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Monday, November 23, 2015

How to Set Your Thanksgiving Table Like an Artist

It has often been said that we eat first with our eyes. In other words, food must be delicious but it must also be beautifully presented. Where better to derive inspiration for your Thanksgiving tablescape than from the tables of artists and designers? Here are some stylishly set tables from the collections of the Archives of American Art.

Table #1 - Clean and simple

Table setting at the Eames House, ca. 1950 / unidentified photographer. Aline and Eero Saarinen papers, 1906-1977. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
Husband and wife design team Charles and Ray Eames are perhaps best known for their graceful swooping chairs either in molded plastic or bentwood and leather, still coveted by hipsters and spawning leagues of knockoffs today. Their breakfast table, seen here, features similar clean lines in the simple dishware they selected. Not fancy by any means but immensely appealing nonetheless.

Table #2 - Warm and inviting
Antonio Sotomayor dining on paella, 1983 / Grace Sotomayor, photographer. Antonio Sotomayor papers, circa 1920-1988. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
Bolivian-born Antonio Sotomayor is primarily known for his murals, but he also worked as a ceramicist. Perhaps the paella he is enjoying here is served on plates of his own design! I can't help but want to pull up a seat to this table. The warm wood, the classic cup full of breadsticks, and the whimsical fish-shaped place mats all make for a very welcoming atmosphere.

Table #3 - Glitz and Glamour 

Dining room by Robsjohn-Gibbings, 1950. Terence Harold Robsjohn-Gibbings papers, 1898-1977, bulk 1915-1977. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Terence Harold Robsjohn-Gibbings immigrated to New York from London when he was 25 years old, in 1930. Spinning out cosmopolitan furniture and interior designs from his firm on Madison Avenue, he became one of the most well-known decorators in America. This glam dining room set seen above was conceived when he worked as the principal designer for the Widdicomb Furniture Company. Furniture historians may have more to say about the structure of the pieces but for me, this table is all about the gilded pumpkin centerpiece.

Whether you celebrate with a gold pumpkin or not, we at the Smithsonian Collections Blog wish you a very happy, warm and safe Thanksgiving.

Bettina Smith, Digital Projects Librarian
Archives of American Art

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Congratulations Hirshhorn!

Unique in style and substance on the Mall, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden’s opening night, October 4, 1974, was a glamorous affair that showed off the circular building, the sculpture garden grounds, and the collections they housed at their best. This was the first modern art collection on the National Mall, and the museum's design reflected its collection.

On opening night of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, October 4, 1974, a crowd has gathered in the interior court. Smithsonian Institution Archives. Neg. #92-1647. 
Those collections numbered over six thousand items on opening day, their transfer from Joe and Olga Hirshhorn completed just a month before the museum opened.  The couple was avid collectors of modern art, and wanted to see their collection kept together in a museum so that others could enjoy the art as much as they had.  With the help of Lady Bird and Lyndon B. Johnson, Secretary S. Dillion Ripley convinced them to donate their collection to the Smithsonian.

Arriving on the Mall from the Hirshhorn home in Greenwich, Connecticut, Henry Moore's "King and Queen" is gently lowered into place on its pedestal in the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. Smithsonian Institution Archives. Neg. #SIA2011-2398.
As a uniquely modern building on the National Mall, the circular building features curved galleries that float above the grounds that hold the Hirshhorn’s large sculpture collection. On opening night, both the garden and the museum glittered with bright lights. In his opening night remarks Secretary Ripley set the museum a lofty goal saying, “the purpose of the Hirshhorn is to remind us all that life is more than the usual, that the human mind is capable of seeing life subjectively, and being stirred into new and positive ways of thought…. Let its assemblage of shapes and objects continue to stir our slothful minds and jog our minds our sensibilities as they are designed to do.” William Schuman composed a special piece of music for the occasion, “Prelude for a Great Occasion” played by the National Symphony Orchestra during opening ceremonies.

Secretary S. Dillon Ripley (1964-1984) greets Mr. Joseph H. Hirshhorn, founding donor, on opening day of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, October 4, 1974. Smithsonian Institution Archives. Neg. #SIA74-9851-04.
The Hirshhorn opened to high hopes and lots of enthusiasm.  In its first six months over one million visitors saw the opening exhibit of items from the permanent collection.  The Washington Post claimed that the collection “will enable to the Hirshhorn, better perhaps than any other museum, to present a comprehensive account of the development of modern art from the mid-19th century to the present.” And the Washington Star-News exclaimed “Well, we’ve seen it now. And we’re in love with it. It’s exciting, it’s full of old friends and many new ones that we hadn’t had the pleasure of meeting before, and it’s, above all, great fun.”

Above all, I think that would have most pleased Mr. Hirshhorn and Secretary Ripley that this gift of art was bringing as much joy to its visitors as it brought to them.  This sense of joy and celebration ran throughout its opening days as Mr. Hirshhorn surprised the Museum with ‘birthday’ gift of four additional sculptures for the inaugural exhibition.

Lisa Fthenakis, Program Assistant

Friday, October 30, 2015

Flashback Friday: Farewell to American Archives Month

Blogs across the Smithsonian will give an inside look at the Institution’s archival collections and practices during a month long blog-a-thon in celebration of October’s American Archives Month. See additional posts from our other participating blogs, as well as related events and resources, on the Smithsonian’s Archives Month website.

Mary Ann Belardo working in the Archives of American Art area in the Fine Arts and Portrait Galleries, now the Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture. Smithsonian Institution Archives. Neg. #SIA2011-1134. 
On this final day of American Archives Month, let’s take a moment to look back at the many hidden connections we have celebrated. We hope these stories have connected you to the treasures held within our repositories and uncovered the exciting worlds they represent. We explored popular culture with baseball, photography, and Halloween; Smithsonian history with the first Smithsonian computer; and national memory with Dia de los Muertos and the anniversary of the Armenian genocide.

We hope these posts have given you a glimpse into the hidden stories that can be found behind the scenes and in our collections. With 9.3 million records across most Smithsonian major collections, the Collections Search Center creates a not so hidden connection across the Smithsonian.  Efforts like SOVA, the Smithsonian Online Virtual Archives, highlight the hidden connections within our materials and across our many diverse collections. We work to make these resources available so that you can keep exploring the Smithsonian’s collections year-round and find hidden connections of your own!

Lisa Fthenakis, Program Assistant

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Throwback Thursday: Squeeze Making

Blogs across the Smithsonian will give an inside look at the Institution’s archival collections and practices during a month long blog-a-thon in celebration of October’s American Archives Month. See additional posts from our other participating blogs, as well as related events and resources, on the Smithsonian’s Archives Month website.

With the abundance of technology that surrounds us every day, it’s easy to forget how we ever got along without it. Never fear, archives are here to help answer this and many more questions! For example, how did archaeologists capture and render a three-dimensional image in the early 20th century? We’re glad you asked. Before the invention of 3-D scanners and printers, there were squeezes.

A squeeze is a series of moldable paper, pulp, latex, or plaster that are layered on top of each other and moistened to create a wet pulp. The substance is then pressed, into a low relief inscription. When the material is dry and removed, it becomes a multidimensional mirror-image representation of the original inscription.

The images shown here are from the Ernst Herzfeld Papers housed in the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives. The Archives holds 393 squeezes from the ancient Near East, the largest collection outside of Iran and Iraq. To learn more, visit the Squeeze Imaging Project.

Chelsea Fairley
Freer|Sackler Archives

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Progressive Circle of American Women Sculptors in the Nineteenth Century

Blogs across the Smithsonian will give an inside look at the Institution’s archival collections and practices during a month-long blog-a-thon in celebration of October’s American Archives Month. See additional posts from our other participating blogs, as well as related events and resources, on the Smithsonian’s Archives Month website.

A circle of American women sculptors achieved recognition during the nineteenth century in the United States and abroad, receiving commissions for public sculpture and patronage from private parties. Among these artists, (Mary) Edmonia Lewis, Vinnie Ream Hoxie, Harriet Goodhue Hosmer, and Sarah Fisher (Clampitt) Ames were particularly notable. Trained in the neoclassical style, these American sculptors were drawn to Rome, where they studied and were inspired by the ancient classical art and international art community. In turn, they established studios, convenient to both Italian craftsmen who could serve as assistants and to marble stone quarries. Women sculptors were welcomed into Rome’s expatriate community, which in the 1850s included nearly forty active American artists, both male and female. The artists often held open houses at their studios, frequented by visitors to the city, including Ulysses S. Grant, Frederick Douglass, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, all of whom Edmonia Lewis portrayed during their stay.

Harriet Goodhue Hosmer (1830–1908) by Sir William Boxall (1800–1879), oil on canvas, 1857. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. (NPG.95.6)
 This first group of American women sculptors gathered around the popular artist Harriet Goodhue Hosmer, who had moved to Rome in 1852. The author Henry James referred to this artistic group as “a white marmorean flock,” a term that did not recognize the individuality of these talented women from varied social and economic backgrounds. Other expatriate female artists belonging to this circle were Louisa Lander, Anne Whitney, Emma Stebbins, Margaret Foley, and Florence Freeman. In 1860, Hosmer received the distinction of a commission by the state of Missouri to create the colossal bronze statue of Thomas Hart Benton, completed in 1868 for Lafayette Park in Saint Louis. In December 1864, Hosmer published an article titled the “Process of Sculpture” for the Atlantic Monthly to counter critics who attributed her success to the work of her craftsmen. Edmonia Lewis was an exception among the sculptors of her generation in Rome, since she rarely relied on Italian craftsmen and created most of her artwork by herself. Her method of independent work was based on limited funds and her belief in retaining the originality of her sculpture.

Edmonia Lewis (1844–after 1909) by Henry Rocher (1824–?), albumen silver print, c. 1870. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. (NPG.94.95)
Artists who lived abroad also maintained cultural and political ties with the United States, returning for visits and commissions. Some eventually returned to settle in America.  Edmonia Lewis was the first recognized professional African American female sculptor. She created sculptures of the leading figures of the abolitionist and suffragist groups and of Civil War heroes, such as John Brown, Maria Weston Chapman, Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, Wendell Phillips, Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, Charles Sumner, and Anna Quincy Waterson. Sculptor Sarah Fisher Ames was an antislavery advocate and a nurse, responsible for a temporary hospital established in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., during the Civil War. Through her activities, she met Abraham Lincoln, which likely led to formal sittings with him, where she made sketches and possibly modeled his features. She created at least five busts of the president. In 1868, the Joint Committee on the Library purchased Ames’s marble Lincoln bust for the U.S. Capitol; institutions in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania acquired the remaining busts. Ames later created a sculpted bust of Ulysses S. Grant, which was exhibited at the 1893 Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition.

Vinnie Ream Hoxie (1847?–1914) by an unidentified artist, melainotype, c. 1875. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. (NPG.78.112)
Vinnie Ream Hoxie also created a series of portraits of President Lincoln. In 1866 the secretary of the interior commissioned her to create a full-length marble statue of the late president, which was installed in the Capitol Rotunda in 1871. She had previously created a bust of Lincoln from a life sitting in Washington. Her selection for the commission was a result of a heated debate in the Congress. Her opponents were critical of her youth and inexperience. Sarah Fisher Ames also made a bust of Lincoln that received favorable comments. Both works are testimonies of these talented artists’ interpretation of Lincoln as a leader and as an important symbol of freedom. Each portrayed Lincoln in a neoclassical style, emphasizing his humanity and solemnity of purpose. They were the first sculptors to create official commemorative images of him for the U.S. Capitol, representing the principles of the newly united nation. Hoxie also created statues of Samuel Jordan Kirkwood and Sequoyah for the Capitol’s National Statuary Hall Collection.

Ames, Lewis, Hoxie, and Hosmer all exhibited their sculptures at the 1893 Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition, which brought them further recognition. At times, this circle of women sculptors faced criticism from the public and male artists. They had to maintain a fine balance from what was expected of a Victorian woman in her dedication to family and home and their ambitions to compete in a male profession. However, this group of progressive women broke new ground for the next generation of female artists, including Anna Hyatt Huntington, Malvina Hoffman, Evelyn Longman, and Bessie Potter Vonnoh.

In 1966, the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery founded the Catalog of American Portraits (CAP), a national portrait archives of historically significant subjects and artists from the colonial period to current times. The public is welcome to access the online portrait search program from the museum website of over 100,000 records. The CAP program can be reviewed at the following National Portrait Gallery website:

Patricia H. Svoboda, Research Coordinator

Tolles, Thayer. “American Women Sculptors.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–10.
Nichols, Kathleen L. “International Women Sculptors: 1893 Chicago World’s Fair and Exposition.” Posted 2002; updated 2015.

Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865) by Sarah Fisher Ames (1817–1901) marble, 1868. U.S. Capitol, Washington, DC (21.0013.000).

Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865) by Vinnie Ream Hoxie (1847?–1914), marble, 1871. U.S. Capitol, Washington, DC.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882) by Edmonia Lewis (1844–after 1909), marble, 1871. Harvard University Portrait Collection, Cambridge (S52).

Thomas Hart Benton (1782–1858) by Harriet Goodhue Hosmer (1830–1908), bronze, 1868. Lafayette Park, Saint Louis.

Buick, Kirsten Pai. “Mary Edmonia Lewis: The Biography of a Career, 1859–1876.” Ph.D. dissertation, University of Michigan, 1999.

Dabakis, Melissa. A Sisterhood of Sculptors: American Artists in Nineteenth-Century Rome. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2014.

James, Edward T. et al. Notable American Women, 1607–1950: A Biographical Dictionary. Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1971.

Weimann, Jeanne Madeline. Introduction by Anita Miller. The Fair Women. Chicago: Academy Chicago, 1981.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Shared Connections: Collaboration across Smithsonian Archives

Blogs across the Smithsonian will give an inside look at the Institution’s archival collections and practices during a month long blog-a-thon in celebration of October’s American Archives Month. See additional posts from our other participating blogs, as well as related events and resources, on the Smithsonian’s Archives Month website.

As we come to the end of October and American Archives Month, I find myself reflecting on this year’s theme of hidden connections and several new initiatives on which the archival units across the Smithsonian have collaborated to “unhide” these connections and enhance online discovery of the Institution’s vast archival holdings, among the largest holdings in our nation measuring nearly 140,000 cubic feet of materials.   The primary sources of the Smithsonian document the history of art, culture, music, design, flight, space exploration, science and technology, landscapes and gardens, and native cultures in the United States, as well as the long history of the Smithsonian itself.

The most significant collective achievement of the Smithsonian’s archival units was this month’s launch of SOVA:  Smithsonian Online Virtual Archives.  This new and innovative web portal allows users to explore our nation's historical legacy as documented in the Smithsonian's vast, rich, and varied archival collections.  SOVA provides online access to descriptions and detailed inventories of thousands of primary resource collections held by multiple repositories across the Institution — all in one integrated interface.  Users can now discover previously hidden collections related by topic and/or by names of persons, families, businesses, and organizations regardless of where the collection lives.  And, they can explore related digital content from archival collections, such as letters, manuscripts, diaries and journals, ledgers and stock books, photographs, scrapbooks, sketchbooks and drawings, technical drawings and blueprints, field notebooks, log books, rare printed materials, sound recordings, videos, and much more.

Found in SOVA:   Frida Kahlo with her painting, Self-Portrait as a Tehuana, ca. 1943 / unidentified photographer. Florence Arquin papers, 1923-1985. Forms part of: Florence Arquin papers, 1923-1985.  Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution
Artwork by Acee Blue Eagle.  Forms part of the Acee Blue Eagle papers, 1907-1975. National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution
Archival finding aids or collection guides are the key to unlocking information in SOVA. Each unique archival collection has a finding aid that provides the user with varying levels of descriptive detail about the collection, including links to related archival collections in repositories across the Smithsonian, as well as related archival collections across the world by linking to ArchiveGrid.  Digitized content from each archival collection currently maintained in the Smithsonian’s DAMS (Digital Asset Management System) is also accessed via links provided in the collection's finding aid, thus providing users with the full context of the digital objects.

Another exciting archival discovery interface shared by the archival units is the Smithsonian Transcription Center.  The website invites the public to “help make our vast collections in art, history, and science more accessible to anyone with a curious spirit,” and that they “are working hand-in-hand with digital volunteers to transcribe historic documents and collection records to facilitate research and excite the learning in everyone. Together, we are discovering secrets hidden deep inside our collections that illuminate our history and our world.”   The very nature of archival documentation makes it the ideal medium for transcription.

The Transcription Center opened in July 2013 with thousands of documents across 31 projects from eight Smithsonian museums, archives, and libraries. They have grown with the help of volunteers to include over 900 projects from thirteen participating museums, archives and libraries. Current archival projects available for transcription and review include the E. Howard Clock Orders Ledger from the National Museum of American History’s Archives Center;  the Bladensburg Union Burial Association Records from the Anacostia Community Museum Archives; artist Arthur Dove's diary from the Archives of American Art, and the Field Notebooks from the National Museum of Natural History and the Smithsonian Institution Archives.

Found in the Transcription Center now:  A page from Arthur Dove’s 1942 diary found in the Arthur and Helen Torr Dove papers, 1905-1975, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution
Collaborative projects among the Smithsonian archivists just make sense.  They allow us to efficiently share more of our collections online with the public, thus, helping current and potential users to discover previously hidden collections and to explore the many connections to be made among our archival holdings here at the Smithsonian.

Barbara Aikens, Head of Collections Processing
Archives of American Art

Monday, October 26, 2015

How Do You Process a Rattlesnake? And Other Archival Horrors

Blogs across the Smithsonian will give an inside look at the Institution’s archival collections and practices during a month long blog-a-thon in celebration of October’s American Archives Month. See additional posts from our other participating blogs, as well as related events and resources, on the Smithsonian’s Archives Month website.

We in the archival profession go all out for Archives Month in October, but we acknowledge that as the month comes to a close, the greater populace is maybe more concerned with costumes, bags of fun size candies, and how best to carve a pumpkin without cutting off a finger. So why not bring together the best of both worlds? Here are some of our spookiest finds from the Archives of American Art.

1. Joseph Cornell: assemblage artist, sculptor, filmmaker, and...werewolf?
Marilyn and Pat letter to Joseph Cornell, between 1940 and 1970. Joseph Cornell papers, 1804-1986, bulk 1939-1972. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
This letter was sent to Joseph Cornell from Marilyn & Pat, two children from his neighborhood in Queens, thanking him for not revealing their secret clubhouse. The letter is addressed "Dear Werewolf" - a child's whim, or WERE THEY ON TO SOMETHING?? The back of the letter consists entirely of a howl that was only decipherable to Cornell.

2. Robert Slytherin, er, I mean Smithson

Artifact from the Robert Smithson and Nancy Holt papers, 1905-1987, bulk 1952-1987. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
We generally prefer to leave the herpetology up to our colleagues at the National Museum of Natural History - letters, photographs, diaries and the like generally don't have fangs. But the papers of land artists Robert Smithson and Nancy Holt just so happen to include a rattlesnake head (see series 12: artifacts, box 14, Rattlesnake Head, circa 1960s-1970s. Box 14 also contains something listed in the finding aid only as "Unidentified Amphibious Organism." Shudder). What's an archivist to do? Wrap it in bubble wrap and hope you don't ever have to look into its beady eyes again.

3. Portrait of the Artist as a Young Ghost

Double-exposed portrait of Jan Matulka, ca. 1920 / unidentified photographer.
Jan Matulka papers, 1923-1960. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
The tradition of "spirit photography" - the supposed capture of souls of the dead on film - is almost as old as the technology of photography itself. Beginning in the 1860s, crafty photographers would use an existing photograph and a double exposure to overlay a ghostly figure over a new photograph. Czech-American artist Jan Matulka wasn't trying to pull anyone's leg since he was still very much alive when this photo was produced, but the effects are eerie nonetheless.

I hope these finds chilled you to the bone even more than a prolonged visit to cold storage. Happy Archives Month, and happy Halloween!!

Bettina Smith, Digital Projects Librarian
Archives of American Art

For more Halloween fun from the Archives, see a related post on the Archives of American Art blog today:
Halloween Costume Guide: Archives Style (Last-Minute Edition)