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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Photo Hunt for History

From 1946-1966, Alexander Wetmore, ornithologist and sixth Smithsonian Secretary, and Watson M. Perrygo, taxidermist with the United States National Museum, now known as the National Museum of Natural History, traveled annually to Panama on scientific expeditions. On each journey, Wetmore and Perrygo extensively documented and collected the birds of Panama. Wetmore, an avid photographer, tracked his trips with his camera, culminating in a collection of 24 photo albums. The Wetmore Panama images, housed in the Smithsonian Institution Archives, are frequently used in websites, articles and for general research. Most recently, Stanley Heckadon-Moreno, Director of Communications and Public Programs at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, has utilized Wetmore’s images, Wetmore’s Oral history, Perrygo’s Oral history and Perrygo’s films from the expeditions to write a monthly “Then and Now” feature in Epocas Tercera Era, a Panamanian cultural magazine. His articles allow readers to see the transformation of remote regions of Panama over the past 60 years. The stories also highlight the special relationships Wetmore and Perrygo formed with local scientists and villagers in Panama. Due to the articles’ popularity, Heckadon found two of these individuals. Armagedón and Ratibor Hartmann, brothers employed by the Gorgas Memorial Institute of Tropical Medicine in Panama, who worked as guides for Wetmore during his expeditions. Currently, Heckadon is conducting interviews with the Hartmann brothers, now in their 80s, and uses the images to elicit memories of the Hartmanns’ time with Wetmore. According to Heckadon, the brothers remember Wetmore and his wife vividly and are enjoying the images of their past adventures.

Pictured: Armagedón Hartmann and Vicente Alvarez, 1956 in the collection of Wetmore Panama Images


Have you ever held your camera out in front of you to take your picture? Don't worry, you are not alone. It is human nature to want to depict oneself-- either how one appears at a given moment or how one wishes to appear to others.

Today on photo-sharing and social-networking sites, there are countless digital photographs of people taking pictures of themselves--their arms held out straight or sometimes at an odd angle, blindly trying to aim the lens without cutting off the tops of their heads. The goal is to capture oneself in that one moment, sometimes to prove you were at the Lincoln Memorial, to remember standing in front of the U.S. Capitol, or to use as a new profile picture. These digital photographs are self-portraits, not unlike the famous ones of Vincent Van Vogh, Frida Kahlo, Rembrandt, or Andy Warhol. A conscious representation (whether literal or not) of oneself.

There are hundreds of
self-portraits in the Smithsonian's collections. Enjoy browsing through them, or use the options on the left to narrow your search by museum or type of material.

Do you have a favorite?

Read more about self-portraits here and here.

Pictured is Andy Warhol's Self-Portrait, 1986, in the collection of the Hirshhorn.

--Nicole Semenchuk,
Research and Scholars Center, Smithsonian American Art Museum

Friday, January 22, 2010

Thank Goodness for Bug Spray

Much like postmen, neither rain, nor snow, nor sleet, nor . . . mosquitos? . . . shall keep anthropologists from their fieldwork. Here, Smithsonian anthropologist Jesse Walter Fewkes and three mysterious men donning mosquito nets are on Weedon Island, Florida in 1923 to excavate a burial mound. Note the man holding the trowel in a threatening manner, unbothered by the mosquitos. Click here to view the catalog record.

Lorain Wang, National Anthropological Archives

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Sneak Peak: NAA Image of the Day

Here's an image that was just digitized today! It will soon be available online.

- Stephanie Christensen, National Anthropological Archives

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Power of SIRIS: A Case Study Using Charles Lang Freer

SIRIS (Smithsonian Institution Research and Information System) provides researchers and hobbyists an avenue to check all Libraries, Archives and Research Catalogs across the Smithsonian with the click of a button.

Consider the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery founder, Charles Lang Freer. If you perform a search for him across all of Smithsonian using the SIRIS catalog you will find he doesn't just pop up at his founding Gallery!

By typing in "Charles Lang Freer," I am immediately given 5254 hits! These hits can be collection descriptions, photographs, art he donated, etcetera. You can use the handy sifting tools at the left to narrow or broaden your search as needed; providing you with a hand crafted result of your optimum hits. The power of SIRIS is really demonstrated by Freer showing up in collections not just at the Freer+Sackler Gallery, but also in: Smithsonian Institution Archives, Smithsonian Institution Libraries, Archives of American Art, National Portrait Gallery, and Smithsonian American Art Museum. A query using Freer demonstrates the transcendence of a search from just one individual museum into a search play ground as big as, well, the Smithsonian.

Happy Searching!

Rachael Cristine Woody
Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives

Friday, January 15, 2010

Martin Luther King, Jr.

America officially celebrates Martin Luther King, Jr. every year in January. However, King’s words and image are with us every day. The Inventory of American Sculpture lists the many memorials to King around country. Does your town or city have one of these memorials? Click on the title of each sculpture to see the full information, including where each work is located. On several of these memorials there are quotes by King inscribed on the base or on a plaque, including phrases from his famous “I have a dream” speech.

Pictured here is the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Carved on his robe are scenes from the Civil Rights Movement. The front of the base of this sculpture reads:

"Non-violence is a powerful and just
weapon. It is a weapon unique in
history which cuts without wounding,
and enables the man who wields it.
It is a sword that heals. "

The Smithsonian also has in its collection many works related to Martin Luther King, Jr., including photographs, paintings, papers, sound recordings, sculptures, and books.

Enjoy exploring these treasures!

Nicole Semenchuk, Research Databases, Smithsonian American Art Museum

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

George Eaton Simpson Photographs made in Haiti 1936-1937

George Eaton Simpson (1904-1998) was trained in sociology and anthropology at Coe College (A.B., 1926), the University of Missouri (A.M., 1927), and the University of Pennsylvania (Ph.D., 1934). Simpson's research has largely focused on the religions of the Caribbean, including vodun in the Plaisance, Haiti, area.

The photographs made in Haiti during 1936-1937 (ca. 430 items with considerable duplication among the prints, negatives, and lantern slides) show houses, schools, public buildings, street scenes, people (peasants, religious figures, government officials), agriculture, fishing, coumleite (cooperative work groups), markets, food preparation, drummers, and dancers as well as religion. Most of the photographs were made at Plaisance but some were taken at Cap Hatien and other towns. The breadth of the subject matter seems to support Simpson's claims that he intended to avoid vodun as the main subject for research when he first went to Haiti. To view the catalog record click here.

--Stephanie Christensen, National Anthropological Archives

Ernst Herzfeld Drawings online!

These drawings are part of the Ernst Herzfeld Papers, 1899-1962.

The Ernst Herzfeld papers are currently being worked on at the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives. Over the past two years with the help of volunteers, interns, and a series of grant funded contractors; we have been able to conserve, digitize and catalog several series of this collection. These particular drawings come from: Series 5: Drawings and Maps 1903-1947 of which there are 1200+ documents!

Check back periodically as we hope to expand our online holdings of this collection even further by adding Herzfeld's sketchbooks, photographs, squeezes and more!

Rachael Cristine Woody
Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


There was a 6.5 earthquake reported in California this weekend and two days later an even bigger earthquake hit Haiti. Regardless where and when these earthquakes happen, we can be sure that devastation will follow. Our hearts go out to all the earthquake victims in Haiti.

The following historical photographs document the damages created by the past earthquakes.

Japan 1891
San Francisco (Calif.) 1906
Messina sicily, Italy 1908

Ching-hsien Wang, Office of Chief Information Technology

Friday, January 8, 2010

Calder and a Spider

Check out my favorite photograph of Alexander Calder from the Peter A. Juley & Son Collection.

--Nicole Semenchuk, Smithsonian American Art Museum Research Databases

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

A Normal Day for a Freer+Sackler Archivist

The Freer+Sackler Gallery Facebook page received the following query, and I thought I would copy my response to you here. Enjoy this glimpse into my corner of the Smithsonian!

Q: When I grow up I think I want to be an Archivist. What is their normal day like?

Dear Inquirer,

Every day is different for us in the Freer+Sackler Archives. To give you a brief taste of what it’s like to be an Archivist for a Smithsonian Institution art museum, I can describe to you some of my major responsibilities. (Follow the links to learn more about us and our collections!)

My primary responsibility is to be a custodian to the collections; which includes things like correspondence, diaries, vouchers, maps, drawings and photographs. I work with these materials on three major levels. The first level is collections care: to identify physical needs and perform basic preservation techniques to help prolong the life of the materials. The second level is the organization of the materials: to make them more physically and intellectually accessible to researchers. The third level is then promoting the materials so that researchers know what we have and they can easily access them; this is done with online finding aids (guides to the collections), online catalogs of collections (that you would search for just like a library book), as well as basic outreach like October American Archives Month to help promote what our archives are holding and advertise the crown jewel collections we have available for research.

In addition to my hands on work with the collections, I also collaborate and manage interns and volunteers on their projects. I interact with local and international researchers both in-person and remotely. I meet with my fellow archivists across the entire Smithsonian Institution regularly, in order to establish and maintain policies and procedures for all 12 of the independent Archival units. I write grants to help financially support our collections and projects to preserve and make them accessible to the public, both in-person and online. And when time allows I catch up on the latest news, lectures, and workshops to keep up to date on Archival standards and practices.

I hope that answers your question!

Rachael Cristine Woody


Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives

Check out our Collection Records online!