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Monday, December 31, 2012

New Year's Resolution Revolution

As we stand on the cusp of 2013, perhaps you are pondering what your New Year's resolutions should be. And don't say "exercise more." That one has been done a million times over, and I think we all know deep down that we'll be back to our old habits after the first few weeks of the year, so why don't we choose something more fun to resolve that is actually attainable? Here are a few options, inspired by items from the collections of the Archives of American Art:

1. Resolve to visit our National Parks

Josef Albers postcard to Marcel Breuer, 1938 or 1939
Marcel Breuer papers, Archives of American Art
Here the artist Josef Albers has modified a postcard from Great Smoky Mountains National Park to wish his friend Marcel Breuer a happy New Year. Take a tip from Albers and pay a visit to one of our fine National Parks this year - if you live in the United States, chances are you have one within an hour's drive of your house. And if not, you can always browse through fabulous vintage photos of the Parks in the Smithsonian Collections Search Center.

2. Resolve to have hope

Conrado Massaguer New Year’s greeting to Abril Lamarque, 1933
Abril Lamarque papers, Archives of American Art
Cartoonist Conrado Massaguer sent this wish for "a better 1933" to his friend and fellow cartoonist Abril Lamarque, and illustrated it with a prosperous-looking gentleman in spats (perhaps a self-portrait). No doubt money was tight for the two artists during the Depression, but Massaguer signs the card "broke but hopeful." Unlike a certain diamond that bears its name, hope doesn't cost anything, and it might even cure depression.

3. Resolve to let loose a little
Colin de Land and Pat Place at a party, not after 2000 Nov. 30 / unidentified photographer.
Colin de Land collection, Archives of American Art
This photo was taken at a Halloween party, but it looks to me like art dealer Colin de Land had a New Year's reveler in mind when he put together his costume. Surely if we all resolved to let our hair down once in a while there would be fewer pinched nerves and anxiety attacks in the world. So put on a wig and some wacky glasses every now and then and party like it's 1999.

Happy New Year from all of us at the Smithsonian Collections Blog!

-Bettina Smith, Archives of American Art

Friday, December 21, 2012

Dolly at Standing Rock

Characteristic of archival collections, in October the National Museum of the American Indian Archive Center acquired a family photograph album. The gift of NMAI members Don Kritsch and Barbara Baker, the album was compiled by Mr. Kritsch’s great aunt Lizzie (1882-1977), formerly of Indianapolis, and contains photographs made from about 1918 to 1929 by her and various members of her immediate and extended family. The content of NMAI’s new album is in many ways typical of the genre—it includes depictions of men and women hard at work, enjoying their leisure, or fashionably appointed in a matching coat and hat and posed in the front gardens of their homes, and of their robust and (presumably) rosy cheeked children. In short, the photographs document a burgeoning German-American family. Why would NMAI accept an album of a German-American family into its collections? Simply stated, the Canisius family photograph album is as exceptional as it is typical.

Dolly's Students at Standing Rock Agency, Fort Yates, North Dakota. NMAI.AC.026.
A good number of the photographs naturally document the young adulthood of Aunt Lizzie and her husband Gus’s only child, Kathryn “Dolly” Canisius (1906-1943). Around 1926, Dolly apparently left her comfortable urban home to serve as an itinerant teacher-in-training in, what must have been for her, remote and distant places. Most significantly for NMAI, Standing Rock Agency in Fort Yates, North Dakota, was one of her posts. Dolly made photographs of her female and male Native students, both posed in groups and on picnics, non-student Natives congregated in town, street scenes, landscape views presumably made just outside of Fort Yates, Agency buildings, and the campus of the newly established Saint Bernard Mission School. On the versos of more than one hundred of the photographs she made, she conscientiously jotted down the names of her pupils or noted a place or building name. These she mailed home to Indianapolis, where her mother dutifully pasted them down onto eleven leaves of the family album. With this, Aunt Lizzie unconsciously but powerfully interleaved into her family’s history what was and remains for many Native Americans the trauma of U.S. Indian education policy.

The NMAI Archive Center and Don Kritsch look forward to scanning and sharing Dolly’s photographs with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

Heather A. Shannon
Photo Archivist
NMAI Archive Center

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Season’s Greetings from the Peter A. Juley & Son firm!

Peter A. Juley & Son Collection, J0010313

When he wasn't photographing artists and their artwork, Paul Juley was especially fond of putting his studio to use by creating imaginative and humorous holiday cards for his loved ones. The photo above features his daughter and the family pets. You’ll notice on the bottom edge of the table, Paul has added a few words of warm wishes. 

In addition to writing on the negatives, he also liked to try his hand at photo-manipulation, a popular photography application that had been in practice since the 1860s. You can see from the following sets of photos, some attempts were more successful than others. The first set is from a photo taken on one of the Juley family trips out west. I think he’s done a pretty good job of “ photo-shopping” a bit of snow into the foreground. Long before there were digital images, photographers would often use techniques such as ink or paint retouching, composite negatives, or double exposures to achieve the desired effect. 

This second set may be a type of composite image. Along with the etching at the bottom of the negative, both the Juley's daughter and the family dog have been added to complete the family portrait:

This last photo doesn't appear to have been manipulated too much; perhaps some retouching done around the fireplace. Though, what really caught my eye was the book that the family is reading: Dr. Seuss’s, “Horton Hatches an Egg.” This is a great detail, and really adds to the coziness of the Juley's holiday photo.

Happy holidays!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Sneak Peek from the Stacks: The Human Jukebox

Snooks Eaglin, 1958. Photograph by Harry Oster.

This photograph of the great R&B guitarist Snooks Eaglin, taken early in his career, was recently digitized as a part of the Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections Save America's Treasures project. The aim of this project is to do preservation digitization for the Moses and Frances Asch Collection.

Snooks Eaglin's repertoire was unique to Folkways Records. According to Kenneth Goldstein in the original liner notes for FA 2476, Snooks Eaglin: New Orleans Street Singer, "The greatest part of his vast stock of songs was learned from two sources which most folklorists consider to be the bane of tradition - radio and recordings. One wonders, however, upon listening to Snooks' performances, if such is indeed the case."

-Cecilia Peterson, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Moai of Easter Island

How much do you know about the stone figures, called moai, on this tiny Polynesian island? Easter Island, known to residents as Rapa Nui, has long puzzled those who encounter the enormous statues. Although there is no one left to tell us for sure, experts speculate that the moai were constructed around 1200 CE by the original Polynesian settlers as representations of their clans’ revered ancestors.
Man Near Moai (Lava Stone Effigy Figures) at Base of Outer Slope of Volcano 1890, NAA 04960500
Man Near Moai (Lava Stone Effigy Figures)
at Base of Outer Slope of Volcano 1890,
NAA 04960500

This society’s belief system centered on the concept of mana, a magical or spiritual essence. Oral legend says that this is the power that was able to move and erect the moai. The figures, once placed atop their platforms (ahu), were believed to watch over their clan’s territory and protect it with the power of mana. The figures did not have mana until they were given eyes (made of white coral and obsidian or red scoria), however.  There are no remaining moai with their original eyes intact, but several have been restored for demonstration purposes. With or without eyes, these statues still appear majestic and stoic.

The National Anthropological Archives holds a variety of photographs and drawings of these massive stone figures.

The Smithsonian Institution is also in possession of two moai, one of which is on display in the National Museum of Natural History. These two specimens (Head SI-WDC-002 and Moai SI-WDC-001) came from an inland site called Ahu O’Pepe and were brought to the Smithsonian in 1887. William J. Thomson of the U.S. Navy collected the statues on behalf of the Smithsonian Institution in December 1886 and transported them to Washington, D.C. on the U.S.S. Mohican.

George Brown Goode, Samuel D. Langley, and Otis T. Mason with Two Moai (Lava Stone Effigy Figures) Inside Museum Building n.d., NAA 04960200
George Brown Goode, Samuel D. Langley, and
Otis T. Mason with Two Moai (Lava Stone Effigy
Figures) Inside Museum Building n.d.,
NAA 04960200
Until fairly recently, many people were unaware that there are bodies underneath those huge stone heads! Due to the age and shifting landscape of the island, some of the figures have been buried up to their shoulders, making it appear as though they were simply heads. The moai currently displayed in the NMNH (on the left in the above photo) is fully intact, and if you look closely you can see the detail of the hands and fingers laid across the stomach. The moai in the two other photos, taken on Easter Island, are examples of partially buried figures. We can only see the heads and shoulders here, but fully excavated they would appear even taller! The Easter Island Statue Project has been working since 1982 to catalog, excavate, and preserve moai, and they have lots of interesting related information on their website.

You can find other Smithsonian collections related to Easter Island here.

— Jocelyn Baltz, Intern, National Anthropological Archives

Documenting the Anacostia Community through Oral Histories

As the only Smithsonian Institution museum dedicated to local D.C. culture, The Anacostia Community Museum (ACM) has served as a center for community heritage and culture East of the River since its founding in1967. Over these past 45 years, the Anacostia Community Museum Archives (ACMA) has amassed a significant amount of audiovisual documentation of public programs and events, as well as community and personal histories from residents, on audiovisual media. Among those audiovisual holdings are an array of oral histories, including those that comprise the Anacostia Oral History Project of 1975. The project was created through the Center for Anacostia Studies and ACM and resulted in 72 original audiocassette recordings that document the lives of Anacostia residents in their own words with their own verbal nuances, making them a very unique type of historical record.

Among the many notable interviewees that participated in the Anacostia Oral History Project is Charles A. Williams, who shares stories of his life in Anacostia and working as a guard for various governmentalagencies during the 1940s and 50s. An interview with Thomas W. Turner provides personal documentation of his life as a student at Howard University and as an Anacostia resident during the 1880s and 90s. Husband and wife duo James and Marguerite Johnson discuss their childhoods in Anacostia during the 1930s and 40s. These three interviews alone provide oral history of life in Anacostia over the course of seven decades, pointing to the wide range of topics and events remembered through this oral history collection.

The original audiocassette recordings of all of the interviews conducted during the Anacostia Oral History Project are housed at ACMA and have been digitized for preservation and access purposes. Access copies can be listened to in the Archives Reading Room by making an appointment with the archivist:

Taylor McBride
Audiovisual Archivist
Anacostia Community Museum

Monday, December 10, 2012

Can Cute Children and Clever Cats Sell Coffee? Yes, Indeed!

Front Cover
As the Special Collections Cataloger for the Smithsonian Libraries, it seems I'm always coming across something wonderful or surprising in my cataloging backlog. While I spend my time creating and upgrading records for historically significant publications on science, technology, and the decorative arts to support research on artifacts in the Smithsonian's collections, they're not all serious scholarly works bound in leather with gilt-lettered spines.

Recently I was amused to find this adorable eight-page booklet, Baby's Letter, published by Raphael Tuck & Sons of London, Paris, and New York, dating probably from the 1890s. Beautifully designed, the booklet features chromolithographed illustrations and a cursive text in the form of a rebus, substituting pictures instead of spelling out some of the words, as a little child might do.

Example of the rebus-style text in Baby's Letter

Baby's Letter is written in the voice of a little girl vacationing at the seaside to her pet cat back home, together with the cat's response. Anonymously written and illustrated, the booklet ("no. 1027") was designed at Raphael Tuck & Sons' studios in England and printed at the Fine Art Works in Germany.

Back cover
This particular copy of Baby's Letter was given away as an advertising promotion. Inside the front cover, an ink-stamped notice reads, "These books given with AAAA Coffee and one pound can Unrivaled Baking Powder. Sprague, Warner & Company, Chicago." One of the largest wholesale grocery firms in the United States at the turn of the twentieth century, Sprague, Warner & Company offered a number of premium items like this booklet to help promote sales of its household goods. Inexpensive little publications like Baby's Letter, and similar printed advertisements and promotional items originally intended to be kept around for a short time before being discarded,  are known as ephemera

Ink-stamp on p. [2] of cover
Raphael Tuck & Sons, a British firm which flourished from 1866 until the 1950s, issued an astonishing variety and number of illustrated postcards, greeting cards, and other printed souvenirs that are highly popular collectibles today. Surviving examples of many items published by Raphael Tuck & Sons can be browsed online in the crowdsourced databases TuckDB and TuckDB Ephemera.

Baby's Letter. London ; Paris ; New York : Raphael Tuck & Sons, [189-?].
Call number: PZ7 .B339 1890z CHMRB Cooper Hewitt National Design Library

--Diane Shaw, Special Collections Cataloger, Smithsonian Libraries