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Thursday, April 29, 2010

Turkish Women

Turkish woman, circa 1860-1870, by Abdullah freres.As an Archivist it is one of the pleasures of my job to work with the photographs in our collections. I catalog what information we can find, work with the digital files, and match up the images to the catalog records. Albumen prints specifically have always held a soft spot in my heart for their ability to exude romantic warmth. This quality, in part, can be attributed to the creation process of using an emulsion composed of light-sensitive salts of silver suspended in albumen (egg white) on paper. It is unfortunate to note that due to their creation process, they are inherently prone to deterioration exacerbated by light sources.

There are certain precautions you can take to slow the speed of deterioration, but most result in these beautiful prints being sentenced to spend the rest of their life spans in closed boxes. Only to rarely be pulled out for work, as opposed to being leisurely viewed by the throngs of admirers they deserve.

Although even I admit that a digital derivative of an albumen print is not an ideal replacement; at least it allows us to frequently look upon these poignant portraits and landscapes that encourage us to fondly daydream of eras long gone.

SIRIS (Smithsonian Institution Research and Information System) currently has 2,787 albumen prints digitized and available online. The Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives currently is the third largest unit represented, having 510 albumen prints digitized and cataloged for online consumption.

These two images are by Abdullah frères (Abdullah brothers). Vichen, Hovsep and Kevork Abdullah were a family of Ottoman Armenian photographers, known by their French name Abdullah frères, who operated a studio in Istanbul from 1858 to 1900. In 1863 they became official royal photographers to the Ottoman Sultan. Take a look at Abdullah frères photography available from both the Freer+Sackler Archives and our sister unit the National Anthropological Archives.Turkish woman, circa 1860-1870, by Abdullah freres.

Due to the limited information on both the prints, they share the same title; identifying the nationality of the sitters, their gender, and the approximate date of the photograph being taken.

Turkish woman, circa 1860-1870.
Turkish woman, circa 1860-1870.

I hope you enjoy perusing the albumen prints in our collections. Maybe next time you take a picture with your digital camera you can switch it to Sepia mode, capturing some of your own modern day, romantic images.

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

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

In honor of April 30's Hairstyle Appreciation Day, I started to reflect on how helpful hairstyles and color are for a historian in analyzing historic materials. Often, I am looking through a box of primary sources and stumble across an image that lends insight to the materials that I am working with. After checking the back of the image for a date, one of the next thoughts I have is what is the person wearing and how is their hair styled. In addition to giving away an approximate date to when the person posed for the picture, hairstyles can also help in constructing an analysis of the individuals personality, social class (or the class they tried to emulate when being photographed), customs they followed, and what occupation they may have been involved in.

For example, when looking at the images of William Henry Holmes, artist, geologist, anthropologist, and long time Smithsonian employee, below, it is easy to identify the evolution of his hairstyles and what each style implicated.

The first image shows Holmes, age 27, during the Hayden Survey of Colorado expedition in 1873. In this image Holmes (highlighted) has full, dark hair and a small mustached and sole patch. His hair is unkempt since he is out in the field and more interested in science, than style.

The second image jumps to 1902, where Holmes, age 57, is participating in a meeting of geologists at the Smithsonian Institution. Recently promoted to Director of the Bureau of American Ethnology, Holmes' hairstyle is a closer cut when compared to the previous image. His style is that of a gentlemen and professional, not of a young naturalist in the field. He has also lost more hair on the top of this head, but has grown a fuller beard and longer mustache.

No date was known for the third image. However, when comparing the images that we have dates for, we were able to fit the image into the sequence. In this third image, which we have dated around 1915, Holmes is nearing seventy years of age and is serving as Director of the Smithsonian's National Gallery of Art, NGA, (now known as the Smithsonian American Art Museum) and Curator of Anthropology. His hair has grown white, but hints of the darker pigment can be seen in his eyebrows and beard when carefully looked for. His mustache extends out past his cheeks and the hair on the sides of his head is longer.

The final image shows Holmes at age 74. Still working at the Smithsonian both as Director of the NGA and Curator of Anthropology, (he retires at the age of 86!), Holmes is now sporting a much more trimmed hairstyle. His hair as grown whiter, and receded further. The sides of his head are brushed back into a tidier look. He has ever trimmed his moustache and beard, giving him a more dignified style.

By quickly analyzing the changes, subtle as they sometimes are, a host of information can be unveiled or used as supportive evidence in the research process. For some other fun images of people with interesting hair-dos check out this Collections Center search. And remember...

"Those curious locks so aptly twin'd, Whose every hair a soul doth bind."
~Thomas Carew

Courtney Esposito, Institutional History Division, Smithsonian Institution Archives

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Research & Scholars Center Newsletter

What do George Caleb Bingham (a 19th-century Missouri artist of portraits and genre paintings) and Will Barnet (a 20th-century painter and printmaker whose style ranged from realist to abstract) have in common?

They are both featured in the Spring 2010 issue of the American Art Museum’s Research and Scholars Center Newsletter:

To supplement your reading, you can view many works by George Caleb Bingham in the Smithsonian museum’s collections; in the Art Inventories representing his works in othe
r public and private collections; in the National Portrait Gallery’s Catalog of American Portraits; and in the collections of the libraries and archives.

Will Barnet is also represented in the Smithsonian museum collections, archives, and libraries. Of note is an oral history interview with the artist in the Archives of American Art.

Pictured, top: George Caleb Bingham Self-Portrait in the collection of the St. Louis Art Museum, listed in the Inventory of American Paintings, IAP 28110045.

Pictured, bottom: Silent Seasons—Winter by Will Barnet, color lithograph on paper, collection of the Ameri
can Art Museum, 1969.2.28

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

Monday, April 26, 2010

National Parks: “America’s Best Idea”

Last week (April 17-25) happened to be National Park Week and hopefully, many of you were able to get out to one of the nation’s great parks. Before the National Park Service was established in 1916 these majestic spaces were maintained under various jurisdictions including the Department of Agriculture, the Department of the Interior and the U.S. Army. The lands were considered “open” to the grazing of livestock and there was no consistent management of the land. Thanks to the foresight and efforts of men and women over the last century, the parks are now protected at the national level. One such person who led the effort to establish the National Park Service was J. Horace McFarland who coined the phrase that America’s parks were “America’s best idea” which fittingly serves as the title of Ken Burn’s recent PBS documentary.

J. Horace McFarland looking over Mary Wallace roses in his garden at Breeze Hill
Smithsonian Institution, Archives of American Gardens, J. Horace McFarland
Dr. J. Horace McFarland (1859-1948) was a man of many talents and interests. He was a rosarian, civic reformer, preservationist, writer, printer, horticulturist and photographer. His early success as a printer allowed him the financial freedom to devote his life to advocate for urban beautification in his hometown of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. He eventually set his sights across the United States as President of the American Civic Association. McFarland staunchly advocated for the preservation of the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Yosemite, the Everglades, and the Glacier Bay and Jackson Hole National Monuments. He also rallied against the New York power industry to save Niagara Falls from commercial exploitation.

McFarland began advocating as early as December 1911 for a bureau for the national parks at an American Civic Association Conference in Washington, D.C. In 1912, President William Howard Taft sent a letter, written by McFarland, to Congress urging legislators that the adoption of a bill to create a federal bureau for the parks was “essential to the proper management of those wondrous manifestations of nature, so startling and so beautiful that everyone recognizes the obligations of the Government to preserve them for the edification and recreation of the people.” On August 25, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed the National Park Service Act. After the Act’s passing, McFarland remained influential as a member of the National Park Trust Fund. His advice on new appointments to the agency was sought out even into the 1930s by Harold Ickes, President Franklin Roosevelt’s Secretary of the Interior.

McFarland’s archival papers are located at the Pennsylvania State Archives; many of the letters McFarland wrote during his lifetime are highlighted in Ernest Morrison’s biography, “A Thorn for Beauty.” The Smithsonian’s Archives of American Gardens includes over 3,500 photographs and glass lantern slides of gardens throughout the United States dating from 1900 to 1962 in the J. Horace McFarland Collection. These include a substantial number of images of his home and garden, Breeze Hill, in Harrisburg which was designed by landscape architect Warren Manning (another supporter of the National Park Service Bill).

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

Friday, April 23, 2010

CSI: Smithsonian, part II

Did you know April 24th is National Pigs-in-a-Blanket Day?"

For a truly gross take on this epicurean delight see Jerry Payne's 16mm silent, color film Decomposition of a Baby Pig. A strange acquisition for the Human Studies Film Archives? Not really. According to NMNH's own forensic anthropologist and curator of Physical Anthropology Douglas Ubelaker, Dr. Payne's film "... was the very first to examine arthopod succession in the process of post mortem change." In other words, it was the first to document the role of insects in body decomposition. Because a pig's body resembles a human body (scientifically speaking !) the data gathered in the study could be used in modern forensic science to approximate the time of human deaths.

Dr. Payne's film uses time lapse photography to reduce 4 days of feasting into a faintly nauseating but strangely compelling 6 min. piece. The film has also been set to music and posted on YouTube where it has gotten over a million hits. Bon Appetit!

Daisy Njoku, Human Studies Film Archives

Douglass Dwellings: Collection Spotlight

Anacostia Community Museum Archives recently acquired two collections relating to the Frederick Douglass housing projects: Henry Bazemore Collection of Frederick Douglass Dwellings Photographs and the Frederick Douglass Dwellings Collection. The Douglass Dwellings were built in Southeast Washington, D.C., as World War II-era temporary housing for African American workers. Celebrated African American architect Hilyard R. Robinson designed the complex, and renowned photographer Gordon Parks documented the community for the Farm Security Administration.

Both collections contain photographs of social activities in the community sponsored by the local recreation center. Among the charming activities for the children were "Tom Thumb Weddings," where children played the roles of bride, groom, minister, wedding party, and guest. Other activities documented in the collections are dance recitals, sporting events, hobby shows, and the annual soap box derby. The images challenge perceptions of life in public housing during the 1940s by illustrating the positive aspects of life in the projects.

Pictured: Tom Thumb wedding at the Frederick Douglass Recreation Center, Frederick Douglass Dwellings Collection, gift of members of the Southeast Voices.
Jennifer Morris, Archivist, Anacostia Community Museum

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Bessie Potter Vonnoh and Lost-Wax Casting

I recently read Julie Aronson’s Bessie Potter Vonnoh, Sculptor of Women (Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2008), one of only a handful of books devoted to women sculptors of the early 20th century. Aronson takes us through Bessie Potter Vonnoh’s (1872-1955) life as a sculptor, from her development through her successes, and the works that she produced in each stage of her career. Unlike some of her peers, (for example see blog post on Evelyn Beatrice Longman), Vonnoh was proud to produce stereotypical “women’s sculpture” with feminine subjects such as mothers with their children and girls dancing. Most of her works are small bronzes, and many are statues for gardens and fountains. Aronson writes in her introduction, “Although [Vonnoh] dwelt on the themes of American women and children found in abundant contemporary paintings, Vonnoh was recognized as the first in the nation to render such everyday themes in sculpture and was thought to have brought to them her own exquisitely sensitive approach.”

As a supplemental chapter to Aronson’s discussion on Vonnoh’s life and work, author Janis Conner (“After the Model: Bessie Potter Vonnoh’s Early Bronzes and Founders”) takes a unique approach and examines in detail the bronze statues that were cast by three founders employed by Vonnoh. She explains and illustrates how each cast is unique due to the founder’s “casting process and finishing technique.”

Unlike painting, where you can pick up a brush and some paint and produce something fairly quickly, the process of creating bronze sculpture is more complicated. Although there are several different processes, most of Vonnoh’s works were cast using the lost-wax method (or cire-perdue). Vonnoh would have created a clay or plaster model, and employed a founder or foundry to create the bronze sculptures from the artist’s model. (Roman Bronze Works, a large New York foundry established in 1899, cast many of her works using this method.)

Essentially, the founder makes a negative space of the artist’s model using a multi-step process. First, a rubber mold is made around the model, and a more sturdy, plaster or fiberglass, mold is made around the rubber mold. These are made in halves, so that it can then be opened and the original model removed. The rubber mold will retain all the features of the model. The halves are then put back together and molten wax is evenly poured into the mold to create a copy that will retain all the characteristics of the rubber mold. Once the wax copy hardens and is released from the rubber mold, the artist can retouch the wax and the founder can remove signs of the process. Next, a ceramic shell is made outside the wax copy and fired, during which time the wax melts out. This is the point where the negative space is the original artist’s model. Next, the ceramic shell is re- heated and placed in a tub of sand. Heated metal is then poured into the shell. After it cools, the shell is hammered away, and the bronze version of the artist’s model is revealed. At this point the bronze is polished and patina is applied.

I’ve simplified the explanation of the process and there are many variations in materials and techniques that are employed. The lost-wax process became popular because it was thought to provide greater detail in retaining the artist’s original work, and it allowed (at relatively low-cost) multiple casts to be made from one mold. Vonnoh’s small bronze statues are a good example of this new trend in America in the late 19th to early 20th.

Imagine Vonnoh’s In Arcadia going through the lost-wax casting process. Neither the idyllic and popular subject matter (Pan playing a flute for a nymph), nor the fact that the artist is a woman, diminish the value of the artistic composition or the complicated process of casting it in bronze.

For a fantastic history of bronze casting in America, see Michael Shapiro’s Cast and Recast: The Sculpture of Frederic Remington (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1981). Part one includes descriptions and illustr
ations detailing both sand- and lost-wax casting and it is much more enlightening that my own paragraph summary.

Pictured, top: Clay model for Vonnoh's Girl Reading, photographer unknown. American Sculpture Photograph Study Collection.
(A bronze cast is in the collection of the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.)

Pictured, center: Clay model for Vonnoh's Girl Dancing, photographer unknown. American Sculpture Photograph Study Collection.

Pictured bottom: Bronze cast of Vonnoh’s In Arcadia in the collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum (Another cast is owned by the Terra Foundation for the Arts, Chicago, Illinois.)

For further research on Bessie Potter Vonnoh:

The Archives of American Art has digitized the entire collection of Bessie Potter Vonnoh Papers, circa 1860-1991 bulk 1890-1955.

Sculptures by Bessie Potter Vonnoh listed in the Inventory of American Sculpture.

Slideshow of historic photographs of Vonnoh’s sculptures in the American Art Museum's Photograph Archives.

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

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Kind of like the iPod... Only different.

The Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives hold a number of record label collections. The Fast Folk Musical Magazine Records include the Fast Folk label, primarily featuring singer-songwriters in New York’s Greenwich Village from 1982-1997. This group of musicians, headed by Jack Hardy and later by Richard Meyer, formed the Songwriters Exchange, which became the Musician’s CooP. Musicians met and discussed their songs at Jack Hardy's apartment and then performed in open microphone sessions at an informal club called the SpeakEasy. They subsequently recorded, produced, and distributed 105 albums of music with accompanying magazines. Fast Folk Musical Magazine was being produced at a time not unlike today, which was seeing momentous changes in technology.

Enter the Compact Disc. When Fast Folk first started as a label, songs were recorded and distributed solely on vinyl, though due to fluctuating costs and changes in the recording industry was finally forced to convert to a CD-only format. The opinions about this change oscillated wildly. While some welcomed the change, many subscribers and fans were unhappy, with one even accusing the changing magazine of selling out and becoming “the playground of the yuppie”.

Fast Folk received hundreds of responses regarding this change. These are the passionate opinions of select subscribers:

To a contemporary audience, the resistance to the CD can seem archaic and comical. The recording industry, however, is seeing very similar changes with the switch from CD to digital only formats and similar thoughts, feelings, and passionate opinions are evoked. Some are choosing a return to vinyl; Smithsonian Folkways has begun to re-release vinyl pressings to cater to the many fans who like the quality of the sound, often described as warmer.

How do you like your music?

-Nichole Procopenko, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives, Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage

Friday, April 16, 2010

Volcanoes Across the Globe and In the Smithsonian

Photograph of Lake Ashi and Hakone, Japan"I have seen so many eruptions in the last 20 years that I don't care if I die tomorrow."
Maurice Krafft (Volcanologist) on the day before he was killed on Unzen Volcano, Japan 1991.

Volcanoes have always had a wonderful mystique surrounding them. They provide beautiful, majestic views that span thousands of miles across the globe. People have been inspired and entranced by volcanoes enough to endanger their own lives to get closer, learn more. It is easy to forget that paired with the majesty is an all-powerful ability to combust and destroy all life in its deadly path.

Recent current events regarding the Icelandic volcanic eruption proves just how far reaching the consequences of a volcanic eruption can have. This most recent eruption was fortunately in a remote area, but it has still unleashed enough powerful volcanic ash that over 17,000 flights (at the time of this post) have been cancelled; causing all air flight travel in northern Europe to grind to a halt, and affecting travelers on all 6 well populated continents on the globe.

I began looking at collections across the Smithsonian about volcanoes
and found 1657 records relating to expeditions, scientific study, photography (scientific and landscape) and inspired artwork. The selected images I chose are from our collections at Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Archives.

Top Left Image: View of Lake Ashi and mountains at Hakone, Japan, circa 1860s, is a panorama landscape photograph of Hakone Japan, taken by famous photographer Felice Beato. Lake Ashi, or Ashinoko, is a crater lake that lies along the southwest wall of the caldera of Mount Hakone, an active volcano in the Hakone area of Kanagawa Prefecture in Honshū, Japan. The lake is popular with tourists because of its hot springs and views of Mt. Fuji.

Underwood and Underwood, Aso-San, JapanThe Middle Right Image: (98) Gazing through sulphurous vapors into the crater's frightful depths Aso-San, Japan. 1904 or earlier. [graphic], is part of the larger Henry and Nancy Rosin Collection of Early Photography of Japan, 1860 - ca. 1900. There is text on the reverse side of the stereograph which is well worth a read. Here is just a sampling that goes into vivid descriptiveness, illustrating the volcano's attractive pull:

"You are in the province of Higo on the island of Kyushu, near the southwestern end of the Mikado's island empire. This is the largest active volcano in the world. You come over from Kumamoto and get coolie guides like these bare-legged fellows, to show you the way up here to the rim of the crater. It is like the open door of the infernal regions. Those vapors are sulphur smoke and scalding steam; if you were to wait awhile, great tongues of fiery flame might very likely shoot up, lapping with hideous suggestiveness these very lips of volcanic rock on which you are dizzily perched. Horrid cracklings and roarings rise continually out of that bottomless pit into which the men are peering - there are sounds of ooiling and bubblings as of the Evil One's own caldron, and every little while the crash of a thunderous explosion fills all this upper air."

This stereograph also has a match at National Museum of American History - Archives Center: Underwood & Underwood Glass Stereograph Collection, 1895-1921.

Sir Edmund Percival Hillary on Mt. EverestBottom Left Image: Sir Edmund Hillary autograph, November 16, 1998. This last one is for a bit of fun. Sir Edmund Percival Hillary (1919-2008) was New Zealand mountaineer and explorer. As part of the ninth British expedition to Everest, Hillary and his Sherpa guide Tenzing Norgay were the first men to reach the summit of Mt. Everest, the highest point on Earth, on May 29, 1953. For this feat, he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II, while Tenzing received the George Medal, one of Britain's highest civilian awards. In 1998, Hillary was the recipient of the James Smithson Bicentennial Medal in honor of his “monumental explorations and humanitarian achievements." This autograph drawing was made by Hillary during a press conference at the Freer Gallery on November 16, 1998.

I hope you've enjoyed! And don't forget to click on the pictures in the blog to see them larger and in all their glory!

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

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Leuman M. Waugh: Adventurer-Dentist

April 7 was World Health Awareness Day, and I was immediately drawn to the photograph and manuscript collections of Leuman M. Waugh.

They don’t seem to make people like Dr. Waugh anymore. A dentist, professor, adventurer and pilot, Waugh travelled Labrador and Alaska between 1921 and 1938 under the auspices of Columbia University and the U.S. Public Health Service studying and treating the teeth of the Inuit, Innu, and other indigenous people of the Arctic. He was a committed scientist and health care provider, a member of the Explorers’ Club who sailed his own custom-built yacht through Alaskan waters while conducting research, and an outstanding photographer who captured the starkness of the Arctic landscape and the beauty of its people.

Waugh made a detailed study of one of the many points of friction
that occur when traditional communities come into contact with modern, industrialized society: the negative effects on health that come with the introduction of non-traditional foods. The introduction of refined sugars and flour in the early 20th century had devastating effects on the teeth and overall health of Native Alaskans and Labradorians. As Waugh put it in an article dated April 5, 1939:

"Eskimos of Labrador and Alaska are free from caries [cavities] on native diets consisting almost entirely of proteins and fats and containing no fermentable carbohydrate.[T]he principal native foods are reindeer, whale, and walrus, in addition to seal fish and caribou.Caries, first noticed in this region in 1914, has increased in direct ratio to the amount of sweets consumed by each individual. In no case, however isolated, was carie found in Eskimos who had not received such sweets as sugar, candy, and molasses.”

Waugh lectured widely on the lessons he learned from Arctic Natives’ teeth, making “The Unsweetened Tooth Does Not Decay” his motto. But a much deeper lesson can be learned from Waugh’s studies. Traditional cultures develop foodways in the context of their physical environments and other traditions. While we shouldn’t romanticize the hunter-gatherer lifestyle, the sudden introduction of mass-produced foods had long-term and unintended consequences on the health of these communities.

**Please check back soon for enhanced catalog records. All images featured in this post will be available on
SIRIS and the NMAI Collections Search site by June 2010. Image numbers are: P30054, L02250, L02373, L02275, and L2736.

Michael Pahn,
National Museum of the American Indian Archive Center,

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Welcome Spring!

The birds have been singing cheerfully again here in the Washington, D.C. area as the weather has turned warmer. This picture of a male Red-Winged Blackbird, displaying his fine red and yellow epaulets as he sings, was painted by artist John W. Taylor, who formerly worked in the Division of Birds at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History. Taylor's book, Birds of the Chesapeake Bay (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, c1992), includes a selection of his paintings as well as his accompanying journal notes and observations on the natural history of the region, where he has lived for many years. In 1998, Taylor issued a sequel, Chesapeake Spring (also from the Johns Hopkins University Press) featuring more images and stories drawn from his field journals.

"Red-Winged Blackbird" by John W. Taylor, from the copy of Birds of the Chesapeake Bay in the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center branch of the Smithsonian Institution Libraries, located in Edgewater, Maryland (qQL683 .C48T39 1992X SERC)

--Diane Shaw, Special Collections Cataloger, Smithsonian Institution Libraries

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


The Grand Central Terminal Collection documents the history and construction of Grand Central Terminal and the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad Terminal in Manhattan. The collection covers a wide range of activities, with the bulk of the material dating from 1900 through the 1920s. Some of the most exciting and fascinating materials include bound volumes of blue-line photographs documenting the construction progress of the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad Terminal. In the collection are several black-and-white photographs, the most remarkable of which are four undated images depicting large crowds of New York Central Railroad employees at a celebration in Victory Way, featuring towering pyramids of captured German helmets. The collection also contains several drawings previously held by D.H. Morrison, a terminal engineer and this collection’s donor. These plans for a proposed 55-story office building to be erected above Grand Central Station are accompanied by Morrison’s notes. Several newspaper clippings, ranging from 1968-1979, detail the public debate over the conservation and preservation of the historic site. The conflict ended in a Supreme Court decision upholding the terminal’s historic landmark status, thus barring construction. Numerous blueprints of the main station and station building (1907-1920) are part of the collection.

Kimberley Rowe, Neendoniss Adams, and Alisha McCullick, University of Michigan interns, Archives Center, National Museum of American History

Thursday, April 8, 2010


The Archives Center of the National Museum of American History regularly presents displays of documents, photographs, and other collection items in cases near the Archives Center’s entrance. Since April is Jazz Appreciation Month, we are showing materials related to the career of Norman Granz from our rich jazz collections, including the Ella Fitzgerald, Benny Carter, Dizzy Gillespie, and Schiffman Apollo Theater collections. This display may be seen from April 1-May 31, 2010. The curator is Wendy Shay, audiovisual archivist and assistant chair of the Archives Center. The display script follows. --David Haberstich

Image Record: [Ella Fitzgerald and Norman Granz at microphone : color photoprint.]

Jazz at the Philharmonic – Bringing Jazz to the World

In 1944, a young jazz enthusiast named Norman Granz organized a single concert at the Philharmonic Auditorium in Los Angeles. That event evolved into “Jazz at the Philharmonic,” an internationally recognized program of concerts, tours, and recordings. From 1949 to1959, Granz organized over twenty-five concert tours of North America, Europe, and Asia, bringing together dozens of popular jazz musicians to play in hundreds of concerts. Included among the JATP performers were such prominent figures as Ella Fitzgerald, Oscar Peterson, Dizzy Gillespie, Coleman Hawkins, Buddy Rich, Gene Krupa, Lester Young, Ben Webster, Ray Brown, and Benny Carter. Although the performers varied from tour to tour, JATP proved to be universally popular among jazz fans world-wide.

Granz was known for taking good care of his Jazz at the Philharmonic performers. As JATP’s reputation and success grew, he was able to provide above-average pay and travel accommodations to the musicians. Granz also used JATP as a platform to fight racial discrimination. He refused to stage concerts in cities where segregation was a way of life in the 1950s and insisted that both the people on the stage and those in the audience be fully integrated.

Archival documents from several of the Archives Center’s collections attest to the significance and reach of Norman Granz’s Jazz at the Philharmonic.


Granz wanted Jazz at the Philharmonic performances to feel like informal jam sessions, with the musicians playing off each other. This quality is captured on the JATP live recording albums that he released beginning in 1945. Behind the scenes, though, Granz managed everything, from the order in which the performers appeared to the pieces they played.


Under Granz’s leadership, Jazz at the Philharmonic thrived and became a major “brand” with multiple programs. In addition to arranging and promoting tours and performances, Granz produced commercial recordings of the live concerts on the record labels – Clef, Verve, and Pablo – he founded. He also personally managed the careers of several musicians, including Ella Fitzgerald and Oscar Peterson. The performers were well paid and the exposure they gained from participating in JATP tours enhanced their careers.


Jazz at the Philharmonic performers were constantly on the road. Between 1945 and 1959, Granz organized twenty-nine tours of the United States, Europe, Canada, Australia, and Japan. As the success of JATP grew, Granz was able to pay the musicians well and ensure that they travelled in comfort. Official publicity photographs show the warm welcome JATP musicians frequently received. Snapshots taken by the performers themselves provide a more intimate glimpse of life on tour.

--Wendy Shay, Archives Center, National Museum of American History

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Mathematics in the Garden

In honor of National Mathematics Awareness Month, the Archives of American Gardens highlights design of Three Gates, a private garden in Des Moines, Iowa, inspired by the principles of geometry including the golden ratio, phi, geometric progression and Fibonacci numbers.

The placement of Three Gates' main structural plantings was determined using the golden ratio, the golden spiral and Fibonacci numbers using a five-pointed star within a vesica piscis. The garden designer's hope was to create a connection to the "natural world that [was] deeper than superficial beauty." The connection between mathematics and nature is not unusual and nature itself reveals this in a number of ways. For example, Fibonacci numbers appear in nature as spiral growth patterns found in many flowers, seeds and pine cones.

Three Gates is a conscious example of how mathematical principles are applied in a garden setting. On a more general level, mathematics intersect garden design and gardening in many different ways. For example, geometry is used in the layout of many gardens, probability in calculating how many seeds to plant in a pot or plot, ratios in determining the amount of fertilizer to use on plants and slope in determining how water drains in the yard.

--Kelly Crawford
Archives of American Gardens
Smithsonian Gardens

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Imaginero - The Image Maker

Jorge Prelorán filming Hermógenes Cayo, 1960's“It is a fact that when you see films made in the past by anthropologists, they almost always depict the rare, exotic, strong, bizarre, odd, and/or colorful activities of “primitive” people. But seldom did we have a chance of getting into their minds, to fathom deeply into their souls, to find that they are human beings, which means that they have in common with us the core of all human experience.” (Jorge Prelorán, 1976, quoted in Sharon R. Sherman, “From Romanticism to Reflexivity”, Memories of the Origins of Ethnographic Film, Beate Engelbrecht (ed.))

Jorge Prelorán – gifted filmmaker, prolific storyteller, inspired teacher – passed away one year ago last week. His films and papers, which he donated to the Human Studies Film Archives (HSFA) in 2007, are currently being processed. Much of the film was found to be degrading due to acetate deterioration and we are preserving these titles as we find the funds.

This video clip shows the results of the recent film-to-film preservation of Prelorán’s best-known film, Hermógenes Cayo (Imaginero) (1970), a portrait of a religious icon maker from a remote village in northwest Argentina. The previous access copy (left side of frame) had dirt and scratches, color fade, poor shadow detail, and blur. The new access copy (right side of frame) is clean, color accurate, properly exposed, and sharp. Even more importantly, the deteriorating original film is now supplemented by a pristine preservation copy which will last hundreds of years with proper storage.

Hermógenes Cayo is as relevant today as it was forty years ago. It is a beautiful work of cinema, and also an invaluable record of life in Argentina’s Andean high plateau. As an inquiry into the human experience, it is transcendent and enduring; thanks to the preservation work, the film can once again be seen as the artist intended.

Karma Foley, Human Studies Film Archives

Monday, April 5, 2010

Easter Monday

Yesterday, many people spent time with their families and friends hunting for Easter eggs, eating jelly beans or participating in any of the other hundreds of Easter traditions they hold dear. Until recently, I was unaware of an Easter Monday tradition that dates back to the late 19th century.

For many African Americans in the late 1800s Easter Sunday was a day of work, with Monday a day off. Consequently, Easter Monday became a day of celebration for African American communities in Washington, D.C. The National Zoological Park was open free of charge to visitors, as it is today, and became a perfect spot for families to celebrate the Easter holiday. Children participated in an Easter Egg Roll atop Lion/Tiger Hill, while adults picnicked nearby.

Each year the festivities grew and to this day Easter Monday is celebrated at the National Zoo.

For more information on Easter Monday, check out the National Museum of African American History and Culture's feature on the celebration.

*Pictured Left: Image of Easter Monday participants on Lion/Tiger Hill in the National Zoo, circa 1900, Smithsonian Institution Archives.
*Pictured Right: Children in the Easter Monday best in front of the Lion House Addition at the National Zoo, 1936, Smithsonian Institution Archives.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Happy post-April Fools' Day!

If you were the victim of an April Fools' Day practical joke involving a banana peel, take solace in this little 1891 note from the Bureau of American Ethnology's correspondence files [Box 104, Hewitt].

302 E. N.W.Friday, June 12, [18]91

Dear Mr. Henshaw: I am confined to my room by a sprained hip which I got by slipping on a banana rind Wednesday on my [way] home from office.

Respectfully yours,


For more information on John N.B. Hewitt, linguist and ethnologist, please see his manuscripts at the Smithsonian.

Watch out for those banana peels!

Leanda Gahegan, National Anthropological Archives

A Vision of Cherry Blossoms

Japanese Cherry BlossomsCherry Blossoms are entering peak bloom here in Washington. If you're not a local, or currently chained to your desk at work, check out these beautifully hand painted images from the Henry and Nancy Rosin Collection of Early Photography of Japan, 1860 - ca. 1900.

Image to the right: [Three women with parasol], [1860 - ca. 1900]. [graphic].

To see a slideshow of Cherry Blossom images from the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives click here.

see a slideshow of Cherry Blossom related images from the entire Smithsonian online collection click here.

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