nothing better than being physically present for the programming at the Festival, so audio and video documentation can be tremendously helpful if you find yourself without your time machine. Both are available by appointment in the Rinzler Archives, but since you've stuck with this post through to the end, here's a recording from the African Immigrant Folklife Program at the 1997 Festival of American Folklife. In this clip, Jane Musonye of Upper Marlboro, MD demonstrates how to make Kenyan chai tea and coconut mandasi, a kind of sweet fried donut. It's a bit long, but well worth a listen. Being from 1997, some questions like "Where can I find loose leaf tea?" and "Where can I find fresh ginger?" are adorably dated.



It just might convince you to come do research with us (and by "research" we do mean "cut out early and find the best mandasi in town."). If you're not able to come in person, you can still make  mandasi and chai at home, using recipes from the Kenyan program at the 2014 Smithsonian Folklife Festival.

Cecilia Peterson, Digitization Archivist
Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections


The Story of a Company

Smithsonian Collections - Tue, 10/07/2014 - 8:00am
This October, the Smithsonian Collections Blog is celebrating American Archives Month with a month-long blogathon! We will be posting new content almost every weekday with the theme Discover and Connect. See additional posts from our other participating blogs, as well as related events and resources, on the Smithsonian’s Archives Month website.

Many long lasting companies have unique stories scattered throughout their history, but the success of a company is often from the loyalty of its customers. The W. Atlee Burpee & Company was created by W. Atlee Burpee in 1876 as a mail order poultry business, turning into a successful seed company as an international seller of seeds in the early twentieth century. The Burpee Company gained attention for not only the seeds it sold, but the successful results of its products, gaining loyal customers in return.

Original flyer posting the rules and prizes for the 1924 contest. W. Atlee Burpee & Company Collection
Archives of American Gardens, Smithsonian Institution.






































In 1924, the Burpee Company launched a prize-contest to recognize its faithful customers by asking them to write “What Burpee’s Seeds Have Done for Me.” Thousands entered for cash prizes by sending letters and photographs to the Philadelphia offices of the Burpee Company. Entries came from all over the world, written by those young and old, to express the impact of these special seeds in their lives. The letters tell the story of the Burpee Company. See more in previous post Seed Stories.

The Archives of American Gardens has an extensive collection of W. Atlee Burpee & Company materials, including a number of these letters from the 1924 contest. As part of a new project with the Smithsonian Transcription Center, these letters are being made viewable for everyone to learn more about the Burpee Company. With the contest closing in August of 1924, all of these letters are ninety years old and capture the history of Americans (and Canadians too) who often found pride and hope in their gardens through Burpee’s seeds.
A sampling of the letters from the 1924 contest.
As the letters are added to the Transcription Center please help us transcribe them! Through your help, we can further the story of the Burpee Company and also understand the impact of gardening in the early twentieth century. Many of these letters express the financial need of gardening or describe the joy of finding the best fruits and vegetables in one’s own backyard. Yet almost every letter offers the same praise, affirming the motto that “Burpee’s seeds grow.”

Catherine Bell
Summer 2014 Intern
Archives of American Gardens

Discover and Connect but Don't Steal this Book

Smithsonian Collections - Mon, 10/06/2014 - 8:00am
Discovering an interesting mark of a former owner in a volume is one of the many great things about working with rare books. A signature of a famous person, a fun drawing, a gift presentation, marginal annotations revealing a reader's thoughts, a memento laid-in, are not uncommon to come upon. Such additions after a work has been printed can provide the researcher with a connection to the past that provides important information. Or, can give a specific warning, if not a curse:

"Steal not this book my humble friend for fear the gallows may be your end."
Why the owner, Lewallen Jackson, held this book so dear that he recorded such a threat on December 26, 1825, is one of those mysteries. Perhaps it was his standard—and effective—marking. And, of course, the early nineteenth century was still a period when books were expensive and not readily available, particularly for the frontier farmer that Jackson appears to have been (from a quick look at online Census records). 

This inscription happens to be located in an important work. Much appreciated in its time, this first edition of Notes, on the Settlement and Indian Wars, of the Western Parts of Virginia & Pennsylvania by Joseph Doddridge (Wellsburgh, Va.: Printed at the Office of the Gazette, for the Author, 1824) was followed by two later versions (in 1876 and 1912) and many later reprints. None other than Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed it to be "the most valuable book we have on old-time frontier ways and customs."* Although never much to look at, not being an example of fine printing and lacking illustrations, it is cherished today.  Written by a pioneer minister, physician and historian, it is regarded as being accurate and knowledgeable about the United States' early westward expansion. The volume also contains some of the ever-popular Indian captivity narratives. 

This copy can provide the researcher with some information about early American book ownership and reading habits. "Steal not this book" at least brings a chuckle to the modern reader!

Julia BlakelySpecial Collections Cataloger      
Smithsonian Libraries

*quoted in J. Merton England, "Some Early Historians of Western Virginia," West Virginia History, January 1953. 

Flashback Friday: Revisiting Tibbles

Smithsonian Collections - Fri, 10/03/2014 - 8:00am
This October, the Smithsonian Collections Blog is celebrating American Archives Month with a month-long blogathon! We will be posting new content almost every weekday with the theme Discover and Connect. See additional posts from our other participating blogs, as well as related events and resources, on the Smithsonian’s Archives Month website.


Letter from Susette "Bright Eyes" La Flesche, 1879. Thomas H. Tibbles papers, Box 1, Folder 4.
National Museum of the American Indian Archive Center, Smithsonian Institution.
In February of this year I wrote a blog post on the Thomas H. Tibbles papers which had been recently re-discovered. The Tibbles papers had been hidden in a larger collection and were in need of some tender love and care to make them more discoverable on their own.  Since the original post went up we have completed a finding aid, which can be viewed here, and begun the process of digitizing parts of the collection. The ultimate goal is to get some of this material up on the Smithsonian Transcription center as an inaugural project for NMAI.  The materials we are most interested in highlighting online from this collection are speeches and writings by Susette “Bright Eyes” La Flesche (Omaha). In addition to being Tibbles wife and a prominent player in the Standing Bear habeas corpus trial, La Flesche was an influential orator on Native American rights and acted as a translator and transcriber for several Ponca and Omaha chiefs. Additionally, she had lovely penmanship!

Here’s a sneak peek at a lecture given by La Flesche sometime in 1880:

Pages 1-2 of Susette "Bright Eyes" La Flesche lecture, 1880. Thomas H. Tibbles papers, Box 1, Folder 5.
National Museum of the American Indian Archive Center, Smithsonian Institution.
Pages 3-4 of Susette "Bright Eyes" La Flesche lecture, 1880. Thomas H. Tibbles papers, Box 1, Folder 5.
National Museum of the American Indian Archive Center, Smithsonian Institution.
Be on the lookout for pages 5-12 in the future. Since writing the original February post the NMAI Archive Center has been contacted about this material from researchers who discovered the Tibbles collection through the Smithsonian Collections Blog. We're looking forward to sharing more discoveries throughout the month of October. Happy archives month!

Rachel Menyuk, Archives Technician
National Museum of the American Indian Archive Center

Throwback Thursday: A Man Behind the Music

Smithsonian Collections - Thu, 10/02/2014 - 8:00am
This October, the Smithsonian Collections Blog is celebrating American Archives Month with a month-long blogathon! We will be posting new content almost every weekday with the theme Discover and Connect. See additional posts from our other participating blogs, as well as related events and resources, on the Smithsonian’s Archives Month website.
 
Lee Hays with Harold Leventhal, Ronnie Gilbert in background, 1951. Lee Hays Papers, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections.In the Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections one cannot go far without encountering the name Harold Leventhal, and the Lee Hays Papers are no exception.  Leventhal was a prominent music manager who worked and held close friendships with many musicians of the Folk Revival throughout the latter half of the 20th century.  He is pictured here (right) in 1951 with Lee Hays, the bass singer of The Weavers.  The Lee Hays Papers are currently being digitized in their entirety.

Nichole Procopenko
Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections

October is American Archives Month: Discover and Connect

Smithsonian Collections - Wed, 10/01/2014 - 8:00am

For some people the month of October elicits excitement over pumpkins and apple cider but for archivists it means we get an excuse to celebrate the work we do every day for 31 days! For the fourth year in a row, the Smithsonian Collections Blog will participate in American Archives Month by holding a month-long blogathon. In past years we have focused on true stories in the archives and revealing hidden treasures. This year we are looking outward with our theme of Discover and Connect

Now more than ever social media has become an integral part of how archivists connect with the public. Blogs like this one allow archivists to highlight newly processed collections as well as discoveries within older collections. These posts then make their way to various Smithsonian Facebook pages and Twitter feeds reaching a far greater audience than ever before. With more of our collections going digital every day the relationships we build between researchers, archivists and source communities become increasingly important in maintaining the context and integrity of the original materials. 

This month we’re looking forward to sharing the exciting ways archives professionals connect with the public—and the materials that make our work matter to you!

For more about the Smithsonian's Archives Month activities, check out the official page here.

Rachel Menyuk, Archives Technician
National Museum of the American Indian Archive Center

Cecilia Peterson, Digitization Archivist
Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections




Joshua Slocum and the Smithsonian

Smithsonian Collections - Thu, 09/25/2014 - 8:00am

Announcement for a Slocum lecture at Everett House, New York (undated; NAA INV 02881600, photo lot 70, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution)Every now and then, maritime historians of the National Museum of American History have to
address the belief that the vessel Liberdade of renowned sailor, Joshua Slocum (1844-1908?*), is buried in storage somewhere in the Smithsonian. Slocum designed and built the boat following the wreck of the Aquidneck, his coastal trading bark, which left him, his wife and two sons stranded in South America. Using lumber and fastenings salvaged from the wreck, and local timber, he built a 35-foot-long, six-ton, sea-going canoe, beam of seven and a half feet and draft of three feet. The small cabin, covered only by a canvas tarp, was home to the Slocum family for the entire voyage of an incredible 5,500 miles. Liberdade journeyed from Brazil ending up the Potomac River in Washington, D.C., of all places, in 1888.

Slocum's model for the boat came from his memory of the Cape Ann dories of New England, modified by a photo he had on hand of a Japanese sampan. "As might be expected, when finished, she resembled both types of vessels in some degree" he wrote. He rigged the boat in the Chinese sampan style, "which is, I consider, the most convenient boat rig in the entire world.” His wife made the sails.
Liberdade, built with local help and launched on the day slaves were declared free in Brazil (hence the name) was indeed exhibited for a time at the Smithsonian. But first, after wintering in the nation’s capital (until 1889), the family made their way up to New York and then on to New England, receiving much attention all along with way for their adventure. Slocum, his career as a commercial captain over after a series of mishaps and outright disasters, wrote about the journey as a means to support his family. Slocum brought the Liberdade back to Washington, keen on self-promotion, leaving the unique vessel to be viewed, outdoors. With the pressing need for space due to rapidly growing collections and not wanting to destroy the deteriorating boat (despite the Captain’s permission), Smithsonian officials urged Slocum to return to Washington to take re-possession. In December 1906, he brought the Liberdade—beginning to rot away although the Captain intended to save the planks and rib to rebuildto a boatyard on the Potomac River. Some pieces were given away to spectators but no relic is currently identified, anywhere, including the Smithsonian collections. And no record of the last of the Liberdade is known. As it happens, there is not even a cataloged copy of Slocum’s account of the journey, The Voyage of the Liberdade (Boston, 1890) in the Smithsonian Libraries.

Collection of the authorThere are, however, other tangible objects in various Smithsonian collections associated with Slocum – most famously the first to circumnavigate the globe single-handedly. Links to this important figure in maritime and literary history can be readily found thanks to catalogs and online databases from sources both within and outside the Institution, with their relevant information and images. They provide a fuller picture of the Captain – or at least of this  curious and remarkable episode with a boat he made himself.

In the age of the decline of sail, Slocum left Boston in April 1895 on the Spray, a rebuilt and entirely reconfigured oyster sloop. A superb sailor and navigator, he had 46,000 miles under Spray’s keel when he completed his astounding circumnavigation in Newport, Rhode Island, and then onto his home port in Fairhaven, Massachusetts in June and early July of 1898.
Front cover of the Cullman Library's copyFrom this epic voyage, Slocum penned that classic of travel literature and adventure, Sailing Alone Around the World. It is a lyrical book, and the 37-foot Spray, is a trusted companion throughout:
March 31 the fresh southeast wind had come to stay. The Spray was running under a single-reefed mainsail, a whole jib, and a flying-jib besides, set on the Vailima bamboo, while I was reading Stevenson’s delightful ‘Inland Voyage.’ The sloop was again doing her work smoothly, hardly rolling at all, but just leaping along among the white horses, a thousand gamboling porpoises keeping her company on all sides.
Title page with Professor Mason's signatureThe story was initially published in serial form from September 1899 to March 1900 in The Century Magazine; the first edition of Sailing Alone Around the World came out in 1900. Having read the book only in paperback form, I was delighted to catalog the 1900 imprint in the Cullman Library (G440.S628 1900 SCNHRB). It was a presentation from the author to his friend Otis Tufton Mason (1838-1908), Curator of Ethnology at the Smithsonian, who helped to have Slocum take away the Liberdade. Unlike Slocum’s previous writings, Sailing Alone was a great success and still resonates, beloved of maritime writers and "live-aboards".

Photograph courtesy of The Millicent Library, Fairhaven, MassachusettsSailing Alone was a best seller and made the captain a celebrity. For a fee, rather sadly, Slocum had the Spray hauled up the Hudson River and Erie Canal to Buffalo, New York for the extravagant Pan-American Exposition of 1901, to capitalize on his hard-won popularity. As related to Mason, Slocum intended to refit the Liberdadewith an engine for the towing to Buffalo but couldn’t manage to get to Washington in time. For this World’s Fair, a “Special Pan American Edition” of Sailing Alone was issued and his wife, Henrietta Slocum, produced a pamphlet, Sloop Spray Souvenir, with a piece of the boat’s mainsail tipped-in. Despite the dozens and dozens of printed materials from the Pan-American Exposition, Sloop Spray Souvenir is not in the Smithsonian Libraries’ collections. There is a copy of this rare title nearby though, in Georgetown University’s Special Collections archives.  

The Millicent Library's copy with a fragment of Spray's sailCard catalog in the National Anthropological Archives Slocum returned to Washington in early 1902 when he went to the White House to talk to President Theodore Roosevelt of his adventures. Carried back on the Spray during that trip are a few items now in the Anthropology Department of the National Museum of Natural History: stone and shell axes, one procured from a “colonial resident” in New South Wales, Australia, and another from (perhaps) New Guinea. These artifacts were probably presented by Slocum to Mason, who, along with George Brown Goode, did much to reorganize and display the collections in the then-new United States National Museum. Despite lacking much of a formal education in his native Nova Scotia, Slocum likely sensed a kindred spirit in Mason, who was born nearby, in the remote seafaring islands of Eastport, Maine (although he did not grow up there) and their shared interest in anthropology.  

Otis Tufton Mason (photo Wikimedia Commons, originally from Popular Science Monthly, vol. 74, January 1909)
Captain Slocum and Group of Gilbert Islanders (undated photograph by Merritt & Van Wagner; NAA INV 05048400, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution)But another, later Smithsonian curator, Howard I. Chapelle(1901-1975), was among Slocum’s critics and suggested that Sailing Alone was ghost-written. Slocum had earlier publications, long before his fame, including Rescuing Some Natives of the Gilbert Islands in 1883 (VK1424 .G46 S63 ANTH). Although largely self-educated, Slocum was well-read (his publisher stocked a library on Spray) and it is hard to imagine that the good humor and dry wit of his descriptions, where the ocean is never portrayed with malice, could have any author other than Slocum.
Chapelle was a nautical architect and in the abstract for the catalog record on the thorny “Constellation Question” is described as “as straightforward as he is learned” (SILSRO 113108). The author of several works, including American Small Sailing Craft(1951; VM351 .C481 NMAH), Chapelle sought to show that Spraycould be easily capsized and not be righted if rolled. However, he found in his analysis that she was stable in most conditions.
There are other associations of Captain Slocum’s in the Smithsonian. The Botany Department has at least one specimen from his various nautical wanderings: Encycliakingsii (C.D. Adams) Nir (Caribbean). He had presented President Roosevelt with a rare orchid before taking the President's son, Archibald, sailing on Spray from Oyster Bay, Long Island. Impressed with the child's natural nautical talent, Slocum later considering presenting Archie with the Liberdade (wherever it was at that time). And as quoted in the biography, The Hard Way Around, Slocum wrote the Smithsonian a letter of February 1901 "requesting that if and when a 'flying ship' were launched, 'I could have a second mates position on it to soar.'" With his circumnavigation, he had already helped shrink the world.
Frontispiece of Sailing Alone (Cullman Library copy)
Illustrations in this first edition are by Thomas Fogarty and George VarianSlocum never flew and his story does not end well. Black clouds and legal troubles followed him through life; sadness and despair could only be managed at sea. Trying to settle in a house and farm on Martha’s Vineyard after his circumnavigation, Slocum was soon restless and embarked on shorter solo trips. Inevitably, he set off again in 1908, both he and Spray deteriorating, with the intention of sailing to South America to find the source of the Amazon. Neither was seen again.
Julia Blakely
Smithsonian Libraries

*Slocum's death date is often cited as 1909, when he was legally declared dead. See Geoffrey Wolff's The Hard Way Around (New York, 2010; p. 212) for why the date should be 1908.

"If the world is still here and round and beautiful"

Smithsonian Collections - Thu, 09/11/2014 - 8:00am
Lee Hays liked to write letters. He tended to be a homebody, but after he lost both legs to diabetes, he was stuck at home more often. Long, thoughtful letters were his way of being a part of the world, and his correspondents responded in kind. His resulting papers, now being digitized here at the Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections, are thus rich and dense with perfectly encapsulated life moments.

One such cluster of letters are copies of those sent to the Murtaugh family, who seem to be his neighbors in upstate New York. A few of the letters, written to the younger Murtaughs, caught my eye in particular because of the uniquely wonderful way Lee had of speaking to younger people: with respect, interest and humor. They are full of advice that is honest and kind--never preachy or judgmental.

Lee Hays is often remembered for his work in music, especially his contributions to The Weavers, but it's his powerful grasp of language that always gets me. Since it's back-to-school season and some of you may be getting ready to either hit the books or assign said books, let Lee drop some knowledge on you: he has quite a bit to share.

Poem for Lee Murtagh, August 1973. Lee Hays Papers, Hays_01_01_070_004. Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections.

Lee Hays to Bruce Murtagh, 1977. Lee Hays Papers, Hays_01_01_070_005. Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections

Lee Hays to Tony Murtaugh, 8 August 1978. Lee Hays Papers, Hays_01_01_070_008. Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections.

Lee Hays to Bruce Murtaugh, November 1980. Lee Hays Papers, Hays_01_01_070_010. Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections.
Cecilia Peterson, Digitization Archivist
Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections

Pages

Subscribe to Friends of LSEM aggregator