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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

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Archives in Bloom

This has been a particularly long, hard winter for most of the country (here's lookin' at you, Boston), but finally, at least the calendar will soon say it's Spring. The Vernal Equinox (am I the only one who finds that to be one of the most beautiful phrases in the English language?) is this Saturday, March 21st. In anticipation/celebration, here are some of the Springiest images I could dig up, like a squirrel after freshly planted bulbs, from the collections of the Archives of American Art.

Study for Geranium, circa 1966. Janet Shook LaCoste papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Bessie Potter Vonnoh in a garden, circa 1892 / unidentified photographer. Bessie Potter Vonnoh papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Girl in the woods, circa 1930. David Park papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
For more blooms from across the Smithsonian's collections, browse our Collections Search Center

Bettina Smith, Digital Projects Librarian
Archives of American Art

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Dumping the Bosses off your Back: Collector Records and Labor Song

Brochure from the Coalition of Labor Union Women, 1980. Collector Records business papersRalph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections, Smithsonian Institution.
In the Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections, I often have the good luck to work with the papers of individuals and record labels full of materials that are rooted in history and continue to stay topical today.  For the past few months, I have been working with the Collector Records business records , and I've enjoyed exploring the materials that intended to inspire and capture the music of the labor movement.  Joe Glazer, often referred to as “Labor’s Troubador," founded Collector Records in 1970 in order to share his own recordings of labor songs as well as those of other musicians.  He set out to explore workplace issues, such as women's struggles through the release of albums like Bread and Raises: Songs for Working Women sung by Bobbie McGee. Glazer also released albums that were meant to laud and inspire union members such as with his celebration of the United Auto Workers in his album The UAW: Fifty Years in Song and Story.
Paste-up for Songs of Steel & Struggle, 1975. Collector Records business papersRalph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections, Smithsonian Institution.
Although it is a historical collection, the songs, sentiments, and commitment to the Labor Movement by Glazer and Collector Records are still applicable today.  I was a member of Transportation Workers Union of America: Local 100 and a colleague was previously a member of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local: 30.  In a lunchtime anecdote, he recalled the time he brought his banjo to the picket line and led striking workers (UPS strike 1997) in the singing of protest songs such as "Solidarity Forever". This particular song appears on at least eleven of Collector Records' commercial records and has been an important tool in the movement.  Labor songs such as "Solidarity Forever" can be effective on many fronts, but especially for education, relaying a message, and political organizing. This uniqueness is found through the song's abilities to both teach and keep morale high while on the picket line.
Songs of the Wobblies, 1977. Collector Records business papers, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections, Smithsonian Institution.

Oppressed groups have historically addressed their oppressors through song.  Folk song, and labor song, are a reflection of the community from which they are created.  They reflect the values, social norms, and concerns of the surrounding community.  For particular social movements and historical time periods where printed media could not carry a message fast enough, or for communities in which literacy is not a given, folk music served as substitute for mass media and a way to relay social and political messages off the wire.  The idea of using music as a political unifier has deep roots and Glazer recognized that idea through the release of albums such as I Will Win: Songs of the Wobblies which contains songs published as early as 1909 in the Wobblies' original hymnal I.W.W. Songs: To Fan the Flames of Discontent. 

Nichole Procopenko
Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archive and Collections

Friday, March 6, 2015

Edward Curtis Everywhere: Smithsonian Collections Bring a Famous Photographer into Focus

Edward Curtis with his daughter Beth in a kayak in Alaska, 1927. Negative AK72onn, Photo Lot 2010-28,
National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution.
With the support of a Smithsonian Women's Committee grant, I have spent much of the last year diving into the photographs of one man – Edward Sheriff Curtis. One of the funniest things about spending a long time working with a collection is that you start to realize how many related things you come across in life outside of work. And one of the most shocking things about working with a photographer like Curtis is to find that his work is everywhere. In the past few months, I have found Curtis photographs in a museum exhibition on race, an article on linguistics and anthropology, several advertisements, and even an episode of the television sitcom The League.

During the early part of the twentieth century, Curtis embarked on a monumental project to document American Indian tribes that still maintained “their primitive customs and traditions” in twenty volumes of The North American Indian. Though the project bankrupted and nearly destroyed him, Curtis’s soft-focus images of a “vanishing race” have defined popular depictions of native peoples for good and ill. The photographs are rife with controversy and scholars have described them as both supportive and repressive of the people they depict.

Portrait of Bell Rock by Edward S. Curtis. NAA INV 03078100,
Photo Lot 59, National Anthropological Archives, 
Smithsonian Institution.
Photogravure printing plate for Plate 414: Chaiwa– Tewa; 1921; Edward S. Curtis photogravure plates and proofs for The North American Indian, Box F24; National Museum of the American Indian Archive Center, Smithsonian Institution.
Much of my job has been to cross-reference Curtis collections at the Smithsonian and in other institutions, so that we can get a better idea of the scope of Curtis's entire body of work. Copies of Curtis photographs can be found in a huge number of archives though there are one-of-a-kind pieces, many of which are at the Smithsonian. The National Anthropological Archives has many of Curtis’s original negatives and the National Museum of the American Indian Archives Center has copper printing plates and proofs that he used to make his monumental The North American Indian series. NMAI’s Mary Harriman Rumsey collection of Harriman Alaska Expedition photographs also includes photographs that Curtis made before he ever decided to embark on this major project, so we can see how his approach changed over time. By mapping these collections, in conjunction with other Curtis collections at these two archives, we finally have a glimpse of Curtis’s entire work, not just what was selected for publication.

Glass negative edited by Edward Curtis for publication as “Sunset in Navaho-land,” plate 38. Negative 1042gcn, Photo Lot 2010-28, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution.
It has been fascinating to see these images, which have become so commonplace in our culture today, in their original forms. Most of the prints and negatives at the NAA bear the clean lines of an unfiltered photograph, so different from the out-of-focus style in which they were published, and many show the retouching that Curtis used to stylize and edit his work. Meanwhile NMAI’s printing plates and proofs give a glimpse of the printing process, which defined this photographer's work and life for so many years, not to mention gives us the images that we are most accustomed to seeing. Curtis may be ubiquitous, but he certainly isn't one-dimensional.

Sarah Ganderup
Contract Photograph Archivist
National Anthropological Archives

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Renewed Exposure to the Presence of Africans in Persia: Digitizing the Collections of Antoin Sevruguin Photographs in the Archives of the Freer|Sackler

This second of two blog posts was written by Xavier Courouble, cataloger of the collections of Antoin Sevruguin Photographs and the Ernst Herzfeld Papers at Freer Sackler Archives, Smithsonian Institution.  This post explores the presence of individuals of African descent at religious events in Qajar Iran.

Groups of Attendants at a Religious Gathering.
Antoin Sevruguin (d. 1933). Albumen print taken before 1896. Myron Bement Smith Collection of Sevruguin Photographs. Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives. Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C.
(FSA A2011.03 B.09).
Africans in Shiite Rituals during the Qajar Dynasty

The three photographs, taken by Antoin Sevruguin at the beginning of the twentieth century, depict a private performance and a large public procession, annually held during the first ten days of Moharram, the first month of the Islamic calendar. They are part of the mourning ceremonies of Moharram, commemorating the martyrdom of Imam Hosayn at Karbala in 61 AH/680 CE and reaching their climax on the tenth day of the month (Ashura). Expression of grief during public mourning processions are accompanied by assemblies held in buildings erected for the purpose (hosayniyas or takias), as well as in mosques and private houses. At these assemblies, called rowzeh-khani, professional reciters recount the tragedy at Karbala, curse the enemies, and arouse the emotions of the mourners who respond by congregational singing of dirges. The public mourning processions, held on the tenth day, display the traditional customs of the old time, displaying certain pre-Islamic funerary practices, such as the use of dark colored banners and horses.

The formal group portrait, with an individual of African descent at the center and a master storyteller slightly on the left, holding little folded scripts in the palm of his hand, depicts a traditional setting for a private performance of rowzeh-khani. As witnessed in the photograph, Africans, mostly Abyssinians or Swahilis, did participate in Shia rituals in roles that are still understudied. Yet, according to popular belief, participation in rowzeh-khani ensures participants of all classes of society of intercession by Hosayn on the Judgment Day. In the eyes of the Shiites, Hosayn fought and sacrificed his life for the underdog, the unprivileged, the oppressed, and humiliated. During the Qajar period, the rowzeh-khani sermons, while continuing to recount the tragedy at Karbala, to reflect on its meaning, and to recite elegies in memory of the martyred Imam, had also evolved into a discussion on subjects of discontent including social injustice, political oppression, economic disparities, and social upheaval of the day, making this Shiite commemorative ritual a very important political weapon. The Qajar elites were enthusiastic patrons of Shiite rituals, most notably both the rowzeh-khani and the public Moharram processions. These rituals served to strengthen the bonds of loyalty between the state and its subjects, thus ensuring the Qajar elites a certain degree of religious and political legitimacy.

Gathering of a Large Crowd (probably a Muharram Procession) at the Maydan-i Tupkhana, Tehran (Iran).
Antoin Sevruguin (d. 1933). Glass plate negative taken before 1896. Myron Bement Smith Collection of Sevruguin Photographs. Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives. Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C.
(FSA A.4 2.12.GN.50.05).

The African Presence in Qajar Iran

In these three Sevruguin photographs, the almost invisible presence of individuals of African descent provides an opportunity to examine the sources, destinations, and existence of Africans in Iran and the Persian Gulf. According to Mirzai Behnaz, for centuries, Africans were drawn in small numbers at one time or another from the interior region of East Africa, forming a small percentage of the country’s multi-ethnic enslaved population. The sea trade route of the Indian Ocean significantly facilitated the transport of a large number of Africans from the Swahili coast to Muscat and Sur from where they were eventually carried into the Ottoman Empire, the Arab States, and Iran. Pilgrims were
also bringing enslaved peoples through western and southwestern Iran from the Arabian cities of Baghdad, Karbala, Mecca and Medina.

The majority of enslaved Africans mostly served as pearl fishers, agricultural laborers or domestics. A small number were conveyed from southern ports to the interior and were absorbed in different urban areas and socioeconomic sectors. They were mainly employed as domestics. Some were engaged in specific tasks in the harems of Shahs and princes. Among them, one group consisted of eunuchs who served at the court of the Shah. Another group of Africans was engaged in the royal army as confidential household troops or guards of princes, called ghulam-1 Shahi.

During the Qajar dynastic period (1795-1925), African men, women and children were brought to Iran in greater numbers than the country had ever witnessed. Aristocratic and wealthy families
incorporated domestic slaves into their household as both investments and symbols of prosperity. Additionally, economic forces driven by the expansion of foreign trade in the south and commercial farming innovations in the south-eastern provinces gave rise to the need for new sources of slave labor. The development of the trade in enslaved Africans was given religious justification by some in Islamic societies on the grounds of the need to convert a large number of Africans in Islam. Enslaved people were considered to be part of the household, and since Islam opened many ways for their emancipation they could gradually be absorbed into the society, therefore leading to the formation of diasporic communities of Afro-Iranians along the shores of the Persian Gulf from the southwest to the southeastern parts of Iran.

Ashura Reenactment Procession.
Antoin Sevruguin (d. 1933). Glass plate negative taken before 1896. Myron Bement Smith Collection of Sevruguin Photographs. Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives. Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C.
(FSA A.4 2.12.GN.21.03).

- AFRICANS IN PERSIA, photographs taken by Antoin Sevruguin, from the collections of Sevruguin photographs at National Anthropological Archives and the Archives of the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery , Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.
- IRAN IN PHOTOGRAPHS, an online exhibition part of the Archives of the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery , Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.
- SEVRUGUIN RESOURCE PAGE, Archives of the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery , Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.
- MYRON BEMENT SMITH COLLECTION OF SEVRUGUIN PHOTOGRAPHS, Archives of the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery , Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.
- STEPHEN ARPEE COLLECTION OF SEVRUGUIN PHOTOGRAPHS, Archives of the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery , Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.
- JAY BISNO COLLECTION OF SEVRUGUIN PHOTOGRAPHS, Archives of the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery , Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.
- SAILORS AND DAUGHTERS: EARLY PHOTOGRAPHY AND THE INDIAN OCEAN, an online exhibition part of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art’s programming for Connecting the Gems of the Indian Ocean: From Oman to East Africa.

- AYOUB Mahmoud, Ashura.  Encyclopædia Iranica, Vol. II, Fasc. 8, pp. 874-876, an updated version is available online at (Originally published: December 15, 1987).
- BETTERIDGE Anne, Festival III: Shi'ite.  Encyclopædia Iranica, Vol. IX, Fasc. 5, pp. 550-555, an updated version is available online at (Originally published: December 15, 1999).
- CALMARD Jean, Azadari.  Encyclopædia Iranica, Vol. III, Fasc. 2, pp. 174-177, an updated version is available online at (Originally published: December 15, 1987).
- CHELKOWSKI Peter, Ta'zia.  Encyclopædia Iranica, an updated version is available online at  (Originally published: July 15, 2009).
- JAFRI Syed Husain Mohammad, The Origins and Early Development of Shi'a Islam, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979. See preview here
- KHOSRONEJAD Pedram (Ed.), Women's Rituals and Ceremonies in Shiite Iran and Muslim Communities: Methodological and Theoretical Challenges, Berlin, Germany: Lit Verlag Dr. W.

Hopf, 2015. See preview here
- MOMEN Moojan, An Introduction to Shi'i Islam: The History and Doctrines of Twelver Shi'ism, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1985. See book review here
- PLESSNER Martin, Al-Muharram, Encyclopædia of Islam. Vol. 7, second edition, Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1993.