Smithsonian Collections Blog

Highlighting the hidden treasures from over 2 million collections

Collections Search Center

Friday, December 30, 2011

Samarra 1911: The End of a Campaign

As taken from Thomas Leisten's book Excavation of Samarra, Volume 1 Architecture. Final Report of the First Campaign, 1910-1912:

*Image Left: Excavation of Sāmarrā (Iraq): Qaṣr al-Āshiq, View of Barrel-Vaulted Serdab from Above, 1911-1913 [graphic].  The Ernst Herzfeld papers. Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives. Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.
On December 3rd, after a long meeting, both [Friedrich] Sarre and Herzfeld decided to end the current campaign as soon as possible and to return in the following year. This decision changed the original plan, which had included a continuation of the campaign and a series of new excavations after Sarre's arrival.  Various reasons can be suggested to explain why the first campaign was broken off prematurely: for on thing, Herzfeld needed some time off to prepare the excavation of the Dar al-Khilafa, the main project for next year.  Furthermore, he recognized the necessity of reviewing the material recovered so far, to eliminate mistakes and to identify problems that could be dealt with during another visit to the site.  Sarre and Herzfeld also agreed that the attempt the transport the stuccos would fail and thus jeopardize both the continuation of the first campaign and their chance at a second. The fragments temporarily stores in the excavation house were not yet in a condition to be transported, and there were no suitable materials in Iraq to produce sturdy and solid frames.  Bartus had even stopped casting copies from stuccos that could not be removed because he lacked fine gypsum and glue, both of which had to be imported from Germany.  Last but not least was Herzfeld's health, which had been constantly deteriorating under the pressure of exhausting work, quarrels with the authorities, and the full responsibility for the success of the project at Samarra.

According to Herzfeld and Sarre, the transportation of casts and originals to Germany had to wait until after the excavations were completely finished. But while an entirely new schedule of the whole project would undoubtedly have caused some trouble, the new plan was to confront Constantinople, i.e. the Directorate of the Imperial Ottoman Museums, with the fait accompli.  Herzfeld therefore contacted Bedri Bey, whose role in this scheme would be either to convince the Director General, Halil Edhem Bey, to call a temporary halt to the campaign or, even better, to give the official order himself to the Germans to stop the current campaign and inform Constantinople of what had happened only afterward.  Sarre, Herzfeld, and Bedri Bey came to the conclusion that it would be safer to follow the latter plan.

During the first week of December 1911, Herzfeld was still working on the western bank. He finished the leveling of Qasr al-Ashiq and made some test soundings within the palace to clear doors and to determine the extent of the main T-shaped hall.  At the same time he had another clearing made on the riverbank below the palace.  Pottery and debris there indicated  large settlement connected with the palace.  Subsequent to the final investigation at the Qasr al-Ashiq he conducted a reexamination of the central domed chamber of the Qabbat al-Sulaibiyya.  Here, three burials were brought to light that he immediately interpreted as three of the 9th century A.D. caliphs of Samarra.

*Image Right: Excavation of Sāmarrā (Iraq): Unglazed Ceramic Vessel, Found in the Qaṣr al-Āshiq, 1911-1913 [graphic].  The Ernst Herzfeld papers. Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives. Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

Only now, during the last two weeks of the first campaign in Samarra, were Viollet's finds examined. On the last day before he left on the "Astarabadi" steamer, Bartus by chance found a building on the wet side of the Shari al-A'zam that had been scavenged by the locals. The walls were covered with a set of frescoes showing human figures and various animals, the most interesting so far discovered in this campaign.  On December 20th an excursion was made to al-Istabulat where Herzfeld sketched out a rough plan of the palace.  [...]

On December 25th, Bedri Bey arrived at Samarra and drew up an official letter ending the campaign according to the proposal of both Sarre and Herzfeld. An inventory of all the finds and tools was made and they were prepared for storage. 

 *Image Above: Excavation of Sāmarrā (Iraq): Fragments of Ceramic Vessels with Decorative Motifs, Found in the Qaṣr al-Āshiq and in al-Quraina, House VI, West Room, 1911-1913 [graphic].  The Ernst Herzfeld papers. Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives. Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

From the Samarra-Archiv Pergamon Museum, Berlin; Ernst Herzfeld's incomplete report on the first campaign:

Considering the vast extent of the ruins, an excavation of Samarra would create a task that could not be brought to an end even within decades of work. But each excavation is an individual case. The different interests by which the site is approached and the local conditions determine the dimension and method of investigation. The latter are quite different when it comes to excavation on Islamic soil in comparison to Babylonian ruins. For my part, the issues of the first campaign appear to have been investigated sufficiently: the excavation in the mosque could be abandoned as soon as the problem with its pier system was solved; the same was true for the exavation of residential buildings as soon as it became clear that the classes of decorative patterns could not be augmented by new groups. The excavation of Balkuwara could be stopped as soon [as] the character of the structure became tangible.

As a task for the second campaign we have two other topics: to investigate the Bayt al-Khalifah, the ancient Djausaq al-Khaqani, the main palace of Samarra, founded by Mu'tasim, which remained the residence of the caliphs until the last days of Samarra. This palace is larger, richer, and more beautiful than any other ruin of Samarra. Based on previous soundings in the right places could reveal more wall paintings, ceramics, and small finds. Sketches of other ruins could be produced - some of them have been made already - that render the types of such structures more clearly.

The second, very work intensive but attractive topic is a meticulous topographic plan of the complete ruin. Its surface is of such quality that - perhaps with the exception of the immediate surroundings of today's city - the course of avenues, narrow streets, and even single hourses can be traced clearly. In addition to this we have in the work of Ya'qubi an ancient, veritable Baedeker of Samarra. The old chronicles recorded the dramatic events that happened in Samarra with so many topographical and cultural details that - if we only had an accurate plan of the ruin fields - we would be enabled to recreate the picture o  the history and culture of this distant past with the liveliness that would not be matched anywhere else, and certainly not in the Islamic world.

Ernst Herzfeld (1879-1948)

Samarra 1911: Squeeze Making and Continued Resistance in Herzfeld's Samarra
Samarra 1911: The Life of an Alleged Spy: Guns, Kissing, and the Excavation of Balkuwara 
Samarra 1911: Excavation of Shabbat al-Hawa, Qasr al-Ashiq, and Qubbat al-Sulaibiyya 
Samarra 1911: Clashes with Authority led to Sabotage 
Samarra 1911: Excavation of the Great Mosque Finishes, al-Quraina Begins
100th Anniversary of the Samarra Excavation by Ernst Herzfeld

Samarra Resource page.

Rachael Cristine Woody

Freer|Sackler Archives

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The People of India - The Khas

The People of India series was researched and written by School Without Walls student, Cal Berer.   Cal was an intern at the Freer|Sackler Archives from January 2011-June 20011 where he was then sponsored by the State Department to learn Hindi while spending the summer in India. 

The Khas

    While the Bhurs were swept away by the torrential series of Muslim invasions, these very same endeavors strengthened the Khas.  Indigenous to Central Asia, they settled in Nepal long before the British, or the Muslims, arrived in India.  In the 12th century, the invasions pushed Hindu Brahmins out of their homelands in the plains, and sent them fleeing into the Himalayan foothills.  There, they sought to convert the native populations, and did so with considerable success.  By offering new converts status as members of the Khastriya order, the Brahmins were able to attract countless tribesmen, thus creating the Khas tribe.  The Khas, fiercely loyal to the religion that favored them so, set about conquering neighboring tribes, until they were the dominant power throughout Nepal.  The People of India asserts that they “gradually merged the greater part of their own habits, ideas, and language, but not physiognomy, with those of the Hindoos and the Khas language became a corrupt dialect of Hindi.”  Their influence remained mighty and singular throughout the region, until 1816, when the British encroached upon their lands.  The last king of the Khas was called Tirot Sing, and he led his people against the British in the Khasi-Anglo War, which lasted from 1829 to 1835.  The conflict was the result of a territorial dispute between neighboring tribes, the British governor-general of North India, and the Khas, who attacked a British garrison on April 2nd, 1829, after the British failed to honor an agreement regarding the return of traditional Khas lands.  Vastly outnumbered, and possessing inferior weaponry, the Khas soon resorted to guerrilla warfare, which finally ended in 1835, when Sing was captured by the British, and deported to a prison in modern day Bangladesh, where he died within a few months.  The rest of the tribe was left largely intact, and became a valuable asset to the British military, until Independence.  Currently, the vast majority of Khas descendents (numbering about 1.3 million) live in Meghalaya, an Indian state north of Bangladesh and south of Assam.  

To see all text and images of the Khas as they are represented in the People of India, go to our catalog in the Collections Search Center

The People of India series will be published once a month highlighting the various tribes as they're covered in the People of India. 

Cal Berer, Intern

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A Topiary Zoo

Edward Scissorhands (played by Johnny Depp) creating topiaries
Photo credit: Twentieth Century Fox
Director Tim Burton’s film Edward Scissorhands may have popularized the art of topiary for the masses, but the art has been around for a very long time.  Derived from the Greek word “topos” meaning place, and the Latin word “topiarius” which was used to signify an ornamental gardener, topiary may stretch back as far as 60 A.D.   The “training or pruning of plant material into unnatural, geometric, or fantastic shapes” has been well known in Britain since the Middle Ages and became quite fashionable in formal gardens. 

“William the lion” in winter at Topiary Fancies in 
Connecticut with mane and tail 
made of Carex “Evergold,” Nanette Burrows, photographer
In 1719 Alexander Pope wrote a very critical and satiric essay on the practice, stating that topiary was a “monument to perverted taste” and mocking the women who wanted “their own effigies in myrtle, or their husband’s in hornbeam.”  Topiaries nearly vanished from the gardens of the aristocracy, but the tradition continued in smaller cottage gardens and topiaries eventually made their way to the United States. 

Chickens at Newington in Pennsylvania, created using 
wire frames and ivy, Diane Viall, photographer
Topiaries exist in all shapes and forms in the United States and are comprised of different plant materials.  Boxwood is commonly used in the south while yew, spruce, and ilex are generally found in cooler climates.  Before the advent of wire frames which are used to shape and direct the growth of the plant, gardeners had to rely on patience and constant pruning to achieve the desired shape.  While all topiaries are interesting additions to a garden, larger-than-life animal topiary creations are particularly whimsical elements, despite what Alexander Pope may have thought about them.    

Giraffe at Green Animals in Rhode Island,
unknown photographer

Some of the oldest animal topiaries in the United States can be found at Green Animals in Portsmouth, Rhode Island.  These exquisite pieces created from California privet were sculpted by Jose N. Carreiro, the original gardener of the estate who “liked to clip” and was given creative freedom.  On the seven-acre estate he created 80 pieces of topiary, a mix of geometric shapes and animals including an ostrich, a giraffe, a camel, and even a unicorn.  When the estate was passed on to Alice Brayton from her father, she gave it the fitting name of ‘Green Animals’ in honor of all of Carreiro’s creations.  Now cared for by The Preservation Society of Newport County, all of Green Animals’ beloved occupants are still painstakingly maintained.


Eleanor the Elephant at Bentley Garden in Arizona,
Nancy Swanson, photographer
Topiary animals are popular in  private gardens as well.  At Bentley Garden in Arizona, several topiary animals serve both a decorative and utilitarian purpose—the latter as a barrier between the house and the road.  Citrus aurantium bushes were transformed into Eleanor the Elephant and Clyde the Camel.  The owner cited a visit to Peter the Great’s Summer Palace in Russia as the inspiration for these unique topiaries.  Joining Eleanor and Clyde are Fernando ze Bool, Berenstein Bear, Helen and Jill Javelina, and Petunia and Philip the Pigs, all made from oleander bushes.

View more topiary animals, shapes, and designs in the Collections Search Center.

The images above are from the Garden Club of America Collection at the Archives of American Gardens


Kayla Burns, Intern
Archives of American Gardens
Smithsonian Gardens

Friday, December 23, 2011

Peace on Earth

Participants at the start of the Poor People's March in Marks, Mississippi, 1968. Photograph by Diana Davies.

Take care of each other out there. Happy Holidays from the Ralph Rinzler Archives and Collections, we'll see you next year!

View more photographs and collection information:
Diana Davies Photographs, 1963-2004

-Cecilia Peterson, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Christmas Greetings in "Charlestonese"

In the spirit of the holiday season, I would like to highlight a vintage Christmas greeting card in the Anacostia Community Museum Archives. Greeting cards are sent to family and friends for the emotion they express, to convey gratitude, or to note special events in our lives. Greeting cards card can also evoke memories of a special time or experience in our lives that we shared with our family, as in the case of the recently donated greeting card.     
After reading about the Anacostia Community Museum’s recent exhibition on Lorenzo Dow Turner and his groundbreaking research on the Gullah dialect in her local Charleston, South Carolina, newspaper, the donor recalled a box of old Christmas greeting cards in her possession spoofing a dialect called “Charlestonese.” 

Front view of Christmas card, n.d.

The cards belonged to her grandmother who was born in Walterboro, South Carolina, about 1936. The front of the card reads “Christmas Greetings in ‘Charlestonese’ . . . Language of the Lowcountry.” The inside includes a greeting in “Charelestonese” and a dictionary of “Charelestonese” words and their meanings. On the back of the card is the translation of the greeting card in Standard English.

"Charlestonese" greeting inside of card.

The donor wondered about the origins and purpose of the greeting cards. “Perhaps these cards were printed as a spoof of ‘Gullah’ by local white people calling the language ‘Charlestonese,’” she assumes. She believes her grandmother probably found the cards humorous and decided to purchase them but never used them since the family is Jewish.

Dictionary of "Charlestonese" words and their meanings also located inside card.

We are unable to confirm whether the cards were created to mock the language of Gullah people or were just a spoof of a local vernacular spoken by both blacks and whites. However, we do know that the speech patterns of the Gullah were dismissed as “baby talk” or simply “bad English” by some scholars before the research of Lorenzo Dow Turner established Gullah as a Creole language.

On the backside of the card is the translation of the "Charlestonese" greeting.

As an archivist, what I find most fascinating about this Christmas card is its power to evoke fond recollections of two distinct languages that the donor heard while growing up: the Gullah of her grandparents’ domestic help and the Yiddish of her paternal grandparents. During this holiday season how wonderful it is to know that a slightly humorous Christmas card can spark memories of other cultures and languages, all now part of the American experience.

Happy Holidays to All! 

Jennifer Morris
Anacostia Community Museum Archives

Friday, December 16, 2011

"I Am Your Most Humble Servant, Is. Newton"

Portrait of Newton
engraved by James MacArdell
from a painting by
Enoch Seeman
 Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727) was one of the most remarkable figures in the history of science and mathematics. His Principia (first published in Latin as the Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica in 1687) established the principle of universal gravitation and outlined the mathematical basis for the laws of motion. The Dibner Library of the History of Science and Technology, one of the rare book collections of the Smithsonian Institution Libraries, has a number of early publications by Newton, as well as several manuscripts written in his own hand. Shown here is the reply that the economically-minded Newton scrawled on the back of a letter that had been sent to him in 1687 by Gilbert Clerke, a Cambridge mathematician who had written to Newton asking for clarification on some of the points in the Principia. Newton's reply begins at the bottom of the column on the left side and continues down the right-hand side:

Dibner MSS 001008 B

S[i]r, I do not wonder that in reading a hard book you meet with some scruples & hope that the removal of those you propound may help you to understand it more easily ... I thank you for signifying your doubts to me in these things because they might have proved my mistakes. If there be any thing else you think material for me to know or stick much at in reading my book, pray do me the favour of another letter, or two. I am your most humble servant, Is. Newton.

This week, Cambridge University Library has launched its digital collection of Newton materials. Two multi-institutional collaborative websites that make reference to the Dibner Library's collection of Newton material include The Chymistry of Isaac Newton, an Indiana University-Bloomington project which focuses on Newton's alchemical writings, and The Newton Project, hosted by the University of Sussex. You can search the Smithsonian's Collections Search Center to see other works related to Newton that are owned by the Smithsonian Institution Libraries.

Clerke, Gilbert, 1626-1697? Correspondence [manuscript], 1687. (The letter shown is dated 26 Sept. 1687).
MSS 001008 B SCDIRB Dibner Library

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

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Season's Greetings from the National Anthropological Archives!!!

Acee Blue Eagle papers, 08778100n
The holidays are a great time to connect or even re-connect with family and friends. If getting together in person isn't always possible, a card can be a simple way to send best wishes for a new season and new year.  Well, simple if you actually get those cards signed, sealed, stamped and to the post office.  Staring at an unopened box with a 50% off sticker from the after-season sale when you decided you would finally become one of those people who sends out holiday cards, just isn’t as effective.

Whichever category you find yourself in, I hope you enjoy this selection of greeting cards from the papers of renowned Native American Artist, Acee Blue Eagle. In addition to the cards by Blue Eagle, the collection contains a few charming examples of those created by fellow artists such as Al Momaday, Brummett Echohawk and Fred Beaver. Exchanging handcrafted cards--now that really ups the ante, doesn't it? 

Acee Blue Eagle Papers, 08777501 and 08777501b, front and inside of card

Acee Blue Eagle Papers, unnum 137 and unnum 137b, front and inside of card

So, to all of our readers, I'd like to say happy holidays and season's greetings (and this didn't even require a return address label)!
Acee Blue Eagle Papers, (L to R clockwise) unnum 123, 08778600, unnum 121, unnum 57
Jennifer Murray, National Anthropological Archives

Friday, December 9, 2011

Filming Imagination

Ever since the arrival of motion picture film in the 1890's, the medium has been used not just to document the world around us but to convey the hidden, inner world of the imagination.  Magician-turned-filmmaker Georges Méliès was an early pioneer of portraying fictional worlds through cinema.  His 1902 film, Le voyage dans la Lune (A Trip to the Moon), used elaborate sets, stop-motion animation, hand-coloring, and other special effects to transport audiences to the curious lunar surface.

Méliès and his films are enjoying a revival thanks to Martin Scorsese's Hugo (in which Méliès is a major character) and a recent restoration of the hand-colored version of Le voyage dans la Lune, long believed to be lost, complete with an original score by musical duo Air.  Below is video of the black and white version, with an English narration and a more traditional film score.

At the Human Studies Film Archives, we deal mostly with documentary films.  I was both delighted and intimidated when I wound into the original 16mm film rolls for Jorge Prelorán's experimental short, Claudia.  Here I found extensive splicing due to unusually short shots, multiple soundtracks and credit rolls, and superimposed animation, some of which was scratched into the film's emulsion.  In time I sorted out four versions of the film, each with a different musical score.  Prelorán intended that all four versions be viewed in succession, to experience the different impressions given by the various soundtracks.

All four versions of Claudia have recently been preserved thanks to an Avant-Garde Masters grant from the National Film Preservation Foundation.  The original film was faded and suffering from acetate deterioration.  One set of credits had to be carefully re-created, using a mix of digital tools and film.  The preservation work was done by Bill Brand of BB Optics and Colorlab.  Here is video of Version I in its entirety:

Claudia (Version I) (1972), by Jorge Prelorán

Although he is primarily known as an ethnographic filmmaker, Prelorán made several experimental films and even a feature-length fiction film, Mi Tia Nora (1982).  His very first film, Venganza (1951), is a noir crime story.  The style and plot of Venganza make it easy to imagine that much of Prelorán's youth was spent in his local movie theater.  His last film, Obsesivo (Obsessive) (1996), is an inquiry into the creative process itself.  Claudia is one of several short, playful films Prelorán made during his long career as a filmmaker.  He called these films 'bagatelles', or little songs.  This bagatelle was filmed in Tucumán, Argentina in 1965, during an afternoon spent with the five-year old Claudia, the daughter of a friend.  She was about the same age as Prelorán's own daughter, whom he saw little of and missed. 

Méliès' work was the beginning of a long tradition of experimentation in film. Set design, special effects, and animation have evolved a great deal since his time and yet, there is still something magical and transporting about La voyage dans la Lune.  The same is true of Claudia, with its hand-made animation and deceptively simple approach.  Take a few minutes to watch the film (it is only six minutes long), and see if you don't break out in a smile.  An ode to imagination, childhood, and the joy of play, Claudia was Prelorán's attempt to capture an inner world and portray an experience not visible to the eye, nor to the movie camera. 

Karma Foley, Human Studies Film Archives

Wednesday, December 7, 2011


This blog is a virtual exhibition, based on the small exhibition of original photographs currently on view in the cases adjacent to the Archives Center entrance on the first floor, west wing, of the National Museum of American History.  It is a "recent acquisitions" display which contains a small percentage of the contemporary documentary photographs which I have collected in the last few years.  I sought to honor and thank the photographers who graciously donated their work, but the exhibition also suggests the variety of themes and subjects which interest me as a curator.  The exhibition opened in November and will continue until February 29, 2012.

Many photographers are self-employed, whether they operate commercial photography businesses, travel the world as photojournalists, or function as artists—creating self-assigned projects for sale to collectors and museums.  They may also teach photography, or supplement their incomes with print sales. 

The photographs displayed here were created by such free-lance photographers and suggest the wide variety of subjects, approaches, and techniques which the documentary spirit embraces—from images of American politics to depictions of musicians and their instruments; from preserving family history to recording accidents and the horrors of natural disasters.   The images also illustrate a broad range of contemporary photographic media and techniques, including panoramas and stereographs, digital prints, and traditional silver gelatin prints.

All the images are recent Archives Center acquisitions, kindly donated by public-spirited creators who believe in the mission of museums and archives to document history, to educate, and to inspire.  The Archives Center gratefully acknowledges the generosity of these talented photographers.


Vitone, a professor of photography at St. Edward’s University, Austin, Texas, contributed annotated studies of members of his extended family, photographed with an 8” x 10” view camera.  These photographs are from his portfolio, “Family Records,” created between 1998 and 2004.

Mike Musgrave ready to butcher a snapping turtle, Ohio, 2003
Silver gelatin print.

Sisters Angie Hummel and Missy Rudd by blackberry bushes, Norton, Ohio, 2000
Silver gelatin print


Dylan Vitone, the son of Joseph Vitone, whose work is shown above, is a professor of photography at Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh.  He often creates horizontal panoramas through multiple exposures, and an occasional vertical “panorama,” such as the one shown at the left.

Miami, 2009
Digital inkjet print


Annabel Dunstone is a student of Joseph Vitone at St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas.  In early 2011 she participated in a class documentary project to photograph the small town of Lockhart near Austin.  Twelve students, including Dunstone, were asked to donate their Lockhart photographs to the Archives Center because they represent a model for a focused, yet varied group documentary project. Shown below is an image from her untitled portfolio.


Lockhart Car Crash, February 8, 2011
Digital print


Reissig is another of Joseph Vitone’s students.  This image is from his Lockhart portfolio, “Lilly and Kirk.”

Big Dog Neon Bar, Lockhart, Texas
Digital print: Epson K-3 ink on Ilford Gold Fibre Sile alpha-cellulose paper


In recent years Nancy Sirkis has concentrated on two large continuing projects: “Five Boroughs,” a study of New York City, and “Small Towns,” for which she has traveled widely across America.  Many of her images are panoramas, created by taking multiple incremental exposures rather than a single panoramic view.

Decker, Montana, 2007
Digital print (image to be added)


David Marcou is a free-lance photographer and writer who frequently photographs politicians and other celebrities.

Mike Huckabee’s wife takes his photograph with fans, La Crosse (Wisconsin) Center, February 14, 2008 
Digital print

Obama’s Army with their Commander-in-Chief, 2nd and Pearl Streets, La Crosse, Wisconsin, October 1, 2008.
Digital inkjet print


Waagenaar, who lives in Breda in the Netherlands, has been an enthusiastic fan of the Cajun music of Louisiana and nearby regions.  He has been visiting the United States to interview and photograph Cajun musicians of all ages and circumstances for over twenty years.


D’Jalma Garnier, Carencro [Louisiana], 2008
Digital inkjet print

Don Montoucet, Scott [Louisiana], 2001
Digital inkjet print

FERNANDO SANDOVAL.  Washington, D.C. native Fernando Sandoval has documented the streets, entertainers, and events of his home town for decades.

Mr. Lee’s Guitar, Downtown [Washington] D.C, early 1980s
Silver gelatin print

Underground Night Club, 11th St., N.W. [Washington, D.C.], mid-1990s
Silver gelatin print

Melody Golding spent a year photographing the devastation wreaked by Hurricane Katrina and recovery efforts in her home state of Mississippi.

See Through House, Gulf Coast, Mississippi, 2005
Silver gelatin print

Smashed House, Gulf Coast, Mississippi, 2005
Silver gelatin print
Covington makes stereoscopic (three-dimensional) images during his travels.  Shown here is his untitled portfolio of these images, complete with viewing glasses, and two prints from the group.

Looking  South from North Tower, WTC [World Trade Center, New York City], 1999
Silver gelatin print

Brooklyn Bridge Walkway, 1990
Digital inkjet print
The husband-wife team of Pat and Chuck Bress photographed renowned jazz musicians performing at two important Washington, D.C., night clubs in the late 1980s--Charlie’s Place, which closed years ago, and Blues Alley, still a significant venue for jazz.
Dizzy Gillespie, 1980s
Silver gelatin print
Ernestine Anderson, 1980s
Silver gelatin print (image to be added)

Singer is a podiatrist who pursued a second career as a photographic artist, receiving notoriety in national magazines for his images of orchids.   He has since turned his attention to guitars.
Gibson ES-5, 1951, SN AS7321, 3 P-90 pickups; Gibson Es-5 Switchmaster, 1959, SN A27764, 3 PAF pickups
Digital inkjet print, 2011
Jacobson photographed musical instrument makers across the United States for his project, “Heart and Hands: Musical Instrument Makers of America,” resulting in a book and a Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service exhibition by the same title.
Lloyd “Butch” Heidt, Henegar [Alabama], ca. 1996-1998
Inkjet digital print from 35mm film transparency (image to be added)

Thursday, December 1, 2011

A Book With Some Very Unusual Leaves: Martin Hering's Minen-Herbarium (1929-1938)

Larix Decidua Mill. (European Larch) specimen no. 121
with contents sheet for Lfg. 7
 It's late autumn in the Washington, D.C. area, and the pathways are strewn with crunchy dried leaves that whisk about in the breeze. The distinctive shapes and colors of the leaves makes their trees of origin easily identifiable: elm; oak; maple; and tulip poplar. As a child, I liked to collect some of the prettiest leaves and press them flat between the pages of books, and in my work as a cataloger I occasionally come across a few dried leaves and blossoms that have been preserved in books as seasonal mementos by their former owners.

However, seeing a dried sprig or two tucked away in a book hardly prepared me for the surprise that awaited when I saw the Smithsonian Institution Libraries' set of Minen-Herbarium. Here were 22 portfolios containing 440 mounted specimens of dried plant leaves and stems. As I looked more closely at the specimens, it became clear that the plant samples had been carefully selected by the compiler of the collection to illustrate specific plant and insect relationships through traces of damage caused by the larvae of various species of leaf-mining insects.

Portfolio cover for Lfg. 4 of Minen-Herbarium,
with contents list
The portfolios (or Lieferungen) of Minen-Herbarium have very little textual information. There is a printed contents guide mounted on the front of each portfolio, with another copy of the contents guide laid inside. Otherwise, the only explanatory information is stamped on the folded pieces of paper that contains the mounted specimens. Each sheet of paper records the species of plant, the species of leaf-mining insect that attacked the plant, the place the specimen was collected (usually in Germany or Spain), and the month and year of collection. The insect species featured in the specimens generally come from the orders of Lepidoptera (moths and butterflies), Diptera (true flies), or Hymenoptera (sawflies, wasps, bees and ants). One of the delights of browsing through these specimens is seeing the various German terms that have been used to describe the different categories of leaf-mining insects based on the type of damage they create, such as: Faltenmine; Jugendmine; Fleckmine; Blasenmine; Jugendgangmine; Gangplatzmine; Platzmine; Gangmine; and Spiralmine.

Acer Plantanoides L.
(Norway Maple) specimen
no. 221
Minen-Herbarium was issued one portfolio at a time between the years 1929 and 1938, with each portfolio containing a printed contents page and twenty numbered specimens. The editor who oversaw the project, Erich Martin Hering (1893-1967), was a noted German entomologist who worked as a curator at the Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin, where he specialized in the study of leaf-mining insects. In researching this publication online, I occasionally found references to the set in articles and specialized bibliographies, but I did not see any other copies of the work listed in the various national libraries and union catalogs. Since it was such a massive undertaking to collect hundreds of specimens from various plants --especially to find samples showing the presence of leaf-mining insects -- few complete copies of the set were probably issued. Did the compilers finish the project as they had envisioned it, or did the untimely approach of World War II force an early end before all the specimens could be collected? If anyone has more information about the circumstances of the production of Minen-Herbarium, I hope he or she will share it in the comments section of this blog.

Text for Acer Plantanoides L. (Norway
Maple), specimen no. 221,
collected in Berlin, May, 1932
The portfolios of Minen-Herbarium in the Smithsonian Institution Libraries' Joseph F. Cullman 3rd Library of Natural History complement the United States National Herbarium, which is part of the collections of the Botany Department in the National Museum of Natural History, containing over 4.5 million botanical specimens. Minen-Herbarium is also a helpful resource for researchers in the Department of Entomology of the National Museum of Natural History who are interested in the historical range and variety of insect pests and their host plants. The plant specimens that were selected and preserved so carefully by the compilers of the Minen-Herbarium nearly 100 years ago have a perfect home here at the Smithsonian, where the grand challenge of "understanding and sustaining a biodiverse planet" puts the spotlight on treasures such as these for the stories they can tell (even without words) about the complex interrelationships found among species on Earth. More information on leafminers can be found in the Smithsonian's Collections Search Center, including publications by researchers on the staff of the National Museum of Natural History, as well as links to specimens in the Department of Entomology's collections.

Minen-Herbarium, herausgegeben von M. Hering. [probably privately published at Berlin by M. Hering], 1929-1983. Cullman Library call number SB945.L55H47 1929 Lfg. 1-22 SCNHRB

Diane Shaw
Special Collections Cataloger