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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Peter Blume, From Concept to Realization

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

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

75th Anniversary of "Gone with the Wind"

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.
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, page 16.)


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

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Artful Collaborations at the Howard Theatre

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

Monday, October 20, 2014

Taking Flak-Bait for a Walk

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 2014-00195
The 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-42346
The 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 2014-02801
The 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 2014-03656
With careful direction and measuring, Flat-Bait made it out of the gallery and into the museum corridor.

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

Flat-Bait fits!  NASM 2014-03665
June 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 2014-03304
Flak-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 2014-03788
Although 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, October 17, 2014

Friday Flashback: Hello, Helldiver!

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 2013-03245
On 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 2014-01742
And 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 2014-03501
What 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

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Making Discoveries and Connections through Photography

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 Institution
In 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


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Archivist on the Road

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 Collector