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Thursday, April 26, 2012

The People of India - The Kesarah Nutni

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.

Kesarah Nutni

    The woman pictured belonged to the Nut caste, a Hindu designation “corresponding to the gypsies in Europe.”  By day, the Nuts are acrobatic street performers, lauded for their daring and agility.  They also dabble in iron and brass work, plying their wares alongside performances.  By night, however, they are employed in a similar fashion as the Bhats; that is, dacoity.  For the most part, it is a hereditary profession among them, and its execution is greatly facilitated by the nomadic lifestyle practiced by the Nuts.  Living in tents throughout the year, they are able to select wealthy targets, strike with alacrity befitting acrobats, and disappear to a new town or province without leaving the slightest trace.  Inevitably, as legal infrastructure became more advanced, the activities of the Nuts were curbed by police forced, until, by the time People of India was published, nearly all the famous Nut dacoits had been apprehended.  Nutnis, or Nut women, pursue additional vocations.  They are thought to possess the secrets of love, and have great skill in concocting potions.  As such, they are often consulted by women in matters of love, astrology, omens, and witchcraft.  Nutni patchwork quilts are also highly prized, and many women make their living in that line of work.  Although professing Hinduism, the Nuts have certain traditions that place them as aboriginals of the subcontinent, and are therefore forbidden from taking part in the “recognized divisions of Hinduism.” 

To see all text and images of the Kesarah Nutni 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

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

I Struck it Rich in the Fan Mail File: Jackson Pollock and his littlest fan

Mrs. Helen K. Sellers fan letter to Jackson Pollock, with photo of her son Manning, 1948 Aug. 8. Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner papers. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
When Archives of American Art acting director Liza Kirwin invited me to be the guest curator of a show celebrating Jackson Pollock’s centenary, I jumped at the chance to dive into the original documents. The digitized collection is a fantastic resource, but there’s nothing like the real thing to take you into the artist’s world. One drawback, however: I live on eastern Long Island, and the documents are in Washington, DC, quite a curatorial commute. But by traveling via the Internet to the material online, I was able to make a preliminary selection, so I knew what I was looking for when I got to the Archives and hit the boxes.

One file that caught my eye is labeled “Fan Mail to Pollock.” In it is a letter from a woman named Helen K. Sellers of Charleston, SC, written on August 8, 1949. That was the publication date of the now–famous Life magazine article on Pollock, headlined, “Is he the greatest living painter in the United States?” Mrs. Sellers wrote on behalf of her seven year–old son, Manning, who loved one of the paintings in the color spread, the long canvas identified as Number Nine. (It’s now called Summertime: Number 9A, 1948, and it’s in the Tate Modern in London.) Manning asked her to tell Pollock that he’d put it in his scrapbook, “the first painting that he has ever cut out,” and that he wanted Pollock to have his picture in exchange—not a painting, but a photograph of him with his cocker spaniel, Snafu. I’ll bet Pollock never had a more heartfelt and sincere tribute. He kept the letter and the photo, and there they were, 63 years later, in the Fan Mail file.
Manning and Snafu

Well, Manning may have fallen in love with Number Nine, but I fell in love with Manning and Snafu. Not only did I want the documents in the show, but I thought that Manning would like to know about it. Again thanks to the Internet I was able to track him down in Florida. He was surprised to hear from me, and thrilled to learn that his fan letter has survived—although Snafu has long since gone to that great dog park in the sky.

- Helen A. Harrison, director of the Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center, and guest curator for the Archives of American Art. The exhibit, "Memories Arrested In Space, a centennial tribute to Jackson Pollock from the Archives of American Art" will be on view at the Lawrence A. Fleischman Gallery of the Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture until May 15th - go visit Manning and Snafu before they're gone!

This post was originally published on the Archives of American Art blog in January, 2012.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Sneak Peek from the Stacks: Parlez-vous français? French Language in the Garden

A quick survey of the Garden Club of America Collection at the Archives of American Gardens yields thousands of images showcasing features like parterres, espaliers, and allées. To the seasoned gardener, these terms are commonplace and discussed with ease. To the novice just beginning to sift through the language of gardens, however, these terms may be a curious sight. Due to their immense gardening influence over time, we have the French to thank for so many gardening terms that have become second nature to us.   

Richard Felber, photographer. 2007.
Frazier Reams, photographer. 2000.
 Nancy D. Etheridge, photographer. 2002.
Other gardening terms we Américains have adopted from the French language include: 
  • jardinere
  • tuteur
  • orangerie
  • niche
  • chaise longue
Andrew Harris, 2012 Winter/Spring Intern
Archives of American Gardens
Smithsonian Gardens

Friday, April 13, 2012

Goin' back to Sumter

Left-right: Bill Poplin, Edna Poplin Elmore,
David Jackson, and "Uncle" China Poplin
Amidst the banjos and ouds drifting out of The Ralph Rinzler Archives and Special Collections, another (decidedly un-folk-y) instrument makes itself known. These days, the distinctive hum of a flatbed scanner accompanies us in our work on the Save America's Treasures grant project. The project's goal is to digitize one of our most important collections--the Moses and Frances Asch Collection, which includes the papers relating to Folkways Records. The collection is rich with stories, many of which are illuminated through the process of digitization.

The latest folder to see the scanner's spotlight was filled with materials relating to Folkways Records FA 2306, The Poplin Family of Sumter, South Carolina. Recorded in 1962 by Jack Tottle, the album contains beautiful renditions of Southern gospel and old-time classics, as well as original pieces (listen to samples). Included in the file are black and white photographs of the family playing around their Sumter home. Some of these photographs were not used for the album and the negatives were poorly stored for some time before they were properly processed, resulting in bent film strips. Others were reproduced on album packaging and liner notes at a low quality. The negatives might have remained unnoticed and tucked away in an envelope, but now they are a perfect example of why our efforts to digitize this material are so important: preserving the Asch collection in digital form sheds light into its darker corners.

Left-right: Edna, China. David and Bill
(the creases in the negative cause the white bands)
These photographs were taken by Jack Tottle in September 1962. China Poplin and Edna Poplin Elmore, brother and sister, grew up in a musical home--both of their parents were accomplished musicians, as were their six siblings (side note: their father, Henry Washington Poplin, settled in Sumter in 1870 after walking from Anson County, North Carolina, approximately 80 miles). Also pictured is China's son, Bill. David Jackson was a friend of the Poplin family. In the photographs, China plays an Epiphone 5-string banjo, Edna and David play Gibson guitars, and Bill plays a Bell Tone mandolin.

Look out for more project highlights as we make our way through the collection!

Left-right: Edna, China, Bill, and David.
-Cecilia Peterson, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Special Collections

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Alanson B Skinner: Collecting in the Wild Aurora

Alanson B. Skinner in Poling Canoe,
Big Cypress Reservation, Florida (P20154)
 In March of 2013 the National Museum of the American Indian, in conjunction with the Smithsonian Latino Center’s Central American Ceramics Research Project, will open a bilingual exhibition highlighting the Central American archaeological ceramics collection.  Alex Benitez, professor at George Mason University, and his team of researchers have been conducting intensive research in the Museum of the American Indian (MAI), Heye Foundation records, searching both for information about the ceramic vessels themselves and details about specific collectors. Spanning the Americas, MAI’s collectors, especially under the directorship of George Gustav Heye, purchased, traded, and collected a wide variety of Native American objects. Alanson Buck Skinner was one such archaeologist who worked in Costa Rica, particularly collecting objects from the Bribri in 1916. Skinner also spent much of his career in North America, notably among the Menomini and the Dakota tribes.

Alanson B. Skiiner with Amos Oneroad (Sioux), ca. 1920 (P27199)

Alanson Buck Skinner was born in Buffalo, New York, September 7, 1886. He developed a fascination for ethnology at a young age and even before graduating high school he participated in two expeditions; an excavation of a shellheap near Shinecock Hills Long Island, sponsored by the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) and a ethnological expedition to Cattaraugus, in western New York, led by Mark R. Harrington (who later also became a prominent collector for the MAI) for the Peabody Museum.  In 1907 Skinner was offered a position at as “assistant anthropologist” at the AMNH and conducted ethnographic field research among the eastern Cree in James Bay, between northern Ontario and Quebec, Canada.  While still at AMNH, Skinner pursued anthropology at Columbia and Harvard and came to work for the Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundtion in 1916. At MAI, Skinner led expeditions among various North American tribes, as well as a large collecting trip to Costa Rica. Although Skinner left MAI to work at the Milwaukee Public Museum in 1920, he returned to NYC and the Museum of the American Indian in 1924, where he remained a member of the staff until his death a year later. Through the MAI records and Skinner's photograph collection, the NMAI Archive Center has hundreds of documents and images of his work among the Arapaho, Blackfoot, Cheyenne, Chippewa, Iowa, Iroquois, Mahican, Menomini, Ojibwa, Oto, Plains Cree, Potawatomi, Seminole, Seri, Shinnecock, Sioux, Winnebago and Zuni Pueblo.

In the last few years of his short life, Skinner began to write fiction based on his real life experiences travelling around the country. Many of his writings appeared in such magazines as Adventure and Frontier. In addition, he wrote a fair amount of poetry that represented his experiences as a collector. In 1980, Dennis Carey a researcher for the Staten Island Institute of Arts and Sciences, wrote a biography on the life of Skinner that included the following poem by Skinner in an appendix. I believe that the following poem, “Slaves of the Lamp of Science,” very aptly describes the mindset that many of the early collectors for the Museum of the American Indian shared at the time.

Slaves of the Lamp of Science
By Alanson B. Skinner, 1924
Under the wild aurora, where shimmering ghost fires glow,
Where the sunbeams glitter at midnight on everlasting snow,
Where the muskox browse the tundra; where the seal and the killer whale
Play hide and seek in the northern ice, and the frost fiends ride on the gale—
Country of cold eternal; Home of the Eskimo;
It is there, if you seek, you will find us—far as man can go!

Slaves of the lamp of science, forever and ever we roam,
With God’s blue sky for a roof tree, and God’s green earth for a home.
Astride of the hot equator, where the tropic jungles steam—
Where the molten wings of the butterflies slip by like a softened dream;
Where death lurks grim in the palm fronds; where fever basks in the flowers;
Where the jaguar prowls, and the hell mouthed snakes are close companions of ours […]

Slaves of the Lamp of Science, we carry no gun or knife,
For he need not heed the arrow’s speed who has nothing to lose but his life.
Why do we travel, you ask me? Why do we journey far?
Go, beg the comets to tell you the why of the falling star;
Whistle the ranging coyote; speak to the startled dear—
And your answer from these will be but the breeze that blows in your empty ear.

Slaves to the lamp of science! And, oh, but our task is hard.
It has brought us nothing of riches, but foreheads wrinkled and scarred,
We are the earth’s last gypsies—we are her roaming seed;
When her uttermost covert is ended, the falls the last of our breed.
But we live or we die for a purpose, and who can gainsay us then.
Who live for the joy of creating the understanding of men?

Barely a year after writing this poem, Skinner died in an automobile accident in North Dakota. After rejoining the Museum of the American Indian in 1924, Skinner left with his companion and informant Amos Oneroad to continue work among the Dakota tribes. On August 18th, 1925 Skinner and Oneroad were driving near Tokio, North Dakota. The road had been wet from recent thunderstorms causing the car to stall, slip backwards down a hill and crash upside down into a ditch. Skinner was killed instantly. Oneroad was spared physically but described his anguish at the loss of his friend in a letter to George Gustav Heye, MAI director. In the letter, shown below, Oneroad notes how difficult he had been taking the loss and that he would never find another friend like Skinner.

Skinner’s loss was deeply felt by his closest companions and various colleagues. The October 1925 issue of Indian Notes (Volume II, Number 4) includes an obituary and bibliography of Skinner by close friend M.R. Harrington, which can be found here. Selected images by Skinner in our collection can be found here.

Rachel Menyuk, NMAI Archive Center

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Sneak Peek from the Stacks

Women's Titanic Memorial, Sculpture Study Collection

Inspired by the upcoming 100th Anniversary of the Titanic disaster, the Research and Scholars Center staff was reminded of an image we have in our Photograph Archives of a memorial that may not be as well known as some of the other historical sculptures around the Nation’s Capital. 

Located a few blocks south on Washington, D.C.’s Southwest waterfront, sits the Woman’s Titanic Memorial. It was designed in 1917 by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney and completed in 1918, though it wasn’t unveiled to the public until 1931. Honoring the men who sacrificed their lives to save the women and children aboard the Titanic during its historic sinking, the memorial was erected by the Women’s Titanic Memorial Association and was originally located along Rock Creek Parkway. It was later moved to make room for the soon-to-built Kennedy Center, and re-erected on the Southwest waterfront in 1968. Represented as a figure with his arms outstretched, the memorial looks over the Washington Channel and bears the inscription:
                                                          TO THE BRAVE MEN
                                                              WHO PERISHED
                                                               IN THE WRECK
                                                              OF THE TITANIC
                                                               APRIL 15 1912
                                                           THEY GAVE THEIR
                                                         LIVES THAT WOMEN
                                                              AND CHILDREN
                                                            MIGHT BE SAVED

The above image is part of American Art’s Sculpture Study Collection. You can find more images related to the memorial from our archives collection here.

-Rachel Brooks, Research and Scholars Center, American Art Museum

Friday, April 6, 2012

What's Cooking at the Archives: Good to the Last Drop

Start of the brewing, bananas and grass; Albert_papers_227
In a culture increasingly committed to the D.I.Y. (Do It Yourself) mantra, the limits of what can be accomplished at home or by one’s own hands are constantly being tested. Moving away from the modern conveniences of mass-produced and pre-packaged, there are plenty of resources available out there if you are looking for information on how to smoke meat, pickle vegetables, bake bread or even build your own brick oven. Basement vintners and home brewers bottle their goods and print their own labels. You don’t need a lot of people to help. Apparently the waiting is the hardest part—fermentation cannot be rushed. 
Removing bananas from pit, Albert_papers_224
When I came across these images of beer making in Burundi, Africa I was struck not only by the difficult process utilizing only what is found in nature, but also by the team-work and craftsmanship. Not to mention the ingredients! That’s not just any beer they are making, that’s banana beer. Anthropologist Ethel Mary Albert documented the beer making process during her extensive field work in Burundi as a Ford Fellow from 1955-1957. Her photographic slides number more than 300 and document many aspects of daily village life. Her writings cover a wide range of topics from ceremonies to relationships, agriculture, life cycle, language and, of course, food and drink.
Making the beer-vat (ubgato); Albert_papers_195
Albert’s notes describe making banana beer as “a rather complex and time-consuming problem, which presumably requires both know-how and muscle.” That pretty wells sums it up. The process involves ripening bananas in a pit heated with smoke for no less than five days. The heated bananas are peeled then mashed using grass for friction. The mash is strained and water is added to the juice. Both eleusine flour and sorghum are mentioned as fermenting agents. The mixture is placed back in a fire pit and covered with peels, leaves and straw until it is ready. 
Leaf covering of banana pit; Albert_papers_220
Mistress of the house, children and workers peeling bananas;
Brewing--rich foam means good beer; Albert_papers_230
Brewer preparing the strainer; Albert_papers_232
Straining banana juice into pot; Albert_papers_234
Banana beer--good to the last drop; Albert_papers_237
The images Albert captured add life to the words and faces to the busy hands—from carving the beer vat to the rich foaming banana mash and finally to enjoying the fruit of that labor down to the last drop. I'm not saying you should try this at home, but if you're looking for a new project...just let me know how it goes.

Jennifer Murray

National Anthrological Archives

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Smithsonian Libraries Preservation Week TweetUp

It's an SI Libraries Tweetup!

Do you like old books, even ones with crumbling bindings and damaged paper? Do you want to learn some tips for basic book repair? Have you ever wondered how libraries prepare for dealing with disasters that put their collections at risk? And (most important!) do you like to tweet? If you're an active Twitter user in the DC area who follows @SILibraries, and if you'd like to explore behind the scenes at the Smithsonian Institution Libraries' Book Conservation Lab, you might be in luck. The Smithsonian Libraries is holding a TweetUp for Preservation Week on Thursday, April 26, 2012 from 12:30-3:00 p.m. at its Book Conservation Lab in Landover, Maryland. Ten lucky applicants will be selected to participate. The deadline to register for the TweetUp is April 6, 2012, and details are available on the Smithsonian Libraries website.

However, even if you are not part of the group selected for the TweetUp, you can still learn about the basics of book preservation from these resources on the Association for Library Collections and Technical Services website. You can also follow the TweetUp discussion on Twitter on April 26th using the hashtags #SILTweetUp and #Preswk.

L'Assiette au Beurre, v. 7, before treatment
And if you'd like to know more about how libraries, museums, and other cultural organizations prepare for emergencies and respond to disasters, look for information about May Day 2012, sponsored by Heritage Preservation: The National Institute for Conservation.

Plate from Exposition universelle de 1889, being treated with paper washing
Various Smithsonian units will be highlighting issues on preservation and disaster preparedness in the months of April and May. You can also ask questions about collections care any time on the Smithsonian Insitution Archives website.

Shown above:

Detail, Blue Jay, plate 15, from Mark Catesby, The Natural History of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahama Islands,  published in London between 1731 and 1743 (call number fQH41.C35 v. 1 SCNHRB Cullman Library)

Volume 7 of the French magazine, L'Assiette au Beurre, published between 1901 and 1912, which recently received preservation treatment in the Smithsonian Libraries' Book Conservation Lab. This copy is from the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum Library (call number fAP103.A848 v. 7 CHMRB Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum Library)

 Plate from Frantz Jourdain's Exposition universelle de 1889 (Paris: Librarie centrale des beaux-arts ; New York : J.W. Bouton, [1892]), undergoing paper washing treatment (call number fNA7105 .J68 1892 CHMRB Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum Library)

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

Monday, April 2, 2012

Sneak Peek from the Stacks

Eddie Berry, Eddie Brooks, and [Art] Bevelry, 1936
Norman Davis Photographic Collection, gift of Norman B. Davis
This image of Anacostia ACs (athletic club) baseball players is contained in the Norman Davis Photographic collection.  It is among several photographs in the collection which document community and organized baseball teams in the District of Columbia, in particular, the Anacostia section of the city from 1930s to 1950s.  A recent acquisition, the Norman Davis Photographic collection contains images of Edward (Eddie) Berry, who played for the Anacostia ACs, Washington Aztecs, and the Hilldales [Hillsdale] teams.  The collection provides us with a glimpse into Washington, D.C.’s unique baseball history that goes back more than 150 years. Long before the Nationals brought professional baseball back to the city in 2005, baseball played out in District schoolyards and alleyways, as well as on the White House lawn. Washington, D.C., was home to the Senators, known for being “first in war, first in peace, and last in the American League.” In the mid-1900s Josh Gibson and the Homestead Grays also played on the Senators’ home field at Griffith Stadium, winning eight of nine Negro National League (NNL) pennants at one point.
Baseball really boomed in Washington following the Civil War, when thousands of men returned to the area from the battlefield and traded their rifles and canteens for bats and baseballs. Over the years Washington, D.C., has had black teams and white teams; professional teams and amateur teams; neighborhood teams and city-wide teams. Baseball has long been a part of Washington, D.C.’s social fabric— a sometimes unifying factor in a city struggling not only with its local/federal government identity but also with long-standing segregationist tendencies.

 The Norman Davis Photographic collection is being digitized so keep checking here for images of Edward Berry and other community baseball players!
Based on research for Separate and Unequaled:  Black Baseball in the District of Columbia.

Jennifer Morris
Anacostia Community Museum Archives