Smithsonian Collections Blog

Highlighting the hidden treasures from over 2 million collections

Collections Search Center

Friday, April 18, 2014

Fine Art of Flower Arrangement and Description

Spring is a popular time for flower shows and a major feature of these shows is flower arranging. The Archives of American Gardens recently acquired a collection of photographic slides belonging to floral designer Georgia S. Vance who was best known for her talent of preserving and arranging dried flowers. Vance began her career in the 1960s, and for more than 35 years her flower arrangements decorated the Diplomatic Reception Rooms at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., as well as the White House and other historic homes. 
Dried flower arrangement, Early Colonial style, 1967.
Smithsonian Institution, Archives of American Gardens, 
Garden Club of America Collection, Georgia Vance Slides
Georgia Vance’s slide collection features many intricate floral arrangements in a variety of styles, including the Japanese Ikebana technique. In 1972, she published a book, The Decorative Art of Dried Flower Arrangement, which received the Helen S. Hull Award for Literary Horticultural Interest from the National Council of State Garden Clubs. Vance was a member of the Garden Club of America, the Garden Club of Virginia, the Garden Club of Alexandria (Virginia), and the Officer’s Wives Garden Club of Fort Belvoir (Virginia). The Garden Club of Virginia continues to honor her skill in floral design by presenting the annual Georgia S. Vance Award for Most Creative Arrangement. 

Dried flower arrangement, Ikebana, 1970.
Smithsonian Institution, Archives of American Gardens, 
Garden Club of America Collection, Georgia Vance Slides
Floral arrangement as an art form in the East is a tradition that dates back to 6th century with the practice of Ikebana in Japan.  In the West, floral art enjoyed a heyday during the Victorian era when flower arranging was taught and recognized as an artistic endeavor. However, it wasn’t until the 1930s that floral experts, guidelines for amateurs for creating arrangements, and floral arrangement schools came to the fore in America. 

Today, flower arranging is still considered an art form by those that practice it. The Garden Club of Virginia’s website for flower shows provides extensive categories and definitions about floral styles and designs, including a separate category for designs in the Asian manner: . Flower judging is as detailed an endeavor as floral arrangement with points awarded for design, artistic concept, expression and distinction: 

For more information on the history of floral arrangements, see The Art of Floral Design by Norah Hunter and The Flower Arranging Expert by D. G. Hessayon.

Sarah Ostrye, 2014 Intern
Archives of American Gardens
Smithsonian Gardens

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Who’s on First?

Plays.  Musicians. Jugglers. Comedians. Entertainment has existed in every culture going back to the traveling bards and troubadours of old. These photographs give us a little peak into what entertainment looked like in Japan and Iran during the late 19th to the early 20th century.

Japan: Twelve Woman Ensemble.

Iran:  Arpee Album: Photograph of Musicians and Dancer [graphic]

Iran:  Arpee Album: Photograph of the Nakkara Khana [graphic]

Iran:  Photograph of Street Performers [graphic]

Tehran, Iran:  Royal Puppet Show [graphic]

Japan:  Women playing music and dancing.

Kyoto, Japan: Female musicians on stage with Japanese and American flags, likely at a musical presentation.

Lara Amrod, Archivist

Friday, April 11, 2014

Solomon G. Brown's Poetry

Did you know Solomon G. Brown—the first African American employee of the Smithsonian Institution—was also a talented poet? The legacy of Solomon Brown is not generally known beyond the Smithsonian or the local community of Anacostia where he resided. However, during the 19th and early 20th centuries Brown was a man of stature with a public reputation in Washington, DC; Baltimore, MD; and Alexandria, VA. 

Memorial Verse: In Memory of Isaac Brown, 1894 by Solomon G. Brown, 06-030.4
Anacostia Community Museum Archives, Smithsonian Institution

In celebration of National Poetry Month the Anacostia Community Museum highlights Brown’s “Memorial Verse” from our archival collection. You can also assist with transcribing the verse by    visiting the Smithsonian Digital Volunteers: Transcription Center. You may also find interesting “Kind Regards of S. G.Brown”: Selected Poems of Solomon G. Browncompiled by Louise Daniel Hutchinson and Gail Sylvia Lowe.

Jennifer Morris
Anacostia Community Museum Archives

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Mountains: Climbing to the Top

Mountains are a distinctive geographic feature that ripple throughout Asia.  They can be seen as backdrops to cities and at the center of epic adventures.
Kurdistan, Iraq: Kuh-e Owraman Mountain Range, View of Canyon of Aw-i Shirwan, [graphic]

Iran:  Encapment and Village in the Mountains [graphic]

Hakone, Japan: View of Lake Ashi and mountains circa 1860s.

North of Tehran, Iran: Man Seated on a Mountain Top in Shimiran [graphic]

Hakone, Japan:  View of Ojigoku on great boiling springs [1860 - ca. 1900]. [graphic]

I encountered the mountain below during some routine archives work (yes, even the exciting world of archivists can be dominated by routine!).  But this time, I was surprised to find this charming drawing while performing a physical check of the map cases in our archive. I was almost done in a bottom drawer when I found it, and upon closer inspection I recognized it as the signature of Sir Edmund Hilary— he and his Sherpa guide Tenzing Norgay were the first men to reach the summit of Mt. Everest.

Sir Edmund Hillary autograph, November 16, 1998
Hillary accepted an award at the Smithsonian in 1998, in honor of his ‘monumental explorations and humanitarian achievements.’ According to the item’s catalog record, this autograph drawing was made by Hillary during a press conference at the Freer Gallery on November 16.The signature is quite large it takes up an entire page, very much like mountains often do in photographs.

Lara Amrod, Archivist
Freer|Sackler Archives

Thursday, April 3, 2014


Louis E. Neuman & Co. cigar box label, ca. 1890? Tobacco Trade and Industry Series,
Warshaw Collection of Business American, Archives Center, National Museum of American History  

Among the many different types of pictorial paper items in the Warshaw Collection of Business Americana are cigar box labels.  The collection is rich in provocative imagery used to advertise many types of products.  Perhaps the most common form of advertisement in the collection is the "trade card," essentially an oversized business card with often lively and colorful illustrations.  Another familiar form is the cigar box label.  It might be argued that a label intended to be glued to a product or its container doesn't function exactly the way an advertisement--generally distinct and physically separate from the product--functions.  However, attractive labels can also induce the customer to make a purchase in order to possess both product and its beguiling advertisement.  Neophyte cigar smokers often selected their cigars on the basis of the personal appeal of the illustrations on the inside cover of the box.  Certainly one of the most "collectible" types of advertising ephemera is the cigar box label and its intriguing, distinctive, richly colored style.  Its heyday was the late 19th century to early 20th century, but 21st century cigar box labels often retain the old-fashioned style.  Since cigar consumers were almost exclusively men, the labels were designed to reinforce masculine stereotypes.  Attractive, exotic women often are the subjects of these colorful lithographs, as well as themes such as "cowboys and Indians."  Many of the latter portrayed Native Americans as "noble savages," while others emphasized their reputation as wild, fearsome warriors.  Consider the cultural implications of this particular design and the cigar brand, "Warpath."

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

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

April is National Poetry Month

Miami-Dade Public Library bookmobile, ca. 1976 / Lowell Nesbitt, photographer. Lowell Nesbitt papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Did you know that the month of April is dedicated to the art of poetry? Although my job centers on the visual arts, I thought I might bring together the visual and the literary and attempt a haiku about one of my favorite items from the Archives of American Art collections, this slide of a bookmobile decorated by the painter Lowell Nesbitt.

Artful bookmobile
Stirs this Librarian's heart
Serving books in style

Wishing you a poetical month,

Bettina Smith, Digital Projects Librarian

Thursday, March 27, 2014

A Century of Cherry Blossom Watches

Cherry blossoms along the Tidal Basin, circa 1920s. J. Horace McFarland, photographer. (AAG# DC001)
Smithsonian Institution, Archives of American Gardens, J. Horace McFarland Collection 
The first day of spring has already come and gone, but spring in Washington, D.C., still feels like it has yet to arrive. We will know when winter’s grip has finally loosened when the cherry trees are blooming around the Tidal Basin. Many of these trees are over a century old. Originally planted between 1912 and 1920, the image above shows the cherry trees in all their glory roughly 80 or 90 years ago. It was likely photographed by J. Horace McFarland --or possibly someone employed by his company Mount Pleasant Press-- and is preserved in the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Gardens. McFarland was a horticulturist, educator, promoter of the City Beautiful movement and early advocate for the National Park Service. He also frequently used lantern slides like this one to illustrate his many lectures on civic improvement and city beautification projects.

Learn more about the history, care, and preservation of Washington's cherry trees on the National Park Service website:

Browse more digitized photographs from the J. Horace McFarland Collection on Pinterest.

Kelly Crawford
Museum Specialist
Archives of American Gardens