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Friday, September 28, 2012


In my blog “Confrontational Curator, Cowardly Cataloguer” I wrote about the sometimes sticky issues one may encounter in describing collection materials which contain racist imagery and texts or which portray minority groups in other negative and unfavorable ways.  Many attempt to use crude ethnic and racial humor to attract viewers disposed to such stimulation.  Nineteenth-century trade cards, which are often colorful and visually delightful in other respects, are a rich (?) source of what we nowadays might consider “hate speech,” in both verbal and pictorial forms.  Fath Ruffins, NMAH curator and former Archives Center staff member, with the help of interns, located hundreds of examples of such offensive material in the Warshaw Collection of Business Americana.
Keystone Manufacturing Co. trade card, ca. 1890. 

Contemporary viewers are often shocked at the ways in which ethnic stereotyping, prejudice, and “ethnic humor” were employed in advertisements to market a wide variety of products.  Since negative portrayals of minorities are so plentiful in nineteenth-century advertising, it is refreshing to encounter the exact opposite, in which diverse ethnic groups are referenced with restraint and respect.   An example is this undated trade card from the “Agriculture” series, which includes imagery portraying a wide international array of faces.  What’s going on here?  It appears that “Uncle Sam” is trying to sell Keystone hay-loaders to an international clientele and has decided that insulting the customers would not be good for business.  Their faces and costumes may be stereotypical, but they are benign, without any obvious attempt to offend.

An interesting research project might be to try to locate similar trade cards, intended for worldwide distribution, along with counterparts issued by the same company for a domestic audience which appreciated “negative” imagery of immigrants and minority groups.

David Haberstich
Curator of Photography, Archives Center  

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Back to School with Sicangu Lakota

Sicangu Lakota (Rosebud Sioux) with Septima Koehler c.1900

For many people, the month of September means heading back to school, hitting the books, and getting ready to learn reading, writing, and arithmetic.  At the National Museum of the American Indian Archive Center, I stumbled upon a collection of Sicangu Lakota (Rosebud Sioux) children’s schoolwork dated 1899-1901. Further investigation revealed that the assignments were completed at St. Elizabeth Mission School in South Dakota under the tutelage of sisters Septima and Aurora Koehler.

This turn of the century schoolwork is remarkable for both its familiarity and elegance.   The images pictured below are from children Eliza Standing Bear, Samuel Little Elk, and Annie Red Horse; primer class, first reader grade, and second reader grade, respectively.  The first thing that caught my eye was the beautiful, sharp penmanship coming from such young children.   On closer examination, the Sicangu Lakota children were learning the same poems, stories, and simple addition in 1901 that schoolchildren learn today, over one hundred years later.

Annie Red Horse tells the story of King Midas and his golden touch.

Samuel Little Elk's illustration and penning of "Rock-a-bye Baby".


Eliza Standing Bear's illustrated arithmetic.

Of the hundreds of thousands pages contained in the manuscript collection Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation records this small collection (only two folders!) of children’s school work are some of my favorite to read.  It amazes me how I can connect to these materials a hundred years after they were created: looking at them, I can remember what it was like to be a child learning about King Midas, struggling with addition, and reciting "rock-a-bye baby".

Nichole Procopenko, Archives Scanning Technician, NMAI Archives Center.

"And I intend to scribble in you again."

Diary fragments, between 1890 and 1907
Fragment from Olive Rush's diary, 1890
American illustrator, painter, and muralist Olive Rush wrote the above intention to keep track of her days in her 1890 diary once she found it again. Indeed, she went on to “scribble” about her life and daily activities sporadically through 1932. Her diaries include accounts of going to school, practicing her painting, and hanging out with friends—activities that are noteworthy because of her eventual career as an artist. As an intern at the Archives of American Art, one of my projects was reading artists’ diaries in order to find 366 days’ worth of “interesting” entries for eventual publication. My working definition of a diary entry is a date and text; I’ve excluded memoirs, autobiographical accounts, and other edited texts because the narrative distance from the event in question can become too great. The act of keeping a diary entails recording details someone considered important enough to remember soon after the event or thought occurred. For example, muralist Francis Davis Millet served as an assistant contract surgeon in Company C, 60th Massachusetts Volunteers during the Civil War. On May 20, 1864, he notes that he plucked “about half a cup full of maggots out of one man’s leg” during the Battle of Fredericksburg.
Civil War diary, between 1864 May 12 and 1865 May 30
Francis Davis Millet's diary, 1864-65
In my experience, reading diaries can be similar to visiting a foreign country, where after one adjusts to the taste of the food and the cadence of the language, one brings those mannerisms back to one’s homeland. When reading diaries, I’ve read volumes of an artist’s life, got stuck in their headspace, and ended up writing in nineteenth–century English for a few days. I could try to offer some grand philosophy of diaries and their scholarly value, but after reading the writing of thirty individuals, I’ve come to the conclusion that keeping a diary is a subjective venture and there are no qualifications to write one. What one writes in that little codex, spiral bound notebook, or on loose–leaf is up to the writer, and subjects may include lists of daily activities, comments on one’s emotional state, and observations about one’s world—in short, notes about life that could apply to anyone. When institutions identify someone as a painter, sculptor, or photographer, based on that person’s activities, I’m not sure one can always use that person’s diary to support that professional title. Some artists do not even mention that they create; they record on the page other things about their lives. Painter Palmer C. Hayden mentioned world events more often than painting, including observing “meatless Mondays” during World War II.
Palmer Hayden diary
Palmer Hayden's diary, 1945

Reading diaries has shown me how fundamentally connected people are, no matter how they are perceived. Everyone—artists included—eats, breathes, sleeps, worries about paying the bills, wonders when the next commission or project will come, ponders if a relationship will be personally or professionally profitable, and mulls over some prickly piece of gossip, and many people feel free to document these concerns in a diary. Artists are ordinary people, too. Anyone can keep a diary, and depending upon one’s career, that diary may someday be housed in an archive for patrons to peruse. While the immediate audience for most of these diaries was probably the author him– or herself, time makes all such documents written for a nebulous posterity. When a diary becomes part of an artist’s collection of papers, “posterity” takes on a new face: that of an archives patron.

Keep scribbling!

Q Miceli was an Information Resource Management intern with the Archives of American Art for summer 2011. To see the output of more diarists in the Smithsonian's collections, from piano maker William Steinway to Seneca Chief Maris B. Pierce, click here

This post was originally published on the Archives of American Art Blog in October, 2011. 

Friday, September 14, 2012

Fashions in the Archives

New York Fashion Week, one of the biggest fashion events of the year, just wrapped up yesterday. Twice a year the fashion industry, celebrities, and socialites converge upon New York City for the unveiling of top designers' newest collections. Fashion designers are often inspired by different cultures and different time periods. So what better place to find inspiration than the National Anthropological Archives?

DOE Asia: Assam: Willis Colln: Siang: Adi 04448900

DOE Mid East: Morocco : NM 268921: Willis: I 04066400

SPC Mexico Zapotec NM 37239 00810800

One collection I’d like to highlight is a Japanese fashion catalog of sorts from 1905-1906. This silk covered album contains 12 woodblock prints by ukiyo-e artist Mizuno Toshikata (1866-1908). Featuring women’s and children’s fashions for different seasons, these drawings were commissioned by the Mitsui department store to advertise their apparel.

Following more than two centuries of isolation, Japan underwent rapid change during the Meiji era (1868-1912) after it was coerced into opening its ports to the United States and European nations. Exposure to Western cultures influenced various aspects of Japanese life including fashion. While high officials and the elite adopted Western apparel for certain occasions, most Japanese preferred to wear traditional clothing. Nevertheless, the influences of Western culture upon Japanese fashion is evident in these drawings.

Some are quite subtle, such as a shawl over a kimono or a woman holding an umbrella.

While others are less so . . .

The drawings are captioned in English, indicating that this series was probably marketed towards Westerners. Ukiyo-e, which means “pictures of the floating world,” was a style of art typically associated with colored woodblock prints. Because these prints were cheap to produce in large numbers, they were considered affordable art for the lower and middle class. By the early 1900s, ukiyo-e art had decreased in popularity in Japan, unable to compete with photography and changing tastes in art. In contrast, ukiyo-e art was in high demand in the West and greatly influenced the Impressionist and Art Nouveau movements in Europe.

Make sure to check out the other drawings from this series. Incidentally, Mitsui still exists and is the largest corporate conglomerate in Japan. Not bad for a company whose history stretches back to the 1600s. These styles are probably out-of-stock by now, but who knows, that dress may still be available for the little boy in your life!

Lorain Wang, National Anthropological Archives

Thursday, September 6, 2012


Andalusian children herding sheep
35mm slide - Jerome R. Mintz Papers, National Anthropological Archives

In the mid-1960s, anthropologist Jerome Mintz wandered into the Andalusian community of Casas Viejas to do research for a book on anarchy. After getting to know the locals, he decided to pursue an unexploited passion, filmmaking, to record the daily lives of the Spanish peasants he had befriended. Six films, currently at the Human Studies Film Archives, as well as nearly 25,000 feet of black-and-white 16mm outtakes (and an as-of-yet-unmeasured trove of color outtakes), were the result of two decades of his work.

Jerome Mintz "El Americano" on a Carnaval poster

This summer I had the pleasure of speaking with Carla Aviva Mintz Tavel, Mintz’s daughter. She has recently revisited Casas Viejas, and was able to provide insight on the importance of the film to the community. What she has discovered is an incredible story of recovery – through Mintz’s work, the town is healing old wounds.        

In 1933, three years before the Spanish Civil War, Casas Viejas was the site of an anarchist revolt against the state, the Catholic Church and the
latifundista landowners – but the revolt failed, and soldiers and police initiated a massacre of civilians. This left a rift in the community that nobody was eager to talk about. In order for Mintz to research his book on the subject, The Anarchists of Casas Viejas, he had to meet with informants in secret. Under Francisco Franco’s totalitarian regime, which governed Spain from 1936 to 1975, the town was cut off from most of the modern world. According to Tavel, even telephones were quite rare during the time her father was living and researching in the community. As a result of this, as recently as ten years ago, nobody had any copies of Mintz’s book or six edited films, and they were only vaguely aware of one film.

Then, in the early 2000s, Tavel received an email “out of the blue” from a history teacher, Salustiano Gutiérrez Baena. New to Casas Viejas, he had looked into the history of the town and found that they did not understand how important their own history was. He then went to the internet, and discovered Mintz’s work – the jackpot he could not have imagined.

Tavel recounted a serendiptious incident where an English-speaking traveler passed through a local bar with a copy of  Mintz’s book, The Anarchists of Casas Viejas, and despite not being able to read English, the owner of the bar asked to buy it. The visitor turned him down, but rather than go home dissuaded, the owner got the visitor drunk, and ultimately did procure the book which then passed to Gutiérrez.

In addition, Tavel sent copies of about 5000 35mm photographic negatives across the Atlantic, where they have been eagerly received. Gutiérrez has posted many of them on his Spanish-language blog.

Carnaval parade
35mm slide - Jerome R. Mintz Papers, National Anthropological Archives 

Gutiérrez’s discovery, and his contact with Tavel, have unleashed an explosion of enthusiasm in the community, for Mintz’s work specifically, and a general drive to forge a link with history. Much of the activity is centered on the local celebration of Carnaval, a ten-day festival featuring revelry in the street, gender-bending costumes and songs satirizing the events of the past year. Anything, from a national election to an out-of-wedlock pregnancy, is fodder for the songwriters, as long as no names are mentioned. Carnaval celebrations were banned during the Franco administration, and Mintz’s 5” audio tapes are some of the only record of the festival in the 1960s and 1970s. It was reinstated in the 1980s, when Mintz shot Carnaval de Pueblo, his final edited film

excerpt from one of Mintz's audio recordings of Carnaval Songs  (sihsfa_mintz_sr_633)

Mintz wearing his signature hat, la gorra del
 jornalero, or the cap of a laborer
Photo - courtesy Aviva Tavel
These days Carnaval, celebrated annually, features an art show of Mintz’s repatriated photographs, each year focused on a particular theme. Past exhibitions have showcased photographs of women, and local bar life. This year the focus will be on the children. At least one year a traditional singing group performed wearing Jerome Mintz costumes, one of which Tavel had to don to open the festivities as the Pregonera, or town crier, during her last visit. A small organization, Los Amigos de Mintz (Friends of Mintz), consists of six men working hard to reintroduce the people of Casas Viejas to their history, and honor “El Americano,” the anthropologist who made it possible. Each year they award a community member who has worked to further their goals with a replica of Mintz’s characteristic hat.

In the struggle of the people of Casas Viejas to discover their cultural heritage, the 16mm film outtakes from Mintz' six edited films listed below, that are housed at the HSFA could be an incredible boon. From numerous audio tapes that Mintz recorded, the HSFA is having two valuable tapes of Carnaval songs from 1966 digitized and several rolls of film outtakes copied, to be made available to the community. In exchange for access we hope the people of Casas Viejas can provide us with more detailed information about the content of the film, and its historical and contemporary significance.

- by Amelia Raines, intern Human Studies Film Archives


The six edited films are distributed by
Documentary Educational Resources.  The titles are:

Pepe's Family (1978)

The Shoemaker (1978)

Romeria: Day of the Virgin (1986)

Carnaval de Pueblo (1987)

Perico the Bowlmaker (1989)

The Shepherd's Family (1989)

The papers of Jerome Mintz are housed at the National Anthropological Archives.