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Friday, March 29, 2013

The Yoeme (Yaqui) Deer Dance

Pascola solo dance, deer dance (Easter fiesta);
a man dances under a shelter while wearing a mask,
 a kilt, and cocoon rattles on his ankles. Another dancer,
a woman, a child, and a violin player are in the background.
Photo by E.H. Davis [P01985]

The coming of spring often conjures up images of giant bunny rabbits, fluffy chicks, and paschal lambs. For the Yoeme (Yaqui) people another animal, the deer, takes front and center at their Easter ceremonies.  In 1921 Edward H. Davis, a collector and ethnographer for the Museum of the American Indian, spent time among the Yoeme (Yaqui) in Arizona and Mexico documenting daily life as well as special occasions such as Easter. These photographs, part of the The Edward Harvey Davis Photograph Collection, 1903-1939, depict the “Deer Dance” performed at Easter. This dance is a great representation of syncretism; the merging of the Catholic faith and the figure of Jesus with older views regarding ritual sacrifice and hunting.  To learn more about the Yoeme (Yaqui) belief system you can check out David Delgado Shorter’s We Will Dance Our Truth: Yaqui History in Yoeme Performances.

Rachel Menyuk, Archives Technician 
Group gathered outside a small wooden chapel and ramada during an Easter fiesta. Photo by E.H. Davis [P01987]
Three musicians at deer-dance, Easter fiesta, sitting on the ground and playing on rasping sticks. Man on left plays the sticks on a half gourd floating in a bowl of water. Photo by E.H. Davis [P01982]

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Cheers to Spring!

Spring is slowly making its way through the nation's capital: the cherry blossoms are starting to poke their heads out, the daffodils are in full bloom, and the first warm breaths of sunshine are a welcome relief to the stinging wind we've had all winter.

To celebrate, here's a fittingly celebratory tune to listen to while sipping that first cold beer of the season. This unreleased track was recorded by Ralph Rinzler at The Bedford Arms in Camden Town, London, 1965. Other tracks from this recording session were released on Folkways FG 3575, Irish Music in London Pubs. We can deduce from the other tracks on this album that the musicians featured are Michael Gorman (fiddle) Margaret Barry (banjo), Tommy McGuire (melodeon), Pat Howley (flute [?]), and Paddy Breen (tin whistle/flageolet [?]). Pat Howley and Paddy Breen both played the flute and the flageolet, so we are less sure of their role in the recording. Can you detect any additional instruments?

Luckily, this track adapts equally well to climates still looking for their first signs of spring. Listen while sitting in front of a nice fire with friends, and of course, while enjoying a nice pint.


This recording is a part of the Moses and Frances Asch Collection. You can listen to samples of the other tracks from the recording on the Smithsonian Folkways website. For more field recordings by Ralph Rinzler, his audio recordings are also a wonderful source.

-Cecilia Peterson, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections 

Monday, March 25, 2013

Sneak Peek from the Stacks: Outdoor Sculpture in DC

You don’t have to wait for the American Art Museum’s visitor hours to see some of the artwork in our permanent collection. Keeping watch outside the Reynolds Center are Roy Lichtenstein’s “Modern Head” and Luis Jimenez’s “Vaquero,” on the South and North sides, respectively. Further afield, near DC’s Embassy Row, you’ll find Jerome Connor’s sculpture of Robert Emmet.

Jerome Connor, "Robert Emmet", 1916
Emmet was an Irish revolutionist and a member of the United Irishmen’s Party. From our Art Inventories:
This sculpture was commissioned by American citizens of Irish ancestry in commemoration of the struggle for independence of Ireland. It was presented to the Smithsonian Institution in 1917 and originally stood in the main rotunda of the National Museum of Natural History until it was replaced with the elephant. The sculpture was then placed in storage until 1966. On April 22, 1966, it was dedicated at its present site on Massachusetts Avenue in commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of the Easter Rebellion uprising for Irish independence.
There are tons of ‘hidden’ sculptures in and around DC -- just keyword search ‘outdoor sculpture’ in the Art Inventories.

-- Rachel Brooks, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Photograph Archives

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

BBYO Teens Day of Service in ACM Archives

The weekend of February 15, 2013, approximately 1200 exceptional teens from all around the world converged in Washington, DC, to participate in B’nai B’rith Youth Organization’s (BBYO) annual International Convention.  An organization for Jewish teens, BBYO is based around community service and teen empowerment.  The convention began with a day of service, in which the teens went to various businesses and organizations in the DC area and accumulated over 6,000 community service hours for the city.  The Anacostia Community Museum (ACM) hosted forty teens, and of those forty Daniel Meade from San Francisco, Kira Altman from Colorado Springs, and Yoel Yakobi from Toronto, Canada, were selected to assist in the archives division.
Frontispiece portrait of Phillis Wheatley from
Poems on Various Subjects... 1773

The teens began their day of service with a tour of the archives and survey of ACM’s archival treasures and special collections including the earliest publication in the collection, Poems on Various Subjects Religious and Moral by Phillis Wheatley.  Next, the students were provided with an introduction to archival principles and instructed on how to handle archive materials.  Last, the teens were given an opportunity to put their new knowledge to work and help with rehousing collections, numbering folders and boxes, and spot-checking collections. 
Here’s what the young adults thought of their experience as archivists:       
Dan: “It was really cool to see the old photographs and posters.  I felt like I was helping keep history preserved with my work.”
Yoel:  “It was very interesting. I liked it a lot. I liked doing the photographs because it was fun creating a family tree of all the portraits.”
Kira:  “It was really fascinating to see the old history and put together a family tree. I felt like I helped make the museum be organized. I’m happy I had the experience.”
The BBYO Teens day of service in the ACM archives successfully contributed to bringing unprocessed hidden collections to light and in making them more accessible and ready for public use. The museum looks forward to hosting BBYO teens and other student volunteers in the future.  

Jennifer Morris
Anacostia Community Museum Archives

Friday, March 15, 2013

Saint Patrick's Day in the Archives Center

Greeting card collections in the Archives Center contain primarily cards for Christmas, Easter, and Mother’s Day, but they also include cards celebrating other holidays, such as St. Patrick’s Day.  These large collections of older cards, some dating back to the 1850s, include visual and poetic delights, and many are humorous.   Large numbers of greeting cards can be found in the Division of Domestic Life Greeting Card Collection, ca. 1854-1975, and the Norcross Greeting Card Collection, mostly ca. 1880-1900 and 1920-1981.

Cards also can be found in family scrapbook collections and other personal papers.  Obviously, visual manifestations of holiday themes may occur in other types of documents and ephemera.  St. Patrick’s Day—coming up soon, on March 17—constitutes one of the most enduring connections to the Irish and Irish Americans in American culture. 
I’d love to show some examples of our St. Patrick’s Day cards to you—too bad we haven’t scanned any of them yet!   Feel free to send us your requests and we’ll be happy to invoice you.  However,  our collections contain additional references to St. Patrick’s Day.
Sheet music cover for "St. Patrick's Day Parade," from the musical, "The Military Girl."
Sam DeVincent Collection of Illustrated American Sheet Music, Archives Center

Certain holidays, such as St. Patrick’s Day, Christmas, and Thanksgiving, inspire parades.  Above is the cover of sheet music for “St. Patrick’s Day Parade,” a song from the 1912 musical play, “The Military Girl,” first produced at the Ziegfeld Theatre in Chicago.  Co-star Florence Holbrook was the wife of Cecil Lean, the multi-talented writer, composer, and star of the show, and they are shown together in the center of the cover.  However, they subsequently divorced and he married Cleo Empy (or Empey), known onstage as Cleo Mayfield.  According to “Variety” (February 25, 1914), which pronounced Lean “one of the most ardent lovers on and off the stage,” he had met Mayfield when she was in the cast of “The Military Girl.”  She took Holbrook’s place as the character “Miss Understood” during the long run of the show.

Cover of program for anniversary dinner for The Society of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick, 1919.
John D. Crimmins Collection, Archives Center, National Museum of American History.
But I digress!  Cecil Lean’s marriages have nothing to do with St. Patrick’s Day.  Let’s consider Irish organizations and Irish cuisine, embodied in the pages of a program for an anniversary dinner sponsored by the Society of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick, held in New York in 1919, appropriately on St. Patrick’s Day.  The menu is shown directly below.  The celebration was held within very recent memory of the end of World War I.  Note the appeal to Irish-American patriotism on the last page below.

I'm on the lookout for other items in our collections which relate to Irish themes and/or St. Patrick.  Meanwhile, have a Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

David Haberstich
Archives Center, National Museum of American History  

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Sweetest Sound

The Nagra IV-L
Beauty shot by Matt Blaze via Flickr
Polish-born inventor Stefan Kudelski died early this year.  His death (and life) were newsworthy enough that  both NPR and the New York Times ran stories about him and how his invention, the Nagra ¼” professional  tape recorder, revolutionized sound recording in the 1960s and ‘70s. The costly Nagra, (Polish for “to  record”), in its multiple models was highly coveted by all sorts of movie sound people and won a 1978 Oscar for its inventor.  The Human Studies Film Archives has several of these wonderfully crafted  machines. 

The Nagra alternately fascinates and terrifies me with its gleaming titanium body, finely tooled dials, switches, and mysterious plugs. And it’s an unusual machine to find in an archives, even an audiovisual archives.  After all, the Nagra is/was designed for capturing live sound.  It’s a bit of overkill to use a Nagra for simple playback (and possibly quite dangerous given the unnerving proximity of the “Playback” switch to “Record”).

The HSFA has a couple of these - the Nagra 4.2 
So what are Kudelski’s creations doing in the Human Studies Film Archives?  The answer lies in the production history of many of the founding collections of the HSFA  - a history in which the Nagra plays  a starring role.

It really isn’t an exaggeration to say that the Nagra was revolutionary for making 16mm ethnographic and documentary films.  Before the 1960s the sound tracks for documentary films were mostly built from “wild sound” (non- synchronous sound) recorded in the field, music, and voice over narration.  Synchronous sound equipment was too cumbersome, specialized and intrusive to use with ease in the field.  

The advent of a portable, durable, battery-powered sound recorder that reproduced at very high quality allowed filmmakers for the first time to shoot with simultaneously recorded sound (synchronous sound, or “sync” sound) in spontaneous situations, virtually anywhere in the world.  

NAFC cameraman Mathias Maradol filming in Mundgod, India in 1979.  Note monk carrying Nagra and mic.

The ability to capture both image and sound, in an intimate setting, to be almost one with the action, gave rise to a genre of actuality film variously called cinema verité, observational cinema, or direct cinema whose pioneers in the U.S.  included Richard Leacock, Robert Drew and D.A. Pennebaker.  Direct cinema had a profound impact on the development of ethnographic films and vice versa.  Rapid technological advances in conjunction with generous government and foundation support for humanities and science curriculum development  in the mid 1960s and early 1970s led to the most exciting and innovative period for documentary film in general and ethnographic film in particular.   The HSFA hold several important ethnographic film projects from this period - such as the John Marshall Ju/’hoan Bushman Collection and the Yanomamo films of Timothy Asch and Napoleon Chagnon.  

The sound in the film clip from below, from Ladakh Village Morningwas recorded using a Nagra 4.2.  Even though the house is small and full of people, the filming crew doesn't seem to be cramping anyone's style.  I love how everyone is conscious of the film crew and yet quite unconscious in getting on with the business of the morning...

The Nagra came into its own again just before the advent of highly portable video tape equipment.  In the late 1970s the National Anthropological Film Center, a film production unit under the aegis of the Smithsonian Institution, and predecessor to the Human Studies Film Archives,  worked with Vark Audio in Washington DC, to create one person sync sound filming system using the adorable Nagra SN. The “SN” stands for Série Noire, the “black,” or “dark” series (think black as in “black ops”). This miniature Nagra was durable, compact and extremely lightweight which made it quite popular with western intelligence services  during the Cold War.

 "The SN solves film-makers' synchronous sound recording problems: it can easily be concealed during filming and strict synchronisation is guaranteed. Data can be recorded on board propelled craft of all kinds for scientific research."
- Kudelski Nagra SN spec sheet
NAFC cameraman Ragpa Dorjee in Kathmandu, 1981.
He's using the single person camera with sync-sound set up
The SN uses ⅛”  tape (about the same size as in an audio cassette) on a small metallic reel but is fully capable of capturing high quality sync sound.

 National Anthropological Film Center film crews were outfitted with the SN recorder attached directly to the body of the 16mm camera and a microphone positioned above. The recorder turned off and on with the camera.  One person could more easily blend into the action, letting life flow around the filmmaker. 

The sound in this clip taken in Bylakuppe, India in 1980, was recorded using the Nagra SN attached to the camera.  In post production, when the sound bleep is lined up with fogged film frame, the shot's picture and sound will be in sync.

Nagra SN (with Vark audio label
and Smithsonian property tag) is
comparable in size to today's smartphones.

Kudelski may not have been the first or the only sound engineer to work on the problem of portable, high quality sound recording, but he was one of the best.  Nagra brand recording systems were a standard in the movie making business for at least 30 years.  The beautiful machines in this archive are a reminder of what must have been heady times for documentary filmmakers and NAFC staff!

Nagra 4.2 - showing signs of use but still pretty amazing.

Fehling, April. (January 29, 2013). Stefan Kudelski, Who Made Sound Recording Portable, Dies. In The Two-Way: Breaking News from NPR. Retrieved Feburary 18, 2013, from

Hurbis-Cherrier, M. (2007). Voice & Vision: A creative approach to narrative film and DV Production. Amsterdam: Focal Press.

Loizos, P. (1993). Innovation in ethnographic film: From innocence to self-consciousness, 1955-85. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 

Vittello, Paul. (January 31, 2013). Stefan Kudelski, Polish Inventor of Recorder That Changed Hollywood, Dies at 83. In The New York Times: Business Day. Retrieved February 18, 2013, from

Monday, March 11, 2013

Doris Mable Cochran: Smithsonian Herpetologist

Doris Cochran examining a snake, 1954
Smithsonian Institution Archives, Neg. 96-952
Who says diamonds are a girl’s best friend? What about reptiles?

Doris Mable Cochran (1898-1968) was a herpetologist at the United States National Museum (now known as the National Museum of Natural History). This was only natural since she grew up around the Museum watching her mother work as a scientific illustrator. Cochran began her Smithsonian career as an aid in the Division of Reptiles and Amphibians in 1918 and eventually became the Curator in Charge. Though her dissertation for her doctorate from the University of Maryland looked at blue crab myology, Cochran’s research mostly focused on South American frogs. Not only did she examine these specimens, but being quite the artist herself, she created beautiful drawings of her subjects. In her fifty years at the Smithsonian, Cochran traveled to South America, Central America, and the West Indies and published numerous articles and books on herpetology. In her spare time, she was a talented weaver, brushing her Persian cats and spinning their fur into beautiful earth-toned yarn! Cochran was the second person elected as a Distinguished Fellow of the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists and retired from the Smithsonian in 1968.

To learn more about Doris Cochran and other Smithsonian women during women’s history month, check out the Collections Search Center.

Courtney Bellizzi, Smithsonian Institution Archives

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Sneak Peek from the Stacks: Tableau Vivant

Left: American Artists' Club of Munich members in a tableau vivant of a Rembrandt painting, from Otto Bacher papers.
Right: the original painting, image from Wikimedia Commons.
As a cataloger it is my job to do a thorough examination of the items that I catalog, and sometimes this leads me down a tangential rabbit hole of information. For example, I recently cataloged a photograph of members of the American Artists' Club of Munich performing a tableau vivant (French for "living picture") of a painting by Rembrandt. My curiosity was piqued by the thought that this is what these young ex-pat artists did for fun in Munich (forget the biergarten, guys, let's do a tableau vivant!) and I wanted to learn more. First, I looked up the original painting, which fortunately has been digitized, to see how their version compared (the original is at the Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis). Next, I skimmed the history of tableaux vivants, where I learned that they were especially popular in 19th century theater when censorship dictated that actresses could only be nude onstage if they remained perfectly still. Then, in the course of writing this blog post I did a google search for "living paintings" which led me to the striking work of contemporary DC artist Alexa Meade.

So now it's your turn. Head over to our Collections Search Center and see where the rabbit hole takes you.

- Bettina Smith, Digital Projects Librarian, Archives of American Art.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Rills: Thrills, Spills and Chills

Historically, rills developed in Persian and in Spanish gardens with a heavy Moorish influence such as Al-andalus and the Court of the Lions at the Alhambra. These rills initially served a functional purpose, that of bringing water from an outside source closer to a home. These artificial streams--lined with stones or tiles to reduce water loss--were a common way to control the water source, making it flow in whatever direction or magnitude that was needed. Rills also derive from the Islamic tradition of the paradise garden--a rectangular space often divided into quadrants by two intersecting water channels.

Like so many other garden features, rills--variously known as runnels--eventually took on more of a decorative function than a utilitarian one by incorporating water into the garden with or without the addition of a fountain.

Frierson Garden in Athens, Georgia, 2011. Rinne Allen, photographer.

To view more examples of rills in the Archives of American Gardens, click here.

Brittany Spencer-King
Smithsonian Gardens Intern