Smithsonian Collections Blog

Highlighting the hidden treasures from over 2 million collections

Collections Search Center

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Swimming Pools in America

French Norman Manor House, Columbus, Ohio, 2007. Marilyn M. Briggs, photographer. Smithsonian Institution, Archives of American Gardens. Garden Club of America Collection.
What would summer be without swimming pools?  The Archives of American Gardens includes hundreds of images of pools, a staple in many regions of the country and a welcome feature in so many outdoor spaces.

Weber Garden, Highland Park, Texas, 2013. Elsie Norman Dunklin, photographer. Smithsonian Institution, Archives of American Gardens, Garden Club of America Collection

While swimming pools in some form or another can be traced all the way back to ancient times, they are by comparison a relatively new concept in America.  One of the earliest public pools opened in Boston in 1868; another opened in 1884 in Philadelphia.  These and other municipal pools served as a public baths for working class men and women and were often located in impoverished neighborhoods.  Many of the poor living in urban areas did not have the necessary facilities in their homes to bathe properly.  As a result, early municipal pools were more or less large, public bath tubs.

These pools were immensely popular, seeing over a thousand swimmers a day during the summer months.  Their popularity, however, was not due primarily to the desire to get clean but to go swimming.  In the late 19th century, however, social protocol did not see swimming as an acceptable pastime.

Castle Hill, Ipswich, Massachusetts, 1931. Smithsonian Institution, Archives of American Gardens, J. Horace McFarland Company Collections.
As time went on social norms changed and swimming became more accepted.  As a result, swimming pools evolved into something geared more towards recreation and social gatherings than to bathing. Beginning in the early twentieth century, hotels and resorts in America and other countries built swimming pools to attract the vacationing middle and upper classes.  By the 1920s, public baths and swimming pools were common and could be found in many U.S. cities.  Private pools gained in popularity as well.  While only the rich and famous could afford such a luxury during the early twentieth century, after World War II pools became more affordable and widespread.  As the latter half of twentieth century progressed private swimming pools grew in popularity and so did the desire to create more unconventional pools in shapes differing from the standard rectangle.  The kidney-shaped pool in particular became wildly popular.

Chilcott Garden, New Vernon, New Jersey, 1965. Molly Adams, photographer. Archives of American Gardens. Maida Babson Adams Photograph Collection.

Swimming pools represent a long-standing trend in American history that has evolved over the years. As resources, needs and social norms changed, so did the swimming pool.  Though they started out as public bathing pools, today swimming pools, both public and private, can be found in almost every community across the country.

Kathryn Schroeder
Archives of American Gardens Summer Intern 2015

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

“For the Increase and Diffusion of Knowledge:” from 18th-Century France to the Libraries' Collections

James Smithson, whose bequest led to the establishment in the mid-19th century of the American institution that now bears his name, famously stated in his will that funds should be used for the “increase and diffusion of knowledge among men.” This seemingly vague request is rooted in Enlightenment philosophy, the desire to create order and understanding in the world. As Heather Ewing wrote in The lost world of James Smithson, he was a member “of this distinct breed of English Enlightenment gentleman: citizens of a new republic of science, dedicated to the cause of ‘improvement.’” The Enlightenment era’s embrace of “the increase and diffusion of knowledge,” an attitude that so inspired Smithson, is exemplified by the monumental twenty-eight-volume publication of Encyclopédie, ou, Dictionnaire raisonné (1751-1772). It is a work which the well-traveled and learned Smithson undoubtedly knew well.

The "System of Human Understanding" or Tree of Knowledge
The first volume of the Encyclopédie contains the famous "Preliminary Discourse" where it is argued that all human knowledge resides in three branches: Memory, Reason, Imagination. The rationalist, secular outlook made its creators subject to censorship, official condemnation and threats of imprisonment.
The Encyclopédie, ou, Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, par une Société de Gens de Lettres (Encyclopedia, or, Rational Dictionary of the Sciences, Arts and Trades, by a Society of Men of Letters) is a reference work that was conceived with the belief that everything in the world could be explained by rational investigation. Much as the Smithsonian Institution does today, the range of subjects covered was enormous: there were not only abstract disciplines, such as natural philosophy and mathematics, but also practical sciences (mechanics, technology, medicine) and the techniques of the arts, crafts and trades.  

All subjects were presented with the belief of the practical usefulness of knowledge. This plate, "Emailleur, a la lamp perles fausses," details the work of women and children in the porcelain industry, enameling with heat and enamel painting.
The large-format volumes, comprised of folio pages of text printed in double columns and with the famous plates of illustrations, has a long publishing history. It all began simply as a French translation of Ephraim Chambers’ Cyclopaedia, or, Universal dictionary of art and sciences, a two-volume work published in London in 1728. But the concept for the project grew with the prospectus stating that there would be eight volumes of text and two of plates of illustrations. The general editor was the novelist, playwright and literary and art critic, Denis Diderot (1713-1784), with assistance from Jean Le Rond d’Alembert (1717-1783), another philosophe, who was responsible for mathematics and science, with a second mathematician, Abbé Jean Paul de Gua de Malves, helping out.  

The Encyclopédie differed from its seventeenth- and eighteenth-century predecessors by emphasizing the arts and trades and by drawing on a wide variety of prominent contributors to record the sum of human knowledge. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Montesquieu and Voltaire were some of those prominent writers involved. It was published during a time when there was a great increase in literacy and the attending explosion in the availability of printed materials.

Fan Makers: "Eventailliste, colage et preparation des papiers." Sheets of paper for the fans are shown drying from the rafters before being trimmed and then decorated.
It was also a time when the guilds still closely protected their skills and knowledge, with master craftsmen teaching only by the apprenticeship system. The “métiers” of the title was not incidental: Diderot, son of a cutler, sought to reveal mechanical secrets in the hope that “our descendants, by becoming better instructed, may as consequence by more virtuous and happy.” Although the intricate details in the depictions of machines, tools, and instruments were engraved by a group of highly skilled craftsmen, Diderot himself gathered much of the information from hours of observation.

Details for fancy work, "Boutonnier Passementier," buttons and lace making for clothing trim.
The 3,129 large illustrations are immediately recognizable from countless reproductions. The calm scenes of small workshops of the pre-Industrial-Revolution era show men, women and children employing techniques that had previously been regarded as trade secrets. The clear diagrams and drawings of artisanship and mechanics are absorbing in their detail. Even if the view of industry is rather archaic, the volumes of plates may be the most revolutionary elements of the work, providing visual examples of the philosophe principle that rational knowledge, in the portrayal of human activity, could be the basis for a new world view where happiness is tied to progress and prosperity.

The Book Binder's Workshop: the steps and tools of bookbinding. A bindery for hand-bound books would operate much the same way today.
This radical world view challenged both the church and state, particularly in the earlier volumes addressing religion and politics. Although royal permission for publication had been granted, in 1752 Louis XV’s conseil d’etat threatened the editors with imprisonment. But the Encyclopédie continued to be produced because the project had friends in high places, including the royal mistress, Madame de Pompadour. Printing preceded slowly (volume three appeared in 1753). In 1759, during a difficult and unsettled period in French history, the Encyclopédie was included in an official list of condemned books and censorship forced a temporary suspension of publication. Editors defied the authorities by releasing the next ten volumes simultaneously in 1765 under that convenient and common false imprint of the time--the Swiss city of Neuchâtel.

The renown that the work reached, even as it was being printed, is seen in Quentin de la Tour's portrait of Madame de Pompadour, which places the royal mistress with a volume of the Encyclopédie. (The above is a 1755 pastel portrait on paper now in the Musée du Louvre, Paris)
Then, as now, scandal and controversy were good for business and the print run was expanded from 1,625 to 4,225. Also helping sales was a 1756 portrait of Madame de Pompadour, by Quentin de la Tour, shows her posing with a volume of the encyclopedia. Reprint and pirated editions of the Encyclopédie appeared, as well as foreign language imprints, even as Diderot’s originals were being released. During the American Revolutionary War, Thomas Jefferson ordered a pirated Italian edition from the Virginia Gazette. In Geneva, a folio reprint was issued between 1771 and 1776. Several less expensive versions, in the smaller quarto and octavo formats, added most to the publishing competition before the close of the century.

However radical, the Encyclopédie was not a call for revolution in mid-eighteenth-century France. An encyclopedia of this scale was expensive to produce and purchase. The intended market may have been wider but still its audience was the wealthy, educated gentlemen who would have been conversant in history, philosophy, literature, science, technology, and the arts. Purchasers of the work included the nobility, military officers, clergy, parliamentary officials, and law professionals.  

The title page of volume one of the Dibner Library's copy, now digitized by the Biodiversity Heritage Library for the Smithsonian Libraries.
The Encyclopédie’s value as a source of information on eighteenth-century industry and life is tremendous and continues to feed modern scholarly research. A quick search of the Smithsonian’s online catalog, the Collections Search Center, turns up such titles as Diderot and Goethe: a study in science and humanism, by Gerhard M. Vasco (1978); The spectator and the landscape in the art criticism of Diderot and his contemporaries, by Ian Lochhead (1982); Three early French essays on paper marbling, 1642-1765, with an introduction and thirteen original marbled samples by Richard J. Wolfe (1987); and L'Encyclopédie Diderot & d'Alembert: Les métiers du livre, by P. M. Grinevald et C. Paput (1994); Diderot et le portrait, by Jeannette Geffriaud Rosso (1998); and Robert Darnton’s Censors at work: how states shaped literature (2014).

The art of milling grain: a mill on a stream and mill stones.
"Relieur Doreur" Another step in bookbinding is gilding on the covers for titling and decoration. Note the finished products on the shelves.
The Wonders of the Ancient World were represented in the Encyclopédie well before the work of the savants of the Institut d’Égypte, a scientific organization that accompanied Napoleon's disastrous campaign in Egypt, 1798-1801.
James Smithson very likely would be pleased by recent actions with one of the Institution’s editions of the Encyclopédie. As a further aid to scholarship, with open access to all, the copy in the Dibner Library has recently been digitized and placed online by the Smithsonian Libraries. To safe-guard the actual volumes for future use, this set of the Encyclopédie, ou, Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers is now being conserved by experts in the Smithsonian Libraries lab. 

Julia Blakely
Special Collections Cataloger, Smithsonian Libraries 

Before treatment: a volume of the Dibner Library's copy in the Conservation Lab. The plan is to use Iowa Paper Case paper that is toned to compliment the original mottled calf to re-back the well-used books. Photo by Katie Wagner, Book Conservator.
A subject to appeal to users of the Dibner Library of the History of Science and Technology. This collection has many titles covering the history of astronomy with particular strengths in mathematical astronomy and geodesy.
Inspiration for a New York City fashion designer?: footwear from Antiquity.
The Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Library also holds a set of the Encyclopédie. Photo by Katie Wagner, Book Conservator.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Greenhouses as a Therapeutic Tool in Veterans’ Homes and Hospitals

Proposed greenhouse for Veterans Administration, March 15, 1949. American-Moninger Greenhouse Manufacturing Corporation Collection. Archives of American Gardens.

The American-Moninger Greenhouse Manufacturing Corporation Collection at the Archives of American Gardens includes architectural plans and drawings of greenhouses designed by the firm dating back to the 1920s.  The plans in the collection include three designed for United States military facilities: Picatinny Arsenal in Dover, New Jersey in 1936, the U.S. Navy Yard in Charleston, South Carolina in 1941, and the Veterans Administration in Fort Custer, Michigan in 1949. While we do not know for certain the nature of their use, it is likely that the greenhouse designed for the VA in Michigan may have been intended for therapeutic use by veterans recently returned home from World War II.

The first use of horticulture in the treatment of psychiatric patients in the United States took place at what is now Friends Hospital in Philadelphia.  Founded by the Quakers and first named The Asylum for Persons Deprived of the Use of Their Reason, the hospital built a greenhouse in 1879 to be used by patients.

The rehabilitative needs of war veterans in the 1940s and 50s helped to spur the further growth of horticultural therapy and to solidify its place among the therapeutic options for veterans.  Through gardening, wounded soldiers engaged in a form of physical therapy that simultaneously provided them with skills to help ease their transition into the civilian workforce.  Others who suffered from what we now recognize as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) were aided by the calming orderliness of gardening in conjunction with other forms of treatment.  Greenhouses were (and still are) used to enable year-round gardening and thus continuous therapy.

A February 2015 article in Military.com reported an upcoming program in Fort Wayne, Indiana, that seeks to help rehabilitate veterans suffering from PTSD and other problems through horticultural therapy.  Veterans to Farmers, a program in Denver, Colorado, gives returning veterans a chance to gain viable skills while providing a peaceful environment in which to learn and work. Similar programs exist elsewhere, including the Veterans Greenhouse and Gardens Program, part of the VA Boston Healthcare System.

These are just a few examples of many such horticulture therapy programs throughout the U.S. The healthful benefits of gardening and greenhouse production have long been acknowledged and continue to be employed today in the healing process for our veterans.  The American-Moninger Greenhouse Manufacturing Corporation Collection of greenhouse plans here at the Archives of American Gardens offers a glimpse into the history of this long tradition of healing.

Katie McLain, 
2015 Graduate Research Assistant, Smithsonian Gardens
and
Master of Arts Candidate, History of Decorative Arts, 
The Smithsonian Associates-George Mason University

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Always with the Banjo: Rapid Capture Digitization at the Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections

How we roll: live banjo music during the RCPP open house. Photograph by Ben Sullivan.

The last week of April, after months of preparation, the Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections participated in a week-long Rapid Capture Pilot Project (RCPP) supported by the Smithsonian's Digitization Program Office (DPO).  The DPO has organized these projects at a variety of Smithsonian units, and we were very excited to join the club.

Colin Moore placing a mechanical board on the copy stand as Ed and Diana Coderre of Digital Ark get ready to capture it. Photograph by Ben Sullivan.

The goal of a RCPP is to digitize a large volume of similarly-sized objects using high-throughput digitization workflows and equipment and make them available to the public online in their highest resolution. The Rinzler Archives chose to digitize a large portion of the cover design mechanicals, or pasteup boards, for Folkways Records, due to their importance in the history of design and the beautiful original artwork found on many. Though it required months of preparation, the RRFAC was able to digitize 1,022 oversized folders of cover designs during the 5-day pilot, creating 2,345 unique images (some mechanicals contained multiple layers that required multiple shots). These images were embedded with metadata, sent to the Smithsonian's digital asset management system, and linked to the Collections Search Center for public viewing during the same week.

To promote the use of rapid capture processes, the Rinzler Archives also held an open house for the archives, library, and museum community to come observe the work and ask questions. Talking, being on our feet, and doing repetitive movements all week could have made for very long days, but we're lucky enough to work with some amazing musicians at the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, including processing archivist Greg Adams. Greg got us through the week by playing his banjo for us and our 125 visitors throughout the week. When a visitor asked Jessica Beauchamp, a program officer from the DPO, why we had live music at our open house, Jessica replied, "It's just their way here."


Cover mechanical for FW04237 (FE 4237), Music of the Miskito Indians of Honduras and Nicaragua, c. 1981. Moses and Frances Asch Collection, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections, Smithsonian Institution.

The Rinzler Archives has never before been able to push digitized content out to the public in this quantity or quality--this, combined with the live music and beautiful materials, energized and motivated us, and made the RCCP week the most fun in the archives in recent memory.

Special thanks to the Digitization Program Office, OCIO, the DAMS team, and the Digital Ark for all their support for this project. This was truly a (BIG) team effort, and we are so proud to have been a part of it.

To view the materials digitized for this project, search for your favorite Folkways album cover by its number in the Collections Search Center, or see some of our favorites here:
FW02319 American Ballads sung by Pete Seeger
FW03863 Radio Programme III: Courlander's Almanac: Familiar Music in Strange Places
FW04008 Songs and Dances of Norway
FW07451 Jill Gallina - Lovin' Kindness
FW06846 Jamaican Folk Songs sung by Louise Bennett

Cecilia Peterson, Digitization Archivist
Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Duncan P. Shiedt Collection and All That Jazz

The National Museum of American History sponsored a variety of special activities in April to celebrate Jazz Appreciation Month, including special concerts and the opening of the LeRoy Neiman Jazz Café in the Museum, with its colorful mural (painted by Neiman) depicting eighteen jazz masters.  Spearheaded as usual by Dr. John Hasse, the Museum’s indefatigable curator of American Music, Jazz Appreciation Month often focuses on jazz-related acquisitions by the Museum, especially in the Archives Center.  Searching for “jazz” in SIRIS reveals the jazz-related riches of the Archives Center, from the original music manuscripts of famed composer and bandleader Duke Ellington to published sheet music in the Sam DeVincent Collection (arranged by the topics or subjects of songs), to photographs of jazz musicians by many important photographers.

Photograph by John Miner.  Billy Strayhorn playing piano, possibly Chicago, 26 May 1952.
From the Duncan P. Schiedt Photograph Collection, Archives Center, NMAH
Dr. Hasse has located and helped to negotiate most of the Archives Center’s jazz acquisitions over the years, collaborating with our staff to arrange and complete the transactions.  Some of these acquisitions were made possible through personal friendships and professional connections dating back to his graduate work in music at Indiana University, and Indiana, it seems, has been an unusually fertile source of dedicated collectors of jazz-related collections and archives.  This has been of personal interest to me because I also pursued graduate work at Indiana University in Bloomington—not in music, although I knew a number of music students.  Our most recent major jazz-related acquisition was donated by the children of another longtime friend and colleague of John Hasse’s—Duncan P. Schiedt.  Schiedt was himself a distinguished photographer of jazz musicians, but he also collected the work of other jazz photographers, and authored a number of books.  He wrote in the preface to his book Jazz State of Indiana that “Indiana represented something special in jazz history” and that “Hoosier jazz” made a special contribution to the style of many college and professional jazz bands. The Archives Center is just beginning to view the thousands of photographs in this collection.  Shown above is a photograph of jazz great Billy Strayhorn, from the Schiedt collection.

David Haberstich
Curator of Photography, NMAH Archives Center     

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Message in a Box

The Freer | Sackler Archives is blessed to have many wonderful volunteers.  Many have been working for the archives for years. They all have collections that they come in every week to work on and care for.  One volunteer, the lovely Charlene, has been work on the Pauline B. and Myron S. Falk, Jr. Papers for several years. She is currently organizing all of the Falk correspondence. Recently, she stumbled upon some truly wonderful letters both sent and received by the Falks.  

They are filled with humor, life, and wonderful use of language.  One can’t help but stop to hear what neat letter Charlene has found on a particular day.  You get the impression that the Falks were warm, intelligent, and entertaining people to be around.

Pauline Falk worked with the Lincoln School for many years.

These letters have given us something more precious that a window into the Falks lives.  They have given us an idea of how diversely and uniquely individuals expressed themselves to one another. You can picture the people writing these letters as if they are in the room.  Furthermore, it reminds us how fun, complex, and different the English language can be.  

Excerpt from Mrs. Pauline Falk's 50th High School Reunion.   It took place in 1978 for the class of 1928.  Several of the classmates could not attend the reunion, but then sent delightful notes to be read at the reunion.

In yet another way, it makes us more aware that the art of letter writing is dying. We have email. We have Facebook. We have Twitter.  We have an endless amount of devices to keep us connected.   We communicate instantly and uniquely, but in a different more abrupt way.

The written word seems to be fighting a losing battle in the war of communication.   This is an era of abbreviated thought, where pausing to contemplate and write a personal letter and send it seems as foreign as an alien planet.

Letter thanking Pauline Falk for all her dedicated service to the Lincoln School, 1953.

Of course, email can be and is used to write thoughtful letters, but more often than not, the language of email seems to have given way to short perfunctory business sentences.  The idea of allowing one’s thoughts to wander deeply before putting words down is almost lost.

Perhaps we should all take the time to pause and breathe before we write and send our next email (or, perhaps, even a physical letter) to a friend.

Lara Amrod
Freer|Sackler Archives

Friday, April 17, 2015

How Do I Compare Thee To a Burpee Seed: The 1924 Burpee Contest Inspired Poetry

“Roses are Red; Violets are Blue” may be the most famous lyric about flowers and love. In fact, poetry and the beauty of flowers and gardens often seem to go hand-in-hand.  This is why it comes as no surprise that poems accompany several of the letters submitted for the 1924 W. Atlee Burpee & Company contest, “What Burpee’s Seeds Have Done for Me.”

Now located in the W. Atlee Burpee & Company Records at the Archives of American Gardens, the contest letters are not only evidence of the firm’s marketing practices, but also snapshots into the lives of everyday gardeners of the time. The personal and touching stories that contestants shared with the company were often accompanied by tokens stuffed alongside the letters, including newspaper clippings, photographs, and even seed packets.  It is the lyrical composition of the ones that included poems, in my opinion (and the opinion of the Burpee Seed Company as many were selected as potential winners for the contest), that truly made a contest letter stand out.

In honor of National Poetry Month the Archives of American Gardens has selected a few poems from the 1924 contest letters to highlight.  The majority of the poems were written by gardeners inspired by their own gardens grown from Burpee seeds.  Typically composed in a simple a-b-c-b style, the poems recount the joys of gardening and using Burpee seeds.  One poem in particular that caught my attention was written by a Miss Blanche Billings of Vermont who writes of growing a garden for the benefit of selling produce.

1924 contest letter submitted by Blanche Billings.
Smithsonian Institution, Archives of American Gardens, W. Atlee Burpee & Company Records,
Box 330, Folder 12. Unassigned Letter Number 4, Page 7
Occasionally, those unable to craft their own poetry would submit a poem penned by someone else or a well-known poet.  One such person was Miss Mary Rowan of Logansport, Indiana who submitted a poem by George Elliston (1883-1946), a Cincinnati poet and female American journalist. In the contest letter Rowan expresses her inability to compose a poem that could accurately reflect her experiences with gardening and Burpee seeds, but felt that Elliston’s poem perfectly described her love of gardening.

1924 contest letter submitted by Blanche Billings.
Smithsonian Institution, Archives of American Gardens, W. Atlee Burpee & Company Records,
Box 330, Folder 4. Letter number 4418
Several hundred 1924 Burpee contest letters have been digitized and transcribed in the Smithsonian Transcription Center.  Take a look and see what you may find! If you are lucky enough, you might even stumble across one of these wonderful poems enclosed with a contest letter.  And who knows, perhaps you will be inspired to write your own poem about your own garden!

Melinda Allen
Archives of American Gardens 
2015 Winter Intern