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Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Growing Engagement: Community Gardening at the Museum of the American Indian

Community gardens have seen a resurgence in recent years but the practice has been prevalent in the United States since the 19th century. Motivations for creating gardens have varied over time, including food shortages, unemployment, neighborhood revitalization, and building community cohesiveness. In 1926, the Museum of the American Indian (MAI) had its own reason for creating a community garden: to engage and educate the public about plants cultivated and used by the Native peoples of the Americas.

Ten years after the museums’ founding in 1916, construction began on a Research Annex located in the Bronx, New York, where the MAI collections would be stored and made available for study by students and scholars. A key component of the Research Annex site was a garden of Native American plants accessible to the public. Museum staff planned to use the garden as a demonstration of the variety of plants cultivated by Native people. Planted crops included corn varieties, beans, squash, sunflowers, cotton, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, peppers, peanuts, tobacco, and amaranth. The gardens were also planted with wild varieties of some of these plants—such as sunflowers—to illustrate how Native people worked with wild plants to develop the cultivated versions we are familiar with today.

Museum garden, looking east toward the Research Branch of the
Museum of the American Indian/Heye Foundation, 1926 (NMAI N11184)
Museum of the American Indian ethnobotanist Melvin Gilmore was tasked with designing the garden and acquiring seeds from various Native American groups with whom he worked, including the Sahnish (Arikara), Pawnee, and Omaha in North Dakota, Oklahoma, and Nebraska respectively.

A Sahnish (Arikara) woman works near a house and garden; turning ears of corn she has roasted. Fort Berthold Reservation, North Dakota, 1923 Photo by Melvin Gilmore (NMAI N08749)
Once the garden was designed, the museum welcomed people in the surrounding neighborhood and sought their involvement in the project to create a sense of “protective interest.” Working in partnership with the National Plant, Flower, and Fruit Guild—which was based in New York City—and the Metropolitan New York Board of Education, students from nearby Public School 71 were enlisted to work in the garden. Students were given plots to farm and were responsible for tending the vegetables, which they were allowed to harvest and keep. They also helped care for the Museum’s demonstration plots of crops grown by Native people from throughout the Western Hemisphere. The students worked through their summer vacations and, at the end of the season, they held a harvest festival. Museum staff hoped that by pulling in the students to work in the garden, their parents and ultimately the entire neighborhood would feel a sense of ownership for the Annex gardens.

Leonard Drake, Museum gardener and a student at the State Agricultural College at Farmingdale, New York, holding an Omaha yellow pumpkin in the garden,1926. (NMAI N11174)
The project received considerable attention from the local press and was such a success that other institutions in New York adopted the idea. As word spread, the museum was contacted by organizations around the country for assistance in developing similar programs.

Excerpt from New York World newspaper in a Museum of the American Indian scrapbook
(NMAI Archive Center MAI-Heye Foundation Records Oversize box 27)
The MAI community garden program lasted for only a few years. However, it still serves as an impressive example of how gardens can be used for public education and to help build a sense of community.

Maria Galban, Research Specialist, Collections and Research Documentation 

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Stereographs and News Photography

Stereograph publishers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries at first tended to produce images for “armchair travelers,” who could experience far-flung areas of the world in three dimensions through the stereoscope, the precursor of modern-day “virtual reality” systems. However, many other themes and subjects were explored for the burgeoning stereo market. A major publisher such as Underwood and Underwood produced pictures ranging from American industry and technology to staged “genre” scenes and sequences of sentimental, humorous, and entertainment value, in addition to their standard “educational” documentation of natural, architectural, and historical wonders of the world.

Underwood and Underwood also realized that there was a market for stereographs of current events and news in stereoscopic form, and embarked upon photojournalistic coverage of the Spanish-American War and other military conflicts. However, by 1921 they discontinued their stereo production, sold most of their stereo archive to a competitor, the Keystone View Co., and concentrated on news photography. The National Museum of American History Archives Center’s Underwood and Underwood Glass Stereograph Collection contains some non-stereoscopic news photographs from the 1920s, plus the stereoscopic negatives and interpositives which the company withheld from Keystone, intending to convert them into non-stereo usage.

President Theodore Roosevelt was a favorite subject for Underwood & Underwood and other stereo publishers’ photographers, and the collection contains many portraits of him. The company’s coverage of him extended into the newsworthy events, such as in this high-angle photograph of his 1905 inaugural address and the crowd. Here C.W. White, a photographer for the publisher H.C. White, photographed the festivities, and the glass plate was later acquired by Underwood and Underwood.
Great crowds of people around the Inaugural Stand--Pres. Roosevelt delivering his address. [Active no. 9916 : stereo interpositive,] 1905. Underwood & Underwood Glass Stereograph Collection, Archives Center, NMAH.
Notice the cancellation marks on the left image of the stereo pair. Apparently these scratches in the emulsion were intended to prevent Underwood and Underwood from continuing to use the glass plate for producing stereographs, thereby competing with Keystone in this market. Many, although not all, of the stereo glass plates in this collection, were similarly defaced.

A less well-known political figure appears below. He is Fitzhugh Lee, a Confederate cavalry general during the Civil War, who later became the fortieth governor of Virginia, a diplomat, and eventually a U.S. Army major general in Cuba during the Spanish-American War. He was the grandson of “Light Horse Harry” Lee and the nephew of Gen. Robert E. Lee. He was the former Consul General in Havana in 1898 when this portrait of the portly, magnificently mustachioed Lee was taken by a photographer for another stereo publisher, Strohmeyer and Wyman; the negative was acquired later by Underwood and Underwood. One half of the stereo pair is shown here, the other side having been cut and possibly discarded. Lee was appointed military governor of Havana and Pinar del Rio in 1899, and died in 1905, several months after Roosevelt’s inauguration.

Major General Fitzhugh Lee, Ex-Consul General at Havana. Copyright 1898 by Strohmeyer and Wyman. Active no. 21200 : non-stereo photonegative,] 1898. Underwood and Underwood Glass Stereograph Collection, Archives Center, NMAH.
New high-resolution scans for these two images and hundreds of others are available, although the majority of the collection is represented only by low-resolution surrogates. Since the original photographs in the Underwood and Underwood—primarily glass plates—are currently stored offsite, there are challenges in accessing the collection.

David Haberstich, Curator of Photography
Archives Center, National Museum of American History

Thursday, May 11, 2017

A Case of Mistaken Identities: Ambrotypes of Potawatomi Chief Shabbona

Photographs of Chief Shabbona from the Iva Towsley Gardner collection of Chief Shabbona ambrotypes (NMAI.AC.100). National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution.
One of the first lessons you learn as an Archivist is that you can’t always believe the information you are given, especially when it comes to photo captions. People are frequently misidentified in photographs and this information is often passed down through the generations. Such was the case with the Iva Towsley Gardner collection of Chief Shabbona ambrotypes (NMAI.AC.100) which we received as a gift earlier this year.

Iva Towsley Gardner (born circa 1899) served as a nurse in Illinois and often treated members of the Potawatomi community in her region. Someone within the community gave her a set of ambrotypes depicting Potawatomi Chief Shabbona and his wife from circa 1854-1859. A note, presumably written by Gardner, was attached to the set and reads, "Picture of Shabbona and his wife. Property of Iva Towsley Gardner."

Chief Shabbona (also spelled Shabonee and Shabni) was best known as a warrior and Chief of the Potawatomi tribe. Born circa 1775 to the Ottawa tribe, Shabbona is believed to be the grand-nephew of Ottawa Chief Pontiac (circa 1720-1769). As a young man Shabbona became an Ottawa chief and later married Coconako, the daughter of Potawatomi Chief Spotka. He eventually became a Potawatomi Chief himself.

Upon donation, we examined the ambrotypes in person and promptly determined that both photos depict Chief Shabbona, not Shabbona and his wife Coconako as the typed note indicated. Perhaps Gardner, or someone before her, mistook Chief Shabbona’s headdress for a woman’s feathered hat.

So the next time you’re looking through your family photos and see captions written by a relative long ago, just remember- you might want to take a second look

Emily Moazami, Assistant Head Archivist
National Museum of the American Indian, Archive Center