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Thursday, August 1, 2013

Alixa Naff and her Arab American Collection

The Smithsonian Institution is noting the death on June 1, 2013, of Dr. Alixa Naff, a generous donor, passionate collector, and pioneering historian of Arab American culture and immigration history.

The Faris and Yamna Naff Arab American Collection is one of the National Museum of American History's most important collections which document immigrant experiences. Dr. Alixa Naff devoted the better part of her life to assembling this collection of oral histories, photographs, manuscript materials, other documents, and artifacts, and donated it to the Museum in her parents' honor. The archival materials are housed in the Archives Center, and the artifacts, such as religious objects, musical instruments, and personal and household items, are stored with the Museum's "three-dimensional" objects. Following her donation, Dr. Naff worked tirelessly with the collection as an Archives Center volunteer for many years.

The occupations of many immigrant families are well illustrated in the Archives Center's Naff Collection, among them the Doumar family, which operated an ice cream business in Norfolk, Virginia, in the early part of the twentieth century. Studio portraits show family members, while exterior and interior views of Doumar ice cream stands and facilities offer significant glimpses into immigrants' lives. Some record the growth of technology as well, among the multiple layers of information which documentary photographs can convey. Consider this view of George Elicas Doumar using a waffle cone making machine, which was introduced in 1919 and allegedly made hand machines obsolete.

George Elicas Doumar using waffle cone making machine, Ocean View Park, Norfolk, Virginia, 1920.
Photographer unidentified.  From the Faris and Yamna Naff Arab American Collection, Archives Center.

David Haberstich
Curator of Photography, Archives Center

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