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Friday, May 28, 2010

Garden History and the Customary Postgraduate Trip to Europe

This past month, college graduates across the country walked across a stage of some sort, diploma in hand, wondering what to do next. Perhaps some of them will treat themselves to the old tradition of touring across Europe while they contemplate the future. In 1906, after earning a Bachelor of Science degree in landscape architecture from Harvard University’s Lawrence Scientific School, Thomas Warren Sears did just that. According to his travel diary (a photocopied version is located in the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Gardens’ Thomas Warren Sears Photograph Collection), Sears took hundreds of photographs during these travels through parts of England, France, Italy, and Germany. On July 22, 1906, Sears wrote that his hands were as “black as a stone” from developing seven dozen 8”x10” glass plate negatives.
The Thomas Sears Collection contains over 4,000 glass plate negatives, 114 glass lantern slides, and plans and drawings of landscapes he designed. Also included in this collection are photographs which document his trip abroad. These images show Muskau Park, located on the border between Germany and Poland on the Neisse River. Prince Hermann Pückler-Muskau designed and created Muskau Park from 1815 to 1844. Pückler-Muskau was a landscape architect and author of Hints on Landscape Gardening, published in 1834. Due to financial difficulties, Pückler-Muskau had to sell the grounds in 1845. When Sears took his photographs in 1906, Muskau Park was the pleasure grounds of the von Arnim family dynasty. The park remained a private garden until the Arnim dynasty was dispossessed of the land during the Battle of Berlin in 1945. During the 1960s, the East German government took over stewardship of the land and began restoration work. In 2004, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) added Muskau Park to the World Heritage List.

Sears was impressed with this park and the town of Muskau (renamed Bad Muskau in 1962) and wrote in his diary that he had been “treated like a king” there. Pückler-Muskau’s work on these grounds continues to be renowned for the way it blends with the surrounding landscape and utilizes local plant material. According to UNESCO, this park’s design helped facilitate the development of landscape architecture as a discipline in Europe and America. Sears, in his mid-twenties and a recent graduate, was probably influenced by Pückler-Muskau’s work. His image collection represents just a fraction of the historical records that the Archives of American Gardens maintains in order to give researchers insight into the design of American gardens and landscapes.

Where might today’s graduates find inspiration?

Carolyn Chesarino, Intern

Archives of American Gardens

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

New in the Catalog: Amb. Richard B. Parker Photographs of Islamic Monuments

Amb. Richard B. Parker Photographs of Islamic MonumentsThe Amb. Richard B. Parker Photographs contains 200 black and white prints, 481 black and white negatives, and two black and white contact sheets of Islamic monuments in Algeria, Cairo, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Morocco, and Spain. The Morocco series in the largest in the collection covering four cities. Photographs from Cairo span the years 1965-1968. All other photographs span the years 1970-1979. A selection of photographs have been digitized and are available for your viewing pleasure.

Originally, the negatives and prints were housed together. Although the negatives are now housed separately from the prints, they are grouped in the original order. All prints are in original order. Most of the photographs have been annotated and/or dated by the creator.
The collection is arranged into six series: Series 1: Algeria,1972-1974; Series 2:Cairo, 1965-1968; Series 3:Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan,1977-1978; Series 4:Morocco, 1970-1979; Series 5:Spain, 1970-1972; and Series 6: Miscellaneous.

Keep an eye out for more catalog additions as the Freer+Sackler Archives increases our amount of collection images online!

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

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A Modest Request

Portrait of Charles L. Freer, circa 1909
by Alvin Langdon Coburn (1882 – 1966)
Platinum print
Charles Lang Freer Papers

This print was taken by prominent photographer Alvin Langdon Coburn, and sent to former Freer Gallery of Art director Archibald Wenley in 1955. A letter from the owner explained that it was given to the son of Freer’s friend and business associate, Col. Frank Hecker. A note written by Freer to Hecker accompanied the portrait, stating:

“Your flattering request for a photograph is granted on condition that when you tire of it you will then personally burn it – I have a horror of having it fall into unfriendly hand.”

Fortunately, Freer’s request was not heeded and I hope he would not consider us unfriendly hands! The
Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives is currently working on digitizing and cataloging this collection's photographs. Stay tuned!

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

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Legendary Lightnin' Hopkins

On a windy winter morning in January, 1959, I was driving along Dowling Street, in Houston, Texas. I stopped at a red light and a car pulled up beside mine. The window was rolled down, and a thin, nervous man, wearing dark glasses, leaned toward me.
“You lookin’ for me?”
“Are you Lightnin’?”
“That’s right.”
“Lightnin’,” I said, “I sure am.”

So begins the story Sam Charters tells in the original notes for the classic Folkways blues album, Lightnin’ Hopkins (FS 3822/SFW 40019).

Lightnin’ Hopkins was born Sam Hopkins in 1912, in Centerville, Texas. Often considered to be one of the greatest country blues singers of all time, he reached legendary status in his own lifetime—a status probably augmented by the fact that almost nothing was known about him. He was also nearly impossible to find, even as he continued putting out records after his first in 1947.

Charters had been trying to track down Hopkins for five years. When Lightnin’s popularity waned in the late 1950s (Rock and Roll was taking over, and though he made some attempts at keeping up, the new style did not suit him), it became even more important to Charters to record Lightnin’ doing what he did best—sing the blues accompanied by nothing else but the “subtle rhythm” of his acoustic guitar. The trouble was finding him.

Charters, following the trail of Hopkins’ pawned electric guitar and asking nearly everyone in Houston of his whereabouts, was eventually found by Hopkins. They went back to Lightnin’s furnished room on Hadley Street the same day to record what would become a classic in just one session.

Samuel Charters’ giddiness in this letter to Marian Distler, co-founder of Folkways, is palpable. The long search was over, and the recording that resulted from it would become a game changer—an album of such warmth and intimacy, charm and wit, that it would endear Hopkins to not only hardcore blues aficionados, but to a new generation eager for authenticity. Hopkins went on to become an instrumental figure of the blues revival of the 1960s.

Written the day he recorded Hopkins in a “shadowy room with a bottle of gin on the floor,” the freshness of this letter allows the reader to share Charters’ excitement. The only option then is to pop in Lightnin’ Hopkins and imagine what it must have been like to sit in the room on Hadley Street and share that bottle with a legend.

Listen to samples of this classic recording:

This letter is a part of the Correspondence series in the Moses and Frances Asch Collection. To learn more about this collection, click here.

Photograph taken by Diana Davies, Lightnin' Hopkins performing at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival

Get Ready for the Weekend!

This jaunty cover image from a 1916 catalog for Indian Motorcycles shows a happily-waving young gentleman bidding his co-workers goodbye with the tagline "So Long Till Monday!" His stylish and sporty outfit, featuring leather riding gaiters and gloves, jodhpurs, and a tweed newsboy cap with goggles, provides a sharp contrast to the other more conservatively dressed employees flooding out of the office in their dress suits and straw boaters. The beautiful bright red Indian Motorcycle on the cover, with its white tires and shiny chrome accessories, was designed for racing and adventure, and attracted buyers who were interested in both recreation and practical transportation (while inspiring the envy of their friends and neighbors).

Indian Motorcycles, manufactured by the Hendee Manufacturing Company (later renamed the Indian Motorcycle Manufacturing Company) of Springfield, Massachusetts, were the first motorcycles to be manufactured in America. The Company's co-owners, George Hendee and Carl Oscar Hedstrom, focused on technological innovations that would increase the speed and horsepower of their motorcycles, and in 1916 they released a model with a Powerplus engine. Indian Motorcycles from this era were used by the United States military during World War I, as well as by police departments across the nation.

This Indian Motorcycle catalog is part of the Smithsonian Institution Libraries' Trade Literature Collection, which includes more than 500,000 items documenting the history of American products, inventions, and advertising from the 19th and 20th centuries.

--Diane Shaw, Smithsonian Institution Libraries

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

"Hector Bazy, the Negro Cowboy": a manuscript

One of my favorite duties as an archivist is providing behind-the-scenes tours of the Anacostia Community Museum Archives. During these tours, I am able to showcase select Smithsonian treasures, such as the Hector Bazy papers. Born to slave parents in 1851, Bazy followed his heart after emancipation and pursued the life of a cowboy.

Like most Americans, my early perceptions of cowboys were shaped by Western novels, movies, and television programming. As a result, John Wayne represented the ideal cowboy taming the “Wild West.” In reality, African Americans were also among the pioneers seeking opportunity in the North American Frontier; for these men, Bazy’s manuscript provides a personal account of their role as cowboys.

Bazy describes his experiences driving and branding cattle; breaking horses; cooking on a camp fire; and skirmishing with Native Americans, especially Chief Quanah Parker, a Kwakadi Comanche.

The document also includes brief reminiscences of his childhood in slavery on a Texas plantation, the origins of his name, and his motivation for leaving the plantation once freed. According to Bazy, “I was ambitious to get out into the world and try . . . to make something of myself.”

Thanks to current technology, one doesn’t require a behind-the-scenes tour to view Bazy’s manuscript: the Hector Bazy, the Negro Cowboy test record is accessible online.

Pictured: Hector Bazy with horse and other cowboys.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Image of the Day: Estapoosta or Running Face (Mandan)

Studio portrait of Estapoosta (Running Face or Howard Mandan Sr.), son of Chief Red Cow, 1874(P02233). Photographed by Charles Milton Bell in Washington, DC.

the NMAI published book Spirit Capture, this image is highlighted by Rick Hill (Tuscarora), former special assistant to the NMAI Director. Previously he also served as the Museum Director and principle designer of the new Institute of American Indian Arts, and Museum Director for the Native American Center for the Living Arts. He is a professor of American History, an artist, photographer, and a leading authority on contemporary Native American art and Indian images depicted in multi-media. Hill made the following comment about this image in the chapter entitled "Developed Identities: Seeing the Stereotypes and Beyond":

"Numerous photographs were taken of Indians of whom we know virtually nothing. One photo has stuck in my mind since I first saw it in 1972. It is a simple photo of a Mandan Indian named Estapoosta or Running Face, that was taken around 1874. He wears his white man’s costume, but two long braids hang down on each side of his head. Large braids cover his ears while narrow braids strung with brass beads hang from his temples. I am not exactly sure what has attracted me to this photo all these years, but it has something to do with the fact that despite his clothing, his hair became the expression of his identity. This portrait made me want to grow my hair long, too.

Much later I discovered this photo’s significance. Running Face was one of the few Mandan who lived through the disastrous smallpox epidemic of 1837. Only 150 survived the disease that swept through Indian Country several times. Now when I study his face, I cannot help but wonder what his eyes have seen. I find a trace of loss, but also a slight toughness that covers up his dreadful memories…Now think of what it must have been like for Running Face to watch his friends and relatives die of smallpox. What a burden it would be to bear knowing that smallpox was spread among the Indians through the distribution of blankets infected with the disease.”

See additional images from the NMAI Archive Center photograph collections here.

Friday, May 14, 2010

3 New Collection Slideshows for Freer+Sackler Archives

Chaplain A.C. Oliver Jr. Lantern Slide Collection, circa 1920's and 1930's.The Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives are working hard to make more images available to you online! Check out the following 3 new slideshows:

Carol Bier and Lionel Bier photographic archives: archaeological sites and monuments in Iran (1975-76)

Chaplain A.C. Oliver Jr. Lantern Slide Collection, circa 1920's and 1930's.

Bailey Willis Glass Plate Photonegatives Collection circa 1904

Click the image in the record to see the slideshow in the dynamic image viewer!

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

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Cat's Cradle

The question of who first played cat’s cradle, the children’s game in which two players alternately take from each other’s fingers an intertwined cord so as always to produce a symmetrical figure, is almost as contentious as the origin of its name. The Oxford English Dictionary describes the origin as ‘fancifull,’ and notes the commonly held opinion that the name derives from “cratch-cradle” is not grounded in fact.

The anthropologist Louis Leakey claimed to have used the game to gain the cooperation of indigenous people native to Sub-Sahar
an Africa who were suspicious of European ways. Whether you call it cat’s cradle, Jack in the Pulpit, or as the Russians prefer ‘The Game of String,’ it’s worth marveling at the universal appeal of this simple game of string.

Versions of this game can be found in indigenous cultures all over the world, like the Ainu people of Northeast Asia, the Navajo in North America, as well as indigenous people from South America.
Click here for other collections related to cat's cradle.

-Joaquin Espinoza, Intern

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Art Inventories

Do you know about the National Art Inventories? The Inventories comprise over 400,000 records of works of art in public and private collections worldwide and is one of the research databases searchable in the Collections Search Center.

Let me tell you a little about how the Inventories got started.

Beginning in 1971, the National Collection of Fine Arts (later renamed the Smithsonian American Art Museum) sought the partnership of institutions, organizations and individuals throughout the country in a program to record all paintings made by Americans from the nation’s earliest history through the cultural close of the nineteenth century: a Bicentennial Inventory of American Paintings Executed before 1914.

In the five years between 1971 and 1976, the year it became available to the public, information on 150,000 paintings had been collected. Innovative for its time, this computerized research tool allowed these paintings to be indexed by artist, owner, and subject. During those years photographs of these artworks were also collected, comprising the accompanying photographic study file which researchers could view in the Washington, D.C. office.

Through the years, technology advanced. The original data bank evolved into a searchable tool accessible to all via the internet. The number of recorded paintings now numbers over 331,000 and still counting. The Inventory grew to include American sculpture, from colonial to contemporary times. Folks around the country surveyed over 32,000 outdoor sculptures as part of Save Outdoor Sculpture! And currently, the Inventory images files are being digitized for all to view online.

Building the Inventory has been an adventure in partnership. Museums, scholars, owners of paintings and volunteers who organized search and record projects in their communities contributed the knowledge that is the Inventory’s substance. Local surveys were organized (by groups such as the American Association of University Women and the Colonial Dames of America, local historical societies and universities) turning up thousands of previously unrecorded paintings. Information was also gathered from exhibition and collection catalogs, periodicals and auction catalogs.

An Inventory is a simple, non-selective accounting of objects. From its inception, the Inventory strove to be as comprehensive as possible. No work was judged for its aesthetic merit. No work was excluded because of its lack of historical significance or visual appeal. Instead, the Inventory sought to assemble documentation of all art works, leaving the mysteries of identification and definition of cultural patterns to the scholars and researchers.

In 1976 the museum published the Directory to the Bicentennial Inventory of American Paintings Executed before 1914 and thus introduced the new national inventory to the American public. Over the years since, the scope, name, and means of access may have changed, but the intent of the project remains the same: to provide researchers, scholars, teachers, collectors, and art enthusiasts with a comprehensive tool for locating American artwork around the world.

The following quote is from a 1975
Antiques Trader and I only wish the writer could have known that 35 years later, in 2010, the Inventory project would not only still exist, but would be a vital and important resource in the field of art history.

“Imagine, if you will, a computer which stores that name and pertinent data involving every American painting in existence before 1914. If you are a researcher, writer, collector, or historian and are seeking information on works by a certain artist, or even specialized categories such as illustrations of fishermen, blacksmiths, cowboys, you may write to Washington and receive this material. That is, in 1976, if this fantastic projects continues as scheduled...” (Antique Trader, 1975)

Pictured, top: John Singer Sargent, An Interior in Venice (1898), in the collection of the Royal Academy of Arts, London, England. (IAP 81890089)

Pictured, bottom: John Quincy Adams Ward, Sheridan (1916), at the New York State Capitol, Albany, New York (IAS 77006223)

--Nicole Semenchuk, Research & Scholars Center, American Art Museum

Friday, May 7, 2010


Mother’s Day is an undeniably important sentimental holiday in the United States, but also in many other countries around the world. The basic premise is to celebrate and honor motherhood and to demonstrate both personal and societal appreciation for the distinctive role of mothers, usually in some tangible way. Some holidays serve as reminders and provide the motivation and means to assuage guilt for past negligence, through the purchase of greeting cards, gifts, flowers, and restaurant dinners. In order to render sentiments tangible, to reify or express love and appreciation, multi-million-dollar industries have proliferated and expanded to serve these needs. Florists, greeting card manufacturers and distributors, merchants, and restaurants aggressively advertise their Mother’s Day products and services. While the importance of Christmas shopping to our economy is obvious, other sentimental holidays also drive significant consumer spending.

Archives Center collections contain much documentary evidence of holiday celebrations and their impact on society. Greeting card collections contain Mother’s Day cards produced over the years, and advertising history collections document references to Mother’s Day and motherhood as components of advertising campaigns. If guilt sometimes motivates consumer spending for holidays like Mother’s Day, products also have been advertised and marketed in ways calculated to induce parental guilt: mothers worry that they may be not doing enough for their children’s well-being. An advertisement, by claiming that a product benefits growing children, implies that women who fail to purchase the product may fail in their motherly roles. More benign advertising illustration may motivate sales by simply playing upon sentiment and the sweet imagery of motherhood, as in the cover of this 1906 commercially published pamphlet, which presumes to tell women How to Bring Up a Baby” with the aid of Ivory soap.

A product associated with motherhood may be the image itself. Professional portrait photographers continually re-invent the classic imagery associated with motherhood in personal, specific documents of real mothers with their children, as in this soft, elegant portrait of Mrs. E.P. Shaw and her daughter, made by Addison N. Scurlock around 1930, from the Scurlock Studio Records.

Happy Mother's Day!

In the spirit of Mother's Day, here is a selection of photographs of mothers around the world from the National Anthropological Archives.

For more images of mothers, please click here.

-Leanda Gahegan, National Anthropological Archives

Thursday, May 6, 2010

A Shout Out to South Dakota

Recently, at a meeting for the people who bring you this blog, we had an in depth and revealing conversation about our blog traffic. Using Google Analytics as our source of stats, we discovered that people from all but one state in America have visited this blog. So, in effort to reach some of the great people of South Dakota, I have decided to share some of the state’s wonderful connections, both historical and contemporary, to the Smithsonian:

A piece of South Dakota state history is currently on exhibition in the National Museum of Natural History’s Dig It! The Secrets of the Soil exhibit. The State Soil of South Dakota, Houdek, is featured in the exhibit that shows the complex world of dirt. Exhibits at the National Museum of the American Indian have been enriched by artifacts donated by South Dakota Native American tribes.

In November of 1962, the National Museum of Natural History displayed an exhibit on early big game hunters of the Black Hills. The display was a part of the larger North American Archaeology Exhibit. Exhibit cases contained tools and photographs from the Black Hills of southwestern South Dakota and northeastern Wyoming, which were a favorite camping and wintering ground for the mounted bison-hunting Indians.

Smithsonian associates and scientists have explored South Dakota in their search for scientific specimens. Dr. Ferdinand Vandeveer Hayden, a geologist with the U.S. Geological survey, conducted geological surveys of the Black Hills region and other western territories from the 1850s until his death in 1887. Hayden traveled through all of the western territories extensively and collected fossils in the Badlands located in southwest South Dakota, east of the Black Hills. He was an associate of the Smithsonian's first full-time paleontologist Fielding B. Meek. Meek accompanied Hayden to the Badlands and often worked on specimens collected by the Hayden surveys. Additionally, Hayden collaborated with the Smithsonian’s Megatherium Club, a group of scientists who lived in the Smithsonian’s Castle. Many of the specimens collected by the Hayden surveys now are researched and cared for at the Smithsonian.

South Dakota has helped train some of our staff. Smithsonian entomologist John Merton Aldrich graduated from South Dakota State University. Aldrich increased his skills by working for the South Dakota State Agricultural Experiment Station before moving to Washington, D.C. in 1919. Once in Washington, Aldrich was hired as the Custodian of Diptera (commonly known as flies) and an Associate Curator of Insects at the Smithsonian’s United States National Museum, now known as the National Museum of Natural History.

Some other collectors of the South Dakota region include Paul and Esther Aplin, geologist with the U.S. Geological Association who contributed a large collection of well samples, oriented thin sections, and microslides of Mesozoic and Cenozoic larger foraminifera, to the National Museum of Natural History’s Department of Paleobiology.

Finally, for some Smithsonian staff South Dakota is home. Robert P. Multhauf, historian of science, at the Smithsonian’s United States National Museum was born in Sioux City, South Dakota. Multhauf began his career in 1954 in the Division of Engineering and Industries. He was appointed Head Curator of the Department in 1957 and later became Director of the National Museum of History and Technology, now known as the National Museum of American History.

Whether it is collections, expeditions, publications or staff, there are a myriad of ways that South Dakota has enhanced the Smithsonian Museums, to find out more ways South Dakota contributes to the Institution check out the Collections Search Center.

Images: South Dakota stamp courtesy of the National Postal Museum; Exhibit image, Hayden Survey Drawing, and Aldrich image courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution Archives.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Image of the Day -- Cinco de Mayo

Xochimilco - Cinco de Mayo by Washington, D.C. and Harlem Renaissance artist Prentiss Taylor (1907-1991) in the collection of the American Art Museum (accession number 1974.44.34)

Other works by Prentiss Taylor in Smithsonian collections.

Read this Smithsonian Magazine blog post on Cinco de Mayo.

--Nicole Semenchuk, Research & Scholars Center, American Art Museum

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

A Family Affair

Now that the dust has settled in Iceland (for a little while anyways), we thought it might be nice to revisit the island through the lens of Hal Linker, his wife Halla and their son David. In these clips from Volcano Adventure in Iceland (1970), Halla Linker, herself a native of Iceland, explains some of the benefits of volcanic energy. The family was also able to record part of the eruption at Mt. Hekla, Iceland's most active volcano. The Linkers produced travelogue films for a southern California television station from the 1950s through the 1970s. Their popular broadcasts were syndicated in 45 American television markets and shown to the armed forces.

Last week David Linker paid a flying visit to the Human Studies Film Archives on his way home from a conference in the area. Donor visits are rare in this archive since most of our individual donors are either no longer living or are no longer mobile. David Linker grew up over the course of this travelogue series and it was a pleasure to talk to him about his father's work and to hear him describe his personal experiences.

David (now Dr.) Linker doesn't appear in the clip above except in narration, but he does appear in clips of Afghanistan and Petra on HSFA's YouTube Channel. Even after all these years he is still absolutely recognizable as the boy/teenager/young man who hosted the series with his parents. You can view descriptions of more films in the series here.

Daisy Njoku, Human Studies Film Archives