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Wednesday, October 16, 2019

The Archivist as Marathoner

Paul Juley, Peter A. Juley’s partner and son, in their photography studio. Peter A. Juley & Son Collection, Smithsonian American Art Museum.  

The Juleys ran the most successful fine arts photography firm in New York from 1906 to 1975. Their clients included major artists, galleries, museums and private collectors. The collection provides a unique record of 20th century art; sometimes the Juley photograph is the only visual documentation of altered, damaged or lost works.
In 1996, shortly after the Summer Olympic Games closed in Atlanta, Rachel Allen, the head of the Research and Scholars Center, wrote the following to describe the role of archivists in their organizations.

We are the distance runners. We are the keepers of the catalogues, the archivists, the librarians. We are the marathoners of the museum. Ours is not the race quickly won. Our work is measured by accumulation in thousands of records, numbers of books, linear shelf feet, and sometimes even the size of the backlog. Ours is to collect and catalogue, to compile and classify, to manage and preserve. We measure not in miles but in years, and decades, and generations. The finish line remains on an ever-distant horizon.

This "marathoner's refrain" formed part of an American Art article announcing the completion of printing archival study photographs for all 127,000 negatives in the Peter A. Juley & Son Collection. The effort to print every negative in the Juley Collection was tremendous, but it was just one of several hurdles archives staff had to overcome in the quest to make the collection accessible. Before printing began, museum staff moved the collection from Juley’s New York studio to Washington, D.C. Next, they faced urgent preservation issues such as deteriorating nitrate negatives and fragile glass negatives. Additional challenges included numbering the negatives, documenting the notations on the original negative sleeves and developing a computer system to store the collected data. At times progress seemed slow or paused due to lack of resources, but the knowledge that they were working on a collection of high historical kept the team moving forward. Allen’s metaphor describes this consideration of current and future students and scholars: 

Like the ancient courier Pheidippides, who ran from Athens to Sparta to seek help against the Persians, we to are messengers. We preserve the pieces of history -- the letters, photographs, bits of data, and ephemera -- and pass them on, from one generation to the next. Our work endures over time.
William Zorach in his studio, at work on the full-size clay model for The New State of Texas, photographed by Paul Juley.  Peter A. Juley & Son Collection, Smithsonian American Art Museum.
The Juley Collection holds more than 4,700 portraits of artists. The Juleys’s portraits have been reproduced in many exhibitions and publications, providing insight into the artists lives and artistic practices.

Work in the Juley Collection continues today. Archives staff and interns are researching the Juley photographs to identify the artworks depicted and expand the preliminary records. We are also digitizing the Juley images to make the collection more accessible. Although the finish line for these tasks seems far away, we have the example of the archivists who came before us, who set a goal and kept moving to achieve it.

Rockwell Kent, The Wall Street Runner, photographed by Peter A. Juley & Son. Peter A. Juley & Son Collection, Smithsonian American Art Museum. 
The Juley number assigned and inscribed by archive staff is visible in the upper left-hand corner. 

For more about the Peter A. Juley & Son Collection, visit the Photograph Archives website at or read the following articles:

"The Marathoner’s Refrain" by Rachel Allen in American Art, Vol. 10, No. 3 (Autumn, 1996), 76-82.

"A Photographic File Covers 80 Years of Our Artistic History," by George Kittle in Smithsonian, Vol. 13, no. 12 (March 1983), 114-124.

Alida Brady
Photograph Archives Coordinator
Smithsonian American Art Museum

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Elaine M. Kilbourne Scrapbooks

The Anacostia Community Museum holds several collections related to Washington, DC educators. Most of these records document the contributions of women who distinguished themselves in their careers as teachers, educators, or administrators. Our Elaine M. Kilbourne Scrapbooks, 1924-2014, document the life and work of Anacostia High School teacher Ms. Kilbourne (1923-2014), and her impact on generations of students.

Ms. Kilbourne, Anacostia High School Chemistry class, undated.

Ms. Kilbourne taught chemistry at Anacostia High School in Washington, DC from 1948 to 1968. Throughout her long career, she earned a local and national reputation for excellence in her teaching  methods. In 1955, she received a special award from the Chemical Society of Washington for her excellence teaching. In 1958 and 1963, Ms. Kilbourne received Principal Awards for Excellence in Science Teaching by the District of Columbia. The American Chemical Society recognized her contribution to the STEM field with numerous awards, including the Second District James Bryant Conan Award in High School Chemistry Teaching.

Ms. Kilbourne created her scrapbooks in 3-ring binders. she used a combination of magnetic album sleeves and grid paper to affix her memorabilia. The scrapbooks contain correspondence, photographs, newsclippings, certificates, and copies of science projects she created while she worked as a Science Education Specialist at the Food and Drug Administration.

All three Kilbourne scrapbooks in the collection are scheduled for imaging thanks to a Smithsonian Women’s Committee Grant to fund the digitization and promotion of select female-authored materials held within six Smithsonian archival units. The digitized materials will then be available in the Smithsonian Transcription Center for digital volunteers to transcribe. This will allow the public to discover and share the story of Ms. Kilbourne’s contribution to the STEM field.

Prior to deconstruction of the scrapbooks each page is photographed and numbered so we don't lose the original order during digitization and rehousing.

To learn more about the accomplishments of Elaine M. Kilbourne view: Ms. Kilbourne:  Chemistry Teacher Extraordinaire.

Jennifer Morris
Anacostia Community Museum

Monday, October 14, 2019

Happy Indigenous Peoples Day from the Smithsonian Transcription Center!

The voices, stories, and cultures of Native peoples - past and present - are found throughout the Smithsonian. For Indigenous Peoples Day (today) we're highlighting some resources for locating some of these materials within the Transcription Center (TC), and how TC projects are helping enhance collection access, and connect disparate information, for American Indian communities.

Since 2013, 129 projects have been launched in the Transcription Center, created by, or related to, Native Americans and Indigenous peoples. Staff at the National Museum of the American Indian Archive Center (NMAI), the National Anthropological Archives (NAA), Smithsonian Libraries, and others, have worked to identify materials in their holdings needing transcription and ensure that chosen collections are not culturally sensitive before being launched in TC [1]. Linguistic vocabularies, correspondence, ethnographic field notes, historical materials from landmark legal cases concerning Native rights, the administrative records of the Heye Foundation (the National Museum of the American Indian's predecessor organization), and documentation for object collection histories, among others, have all been included. Transcription of these materials makes the text within each page text-searchable and readable, meaning increased access and discoverability for researchers around the world--including Native community members.

Beyond the Transcription Center
itself, are other online resources for locating Native American archival, museum, and library collections from within the Smithsonian. In 2018, the Transcription Center team collaborated with staff from the NMAI, the National Museum of Natural History's Anthropology Department (including the NAA), Smithsonian Libraries, and the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition to aggregate Smithsonian-held materials related to the history of Native American boarding and day schools. Together, we created a "Gallery" page on the Smithsonian's online database, Collections Search Center, where researchers can explore related content by topic, geographic region, school name, and more. Included in this list of collections on this page, are archival collections from the NMAI and the NAA created by or about Native boarding and day school students, which were transcribed as part of a collaboration in the Transcription Center for Native American Heritage Month in 2018. Letters from a young Grace Thorpe, drawings and writings from students at the Pine Ridge Day School, and booklets from Carlisle are all included.  This "Gallery" page is part of a larger "Gallery" within Collections Search Center on Smithsonian archival, library, and museum collections related to Native American and Indigenous History, including materials organized by Smithsonian unit, language, tribe, and more.

These projects and resources are one way that staff around the Smithsonian are working together with Native communities and outside researchers to improve collection use and ensure the communities represented in museum holdings are not only able to access their history, but are welcomed as equal partners in transforming how the history of Native peoples is told and studied. Last week, archivists from the NAA and NMAI hosted a workshop (along with colleagues from the National Archives and the Library of Congress) at the Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries, and Museums annual conference on researching Native American archival materials. Included in presentations from the NAA was information on the Transcription Center projects and Gallery pages mentioned above, along with details on how Native communities and Tribal archivists can collaborate further with Smithsonian staff on TC projects transcribing sound recordings and other Native language materials.

This Indigenous Peoples Day, join in our efforts to ensure a more complete and inclusive historical narrative of Native Americans and Indigenous peoples by helping to transcribe ongoing Transcription Center projects--including business ledgers from collector and dealer William Ockleford Oldman, documenting the sale and purchase of Native objects (many of which are held in NMAI); as well as a sound recording from the NAA of Anthropologist Helen Rountree, an expert on Virginia Indians.

-Caitlin Haynes, Smithsonian Transcription Center Coordinator

[1] Culturally sensitive content, as defined by the Protocols for Native American Archival Materials is: "tangible and intangible property and knowledge which pertains to the distinct values, beliefs, and ways of living for a culture. It often includes property and knowledge that is not intended to be shared outside the community of origin of specific groups within a community."

Image 1 (right): Grace Thorpe, Sac and Fox, NMAI.AC.085.  Transcription Project.                            

Image 2 (left): MS 369: Vocabulary of the Tchugatz of Prince William Sound,  Alaska, NAA. Transcription Project

Friday, October 11, 2019

Celebrating American Archives Month at the Archives of American Gardens

What does the Archives of American Gardens do? We’re glad you asked! Although October is traditionally American Archives Month, the Archives of American Gardens (AAG) celebrated a bit early by hosting an open house event this past summer. Smithsonian Gardens staff as well as interns from across the Smithsonian were invited to view some highlights from the Archives and ask questions about what exactly AAG staff do. Upon arriving at the open house, visitors were greeted by a life-sized carrot-man hybrid, replicated from a nineteenth century trade card advertisement previously featured in the 2017-2018 “Cultivating America’s Gardens” exhibition at the National Museum of American History. Curated by museum specialists Kelly Crawford and Joyce Connolly, the exhibit featured many items from the AAG collections.

Trade card, C. Ribsam & Sons, Trenton, New Jersey, 1880s. 
Smithsonian Gardens, Horticultural Artifacts Collection.
Home to over 40 collections and over 150,000 photographs, AAG collects, preserves, and provides access to unique resources that document historical and contemporary American gardens and landscapes. At the open house, various examples of AAG’s materials were on display—including correspondence and seed packets from the W. Atlee Burpee & Company records.

Sample of collection holdings at the Archives of American Gardens open house, July 2019. 
Haley Steinhilber, photographer. 
“I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it was cool to see all of the stuff laid out—like the photograph signed by Jacqueline Kennedy,” said SG summer intern Abby Kruthoffer. The former First Lady gifted the picture to landscape architect Perry Wheeler following his help with the design of the White House rose garden. The photograph was donated to AAG along with Wheeler’s papers in the 1990s. Museum specialist Joyce Connolly was on hand to answer questions about the objects as well as current AAG projects. Since AAG is a relatively small program within Smithsonian Gardens, she was happy for the opportunity to share more about the role that the Archives play within the organization.

Photograph of The White House Rose Garden, signed by Jacqueline Kennedy.
Smithsonian Institution, Archives of American Gardens, Perry Wheeler Collection

Don’t fret if you missed the opportunity to visit—you can virtually ‘tour’ thousands of  AAG images online through the Smithsonian Collections Search Center. Interested in getting involved? Share your own garden story at Community of Gardens, discover “mystery gardens” in the AAG collections, or help make collections more accessible through the Smithsonian Transcription Center. AAG is a resource for those interested in American horticultural and landscape heritage—meaning anyone can use or contribute to documenting this history, including you!

Haley Steinhilber
Archives of American Gardens Intern
Recipient of The Garden Club of America Scholarship in Garden History and Design for 2019

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Robert Scurlock and F.B.I. Special Agent James Amos

As a young man Robert S. Scurlock and his brother George learned photography in their father Addison’s Washington studio. Robert was impatient with the constraints of formulaic studio portraiture, however, and sought different avenues of expression, especially photojournalism—such as the picture stories made popular by Life and Look magazines, as well as the picture magazines published for an African American clientele. Robert Scurlock photographed on assignment or on  speculation for some of them.  One example is his documentation of James Edward Amos (1879-1953), one of the first African Americans to be hired by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Amos spent his early career in the Interior Department and the Customs Office, and had been an investigator for the Burns International Detective Agency. He gained notoriety as personal attendant, confidant, and bodyguard for President Theodore Roosevelt for twelve years.  Roosevelt, some claimed, had died in Amos’s arms.

James Amos and colleagues at the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Negative by Robert Scurlock, ca. 1940s. 
Scurlock Studio Records, Archives Center, National Museum of American History. NMAH-AC0618-004-174.

Amos was recruited as a special agent for the F.B.I. on August 24, 1921 after William J. Burns (formerly of the Burns International Detective Agency) became the Bureau’s fourth director in 1921, Amos’s application for employment included references from Theodore Roosevelt, former Secretary of State Elihu Root, Senator Hiram Johnson, General Leonard Wood, and former Interior Secretary Gifford Pinchot.

Although some of Robert Scurlock’s pictures for this story utilized dramatic angles and lighting to suggest the shadowy life of a crime fighter, others show Amos enjoying meetings with both black and white colleagues in offices and laboratories. It appears that Amos was no longer engaged in field work, but was enjoying a more sedentary career during the 1940s when Robert Scurlock photographed him.

James Amos with colleague at Federal Bureau of Investigation. Negative by Robert Scurlock, ca. 1940s.
Scurlock Studio Records, Archives Center, National Museum of American History. NMAH-AC0618-004-0000180.

Amos’s thirty-two year career with the Bureau often had its thrills. He participated in many investigations, including those targeting the Buchalter Gang, black nationalist Marcus Garvey’s Black Star Steamship Company, and the German spy Joubert Duquesne, and assisted in the apprehension of the gangster Dutch Schultz.  He retired October 15, 1953, and died two months later.  [Athan G. Theoharis, The FBI:  A Comprehensive Reference Guide.  Oryx Press, 1999, pp. 314-315.]

The FBI’s web site includes an article on Amos.  It concludes: “Professor Theodore Kornweibel, Jr., sums up Special Agent Amos’s career in Seeing Red: Amos ‘proved’ what should never have needed proving: that African Americans could serve the federal government in sensitive positions with objectivity, intelligence, and professionalism. We can sum it up too:  Amos was a superb agent who served with fidelity, bravery, and integrity.”

From “A Byte Out of History: One African-American Special Agent's Story”

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

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Reconnecting Through Old Collections: Or, Why You Should Milk the Archives

Of all the pontification, witty lines, and great advice presented in my college speech class, one line stuck with me to this day. Delivered in the midst of an otherwise unmemorable speech, the line was simple and poignant. “Milk your grandparents.” Now, this advice was, it should be made clear, not to be taken literally; rather, he was advising that we, as college students, take time to sit down with our family members, listen to their stories, and, in doing so, make them ours. Much as it was important in the novel The Giver, written by Lois Lowry and published in 1993, this work of transmission, of passing down stories and emotions to the next generation, is still of utmost importance. By keeping our cultural memory alive, we are maintaining that which makes us truly human.

Now, you might ask, what does milking your grandparents have to do with the Smithsonian Institution? Moreover, why is this blog philosophizing about cultural transmission being posted during Archives Month? The answer to this is simple; I am proposing that we, as scholars, historians, and enthusiasts alike should think of archives in much the same way that we do our family’s stories, recognizing that much of their power comes from them staying within the public’s collective memory. In a way, this emphasis on public memory has already been emerging within the museum world, at least among scholars. Frequently, museums and archives, such as those whose collections are highlighted on this blog, are labeled under the broad category of memory institutions. This, however, does not go far enough. To keep something as part of our cultural memory, we must do more than merely preserve artifacts and documents in vaults and basements. Rather, these items need to be regularly accessed, touched, and read for them to continue to be valuable to the nation’s collective understanding of the world and its past. To be honest, this is a task far too big to place on the shoulders of archivists and curators alone—even though they have been doing great work! This work, which I like to call “milking the archives,” is most effectively done by members of the public and others who can ingest these often forgotten stories and, in doing so, return them to the public memory.

To illustrate this, it is helpful to look at the Francis Mair Collection, which several colleagues and I are currently processing. A member of the industrial design firm Landor and Associates, Inc., Francis Mair (or Fran, as he was known), had a keen interest in the history of his craft. This interest would draw him, eventually, to a position at the head of the Landor firm’s Museum of Packaging Antiquities. Housed in Landor and Associates’ unique headquarters (the firm operated many of its executive functions out of a retired steamboat named Klamath, which rested permanently near Pier 5 of San Francisco Bay), the museum collected, often through Mair’s business connections, a large amount of items, recording the history of packaging in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Documented well, with its story previously told, the museum is not, however, what I seek to highlight; rather, I want to bring forward a story that, even within Smithsonian circles, was forgotten. This story is the collaboration between the late National Museum of American History curator David Shayt and Mair as they worked to build the Museum of Packaging Antiquities.

In this photograph, ca.1990s, used courtesy of Alison Oswald, David Shayt can be seen holding a Holles Allen Experimental Bow, one of the many items he was responsible for acquiring, preserving, and curating at the National Museum of American History.

In processing the Francis Mair Collection, I noticed several letters that were written on letterhead from the Smithsonian Museum of History and Technology (the former name of the National Museum of American History). After looking more closely through the letters, I realized that they spanned several years, starting before David Shayt had been employed by the Smithsonian. In fact, the letters start with a copy of Shayt’s resume, presumably the one with which he applied to work with Mair. Shayt’s resume notes that, even while completing military service abroad, he still found ways to work within the museum field, assisting with several exhibitions.

Resume: David Shayt, ca. 1977. Francis Mair Collection, Archives Center, National Museum of American History.

The letters show a deepening relationship between Shayt and Mair, one in which Shayt, as the younger partner, had much both to learn and to offer. One of the highlights is a unique letter from Mair to Shayt’s parents, noting that David had asked Mair to “express to [Shayt’s parents his] feelings about [David’s] presence here, his activities, and how delighted we are to have him here.” Later in the letter, Mair notes that “the changes for the better that he is making are most welcome to us because we have very little budgetwise to do this sort of thing.”

Letter from Francis Mair to Mr. and Mrs. Shayt, August 10, 1977. Francis Mair Collection, Archives Center, National Museum of American History.

This phrase, “very little budgetwise,” would prove to be the item, however, that Shayt’s father most focused on. Despite noting that “Both Mrs. Shayt and I are . . . happy to hear that David’s contribution is of no small significance,” he would still spend the bulk of his letter struggling openly over his son’s decision to enter the museum field. Writing back, he uses the above quote from Mair’s letter to explain why he “can’t get enthralled at the prospect of David [his son] mapping out for himself a museum career.” In this, Shayt’s father echoes the
questioning that many parents have surely done over the career choices of their children, expressing deep-seated fears about the remuneration provided by various types of work.

Letter from Alvin Shayt to Francis Mair, August 15, 1977. Francis Mair Collection, Archives Center, National Museum of American History.

Another letter, however, tells a far more positive tale. In this letter, written by Shayt to Fran Mair, he tells of his first period of time working with the Smithsonian’s collections. Commenting that he still looks back fondly upon the summer he spent working at the Landor Museum of Packaging Antiquities, he also notes the vast disparity in resources between the two museums, stating “I still feel humbled & a bit intimidated after having left so recently the Packaging Museum.” Beyond this, the letter is warm and kind, noting that despite the weather turning “awfully cold,” he is “still managing to hoof it down to Constitution Ave. to the museum.”

Letter from David Shayt to Francis Mair, November 16, 1977. Francis Mair Collection, Archives Center, National Museum of American History.

Over his career working at the Smithsonian, Shayt would collect, document, and tell many stories, touching a large number of people both within the Archives Center and throughout the Smithsonian Institution. The story of his time with Mair, however, was lost from the collective memory. Only through a series of interactions, of milking the staff of the Archives Center, of milking the documents within the Archives Center, has this chunk of life been brought to life again. This work is what is what I refer to in advocating milking the archives, that of returning good stories back to the forefront of people’s minds.

If you have a desire to keep stories like this one alive, know that the door to the Archives Center is open to any researcher who would like to seek out and retell some of the lost stories and, in doing so, Milk the Archives for all they are worth. For more information on the Francis Mair Collection and all others held by the Archives Center, feel free to head over to our website or send us an email. We would love to hear from you! We only ask that, prior to coming in to research, you make an appointment, so that we can more effectively serve you.

Kevin DeVries, Archives Center Intern
National Museum of American History, Archives Center

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Collection Highlight: Historic Maps of Africa

Have you ever wanted to visit Africa?  The Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives is here to help!  Check out this collection of Historic Maps of Africa to learn more about Africa's cultures, history, geography, politics, and more.  Safe travels!

"A New Description of Africa -- 1631", engraved by W. J. Blaeu, published by Folger Shakespeare Library,
EEPA 1991-001-0001

The Archives is open for researchers by appointment only, Tuesday-Thursday, 10-4. Please see the EEPA website for more information.

Eden Orelove
Photo Archivist
Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives
National Museum of African Art