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Friday, October 30, 2015

Flashback Friday: Farewell to American Archives Month

Blogs across the Smithsonian will give an inside look at the Institution’s archival collections and practices during a month long blog-a-thon in celebration of October’s American Archives Month. See additional posts from our other participating blogs, as well as related events and resources, on the Smithsonian’s Archives Month website.


Mary Ann Belardo working in the Archives of American Art area in the Fine Arts and Portrait Galleries, now the Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture. Smithsonian Institution Archives. Neg. #SIA2011-1134. 
On this final day of American Archives Month, let’s take a moment to look back at the many hidden connections we have celebrated. We hope these stories have connected you to the treasures held within our repositories and uncovered the exciting worlds they represent. We explored popular culture with baseball, photography, and Halloween; Smithsonian history with the first Smithsonian computer; and national memory with Dia de los Muertos and the anniversary of the Armenian genocide.

We hope these posts have given you a glimpse into the hidden stories that can be found behind the scenes and in our collections. With 9.3 million records across most Smithsonian major collections, the Collections Search Center creates a not so hidden connection across the Smithsonian.  Efforts like SOVA, the Smithsonian Online Virtual Archives, highlight the hidden connections within our materials and across our many diverse collections. We work to make these resources available so that you can keep exploring the Smithsonian’s collections year-round and find hidden connections of your own!

Lisa Fthenakis, Program Assistant

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Throwback Thursday: Squeeze Making

Blogs across the Smithsonian will give an inside look at the Institution’s archival collections and practices during a month long blog-a-thon in celebration of October’s American Archives Month. See additional posts from our other participating blogs, as well as related events and resources, on the Smithsonian’s Archives Month website.

With the abundance of technology that surrounds us every day, it’s easy to forget how we ever got along without it. Never fear, archives are here to help answer this and many more questions! For example, how did archaeologists capture and render a three-dimensional image in the early 20th century? We’re glad you asked. Before the invention of 3-D scanners and printers, there were squeezes.



A squeeze is a series of moldable paper, pulp, latex, or plaster that are layered on top of each other and moistened to create a wet pulp. The substance is then pressed, into a low relief inscription. When the material is dry and removed, it becomes a multidimensional mirror-image representation of the original inscription.

The images shown here are from the Ernst Herzfeld Papers housed in the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives. The Archives holds 393 squeezes from the ancient Near East, the largest collection outside of Iran and Iraq. To learn more, visit the Squeeze Imaging Project.

Chelsea Fairley
Freer|Sackler Archives

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Progressive Circle of American Women Sculptors in the Nineteenth Century

Blogs across the Smithsonian will give an inside look at the Institution’s archival collections and practices during a month-long blog-a-thon in celebration of October’s American Archives Month. See additional posts from our other participating blogs, as well as related events and resources, on the Smithsonian’s Archives Month website.

A circle of American women sculptors achieved recognition during the nineteenth century in the United States and abroad, receiving commissions for public sculpture and patronage from private parties. Among these artists, (Mary) Edmonia Lewis, Vinnie Ream Hoxie, Harriet Goodhue Hosmer, and Sarah Fisher (Clampitt) Ames were particularly notable. Trained in the neoclassical style, these American sculptors were drawn to Rome, where they studied and were inspired by the ancient classical art and international art community. In turn, they established studios, convenient to both Italian craftsmen who could serve as assistants and to marble stone quarries. Women sculptors were welcomed into Rome’s expatriate community, which in the 1850s included nearly forty active American artists, both male and female. The artists often held open houses at their studios, frequented by visitors to the city, including Ulysses S. Grant, Frederick Douglass, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, all of whom Edmonia Lewis portrayed during their stay.

Harriet Goodhue Hosmer (1830–1908) by Sir William Boxall (1800–1879), oil on canvas, 1857. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. (NPG.95.6)
 This first group of American women sculptors gathered around the popular artist Harriet Goodhue Hosmer, who had moved to Rome in 1852. The author Henry James referred to this artistic group as “a white marmorean flock,” a term that did not recognize the individuality of these talented women from varied social and economic backgrounds. Other expatriate female artists belonging to this circle were Louisa Lander, Anne Whitney, Emma Stebbins, Margaret Foley, and Florence Freeman. In 1860, Hosmer received the distinction of a commission by the state of Missouri to create the colossal bronze statue of Thomas Hart Benton, completed in 1868 for Lafayette Park in Saint Louis. In December 1864, Hosmer published an article titled the “Process of Sculpture” for the Atlantic Monthly to counter critics who attributed her success to the work of her craftsmen. Edmonia Lewis was an exception among the sculptors of her generation in Rome, since she rarely relied on Italian craftsmen and created most of her artwork by herself. Her method of independent work was based on limited funds and her belief in retaining the originality of her sculpture.

Edmonia Lewis (1844–after 1909) by Henry Rocher (1824–?), albumen silver print, c. 1870. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. (NPG.94.95)
Artists who lived abroad also maintained cultural and political ties with the United States, returning for visits and commissions. Some eventually returned to settle in America.  Edmonia Lewis was the first recognized professional African American female sculptor. She created sculptures of the leading figures of the abolitionist and suffragist groups and of Civil War heroes, such as John Brown, Maria Weston Chapman, Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, Wendell Phillips, Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, Charles Sumner, and Anna Quincy Waterson. Sculptor Sarah Fisher Ames was an antislavery advocate and a nurse, responsible for a temporary hospital established in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., during the Civil War. Through her activities, she met Abraham Lincoln, which likely led to formal sittings with him, where she made sketches and possibly modeled his features. She created at least five busts of the president. In 1868, the Joint Committee on the Library purchased Ames’s marble Lincoln bust for the U.S. Capitol; institutions in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania acquired the remaining busts. Ames later created a sculpted bust of Ulysses S. Grant, which was exhibited at the 1893 Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition.

Vinnie Ream Hoxie (1847?–1914) by an unidentified artist, melainotype, c. 1875. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. (NPG.78.112)
Vinnie Ream Hoxie also created a series of portraits of President Lincoln. In 1866 the secretary of the interior commissioned her to create a full-length marble statue of the late president, which was installed in the Capitol Rotunda in 1871. She had previously created a bust of Lincoln from a life sitting in Washington. Her selection for the commission was a result of a heated debate in the Congress. Her opponents were critical of her youth and inexperience. Sarah Fisher Ames also made a bust of Lincoln that received favorable comments. Both works are testimonies of these talented artists’ interpretation of Lincoln as a leader and as an important symbol of freedom. Each portrayed Lincoln in a neoclassical style, emphasizing his humanity and solemnity of purpose. They were the first sculptors to create official commemorative images of him for the U.S. Capitol, representing the principles of the newly united nation. Hoxie also created statues of Samuel Jordan Kirkwood and Sequoyah for the Capitol’s National Statuary Hall Collection.

Ames, Lewis, Hoxie, and Hosmer all exhibited their sculptures at the 1893 Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition, which brought them further recognition. At times, this circle of women sculptors faced criticism from the public and male artists. They had to maintain a fine balance from what was expected of a Victorian woman in her dedication to family and home and their ambitions to compete in a male profession. However, this group of progressive women broke new ground for the next generation of female artists, including Anna Hyatt Huntington, Malvina Hoffman, Evelyn Longman, and Bessie Potter Vonnoh.

In 1966, the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery founded the Catalog of American Portraits (CAP), a national portrait archives of historically significant subjects and artists from the colonial period to current times. The public is welcome to access the online portrait search program from the museum website of over 100,000 records. The CAP program can be reviewed at the following National Portrait Gallery website: http://www.npg.si.edu/research/ceros.html

Patricia H. Svoboda, Research Coordinator

Websites:
Tolles, Thayer. “American Women Sculptors.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–10. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/scul/hd_scul.htm
Nichols, Kathleen L. “International Women Sculptors: 1893 Chicago World’s Fair and Exposition.” Posted 2002; updated 2015. http://arcadiasystems.org/academia/cassatt4.html

Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865) by Sarah Fisher Ames (1817–1901) marble, 1868. U.S. Capitol, Washington, DC (21.0013.000). http://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/art/artifact/Sculpture_21_00013.htm

Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865) by Vinnie Ream Hoxie (1847?–1914), marble, 1871. U.S. Capitol, Washington, DC. http://www.aoc.gov/capitol-hill/other-statues/abraham-lincoln-statue

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882) by Edmonia Lewis (1844–after 1909), marble, 1871. Harvard University Portrait Collection, Cambridge (S52). http://www.harvardartmuseums.org/art/303587

Thomas Hart Benton (1782–1858) by Harriet Goodhue Hosmer (1830–1908), bronze, 1868. Lafayette Park, Saint Louis. https://www.stlouis-mo.gov/government/departments/parks/parks/browse-parks/view-park.cfm?parkID=52&parkName=Lafayette%20Park

Bibliography:
Buick, Kirsten Pai. “Mary Edmonia Lewis: The Biography of a Career, 1859–1876.” Ph.D. dissertation, University of Michigan, 1999.

Dabakis, Melissa. A Sisterhood of Sculptors: American Artists in Nineteenth-Century Rome. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2014.

James, Edward T. et al. Notable American Women, 1607–1950: A Biographical Dictionary. Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1971.

Weimann, Jeanne Madeline. Introduction by Anita Miller. The Fair Women. Chicago: Academy Chicago, 1981.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Shared Connections: Collaboration across Smithsonian Archives

Blogs across the Smithsonian will give an inside look at the Institution’s archival collections and practices during a month long blog-a-thon in celebration of October’s American Archives Month. See additional posts from our other participating blogs, as well as related events and resources, on the Smithsonian’s Archives Month website.

As we come to the end of October and American Archives Month, I find myself reflecting on this year’s theme of hidden connections and several new initiatives on which the archival units across the Smithsonian have collaborated to “unhide” these connections and enhance online discovery of the Institution’s vast archival holdings, among the largest holdings in our nation measuring nearly 140,000 cubic feet of materials.   The primary sources of the Smithsonian document the history of art, culture, music, design, flight, space exploration, science and technology, landscapes and gardens, and native cultures in the United States, as well as the long history of the Smithsonian itself.

The most significant collective achievement of the Smithsonian’s archival units was this month’s launch of SOVA:  Smithsonian Online Virtual Archives.  This new and innovative web portal allows users to explore our nation's historical legacy as documented in the Smithsonian's vast, rich, and varied archival collections.  SOVA provides online access to descriptions and detailed inventories of thousands of primary resource collections held by multiple repositories across the Institution — all in one integrated interface.  Users can now discover previously hidden collections related by topic and/or by names of persons, families, businesses, and organizations regardless of where the collection lives.  And, they can explore related digital content from archival collections, such as letters, manuscripts, diaries and journals, ledgers and stock books, photographs, scrapbooks, sketchbooks and drawings, technical drawings and blueprints, field notebooks, log books, rare printed materials, sound recordings, videos, and much more.

Found in SOVA:   Frida Kahlo with her painting, Self-Portrait as a Tehuana, ca. 1943 / unidentified photographer. Florence Arquin papers, 1923-1985. Forms part of: Florence Arquin papers, 1923-1985.  Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution
Artwork by Acee Blue Eagle.  Forms part of the Acee Blue Eagle papers, 1907-1975. National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution
Archival finding aids or collection guides are the key to unlocking information in SOVA. Each unique archival collection has a finding aid that provides the user with varying levels of descriptive detail about the collection, including links to related archival collections in repositories across the Smithsonian, as well as related archival collections across the world by linking to ArchiveGrid.  Digitized content from each archival collection currently maintained in the Smithsonian’s DAMS (Digital Asset Management System) is also accessed via links provided in the collection's finding aid, thus providing users with the full context of the digital objects.

Another exciting archival discovery interface shared by the archival units is the Smithsonian Transcription Center.  The website invites the public to “help make our vast collections in art, history, and science more accessible to anyone with a curious spirit,” and that they “are working hand-in-hand with digital volunteers to transcribe historic documents and collection records to facilitate research and excite the learning in everyone. Together, we are discovering secrets hidden deep inside our collections that illuminate our history and our world.”   The very nature of archival documentation makes it the ideal medium for transcription.

The Transcription Center opened in July 2013 with thousands of documents across 31 projects from eight Smithsonian museums, archives, and libraries. They have grown with the help of volunteers to include over 900 projects from thirteen participating museums, archives and libraries. Current archival projects available for transcription and review include the E. Howard Clock Orders Ledger from the National Museum of American History’s Archives Center;  the Bladensburg Union Burial Association Records from the Anacostia Community Museum Archives; artist Arthur Dove's diary from the Archives of American Art, and the Field Notebooks from the National Museum of Natural History and the Smithsonian Institution Archives.

Found in the Transcription Center now:  A page from Arthur Dove’s 1942 diary found in the Arthur and Helen Torr Dove papers, 1905-1975, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution
Collaborative projects among the Smithsonian archivists just make sense.  They allow us to efficiently share more of our collections online with the public, thus, helping current and potential users to discover previously hidden collections and to explore the many connections to be made among our archival holdings here at the Smithsonian.

Barbara Aikens, Head of Collections Processing
Archives of American Art

Monday, October 26, 2015

How Do You Process a Rattlesnake? And Other Archival Horrors

Blogs across the Smithsonian will give an inside look at the Institution’s archival collections and practices during a month long blog-a-thon in celebration of October’s American Archives Month. See additional posts from our other participating blogs, as well as related events and resources, on the Smithsonian’s Archives Month website.

We in the archival profession go all out for Archives Month in October, but we acknowledge that as the month comes to a close, the greater populace is maybe more concerned with costumes, bags of fun size candies, and how best to carve a pumpkin without cutting off a finger. So why not bring together the best of both worlds? Here are some of our spookiest finds from the Archives of American Art.

1. Joseph Cornell: assemblage artist, sculptor, filmmaker, and...werewolf?
Marilyn and Pat letter to Joseph Cornell, between 1940 and 1970. Joseph Cornell papers, 1804-1986, bulk 1939-1972. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
This letter was sent to Joseph Cornell from Marilyn & Pat, two children from his neighborhood in Queens, thanking him for not revealing their secret clubhouse. The letter is addressed "Dear Werewolf" - a child's whim, or WERE THEY ON TO SOMETHING?? The back of the letter consists entirely of a howl that was only decipherable to Cornell.

2. Robert Slytherin, er, I mean Smithson

Artifact from the Robert Smithson and Nancy Holt papers, 1905-1987, bulk 1952-1987. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
We generally prefer to leave the herpetology up to our colleagues at the National Museum of Natural History - letters, photographs, diaries and the like generally don't have fangs. But the papers of land artists Robert Smithson and Nancy Holt just so happen to include a rattlesnake head (see series 12: artifacts, box 14, Rattlesnake Head, circa 1960s-1970s. Box 14 also contains something listed in the finding aid only as "Unidentified Amphibious Organism." Shudder). What's an archivist to do? Wrap it in bubble wrap and hope you don't ever have to look into its beady eyes again.

3. Portrait of the Artist as a Young Ghost

Double-exposed portrait of Jan Matulka, ca. 1920 / unidentified photographer.
Jan Matulka papers, 1923-1960. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
The tradition of "spirit photography" - the supposed capture of souls of the dead on film - is almost as old as the technology of photography itself. Beginning in the 1860s, crafty photographers would use an existing photograph and a double exposure to overlay a ghostly figure over a new photograph. Czech-American artist Jan Matulka wasn't trying to pull anyone's leg since he was still very much alive when this photo was produced, but the effects are eerie nonetheless.

I hope these finds chilled you to the bone even more than a prolonged visit to cold storage. Happy Archives Month, and happy Halloween!!

Bettina Smith, Digital Projects Librarian
Archives of American Art

For more Halloween fun from the Archives, see a related post on the Archives of American Art blog today:
Halloween Costume Guide: Archives Style (Last-Minute Edition)

Friday, October 23, 2015

Flashback Friday: Dia de los Muertos

Blogs across the Smithsonian will give an inside look at the Institution’s archival collections and practices during a month long blog-a-thon in celebration of October’s American Archives Month. See additional posts from our other participating blogs, as well as related events and resources, on the Smithsonian’s Archives Month website.


Day of the Dead Sugar Skulls, Puebla, Mexico, 1973. Photograph by Flora Kaplan (S12638). Flora Kaplan collection.  National Museum of the American Indian, Archive Center
While some of us are gearing up for Halloween, making costumes and purchasing candy, many folks in Mexico are preparing to celebrate el Dia de los Muertos, also known as the Day of the Dead. Prior to Spanish colonization in Mexico, pre-Columbian cultures, such as the Aztec, celebrated and honored the dead in a month long festival beginning in August. In an attempt to Christianize the indigenous rituals associated with honoring the dead, the Spaniards moved the festival to November 1st and November 2nd to coincide with All Saint’s Day and All Soul’s day. Today, the Day of the Dead is a national holiday in Mexico and is celebrated throughout the country with a variety of practices that merge both indigenous traditions and Catholic theologies. 

During the 1970’s Flora Kaplan witnessed and photographed many of the Day of the Dead traditions in the state of Puebla in East-Central Mexico. Though Kaplan was primarily in Mexico researching the techniques and lifestyles of Mexican potters, she took thousands of photographs documenting daily life in Puebla as well as in Chiapas, Oaxaca, Guerrero and Veracruz. These photographs, along with a small amount of manuscript material, are now held in the NMAI Archive Center as part of the Flora S. Kaplan collection. Kaplan’s photographs highlight many of the traditional ways the Day of the Dead is celebrated. For instance, flowers, particularly the Mexican cempasĂșchitl (marigolds), are placed on graves to honor the dead along with other favorite items of the deceased.  


Women buying marigolds in the market for the Festival of the Dead, Puebla, Mexico, 1973. Photograph by Flora Kaplan (S13628). Flora Kaplan collection. National Museum of the American Indian, Archive Center
Graves covered with flowers for the Day of the Dead celebrations, Puebla, Mexico, 1973. Photograph by Flora Kaplan (S13629). Flora Kaplan collection. National Museum of the American Indian, Archive Center
Ofrendas, or altars, in the home will often include food offerings such as pan de muerto (bread of the dead) and sugar skulls. Other items are often added to the ofrenda, like a toy for a deceased child, or a bottle of Tequila for an adult, These items are meant to create a welcoming environment for the spirit of the deceased. 


Ofrenda for Day of the Dead celebrations, Puebla, Mexico, 1973. Photograph by Flora Kaplan (S15377). 
Flora Kaplan collection. National Museum of the American Indian, Archive Center



Although the holiday originated in Mexico its traditions have spread to many other countries including the United States. The National Museum of the American Indian celebrates the Day of the Dead with a family festival where children and adults can share food, music and even make their own sugar skulls. 

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

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Sioux City: How the story of one bridge led me to a corn palace

Blogs across the Smithsonian will give an inside look at the Institution’s archival collections and practices during a month long blog-a-thon in celebration of October’s American Archives Month. See additional posts from our other participating blogs, as well as related events and resources, on the Smithsonian’s Archives Month website.

I recently found this silver gelatin acetate film negative of the Corn Palace, Sioux City, Iowa (1890), in the George S. Morison Collection.  Morison (1842-1903) was a “rock star” civil engineer who built twenty-three railroad bridges throughout the United States, many of them in the Midwest.
His contributions to bridge building were significant. He enhanced the profession by introducing certain design specifications, published reports on his construction projects, testing and inspection practices, and he transitioned to newer materials, steel and concrete.  When he wasn’t building bridges and traveling, Morison was a member of the Panama Canal Commission (1899-1901), where his highly influential voice was a major reason the canal was built in Panama rather than Nicaragua.

What was this film negative doing among a box of glass plates documenting bridges? It seemed oddly out of place, yet was a pleasant discovery. I knew Morison didn’t design the Corn Palace; that honor belongs to architect E.W. Loft, who designed the first palace in 1887.  After all, Morison was a man who worked with iron, steel, and concrete, not corn.

Sioux City Bridge, Sioux City, Iowa, south and west portal to bridge, ca. 1889.  Silver albumen print by unidentified photographer.   George S. Morison Collection, 1846-1903, Archives Center, NMAH.
Morison spent considerable time in Sioux City building the Sioux City Bridge over the Missouri River from 1885-1888. The mighty Missouri River was no stranger to him either. He designed a total of seven bridges over the Missouri which posed many engineering challenges, the greatest of which were severe flooding and silt bottoms that made foundation construction difficult. Made of steel, wrought and cast iron, the single track Sioux City Bridge was 1200 feet long and weighed 4,485,807 pounds. The first train crossed on November 26, 1888.  The bridge was replaced in 1982.

The corn palaces of Sioux City are excellent examples of cereal/agri-architecture or crop art. The first Sioux City corn palace was built in 1887 and four more followed from 1887-1891.  The Corn Palace pictured here (the fourth palace) was an architectural gem, constructed and clad with corn, sorghum, cattails, grains and other vegetables. The materials were woven together to create elaborate designs (arches, minarets, buttresses, pinnacles, and domes) that evoked Eastern Roman Empire and
Byzantine-like architecture, styles not commonly found in the Midwest.

Corn Palace, Sioux City, Iowa, ca. 1890.  Silver gelatin acetate negative by unidentified photographer.
George S. Morison Collection, 1846-1903, Archives Center, NMAH.
The palaces rose from the landscape as an expression of gratitude by the citizens of Sioux City for the plentiful crops found in the region and as a symbol of Iowa’s agricultural pride. They were also intended to lure tourists, but especially to promote the region’s agricultural specialty, corn.  The growing railroad network (aided no doubt by Morison’s bridges throughout the Midwest) and the population of the area, coupled with a strong agriculture enterprise, brought visitors from around the United States, including civil engineer George S. Morison.

Most likely Morison toured the Corn Palace on one of his many visits to Sioux City to monitor bridge construction progress. His bridge at Sioux City made possible the movement of more goods and people, some of whom came to see the corn palace. The last corn palace in Sioux City was built in 1891. A flood prevented its construction and in 1892 the Mitchell Corn Palace of South Dakota was built and still stands today.

To learn more about George S. Morison, bridge building, and other civil engineering collections, visit the Archives Center.

Alison Oswald, Archivist
Archives Center, National Museum of American History

Sources

Marianos, W.N. “George Shattuck Morison and the Development of Bridge Engineering,” Journal of Bridge Engineering, May-June 2008, pages 291-298.
Schwieder, Dorothy and Patricia Swanson. “The Sioux City Corn Palaces,” The Annals of Iowa. Vol. 41, No. 8 (Spring 1973), pp. 1209-1227.
Simpson, Pamela. “Cereal Architecture: Late-Nineteenth-Century Grain Palaces and Crop Art, Perspectives in Vernacular Architecture, Vol. 10, Building Environments, pp. 269-282.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The Air Mail Connection

Blogs across the Smithsonian will give an inside look at the Institution’s archival collections and practices during a month long blog-a-thon in celebration of October’s American Archives Month. See additional posts from our other participating blogs, as well as related events and resources, on the Smithsonian’s Archives Month website.

Sometimes hidden connections are hanging in plain sight. The Wiseman-Cooke airplane, flying high above the atrium at the National Postal Museum, is an example of ties between Smithsonian museums. Not only does this aircraft, on loan from the National Air and Space Museum, hold an important place in the history of aviation, it also played an important role in postal history.

Wiseman-Cooke airplane on display in the Smithsonian's National Postal Museum.
The invention of the airplane offered a faster alternative to delivering mail, but air mail deliveries initially were private matters and not available to the general public. For example, Glenn Curtiss carried a letter from the mayor of Albany to the mayor of New York City on his famous May 29, 1910, flight down the Hudson.

Fred Wiseman, from Santa Rosa, California, had worked in a bicycle shop before he got into automobile racing. On a trip to Dayton, Ohio, in 1909, he visited with a duo who had also worked in a bicycle shop—Orville and Wilbur Wright. Upon returning to the west coast, Wiseman persuaded a fellow car racer, M.W. Peters, to combine their racing winnings with a local butcher, Ben Noonan, to build an airplane. When the aircraft was completed in the spring of 1910, it became the first California-built aircraft to fly.

Wiseman built two aircraft along the same design model, combining elements of Wright, Curtiss, and Farman designs. The second aircraft is most likely the one that flew at an air meet at Selfridge Field (the former Tanforan race track) near San Bruno. Wiseman placed second in the novice class, won the distance event, made the longest sustained flight, and accumulated the most total time in the air.

Wiseman aircraft at Tanforan meet, Selfridge Field, San Francisco, California, 1910. Wiseman signed the photograph later.  NASM A-42344-A
On February 17, 1911, Fred Wiseman accomplished what he is best known for—the first air mail flight officially sanctioned by a post office and available to the general public. He flew from Petaluma (where he was doing most of his flying) back to his hometown of Santa Rosa. He carried letters from the mayor and postmaster of Petaluma to their Santa Rosa counterparts and fifty copies of the newspaper. He also delivered a letter from George P. McNear, member of a prominent Petaluma family whose interests included the Sonoma County National Bank and the Petaluma and Santa Rosa Railroad, to John P. Overton, president of the Savings Bank of Santa Rosa.

Petaluma is approximately 18 miles north of Santa Rosa, a quick, easy distance under modern standards. But Wiseman’s flight was anything but easy. Weather delayed his initial takeoff by days. Only 4.5 miles into the flight, he developed magneto trouble and was forced to land in a field, narrowly avoiding a windmill. Although his ground crew was able to fix the engine, due to winds, he needed to wait until the next day to take off from a makeshift canvas runway. The flight ended abruptly one mile outside of Santa Rosa when a loose wire caught in the propeller, forcing him down for good. He spent an estimated 16 minutes total in the air.

Wiseman continued to fly exhibition shows up and down the west coast through 1911, but it became expensive to ship the aircraft. He sold the aircraft to Weldon Cooke in 1912. Wiseman returned to his career in cars and worked as an automotive engineer for Standard Oil. Cooke first flew the plane in an Oakland air meet in February, but the engine suffered a broken crankshaft and did not place. Cooke continued to fly in this aircraft, with his own modifications, until his death in another aircraft in Pueblo, Colorado, in September 1914.

Fred Wiseman returns to the cockpit of his aircraft, circa 1947.  NASM 79-687
The Wiseman-Cooke aircraft (called so due to the Cooke modifications) sat in Cooke’s brother’s storage until it was loaned for display in the Oakland Airport in 1933. In 1948, the Smithsonian Institution acquired both the Wiseman-Cooke aircraft and Cooke’s Maupin-Lanteri Black Diamond.

In addition to the actual aircraft, the National Air and Space Museum also has historical documents about the Wiseman-Cooke aircraft in the Archives. The fragile Fred Wiseman Scrapbook (Acc. No. XXXX-0618) contains Wiseman’s correspondence, particularly from the 1940s and 1950s concerning his flight, and newspaper articles from the 1910s. The Weldon B. Cooke Collection (Acc. No. 1998-0001) features newspaper articles and photographs relating to Cooke and the various aircraft he built or flew.

Fred Wiseman Scrapbook in its acid-free storage box, with ethafoam spacers. NASM 2015-06149
Pages from Fred Wiseman scrapbook.  Note the correspondence from the Smithsonian Institution (left page, center). NASM 2015-06150
The very next day after Wiseman’s flight, Henri Pequet flew mail between Allahabad and Naini in India. The first air mail flight sanctioned by the United States Post Office was flown by Earl “Ovie” Ovington on September 23, 1911, when he flew a bag of mail from Garden City to Mineola on Long Island. On May 15, 1918, the first continuously scheduled air mail route in the United States opened between Washington, Philadelphia, and New York.

Elizabeth C. Borja
Archivist, National Air and Space Museum Archives

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

All is Made New Again

Blogs across the Smithsonian will give an inside look at the Institution’s archival collections and practices during a month long blog-a-thon in celebration of October’s American Archives Month. See additional posts from our other participating blogs, as well as related events and resources, on the Smithsonian’s Archives Month website.

In this second information age, libraries and archives are constantly working to put “hidden” materials, collections, and data online so the public and scholars can discover bits of the past and make connections that may have seemed lost.

Over the last few months, working with the Freer Sackler’s wonderful Digital Media and Technology team, the archives has been able to streamline and improve our website.   We now have new and improved resource gateways for various collections including Ernst Herzfeld and Antoine Sevruguin.

Alice Roosevelt on the deck of the SS Manchuria.
We have also been able to add an entirely new gateway dedicated to Alice in Asia: The Taft 1905 Mission to Asia.  This collection came to the archives through a member of the Roosevelt family.  The collection is filled with wonderful photographs and portraits.  Most recently, the wonderful new resource gateway was featured on Smithsonian Magazine’s blog.

Aleppo (Syria): Madrasa al-Zahiriyya, Entrance Portal: Plan, Elevetion and Section
Furthermore, we have created collection level records for all of our collections.  In addition, through the development of the SOVA project all our finding aids are now searchable and downloadable PDFs.  This will be a great help to scholars who want to dig into collections.  This also makes our daily work load much more manageable because these new changes allow us to find errors and correct them immediately.

Collection organization starts from the the physical formats (paper, photographs, film) into understandable series boxes and order.  It is now also necessary to insure that the context and organization (also preservation of creator’s thoughts) are preserved in an online setting.

Lara Amrod
Freer|Sackler Archives

Monday, October 19, 2015

A Historic Event: The Secretary's Installation

Blogs across the Smithsonian will give an inside look at the Institution’s archival collections and practices during a month long blog-a-thon in celebration of October’s American Archives Month. See additional posts from our other participating blogs, as well as related events and resources, on the Smithsonian’s Archives Month website.

Today the Smithsonian is officially welcoming our new Secretary, David J. Skorton, in an installation ceremony held in the Arts and Industries Building.  In celebration of Secretary Skorton’s installation, we are taking a look at other installation ceremonies in the Smithsonian’s history.

The first installation was held for Leonard Carmichael, our seventh Secretary, in the Smithsonian Institution Building, also known as the Castle.  Prior to Carmichael, secretaries took office without any ceremony.  Carmichael was also the first Secretary to be chosen from outside the Smithsonian; he had previously been the President of Tufts University. The five Secretaries that preceded Carmichael all spent their careers at the Smithsonian Institution, rising through its ranks.  This very first installation ceremony also set the precedent that all Smithsonian employees were invited to meet the new Secretary.

Chief Justice Burger hands Adams the Kay at Installation, Smithsonian Institution Archives, Neg. No. 95-261


Secretary Ripley’s Installation featured two separate ceremonies: one private and one public.  The private ceremony was held during a Board of Regent’s meeting and took place a few days prior to Ripley assuming office.  A public ceremony was held on his first day in office, February 1st, 1964.  Held in the Great Hall of the Smithsonian Institution Building, all Smithsonian employees and other guests were invited to attend.  Secretary Ripley also began the tradition of the new Secretary receiving the key to the Castle from the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

Installation of I. Michael Heyman, Smithsonian Institution Archives, Neg. No. 94-10183.12.

While most installation ceremonies have been held indoors, Secretaries Adams, Heyman, and Small held their installations outdoors on the Mall.  They accepted the key to the castle standing next to the statue of Joseph Henry with the Castle behind them.  While some ceremonies were more low key than others, all included the whole Smithsonian family: staff, emeriti, research associates, fellows, interns and volunteers.  The former Secretary typically participated in the installation of a new Secretary, and the Board of Regents often welcomed the Secretary with a luncheon before or after the installation ceremony.

Rotunda of the Arts and Industries Building, Smithsonian Institution Archives, Neg. No. SIA-77-3202.

This year, Secretary Skorton’s installation has added meaning because it will also serve as the inaugural event in the newly renovated Arts and Industries building.  The Arts and Industries building was the life work of the second Secretary, Spencer F. Baird, and the Smithsonian’s first purpose-built museum, foreshadowing the vast Institution that the Smithsonian has become today.

Lisa Fthenakis, Program Assistant
Smithsonian Institution Archives

Friday, October 16, 2015

Flashback Friday: The Bonus Army, 1932

Blogs across the Smithsonian will give an inside look at the Institution’s archival collections and practices during a month long blog-a-thon in celebration of October’s American Archives Month. See additional posts from our other participating blogs, as well as related events and resources, on the Smithsonian’s Archives Month website.


Bonus Army Camp, Anacostia, D.C., 1932. Dale/Patterson Family Collection,
Anacostia Community Museum Archives, gift of Dianne Dale.

The Dale/Patterson Family collection documents the personal and professional lives of the Dale and Patterson families who came to live in Hillsdale, Anacostia, an area of Washington, D.C., in 1892. However, the multi-generation family collection extends beyond family papers to include materials which document local and national events such as the Bonus Army. 

Known as the Bonus Expeditionary Force (BEF) by its organizers and called the Bonus March by the media, the Bonus Army was organized by Walter W. Waters in 1932. The event brought black and white World War I veterans and their families to Washington, DC in the spring and summer of that year to demand early payment of their bonuses awarded by the World War Adjusted Compensation Act of 1924. The veterans’ main camp was located at Anacostia Flats. One eyewitness in Dianne Dale’s publication The Village that Shaped Us, describes the event “We had Bonus Men roaming through the neighborhood, and the people would feed them. . .” Another observer commented, "... they all came here-from all over the United States and set up tents and huts and shacks along the Anacostia River. . ."

Thousands of veterans participated in this effort until President Hebert Hoover ordered the removal of all campsites after two veterans were killed on July 28th during a confrontation between local police and Bonus Army marchers. 

It wasn’t until 1936 that Congress approved the veterans’ bonus payment.

Jennifer Morris, Archivist
Anacostia Community Museum

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Small Tales

Blogs across the Smithsonian will give an inside look at the Institution’s archival collections and practices during a month long blog-a-thon in celebration of October’s American Archives Month. See additional posts from our other participating blogs, as well as related events and resources, on the Smithsonian’s Archives Month website.



If I had to characterize the nature of archival work as I see it, it would be the sense of pride and purpose and curiosity we feel when we slowly make sense of past lives, coupled with regular existential crises when it's all too much.

We are overwhelmed. Surrounded by piles and folders and boxes of papers, photographs, reels of tape and too many video formats, we try to make it possible for others to see what we see--stories upon stories--in a way that makes sense.

Ever since I became an archivist, I have been interested in the little stories--the bits left over when the larger narratives have been fleshed out and told and retold. I like reading Lee Hay's letters of advice to his young neighbors, or learning that Emory Cook was almost hit by a lightning strike while recording a thunderstorm. I think I fixate on these details because in looking at the whole, as in life, it is so easy to fall into the trap of "Yes, but what does it all mean? What is it all for?"

Even the smallest, most overlooked collections have little stories to tell. When I set out to process the London Library of Recorded English records  last year, even I wasn't expecting to find much in the mere 11 folders of papers included in the boxes. Instead, I got a glimpse into the literary passions of V.C. Clinton-Baddeley, scholar, author, and, in his time, a well-known broadcaster and reader of English literature.

Together with Joseph Compton, a scholar and educationalist, Clinton-Baddeley directed a set of high-quality recordings of English literature called the London Library of Recorded English (LLRE), the first four volumes appearing in the 1940s with two subsequent volumes appearing in the mid-1960s. Clinton-Baddeley went on to found the spoken word label Jupiter Recordings, believing that:
...it is certainly possible to understand the meaning of a poem, to read it again and again with delight, and still to miss those pleasures which are outside the meaning and beyond the range of the eye--pleasures of rhythm, of timing of echoing sounds, pleasures even of interpretation. These are things which only declare themselves when the poem is heard spoken aloud, or read aloud to oneself. (1)
Two paragraphs in a document detailing the history of the LLRE particularly caught my eye. It is the origin story of Clinton-Baddeley's idea to make commercial recordings of poetry, and those words have stuck with me ever since:
The London Library of Recorded English has a curiously long history behind it. In 1937 V.C. Clinton-Baddeley was invited to be one of the two readers in the series of poetry broadcasts organized by W.B. Yeats for the B.B.C. Yeats at that time was obsessed with a desire to restore the art of English song and the good speaking of poetry. The broadcasts led to discussions and arguments about words and their relation to music - which resulted in V.C. Clinton-Baddeley giving three illustrated broadcast talks called "Words and Music" in September, 1938, and these talks he expanded to a book which was published, under the same title, by the Cambridge University Press, in 1941. 
At the beginning of 1940, Clinton Baddeley joined an organization which prepared British propaganda on gramophone discs for the use of foreign radio stations. Cultured propaganda played an important part in this service and he made a number of recordings of English poetry, some read by himself, some by other well-known readers - Michael Redgrave for instance. Clinton-Baddeley was greatly taken by this way of using the gramophone, and often discussed with the engineers the possibility of making English literature recordings as a serious commercial undertaking - "after the war". Indeed, towards the end of hostilities he had an interview with an important man in the English gramophone industry and unfolded his ideas on the subject; but it was still wartime and the idea did not commend itself to the company.
It's perhaps not the most riveting material, but it is enough to spark an interest in this very specific time: the world is at war, and yet the desire to ensure the survival and appreciation of art in the face of such ugliness remains. When I feel trapped by the task of bringing together the threads of a life in cubic foot after cubic foot, I will tell myself this story, and the countless other small tales I've encountered, and it will all make sense.

Cecilia Peterson, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections

(1) The Arts Council of Great Britain. "A Programme of Poetry, Read by V.C. Clinton-Baddeley and John Glenn." Arts Council of Great Britain, 1957. Print.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide and Near East Relief

Blogs across the Smithsonian will give an inside look at the Institution’s archival collections and practices during a month long blog-a-thon in celebration of October’s American Archives Month. See additional posts from our other participating blogs, as well as related events and resources, on the Smithsonian’s Archives Month website.

Transit advertisement published by the American Committee for Armenian and Syrian Relief, 28 x 53.5 cm.
From the Princeton Poster Collection, Archives Center, National Museum of American History
Every year seems to have its notable “round-number” anniversaries—the fifth, tenth, twenty-fifth, or fiftieth anniversaries of more or less significant historical events.  Last year, for example, was the fiftieth anniversary of the National Museum of American History, and a number of special events commemorated it.  I was honored to serve as curator for a special photographic exhibition about the Museum’s history and development as part of the observance.  Although the Museum is an important member of the Smithsonian family, one of the great museums of the world, and a significant interpreter of  American history and culture, its fiftieth anniversary was more akin to a birthday to be celebrated than as a reminder of an important historical event.

Sadly, milestone historical events per se are often catastrophic.  For example, 2015 is the tenth anniversary of the devastating storm Katrina.  It is also the hundredth anniversary of the Armenian Genocide by the Ottoman Turks during World War I, and April 24 was observed by Armenians around the world as Genocide Remembrance Day.  Although this program and the policies which produced it remain controversial in Turkey, most historians believe that mass killings of Armenians, Greeks, and Assyrians were deliberate and planned.  When I visited Turkey two years ago, a well-known academic denier of the genocide narrative gave me a signed copy of his book, in which he argues that the Armenians were simply subjected to a forced march because they were thought to be collaborating with Turkey’s enemies, and that such a forced deportation during wartime unavoidably involves hardships.

Poster published by the American Committee for Armenian and Syrian Relief, 1917.
From the Princeton Poster Collection, Archives Center, National Museum of American History  

One can commemorate this crisis and all its misery, but one can also celebrate the groundswell of humanitarian aid which occurred as a result of it.  On April 3 this year a special Friday colloquium was added to the schedule of the NMAH Tuesday Colloquium, which I coordinate for the Museum.  The speaker was Shant Mardirossian, the Chairman of the Near East Foundation.  His message was to celebrate the philanthropic and humanitarian aid which the Genocide inspired, rather than to concentrate on the horrors of the Genocide itself.   Shant related how the American Committee for Armenian and Syrian Relief was established in 1915 just after the deportations began; it was a charitable organization intended to relieve the suffering of the peoples of the Near East and was supported by Henry Morgenthau, Sr., American ambassador to the Ottoman Empire.  Between 1915 and 1930, ACRNE distributed humanitarian relief to locations across a wide geographical range, eventually helping around 2,000,000 refugees.  Also known as “Near East Relief,” this program was supported by President Woodrow Wilson.  It was an important landmark in the history of American humanitarian aid and philanthropy.  As the Museum is currently studying American philanthropic history to inspire new collecting and programming initiatives, this story is especially timely.

Poster published by the American Committee for Armenian and Syrian Relief, ca. 1915, 47.5 x 31 cm.
From the Princeton Poster Collection, Archives Center, National Museum of American History
I supplemented Shant’s presentation with images of posters advertising relief efforts and soliciting contributions from the period.  These materials are part of the Archives Center’s Princeton Posters Collection.  Most posters in this international collection are directly related to war, and are patriotic in nature.  Others attempt to bolster the courage and morale of civilians on the home front.  It might be argued that the posters shown here, which seek financial and humanitarian aid to civilians suffering from the ravages of war, are “hidden” within graphic materials which promote militarism and violence.

Card published by the American Committee for Armenian and Syrian Relief, ca. 1917, 7.5 x 11 cm.
From the Princeton Poster Collection, Archives Center, National Museum of American History
David Haberstich
Curator of Photography, NMAH Archives Center

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The Smithsonian Institution Launches SOVA: Smithsonian Online Virtual Archives

Blogs across the Smithsonian will give an inside look at the Institution’s archival collections and practices during a month long blog-a-thon in celebration of October’s American Archives Month. See additional posts from our other participating blogs, as well as related events and resources, on the Smithsonian’s Archives Month website.

October is American Archives Month and it is the perfect time to unveil our new Smithsonian Online Virtual Archives  searching tool!

The Smithsonian Institution has vast archival collections that measure circa 137,000 cubic feet, making its collective holdings one of the largest repositories of primary sources in the United States.  Held in fourteen individual repositories, the collections tell the story of our nation’s shared artistic, cultural, folk, natural, technological, and scientific heritage, as well as the history of the Institution itself.




Users can now discover these unique resources via Smithsonian Online Virtual Archives (SOVA), an online interface that provides access to archival collection descriptions in EAD (Encoded Archival Description) format, and associated online content, including letters, manuscripts, diaries and journals, ledgers and stock books, photographs, scrapbooks, sketchbooks and drawings, technical drawings and blueprints, field notebooks, log books, rare printed materials, sound recordings, videos, and much more.   Collection descriptions can be downloaded as either EAD or PDF documents.

SOVA also allows users to browse easily to related museum objects and library resources with simple links to the Smithsonian’s Collections Search Center, as well as archival collection descriptions from other institutions in OCLC's ArchiveGrid.

The technical platform is based on open source technology.  EAD documents are indexed using Apache Solr, and the website is built with Bootstrap, CSS and JS framework.  The application development used responsive design to ensure desktop and all mobile tablets and devices are well supported.

This is just a beginning for the Smithsonian in providing access to its archival collections.  We will continue to add new functionality, new collections, and more digitized objects in the near future.

Ching-hsien Wang, Project Manager for the Transcription Center
Collections Systems & Digital Assets Division

Friday, October 9, 2015

Flashback Friday: The Smithsonian's First Computer

Blogs across the Smithsonian will give an inside look at the Institution’s archival collections and practices during a month long blog-a-thon in celebration of October’s American Archives Month. See additional posts from our other participating blogs, as well as related events and resources, on the Smithsonian’s Archives Month website.

Fred Collier and Jann Thompson with Data Entry Machine, Smithsonian Institution Archives. SIA2013-03885

In this photo you can see Jann W. Thompson seated at a data entry machine looking at printouts from the Smithsonian's Honeywell mainframe computer with Fred Collier, the collection manager in the Department of Paleobiology in the National Museum of Natural History. In 1975, when this photo was taken, the Smithsonian had only a single computer - the Honeywell. Unlike the desktops and laptops of today, this mainframe was a general purpose computer for data processing applications across the Smithsonian.

The data entry machine Jann is working at created a paper tape with holes punched in it.  This paper tape was fed into the mainframe computer for data processing. You can tell just how noisy the data entry machine was from the earmuffs Jann is wearing and the ‘Acoustinet’ surrounding it.

The Smithsonian continued to experiment with new technologies throughout the years, launching our first website in 1995 and experimenting with early email systems across the Mall. To learn more about these developments, check out blog posts by David Bridge, a Smithsonian Institution Archives volunteer:

From a Humble Beginning: The Smithsonian's First Internet Domain

The History of Email at the Smithsonian 


Lisa Fthenakis, Program Assistant
Smithsonian Institution Archives

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Throwback Thursday: A Work in Process

Blogs across the Smithsonian will give an inside look at the Institution’s archival collections and practices during a month long blog-a-thon in celebration of October’s American Archives Month. See additional posts from our other participating blogs, as well as related events and resources, on the Smithsonian’s Archives Month website.

Helen Louise Peterson (Oglala Lakota) may be best known for leading the National Congress of American Indians as its second executive director from 1953-1961. However, this driven and accomplished woman served several other organizations including the City and County of Denver Commission on Community Relations, American Indian Development, Inc., and the White Buffalo Council.

The Helen L. Peterson papers were only partially processed in 1989 and my internship at the National Museum of the American Indian, Archive Center involved re-boxing and re-foldering the processed portion and fully processing and integrating the remaining boxes. Processing an analog collection (that is, paper and photographs and the occasional object but nothing digital) is an intellectual exercise as well as a physical one. On a typical day my work space looked like this:

Processing the Helen L. Peterson papers. Photo by Carla Davis-Castro, 2015.

While working on this collection I came across many interesting items such as this 1970 copy of The Indian, (left) a newspaper for the American Indian Leadership Council. The headline is cheekily inviting its readers to a  “hair raising reception” in honor of General Custer (formal attire of paint and feathers requested). In addition to newspapers, letters, organizational flyers and posters I saw many of the awards both received by and presented by Peterson. This 1973 Friendship Award (right) was presented by the White Buffalo Council and is made of leather.

Processing the Helen L. Peterson papers. Photos by Carla Davis-Castro, 2015.
Peterson’s travels abroad produced interesting photo collections and albums such as her 1949 visit to Cuzco, Peru as the United States representative for the Second Inter-American Conference on Indian Life. On the back of the photo of a man carrying a calfskin (bottom left), she wrote “Just the way we do it back home on the Mesa.”

Processing the Helen L. Peterson papers. Photo by Carla Davis-Castro, 2015.

While I was unable to process the entirety of Peterson’s Papers, I learned practical skills where library science and archival theory leaves off. I also learned about a fascinating historical figure that was not covered in my Native American studies classes. I am grateful to Michael Pahn and Rachel Menyuk for their support during my unique experience at the National Museum of the American Indians’ Archives.

Carla Davis-Castro, Spring Intern (2015)
National Museum of the American Indian, Archive Center

**Information about internships at NMAI can be found here**