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Friday, February 26, 2010

A Voice from the South

As Black History Month comes to an end, and as we begin to recognize the contributions of women in history and society, I am reminded of individuals whose accomplishments bridge both celebrations, such as Anna Julia Haywood Cooper (1858–1964). Dr. Cooper was an educator, author, champion of women’s rights, and member of Washington D.C.’s black elite. Anacostia Community Museum organized an exhibition on her in 1981; several images of Cooper are in the Scurlock Studio Records; and the United States Postal Service honored her with a commemorative stamp in 2009. In her most noted publication, A Voice from the South: By a Black Woman of the South, Cooper clearly demonstrated her intellectual contribution to both women’s struggles and civil rights.

Click here to view Anacostia Community Museum Archives exhibition records on Anna J. Cooper.

Jennifer Morris
Archivist, Anacostia Community Museum

The Face of Whistler’s Peacock Room

Christina Spartali by Julia Margaret CameronChristina Spartali is the face of Princess in the artwork "La Princesse du pays de la porcelaine" that adorns the central wall of James McNeil Whistler’s Peacock Room. Christina and her sister Marie were well known in society as beautiful, educated, and cultured women. Both sisters posed for famous Aesthetic artists like Whistler and Victorian artists such as Dante Gabriel Rossetti. This photograph was taken of Christina by famous British photographer Julia Margaret Cameron. Julia has a portfolio that covers many famous celebrities of the nineteenth century.

The Peacock Room and "La Princesse du pays de la porcelaine" can be viewed year round in the Freer Gallery of Art.

For more images of the Peacock Room in our Collections Search Center click here.

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

Thursday, February 25, 2010

IndiVisible: African-Native American Lives in the Americas

In honor of African American History Month, the National Musuem of the American Indian Archive Center is highlighting the NMAI exhibition, IndiVisible: African-Native American Lives in the Americas.

On display until May 31, 2010, the 20-panel banner exhibit focuses on the interactions between African American and Native American people, especially those of blended heritage. It also sheds light on the dynamics of race, community, culture, and creativity, and addresses the human desires of being and belonging. The exhibit combines compelling text and powerful graphics that includes accounts of cultural integration and diffusion as well as the struggle to define and preserve identity. The stories are set within the context of a larger socity, that, for centuries, has viewed people through the prism of race brought to the Western Hemisphere by European settlers.

By combining the voices of the living with those of their ancestors, IndiVisible provides an extraordinary opportunity to understand the history and contemporary perspectives of people of African and Native American descent. The exhibition is accompanied by a 160-page publication and 10-minute media piece.

Included in the exhibition and in the publication are photographs from the NMAI Archive Center. For example, the above lantern slide of Crop-ear Charley (Seminole) is from the Mark Raymond Harrington photograph collection. The image depicts him cultivating a garden, however it is interesting to note that he also has a gun propped nearby.The photograph was captured in 1908 by Mark Raymond Harrington during fieldwork, possibly while employed by George Heye, founder of the Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation. Click here to view additonal images from the Harrington collection.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Smithsonian Snow Days

In its 164 year history, the Smithsonian Institution very rarely closes its doors to the public for inclement weather. However, as we all know, the past two snow storms hammered the Washington, D.C., area and left almost 3 feet of snow in some areas. Closing for a total of 6 days, from February 6 to 11, the Smithsonian dug out and reopened its doors to the public on Friday, February 12, 2010.
So has the Smithsonian ever closed for this many days? Was this the worst storm employees had to deal with? Here is a look back at the some of the Smithsonian’s Biggest Snow days:
1922: On January 29, 1922, a blizzard dumped over two feet of snow on Washington, D.C. Government employees were sent home and the United States National Museum shut down. Tragically, the snow collapsed the roof of the Knickerbocker Theater, killing over 100 people.
1979: From February 19-20 the Smithsonian Institution closed for two days due to snow. This was the first time in 50 years that the Museums closed for two days in a row for inclement weather. The National Zoo closed for a third day, February 21. As a result of the snow, the lower skylight roof of the Arts & Industries Building sustained damage and offices in the South Hall and a section of the West Wing also closed on February 21.
1983: In what was then Washington, D.C.’s third largest snow storm of the 20th century, snow fell over the city from February 11-12. The Smithsonian Institution closed at 11:30 am on Friday, February 11 and reopened its doors on Sunday, February 13. The storm kept visitors away and only 15,073 people visited the Museums (the average for a typical Sunday in 1983 was 50,000 visitors).
1987: At 12:30 pm, on January 22, 1987, the Smithsonian Institution closes for a snowstorm. Employees returned to work the next day, but were off on January 26 as a result of the aftermath of the storm. The National Zoo closed for an additional half day on the 25. In order to care for the animals, at least two zookeepers slept in the Antelope House during the storm. The storm also canceled the Board of Regents meeting.
1995-96: On January 7, 1996, a blizzard hit Washington, D.C., and shut the federal government for three days. Smithsonian employees, anxious to get back to work after a government-wide furlough that kept them home from December 16, 1995 to January 5, 1996, did not return to work until January 11. The next day, Friday the 12, snow kept employees home another day. Normal operations resumed on Monday, January 15, 1996.
For historical images of the Smithsonian and Snow please click here.
For images of the most recent storms published by Alex di Giovanni on e-Torch please click here.
*Pictured: A man surrounded by the snow in the South Yard behind the Smithsonian “Castle,” circa 1920.
Courtney Esposito, Smithsonian Institution Archives, Institutional History Division

What Do You Know About Snow?

Did you know that every snowflake is unique?

When I stared out my window and watched the millions of flakes fall to the ground during the blizzards of 2010, I really found it hard to believe that every single flake was different from the next. For hours and hours the snow came, but as I have learned from Wilson A. “Snowflake” Bentley each flake was indeed different.

Bentley, a self-educated farmer from Vermont, pioneered the field of photomicrography. Photomicrography, the practice of photographing of very small objects, was achieved by using a camera with a microscope. In his lifetime, Bentley photographed over 5,000 snowflakes, a difficult task since they melt so quickly, and never found two snowflakes that were alike! Bentley donated a collection of 500 photographs to the Smithsonian in 1903.

See what else you can learn about snow in our Smithsonian collections!

*Pictured: A microphotograph of a "Dendrite Star" by Wilson “Snowflake” Bentley, circa 1890.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

An Artist, an Empress and Their Dogs (Pets in the Archives Series: 2 of 3)

The Dwight William Tryon Papers, 1872-1930 is a small collection featuring photographs, clippings, a letter and a sketchbook. The photographs in this collection are a wonderful glimpse into the domestic life and hobbies of Tryon while at his summer house in Pandanaram. There are many photos of him sailing and fishing, but the one I am featuring here shows him, his wife Alice and their Springer Spaniel in a scene of domestic tranquility.

This photograph is captioned, "Albumen photograph, 30 August 1888. 13.8 cm x 17.7 cm. Depicted, Dwight and Alice Tryon in Padanaram."

The Cixi, Empress Dowager of China, 1903-1905, Photographs contains forty four glass plate negatives depicting the Empress Dowager of China, Cixi (1835-1908), of the Qing dynasty mostly photographed from 1903-1905, by Xunling (1874-1943). Scenes include the Empress Dowager on the Imperial Barge, in the Summer Palace with attendants, and individual portraits in a variety of court attire. You can browse all of these images online by clicking the link above!

The image to the right is a lovely and unique view of the Empress Dowager's favorite black Shitzu dog, Sea Otter. The Archives has received several fun inquires concerning the breed of the dog and its history at the Summer Palace. To see the item record for this photograph click the following caption:The Empress Dowager Cixi surrounded by attendants in front of Renshoudian, Summer Palace, Beijing. 1903-1905.

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

Monday, February 22, 2010

Winter Beauty

Winter has made a big bang this year here in the US. The extra amount of snow and ice tested our patience, and some of us have started to think about the cherry blossoms in the spring. But wait, let’s embrace the nature and appreciate the beauty winter seasons have brought to us.

The Smithsonian Collections Search Center is loaded with photographs and paintings showing the winter fun and beauty. The following lists some of my favors selected from the archives and museum collections:

Ching-hsien Wang, Library and Archives Systems Support Branch, Office of Chief Information Office.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Snow Dance

I don't think anyone in the Washington, D.C. area will be doing a snow dance anytime soon, but here is a photograph I discovered while searching SIRIS for images of snow. This photograph is of a marble relief sculpture by Chester Beach (1881-1956) titled Snow Dance. The photograph is from the American Sculpture Photograph Study Collection in the Photograph Archives at the American Art Museum.

The sculpture is mentioned in the Art Notes section of the New York Times on January 31, 1914:

"At the Macbeth Galleries Chester Beach is holding an exhibition of his sculpture in which are pieces of quite extraordinary beauty. One is a relief called the "Snow Dance," a couple of draped figures, turning in a dance that suggests wreaths of snow caught and swirled by the wind. The conception is delicately fanciful, but the figures are so full of life and the composition shows so vivid a sense of style that the touch of symbolism counts for little except to prove to the unimaginative how artists think in terms of movement and color, and swirling snow may be dancing maidens, or circling birds, or curling wave-crests, or anything that answers in the mind to that call of the moving line." View the full article.

Personally, I've seen enough swirling snow this winter, haven't you?

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

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Happy Chinese New Year!

In celebration of Chinese New Year, the February highlight from the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives features a beautiful photograph taken at Dongyue Miao, a Daoist temple in Beijing, on the morning of the Chinese New Year in 1925. This photograph is from the Benjamin March papers. Benjamin March (1899 - 1934) was a respected scholar and curator of Chinese art. The many photographs, journals and diaries that comprise the Benjamin March papers document his scholarship and interesting travels. March's photographs from Beijing in February of 1925 document the Chinese New Year ritual of morning prayers for fortune.

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

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Black History Month: Selma Burke

Selma Hortense Burke (1900-1995) was a distinguished African-American woman sculptor and a dedicated educator. In addition to sculpting figures of women and children, she also made portraits of several prominent people, including the portrait of Franklin Delano Roosevelt that is pictured on the dime. Several other photographic portraits of Burke are in the Smithsonian’s collections, along with photographs of her sculptures, including a memorial to Martin Luther King, Jr. in Charlotte, North Carolina.

See also: African American History and Culture at the Smithsonian

Pictured: Selma Burke in her studio. Photographed by Peter A. Juley & Son. Photograph Archives, Smithsonian American Art Museum, J0100404. To view the full record, click here. To read more about American Art's Photograph Archives, click here.

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

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

That Snowbound Feeling: The USS Vincennes in the South Atlantic Ocean

This has been a winter to remember in the Washington, D.C. region. Early February brought at least a couple of feet of snow to the area, and it seems that everyone here at the Smithsonian has been looking through their collections for snowy scenes. Something with icebergs, frolicking penguins, and a tall-masted ship, for instance.

This lovely image shows the war sloop USS Vincennes in Disappointment Bay, near the coast of Antarctica in the South Atlantic Ocean, in early 1840. The Vincennes was the flagship of The United States Exploring Expedition (1838-1842), commanded by Lieutenant Charles Wilkes, whose sketch of the ship was used for this engraving.
The voyage (sometimes referred to as "the Wilkes Expedition") was commissioned by the United States Congress to conduct a geographic and scientific survey of the southern oceans. The Smithsonian was later given many of the scientific specimens, ethnological artifacts, drawings, correspondence, and other materials collected by The United States Exploring Expedition. The published reports of the Expedition can be found in the Smithsonian Institution Libraries. The Smithsonian Institution Archives has a number of the manuscripts and sketches created by members of the Expedition, and the National Museum of Natural History has cultural and scientific specimens collected on the voyage.

The illustration is from Wilkes' Narrative of the United States Exploring Expedition During the Years 1838, 1839, 1840, 1841, 1842 (Philadelphia: Lea & Blanchard, 1845), Q115.W68 1845c SCNHRB, from the Joseph F. Cullman 3rd Library of Natural History.

Diane Shaw, Smithsonian Institution Libraries

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Garden Bones in Winter

“Garden bones” refer to those design elements (paths, trees, structures, etc.) that define the structure of a garden and are often best seen in the winter under a blanket of snow.

The bones of “Bonaire,” located in Orange, New Jersey, are clearly seen here – with its long axial view and symmetrical layout bordered by clipped box hedges typical of a formal garden. This design style was favored by Ellen Biddle Shipman (1869-1950) who designed “Bonaire” for Robert A. Franks (treasurer of industrialist Andrew Carnegie) in the 1930s.

Shipman designed numerous residential gardens like Bonaire. She is most well-known for her designs at Longue Vue Gardens in New Orleans, the Cummer Estate (now the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens) in Jacksonville, Florida, and Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens in Akron, Ohio, where she collaborated with landscape architects Charles Platt and Warren Manning.

Click here to view more images of Bonaire.

Click here to view a slideshow of more gardens in the snow.

--Kelly Crawford, Museum Specialist
Archives of American Gardens
Smithsonian Gardens

A Man, A Phonograph and His Primates

"From childhood, I believed that all kinds of animals have some mode of speech by which they can talk among their own kind; and I have often wondered why man has never tried to learn it."
-Richard Lynch Garner, 1892

Primatologist Richard Lynch Garner
devoted his life to studying the speech and habits of apes and monkeys in zoos and central Africa. At times, Garner placed himself in an elevated cage to observe primates in their natural habitats of Africa. He used a phonograph to record and interpret primate sounds and language.

The Richard Lynch Garner Papers 1828-1920 is the National Anthropological Archives featured collection for February. His papers consist of diaries, manuscripts (including his charming "An Autobiography of a Pie,") photographs, poetry, maps, artwork and clippings. For more information on the Garner Papers, please see the catalog record. Some of Garner's photographs are available to view online here.

Leanda Gahegan, National Anthropological Archives

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

It’s all in a name

Ethnographic filmmaker John Marshall became close friends with the Ju/’hoan Bushmen he filmed and worked with over fifty years. He was given a Ju/’hoan name, ≠Oma (after his mentor) as well as a Ju/’hoan nickname, Xosi. Ju/’hoansi assign nicknames based on notable physical characteristics and notable deeds. During the 1950’s in the Kalahari Desert, Marshall knew men named for their hunting prowess, skills as healers, and in one case, for an unusually shaped belly-button. As for Marshall’s nickname, Xosi means “long cheeks” or “long face”. And Marshall himself has become the basis of new nicknames; his longtime assistant, also named ≠Oma, is known as ≠Oma Johnmarshall.

Watch a moving film clip of Marshall’s reunion with his mentor, ≠Oma, after a twenty-year absence at the HSFA’s Marshall Collection web exhibit.

Hear more of ≠Oma’s infectious laughter in a film clip from 1955.

– Karma Foley, Human Studies Film Archives

Monday, February 1, 2010

An Archaeologist and His Pets, (Pets In the Archives Series: 1 of 3)

The Ernst Herzfeld Papers, 1899-1962 are the papers of an outstanding scholar in the field of Iranian studies, Ernst Herzfeld (1879–1948) explored all phases of Near Eastern culture from the prehistoric period to Islamic times. His collection documents excavations at Samarra, Persepolis, Pasargadae, and Aleppo and includes correspondence; field notebooks; drawings; sketchbooks; inventories of objects; "squeeze" copies of architectural details; and photographs.

There are two items in the the Herzfeld collection that document his beloved pets. The first one is the photograph to the left titled, "Herzfeld feeding his pet boar, Bulbul," taken while he was in Persepolis.

The second item is of "Persepolis (Iran), great stairway to the Terrace complex, plan and elevation by Karl Bergner, 1935 [drawing]." (Click on the hyperlink to see the drawing without dog prints!) This drawing was done by the late Karl Bergner, who was a highly gifted architectural draftsman. He worked in his late 20's for Herzfeld at Persepolis where this drawing was made. Since Herzfeld brought his pet Bulbul the boar, and his Welsh Terrier with him to the archaeological sites, I think it's safe to conjecture the Welsh Terrier had a hand (or paw) in this drawing!

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