Feed aggregator

Krio: Creole language of Sierra Leone

Smithsonian Collections - Tue, 12/16/2014 - 9:00am
Krio, a creole language credited with unifying most if not all of Sierra Leone is thought to have originated during the Trans-Atlantic slave trade and over time developed as a method of communication between newly freed African slaves, as well as returned British and American Blacks, West Indians, and natives originally from the African Coast who settled in the West African nation during the early to mid-19th century.

Sign before entering the British Slave Castle ruins.  Dr. Turner took this image while conducting field work in Bunce Island, Sierra Leone, 1951. Lorenzo Dow Turner papers, 1895-1972, Anacostia Community Museum Archives, Smithsonian Institution, gift of Lois Turner Williams. 
Linguist Lorenzo Dow Turner had a special interest in the Krio language due to its history and structure, and similarity to the Gullah language spoken in America. Turner was fascinated with the origins of the African diaspora in countries like America and Brazil so Turner focused his scholarship on drawing conclusions and highlighting the similarities of commonly associated patterns of speech, processes of thought, and ways of life so typically exemplified in Black communities in the West.

In 1951 Turner conducted fieldwork in Sierra Leone.  In the backdrop of Turner’s visit was the founding of the SLPP, the Sierra Leone’s People’s party, whose members had advocated for the political independence of the Protectorate, and who would later come to dominate the political arena in Sierra Leone late into the 1960s. Present among the throng of political unrest, Turner was not only able to capture the underlining social, political, and economic issues occurring in West Africa but interview one of the most  influential African linguists in Sierra Leone: Thomas Leighton Decker.

In interviewing Decker and other informants, Turner was able to discover and examine the linguistic components of the Krio language, a language that is today spoken by more than 90% of the population of Sierra Leone. In his field notebook, Dr. Turner compiled notes relating to syntax, morphology, and semantic structures as well as the etymology of words and phrases most commonly associated with Krio speaking people.     Later he produced two Krio texts An Anthology of Krio Folklore and Literature, with Notes and Inter-linear Translations in English (1963) and Krio Texts: With Grammatical Notes and Translations in English (1965).

Dr. Turner recorded this unidentified Creole informant  while conducting field work in Freetown, Sierra Leone, 1951. Lorenzo Dow Turner papers, 1895-1972, Anacostia Community Museum Archives, Smithsonian Institution, gift of Lois Turner Williams. Dr. Turner also used his research to develop education programs, lectures and courses for students, and he used the political crisis and conflicts in Sierra Leone and various other African states during his travels as a means to build upon his studies. By focusing on the expressions of language found in African proverbs and folklore, Turner was able to open doors that enabled further exploration of African culture.  The results of his fieldwork enabled him to place the importance of various African languages, customs and dialects on par with European languages.

Scroll through the pages of Turner’s Freetown Creole field notebook to transcribe and discover similarities between Krio and other creole languages.

Lorenzo Dow Turner's field notebook, Freetown Creole, Sierra Leone, B.W.A., October 1951.  Lorenzo Dow Turner papers, 1895-1972, Anacostia Community Museum Archives, Smithsonian Institution, gift of Lois Turner Williams.  

Bremacha LaGuerra
Anacostia Community Museum Archives, Volunteer

Baby, It's Cold Outside...

Smithsonian Collections - Wed, 12/10/2014 - 8:00am
As the winter season approaches, it occurred to me to search SIRIS for “winter” imagery to see what the scope of such holdings in the Archives Center might be.  I found fewer than I expected, and theorize that not all the relevant items have been tagged with “winter” consistently.  The majority of the item-level records returned were for stereoscopic photographs in the Underwood & Underwood Glass Stereograph Collection.  They include such scenery as snow-capped mountains, but also pictures of winter activities, including snow sports.  This entire collection of approximately 28,000 stereo negatives and interpositives is available online, although the linked images are of poor quality, having been digitized at low resolution from a videodisc (thereby creating fifth-generation copies).  We supply new high-resolution scans of pictures in this collection on an ad hoc basis, substituting them for the low-quality images linked to our catalog records—generally one at a time.

I had forgotten that an energetic summer intern, Kathy Kinakin, had already re-scanned some of these photographs several years ago.  She concentrated on anomalies in the Underwood & Underwood collection, specifically searching for cellulose nitrate film.  Most of the film in this collection is non-stereoscopic and a bit later than the 3-D pictures, documenting the company’s ventures into a new field—news photography.  In around 1898-1910, the company began producing stereoscopic pictures of contemporary political figures and “news” events, so eventually it was logical for them to complete their transition to news photography and to end stereograph production.


"Los Angeles, California - Starting on toboggans from the mountain slopes of Los Angeles County Park and terminating with a dip into the semi-tropical pool at Arrowhead Hot Springs, youthful Los Angeles couples staged a unique race..."
Film negative by Underwood & Underwood, ca. 1930.
Underwood & Underwood Glass Stereograph Collection, Archives Center Although Underwood & Underwood began documenting political events and even wars, a substantial percentage of their pictures for the daily press illustrated “soft” news and “human interest” stories.  I present herewith some of the winter-related press images that Kathy selected to re-scan for both their technical and topical interest.  The picture above documents a novel winter race, and its newspaper caption follows:

“Los Angeles, California -- Starting on toboggans from the mountain slopes of Los Angeles County Park and terminating with a dip into the semi-tropical pool at Arrowhead Hot Springs, youthful Los Angeles couples staged a unique race. An hour and four minutes after they had left the snowy mountains, the winners were stripping off furry garments underneath which they wore bathing suits, and were plunging into the warm pool in the valley below. The unusual contest was part of the program of winter sports at the annual snow carnival of the L.A. Junior Chamber of Commerce. Photo shows: The start of the race -- left to right-- Miss Joyzelle Joynier and Chris Christensen, the winners; Miss Jean Boring and Dr. Alex Linck, and Manuella Sarsabal with Hudson Drake.  Adolff Dorr, at the right, served as starter.”

"Miss Joyzelle Joynier, of the winning couple, as she stepped in the pool at Arrowhead Hot Springs..."
Film negative by Underwood & Underwood, ca. 1930.
Underwood & Underwood Glass Stereograph Collection, Archives Center 
And here’s a related closeup, captioned: “Los Angeles, Cal.-- Photo shows: Miss Joyzelle Joynier, of the winning couple, as she stepped in the pool at Arrowhead Hot Springs, winning the Winter to Summer Race staged by the Chamber of Commerce. On her head she is carrying her snow shoes and winter outfit which she wore at the start of the race -- on the mountain slopes of Los Angeles County Park. The contestants started on toboggans and raced down the snowy slopes. Snow shoes were also used. When they reached the Hot Springs pool, they stripped off their winter garments to their bathing suits and plunged in. All in an hour and 4 minutes."  Of course, gratuitous “bathing beauty” pictures were a staple of newspapers for many years.   The “news” justifying their publication was usually flimsier than this.

Although that picture provides a glimpse of Ms. Joynier’s somewhat daring (for its time) two-piece swimsuit, newspaper “beauty queen” pictures could be vivacious, yet quite modest.  In the image below, the Snow Queen of Westlake Park, Catherine Curby, models cold-weather clothing.

"...Miss Catherine Curby after being crowned Snow Queen in Westlake Park here. She is to reign over the snow sports in the mountains not far from here, and her furry costume in a semi-tropical setting presents a novel contrast..."
Film negative by Underwood & Underwood, ca. 1930.
Underwood & Underwood Glass Stereograph Collection, Archives Center 
David Haberstich
Curator of Photography, Archives Center

"Vengeance in his aspect": When a Whale Hunted a Ship

Smithsonian Collections - Wed, 12/03/2014 - 8:00am
The trailer for the big Hollywood movie of Nathaniel Philbrick’s book In the Heart of the Sea: the Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex (G530.E76 2000X NMAH) is out and it is terrifying. The true saga of the Essex inspired aspects of Moby Dick, or the title as it originally was published, The Whale, thirty years after the ship was sunk by a furious sperm whale in the southern Pacific Ocean. Herman Melville himself is part of the movie story, interviewing one of the survivors.


As it happens, I just cataloged for the Cullman Library a chapbook, an inexpensive form of publication usually illustrated with lively if simple woodcuts, which narrates this “most remarkable” tale of the Essex, the ill-fated voyage that began in Nantucket in 1819. Stories About the Whale: with an Account of the Whale Fishery, and the Perils Attending its Prosecution, was published in Concord, New Hampshire in 1850 (PZ10.3 .S881850 SCNHRB) and was rather crudely printed. The title page serves as the cover, with the text (24 pages in all) printed on a single sheet which was then folded and stitched with no binding. Issued a year before Melville’s masterpiece, the chapbook indicates how big and potent the tale was in 19th-century America. This piece of juvenile literature, in a section with caption title “Shipwrecks and Disasters,” warns boys of the dangers of the industry “as the whales often dash to pieces the boats in which the sailors go out to attack them” and a much quicker read of the Essex story in three pages than Moby Dick!  


Owen Chase was the first mate on the Essex and lived to pen Narrative of the Most Extraordinary and Distressing Shipwreck of the Whale-ship Essex of Nantucket in 1821. There are reprints in the Smithsonian Libraries (G530.E72 1989X, Kellogg Library), attesting to the staying power of the tragedy. The Captain, George Pollard, was also among the eight survivors; he endured an excruciating three months on one of the small whaleboats. Perhaps it is Chase or Pollard who is heard narrating the disaster in the film clip; most of the others wrote an account, which vary in the details, not surprisingly (for more of the story, click on this article in Smithsonian Magazine).
Captain Pollard, still a young man, returned to the sea but suffered other mishaps and became feared as a “Jonah.” In the second volume of Journal of Voyages and Travels by the Rev. Daniel Tyerman and George Bennet (Boston: Published by Crocker and Brewster, 1832; BV3705.T8 T979 1832 SCNHRB) the missionary Bennet details an encounter in Tahiti in April 1823 with a broken Pollard after the Captain had lost another ship. The author transcribed Pollard’s account, his “singular and lamentable story,” which included – spoiler alert! – cannibalism. Pollard concluded: “But I can tell you no more–my head is on fire at the recollection.”

The Smithsonian’s own expert on whales, Curator Emeritus of Marine Mammals James G. Mead, stands in this photograph before a bookcase once owned by Melville, a whaler himself, that holds an array of copies of Moby Dick, including the very first and rare printing, published in London in October 1851, which was followed one month later by another edition in New York. This collection of Melvilleana is in the Rosenbach Museum and Library in Philadelphia. Dr. Mead points to one of its many treasures, the copy of Moby Dick that was owned by its dedicatee, Nathaniel Hawthorne.

Alas, the Smithsonian does not hold any of the earlier issues of Moby Dick, but it does have Sam Ita’s Moby-Dick: a Pop-Up Book(New York: Sterling Publishers, c2007) that tells the tale in abridged and highly inventive form (PZ7.I89617 Mob 2007 CHMRB). 
 "Stove by a whale!": the sinking of the Pequod
The movie's preview clipJulia Blakely
Smithsonian Libraries  

For more on Whales and the Smithsonian, please see "A Whale of a Tale," a recent posting in the Smithsonian Institution Archives blog. 

Snake Hunter with a Microphone

Smithsonian Collections - Tue, 11/25/2014 - 8:00am
Arthur M. Greenhall, ca. 1948. Photograph by Bob Smallman, PIX Incorporated. Arthur M. Greenhall Collection, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections, Smithsonian Institution.
 Arthur “Art” Greenhall was a zoologist; but even more importantly, he was an adventurer and an explorer. Paul Greenhall describes his father as, “a true 20th Century pioneer with his fervent desire to explore, observe and document.”  Art travelled the world collecting and studying animals that many people have only seen in books or on TV. He put out a record, wrote multiple books, was interviewed for magazines and newspapers, and became one of the foremost zoologists of his generation.

Art grew up in New York City where he spent his teenage years chasing snakes around Central Park and removing them from people’s homes for extra pocket money. During his time collecting snakes he found that some had tiny spurs near the end of their tails and concluded that “snakes have hips!” He shared his findings with Ripley’s Believe it or Not! and received $100 for his submission (about $1400 today!).


Arthur M. Greenhall recording tortoises at the Detroit Zoo, ca. 1948. Photograph by Bob Smallman, PIX Incorporated. Arthur M. Greenhall Collection, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections, Smithsonian Institution.
While still a teenager, Art found a mentor in the famous herpetologist, Dr. Raymond Ditmars (herpetology is the study of reptiles and amphibians, for those who were wondering). Ditmars spent much of his life travelling the world collecting animals and reptiles for the Bronx Zoo and Art wanted to be just like Ditmars when he grew up.  After high school, Art attended the University of Michigan and, by the early 1930s, earned a Bachelors, Masters, and PhD in zoology.  Following his time at university, his adventures truly began as he traveled to Cuba to work on a cattle ranch where he became fluent in Spanish. He was in Havana at the outbreak of the Cuban Revolution of 1933 and hid in his hotel room as explosions and gunfire erupted in the street below.

After returning to New York, Art went to work with Ditmars and accompanied him on trips throughout Central and South America and the Caribbean. Art acted as the contact point for the team and was particularly good with finding animals for sale in the market and making friends with the locals who could help them find a particular animal. His work earned him the nickname “Snake Hunter” among the locals whose help he enlisted.


Arthur M. Greenhall recording a tiger at the Detroit Zoo, ca. 1948. Photograph by Bob Smallman, PIX Incorporated. Arthur M. Greenhall Collection, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections, Smithsonian Institution.
On one such trip, Art and Ditmars made their way to Trinidad, where Art managed to capture the first photograph of a vampire bat feeding. Ditmars went on to write the book Snake Hunters’ Holiday, published in 1935, about their time in Trinidad and Art used the book to lure his future wife Elizabeth into joining him on his adventures.

After he and Elizabeth were married they moved to Portland where Art was appointed the Director of the Portland Zoo. They spent 4 years in Oregon and after the birth of their children, Alice in 1943 and Paul in 1946, they moved to Michigan where Art became the Director of the Detroit Zoo.

While in Detroit, Art acquired an audio recorder and, at first, used it to play tricks on his family. He also used the recorder on multiple occasions to record his family and friends in a candid setting.  Once the novelty wore off, Art saw the scientific advantage of the recorder. He took it with him to work at the Detroit Zoo and spent many hours recording some of the 4,000 animals in the zoo. These recordings later caught the ear of Moses Asch and in 1954 the album Sounds of Animals: Audible Communication of Zoo and Farm Animals (FX 6124) with Art’s narration was released by Folkways Records (You can listen to samples from the album and his narration here). In the album, Art talks about the different sounds the animals make to exhibit different emotions.  It is easy to hear how the animal’s calls change with their mood and surroundings. His narration almost makes me wonder if translation of animal sounds might one day be possible.


Arthur M. Greenhall recording a flamingo at the Detroit Zoo, ca. 1948. Photograph by Bob Smallman, PIX Incorporated. Arthur M. Greenhall Collection, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections, Smithsonian Institution.
His work recording animals drew the attention of Science Illustrated and they interviewed him on his work for the December 1948 edition of the magazine. The pictures seen throughout this post were taken during this interview.

Art hated the cold weather in Michigan and his taste for travel and adventure were far from gone. He applied for a position with the Trinidadian government and in 1953 was appointed Zoologist of the West Indian British Colony. The family spent 10 years in Trinidad where Art worked simultaneously as Zoologist Curator of the National Museum and Art Gallery (formerly the Royal Victoria Institute and Art Gallery) and Director of the Emperor Valley Zoo. He also worked as Consultant Zoologist at the Trinidad Regional Virus Laboratory investigating vampire bats and their effect on rabies outbreaks. He also spent time collecting animals for the National Museum and Art Gallery, the American Natural History Museum, and the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History.

After the family’s return to the United States in 1963, Art was sent to Mexico by the United Nations to study vampire bats and rabies. He grew to become one of the world’s foremost leaders in the study of vampire bats and their effect on the spread of rabies, publishing multiple books and articles on the subject.


Arthur M. Greenhall recording grizzly bears at the Detroit Zoo, ca. 1948. Photograph by Bob Smallman, PIX Incorporated. Arthur M. Greenhall Collection, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections, Smithsonian Institution.
Art was a lover of animals and nature and that is reflected in almost every aspect of his life. He even had a hand in creating the Asa Wright Nature Centre in an effort to preserve the land of one of his close Trinidadian friends. Art took advantage of every opportunity to see the world and expand his knowledge of zoology and other cultures. The adventures Art took and the places and people he got to see throughout his life are truly enviable.

Kenna Howat, Intern
Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections

The Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections recently acquired a small collection of materials relating to Arthur M. Greenhall. The collection has been processed and described, thanks to Fall 2014 interns Jessica Coffin and Kenna Howat. To access the finding aid, or make an appointment to view these materials, please email rinzlerarchives@si.edu.

La Sirene (The Mermaid) Chair

Smithsonian Collections - Tue, 11/18/2014 - 8:00am
Mermaids have appeared in the legends and folklore of various cultures around the world and throughout time: especially among seafaring peoples.  The Egyptians and Greeks, Chinese, Western Europeans, and West Africans all have tales of this half–woman, half–fish mythical creature.  Protective yet dangerous, mermaids are depicted as beauties with long flowing hair capable of creating great storms to wreck ships or warning sailors of forthcoming disaster.

Historically, these mysterious creatures “have been subjects of art and literature.” In Haitian culture, mermaids are known as La Sirene and are also subjects in the work of artists and craftsmen.



The mermaid chair pictured above was carved by contemporary Haitian-American furniture-maker, Mecene Jacques.  It was included in the traveling exhibition America’s Smithsonian:  Celebrating 150 Years in 1996 and in Buried Treasures: Art of African American Museums at the DuSable Museum of African American History in 2013.  The chair is part of the Anacostia Community Museum permanent collection and was first exhibited in Black Mosaic: Community, Race, and Ethnicity among Black Immigrants in Washington, DC.


Mecene Jacques working in his studio (top) and the unfinished mermaid chair (bottom).  Anacostia Communit Museum Archives, Black Mosaic exhibition records,Smithsonian Institution. Photographs by Harold Dorwin.

Mecene Jacques immigrated to the United States during the economic and political turmoil that embroiled Haiti in the 1990s.  Like many other Haitian immigrants, Jacques brought to this country not only his craft and skills, but also a creative vision fueled by the folklore and vibrant cultural traditions of Haiti.

Jennifer Morris
Archivist
Anacostia Community Museum Archives

Movember and No Shave November Mustaches from the Archives of American Gardens

Smithsonian Collections - Thu, 11/13/2014 - 8:00am

In honor of Movember and No Shave November, the Archives of American Gardens' honors the men behind some of America's most unique parks and gardens. These men sport some great facial hair!


This autochrome shows Alfred D. Robinson surrounded by his prized begonias at his home, Rosecroft, in San Diego, California. Robinson cultivated hundreds of varieties of begonias and was also a founder and first president of the San Diego Floral Association. The garden surrounding Robinson’s home sat on ten acres of land which has now been subdivided into multiple properties. Smithsonian Institution, Archives of American Gardens, Garden Club of America Collection. (AAG# CA142001)










Two gardeners creating a carpet bedding design at Elizabeth Park in Hartford, Connecticut, America’s first municipal rose garden, early 20th century. Smithsonian Institution, Archives of American Gardens, J. Horace McFarland Collection. (AAG# CT060001)







Charles Sprague Sargent, pictured here examining Quercus (oak) herbarium specimens, was appointed director of Harvard University’s Arnold Arboretum in 1872. Sargent collaborated with well-known landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted to design the arboretum creating a space for exceptional research and recreation. Photo by T.E. Marr, 1904. Smithsonian Institution, Archives of American Gardens, J. Horace McFarland Collection. (AAG# MA033024)

Catherine Bell
Archives of American Gardens 2014 Intern
Smithsonian Gardens

Civil War Decision Makers: John W. Garrett Commits the B&O

Smithsonian Collections - Thu, 11/06/2014 - 8:00am
Executive decision-making has been much in the news.
John Work Garrett, 1820-1884During the Civil War, John W. Garrett, President of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, made a crucial business decision which affected the course of the war.  Despite being personally sympathetic to the Confederate cause, with Jubal Early’s men circling north toward Martinsburg and Cumberland and threatening the B&O, on February 1, 1864, Garrett wrote to Abraham Lincoln’s Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton, offering the services of his railroad to transport Union troops:
“…Immediate re-inforcements [sic] appear to be required. I have ordered vigorous preparations to be made for the transportation of troops from Washington and Baltimore…”

Letter from John Work Garrett to Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, Feb. 1, 1864.
From the Baltimore & Ohio Records, Misc. Correspondence, Box 2, Folder 10.
Archives Center, National Museum of American HistoryChoosing the winning side facilitated the B & O’s post-war success in retrieving property stolen by Confederate troops.  As the Confederates circled north they were amazed to find fourteen locomotives in the B & O sheds in Martinsburg, West Virginia. A handwritten manuscript in our B & O Records entitled “The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad: Adventures of A Railroad During the Civil War” tells the story:
Locomotives Moved Over Turnpike Roads to RichmondThe Confederates had almost undisturbed possession of 100 miles of the [rail]road west of Harpers Ferry, during which time they destroyed all the bridges between that place and Cumberland, and took up and removed to Richmond the iron rails of 40 miles of the track. They also conveyed to Richmond 14 valuable locomotives, in perfect order, which they found in the company’s repair shops at Martinsburg. They accomplished this novel task with extraordinary perseverance and great mechanical skill, as they had to transport these heavy locomotives over the turnpike roads on their own wheels to Strasburg, a distance of fully 40 miles.
According to the B & O Engine Shop Records, the company got twelve of the fourteen locomotives back in 1865:
 “All 12 captured locos back in shop. 2 never returned 34 and 50.”
Christine Windheuser, Volunteer, Archives Center, National Musuem of American History

How to Hatch Your Dragon! The First Komodo Dragons Born at the National Zoo in 1992

Smithsonian Collections - Tue, 11/04/2014 - 9:52am
Komodo dragon at the National Zoo displays its tongue that has scent receptors for hunting. “Kracken” is all grown up now in her new 620 square foot outdoor enclosure, attached to its 714 square foot indoor enclosure, September 10, 2002, photograph by Jessie Cohen. National Zoological Park photograph collection. Negative # NZP-20020910-3394JCAs fall approaches, we think of nature as quieting down for the winter; while spring is the season for baby booms. But such was not the case on September 13, 1992, when the National Zoo’s Komodo dragon eggs began to hatch, the first ever dragons born outside of their native Indonesia!  As children know from the adventures of Hiccup, the Viking boy in the popular books and movie series, How to Train Your Dragon, the successful rearing of dragons requires study, devoted care, and cooperation between different groups, and such was the case here.
Komodo dragons (Varanus komodoensis) are the largest of the lizards in the modern world.  They bear a distinct similarity to their dinosaur ancestors, and are fierce fighters.  Male dragons reach a length of 10 feet and can weigh 300 pounds. The largest known specimen was 10.3 feet or 3.13 meters and weighed in at 366 pounds or 166 kg. Although the Komodo can sprint at 13 mph (20 kph), they hunt using a strategy based on stealth and power, as they sit for hours at a time waiting for an unsuspecting deer, boar, goat, or similar sized animal to wander near them. They hunt primarily through scent and can track prey 2.5 miles (4 km) away in a good wind. Komodo dragon hatchlings weigh less than 3.5 ounces (100 g) and are about 16 inches in length (40 cm).  Their first year is quite precarious since they can be eaten by a number of predators, including adult Komodos. The young feed on insects, small lizards, snakes or birds – whatever is at hand. By the time they reach five years of age, they can weigh 55 pounds (25 Kg) and stretch 6.5 feet (2 m) long. In the wild, their life span can be more than thirty years.
Color postcard of a Komodo Dragon at the National Zoological Park. The Komodo Dragon is sitting on top of a pile of rocks, and a zookeeper Roy Jennier is standing to its right. The postcard caption reads:  “Komodo Dragon, a young specimen of the largest of all Lizards," by Curt Teich & Co., 1935. Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 65, Box 16, Folder: Postcards. Negative # SIA2013-07822  
The National Zoological Park had been home to a Komodo dragon in the 1930s. In the 1960s and 1970s, Zoo director Ted Reed traveled to Indonesia to bring back a pair, “Reni” and “Kelana,” but alas, no babies ever appeared. In the summer of 1988, two Komodo dragons arrived at the National Zoological Park, as gifts from the people of Indonesia to the people of the United States. The two Komodos, “Friendty” and “Sobat” were the only members of their species on exhibit in the Western hemisphere.  The Zoo hoped for some youngsters, but the Komodos were not easy to breed. 
One of the two Komodo Dragons in the National Zoological Park's Reptile House, “Friendty” is six-and-a half feet long and weighs 30.8 lbs., 1988, photograph by Jessie Cohen. Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 371, Box 5, Folder: September 1988. Negative # 96-1372.
Clearly the zookeepers needed to learn how to hatch a dragon…….  Studying how Komodos live in the wild, the keepers decided to expand the dragon exhibit and create a separate nesting area for the female. The exotic couple seemed to like their new digs, and keepers observed courtship activity from December 7 through December 29, 1991.  On January 17, 1992, the female dug a new burrow, and six days later scientists found 26 precious eggs in the nest!
Komodo parents don’t care for their eggs or young – a female may sit on the nest to protect it, but they don’t always.  So the eggs were removed and placed in incubators, sending ten to a lab at George Mason University and putting sixteen in NZP incubators.  The Zoo had developed a cooperative arrangement with nearby George Mason University and split the eggs to two locations for safety’s sake. Months went by without any real action, but after a mere 237 days, on September 13, the first of the tiny dragons hatched at George Mason University!
Komodo dragon hatchling, a female “Kracken,” in September 1992, photograph by Jessie Cohen. National Zoological Park photograph collection. Negative # 215-53JC.tif 
Within four weeks, a total of thirteen Komodo dragons emerged at George Mason and at the Zoo, making this the largest hatching of Komodos on record, in zoos or in the wild.  The National Zoological Park thus became the first place in the Western Hemisphere to breed the rare and endangered Komodo dragon. In the years since this first dragon, four clutches of eggs have hatched at the Zoo, resulting in 55 little dragons that now can be seen at 30 zoos around the world!  Scientists think the long period of incubation is to keep the eggs safe during the searing heat of Indonesian summers. When they hatch in the fall, they are far more likely to survive. 
Komodo Dragon awaiting adoption at the National Zoological Park. Courtesy of National Zoological Park website.
Komodo dragons are still not easy to tame, and would prove a challenge to Hiccup or any other adventurous child today.  Instead you can adopt a Komodo dragon at the National Zoo to get to know and help preserve this endangered species. Come visit Kracken at the National Zoo, and if that's not enough, consider a Komodo dragon tour to Indonesia -- these have also become a popular tourist destination.  

Pamela Henson Smithsonian Institution Archives

Flashback Friday: Dumpsters Part Deux

Smithsonian Collections - Fri, 10/31/2014 - 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.

Things get lost. Sometimes it is something big like your wallet or dog.  Other times it is not being able to find your keys before going to work.  Sometimes it is history, or memory, be it family or institutional.

In this case, it was a sign that once graced the Freer Museum’s façade and was subsequently saved from a trash can.  Recently, we acquired a gift of photographs and other behind-the-scenes material from the early days of the Freer|Sackler Museum.

Combing through the materials, a pleasant surprise came to light.

The Freer Sign can be seen in the lower right of this photograph.
The above photograph finally confirms the exact location of the salvaged Freer sign when it adorned the museum.

We never knew exactly where the sign had been as that institutional knowledge had been lost to time. Sometimes happy accidents happen and things that were once lost are restored.

If you want to know more about the Freer sign, please read Dumpsters are Fun.

Lara Amrod, Archivist
Freer|Sackler Archives

Throwback Thursday: Panoramic Panic!

Smithsonian Collections - Thu, 10/30/2014 - 1:29pm
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.
 
[Ghostly figure and children.], 1900. Silver gelatin on glass. Underwood & Underwood Glass Stereograph Collection, 1895-1921. National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution.

Is anyone feeling a little spooky this week? They are over on SIA’s blog, The Bigger Picture, where the conservator thinks she is seeing things – perhaps a little spirit photography is in order – for it’s the return of that popular horror series… Panoramic Panic, Part III

Nora Lockshin, Conservator
Smithsonian Institution Archives

American Portrait Miniature Treasures

Smithsonian Collections - Tue, 10/28/2014 - 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.


American artists began painting portrait miniatures around the mid-eighteenth century, following English and European traditions. The miniatures were closely tied to artistic and social circles, representing keepsakes for bonds of family and friendships, and of admired public figures. Portrait miniatures were often created to celebrate a special event or relationship, such as an engagement, marriage, or memorial. Private gifts of portrait miniatures sometimes were exchanged between loved ones, in which only a person’s eye was depicted. Miniatures were usually palm-size and created to be held or worn as jewelry. These treasured objects combined the fine art of portraiture with the decorative arts in protective cases of glass, fine metals, leather, filigree, and gems. The portrait miniatures were influenced by the earlier traditions of medieval illuminated manuscripts and classically inspired portrait medals of the Renaissance. In the colonial period, artists referred to the art as “pictures in little.”

The earliest English and European miniatures were created with watercolor or gouache painted on vellum and later on ivory or card. There was also a tradition of oil or enamel painted on copper and wood panel. In America, many of the early miniatures were created by European-trained artists beginning in the early eighteenth century. American artists learned from visiting or emigrant European artists and by studying abroad. The popularity of painted portrait miniatures was affected by the competitive market of daguerreotypes and photographs in the mid-nineteenth century. At this time, artists started painting portrait miniatures with greater realistic details and larger formats for public display on tables or as wall hangings. After 1890, miniature painting experienced a revival through the Arts and Crafts movement and the 1899 formation of the American Society of Miniature Painters.

From 2011 to 2012, the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery held an exhibition entitled Mementos: Painted and Photographic Miniatures, 1750–1920. To complement this past show, I would like to present additional miniatures from the collection that are fine examples in the historic development of this art form in America.

Andrew Oliver (1706–1774), by John Singleton Copley (1738–1815), c. 1758, oil on copper (NPG.78.218)
In about 1758, the young artist John Singleton Copley captured a remarkable likeness of Andrew Oliver, with attention to facial modeling, realistic detail, and side lighting. Copley created this portrait in oil on copper, a technique he used in the early stage of his career, possibly following the miniature technique of John Smibert, a Scottish artist who settled in Boston. Copley also painted a c. 1760 companion portrait of Oliver’s brother Peter, which has a matching original porthole decorative frame. The Oliver family members were so impressed with Copley’s talent that they commissioned seven miniatures from him. Andrew Oliver was a leading merchant and active politician in Boston. He served in the colonial House of Representatives for three terms, on the Massachusetts Council from 1746 until he was appointed secretary of the province in 1756 and lieutenant governor of the colony in 1771. As a representative of the British Crown, he was violently attacked by the colonists as an appointed distributor of the unpopular tax stamps after the Stamp Act of 1765.

Thomas Pinckney (1750–1828), by John Trumbull (1756–1843), 1791, oil on wood panel (NPG.2007.211)
Thomas Pinckney, a former governor of South Carolina, was soon to become minister to England when John Trumbull created this 1791 oil on wood panel miniature. The artist followed the elegant Federal period’s fluid, painterly style in this portrait of Pinckney in uniform, with a cloudy sky in the background in the English manner. He had studied painting under the American artist Benjamin West in London. Trumbull’s 1791 miniatures of Thomas Pinckney and his brother Charles Cotesworth Pinckney were intended as sketches for a planned group history painting of the 1779 siege of Savannah that was never realized. Both brothers had participated in the unsuccessful attempt to recapture Savannah from the British during the American Revolution. Thomas Pinckney’s most notable role was as special envoy to Spain, where he negotiated the Treaty of San Lorenzo (1795), which expanded America’s commercial interests in the Mississippi River region.

Elizabeth Depeyster Peale (1765–1804), by James Peale (1749–1831), 1795, watercolor on ivory (S/NPG.2009.49)
James Peale created a 1795 watercolor on ivory miniature of Elizabeth Depeyster Peale, the wife of his older brother Charles Willson Peale. Charles, a widower with six children, was impressed by Elizabeth’s character at their meeting in April 1791 during her visit to Philadelphia. She was a daughter of a New York City merchant; she married Peale after a brief courtship. James Peale had studied painting under his brother and specialized in portrait miniatures. James employed delicate, fine linear brushstrokes and soft lighting for this portrait of Elizabeth. He presented her in an engaged, relaxed manner with a slight smile.

Self-Portrait, by James Reid Lambdin (1807–1889), c. 1845, watercolor on ivory (NPG.78.213)
James Reid Lambdin’s c. 1845 watercolor on ivory miniature is a self-portrait in a dramatic style, depicting the young man’s head turned to the side with sensitive modeling and highlights on his face. This miniature recalls the general aura of the portraits of Lord George Gordon Byron, the poetic leader of the Romantic movement in England. Lambdin was an accomplished artist, educator, and leader in American art circles. He studied with the English miniature artist Edward Miles and local artist Thomas Sully in Philadelphia. In 1828 Lambdin founded the Pittsburgh Museum of Natural History and Gallery of Fine Art, following the model of Charles Willson Peale’s museum in Philadelphia. In 1837, Lambdin settled in Philadelphia and served as director of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (1845–64) and taught at the University of Pennsylvania (1861–66). During this period, President James Buchanan appointed him U.S. art commissioner, and Lambdin created portraits of fifteen U.S. presidents and other statesmen.


Varina Howell Davis (1826–1906), by John Wood Dodge (1807–1893), 1849, watercolor on ivory (NPG.80.113)
John Wood Dodge painted a 1849 watercolor on ivory miniature of Varina Howell Davis in Natchez, Mississippi. The artist portrayed the young Varina with refined, directional brushstrokes that follow the structure of her face. She wears a miniature brooch depicting a King Charles spaniel. This portrait is encased in a gold locket with her braided hair preserved as part of the decorative backside. At age eighteen, she married Jefferson Davis, who became the future president of the Confederacy in Richmond during the Civil War. She was a devoted wife and mother of their five children and an accomplished first lady. Dodge was mostly self-taught, following an early apprenticeship with a sign and ornamental painter. He exhibited his miniatures in 1829 at the National Academy of Design in New York City and became an associate of the academy in 1832. Dodge was later commissioned to paint miniatures of Andrew Jackson and Henry Clay. He was a talented and prolific artist creating more than one thousand miniatures, as recorded in his account book from 1828 to 1864. A copy of the account book is held at the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art.

Jefferson Davis (1808–1889), by George Lethbridge Saunders (1807–1863), 1849, watercolor on ivory (NPG.79.228)
In 1849, English artist George Lethbridge Saunders painted a watercolor on ivory miniature of Jefferson Davis. Saunders employed a colorful and varied artistic style, reserving the more detailed brushstrokes for Davis’s facial features, and surrounding his figure with soft washes for the landscape and cloudy sky in the English manner. Saunders painted this portrait when Davis was a senator representing Mississippi, before he became the president of the Confederate States of America. Saunders was already an established artist when he visited America in the 1840s. He created miniatures of prominent family members in cities along the East Coast, from Boston to Charleston. He met such artists as Thomas Sully and Charles Fraser and exhibited his works from 1840 to 1843 at the Apollo Association in New York City and the Artists’ Fund Society in Philadelphia.

The Silver Goblet (Self-Portrait), by Lucy May Stanton (1875–1931), 1912, watercolor on ivory. (NPG.72.24)
Lucy May Stanton created this 1912 impressionistic watercolor on ivory self-portrait, The Silver Goblet. She depicted herself in the miniature with soft, fluid washes, produced by a new innovative “puddling” technique, in which the artist controlled the flow of washes by tilting the workboard. Stanton looks directly at the viewer in a confident and celebratory manner in this portrait. She studied in America and France with such artists as J. Emile Blanche, Augustus Koopman, Virginia Reynolds, and James Abbott McNeil Whistler. Stanton in turn became an art educator and exhibited in the United States and abroad, receiving many awards for her works. She also promoted woman suffrage and in 1928 co-founded the Georgia Peace Society.

American portrait miniatures evolved from the eighteenth through twentieth centuries. The artists adapted English and European styles and techniques, but they transformed their artworks in the process. The American miniatures emphasized simplicity, directness, and “truth in the likeness,” reflective of the new nation and culture. 

In 1966 the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery established the Catalog of American Portraits, a national portrait archives of historically notable subjects and artists from the colonial period to the present. The public may access the online portrait search program from the museum website of more than 100,000 records; more than 7,000 of these are miniature portraits. . Some of the most notable miniature collections are found at the Cincinnati Art Museum, Gibbes Museum of Art in Charleston, Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, New York Historical Society, Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C., and Yale University Art Gallery in New Haven.

Patricia H. Svoboda, Research Coordinator
Catalog of American Portraits, National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

All images are from the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.


Websites:

Fortune, Brandon, and Ann Shumard. Mementos: Painted and Photographic Miniatures, 1750–1920. Washington, D.C.: National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, June 17, 2011, through May 13 2012.
http://npg.si.edu/exhibit/mementos/

Barratt, Carrie Rebora. “American Portrait Miniatures of the Eighteenth Century.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000-
http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/mini/hd_mini.htm

Barratt, Carrie Rebora. “American Portrait Miniatures of the Nineteenth Century.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000-
http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/mini_2/hd_mini_2.htm

Frank, Robin Jaffee. Telling a Larger Story: Collecting Miniatures for a New Century. New Haven: Yale University Art Gallery, September 18, 2007, through January 13, 2008.
http://artgallery.yale.edu/exhibitions/exhibition/telling-larger-story-collecting-miniatures-new-century

Frank, Robin Jaffee. Private Faces of Public People: 1750-1900. New Haven: Yale University Art Gallery, August 17, 2005, through June 1, 2007.
http://artgallery.yale.edu/exhibitions/exhibition/private-faces-public-people-1750-1900

Bibliography:

Aronson, Julie, and Marjorie E. Wieseman. Perfect Likeness: European and American Portrait Miniatures from the Cincinnati Art Museum. Exhibition catalogue. Cincinnati: Cincinnati Art Museum, 2006.

Barratt, Carrie Rebora, and Lori Zabar. American Portrait Miniatures in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2010.

Bolton-Smith, Robin. Portrait Miniatures in the National Museum of American Art. Washington, DC: National Museum of American Art, 1984.

Frank, Robin Jaffee. Love and Loss: American Portrait and Mourning Miniatures. Exhibition catalogue. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000.

Johnson, Dale T. American Portrait Miniatures in the Manney Collection. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1990.

Labels: 2014 Archives Month, Archives, Artists, Arts and Design, History and Culture, Museums

Happy Anniversary Cultural Resources Center!

Smithsonian Collections - Mon, 10/27/2014 - 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.

2014 is an exciting year of anniversaries for the National Museum of the American Indian. Twenty five years ago our authorizing legislation passed, creating NMAI as part of the Smithsonian Institution. Twenty years ago our public space in New York City, the George Gustav Heye Center, opened its doors. Just ten years ago our flagship building on the National Mall opened to the public with great fanfare. But for those of us who work in NMAI’s archives, this year is special because it marks the fifteenth anniversary of the opening of our home, the Cultural Resources Center, the museum’s purpose-built collections facility.


The CRC houses NMAI’s object collections, archival collections, library, conservation labs, repatriation department, and many other offices. It’s a special place, and is quite different than other collections facilities in important ways. It was designed in consultation with many Native American communities, and their input is quickly evident in the building’s organic design and aesthetics, which reflect visual motifs often found in nature. In much the same way that our Mall Museum building takes inspiration from colors, textures, and forms found throughout the Americas, so too does the CRC.  But NMAI’s discussions with our Native American constituents had a much deeper impact on the museum than simply how the CRC looks. These consultations formed the basis of many of the collections management and stewardship policies and practices that set NMAI apart from other museums. From the natural light in our collections’ areas, to the physical arrangement of collections, to the traditional care and handling we practice here, respect for cultural sensitivities is literally built into the CRC.

NMAI Cultural Resources Center Rendering. National Museum of the American Indian Archive Center,
Smithsonian Institution.
The consultations that informed the design of the CRC took years, and resulted in a massive document called “The Way of the People.”  And once the building was designed and built, the real work began: moving the collections.  But as a result of all of the planning and consultation, the CRC was ready to be a safe and supportive home to the incredible cultural patrimony in NMAI’s care. Here’s to fifteen years of the CRC, and many more to come!

Michael Pahn, Head Archivist
National Museum of the American Indian Archive Center

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

Pages

Subscribe to Friends of LSEM aggregator