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Thursday, September 29, 2011

Weathering the Storm

“What winds accomplished in an hour hundreds of workmen will spend months in trying to repair. Besides the great heaps of debris where big buildings were toppled over like card houses, the streets from one end of the city to the other are littered with tin roofs blown from houses and twisted and rolled into all sorts of queer shapes.” Washington Post, October 1, 1896.  
Washington, D.C. - Looking Toward West Side of U.S. Capitol
circa 1900

Tis the season for such weather. Though the city of Washington has already had its brush with some of Mother Nature’s fiercest storms this year, this is not a new trend. 115 years ago today, the city faced a terrible hurricane that left a path of damage that took  lives, destroyed buildings and overturned ships on the Potomac throughout Washington, Maryland and Virginia. The storms furious seventy-five mile per hour winds and rains caused property loss estimated to equal upwards of a quarter million dollars in D.C. alone. Telegraph companies lost communication with northern and southern cities alike and local telephone services were stopped for days. The city’s fire alarm and telephone service were knocked out and the Metropolitan Railroad House collapsed.  The Washington Post noted, “Indeed, a strong characteristic of the storm was the uniformity of damage done, no part of the city or surrounding country escaping.”

Buildings Report 1896-97
Unfortunately this included the Smithsonian. In 1896, the Smithsonian consisted of the Smithsonian Institution Building or the “Castle” and the U. S. National Museum (USNM), now known as the Arts and Industries Building. On the night of the vicious storm both buildings sustained damages, with the Castle being less fortunate than the USNM. According to curator of mechanical technology J.Elfreth Watkins’ Buildings Report 1896-97, the Castle received much needed repairs and improvements to the “roof of the exhibition halls and the towers damaged in the severe storm of September 29, 1896.” The USNM sustained only minor leaks in the roof of the building.

Smithsonian Building, Arts & Industries, and Capitol
circa 1892
The Smithsonian buildings weathered the storm of 1896 and have continued to witness the events that impact the nation’s capitol. Then and now it is a challenge to not only secure the buildings, but the nation’s treasures that are stored within their walls. It is important to remember these past events, so that staff can learn from prior storms what worked and what did not, in trying to protect the collections from the elements.

Dwight William Tryon's Sketchbook: A Glimpse into the Mind of the Artist

Among Charles Lang Freer's collection of American Art are several paintings by Massachusetts landscape artist Dwight William Tryon (1849-1925). Ultimately collecting many of Tryon's works, Freer was arguably his largest patron. Perhaps due to this close professional and personal relationship, Tryon's papers are now housed in the Archives of the Freer|Sackler Galleries (donated n 1989, quite some time after Tryon's death). It is a small but rich collection, consisting of 19 photographs, a long letter from Freer, some newspaper clippings, and, the item that is most intriguing to me, a sketchbook (determined to be from the years 1887-1888). Learn more about Tryon and his papers here.

The small, delicate sketchbook holds among its pages some scribblings of trees, a common subject of Tryon's, less common images of towns and boats, and, interestingly, a smattering of notes in French (perhaps he was channeling the famous plein air artists?). Tryon's sketchbook also includes several studies of haystacks. Tryon painted several images of haystacks, one which, The Rising Moon: Autumn (1889) is a part of the Freer|Sackler Galleries' collection. As this work was completed only one to two years after Tryon used this sketchbook, this gives us a unique opportunity to look into the ever mysterious "artistic process."

Megan Quint
Intern, Freer|Sackler Archives

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Phil Lucas: Reevaluating Hollywood's Images of Indians

By the time of his death in 2007, leading American Indian filmmaker Phil Lucas (Choctaw) had over 100 films to his credit in the roles of writer, director, producer, editor, actor, and cultural content advisor.  As if such a prolific film career weren’t enough, Lucas was also a dedicated teacher, having taught at the United Indians of All Tribes Foundation in Seattle, WA; the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, NM, where he also served as the head of the Department of Communication Arts; the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada; and Bellevue Community College in Bellevue, WA, where he taught until his death.

While processing the Phil Lucas Videotape Collection this summer, I was inspired to think about Lucas' dedication to education, not just in the classroom, but through his many documentary films.  His obituary in the Seattle Times noted that, as a young man, Lucas saw signs in rural areas that stated “No dogs or Indians allowed,” an experience that inspired him to strive in his work to help achieve racial equality.  Lucas’s films look both outward to educating the population at large about American Indian culture and life, and inward to educating the American Indian community about struggles and issues within, in order to help achieve this goal of racial equality.  Of all of his film projects that I was able to work with this summer, the one that highlighted Lucas’s dedication to education the most for me was Images of Indians (1979-1980), a five-part series that Lucas wrote, co-produced and co-directed.  The series was very well received, winning the Special Achievement Award in Documentary Film in 1980 from the American Indian Film Institute and the Prix Italia Award in 1981.

Narrated and hosted by American Indian actor Will Sampson, Images of Indians explores the problematic ways in which American Indians have been depicted in popular culture, from the dime novels of the 19th century through the Hollywood Westerns of the 1970’s.  While it is no secret that “classic” Hollywood westerns portray American Indians in a negative light, Lucas’s examination of these racist images not only points out fallacies and inconsistencies, but confronts head-on their origins and far-reaching ramifications for the American Indian community.  A moment that stood out for me while watching the documentary was an interview in which an Oklahoma radio disk jockey recalls interviewing a young American Indian boy; when asked who he cheers for in Westerns, the cowboys or the Indians, the boy answers, “The cowboys, because Indians are mean, and I’m a cowboy”.  In that moment, I realized that Images of Indians was not only aimed at educating a non-Native audience about the inaccurate portrayals of Native Americans that have influenced how they are perceived world-wide.  It’s purpose was also to educate those within the American Indian community, in order to examine how Hollywood portrayals, barely recognizable as their own culture, have shaped their self-images, as well as how others perceive them.  For equality to be gained, the problem has to be understood fully - not just how it exists on the screen, but how it manifests itself in the lives of its viewers, Native and non-Native alike.

Processing the Phil Lucas Videotape Collection has been a great learning experience for me, as an intern.  Not only have I learned more about the care and maintenance of audio-visual archival materials, but I learned a lot of about Phil himself from processing his collection.  His films illustrate how dedicated he was to the education of all people, inside and outside his community; the donation of his materials to the NMAI Archives Center assures that he will continue teaching far into the future.

Camille Tyndall
Media Archives Intern, National Museum of the American Indian Archives Center

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Grupo Motivos: Creating Latino Heritage in Philadelphia’s Landscape and in the Archives of American Gardens

Las Parcelas, Philadelphia, PA pictured here in 1995.
Ira Beckhoff, photographer.
Garden Club of America Collection, Archives of American Gardens
In celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15-October 15), the Archives of American Gardens has decided to highlight a garden located in the Norris Square neighborhood of Philadelphia where brushes and paint, rather than shovels and seeds, were the tools used to start a community garden.  Plans began in the 1980s, yet it was not until a summer day in 1992 that a “massive multi-agency, anti-drug raid” in “The Badlands” (so called because of the area’s reputation for drugs and violence) enabled this vision of a revitalized urban space to begin. That same day vacant lots were cleared of debris and a mural started. The “colors and spirit of Puerto Rico” were used as “a way to provoke the neighborhood people to see something other than drugs and trash.” Las Parcelas was born.

A Spanish term literally meaning “the parcels,” Las Parcelas is a collection of garden spaces, maintained by women in a dedicated neighborhood organization, Grupo Motivos, in collaboration with the Norris Square Neighborhood Project and the Philadelphia Horticultural Society's  Philadelphia Green. More than community garden plots, however, Las Parcelas is akin to a museum. It tells a story of Puerto Rican heritage as a part of American history, materialized in Philadelphia’s urban landscape through culture and horticulture. Economic decline and urban policies created a landscape seemingly devoid of nature and culture, and rife with racial tensions. Through gardening, Las Parcelas attempts to make a positive story of heritage and identity tangible,  by displaying culture in a landscape where it was all too frequently made invisible.

As seen in the images above, vibrant murals recall the landscape and labor of Puerto Rico, honor community leaders and commemorate the passing of traditions on to a younger generation. Masks and designs on benches explore the African heritage that became rooted in Puerto Rico along with native Taino and introduced European cultures.  Inside “La Casita” (pictured below) objects donated by older residents are used as educational tools. As Iris Brown, a coordinator of Grupo Motivos, describes the garden’s ideals, “it’s a good way to show our culture and background to younger generations and non-Puerto Ricans.  Through the casita and the gardens we say, ‘here’s where we are now, but here’s where we’ve been.  This is who we are.”  Moreover, as an intergenerational community space designed with areas for gatherings, cookouts, dancing, and crafts, it is also a place to invent new traditions for the future.

Using overlapping ideas of culture, identity, heritage and environmental education, Las Parcelas captures themes common in garden history, combining them to create a unique sense of place rooted in Puerto Rican experiences.  Doing this also raises new questions. For example, what does it mean for a garden to be a community garden? How are these community gathering spaces different from the public parks and squares that came before them? How do we interpret these creations as a part of a larger garden history?

At the Archives of American Gardens, Las Parcelas represents the importance of maintaining diverse archives. Capturing Latino heritage at the Smithsonian Institution provides scholars and the public with materials that can spark new questions and interpretations of the past, to tell stories that can guide us in the future. 

“La Casita” (the little house" at Las Parcelas community gardens is reminiscent of housing in pre-WWII Puerto Rico. It is used as an educational space within the garden to teach youth who take part in Norris Square Neighborhood Association programs. Ann Reed, photographer, 2007.
Garden Club of America Collection, Archives of American Gardens

Joe Cialdella, 2010 Summer Intern
Archives of American Gardens
Smithsonian Gardens

Friday, September 23, 2011

One time and one time only: THRILLING Recordings of a Carnival Midway

Sometime in mid-August, I found myself driving back to D.C. from Frederick in the dark. Something caught my eye: it started as a little cluster of glitter ahead, but grew to a mighty glow, and then jangly music trumpeted through the car windows. A big, spinning wheel with a dizzying light display let us know that we were passing by the Montgomery County Fair. 

I haven't been to a fair in years, but I still felt a jolt of excitement when I saw all those familiar colored light bulbs lined up and telling me I needed to get myself some cotton candy AND FAST. It was a comforting moment with my childhood, even though my ears still rung with what was probably the world's loudest calliope minutes after we had passed the fairgrounds.

So when I recently came across "Sounds of Carnival," (FX 6126), one of the documentary recordings in the Folkways Records catalog, I decided to give it a spin. Originally recorded in 1954 at the Royal American midway by students of the Chicago Institute of Design, it's a walk through the organized chaos of a mid-century carnival -- the squeals of the Roll-O-Plane riders, a laughing clown (particularly creepy), the revving engines of the Motordome, smooth-talking barkers, humming generators and, of course, the "back lot"--little vignettes of the lives of those that made the midway happen. The interviews have an intimate quality to them--one man, a barker, explains that though he's had a stammer his entire life, "When I stand up on my [stage] to talk to the people to tell them about the show's a peculiar thing, the stammer disappears...I'll spend the rest of my days in show business." Another says of the constant travel,"You meet all kinds of people all over the world. It's interesting. It's more education than in a bunch of books."

The second side of the album is a collection of carrousel music recorded on-site--capturing what Charles Edward Smith calls in the liner notes "the ever-old, ever-young enchantment of the merry-go-round." My favorite part is the pregnant pause before each tune starts: remember when you were a kid and first got on your horse and the ride had started but the music hadn't? And then all of a sudden it would come booming out from nowhere and it hurt your ears, in a good way? These recordings sound just like that, complete with the ever-present slightly-out-of-tune calliope we all hold so dear.

For more on this recording, listen to a sample of the merry-go-round music, or read the liner notes.

Cecilia Peterson, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections 

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Happy Birthday, Mr. Soul!

A new documentary entitled Mr. SOUL! ELLIS HAIZLIP AND THE BIRTH OF BLACK POWER TV features resources from the Ellis B. Haizlip Papers. The papers are a record of Ellis Haizlip's life-long promotion of African American performing arts and culture, and his commitment to community uplift through charitable work and political activism. The collection highlights his artistic and community projects and his affiliations with a variety of nonprofit organizations. The papers also documents Haizlip's work in the production of a number of television shows (most notably SOUL!), theatrical events, (James Baldwin's Amen Corner), as well as his work with choreographer Alvin Ailey.  The new documentary centers around SOUl!, the groundbreaking PBS television series produced and hosted by Haizlip from 1968 to 1973 and presented by New York City's WNET/Channel 13. The collection includes family papers, correspondence, scripts of plays and television productions, and photographs, as well as videoptapes of episodes from his television series.

Ellis Haizlip (left) listens to Imamu Amiri Baraka (right) recite four poems on Soul!
Ellis B. Haizlip Papers,Anacostia Community Museum Archives, image copyrighted by WNET/13
Ellis B. Haizlip (1929 - 1991) was an Emmy Award-winning producer, writer, educator, fundraiser and social activist. Born and raised in Washington D.C., Haizlip grew up in the Northeast section of Deanwood, graduated from Dunbar High School, and attended Howard University. This week in Washington, D.C., there will be a series of screenings of the work-in-progress, followed by Q&A panel discussions featuring scholars, the filmmakers and special guests. The series begins today with a community screening commemorating Haizlip's birthday (September 21st).

The Anacostia Community Museum Archives staff is in the process of revising the Ellis Haizlip collection inventory created in 1994 and creating a new electronic finding aid.  Do continue to revisit this blog to learn more!   

Jennifer Morris
Anacostia Community Museum 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


No. 1
The National Museum of American History has a special interest in the history of American music, in terms of performance, musical instrument collections, and music-related documents; many of these document collections are in the custody of the Archives Center.  We have photographs of jazz musicians by great photographers such as Herman Leonard and others (I wrote recently about Emile Waagenaar’s photographs of Cajun musicians), original music manuscripts by Duke Ellington, the Sam DeVincent Collection of Illustrated American Sheet Music, and many others.  Finding aids for some of these collections are available online through our web site, and/or they can be located with a search engine.  Relevant catalog records, many of which are linked to finding aids, can be found in the SIRIS database at

One of our most interesting music collections is the Hazen Collection of Band Photographs and Ephemera, which contains materials from about 1818 to 1931, documenting the fascinating story of the brass band movement in the United States.  The collection was accumulated primarily through purchases from dealers, over a period of several years, by two scholarly music historians (and skilled musicians in their own right), the husband-wife team of Dr. Robert M. Hazen and Margaret Hindle Hazen.  The collection aided their research for a landmark book on the subject, "The Music Men: An Illustrated History of Brass Bands in America, 1800-1920," published by the Smithsonian Institution Press in 1987.  After the book appeared, their collection became part of the Archives Center’s holdings.  Although the collection includes “ephemera,” such as music, advertisements for musical groups, and advertisements from musical instrument manufacturers, photographs of brass bands and musicians form the core of the collection.

No. 2

The Hazen Collection images reveal a long-lost American world that may remind us of the Broadway musical “The Music Man,” an America in which not only schools and colleges, but families, towns, social clubs, and even businesses enthusiastically formed their own marching bands and concert bands, usually featuring brass instruments.  These bands often had their own uniforms and were a source of entertainment, cultural enrichment, and civic or organizational pride.   I come from an Indiana town with a strong high-school marching band tradition, and when a former band member became Miss Indiana in the Miss America Pageant, the band naturally accompanied her to Atlantic City in order to march and play in full uniform to demonstrate hometown support (she didn’t become Miss America, but did receive an award for that strong civic support).  Therefore these photographs tend to stir my personal nostalgia—and even produce a kind of faux nostalgia for times and places I’ve never actually known.  The photographic images take many forms, including small tintypes, large prints, and picture postcards.  A few examples from among the picture postcards, both photomechanical reproductions and actual photographic prints on postcard paper, are shown here.  Unfortunately, all the photographers are unidentified.

No. 3

The Archives Center happens to have a supply of item-level registers (collection catlogues) of this delightful collection, containing more than one hundred pages, with illustrations.  They can be mailed anywhere, free of charge.  If you would like a copy, contact me at

No. 4

David Haberstich, Curator of Photography, Archives Center

Illustration captions:
1. Band Stand, Depot Park, Lindenville, Vt.: picture postcard, ca. 1900, lithoprint photomechanical reproduction.

2. Six Counties Firemen's Convention: "real photo" picture postcard—original photographic print on photographic postcard paper, ca. 1910.
3. Picture postcard with reproduction of group photograph of children in Orphan's Home, Seattle, Wash., with instruments. Caption includes children's names and nationalities. Postmarked 1906, with message on verso addressed to Clara Eckert, Peshtigo, Wis.
4. Mason City Band, Mason City, Iowa: color photomechanical picture postcard.   Postmarked 1909, with message, addressed to Arthur Rice, Forest City, Iowa.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Digitizing Iroquois: Intern Perspectives

NAA MS 843, National Anthropological
Archives, Smithsonian Institution
 A language offers a special window into a culture. But what happens when a language is no longer widely used in everyday life? The United Nations estimates that without preservation efforts, half of the 6,000 languages spoken around the world today will disappear. In the United States, Native American languages are especially endangered.

This past summer at the National Anthropological Archives Digitization Lab, we’ve been working to help preserve language documentation through an extensive project to digitize some 6,000 pages of Iroquoian language materials.

Many of these materials are part of the papers of John Napoleon Brinton Hewitt, who worked for the Smithsonian’s Bureau of American Ethnology (BAE) from 1886 until his death in 1937. Hewitt was himself of Tuscaroran descent. Though he originally wanted to be a physician, like his father, after taking a job working for Erminnie A. Smith, who collected Iroquois myths for the BAE, he found his true calling. Upon her death, he took up her work at the BAE. Hewitt was the leading academic authority in his time on the Iroquois League and the customs, ceremonies and languages of its tribes; he could speak Mohawk and Onondaga, and also had some familiarity with Algonquian dialects. 
NAA MS 48, National Anthropological
Archives, Smithsonian Institution

Hewitt’s materials contain a variety of content – comparative vocabularies, myths and legends, and histories, as well as notes on grammar, medicinal remedies, names, and more. Some of the materials are in Iroquois languages, some are English translations, and many include both languages side by side. The digital surrogates of these materials will soon be available through SIRIS, the Smithsonian’s online catalog, the better to assist researchers, linguists, tribal members, and others interested in preserving Iroquois languages.

This project is made possible through a Save America’s Treasures Grant and the Six Nations of Canada.

-- Carin Yavorcik, Digital Imaging Intern, NAA Summer 2011

NAA MS 436, National Anthropological
Archives, Smithsonian Institution

There is a saying among some in the digitization field that goes, “If it isn’t online, it doesn’t exist.” Though we know this is not the case, having the ability to increase access to archival materials while at the same time aiding in its long term preservation through reduced handling, kills the proverbial two birds with one stone. Digital access creates a larger audience for collections, while reducing handling, exposure and thus mitigating risk. In tandem, such things extend the life of collections for future generations. Furthermore, the digital preservation of anthropological and ethnographic material is of the utmost importance to the field, making more information available to more individuals, creating a larger discourse about the history and theory of anthropological thought.

It is these ideals that help cut through the rigorous and sometimes monotonous task of digitizing archival manuscripts. The creation of 6,000 digital surrogates from archival originals is a multi-step process that involves skill and knowledge of a host of equipment platforms, compatible software, online resources, as well as familiarity with the collection, storage, and proper handling techniques. We follow a series of guidelines for digitization; some we have created ourselves for our workflow purposes, and some are collaboratively created among others in the field, such as the
Federal Agencies Digitization Guidelines Initiative (FADGI).

Once one becomes comfortable with the hardware, software and associated guidelines, one can begin to appreciate the archival material for what it is—historical documents that provide a window to a seemingly obscure but tangible connection to Native languages and early anthropological fieldwork.

--Jeanine Nault, Digital Imaging Intern,
NAA, Summer 2011

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Preservation of the Jorge Prelorán Collection

As part of an ongoing effort to safeguard the work of Argentine filmmaker Jorge Prelorán, several films are being preserved at specialized film labs.  Preservation work on three ethnographic films - Casabindo, Iruya, and La Iglesia de Yavi - was recently completed by Film Technology Company, thanks in part to a grant from the Smithsonian Latino Center.  These films document culture and religion in rural northwestern Argentina, capturing a vibrant mix of indigenous traditions and Spanish colonial influences.

Two of Prelorán's films -- the classic Imaginero and the experimental short Claudia -- will be screened later this month at the University of Maryland, College Park.  The screening will be held at 5pm on Friday, September 30 and is free and open to the public.  It has been organized by the university's Graduate Field Committee in Film Studies; visit their website for details. I will be present to introduce the films and give an overview of the Prelorán Collection. It's an exciting screening for me because it will be the first showing of the newly-preserved and very delightful Claudia (film buffs please note that we will screen from video rather than 16mm, but I promise it will look beautiful all the same).

Imaginero was preserved by HSFA last year with support from the Smithsonian Latino Center.  Preservation of Claudia was made possible by the National Film Preservation Foundation.

As each film is preserved, the new 16mm preservation internegative and optical track will go into freezing storage, and selections from the new video copies will be digitized for online access.  Below is a clip from Iruya, which documents the village's 1966 celebrations in honor of its patroness, Our Lady of the Rosary. The clip shows some of the festivities and features Spanish-language narration from one of the participants.

La Iglesia de Yavi documents religious activities, as well, but the film also takes time to explore the extraordinary church itself.  This clip features Spanish-language narration by the church's caretaker. (Many of Prelorán's films have English-language versions. These two, unfortunately, do not, but we hope it may be possible to create versions with English subtitles in the future.)

For more information on Prelorán's films and a more detailed description of the process of film-to-film preservation, please visit the HSFA's web exhibit on the Prelorán Collection and read an earlier post on the successful preservation of Hermógenes Cayo (Imaginero).

Karma Foley, Human Studies Film Archives

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The 1886 East Coast Earthquake

It’s been over a week since a 5.8 magnitude earthquake with the epicenter in Mineral, Virginia, shook East Coast residents.  Although earthquakes in the eastern part of the United States are rare, they have occurred.  On Sept. 1, 1886, a 7.2 magnitude earthquake rattled South Carolina “killing 60 people and damaging many buildings.”  Years later while conducting fieldwork in the 1930s amongst the Gullah people on Edisto Island, South Carolina, linguist Lorenzo Dow Turner recorded Rosina Cohen’s account of the events that early morning.  Below is a description from the transcribed interview in the Lorenzo Dow Turner Papers.  

Jennifer Morris, Archivist and Xavier Courouble, Cataloger
Anacostia Community Museum Archives

The Earthquake 1886
(By Rosina Cohen, Edisto Island, South Carolina)
 And the earthquake?  You ask me if I know about the earthquake?  Lord, have mercy!  When the earthquake, my son, Calvary couldn’t hold the people.  You hear the people holloing all around and hollo so mournful: ‘Oh, Lord!  The world going to end.’  (They) say we are going quickly. 

 (He)say – this here same man where I am staying there now – him grandfather say, ‘You stand still;’ say, ‘I see, I see earthquake before today.’ 

That was a night in August.  I don’t know the date.  I can’t tell you I know the date, because I ain’t know the date.  I won’t lie, say I know the date; but I know it was August.  And they – it just go up and come down.  And if you have water, you – if you have water in your pail, every bit, every bit turn over.  And it make a big, white – big, white hole, like a grave; like a grave.  And the sand white!  Now we afraid, because they say it going fall in on us.  That there is the earthquake now.  That’s the earthquake.  And you never – them white men had to make we shut up that hole.  That is the earthquake  -- where the earthquake big.  You understand? – earthquake big there, big there.  Oh, yes! Earthquake big there.  Oo!   Earthquake!  Big earthquake!  Oo! 

My children all been big ones.  Oh, yes!  They all been big ones.  They all had their sense.  They all just cry.  Why, all around this section could I hear the whooping and holloing – all around, and so mournful.  And Calvary couldn’t hold the people.  The church inside just as thick; outside everything was crying:  Oh, Lord! Oh, Lord!  We done!  We ain’t know why ‘tis.  Edward Whaley say:  ‘No!  sa, ‘I see this here ain’t going kill you, but it is the earthquake.’
Phonetic transcription of Ms. Cohen's account, box 13, folder 9. Lorenzo Dow Turner Papers.