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Monday, October 31, 2011

Closing American Archives Month Activities

As American Archives Month comes to a close, we hope our participation in a pan-Smithsonian blogathon throughout October have raised awareness about Smithsonian’s vast archival collections, historical records, and online resources. The archival collections highlighted, current issues discussed; and spotlight on special projects blogged about this month is just one of the various activities held in celebration of Archives Month.

Rachael Cristine Woody (Archivist/FSA), Sarah Stauderman (Collections Care Manager/SIA), and Nora Lockshin (Paper Conservator/SIA) examine a treasure at the “Ask the Smithsonian” portion of the Archives Fair.  Courtesy of Michael Barnes, photographer, Smithsonian Institution Archives.

In addition to the blogathon, a Facebook Q & A with Smithsonian experts was held on October 12th.  The event included Riccardo Ferrante, Information Technology Archivist and director of the Smithsonian Institution Archives' Digital Services Division; Nora Lockshin, a Paper Conservator at the Smithsonian Institution Archives; Michael Pahn, a Media Archivist at the National Museum of the American Indian Archive Center, and Gina Rappaport the archivist for historical photograph collections at the National Anthropological Archives.  We also hosted our 2nd annual Archives Fair at the S. Dillon Ripley Center on the National Mall where attendees with free tickets were able to consult with Smithsonian archivists and conservators about caring for their treasures, during the “Ask the Smithsonian” portion of the event.
All Smithsonian archival units, Smithsonian Institution Archives, and Smithsonian Institution Libraries set up information tables during the fair to share their resources.  They provided brochures, bookmarks, posters, and other materials describing their collections, and answered questions pertaining to their repository.  The public was also treated to demonstrations on successfully searching the Collections Search Center database for archival collections.

This year, a special Archives Month page was created and hosted by Smithsonian Archives of American Art, which streamed our Lecture Series live. If you are just learning of our month long activities, we encourage you to visit the Archives Month page, and other blogs from across the Smithsonian to learn about and explore our amazing and diverse collections.  

Jennifer Morris
Anacostia Community Museum Archives

Sunday, October 30, 2011

At the Heart of the Invention: Development of the Holter Monitor

Model 445 Mini-Holter Recorder, illustration from a brochure, 1976
You probably know someone with a heart condition or someone who had a heart attack or even heart surgery.  I know I do. According to the Center for Disease Control, heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States and the most common type of heart disease is coronary artery disease (CAD), which can lead to a heart attack. Sobering data.  There are ways to prevent heart disease such as embracing a healthy lifestyle and there are diagnostic tools to monitor our hearts too, thanks to the work of two creative and persistent men, Norman “Jeff” Holter (1914-1983) and Bruce Del Mar (b. 1913-). Their collaboration, which spanned two decades, produced a commercially viable heart monitor known as the Holter Monitor Test. The Holter Monitor is a portable device for continuously monitoring heart activity for an extended period of time, typically twenty-four hours.  The monitor records electrical signals from the heart that are sent via a series of electrodes attached to the chest. The data is then analyzed for different sorts of heart beats and rhythms.

Norman J. Holter
Holter's business card
Norman “Jeff” Holter, a native of Helena, Montana, was a biophysicist and inventor whose interests were not confined solely to physics. In the 1940s, Holter organized Applied Micro Sciences, a scientific photography business, and began working with Dr. Joseph A. Gengerelli (1905-2000) of UCLA on nerve stimulation in frogs and brain stimulation in rats. Holter’s interest in studying electrical activity in humans during their daily activities without touching them spawned his lifelong pursuit to develop the Holter Monitor.  In 1947, Holter formed the Holter Research Foundation in Montana, with a laboratory to pursue his research interests.  Holter continued his collaboration with Dr. Gengerelli of UCLA in attempting to transmit biological information, primarily brain waves, by radio. Holter turned his attention from the brain to the heart because the heart's greater voltage made the electronics easier, and because heart disease was far more prevalent than brain disease. Holter’s introduction to Dr. Paul Dudley White (1886-1973), a renowned physician and cardiologist, also helped convince him to focus his research on recording electrical activity from the heart.  Holter's goal was to radio broadcast and record the more obvious electrophysiological phenomena occurring in humans while carrying on their normal activities, rather than having them be inactive.

Patient attached to heart monitoring equipment: slide of a cartoon, undated
Holter’s first broadcast of a radioelectrocardiogram (RECG) took place circa 1947 and required 80 to 85 pounds of equipment, which Holter wore on his back while riding a stationary bicycle. This was not practical and in no way could be worn by a patient for a sustained period of time.  The initial transmitter and receiver required that the subject remain in the general area of the laboratory, so a more portable and lighter receiver-recorder had to be developed. Holter responded by creating a briefcase-like device that could be carried by a patient. Holter noted in 1982 that “The 85 lb. RECG, while not practical, represented a major breakthrough since before that time a patient had to lie quietly.  Out greatest contribution was a radical one and was the beginning of an era where one could take ECG’s on skiers, parachute jumpers, runners, and just about any other type of vigorous physical activity.”  Holter’s other contribution was to bring the overall size down to less than cigarette package size to be worn inside a man’s jacket handkerchief pocket.

With the development of transistors, radioelectrocardiography was made obsolete and it became possible for the amplifier, tape recorder, temperature-control circuits, motor speed control circuits, and batteries to be placed in a single unit small enough for a coat pocket or purse. In 1952, Holter succeeded in creating a small unit that weighed approximately 1 kg.  Wilford R. Glassock, a senior engineer working with Holter, traveled to Cedars of Lebanon Hospital (now Cedars-Sinai Hospital of Los Angeles) in 1962 to demonstrate the Holter monitor system and discuss making it more practical. At Cedars, Dr. Eliot Corday, a cardiologist,  observed the practicality of the system, embracing the technology and becoming an early promoter of the technology to both industry and physicians. Holter and Glassock were issued US Patent 3,215,136 on November 2, 1965 for the Electrocardiographic Means. The Holter Research Foundation ultimately sold exclusive rights to the patent to Del Mar Engineering Laboratories, who became the acknowledged leader in Holter monitoring technology for over 40 years.

Advertisement for Del Mar
Engineering Laboratories, 1965
As articles describing the foundation's invention of these devices began to appear in the professional literature, there was considerable demand from doctors and hospitals for the equipment. Dr. Corday was acquainted with Bruce Del Mar from previous work on a flow meter which Corday put in coronary arteries to register the rate of blood flow. Corday introduced Holter to Bruce Del Mar in 1962.  Holter was seeking a partner to manufacture his monitor. In a March 1, 1962 letter to Dr. Wallace Chan, Special Assistant to the Deputy Surgeon General, Department of Health, Education and Welfare, Holter writes why Del Mar Avionics was selected to manufacture the Holter Monitor.

“After visiting several plants and talking with qualified people, we became aware that many interested manufacturers were not qualified to make an adequate instrument. Out of these meetings evolved a set of ground rules to assist me in selecting a manufacturer who could produce our equipment. 1) A dependable high quality trouble free system; 2) as low a sale price as possible to encourage wide distribution; 3) as rapidly as possible through the use of a team of experienced production and marketing people; 4) with adequate financial backing to avoid company failure during the course of bringing the instrument to market; and 5) last, but very important, with youthful aggressive enthusiasm for the technical ideas involved and an understanding of the revolutionary approach to what I consider obsolete present methods for electrocardiography.”  

Del Mar Avionics fit Holter’s “ground rules.” Not surprisingly, Del Mar employed a youthful, aggressive, and enthusiastic staff.  The company strove to create an environment “for creativity and growth opportunities.”  It would be a mutually beneficial partnership for both parties. 

Bruce Del Mar’s role as an innovator and collaborator with Holter is especially important because his work spurred the development of an entire diagnostic industry.  In November of 1963 Holter wrote to Del Mar, “Do not be too discouraged; careful evaluated clinical research goes even slower than R & D. My visits around the country convince me that you will encounter a chain reaction in time. Physicians have to be especially conservative in evaluating the results of such a revolutionary approach but once they have, interest will develop by geometric progression.”

Bruce Del Mar
Holter and Del Mar had their hearts in the right place. The Del Mar Avionics Holter Monitor Records, 1951-2011, held at the Archives Center, document through correspondence, engineering notebooks, operator’s manuals more than just the invention of a heart monitor. The records reflect the successful collaboration of an independent inventor and a manufacturing firm to problem-solve, develop a solution, and bring to market a diagnostic technology.  Del Mar wrote in February of 1965, ”We have continually improved circuitry and mechanical details to obtain greater service  fidelity, accuracy, response and reliability.  The instruments we are now delivering are performing very well in the field. We should, however, be thinking and actively working ahead on new model improvements for 1966.  Can I have your suggestions in this respect? That would be very much appreciated.”  The correspondence reveals a deep level of commitment and investment from both parties to work out technical details, successfully market the monitor, and in general keep the project moving forward.


Corday, Eliot. “Historical Vignette Celebrating the 30th Anniversary of Diagnostic Ambulatory Electrocardiographic Monitoring and Data Reduction Systems,” American Journal of Cardiology. 1991, pp. 286-292.

Del Mar, Bruce Eugene. Ready for Takeoff: An Autobiography. 2010.

Kennedy, Harold L. “The History, Science, and Innovation of Holter Technology,” Annals of Noninvasive Electrocardiology, January 2006, pp. 85-94.

Roberts, William C. and Marc A. Silver. “Norman Jefferis Holter and Ambulatory ECG Monitoring,” American Journal of Cardiology, 1983, pp. 903-906.

By Alison Oswald, Archives Center, National Museum of American History

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Catalog of American Portraits: A Land of Little Discoveries

When I began working for the Catalog of American Portraits ten years ago, the first lesson was that the CAP is not a catalog, so much as it is a taxonomy—a way of organizing information—of American Portraiture.  While we call it a catalog, it is really more of a library.  Sometimes, individuals call on our inquiry line and wish to order a copy of the Catalog of American Portraits and we have to explain to them that it is a large file room which in no way resembles either a card catalog (except that the archive is in drawers) or the Sears Catalog and Wishbook many of us remember from our youth.   The Catalog of American Portraits is, simply put, fifty-plus years of research on American portraits which is comprised of a survey of every portrait that a team of researchers has located in public and private collections, either featuring the portrait of an American, or featuring a portrait painted or sculpted by an American artist.  It contains upwards of 200,000 files and it is an ongoing survey.

Interesting works fill the collection, and occasionally, a work of some distinction will surface due to an inquiry or scholarly research.  Years ago, a local writer named Elizabeth Brownstein was working on a book called Lincoln’s Other White House.  While we were unable to locate the particular portrait of Lincoln she was seeking—an image of Lincoln in a nightgown writing the Emancipation Proclamation by candlelight—we were able to show her an interesting array of other works featuring our sixteenth president.  Among those works was a hand carved Native American totem from the Tongass tribe of the Tlingit Indians in Alaska, a totem featuring an image of President Lincoln and thought to be the only work in that form featuring an American President.  The totem is several feet tall and kept at the State Museum of Alaska in Anchorage; it is called Proud Raven.  The author, Ms. Brownstein, was so taken by the image she published it in her work.

Another image I found in the files during this period was from a Smithsonian collection, though not our own at the NPG.  It was also an image of President Lincoln—it was a naïve drawing of the president executed by no less than folk singer Woody Guthrie.

For Abraham Lincoln alone the catalog reflects that there are dozens of images in collections in the Washington DC area and hundreds of images of him in collections throughout the United States in every medium possible—painted on canvas, painted on wood, life masks, death masks, sculptures, textiles—and yes, even a carved Native American totem.

In scope, the goal of the creation of the CAP was to build a body of information about portraits of “historically important figures” in collections everywhere, public and private, using a team of researchers who would photograph, measure, and record available information on a portrait-by-portrait basis.  
Warren Perry
National Portrait Gallery

Friday, October 28, 2011

Moses Asch in the 21st Century: A Digitization Project is Born

Moses Asch and Folkways Records Booth
at a Convention, early 1950s,
Photograph by David Jackson
The Ralph Rinzler Archives and Collections recently received a Save America’s Treasures grant to support the digitization of the Moses and Frances Asch Collection. Comprised of a diverse range of materials--papers, sound recordings, photographs and artwork-- the collection includes content spanning the record labels that Asch founded.

 Moses Asch was born in Poland in 1905, the son of the renowned Yiddish author Sholem Asch. His childhood was spent in Poland, France, Germany and New York, the latter being where he eventually settled. Moses Asch’s early career was in radio electronics, and through his interest in high-quality sound reproduction, he began to record music.  Asch went on to establish several record companies, Asch Recordings and Disc Records being among his earliest. Asch co-founded Folkways Records in 1948 with Marian Distler, and it became one of the most important independent record companies in the United States in the 20th century, releasing 2,168 recordings. With his passing in 1986, the Smithsonian Institution received Asch’s papers in 1987, where it remains one of the most historically significant collections in the Ralph Rinzler Archives.

We decided to focus our first large-scale digitization project on the Asch Collection for a few reasons. Parts of the collection are threatened by physical degradation. Intervention is absolutely necessary for the audio recordings, where some formats are succumbing to “sticky shed” syndrome and flaking acetate. The papers, products of an era of poor paper quality, are not faring much better-- some materials are brittle or very fragile, crumbling or tearing when handled.  Other materials are exhibiting mold damage as a result of poor storage conditions. We’ve flagged some of the materials in poor condition to ensure their prioritization in the digitization process; broad digitization will help identify and address these issues in the rest of the collection.

The Asch collection also has high research value. Digitization will help reduce “hand traffic” in the materials by making it possible to do most research with digital surrogates. Since the collection spans so many boxes, digitization will help researchers locate and utilize relevant materials without having to navigate their way through a sea of paper.

Asch Recordings 78rpm, Woody Guthrie, “Jesus Christ”
Over the course of the coming year, our goal for the Save America’s Treasures project is to scan about 196 linear feet of papers, photographs, artwork and scrapbooks, in addition to digitizing 500 glass acetate discs and 1000 reel-to-reel tapes. In the process, we will establish standards and implement workflow that will be sustainable beyond the life of the grant.

Of course, it’s one thing to talk about digitization and quite another to actually do it, and do it well. So much of making a project like this work has to do with the preparation stage.  We can’t digitize every single item in the collection, so what will our selection criteria look like?

As the project archivist for the paper component of the collection, much of my time is focused on the quality of the digital images we will be producing. How important is imaging accuracy versus project advancement? How can we maintain consistent results across a high volume of materials? Achieving balance between “best practices” and our resource constraints is really what it all comes down to, but even that seemed like an insurmountable task when I first started thinking about how to plan a digitization project. 

I’ve spent the past few months doing research and visiting other repositories that already have digitization programs, combining what I’ve learned to nail down what sustainable digitization looks like for the Ralph Rinzler Archives and Collections. You might say I’ve gone down the rabbit hole when it comes to gathering and highlighting and taking notes on digitization standards, project reports, and various in-house guidelines. There seem to be a million different ways to scan something, depending on your equipment, software, time, staff, and intent for the material, and every time I learn something new, it leads me to something else I want to read. Site visits have been extremely valuable for this reason, not only to help contextualize everything I’ve read, but to see what digitization looks like in the real world.

The most important thing we have learned during the planning stages of this project has been that every repository tailors the process to its own needs and available resources.  We’ve also learned not to panic if everything isn’t perfect—our aim is to produce as many reasonably accurate images and increase the visibility of this unique and fascinating collection.

Welcome to the future, Mr. Asch!

-Cecilia Peterson, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections


Helpful Resources: 
In addition to the standards, be sure to check out the glossary (a lifesaver) and the Project Planning paper.

Both the LoC and NARA technical guidelines are precursors to the FADGI standards, but they still offer very useful information.

The NAL based their guidelines on the FADGI standards; this page is a great way to see them distilled.

Ten Tips for Maintaining Digital Image Quality, by Peter D. Burns and Don Williams, Eastman Kodak Company

Common Imaging Problems, by Steven Puglia, Jeffrey A. Reed, Erin Rhodes,National Archives and Records Administration

Digitization: Five Minutes of Tips, Hints, and Clues, by Marcia Segal, Processing Archivist, American Folklife Center

The Signal, the Library of Congress' Digital Preservation Blog

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery: Catalog of American Portraits Research Treasures

The Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery founded in 1966 the Catalog of American Portraits (CAP), a national portrait archives of historically important subjects and artists from the colonial period to contemporary times.   The public can access the online portrait search program from the museum website of over 100,000 records.  However, the public might not be aware that the Catalog of American Portraits research center holds over 200,000 files of paper documents and photographs on portraiture and biography and is continually expanding.   Scholars have chosen to house at the CAP archives their primary research papers from past publications and exhibitions.   The CAP also has a unique set of costume notebooks of historical portraits which the museum staff can review for dating art works.  The general public and representatives of institutions are welcome to refer to the CAP research service as well as send images and documentation for new portrait collections or updates to survey records.  The CAP program can be accessed at the following National Portrait Gallery website link
Mary Cassatt, by Edgar Degas, oil on canvas, c. 1800-1884, National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, NPG.84.34, Washington, DC

In 1971, the Catalog of American Portraits commenced a national portrait survey of public and private collections throughout the United States.  However, the CAP has developed a broader international program, which includes American artists portraying foreign figures as well as foreign artists depicting Americans in the United States and abroad.  American artists were drawn to Europe to attend art schools, study masterworks at museums, and interact with their foreign contemporaries.  Many American artists visited or resided in Europe, including George Catlin, John Singleton Copley, Richard Diebenkorn, Frank Duveneck, George Peter Alexander Healy, Samuel Finley Breese Morse, John Singer Sargent, Benjamin West, and James Abbott McNeill Whistler, who became influential leaders abroad.  The greatest interaction between American and European artists took place in the cities of London, Paris, Munich, and Rome.  Benjamin West was appointed historical painter to King George III in 1772 and he served as President of the Royal Academy of Arts in London from 1792 until his death in 1820.  Benjamin West’s influence drew a circle of American artists to England as his students, including Mather Brown, Charles Willson Peale, Gilbert Stuart, Thomas Sully, and John Trumbull.  From 1831-1833, the artist and inventor Samuel Finley Breese Morse created the famous painting, Gallery of the Louvre, which featured portraits of his contemporaries at the Salon Carré gallery of the Louvre Museum in Paris.

Memorable portraits were created of George Catlin by William Fisk; Mary Cassatt by Edgar Degas; Auguste Rodin and Claude Monet by John Singer Sargent; Gertrude Stein by Pablo Picasso; Josephine Baker, Joán Miró, and Jean-Paul Sartre by Alexander Calder.  It is particularly interesting when artists exchanged portraits of each other, as in the cases of Angelica Kauffmann and Benjamin West in the 18th century; as well as Man Ray (Emmanuel Radnitzky) and Kiki of Montparnasse (Alice Ernestine Prin) in the 20th century.  In 1839, the artist George Catlin created a public sensation in Europe when he brought his American Indian performing group along with his portrait exhibitions of Native Americans to London and Paris.  Catlin’s portraits of Native Americans are currently held at many institutions, including the National Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, DC; the British Museum in London; the Museum of Man in Paris; and the Ethnological Museum in Berlin.  George Peter Alexander Healy, a leading 19th century artist, was commissioned  by American and European leaders  to create portraits, including the US presidential series, examples of which are held at the National Portrait Gallery and the White House in Washington, DC, and the National Museum of the Château of Versailles in France.   Healy was also the first American artist honored by the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy, to present his 1875 self-portrait to the international self-portrait collection.  The Uffizi Gallery now holds more than twenty self-portraits of Americans, including Cecilia Beaux, William Merritt Chase, Dwight David Eisenhower, Robert Rauschenberg, John Singer Sargent, and Andy Warhol.  In the 20th century, a number of young American artists came to study and work in Paris, including Alexander Calder, Stuart Davis, Sam Francis, and Paul Jenkins. 

George Catlin, by William Fisk, oil on canvas, 1849, National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, NPG.70.14, Washington, DC

From the colonial period onwards, European artists in turn visited America, exploring the different regions, including Auguste Edouart, Jean Antoine Houdon, Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze, Charles Balthazar Julien Févret de Saint-Mémin, James Sharples and his artistic family, Pavel Petrovitch Svin̕in, and Adolph Ulrich Wertmüller.   New York City, New Orleans, and Washington, DC have drawn a continuous stream of foreign visitors.  In 1873, the artist Edgar Degas created the Portraits in a New Orleans Cotton Office painting now held at the Museum of Fine Arts, Pau, France, and another 1873 version Cotton Dealers in New Orleans at the Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.   In New York City, such European artists as Marcel Duchamp, Arshile Gorky, John Graham, Willem de Kooning, Piet Mondrian, and Mark Rothko were leading members of the modern art scene.  In 1920, Katherine Dreier, Marcel Duchamp and Man Ray founded the Société Anonyme (Society Anonymous), which exhibited contemporary art works of over one hundred international artists in New York City.  In 1918, Katherine Dreier created the compelling Abstract Portrait of Marcel Duchamp, who has inspired a myriad of progressive portraits by fellow artists in his life time and after his death.

European public collections have a wealth of portraits related to American interest, with the greatest concentration in the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and Italy.  Among the public collections of American origin are the American Museum in Britain, Bath; the National Museum of Franco-American Cooperation at the Château of Blérancourt; the American Academy in Rome; the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice; the Guggenheim Collections in Bilboa, and Berlin; and the Terra Foundation for American Art in Giverny, and Paris.  However, American portrait collections abroad are also situated within the national collections of foreign countries, including the Tate Collection and the National Portrait Gallery in London; the Louvre Museum and the Orsay Museum in Paris; the National Gallery of Modern Art in Rome; and the State Russian Museum in Saint-Petersburg. 

Abraham Lincoln, by George Peter Alexander Healy, oil on canvas, 1887, National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, NPG.65.50, Washington, DC

For the Catalog of American Portraits, I have surveyed on-site numerous public and private collections in America and abroad.  My portrait surveys have stretched across the United States on the East coast from the island of Nantucket, MA to Key West, FL; and on the West Coast from Seattle, WA to San Diego, CA.   In Europe, I have met with representatives of museums, universities, archives, and libraries in Austria, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Russia.  Aside from planned meetings with professional colleagues abroad, I have sometimes discovered American portraits in unexpected locations, such as the 1906 bronze statue of George Washington by Gyula Julius Bezerédi in the Budapest City Park (Városliget).  It was a moving experience to find this Washington memorial, proudly inscribed and presented by the Americans of Hungarian Origin society to their former homeland.  One feels a greater sense of national identity following the historic legacy of American portraiture abroad, which highlights the fascinating exchange of American cultural values with their foreign contemporaries.  One also establishes valuable ties with private collectors and colleagues of public institutions in the United States and abroad by documenting the global reach of American portraiture for the Smithsonian Institution’s mandate of the “increase and diffusion of knowledge.”

Patricia H. Svoboda, Research Coordinator
Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, Catalog of American Portraits


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Landscape Architecture Roots in Garden Design

Landscape architecture is a vast discipline dealing with design from the regional scale down to individual garden design, and everything in between.  Landscape architects are the professionals behind the design of our nation’s Capital, the urban Eden of Central Park, and yes even many backyards.  Although many of them would dispute the common perception that all landscape architects do is design backyards, residential clients do account for a large portion of their market, as much as 40%.  

It turns out that many of the best landscape architects got their start designing backyards.  Residential projects are the perfect laboratory for quickly testing and evolving design ideas where many landscape architects (and architects) develop their unique style before becoming heavily involved with larger, more public projects.  As Smithsonian Gardens’ 2011 Enid A. Haupt Fellow , I am researching the aesthetics of planting design in landscape architecture; of particular interest to me is how contemporary designers are using plant materials in innovative ways. 

Michael Van Valkenburgh is one such designer who uses plant materials not just as compositional elements, but indeed in the very process of creating a garden’s structure.  Early in his career while teaching at the Harvard Graduate School of Design in the 1980’s, he maintained a normal practice with a largely residential client base.  Birch Tree Garden in Brookline, Massachusetts, is one of three residential gardens Van Valkenburgh designed for the same couple.  

BirchTree Garden, Brookline, Massachusetts, May 1988, Corliss Engle, photographer.  Garden Club of America Collection, Archives of American Gardens.
 In this garden we can see examples of how Van Valkenburgh tested new ideas in the conventional garden, juxtaposing common design elements in new ways and creating exaggerated effects with plant materials.  The back entrance of the residence leads out to a stone patio for outdoor entertaining, off of which Van Valkenburgh created a grove of birch trees to serve as both focal point and destination to meander through.  This is an element of the natural landscape, the birch tree stand, which he has taken and simplified to fit in a much smaller landscape.  

Among the earliest examples of this planting style, its evolution has led to now emblematic planting regimes by Van Valkenburgh including Allegheny Riverfront Park in Pittsburgh, Vera List Courtyard in Manhattan, and Teardrop Park in Battery Park City.  Indeed, the projects which sustain Van Valkenburgh’s fame as a contemporary master of landscape architecture rest on the foundation of residential planting design. 

The Archives of American Gardens includes documentation for over 6,350 gardens across the United States illustrating the work of notable landscape designers such as Marian Coffin, Beatrix Farrand, Lawrence Halprin, Hare & Hare, Umberto Innocenti, Gertrude Jekyll, Jens Jensen, Warren Manning, the Olmsted Brothers, Charles Platt, Ellen Biddle Shipman and Fletcher Steele as well as many new and emerging landscape designers of today. 

Nicholas Serrano
2010-2011 Enid A. Haupt Fellow
Smithsonian Gardens

Sunday, October 23, 2011

A Sacred Trust: Church and Congregational Archives

Community residents and family historians are always on the search for repositories that have materials and hard evidence that will help them tell the full stories of their family members and neighborhoods. A wonderful place for researchers to start is the local or family church. Many churches and congregations, of differing communities of faith, maintain church bulletins, photographs, parish meeting notes, and other records that contain valuable information not only about the congregation, but also about congregational members and the communities in which church outreach activities take place. Churches, mosques, temples, and other religious institutions may not have formal archival programs in place, but the materials they store—often in boxes, file cabinets, and back rooms—constitute the beginnings of significant church archives and history centers.
Participants in a church history workshop, c. 1989. The workshop developed into a long-lived program, Friends for the Preservation of African American History and Culture, sponsored by ACM. Photograph by Harold Dorwin.

Ben Ross, church historian for Sixth Mount Zion Baptist Church, Richmond, VA, in the church’s John Jasper Room and Museum. Photograph by Steven M. Cummings.
 Throughout its history, the Anacostia Community Museum has explored, collected, and preserved evidence of religious expression and experience in communities. One of the museum’s signature programs has been an ongoing informational and training initiative to identify and encourage local church historians and archivists to establish, maintain, and make accessible the archival records of their congregations and religious institutions. Originally called “The Unbroken Circle,” the initiative now known as “A Sacred Trust” periodically holds workshops, answers queries, and is preparing a church archives manual for broad distribution.

Preserving and making family and community history through church and congregational archives is indeed—A Sacred Trust!

Gail S. Lowe, PhD
Anacostia Community Museum

Saturday, October 22, 2011

HSFA Detectives Solve Mystery Film Reel (or Almost) - Part 2 of 2

Join us for the exciting conclusion of our archival mystery: Who created the unusual roll of film known as "Japan: Promotional and Theatrical Footage, ca. 1927" and why?  Missed Part One of the story? You can read it here.

Frame grab from "Japan: Promotional and Theatrical
Footage, ca. 1927", our mystery roll of film.
After gaining some insights from the contents of the film and from the film itself, we returned to the questions surrounding the film's former owner, Theodore Richards, in hopes of determining why our mystery film was made. Although we had Richards' biographical information from books, our summer intern, the insatiably curious Adrianna Link, was not satisfied so she engaged in her favorite activity Internet detective work.  What she found was indeed important for providing our first glimmer into a possible why.  Richards, who worked as the Field Secretary for the Hawaiian Board of Missions, began publishing a periodical in 1903, “The Friend”, where he promoted his idea to make Hawaii a multi-cultural or interracial “Christian” society. He emphasized outreach to newly arrived Asian peoples, particularly those arriving from Japan.  In 1912 he wrote an article for The Journal of Race Development titled “The Future of the Japanese in Hawaii: Things Problematic, Things Probable, Things Potential.”  By 1930 he was setting up a multi-racial community named Kokokahi, meaning “one blood” in Hawaiian. Houselots were distributed and raffled based on a racial quota that reflected the island’s general ethnic makeup, but the Great Depression and then World War II halted Richard’s utopian idea before it could really begin.  Ah, could Richards have screened this film as part of his efforts to educate and encourage cultural understanding in many of the island’s Christian organizations?

Who would have guessed that in small-town Maine on the Kennebec River I would meet someone who would use just the right words to pull this all together?  At Northeast Historic Film's annual symposium, I screened the film in its entirety to an audience of archivists, scholars, filmmakers, and film lovers. Filmmaker Artemis Willis, who has worked extensively in Japan, commented that most of the film was a collection of stereotypical views of Japan at that time — a collection of pretty picture postcards as it were. She added that it was also typical for missionaries of the time to promote their mission work at home using similar moving images.  Dino Everett, archivist in the Hugh M. Hefner Moving Image Archive, USC, commented that they had several early 20th century travelogues on Japan with very similar type of content.  Hurrah! These comments supported our supposition that Richards very likely screened this film footage to educate Christian audiences about Japanese culture. (Among other things, Richards' audience would have learned about the complicated process of styling a Geisha's hair, as shown in the clip below.)

But this still leaves the mystery which will always nag me — how did it come to pass that these bits and pieces of film were assembled — where did they come from?  But that is my obsession. What is intellectually intriguing now is how missionaries used film to promote their work and, more specifically, Richards' work in promoting interracial harmony—a timely topic for our time.

My sincere thanks to Michele Mason, Assistant Professor of Japanese, Department of Asian and East European Language and Cultures, University of Maryland; Brian Real, PhD student at University of Maryland; Adrianna Link, PhD student at Johns Hopkins; Karma Foley, moving image archivist at HSFA; and Daisy Njoku, media resource specialist at HSFA.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Fighting for Freedom and Equality: African American Soldiers of the American Civil War (1861-1865)

African American Civil War soldier, tintype, circa 1865, 2011.51.12, Liljenquist Family Collection, Photograph by Michael Barnes, SI Photographer, National Museum of African American History and Culture, Smithsonian Institution
In this image of a mid-19th century encased tintype selected by Lonnie Bunch III, director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, an unknown young African American man in military dress stares solemnly into the camera while holding a Colt Model 1849 Pocket Revolver across his chest.  He represents one of the nearly 180,000 African American men who courageously fought in the American Civil War.  Although the war officially began on July 12, 1861 with a historical bombardment led by Confederate soldiers at Fort Sumter in South Carolina, African American soldiers were prohibited from participating in combat until years later.  The tide began to turn in July of 1862 when the United States Congress passed the Second Confiscation Act, which freed enslaved African Americans owned by wealthy planters who had challenged the United States.  This was coupled with a militia act that allowed President Abraham Lincoln to then use the men of the newly freed population in the Union army, and employment initially took the form of civilian labor away from the battlefields.[1]  However, after several devastating Union defeats, Lincoln issued forth the Emancipation Proclamation, which declared that all enslaved African Americans of rebel states would be released from bondage on January 1, 1863.  This single and yet powerful act became the impetus for a tremendous surge of African American soldiers joining the fight on treacherous battlegrounds. 

We do not know a great deal about the man in this treasured photograph.  However, we do know that this man witnessed and participated in historical events that altered the livelihoods of all Americans.  His enlistment signaled the metamorphosis from enslaved to liberated, as much as it played a role in the trajectory that involves the ongoing struggle for respect and social equality.  Although millions of African Americans were now free from physical bondage, many discovered that they were forced to prove they were worthy of citizenship and be granted the same constitutional rights as their fellow Americans.  This man and other soldiers like him fought for acceptance – not only for themselves, but for African Americans living in communities across the young and war-torn country. 

The delicate care and preservation applied to this historical object can successfully maximize its life span, whether in a museum setting or within the home as a family heirloom passed down through the generations.  For an encased tintype such as this one, an ideal method of storage would be to house it within an acid-free, drop-front box with a lid measured to fit the individual case.  The lid works to protect the object from pollutants transported by dust particles, fluctuations in temperature and humidity, and photochemical damage.  The box can also be lined with an archival polyethylene foam such as Ethafoam® to offer additional protection.  The preferred temperature for photographic collections that do not require cold storage is 65°F with a relative humidity (RH) between 30-40%.  As tintypes are mainly composed of iron, corrosion is a definite concern that can be addressed by closely monitoring humidity levels.  The tintype should be assessed regularly, especially if it has been incorporated into a composite case.  The case depicted above helps to illustrate this environment as it is composed of a copper alloy, glass, thermoplastic, and fabric.  Loose tintypes can be housed in acid-free paper enclosures with additional backing and stored flat.  Cotton or nitrile gloves should always be used when handling these fragile items.  Tintypes can also be exhibited under low light levels with very minimal ultraviolet radiation for several weeks.

This tintype will be on view in an upcoming pre-building exhibition at our gallery within the National Museum of American History.  The exhibition, slated to open on January 1, 2013 and curated by Lonnie Bunch III and Harry Rubenstein (NMAH), will center on the social and historical connections between the significant era that gave birth to the Emancipation Proclamation and the Civil Rights movement that was instrumental in producing the memorable March on Washington.  It is only one of the many objects with a fascinating story that will be introduced to the public before the National Museum of African American History and Culture officially opens in the year 2015.  We warmly welcome you and look forward to seeing you there.    

Kareen Morrison, Collections Manager

[1] Geier and Winter, Look to the earth : historical archaeology and the American Civil War (Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 1994)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Collaboration Expands Access to Archival Resources

American Archives Month is a perfect time to provide an update on the Frederick Douglass Dwellings Collection. Since my previous post, our museum partnered with the Community Voice Project of American University’s School of Communication to create a short film by students that documents the memories of residents of the former Frederick Douglass Dwellings housing project. The film, The Only People in Town, was filmed partly in our archives and incorporates archival materials from two collections which visually capture the social activities in the community sponsored by the local recreation center during the 1940s. As an archivist, I am excited to see the resources of our archives used to recall detailed memories and instill a sense of pride in the residents about their former community. Archives helped tell this story of life in a World War II-era housing development built for African Americans. I also believed exposure to our resources helped the anthropology students from the American University College of Arts and Sciences and film students from the School of Communication realize the value of archives and the archivist’s role in providing access to research and film-worthy materials.         

Jennifer Morris

Anacostia Community Museum Archives

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Archival Issues, Banjo History Connections, and Public Outreach in the Rinzler Archives

Tommy Jarrell (left) and Fred Cockerham,
Cockerham's house in Low Gap, N.C., 1966,
photo by J. Scott Odell
Archival issues, banjo history, and public outreach have become increasingly important parts of my life ever since I first became entranced by the banjo in the spring of 1994. Hoping to elevate my involvement in banjo-related initiatives and before beginning my graduate studies in library and information sciences, I came to the Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections (RRFA&C) as an intern in January 2002. Working for Jeff Place and Michael Pahn on the Save Our Sounds Project, I was fresh out of undergrad with a music history degree where I studied classical guitar because I couldn’t major in banjo. Having been immersed for several years in the music of Pete Seeger and The Weavers and following a penchant for 19th century popular music, the banjo was at the center of my musical universe.

Working for several months as an intern in the Rinzler Archives, I digitized open reel tapes and consumed as much information as I could, especially about the banjo. In the fall, I returned as an archives-track graduate student in the University of Maryland’s library school program and worked with the Ralph Rinzler Papers as part of a 60-hour practicum. Feeling valued as an intern and as a graduate student worker at the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage inspired me to develop a detail-oriented archival work ethic, maintain my passion for music, and pursue a personal mission to better understand the banjo and its complex history.

Nine years later I am back in the Rinzler Archives, this time as a contract archivist assisting in the processing of archival collections that were foundational in my professional and personal life. As an archivist, researcher, musician, and, more recently, a master’s candidate in the University of Maryland’s ethnomusicology program, I am still focused on the cross-sections between archival issues, the vitality of establishing deeper connections with banjo history, and outreach that helps connect the public with archival materials.

Archival Issues: For the time that I am here in the archives, my primary work plan is to focus on the continued processing of the Moses and Frances Asch Collection (the business records), the Ralph Rinzler Papers, and the J. Scott Odell Folk Music Collection. While I am delighted to be making notable progress on the Asch and Rinzler materials, one of the most gratifying interactive experiences has been to meet Scott Odell during his recent visits to the Rinzler Archives. Working with Odell, archivist Stephanie Smith, and archives intern Joydita Sarkar, we created a preliminary inventory of the latest accruals to the collection. While the collection reflects many of the important chapters in Odell’s career, I was, of course, immediately attracted to his banjo-related materials.

Joydita Sarkar, J. Scott Odell, and Greg C. Adams (left to right)
discussing the Odell Collection (photo by Stephanie Smith)

Banjo History Connections: Scott Odell is part of a generation of scholars and fieldworkers who continue to transform how we think about the banjo, the musicians who play it, and the traditions they represent. For example, the latest materials to now be included in the Odell Collection consist of images, documents, audio, and video associated with Cece Conway and Scott Odell’s 1998 Smithsonian Folkways release Black Banjo Songsters of North Carolina and Virginia. I feel privileged to work with these materials because they bring us closer to some of the most important and increasingly appreciated banjo players of the twentieth century—musicians like Leonard Bowles, John Jackson, Rufus Kasey, John Tyree, Homer Walker, and other names closely aligned with banjo history. Collections like this help make the Rinzler Archives an essential research spot for anyone hoping to better understand the banjo’s African American and multicultural history.

Public Outreach
: Like many other aspects of the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, Scott Odell’s collection is an important access point for researchers developing a vital awareness of musicians, music, and memories linked to our shared cultural heritage. Returning to the Rinzler Archives after all these years reminds me that archival collections and the archivists who maintain them are an important part of the life cycle of records, especially as it relates to outreach. As an archivist, I am in a position to make tangible contributions to the Institution and the people it serves. As a banjo researcher, I am closer to some of the most important evidence surrounding the banjo’s function and use throughout the twentieth century. As an advocate for greater public outreach, I feel empowered by the quality of new research and greater digital access coming to our documentary heritage.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Five Years as a Photograph Archivist

Yesterday marked my 5th year anniversary working as a Smithsonian photo archivist. My love affair with photographs started at a much younger age, though. As a kid, my family’s photo albums were like treasure chests for me. I spent hours digging through photos and discovered many priceless images of my relatives, summer vacations, and birthday parties. I studied each print to such an extent that if I closed my eyes I could still describe every detail of it. I was also a big fan of slideshows. My father regularly attached a white sheet to the living room wall and projected our family photos so that they appeared larger than life. I loved running up to the wall and letting the beautiful and vibrant colors engulf me until I became part of the image, too.

At this early age, I was quite vocal about photo preservation and research too. I was known to yell at anyone who got fingerprints on the images. And I would always pepper my parents with questions like: Who’s that? When and where was this photo taken? Why does that person have such a funny hairdo?

As a professional photo archivist, I ask many of the same questions when working with images at the Smithsonian Institution. I always try to figure out and document the ‘who, what, where, when, and why’ of a photo. I’m still a great proponent of preserving and properly handling images (no fingerprints please!), but also take the time to examine and enjoy the beauty of each image itself. So, in short, my passion for photographs has not diminished. 

In honor of my 5 years at the Smithsonian and my lifelong affair with photographs, I share with you images I recently discovered in the Peter A. Juley & Son Collection that I manage at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. These photos give me the same thrill I felt as a child looking through family photos.

I love mistakes in photos. A finger in the frame or the blur caused by someone turning their head always makes a photo more interesting. Something about imperfection in the photo can make the moment captured seem unique and authentic.

This photograph of painter Ruth G. Durlacher working outdoors is imperfect in a different way, and yet, I find it so beautifully perfect. The image is a copy print, i.e. a photograph of a photograph. When Juley photographed this existing image, he did not line it up properly within the camera’s frame and so the inner image is crooked. The composition of the inner photo, as well as the repeating rectangles in both images reminds me of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. I feel like I’m peering into another, slightly skewed and artistic world. 

I find beauty in deterioration. I can hear the collective gasp from my fellow archivists across the world. Of course, I’m not advocating for folks to purposely let their collections deteriorate. What I mean is that there can be beauty in deterioration that has already happened. Like a beautiful patina on an old brass statue, photographs with deterioration show the age of the object and the journey it has traveled. 

This B&W negative of painter Francis Vandeveer Kughler suffered from deterioration before the Smithsonian American Art Museum acquired it in 1975. The lines resembling a spider web are what’s called ‘channeling’ and it usually occurs when film negatives have been exposed over a period of time to a high and often fluctuating temperature and relative humidity.

On the flip side to deterioration, I love well preserved photographs as well as the act of preserving them. In order to combat deterioration as described above, there are a variety of steps that photo archivists take to ensure the longevity of images, including rehousing images in archival enclosures, controlling light, and maintaining an appropriate storage climate. For film and color based photographic materials, it’s usually recommended to keep images in cold storage. ‘How cold?,’ you ask?

Me bundled up and shivering while working in cold storage.
This Cold! Temperature gauge I photographed while in a cold storage facility.

Despite my dislike of cold temperatures, I have always enjoyed working in the cold room at the National Museum of the American Indian. Even though I usually couldn’t feel my fingers after a few minutes, I knew that my actions were helping preserve the images so that others in the future may enjoy them as well. I have to admit, I also enjoyed the strange looks I would get from coworkers when I would walk down the hall in the middle of July with my thick winter coat, hat, scarf, and gloves.

This Juley photograph of French painter Bernard Boutet de Monvel shows what cold storage can do to help preserve film materials. The image is in such good condition, that it looks like it could have been shot yesterday. I love the stripes in his outfit contrasted with the lines of the building behind him.

While I know that five years isn't that long and that I can still be considered a newbie in the profession, I have thoroughly enjoyed my time working with photographs at the Smithsonian. I’ve seen many incredible photographs in person and through the SI Collections Search. I have learned so much and I hope I never stop learning.

Emily Moazami, Photograph Archivist, Research & Scholars Center, Smithsonian American Art Museum