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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Photographs of Artists at Work

I recently started a new position in the Research and Scholars Center at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. I’ll be the archivist for the Photograph Archives and am currently in the “getting to know you” phase of my relationship with the collections. As I navigate through the half million images, I’ll share some highlights of my findings so that you may also get to know the collection.

First up, Artists at Work: photographs from the
Peter A. Juley & Son Collection.

Have you ever wondered what your favorite artist looked
like while painting, sculpting, or creating their art? Was their studio messy or clean? What did they wear? What were their tools of choice?

I found many of these answers in the Peter A. Juley & Son Collection. Peter A. Juley (1862–1937) and his son Paul P. Juley (1890–1975) headed the largest and most respected fine arts photography firm in New York. Between 1896 and 1975, the Juleys photographed hundreds of thousands of artworks and many artists. The American Art Museum acquired the firm's photographic negatives in 1975. Most of the 127,
000 negatives are pictures of artworks, but nearly 4,700 are portraits of artists. The Juleys would often travel to artists’ studios and photograph them in action. These photographs offer an intimate, behind-the-scenes glimpse of the methods and process of making art.

Eliot O'Hara (American painter and printmaker, 1890-1960) sits on a low stool and paints on the watercolor paper at his feet. 

Diego Rivera (Mexican painter, 1886-1957) sits on wooden scaffolding while painting the "Allegory of California," San Francisco Stock Exchange Luncheon Club, 1931.

Gwen Lux (American sculptor and designer, 1908-1986) works on a model for one of her sculptures that was later shown at the Third Sculpture International exhibition in Philadelphia in 1949.

Are you curious if we have a photo of your favorite artist at work too? You can search our online catalog on SIRIS (for photographs of an artist at work, use the Subject Keyword and search for the artist’s name; for photographs of artworks by an artist, use the Artist Keyword search). Also check out our digitized collections page and Flickr Commons set.

I hope you will enjoy learning about the photograph collections. I look forward to sharing more of my discoveries with you in future blog posts.

Emily Moazami, Photograph Archives, Research and Scholars Center, Smithsonian American Art Museum

Monday, June 28, 2010

The Bride’s First Garden

“All young couples who move into new houses on bare, treeless lots share two things in common: the urge to give their house a setting that will distinguish it from others in the neighborhood, and a desire to plant a garden without delay. Both of these enthusiasms may eventually produce a dream garden, and the good outdoor life that goes along with it, but not without a sound plan.”
June—historically one of the most popular months for weddings—is coming to an end, but summer gardens are still in full bloom. In 1953, an article in House & Garden entreated young brides-to-be to begin planning an important aspect of their new future home: a garden. The magazine enlisted landscape architect Perry Wheeler to design a garden for newlyweds that could be developed over a five-year period; or, in Wheeler’s words, “on the installment plan.” His resulting plan emphasizes easy-to-maintain plants, seasonal color, individuality, and outdoor privacy for the growing, young post-war family.

A Georgia native, Wheeler practiced landscape architecture in the Washington, D.C. area from 1948 to 1979. He is best known for his work on numerous private Georgetown gardens and redesigning the White House Rose Garden alongside Bunny Mellon during the Kennedy administration. His designs were practical, often incorporating terraces for backyard entertaining and room for a jungle gym, but also lighthearted and whimsical.

Wheeler’s design for “The Bride’s First Garden: A Five Year Plan” catered to a young couple on a budget living in a typical, suburban home with modern architecture in a new community development. Almost two decades earlier, the Federal Housing Act of 1934 put home ownership within reach of middle-class families, and suburbs such as Levittown in Long Island were built in response to the post-war housing crisis. House and Garden was one of many magazines, along with Popular Mechanics and Better Homes & Gardens, which ran how-to articles on home improvement. Rather than utilizing the driveway as the approach to the front door, Wheeler recommended individualizing the house (which looked identical to the other houses on the street) by giving the front entrance a “welcoming aspect” with large trees and a stone walkway. The backyard terrace, pictured here in a preliminary drawing done by an assistant, is a “major must” for the second year, along with planting beds for the terrace edging and select trees for brilliant fall colors.

The plan emphasizes spaces for informal socializing and relaxation over formal elements. In his notes for the design, he suggested investing in a few pieces of antique garden furniture to go with more modern pieces, rather than purchasing a matching suite. He even incorporated a charcoal grill into the terrace design—newly introduced by Weber in 1952. The fifth year of the plan imagines that there is already a growing family in the works, and the design accordingly leaves room for a playhouse and spaces for the family to spend time together outdoors.

The Perry Wheeler Collection at the Archives of American Gardens, includes photographs, plans, business records, and newspaper and magazine clippings pertaining to Wheeler’s landscape architecture practice. More detailed information about Wheeler is available in the Archives of American Gardens’ Guide to the Collections.

-Kate Fox, Intern 

Archives of American Gardens
Smithsonian Gardens 

Friday, June 25, 2010

Rocky Korr Retiring After 40 Years at the Smithsonian Institution

Rocky Korr A beloved staff member of the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery is retiring July 2nd, 2010. Rock Korr has spent over 40 years at the Smithsonian Institution as an Art Handler for the galleries. With Rocky leaving, the Archives wanted to capture the pearls of wisdom he has acquired over the years; not just about the Institution, but about life. With unanimous enthusiasm across the museum and major support and instruction from Smithsonian Institution Archives History Division, I set out to create an Oral History program for the Freer+Sackler Archives. I interviewed natural born story teller: Rocky Korr on June 16th, 2010. To the right is a picture of Rocky Korr with his favorite Sackler object: the Jade Bear.

For the interview Rocky and I covered his background, work details, and memories. During a session discussing the opportunities and experiences staff members have working at the Smithsonian, Rocky bestowed upon me a beautiful metaphor that explains how we should always take advantage of the opportunities afforded to us, both at the Smithsonian and in life. Below is a 30 second audio snipet of one of my favorite quotes from the session, along with a transcription.

"...if you're sensible and if you are curious, then
you have to take advantage of situations here. And as I say that time when the Yemen dance troupe was here, and that guy said "get in there and dance with them," and I had about 3 seconds to say "what in heaven's name is he talking about?" and then I jumped in and danced. And it was as simple as that. And if people hesitate in life and in around here, they will miss what is presented to them to do.

I encourage you all to take a page out of Rocky's book, and get in there and dance! Rocky Korr there will never be another like you, and you will be missed.

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

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

One Week Left to Celebrate National Rose Month

June is National Rose Month! In honor of this striking flower, I did a little research on some of the glass lantern slides in the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Gardens’ J. Horace McFarland Collection, a collection mentioned in this blog back in April. McFarland was known for his expertise in all things roses and examples from his extensive photographic archives are displayed here. This image of a child carrying a basket of roses is from Elizabeth Park in Hartford, Connecticut – the oldest municipal rose garden in the United States.

Elizabeth Park, Hartford, Connecticut
Smithsonian Institution, Archives of American Gardens,
J. Horace McFarland Company Collection

In the early decades of the twentieth century, before color film became readily available, photographers generated glass negatives with a light-sensitive emulsion. Many of these glass lantern slides were hand painted by specialists who may have never seen the roses they were bringing to life (check out the Syracuse University Archives' site for more on the history of glass lantern slides).

Rose aficionados can’t help but notice some of the impossibly bright hues that the studio painters selected for these images from the McFarland Collection. Enlarged versions of these and other rose images can be seen in a Smithsonian Gardens outdoor exhibit entitled J. Horace McFarland: Mr. Rose. McFarland was certainly “Mr. Rose,” as two roses have been named in his honor: Editor McFarland (1931) and Horace McFarland (1944). He was also the president of the American Rose Society from 1930-1932. This exhibit is located in the Kathrine Dulin Folger Rose Garden in front of the Arts and Industries Building. The beautiful roses in the Folger Rose Garden will provide the exhibit with a handsome backdrop all summer.

Carolyn Chesarino, Intern

Friday, June 18, 2010

Juneteenth: A Celebration of Liberation

Tomorrow is Juneteenth! Some may ask, what is Juneteenth? It is a celebration of freedom originating in Texas on June 19, 1865, when General Gordon Granger brought news of the end of the Civil War and the subsequent liberation of enslaved persons in Texas. Ironically this was two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.

A state holiday in Texas, Juneteenth is now observed in communities across the United States and has become an African American tradition. The day is celebrated with parades, performances, lectures, and other activities. It is also a time for reflection and recommitment to family and community. In the spirit of community, the Anacostia Community Museum (ACM) sponsored Juneteenth programs from 1991 to 2003 and documented the observance in Galveston, Texas. ACM Archives is in the process of cataloging and digitizing select images from its Juneteenth programs so visit us regularly to see what’s new. For additional information on Juneteenth search
Smithsonian Institution Libraries. You may also join Anacostia Community Museum for this weekend’s program, Juneteenth: A Celebration of Liberation, with Cowboy Fred Carter and other performers in a historical journey into Juneteenth.

Pictured top left: Juneteenth parade (2003) in Galveston, Texas, Jubilee Research Collection.

Jennifer Morris
Anacostia Community Museum Archives

Monday, June 14, 2010

Flag Day

When I remembered that today is Flag Day, I immediately thought of the flag paintings of Childe Hassam (1859-1935), an American Impressionist who depicted the patriotic display of flags in New York City during World War I.

Pictured at left in an 8 x 10 glass negative of The Avenue in the Rain (1917) by Childe Hassam, Peter A. Juley & Son collection.

A search for "flag" in the Smithsonian's Collections Search Center results in many different types of records from across the Smithsonian, including photographs of Childe Hassam's flag paintings along with other artistic representations of the flag, as well as stamps, depictions of the Smithsonian flags, depictions of American flags on ships and buildings in the United States and abroad, photographs of events and parades, and even advertisements!

For more information on Hassam's flag paintings see Ilene Susan Fort's The Flag Paintings of Childe Hassam (Los Angeles: Los Angeles Museum of Art, 1988).

Nicole Semenchuk, Research & Scholars Center, American Art Museum

Friday, June 11, 2010

Let's Go Fishing

You may not realize it, but June 11-13 is "Take a Kid Fishing" weekend. The NMAI Archive Center would like to honor this event by highlighting a few images from our collection which note the historic importance of fishing to Native American lifeways and traditions.

Shown at the left is a lantern slide image (L00327) of a Seminole man, possibly George Osceola (ca. 1880-1950), standing in a dugout canoe holding a speared mud-fish in the Everglades of Florida in 1910. The image is part of the Alanson B. Skinner photograph collection. As an anthropologist, Skinner was sent by the American Museum of Natural History in New York to conduct ethnographic field research on the Seminole people of the Florida Everglades. Both Skinner and professional photographer Julian A. Dimock photographed this expedition. In 1916, Skinner joined the staff of the Museum of the American Indian and most likely used this and other slides for public lectues.

This next image (P0622) taken in Sonora, Mexico in 1924 captures Chico Romero (Seri) posing outside with a large fish he caught. The image is from the Edward H. Davis photograph collection which covers large regions of the Southwest United States and Northern Mexico. Beginning in 1916 Davis worked as an official field collector for the Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation.

Both images reflect the importance of fishing to Native peoples thoughout the Western Hemphisphere and altough they only capture a brief moment in Native American history, the images also provide a glimpse into their traditional lifeways that have continued on for numerous generations.

See also the new exhibit, Yuungnaqpiallerput (The Way We Genuinely Live): Masterworks of Yup'ik Science and Survival, at the National Museum of Natural History (developed in conjunction with the the NMAI and the Anchorage Museum), for additional highlights of the connections between indigenous peoples and the environment. The exhibit is open now until July 25, 2010.

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

Jennifer R. O'Neal, Head Archivist, National Museum of the American Indian Archive Center,

Paper Engineering: Fold, Pull, Pop & Turn

On Monday, June 14, 2010, the Smithsonian Institution Libraries (SIL) will be opening its latest exhibition, Paper Engineering: Fold, Pull, Pop & Turn, in the gallery space near the Dibner Library, located in the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. Various staff members from the Libraries (particularly the exhibition's curator, Stephen van Dyk of the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum Library in New York City, and book conservators from the Preservation Services Department) have been working hard with designers and fabricators from the Smithsonian's Office of Exhibits Central (OEC) to get everything ready.

SIL has one of the largest collections of toy and movable books in the United States, with more than thirteen hundred titles (including Joannes Regiomontanus' Liber Aureus (Calendarium), published in 1476 and featuring a diagram of a sundial with a movable arm). Although many of these books were mass-produced over the last hundred years, some of them were created in very limited editions, or they may survive in only a few copies. The exhibition will provide an overview of the four main categories of these ingeniously designed books, including:

  • Movables (books with movable parts that do not emerge from the surface of the page)
  • Pop-ups (books with parts that emerge from the page in various ways)
  • Folding books (for example, books folded like an accordion)
  • Fantastic forms (books featuring multiple kinds of intricate paper construction)
In the past, it was difficult for a library exhibition to provide a true sense of the highly interactive nature of these multi-dimensional, fragile, and artfully engineered books, since they might all be posed in static fashion behind glass panels in gallery cases. But SIL is using a variety of Internet and social media applications to make these amazing books more virtually accessible. See the exhibition blog for Paper Engineering: Fold, Pull, Pop & Turn to learn more about the world of toy and movable books, enjoy the stories of the Smithsonian staff who have been working on this show, see more pictures, slide shows, and videos about the books, and share your own thoughts and memories about the books you have seen and loved.

Shown above is a set of six etched scenes by the engraver and print-seller Martin Engelbrecht (1684-1756), published around 1740 in Augsburg, Germany [Cooper-Hewitt library call number GV1521.E54 1740 CHMRB]. The separate scenes were designed to be connected together to form a three-dimensional diorama (also known as a tunnel book or peepshow). In 2009, SIL acquired this set as a group of loose paper sheets, practically in the format in which they were originally issued. SIL's book conservator, Vanessa Haight Smith, carefully prepared the sheets for exhibition (as she describes here) and OEC's Richard Gould created a transparent acrylic box for the display, bringing to life this enchanting scene of dancers in a formal garden.

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

Monday, June 7, 2010

Indigenous Whaling

You might be surprised to find that this year’s meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC), currently under way in Agadir, Morocco, is concerned with Anthropological matters. The commission is discussing changes to the rules governing what they call ‘indigenous subsistence whaling.'

The commission seeks to control the hunting of whales by indigenous groups through a series of regulations. These regulations include the stipulation that products resulting from the hunting of whales cannot be exported and that whaling must be conducted “in perpetuity appropriate to cultural and nutritional requirements.” It is the responsibility of the indigenous group’s national government to provide the IWC with evidence of the cultural and subsistence needs of their people.

Here at the National Anthropological Archives, we have a wealth of information relating to the importance of whales in indigenous cultures. While traveling throughout Alaska in the early twentieth century, the anthropologist Henry Collins noted the use of whale bone in art and decoration, as well as in the structures of homes and burial mounds. He also commented on the implications of a diet consisting largely of whale, and described the intricate harpoons used to hunt these creatures. You can find information relating to his diaries and field notes here.

The Haida nation of the Pacific Northwest coast of North America gives us this depiction of an Orca on the left. The photograph on the right is a lower part of a totem pole and a small carved figure from the corner of a house, representing the killer whale, with the human face at the base of the dorsal fin.

Click here for other Smithsonian collections related to whales and whaling.

-Joaquin Espinoza, Intern
National Anthropological Archives

Thursday, June 3, 2010


The Archives Center’s business history collections contain thousands of examples of commercial imagery, including printed reproductions of both hand-rendered illustrations and photographs. We are all familiar with the prevalence of such imagery in our daily lives, whether it appears in printed form in newspapers and magazines, on television, the Internet, or in other media or forms. These collections are constantly consulted by scholars of cultural history whose research traces the development of such advertising imagery and its impact on society. In my May post I offered some cynical remarks about the significance of Mother’s Day for advertisers, who adopt holidays as sales targets and themes. This month I salute Father’s Day with commentary on another soap advertisement!

The aim of commercial advertising is to sell products, which few people find objectionable per se, but critics often excoriate advertising devices and “trickery” which seem to exploit or manipulate viewers’ emotions unfairly. Consider this advertising illustration for Ivory soap from 1945. It depicts a father returning from his service in World War II, meeting and holding his child for the very first time. The accompanying text, including a sentimental poem, explains the narrative behind the image. Buried in the text is a comparatively subtle message suggesting how Ivory soap can support healthy family life. The ad appeals to the patriotism of a public which was suffering through a horrible war and to the strong emotions which such a homecoming scenario would generate. These were emotions with which most viewers—and consumers--could identify. The advertiser counted on consumers to be so favorably impressed by this image and its appeals to patriotism and a sentimental theme that they would be moved to purchase the company’s soap. Terms like “soft sell” and “soft soap” spring to mind!

Contrast this commercial image with a Scurlock Studio photograph, probably created a few years after the Ivory advertisement. The subject is Dr. Clarence Greene, a prominent surgeon, showing slides to his young daughter. It is from an extended series on Dr. Greene, probably taken by Robert S. Scurlock, depicting him with patients and in the operating room, as well as at home with his family. Although this photograph probably was semi-posed, it seems to document a genuine moment of quiet interaction between a father and his child, through the medium of photographic slides projected on a screen. Social historians often interpret photographic evidence in a somewhat different way. They might ask whether Dr. Greene’s child is enjoying the slide show or is she bored? Does the slide show ritual bring a family together or is it an artificial and ultimately unsuccessful device? Leaving these questions unanswered, this photograph documents a popular kind of family entertainment—over which the father typically presided for decades—until the impact of television and computers helped to transform family life.

David Haberstich, Archives Center, National Museum of American History

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Beautiful Bugs

As an intern working for the Smithsonian Institution Archives' Institutional History Division on the National Museum of Natural History's Centennial website (aka possibly the coolest internship project ever), I was able to meet a large cross section of the staff who are an essential part of helping the NMNH prepare for its Centennial celebration. As part of the celebration a number of Natural History staff members were nominated to have their stories and memories of life in the Museum captured on video to share with the public and save in the SIA for future generations. Tasked with filming these oral histories and podcasts I met Kris Helgen, one of the youngest mammal curators ever to work at the Museum, who let me hold a man-eating leopard skull; Dave Pawson, an echinoderm expert who showed me one of the oldest specimens in the Museum; Paul Pohwat, the collections manager in the mineralogy department, who pulled out a very sparkly, uncut diamond, Chip Clark, a photographer extraordinaire, who showed me his amazing work; and my personal favorite, George Venable, a scientific illustrator who manages to make bugs gorgeous.

I had the pleasure of meeting George Venable during the recording of his oral history interview. George came to the NMNH in 1971 and is an incredibly talented scientific illustrator, specializing in entomology. During a break in filming, I was elated to tell him that I was an art history major with a science background which matched his natural artistic talent and interest in science. This allowed us to click instantly. In the minutes we had before I started filming again, we poured over his illustrations discussing mediums, shadows, techniques, and how each was applied to different species. As we parted ways, George invited me to come take a tour of his baby: the Entomology Illustration Archives. I was all too happy to take him up on the offer.

The tour was a short one, as the Entomology Illustration Archives is relatively new and takes up only one room. It contains nearly 10,000 images, with the oldest dating to 1900. The newest additions are 3,500 mosquito illustrations from the Walter Reed Biological Unit. George pulled out his own drawings for me to look at, including some of the most detailed watercolors of Scarab beetles that I had ever seen. I didn't even know watercolor could do that!

As I geeked out over pretty bugs, he told me how the idea of an illustration archive first came to him. He and other illustrators would spend hours rendering a three dimensional object into a scientifically accurate two dimensional drawing only to have the illustration lost in the inevitable black hole of a researcher's files, never to be seen again. After finally getting funding, George and his small army of volunteers went around reclaiming lost entomology illustrations.

I learned that the main purpose of these illustrations is to capture information about a plant or animal, information that is often missing from the Museum's specimen, depict the scientifically important features of the organism being studied and describe that organism's natural environment. If the image achieves all of this, then it is a success. Beauty is just an added bonus.

Check out some of the NMNH's entomology illustrations here!

Image 1: My favorite by George Venable of a Beetle or Aspasiola esijhe Erwin, courtesy of the Entomology Illustration Archive
Image 2: Beetle or Pelidnota punctata Linnaeus, by Francis H. Noyes, courtesy of the Entomology Illustration Archive
Image 3: Beetle or Plusiotis gloriosa Leconte, by Francis H. Noyes, courtesy of the Entomology Illustration Archive

Lauren Dare, Intern, Smithsonian Institution Archives, Institutional History Division

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

With Notebook in Hand

With summer fast approaching and the school year near its end, here's a little inspiration for your summer vacation plans: "With Notebook in Hand", a beautiful and charming travelogue by the Kreznar Family.

Amateur filmmaker Frank Kreznar made films of numerous trips taken with his wife, Sonia, who often recorded sound while Frank was filming. On a roadtrip from Wisconsin to Florida around 1959, the Kreznars collaborated with their youngest daughter, Vivian, to create a travelogue told from her point of view.

The Kreznars visit tourist traps, explore the beauty of the Everglades, and camp out in full retro style. All their adventures are captured on beautiful 16mm Kodachrome and narrated with sincerity and wit.

What will you do on your summer vacation?

Karma Foley, Human Studies Film Archives