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Friday, February 28, 2014

That's A-Maze-ing: Mazes and Labyriths

The Oxford English Dictionary defines a maze as “a structure designed as a puzzle, consisting of a complicated network of winding and interconnecting paths or passages.” While that sounds daunting as a garden feature, mazes can be as simple or as intricate as the gardener wants.

The first recorded hedge maze can be traced back to 13th century Belgium. In the late 16th century, Androuet du Cerceau, architect to Catherine de Medici and a leader in the French Renaissance, incorporated mazes into his architectural work. The oldest hedge maze that still exists today, dating back to 1690, can be found in Hampton Court in England.

Mazes can take on two forms: multicursal or unicursal. A multicursal maze has multiple ways to get to the center, while a unicursal maze has only one solution. There is also the labyrinth which is unicursal and very similar to a maze, but designed to be more about the experience of the passage or pilgramage rather than solving a puzzle. Labyrinths often have lower walls and can therefore be easier to construct. Labyrinths also differ from mazes in that their entrance is also their exit, while a maze can have different exits and entrances.
Mazes and labyrinths can be made of many different materials. These include hedges, maize, stones, vines grown on posts and fencing, turf, and various plants. Among the plants that can be used are Virginia creeper and honeysuckle.

Hedge maze at Tuckahoe Plantation, boyhood home of Thomas Jefferson, Richmond, Virginia, circa 1920s-1930s. Unknown photographer.
Labryinth at the Kitty & Hacker Caldwell in Lockout Mountain, Tennessee, April 2008, Robert Busby, photographer.

Bella Wenum, Archives of American Gardens Intern, Summer 2013

Smithsonian Gardens

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Cracking the Gullah Code

If you’re a regular reader of the Collections Search Center blog then you know the Lorenzo Dow Turner papers have been the topic of several posts.  If not, here’s a refresher:  Dr. Turner, the first professionally trained African American linguistic, known as the “father of Gullah studies,” proved through scientific research that the Gullah dialect spoken by African Americans living on the coast of the Carolinas and Georgia was a Creole language, heavily influenced by the languages of their West African ancestors.   

Sea-Island Dialect of South Carolina, Lorenzo D. Turner papers, Anacostia CommunityMuseum Archives, gift of Lois Turner Williams [ACMA 06-017.1]

Turner interviewed and recorded over twenty Gullah informants for his research that would later inform his seminal book, Africanisms in the Gullah Dialect.  According to Margaret Wade-Lewis, Turner’s biographer, Professor Turner often made photocopies of his transcribed interviews with various Gullah speakers and provided them to his students as course “handouts.” “Sea-Island Dialect of South Carolina” is an example of Turner’s class materials and gives us a glimpse into his process for cracking the Gullah language code.

The Anacostia Community Museum needs your assistance in making the “Sea-Island Dialect of South Carolina” accessible and available to the public. Visit the Smithsonian Transcription Center and try your hand at transcribing Turner’s interviews!

Jennifer Morris
Anacostia Community Museum Archives

Friday, February 21, 2014

Every Dog Has its Sleigh

This weekend the XXII Olympic Winter Games will come to a close after much sliding, skating, skiing and snowboarding over snow and ice. Though there have been a few event staples since the 1924 Winter Games, including skating and ice hockey, there have been many sports that have been considered “demonstration sports” that were never permanently incorporated as Olympic events. These include skijoring and sled dog racing which both rely on the power and speed of sled dogs. Dog sled races were held as demonstration event for the first time in the 1932 Lake Placid Olympics and had entrants from both Canada and the United States.

Around the same time as the Lake Placid Winter Olympics, Dentist Leuman Waugh was travelling much further north through Labrador and Alaska under the auspices of Columbia University and the U.S. Public Health Service studying and treating the teeth of the Inuit, Innu, and other indigenous people of the Arctic. Between 1914 and 1937 Dr. Waugh made over a dozen trips to Northeastern Canada as well as five documented trips to Alaska during which he took meticulous notes and photographs (previous posts highlight many of Waugh's hand tinted lantern slides here and here). Waugh captured many aspects of arctic life including the use of dog sleds which has been a part of Innu, Inuit and arctic culture since long before the Winter Olympic Games made their debut.

Yup'ik man with a gaff sitting on an ice pile. Dog pack and sled in foreground, 1935. Leuman Waugh Collection.
National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution [L02236]

Sled dogs taking a break on a snowy expanse, Eastern Arctic, Kaipokok Bay, circa 1920. Leuman Waugh Collection. National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution. [L01854]
 In addition to capturing images of dog sleds, there is also this wonderful lantern slide of a caribou-sled!

Inipiaq (Alaskan Inupiat Eskimo) man on sled being led by caribou on ice, Wainwright, Alaska circa 1930. Leuman Waugh Collection. National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution. [L02177]

Just as an added bonus:

Inupiaq (Alaskan Inupiat Eskimo) community, Kivalina; NANA Native Corporation, Alaska, circa 1930. Leuman Waugh Collection. National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution. [P30340]

Yup’ik [Norton Sound] community, Saint Michael Island, Alaska, circa 1930. Leuman Waugh Collection.
National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution. [P30082]

Rachel Menyuk, Archives Technician
National Museum of the American Indian, Archive Center

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

‘If At First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again’ – Opening the Museum of History and Technology

Frank A. Taylor, 1962,
photographer unknown,
SIA, SIA2010-0495.
When the Museum of History and Technology, now the National Museum of American History, was opened to the public in January of 1964, its Director, Frank A. Taylor, could survey the new exhibits with great satisfaction.  As he noted in his oral history interviews in Smithsonian Institution Archives, a curator usually only gets one shot to create an exhibit, and the day the exhibit opens, the curator knows how the exhibit should have been designed.  Rarely does a curator get a chance to redo the exhibit in a year or two, incorporating what he or she learned from the earlier installation.  But that was the case for the Smithsonian’s history exhibits in the 1950s and 1960s.

Taylor was curator of engineering at the Smithsonian’s United States National Museum (USNM) and, when he returned from serving in World War II, he found the USNM and its exhibits looked old and musty and not terribly interesting. So in 1940s and 1950s, Taylor initiated a systematic ‘Exhibits Modernization Program’ during which most of the exhibits in the National Museum were updated.  The new history exhibits included the Life in Early America, Gowns of the First Ladies, Textile Machinery and Fibers, Textile Processing, Power Machinery, Farm Machinery, Printing Arts, Military History, Numismatics, Hall of Health, and History of Medicine, Dentistry, and Pharmacy.  The First Ladies gowns had been taken out of their individual cases and were displayed in reconstructions of eight White House rooms, decorated in period style from its earliest appearance to the 1950s, with architectural details recovered from the White House during a recent renovation.  

First Ladies Hall,
Arts and Industries Building,
1920s, SIA, mah-11064b.    

First Ladies Hall,
Arts and Industries Building,
1950s, SIA, mah43539d
First Ladies Hall, 1972,
SIA, SIA2010-3412.   

The “Transparent Woman” in the Hall of Health taught museum-goers the latest in medical knowledge.  Special federal funding for the Exhibits Modernization Program allowed Taylor to hire new staff to edit and design modern exhibits, experiment with new display techniques, attract the attention of the public and the United States Congress with openings for each new hall, and demonstrate that the Smithsonian could use federal funding to great effect.  Taylor also resumed a campaign to secure a building for a technology museum.

Transparent Woman in the Hall of Health,
Arts and Industries Building,
1957, photographer unknown, SIA, 2002-10651.

On June 28, 1955, Congress passed 6 Stat. 189 which provided authorization and funding to construct “a suitable building for a Museum of History and Technology.”  Architect Walker O. Cain of McKim, Mead and White designed the new museum in a post-war modern style.  Inside, Benjamin Lawless led a team of designers that brought exciting new ideas to museum displays, including sounds, new lighting, interesting display techniques and graphics, and even smells to engage visitors.   When the new building opened, Taylor felt that they had got the exhibits right, correcting things from the Exhibits Modernization era.   Over the next several years, new exhibits, such as the Physical Science Hall, opened regularly, attracting new audiences and press coverage for the new museum.

As we celebrate the National Museum of American History’s 50th anniversary, it is interesting to trace the long path to the new museum, from post-war dreams, to a new era of museum exhibits, to a building and exhibits worthy of the name, National Museum of American History

Pamela M. Henson

Friday, February 14, 2014

Love, the Smithsonian Collections Blog

Happy Valentine's Day, dear readers! We're celebrating today with a love-themed treasury of images from our collections here at the Smithsonian. Your editors were surprised to learn that love can be located in acid-free folders all over the Institution! Please enjoy this romantic stroll through our stacks--who needs long walks on the beach when you have archives?

Eero Saarinen letter to Aline B. (Aline Bernstein) Saarinen, 1954. Aline and Eero Saarinen papers, Archives of American Art.
Konrad and Florence Cramer, circa 1930. Unidentified photographer. Konrad and Florence Ballin Cramer papers, Archives of American Art.

Heart Speaks to Heart. Norcross Greeting Card Collection, Archives Center, National Museum of American History.

Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, San Francisco, California. Photographed by Peter A. Juley & Son, 1930 or 1931.
Peter A. Juley & Son Collection, Photograph Archives, Smithsonian American Art Museum.

"Take me up with you dearie," words by Junie McCree ; music by Albert Von Tilzer. 
Published by York Music Company, New York City, copyright 1909. 
From The Bella C. Landauer Collection of Aeronautical Sheet Music, 
National Air and Space Museum Library.

Cecilia Peterson, Digitization Archivist

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Sound of Digitization

Before (top) and after (bottom) conservation
of a page from Dorsey’s “Comparative Dakota,
Ponca (and Omaha), Osage, Quapaw, Kansa,
Winnebago, Iowa, Mandan, Hidatsa, and
Crow vocabulary 1877” (MS 4800[81])
As with all archives, access is fundamental to the mission of the National Anthropological Archives (NAA). With new support from the Arcadia Fund, the NAA will be working over the next two years on preserving and providing wider access to a treasure trove of primary sources used to investigate endangered language and cultures. This funding will support the digitization of the NAA’s entire sound collection (close to 3,000 recordings) and 35,000 pages of manuscripts. Although an impressive 100,000 digital resources are accessible online, this is still less than one percent of the Archives’ manuscript materials and five percent of sound recording holdings.

The origins of language documentation collections at the National Anthropological Archives begin with the founding of the Smithsonian’s Bureau of American Ethnology (BAE) in 1879. The first research program in the U.S. devoted to the methodological study of Native Americans, the Bureau engaged an extensive network of researchers in highly-systematic data collection to record the past and present ways of life of the North American tribes. Researcher field notes, photographs, and sound recordings document the language, culture, and knowledge of hundreds of indigenous communities throughout the Americas. Language documentation was a major focus of the BAE from its inception, assembled through field work and collecting earlier manuscripts, such as notes from the philologist Horatio Hale, who sailed around the world with the U.S. Exploring Expedition of 1838-42. Later collections reflect a broader interest in languages as the archives' mission expanded to include preservation of historically valuable records documenting cultures worldwide.  

Sound recordings in NAA’s collection contain the poetry, songs, stories, and conversations of endangered language communities around the globe. Approximately half of the recordings were made in North America; the remaining 1,500 contain roughly equal amounts of material from Africa, Oceania, and South America. Much of the North American material was recorded early in the 20th century, while documentation from other regions dates primarily from the 1950s through the 1970s. These materials are on various obsolete and endangered media, ranging from wax cylinders and aluminum transcription disks to various sizes and speeds of magnetic tape. Digitization will move them to the latest standards of electronic media, with provision for regular migration as standards change over time.

Dorsey_01.jpg: The Reverend James Owen Dorsey, n.d.  
To digitize ALL of the Dorsey collection
(67 boxes with an average 200 pages per box)
will take a minimum of three (3) months of full-time work.
The grant will also support the digitization of 20,000 heavily-used linguistic manuscript materials, at a critical point of deterioration. Two of the most used and fragile linguistic collections selected for digitization within the NAA are the papers of Truman Michelson and James Dorsey. Michelson, an esteemed early 20th-century linguist, assembled his materials while documenting the Algonquian languages of North America. Feel free to peruse some of the Truman Michelson PDFs we have made available in SIRIS. Thousands of pages of texts, many written by the first generation of literate Native people, constitute a systematic record of fourteen separate languages, with an excellent representation of different types of Native texts, ranging from personal biographies to historical narratives and ceremonial precepts. The majority of the Michelson material was written on cheap tablets made with highly acidic paper that is now at a critical point of deterioration. Dorsey’s material, assembled in the late 19th century, is primarily devoted to Siouan languages. His papers provide an unprecedented record of a dozen languages from a time when they were widely spoken. Both collections are threatened resources, making the timing of the generous funding from Arcadia particularly important.

We’ll be working hard to get these digitized sound recordings and manuscripts up online in the Collections Search Center, so stay tuned!

Lauren Marr, Program Assistant

with support from the NAA project team

Thursday, February 6, 2014

"Re-Discovering" Thomas Henry Tibbles

Portrait of T.H. Tibbles. Thomas Henry Tibbles papers (NMAI.AC.066),
National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution.
When records from NMAI’s predecessor institution, the Museum of the American Indian (MAI), Heye Foundation, were first processed and described, it was as one very large collection. Previous blog posts here and here describe what a massive undertaking it was to process and describe these records.  One of my jobs over this past year has been to identify small stand-alone collections that don’t belong in the MAI institutional records and deserve their own collection record and finding aid. By identifying and highlighting these collections it will make them both easier to find online and to research in person.

The Thomas Henry Tibbles papers are a perfect example of this type of collection. Thomas Tibbles was a crucial player in bringing the Habeas Corpus case of Standing Bear and the Ponca people before the United States District Court in 1879. At the time, Tibbles worked as a journalist for the Omaha Daily Herald and publicized the unlawful removal of the Ponca from their lands to Indian Territory and the subsequent arrest of Standing Bear and 30 other Ponca when they returned to Nebraska.

His History Illustration of Standing Bear, undated. Thomas Henry Tibbles papers (NMAI.AC.066),
National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution

The Tibbles papers include correspondence Tibbles sent out to rally support for the Ponca, as well as hand-written drafts of lectures and talks, newspaper clippings and photographs. Also included is a small amount of writing by Susette La Flesche (Omaha), daughter of Chief Joseph La Flesche.

Letter excerpt from Susette La Flesche to T.H. Tibbles.
 April 29th, 1879. Thomas Henry Tibbles papers (NMAI.AC.066),
National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution
Susette, also known as Bright Eyes, worked closely alongside Tibbles to publicize the conditions of the Ponca’s removal and treatment. She served as Chief Standing Bear’s interpreter during his habeas corpus trial and eventually went on a speaking tour, organized by Tibbles, with Standing Bear. She distinguished herself as an orator speaking on Native American rights. Tibbles and La Flesche married in 1881 and her wedding dress can be seen in Infinity of Nations at the George Gustav Heye Center in New York City.

Tibbles continued to write and edit for various publications in Nebraska until his death in 1928, leaving his autobiography Buckskin and Blanket Days: Memoirs of a Friend of the Indians unpublished. In 1939, Tibbles’s grandson, Chester Barris, began contacting editors to publish his grandfather’s autobiography. Although he did not live to see it published, his wife managed to get the book published in 1957 by the University of Nebraska Press. Following the publication, Vivien Barris corresponded with Frederick Dockstader, Director of the Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation, and deposited the papers of her late husband’s grandfather into the care of the museum.

Fifty-some years later, this collection is getting some much deserved care. The photographs are being moved into climate controlled storage for preservation purposes and some of the more fragile documents were treated by paper conservators last spring. A new collection record is now up on the Smithsonian Collections Search Site and a detailed finding aid is in the works. For more information on this collection contact the NMAI Archive Center.

Rachel Menyuk
Archives Technician, NMAI Archive Center

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Take a Mental Break to Sunny Palm Beach

With the introduction of glass lantern slides in 1849 photography was able to be used in a public setting for educational and entertainment purposes in the same way that we use PowerPoint to illustrate lectures today. The lantern slide is glass transparency designed to fit in a projector, often called a ‘magic lantern’ that would project the image on a screen or wall. Color was often applied to the glass slides by hand.  

The Garden Club of America (GCA) amassed a large collection of glass lantern slides, during the 1920s and 1930s, which are now part of the Garden Club of America Collection at the Archives of American Gardens. GCA members used this expansive collection to create presentations and to give lectures about garden history and design. The Archives of American Gardens’ slide lecture series includes scripts highlighting Northern and Southern gardens by Alice G. B. Lockwood, author of Gardens of Colony and State (1931), as well as lecture scripts relating to gardens in California, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia and Washington state.

One such lecture from the 1930s was created for the gardens of Palm Beach, Florida. Since we no longer can project the glass lantern slides on a ‘magic lantern’ (nor would we want to due to their fragile condition), we have given the presentation new life by recreating it in a PowerPoint format.  In doing so, we have been able to bring the images back together for their originally intended use – garden education and appreciation.

As winter progresses, we all think about taking a trip to warmer climes for a break from the cold weather.  Even if we can’t join those headed to Florida for a winter escape, we can at least take a brief mental vacation to the warm and sunny Florida showcased in the following images of Palm Beach gardens.

Il Palmetto, Palm Beach, Florida, lantern slide, circa 1930s. Unknown photographer (FL027001)
Smithsonian Institution, Archives of American Gardens, Garden Club of America
Casa Alejandro, Palm Beach, Florida, lantern slide, circa 1930s. (FL003002)
Smithsonian Institution, Archives of American Gardens, Garden Club of America
Casa Ananda, Palm Beach, Florida, lantern slide, circa 1930s. Unknown photographer (FL004005)
Smithsonian Institution, Archives of American Gardens, Garden Club of America

Qui-Si-Sana, Palm Beach, Florida, lantern slide, circa 1930s. Unknown photographer (FL005002)
Smithsonian Institution, Archives of American Gardens, Garden Club of America

For more information about the history and manufacture of lantern slides, see the Library of Congress’ website:

Audrey Abrams, 2013 GCA Garden History and Design Intern

Archives of American Gardens