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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Ice Cream - Old School

The Ice Cream Vendor, Antoin Sevruguin. Circa 1890. Caption: La Glace. Number inked on negative:(139) Note: Staged in Drill Square in Tehran. Gelatin silver print.Nothing epitomizes summer more than ice cream.  I'm a Rocky Road in a waffle cone kind of girl with fond, fond memories of summers saving my parents' spare change for the day when the ice cream truck would come trundling down our neighborhood block.  The obnoxious childhood nursery songs being sweet music to my brother and I's ears as it promised the thrill of the chase, finished with sweet satisfaction as the ice cream dribbled down our chins and onto the hot, steamy sidewalk. 

Even as I grew older, summer ice cream still held a soft spot in my heart.  On hot summer nights I would put on my favorite red Hawaiian flower summer dress to match my high school sweetheart's cherry red Jeep, and we'd head out for a scoop at our local ice cream spot.  Ice cream is to summer as hot chocolate is to winter, and any of you who are a sweets person will understand the nostalgia that can be deliciously wrapped around those childhood treats.

This image, for me, evokes the feelings of summer.  It inspires a thoughtful and touching retrospective on life to see a food icon like ice cream transcend historical, cultural and geographical constructs.  To see these people gathered around their version of an ice cream truck resonates with my own childhood memories and fondness for ice cream.  When an image has the power to resonate and connect with you on such an internal level, it further unfolds by allowing you to feel a genuine and sincere connection to the subjects involved.  Beyond time, space, and geolocation, I feel connected to this image and these people - and that is a rare and beautiful thing in this life.

So here I am, walking down memory lane and dishing up ice cream for you - old school.  This image is taken by the famous Antoin Sevruguin (1830s-1933), who was an official photographer of the Imperial Court of Iran.  His commercial photography studio was one of the most successful in Tehran from the late 1870s to about 1934. The images in this collection provide a rich visual documentation of the Qajar and early Pahlavi dynasties of Iran.

The astonishing range of Antoin Sevruguin's photographs, and the prolific output of the studio, provides today's viewer with an important resource for examining the cultural histories and hierarchical elements of Iranian society. They assist the scholar in studying architectural sites that may have been damaged or destroyed, or are unavailable for first-hand investigation. Increasingly, the prints are valued for their artistic elements that may sometimes overshadow their documentary value. Most significantly, Sevruguin's images form part of an ongoing history that links a distant past and place to the present.

Caption: The Ice Cream Vendor, Antoin Sevruguin. Circa 1890. Caption on Photograph: La Glace. Note: Staged in Drill Square in Tehran. Gelatin silver print.  Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives, Smithsonian Institution, Antoin Sevruguin collection, part of the Myron Bement Smith collection.

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

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

"The Shape That Launched a Thousand Ships"

Moses Asch, 1956
With temperatures regularly pushing 95 degrees here in Washington, D.C., I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one dreaming of escaping the daily (humid) grind and parking myself by a breezy seashore somewhere.

I am currently in the trenches of the extremely voluminous Moses and Frances Asch Collection, which contains the records of the Folkways record label. After a year of processing correspondence from the collection, I've become very familiar with Moses Asch- the director of Folkways and hard-working man who issued over 2,000 recordings from around the world and kept them all in print, - but not so much with Moe, the man who took beach vacations with friends.

Letter from Jerome Cushman to Moses Asch, 1956,
from the Moses and Frances Asch Collection.
One of my favorite finds is this July 1956 photograph of Moe from his correspondence with friend public librarian and friend Jerry Cushman. It is a rare treat to see Asch looking like an ordinary man on a summer day. Cushman's teasing (calling Asch "The Shape That Launched a Thousand Ships") reminds me of the person behind the paper surrounding me.

Enjoy the rest of your summer, and I hope there's a beach waiting for you somewhere!

--Cecilia Peterson, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections

Anna Hyatt Huntington and Her Joan of Arc

Model, 1910
In 1910, established sculptor Anna Vaughn Hyatt (who would later marry Archer Milton Huntington) sculpted a model of an equestrian Joan of Arc and exhibited it at the Paris Salon.  She won a medal for the model and at that time she had no idea of the success and recognition that Joan of Arc would bring her.

Living in small apartments in New York City and sometimes abroad, sharing rent and studio space with fellow artists and sometimes relatives, Huntington was recognized by the art world as a sculptor of naturalistic animal sculptures.  Many of these small sculptures can be found in museum collections around the world, including here at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

While in France, Huntington spent time studying the statues of Joan of Arc erected by the French.  According to Cerinda Evans, Huntington was haunted by the martyrdom of the young Joan and wanted to “immortalize her consecration.” “Accordingly she spent several years near the scenes of the event, gathering an insight in the maid’s decision, which resulted in the famous statue.”

Author Myrna G. Eden writes: “As subject matter for a young woman sculptor imbued with a spirit of independence and a deep creative instinct, Joan had a special appeal to Anna Hyatt. Joan’s spiritual ardor and inner confidence captivated the young Anna...”

Huntington slowly developed the 1910 plaster model.

In an oral history with the Archives of American Art, Huntington states of her version of Joan: “Well, the whole idea was that I remember reading before she went into battle she had acquired a new sword, that is, a sword that she had found somewhere. And when she went into battle, she unconsciously raised it to heaven to ask the blessing of the Lord on it before she went into battle. That was the idea of the statue, that she was asking the Lord to praise the sword, the (sic) bless the sword.”

Riverside Drive, New York City
Because of notice the model received at the Salon, another kind of success found Huntington: she was commissioned to complete a monumental version of her Joan of Arc statue for Riverside Drive in New York City based on the model.Present at the dedication in 1915 was the French Ambassador to the United States.  As the Christian Science Monitor notes of the Dec. 10th event: “When as a climax he drew forth and presented to Miss Hyatt the decoration with which the French government has honored the American woman who made this, the world’s fifteenth, heroic figure of the Maid of Orleans (and the first by one of her sex), cannon booms, the band of the Garde Lafayette struck up the “Marseillaise,” and cheers unrestrained arose from the polite New York crowd assembled on the noble site overlooking the historic Hudson.”

The article continues: “Every one present must have felt, with a thrill of admiration, that Miss Hyatt, as sculptor, had made good with a grand opportunity. She has contributed one of the few—precious few!—satisfactory equestrian monuments to her country and time; and this, so far as present recollection goes, is an absolutely unprecedented achievement for a woman.”

Blois, France
Replicas of Huntington’s Joan of Arc were erected in Blois, France (she was awarded the purple rosette by the French Government and made an honorary citizen of Blois); Gloucester, Massachusetts; San Francisco, California; and Quebec, Canada.  Smaller versions are in museums around the country.

(And an interesting note: Eden writes that Huntington met her husband “sometime between 1915 and the Beaux Arts Ball in New York City, where Anna came masquerading as Joan of Arc.”)

Huntington lived a long life and had a very successful career as a sculptor. She and her husband, whom she married in 1923, are still known today for their philanthropy and the establishment of Brookgreen Gardens in South Carolina.

Gloucester, Massachusetts
Her early monumental success with Joan of Arc was followed up with sculptures such as El Cid and Don Quixote, and many more which are listed in the Inventory of American sculpture.

The photographs of Huntington's Joan of Arc sculptures posted above are from the Photograph Archives of the American Art Museum:

1. Model for Joan of Arc, 1910 (American Sculpture Photograph Study Collection)
2. Joan of Arc, 1915, Riverside Drive, New York City (American Sculpture Photograph Study Collection)
3. Joan of Arc, Blois, France (American Sculpture Photograph Study Collection)
4. Joan of Arc, Gloucester, Massachusetts (Peter A. Juley & Son Collection)

Eden, Myrna G. Energy and Individuality in the Art of Anna Huntington, Sculptor and Amy Beach, Composer. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1987. (In Smithsonian Libraries)

Evans, Cerinda W. Anna Hyatt Huntington. Newport News, VA: Mariners Museum, 1965. (In Smithsonian Libraries)

Read previous posts on women sculptors Bessie Potter Vonnoh and Evelyn Beatrice Longman.

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

Monday, July 26, 2010

Victory is Sweet (Peas)

Washington Atlee Burpee, founder of the seed company, W. Atlee Burpee Company, grew many different types of plants at the company farms in Pennsylvania, California, and New Jersey. Among the multitude of vegetables, annuals, and perennials grown by his company, however, Burpee had a particular soft spot for the delicate-looking sweet pea (Lathyrus odoratus). Grown for its flower rather than its seedpods, the sweet pea was a popularly cultivated annual around the turn of the century. It was inexpensive, successfully grown in most garden soils, came in a variety of colors, and many types also exuded a sweet fragrance. Sweet peas were popular enough in the early twentieth century that cultivators created exhibitions to show off new varieties and compete for awards.

And compete Burpee did. In 1909, his sweet peas won the first gold medal of the National Sweet Pea Society awarded to a cultivator outside of Great Britain. Two years later Burpee entered a flower exhibition in Philadelphia. It took thirty man hours to set up the Burpee exhibit which consisted of over 20,000 blooms of some 200 varieties of sweet peas. Ultimately, Burpee went home with the Morse Silver cup for largest and best trade exhibit, a Silver Medal for best collection, and the North American Silver Cup for best new sweet pea, which was awarded to the bright, scarlet blossoms of Burpee’s Vermilion Brilliant.

The Smithsonian’s Archives of American Gardens includes horticultural, business and advertising records of W. Atlee Burpee Company. The National Museum of American History Library Trade Literature Collection features copies of hundreds of historic seed catalogs put out by the Burpee company as well as its competitors.

Image, Two Superb New Spencer Sweet Peas for 1912, from Burpee's Annual for 1912, pg. 10

Caitlin DeMarco, Intern, Archives of American Gardens

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Bringing the World Wars to Life

As a history major during my undergraduate years of college, I felt at times that my program actually should have been called, “The History of War.” So much of what I had been studying consisted of what this government did to that government and the resulting conflicts. When all I wanted to do was study the history of fashion and pop culture, you can imagine how this focus seemed unnecessarily narrow to me.

My love of anything old and historic carried me though these difficult times, however, and I continued on in my schooling and life -- loving all things old and searching for my own personal “gems” in the vastness of our world’s history.

I came here to the Anacostia Community Museum as an excited intern, eager to work in a world that is so face-to-face with this history I love. I was assigned a collection to process and I dove in, sifting through the varied materials of the Sullivan Family Papers. I noted with some chagrin, however, the dates that most of the materials were falling into -- early Twentieth Century, a time when the world was understandably wrapped up in two of the biggest wars in our recent past. With my own history of shying away from all things war related, I was shocked when I came into work one day and realized how much I had fallen in love with this collection I was processing.

The collection brought the period alive for me. Living mainly in the Boston, Massachusetts area, the Sullivan family members were dedicated participants of both World Wars. Sons volunteered their services in all branches of the armed forces while their mothers, sisters and daughters became the heart of their local chapters of the American Legion and Red Cross. For decades of their family history, these men and women gave their all to their country.

In the papers and photographs that were carefully saved by the Sullivan family members, I found myself getting lost in the narratives of a soldier’s daily life as I perused the dozens of letters exchanged between a Sullivan daughter and her beau during the last five years of World War II. I realized with a jolt what difficulties the Tuskegee Airmen had to endure as I read the letters a Sullivan son wrote to his mother while training at the famous Alabama program. My heart wrenched along with his mother as I came to the abrupt end of his correspondence and realized that he died in training, at the age of 19. Stumbling across a striking photograph of the young pilot, Earle Sullivan, in his flight suit, I mourned the loss of this man I will never meet.

Needless to say, my indifference towards the early part of the twentieth century is indifference no more. Without the fashion and pop culture that I have so desired in the past, I found myself lost in the Sullivan’s world. This is the power that so many of these archival collections hold – the power of seeing the images and reading words written by people in our past that bring history alive in a way that nothing else can.

Image:  Theodore M. Sullivan, circa 1918

Jill Berrett, Intern
Anacostia Community Museum Archives

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Maurice Prendergast

The artist Maurice Prendergast (1858-1924) was superb at capturing the bright colors of warm, sunny days in his paintings and prints. Born in Canada, Prendergast spent much of his life in New England and New York, as well as years studying art in Paris, France and Venice, Italy.  His abstract brushwork was influenced by the French Post-Impressionist painters he met during his travels abroad and by the group of artists known as The Ashcan School or The Eight, who were based in New York City. Prendergast's personal style of painting is frequently described as resembling a mosaic or tapestry on canvas.

The Smithsonian has a number of works by and about Prendergast scattered throughout its collections. How would you go about finding them, though?
This was an incredibly difficult task before the Smithsonian's Collections Search Center became available. Back in those days, even people who worked in a unit of the Smithsonian like the Libraries would not  know about many of the treasures lurking in the storage areas of the other research centers and museums here. This kind of information was spread out across a lot of individual databases and in-house files that were generally accessible only to staff members working in those particular units. People outside the Smithsonian were hardly aware that the museums and research centers had vast holdings of items not on display, and if they did know about things they wanted to see, they had to write individually to the curatorial staff to find out about the location of the artifacts and set up appointments to come and see these things in person.

But nowadays, it's much easier to discover what treasures the Smithsonian has! A search in the Collections Search Center on "Maurice Prendergast" pulls up over 1300 records, many featuring thumbnail images, of items from a variety of units in the Smithsonian, including the American Art Museum's Photograph Archives (Peter A. Juley and Son Collection) and the Inventories of American Painting and Sculpture; the Archives of American Art; the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden; the National Portrait Gallery; and the Smithsonian Institution Libraries.

The Collections Search Center is currently one of the best tools available for sorting through the large and disparate holdings of many units in the Smithsonian. Items included in the Collections Search Center range from printed books, manuscripts, photographs, and audiovisual recordings, to paintings, furniture, natural history specimens, postage stamps, and airplanes (so this is why the Smithsonian is sometimes called "The Nation's Attic"!).

The SIRIS Office and the SIRIS Members are continually working to add more data from individual collections databases to the Collections Search Center, helping to fulfill the Institution's digitization plan described in a recently published report, Creating a Digital Smithsonian. For more information about the Smithsonian's web and new media strategy, visit the Smithsonian Commons Prototype website, where you can vote and comment on the Smithsonian Commons concept.

Image credits:

1. Photographic portrait of Maurice Prendergast, by Gertrude Käsebier (1913), reproduction from the Macbeth Gallery records in the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution

2. Portrait of Miss Edith King, oil painting by Maurice Prendergast (circa 1913), reproduction from the Anna E. Wilson Memorial Collection, Inventories of American Painting and Sculpture, Smithsonian American Art Museum

3. Beach Resort, oil painting by Maurice Prendergast, (1918-1923), Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden

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

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Best Of 100 Blog Posts from the Smithsonian Institution Archives, Libraries and Special Collections!

The Reader, (painting). Cassatt, Mary, 1844-1926, painter. Inventories of American Painting and Sculpture, Smithsonian American Art Museum.
Dear Readers,

This is the Collections Search Center - Smithsonian Institution Research and Information System blog; where Archivists, Museum Specialists, and Librarians around the Smithsonian blog to you about their new collections, current works in progress or whatever catches their eye.  Our authors are from 11 different units around the Smithsonian Institution, providing a strong show case of diversity of our work and collections.  It is our goal to bring you (our readers) collection highlights, unveil hidden collections as they become online, and relate to current events with historical artifacts, art work and research materials from the past.

This post is to commemorate our Blog hitting 100 posts!  When we began this endeavor in earnest at the beginning of March 2010, we had no idea what to expect nor how to measure the success of our mission.  Now almost 6 months in, I think we're starting to get know you, and ourselves a little better.

Social media has demonstrated itself as a fluid yet stable means of communication across the world.  Various web platforms have emerged that aid people in easy and frequent communication and sharing of information with each other.  Conversations now have the possibility to engage globally; while the idea that any information worth sharing can be easily found and disseminated by the masses.  The Smithsonian Institution's museums, libraries, archives, and special collections have entered the arena with the goal to allow further unencumbered access to our collections and ourselves as collection care-takers; further unveiling our hidden collections and making them available for user interaction.

This Blog's mission echoes that of the Smithsonian Institution: to increase the diffusion of knowledge.  By highlighting new collections, hidden collections, and collections as they relate to current events, we further reveal our work and our collections for your consumption. 

With that in mind, I have compiled for you a "Best Of" series featuring 1 post from each of this Blog's 11 contributing units.  The posts here are stellar examples of how Smithsonian Institution archivists, librarians and museum specialists have helped this Blog meet its mission by writing about their work and their encounters with the collections.  Please enjoy reading about these posts' behind the scenes facts, author quotes, and comments from you!

This post is spectacular because it challenges the stereotypical view of cowboys.  It blew my cowboy misconceptions out of the water as I read with ferocious appetite Hector Bazy's own account of being a negro cowboy.  Post authoress Jennifer Morris adds,

" I really enjoyed writing "Hector Bazy, the Negro Cowboy" post because it provided me with an opportunity to introduce the public to a rare manuscript that offers an account of a real black cowboy's life.  I hope this document gives new insight and interpretation of the experiences of the American cowboy, often a subject of romance and myth."

These comments for "Hector" affirm that Jennifer achieved her goal of offering new insight on the romantic cowboy image:

Anonymous said... No doubt about it!! This is great information and I think more people should follow their heart - just like Hector Bazy. Keep up the great work! May 21, 2010 9:59 AM

Anonymous said... What a wonderful read, thank you so much for making it possible to view this and other works on-line. Steph,UK. May 26, 2010 3:31 PM

(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. Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Archives, Smithsonian Institution.

I (Rachael Cristine Woody) am the blogger for the Freer+Sackler Gallery Archives, and I can tell you this post was inspired by current events.  The eruption of Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajokull left several of my colleagues stranded in international airports across most of Europe.  The inability to do anything constructive for them, I went to the Collections Search Center to do a pan-Smithsonian collections search on "volcanoes."  I was pleasantly surprised and inspired by the amount of volcano images we had!  The post ended up being wildly successful in part because it was picked up by USA Today blogger Harriet Baskas for her Blog: Stuck at the  Make sure you check out original SIRIS post to read the reverse side of this stereograph, which provides a powerful literary description  of Aso-San.

Our frequent youtube poster Karma Foley expanded our blogging diversity with her frequent and skilled use of providing audio and visual snippets of her collections. 

Karma explains, "The SIRIS Blog is a wonderful outlet for sharing news and information about our collections that don't really "belong" anywhere else.  When we received the video master of the film preservation work for "Hermógenes Cayo", I was blown away at how beautiful it looked and felt very proud to have been able to assist in the preservation of such an important film.  (Just to be clear, HSFA does not do the actual film-to-film preservation in house; the work was done by Film Technology, a lab in California.)  Film preservation is a pretty abstract concept for most people and I wanted to be able to show the results.  A "before-and-after" video clip is not appropriate for a SIRIS catalog record, but the blog was the perfect place to show it off.  Also, as an archivist one has to be factual and objective when describing collections but naturally in the course of our work we come across materials that move, inspire, or amuse us.  It's nice to have a place where we can be subjective and say, "Hey, look at all the amazing things we have!"

Karma's Imaginero post elicited the following comments:

Stone said... I hope to be able to see this exhibit. Should be very interesting. I'm also looking forward to seeing the exhibit on The Gay civil rights. Thank you! April 8, 2010 10:51 PM

Anonymous said... Fantastic post! Thanks so much for adding the video clip--it's amazing to see the difference. Thankfully now, in many years to come, researchers will still be able to appreciate the original intent of the video in the restored version. April 9, 2010 11:50 AM

Anonymous said... Great example of why preservation is so important. May 10, 2010 8:30 PM 

Acee Blue Eagle Papers 1935-1959. Blue Eagle, Acee 1907-1959 Creek Pawnee. National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Museum Support Center.

Jennifer Murray's post on native recipes was a huge hit among you and our peers!  This post was a wonderful example of what you can find in the Archives.  Jennifer does a great job at presenting the collection object in a way that resonates with you.  We are all familiar with recipe books, and our traditional family recipes; this post brings a familiar quality to the Oklahoma Indian Cook Book while at the same time educating and amusing our readers. 

Jennifer's post had these thoughtful comments:

Anonymous said... Fantastic! I laughed out loud at the "serves 30". And I love the phrase "IDLE GOSSIP SINKS SHIPS". Not sure I'm brave enough to try any of the recipes! March 30, 2010 10:25 AM

Anonymous said... I loved this post! Funny and informative. But it would be nice to include a wine recommendation for the chicken mousse. April 14, 2010 12:43 PM

Scurlock Studio Records, ca. 1905-1994, Archives Center, National Museum of American History.

The Archives Center houses one of my most favorite photograph collections, the Scurlock Studio Records.  Archives Center blogger David Haberstich treats us regularly to these poignant images, but this post has perhaps the best I've seen yet!  This photograph (as with all Scurlock photographs) has infectious romantic warmth that allows readers to move beyond the skin color and connect to the sincere emotions like a mother and daughter's love for each other, as shown in this post.

Reader Daniel shares with us, "It's interesting to think about how images of motherhood have been communicated in particular contexts and towards particular ends - I think they have been as celebratory as they have been heart-breaking."

"The portrait of Mrs. E. P. Shaw and her daughter - to my surprise - reminded me of another photograph depicting a mother and her children: Dorothea Lange's FSA photograph, 'Migrant Mother.' Both share a sense of intimacy and tenderness which, as you note, has been commandeered by industries interested in encouraging us to express our feelings and appreciation through the celebration of market transaction."

"The imagery and affect associated with motherhood and maternity is interesting to think about, as it has near constant explanation. I'm curious about its associations too - to body form, sentiment, and character, all throughout the twentieth century. It's exciting stuff!" May 17, 2010 10:34 PM

Speaking of diversity, who knew Native American dentistry would be such a popular topic?  From these comments it's clear Leuman M. Waugh has a fan club!

Anonymous said... Great post! I will think of this when I am the dentist on Monday! April 15, 2010 5:16 PM

Anonymous said... Love this guy! April 16, 2010 10:08 AM

Anonymous said... My in-laws lived two doors from Dr. Waugh, after he retired to Betterton, MD. I spent many cocktail times with him from 1961 until his death in 1972. We enjoyed many "martoons" as he called a martini at each residence. He gave my wife I an 1856 harmonium which I have since passed on to my daughter. Dr. Waugh was a fun and spirited person to be around. July 14, 2010 9:43 PM

The Diana Davies Photograph Collection, 1963- [Series XI: Social Justice: Peace Movement, Civil Rights Movement, Poor People's March, ...]Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage: Photographing Social Justice: The Work of Diana Jo Davies

The Folklife Archives is perhaps our most surprisingly diverse archives under the Smithsonian.  I had originally thought their archives was primarly of a music - folkways persuasion, but posts like this one on Diana Jo Davies shows yet another hidden depth of their archives, and therefore the depth of the Smithsonian as a whole.

To see more Social Justice images taken by Diana Jo Davies, click here.
Model for Girl Dancing [sculpture] / (photographer unknown). Vonnoh, Bessie Potter, 1872-1955, artist. American Sculpture Photograph Study Collection, Photograph Archives, Smithsonian American Art Museum.Smithsonian American Art Museum - Inventories of American Painting and Sculpture: Bessie Potter Vonnoh and Lost-Wax Casting

I am always envious of Nicole Semenchuk's posts.  She has such beautiful images to work with in the Inventories of American Painting and Sculpture, and she never fails to alliterate the beauty of both the artist's technique as well as the finished product.  In this post specifically Nicole describes a recent book on Bessie Potter Vonnoh and provides examples and discussion on the artist's technique, elaborating on the process and how it differs from other artistic processes.

Smithsonian Gardens - Archives of American Gardens: Mathematics in the Garden

Gardening has proven to be a popular category of posting, and this one in particular remained popular for weeks after it's initial post.  Authoress Kelly Crawford explains, "I was inspired to write this post after helping a researcher find images of gardens that had connections to science for a flower show exhibit called, ‘Beautiful Science, Beautiful Gardens.’ This research request forced me to think of all the ways that gardens intersected the sciences. When I shared the list (which included geometry) with one of my volunteers and she reminded me of Three Gates, a garden that was inspired by the Fibonacci numbers and golden ratio. After learning April was National Mathematics Awareness Month, I thought that this garden would be a perfect to highlight for a blog post about math and the garden."

Anonymous agrees... Math and Garden? This is really a surprising “odd couple”! I have always associated Gardening with biology and art, but have forgotten the important math component! I now love gardening even more! April 13, 2010 7:25 AM  

Smithsonian history posts are always popular ones, and it helps that Courtney Esposito has a talent to always pick out historical artifacts and relate them to current events.  This post came in the midst of our blizzard winter, as Courtney explains her inspiration for her posts, "I enjoy writing for the blog because it sheds light on not only the collections but the unique stories about the Smithsonian. It is a great way to show how all of the different parts of the Institution work together. I think showing the public that Smithsonian materials, old and new, can relate to their lives in a variety of ways and creates an understanding their world!"

This post also demonstrated how we and the readers could have a conversation surrounding the collections via this social media:

Anonymous said... Other colleagues of mine were all debating the previous worst blizzard for federal employees, and all had different opinions. Thank you SI Archives for settling this debate with your thorough snow history! February 25, 2010 9:38 AM

Anonymous said... What happened during the blizzard of 1966? March 1, 2010 4:26 PM

Courtney Esposito said... After snowing the over the weekend (January 29 and 30, 1966) A Washington Post article from Monday, January 31, 1966 states: "Except for emergencies, Federal and District Government employees are excused from reporting for work this morning." Later in the day officials excused employees for the entire day. Thus, non-essential Smithsonian staff members, who were federal employees, were excused from work. I haven't found any information thus far on whether the Museums were closed that day or not. However, I did learn that the Zoo was closed until at least February 2, 1966. Several Zookeepers stayed at the Zoo to care for the animals. March 5, 2010 8:58 AM 

[Garden scene with dancers, to be used as the set for a miniature theater] [graphic]. Engelbrecht, Martin, 1684-1756. Cooper-Hewitt, Smithsonian Institution.

Despite being the minority as a librarian, Diane Shaw never fails to amaze with her posts on unique artifacts, whether in between or outside of book covers! 

Diane elaborates, "The SIRIS Blog presents a great opportunity to publicize the opening of new exhibitions featuring library and archival materials at the Smithsonian. "Paper Engineering: Fold, Pull, Pop & Turn" highlights a collecting strength of the SI Libraries that few people previously knew we had.  As one of the catalogers who has worked with these materials, it was particularly delightful for me to see how ingeniously these complicated and artfully designed books are displayed in the exhibition. The Engelbrecht tunnel book with the garden scene depicted in the SIRIS Blog entry consisted of six flat panels inserted in an envelope when it came to me for cataloging. It is absolutely dazzling to be able to see the book on display now in the gallery, assembled by our conservator and exhibition team in the format that its 18th century creator originally intended."

I hope you enjoyed the "Best Of," and thank you for allowing us to share our joys of working on our Nation's collections.

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

Monday, July 12, 2010

Baseball teams at the Carlisle Indian School

As the long hot days of summer come upon us, baseball season has come into full swing, with the Major League Baseball All-Star Game played each year on the second Tuesday in July. While the place of baseball in American culture has been firmly rooted since the nineteenth century, the participation of Native Americans in baseball since that time is less appreciated. In his classic ethnological study Games of the North American Indians, published in the Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology in 1907, Stewart Culin notes that Navajos at Bosque Redondo in 1863 had incorporated elements of baseball into their own game “Aqejólyedi” or “run-around ball.”

Two early Indian major league players, Jim Thorpe and Charlie Bender both began their baseball careers while attending the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania. From its opening in 1879, the Carlisle School included baseball along with other extracurricular activities, including football, brass band and drama, as part of its assimilation program. Athletics quickly became the most effective way of achieving national recognition. Carlisle’s baseball team played against local YMCA teams, and college teams such as Dickinson, Holly Cross, and the University of Pennsylvania. Many players were multisport athletes, and were recruited by minor and semipro baseball leagues long before they graduated.

When Glen “Pop” Warner came to Carlisle in 1899 to coach football, many of his players chose to play for pay in semipro leagues in the summers rather than play for the Carlisle baseball team. Carlisle ended its college baseball program in 1910, partly because many of its best athletes were recruited away to professional leagues.

The National Anthropological Archives holds 16 photos of baseball teams and players at Carlisle, from 1879 to 1894.

Click here for other Smithsonian collections related to baseball.

-Jeremy Floyd, intern National Anthropological Archives
Leanda Gahegan, Reference Archivist

Friday, July 9, 2010


The Scurlock Studio Records, an Archives Center collection, contain a rich photographic record of the African American community in Washington, D.C. during the segregated years of the twentieth century. Although studio portraits predominate, there are also poignant
images of buildings which have succumbed to "progress." Shown here is a photograph of the
Republic Theatre, a movie theater in the heart of Washington's U Street business and entertainment area. This image, probably made by Addison N. Scurlock in about 1937, is represented by an original cellulose acetate negative. This negative and many others in the collection are deteriorating. Indications of the damage to this negative can be seen in the markings at the lower left of the image, as well as in the wavy line of the curb in front of the building. Despite these unfortunate physical and aesthetic alterations, the negative continues to provide us with significant historical evidence.

When the National Museum of American History acquired the Scurlock collection in the 1990s,
it was clear that the preservation of endangered negatives would be a primary challenge. The Archives Center implemented a program to freeze deteriorating negatives of historical value in order to arrest such deterioration and preserve these important visual records of people, places, and events. Because this preservation project is a major concern, many damaged Scurlock negatives have been scanned and catalogued before freezing. A random search of Scurlock images in SIRIS reveals a high percentage of damaged images, which can be disconcerting to the viewer. The explanation is the high priority assigned to digitizing and cataloguing negatives at risk, resulting in a disproportionate number of damaged images appearing in SIRIS. While many Scurlock negatives are visibly deteriorating and are dimensionally unstable, the total is smaller than the preponderance of SIRIS images might suggest; in fact, most of the negatives are in fairly good condition.

The Republic Theatre, a significant Washington landmark which opened in 1921, has vanished,
sacrificed to the construction of the Metro subway system. The theater closed in 1976 and was demolished soon afterward. This Scurlock photograph, despite its damaged state, faithfully preserves both the appearance of the building and, in its prominent film advertising, the irony of movies with all-white casts playing for exclusively black audiences in segregated businesses.

David Haberstich, Archives Center, National Museum of American History

Wednesday, July 7, 2010


This coming Sunday, July 11th, a group of over 100 men will lift a Giglio - a seven-story, four-ton papier-mâché structure - and "dance" it through the streets of the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. It's a spectacle that has been seen in Williamsburg for over 100 years, part of an annual celebration of the Festival of San Paulinus di Nola. The festival has its roots in Nola, Italy, where it originated over 1500 years ago.

The Human Studies Film Archives has three films on the Giglio, including one of the 1923 celebration in Nola, Italy and this home movie footage from 1956, in which members of the Mt. Carmel Club of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Williamsburg dance the Giglio, carrying the structure along with the 12-piece band standing on it.

This amateur film is rich with details about the festival and its participants. It seems likely that the person behind the camera was part of the community, given the access they had and how close they were able to get to the Paranza ("lifters"). Home movies, while originally created only for personal use, are now valuable primary documents for the study of community and family life.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Cool Off

Over the holiday weekend and now into the work week people across from the Mid-Atlantic to Northeast are hearing one thing: heat wave. With temperatures reaching the 100s, everyone is looking for a way to cool off, including our friends at the National Zoo. In this weather many of the animals seek refuge in the water features of their habitats. Here are some of the great images captured by Smithsonian photographers over the years of animals chilling out at the Zoo.

Smokey the Bear National Zoo

Francine Schroeder snapped a shot of Smokey the Bear keeping cool from the heat and forest fires in his pool at the Zoo in 1976.

Orangutans National Zoo

Jessie Cohen captured an image of baby Orangutans Bonnie (in the tub) and Azy, splashing in a bath at the Zoo in 1981.

Polar Bear National Zoo

A polar bear staying chilly by taking a dip in the Zoo pool.

Alligators National Zoo

E. Hardy caught the Alligators in action heading into the water to beat the heat at the Zoo's Reptile House in 1934.

So let's take a note from the animals and find some time to cool off by diving into our SIRIS collection of Zoo images, just be wary of heading in too deep with the Alligators!

Courtney Esposito, Institutional History Division, Smithsonian Institution Archives

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Happy 4th of July! (With an Account of an 1849 Gold Rush Celebration)

A fascinating manuscript was recently donated to the Smithsonian Institution Libraries by the A. Herr Smith & E.E. Smith Loda Township Library of Illinois: the shipboard journal of Mr. Benjamin S. Buckley, kept during his voyage on the ship Capitol. The ship, carrying approximately 200 passengers and crew, launched from Boston, Massachusetts on January 23, 1849, and sailed around Cape Horn at the tip of South America before reaching its destination of San Francisco harbor six months later on July 20th. Writing in a meticulous hand and with an eye for detail and understated drama, Mr. Buckley captured the flavor of life aboard a ship full of excited passengers who were headed to California during the Gold Rush to earn their fortune.
Towards the end of this exhausting journey, the "Comt. [Committee] of Arrangements" (a group formed on board the ship to keep everyone entertained) and the crew celebrated the Fourth of July with true patriotic fervor. Here are some excerpts from Mr. Buckley's account of the festivities:

"[A]t half past twelve [a.m.] precisely, the thunders of theCapitol burst forth in the following most sublime and extraordinary manner: by some mysterious and unknown agency the lamps between decks became suddenly extinguished, and down from the main top, or some other place, came thundering with awful and startling effect, the cook's tin boilers, tin pails, dishes, plates, &c. The effect on those below was truly astonishing ... [M]any innocent looking individuals apparently just awakened, came on deck rubbing their eyes and muttering what a d----d infernal noise, poor fellows they were unconscious of the cause.
The first thing after daylight I took a look round for our acquaintance of yesterday, [the ship] Daniel Webster, and there he was about three miles astern all sail set, chasing the Capitol and coming up hand over hand.

The Comt. of Arrangements prepared the order of exercises which commenced at ten o'clock ...
1st. Prayer by Mr. John Beckett
2nd. An original song by B.F. Whittemore
3rd. Reading of the Declaration of Independence
4th. A select song, Our Native Land
5th. Address by Mr. Wallis
6th. Select song
7th. Sentiments and speeches
8th. Concluding song, Liberty Flag

[Mr. Buckley then summarizes several of the "sentiments and speeches" presented on the occasion by various members of the Committee. A few of the toasts are quoted below:]
  • To Our Beloved Nation: The youngest of the family, yet in her possession was found the golden treasure.
  • To the Gold of California and Gen'l [Zachary] Taylor [who at that time was president of the United States]: The fruits of liberty and the defenders of freeman's rights and our country's glory.
  • To Our Republic: Founded upon truth & justice, indebted for her advancement to her glorious republican institutions, and to the high position she now occupies among the nations of the earth to the patriotism and valour of her citizens.
  • To the United States of America, the Model Republic of the World: May the foul stain of slavery which now mars her purity be ere long obliterated.
  • To the passengers of ship Capitol: May their next Fourth of July be celebrated with each an hundred thousand dollars in his pocket.
  • To the Memory of Washington: May it never be forgot, while the earth bears a plant or the sea rolls a wave.
The celebration concludes with a song composed and sung by shipmate B.F. Whittemore, which includes these stirring verses:

"This is the morn Columbia smiles & so my friends should we,
Tho roaming o'er the stormy waste, or wandering o'er the sea,
For memory speaks tis Freedom's Day, the Great and Glorious Fourth,
Which gives us joy & happiness throughout our native earth.

"Ye sons of proud America, the word declares you free,
Come celebrate this happy day, with a merry jubilee
The air resounds o'er hill, o'er dale with freemen's well tuned voices,
The Stars and Stripes are floating high, a nation now rejoices.

"The high, the low, the great, the small exalting all as one,
In praises what we now enjoy and what our Fathers won,
Each patriotic in his heart, his soul it seems to say,
Fly hence oppression cruel for this Independence Day.

"Then let it still be said of us though numbering a few,
We kept the day all glorious Americans true blue.
We scorn as freemen while we live its memory to forget,
for sacred as it ever was, our freedom is it yet.

"Olde Capitol, thou never shall be among the silent numbered,
No history e'er shall a page that we regardless slumbered.
For ever mindful of the past, its sentiments and worth,
As Americans we thunder out the great and glorious Fourth.
For we are all true hearted Americans, like those of the olden time."

Mr. Buckley's shipboard journal tapers off once the Capitol reaches port and the passengers disembark. There are a few miscellaneous notes in the volume about his later business ventures. Although he never struck it rich in the gold fields of California, Mr. Buckley later relocated to Illinois and had a good business in trading cattle. One of his descendants gave the manuscript journal to the Loda Township Library in the late nineteenth century. The book was then presented in 2009 to the Dibner Library of the History of Science and Technology, located in the National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Bering Center, in Washington, D.C., to ensure its preservation for generations to come.

Buckley, Benjamin S. Journal of the voyage from Boston to San-Francisco. (manuscript handwritten in ink in an account ledger, with entries dating from 1849 to 1863; selected pages are shown here). Call number: f MSS 001771 B SCDIRB, Dibner Library

--Diane Shaw, Special Collections Cataloger, Smithsonian Institution Libraries, with help from Kirsten van der Veen, Technician, Dibner Library