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Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The Little Lady with the Art Cart

In celebration of the 2016 Smithsonian Folklife Festival opening today on the National Mall, we are publishing this piece by summer 2015 intern Erin Enos. Erin recently graduated from UNC Chapel Hill with a Masters in Library Science with a focus in Archives and Records Management.

Lily Spandorf at the 1995 Festival of American Folklife. Photo by Smithsonian Photographer. Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections, Smithsonian Institution.
For about thirty summers, she made her entrance onto Washington D.C.’s National Mall and went about her typical painting routine.  Squeak-squeak-squeak went her easel cart as she dragged it behind her.  The heat of the District's summer would beat down her as she walked.  She brought all the art supplies she needed in her efficiently packed cart: her pens, her ink, her charcoal, her cardboard "easel," and most importantly, her detailed and meticulous artful eye.  The tiny woman would find a lovely spot under a big shady tree and would get out her sketch pad of paper, pick up her black ink pen, and start to draw. Her name was Lily Spandorf, and with every line and wash of color carefully drawn and painted onto paper, she illuminated the world of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival (formerly the Festival of American Folklife) as she saw it.

My name is Erin Enos and I am a 2nd year graduate student at the School of Information and Library Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  This past summer, I had the pleasure of working with the artworks of the incredibly talented Lily Spandorf in the Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives at the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage (CFCH).  When I first arrived at the Smithsonian on my first day, I did not know who Lily Spandorf was. That all changed one day when archivists Cecilia Peterson, Greg Adams, and I carefully laid out Lily’s artwork on an office table.  What we saw was incredible.  Laid out before us was a plethora of drawings Lily had done during her visits to the Smithsonian Folklife Festival.  On numerous sheets of paper were sketches of men and women happily dancing in traditional dress from all over the world, musical bands playing guitars and banjos for on-looking crowds, and even simple scenes of Festival visitors enjoying wedges of watermelon. As a summer intern, it was my job to help to re-house, process, and describe Lily’s 750 pieces of art.

As I worked on processing the artwork, I also learned a little more about Lily herself.  She was born in Austria in 1914 and as she grew into a young lady, it was clear that she had real talent for art--an honors graduate of the Vienna Academy of Arts, she left Austria in 1938 to continue her art education at London’s St. Martin’s School of Art. She moved to Washington D.C.'s Dupont Circle neighborhood where she created  a huge body of work that included countless paintings and drawings of streetscapes from around the city; she intentionally sought out and painted many older buildings slated for demolition. Her work captured moments in time in her adopted city, where she spent the rest of her life until her passing in 2000.

Puppeteers put on puppet show for three children, date unknown. Lily Spandorf drawings, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections, Smithsonian Institution.
Lily worked in a distinctive style.  Her mode of drawing was mostly in black ink, sometimes with splashes of watercolor and acrylic paint. My favorite piece of hers is a scene of two puppeteers putting on a small show for two or three children.  I love the detail that Lily put into the design of one the puppeteers' dress, the clothing and strings of the marionettes, and the playfulness and smiles of the laughing children’s faces.  If there were two words to describe her work, I would describe the art as “delightfully magical”.  It really is.

Valdur Tilk, woodworker from Elena, Estonia, at the 1998 Baltic Nations programLily Spandorf drawings, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections, Smithsonian Institution.
By the time my internship was over, it was amazing to me how fast the time went!  Working with Lily’s art was a pleasure and I truly wished for more time to work on the project. Although I was sad to leave the project, it made me very proud to know that I played a part in preserving Lily’s beautiful Festival art and the legacy that she left behind.  Fortunately, her collection is now accessible to the public online. It was the first digital collection released by the CFCH.  My wish is that others will enjoy and appreciate her talent and artwork as much as I did.  

Erin Enos
Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections

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