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Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Solving Inventory Problems with Archival Research

One of the most important tasks in a museum is keeping track of items in the collection. To properly care for a collection, you must know what you have and where to find it. However, staff in any museum—especially those with collections acquired over more than a hundred years—know that mistakes can occur and we can lose track of things. Museum staff often encounter lost or misplaced objects, items found in storage without catalog numbers or documentation, and confusing or missing information in catalog records. Today we have technology and record-keeping systems that help keep these types of errors to a minimum but many unsolved inventory issues from the past remain at the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI). 

Before computer databases and regular photography of all collection items, it could be difficult to determine when an item was truly missing or to match an unnumbered item found in storage to an existing catalog record. At the Museum of the American Indian, our predecessor institution, catalog card descriptions of objects were often vague. The cards usually only identified a culture and basic object type and did not physically describe the object, which often make it practically impossible to rectify inventory discrepancies. Without computerized records and accurate inventories, staff had to be certain of what was missing and also hope that a painstaking search through paper catalog cards might reveal a match. When staff couldn’t find a match and gave up the search, they would catalogue the item with a new number and note that it was “found in the collection.” That was the best they could do to ensure the object would be documented and tracked in the future. 

Typical Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation catalog card
Typical Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation catalog card

At NMAI we are still dealing with longstanding inventory discrepancies. Our staff has made tremendous progress in sorting things out over the years but sometimes there are no clues or tangible leads to figure out an object’s origin or original catalog number. Fortunately, the Retro-Accession Lot Project—NMAI’s provenance research project to reconstruct the acquisition history of the museum’s collections—has provided new avenues to explore. Digging into the archives in search of provenance information has unexpectedly revealed solutions to longstanding inventory problems, including some we thought could never be solved. 

Haida figure from British Columbia, 24/8864. National Museum of the American Indian. 

In 1974, an unnumbered Haida figure was found in MAI storage: it could not be matched with records of any missing objects so it was assigned a new catalog number. Its new catalog card read “Carved wood figure of a kneeling man. Possibly a canoe prow or feast dish base, from collection - original number lost.”  

During the Retro-lot project review of an early scrapbook of clippings about American Indians and artifacts made by MAI founder George Heye, there was a familiar image: an article titled The Man Otter included a photograph of the figure found in the collection in 1974!  

Excerpt from Heye Scrapbook of Newspaper Articles. Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation records, Oversize Box 2. NMAI Archives Center. 

Using this information, a collections database search retrieved a catalog record for an object described as an otter man totem, possibly Haida. The object had been purchased by George Heye in 1904 from Frederick Landsberg, owner of Victoria, British Columbia, art and artifact shop called Landsberg’s Free Museum, and its original catalog card even referenced a newspaper article. This “totem,” which had never been photographed by the museum, had been considered missing for many years but had clearly been in the collection all along; it was simply obscured by its new number and catalog card that no longer referenced the “man otter.” 

Top: Catalog card for Haida Figure 1125 (now 24/8864). Bottom: Catalog card made during re-cataloging in 1974

Without additional documentation, it would have been impossible to determine that these two catalog records were for the same object. And if not for this chance discovery, made while flipping through a scrapbook in the NMAI Archive Center, we may never have solved this inventory issue.  

A:shiwi (Zuni) jar from New Mexico, RP0104. National Museum of the American Indian.

This A:shiwi (Zuni) jar from New Mexico provides another example: it was also found in collections storage with no catalog number; it was assigned a temporary number and housed with other inventory problems for years. Archival documentation regarding the 1906 acquisition of the Lewis Hotchkiss Brittin collection finally revealed its background. Brittin, a noted collector of books and Native American art, maintained catalog cards of his collection and often pasted photos on the cards. When Brittin sold his collection to George Heye, the cards were included, but unfortunately they did not include Brittin’s name or any reference to the MAI collections they might represent.  In 2019, we identified the cards as the collection purchased from Brittin in 1906 and matched them to catalogued objects. One card for a Zuni jar could not be matched to any catalogued items, but inventory records showed that a Zuni jar from Brittin was listed as missing. A search through the inventory problems revealed the missing jar, whose distinctive shape and design made its identification obvious.  

L.H. Brittin Catalog Cards and Plates. Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation records, Oversize Box CC3. NMAI Archives Center. 

Finally, this poncho from Peru has been a cataloguing mystery for years. It is a significant item because it shows evidence of the relationship between two Andean cultures from different regions of Peru, the coastal Moche and the highland Huari; its weaving and stylistic techniques represent both cultures and date it to AD 700–900. The poncho has been exhibited several times and been treated by museum conservation staff several times. Given its beauty and significance, it would have been a notable addition to the collection whenever it was acquired but it has never been clear exactly how or even when it was acquired. This is its long and convoluted story.  

Huari (Wari) poncho, AD 700-900, 24/4999. National Museum of the American Indian.

In 1976, the poncho was found stored in the museum vault and examined by MAI staff, who found that it lacked a catalog number. Due to its poor condition, it was recommended for conservation treatment in 1978 and was treated again in 1985. Documentation from this period refers to the object only as an unnumbered Moche-Huari poncho. In 1987, MAI staff concluded that the poncho had never been catalogued and assigned it a number: 24/4999. Given the poncho’s remarkable nature, some staff later felt that it must have been catalogued earlier and lost its number. Over the course of decades, they investigated missing archaeological textiles from Peru to try to identify the poncho’s background but met with no success. 

What complicated later efforts was that the catalog number 24/4999 suggested that the poncho’s acquisition dated to 1971. MAI (and NMAI) catalog numbers are sequential—1 to 270600 currently—and rough acquisition dates can often be ascertained by their placement in that sequence. The poncho’s catalog number fits in the range of numbers assigned in 1971 and, from the 1990s onward, staff assumed it was acquired before 1971. What they did not realize was that in the 1980s, staff had identified a block of unassigned numbers and used them for newly catalogued items, including the poncho. In the early 2000s, when staff attempted to match the poncho to a missing object, they only scrutinized objects catalogued before 1971. 

In 2019, the origins of the poncho finally became clear when it was matched with records for a 1973 purchase of what was described as “an extremely rare Mochica poncho from Peru.” The purchase—arranged by director Frederick J. Dockstader from Swiss antiquities collector Jean Lions—was significant enough to merit mention in the museum’s 1973 Annual Report. MAI supporter Harry Blumenthal had provided funds for the poncho’s purchase in the name of Arthur Sackler, a generous donor who had started an MAI fund to support purchase of unique and outstanding objects. In 1974, Dockstader catalogued the poncho with the number 24/8860, but that number was never written on or attached to the poncho itself, leading to decades of confusion.  

Original catalog card for Huari (Wari) poncho 24/8860 (now 24/4999).

In 1975, MAI dismissed Frederick Dockstader following a New York State Attorney General’s Office investigation of sales and irregular deaccessions of MAI collection objects. In 1976, when the poncho was found in the vault, no one sought an explanation from Dockstader, and during the inventory of the MAI collection in the late 1970s, poncho 24/8860 was never located and was assumed to be missing. 

As part of NMAI’s Retro-Accession lot project, we have not only worked to reconstruct how collection objects were acquired but also to understand MAI’s history as a museum and its practices. We can never take for granted that the standard museum practices we follow today actually pertain to earlier decades and understanding how MAI operated has helped us unravel some of these more complex situations. Looking back at the chain of events, it’s now clear how the poncho lost connection to its documentation and how staff repeatedly went astray in earlier efforts to determine its acquisition history. The poncho’s story also demonstrates how easily we can lose track of items and how changes in staff and loss of institutional knowledge can contribute to what we know about items in the collection, all of which shows that good and timely record-keeping is critical.  

Armed with a better understanding of our museum archives and collections documentation, we now have new tools to solve old problems, including persistent inventory issues and ensuring that collections data is accurate. For more information on the Retro-Accession Lot project and how it is changing what we know about the NMAI collections see previous blog posts here and here.  

Maria Galban 

Collections Documentation Manager 

National Museum of the American Indian 

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

New Virtual Finding Aids for Two 20th Century Biological Anthropology Collections

Over the course of the last 8 months, I have been working on a Legacy Finding Aids project at the National Anthropological Archives (NAA). The primary purpose of this project was to take finding aids which were not available online, update them to current standards, and make them available through the Smithsonian Online Virtual Archives (SOVA). Five of these have already been profiled on this blog (Sydel Silverman, William Duncan Strong, Aleš Hrdlička, Ethel Cutler Freeman, and Virginia Drew Watson). I will be profiling the rest in groups over the next few months. All funding for this project was provided by the FY2019 Collections Information (CIS) pool. According to the four-field approach as advocated by Franz Boas, anthropology can be divided into biological anthropology, cultural anthropology, linguistic anthropology, and archaeology. Where possible, I have divided the collections I will be profiling into these fields. This post concerns two biological anthropologists.

Grover Sanders Krantz (1931-2001)

Grover Krantz at age 40. The Grover Sanders Krantz papers, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution.

Grover Sanders Krantz was a biological anthropologist who was an expert in primate bone structure and was considered a leading authority in hominoid evolution. He was also known for his interest in cryptozoology. These research areas are included in his papers at the NAA. His other research interests included early human immigration to America, sex identification of skeletons, and the origin of language and speech. He authored numerous journal articles and books on these subjects, including Climactic Races and Descent Groups (1980), The Process of Human Evolution (1981), and Geographical Development of European Languages (1988). He earned his B.A. and M.A. at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1955 and 1958, and his Ph.D. from the University Minnesota in 1970. He taught for thirty years at Washington State University in Pullman, Washington (1968-1998).

Krantz’s devotion to the study of biological anthropology was so intense that he told an NAA staff member that he wanted to keep teaching after he died. He arranged to have his skeletal remains donated to the National Museum of Natural History’s collections for educational purposes (as well as those of his beloved Irish Wolfhound Clyde). Both his and Clyde’s skeletons were displayed in the 2010 exhibition Written in Bone: Forensic Files of the 17th-Century Chesapeake and are currently on display in Q?rius, the museum’s science education center.

Frank Spencer (1941-1999)

Frank Spencer with his cat. The Frank Spencer papers, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution.

Frank Spencer was a biological anthropologist who is best known for his work on the history of biological anthropology. His early training was in medical microbiology and he worked as a medical laboratory technician. After emigrating from England to Canada, he earned his B.A. from the University of Windsor, Ontario in 1973. He then moved south to the United States and earned his Ph.D. in biological anthropology in 1979 at the University of Michigan with his dissertation "Biological Anthropology, Aleš Hrdlička, MD (1869-1943): A Chronicle of the Life and Work of an American Physical Anthropologist." He then moved east, taking up a post at Queens College, where he remained for the rest of his career. Spencer was the co-founder and editor of Physical Anthropology News and the author and editor of a number of books on the history of physical anthropology including A History of Physical Anthropology, 1930-1980 (1992), The Origins of Modern Humans: A World Survey of the Fossil Evidence (1984), Ecce Homo: An Annotated Biographic History of Physical Anthropology (1986), and History of Physical Anthropology: An Encyclopedia (1997). He is best known for his book Piltdown: A Scientific Forgery (1990), in which he proposed that the respected doctor Sir Arthur Keith had perpetrated the Piltdown hoax. Ian Langham, an Australian anthropologist, had the same theory, but died before he could publish his work. With the help of Langham’s widow, Spencer incorporated both of their research in Piltdown and its accompanying volume, The Piltdown Papers 1908-1955: The Correspondence and Other Documents Relating to the Forgery (1990). Both Spencer’s and Langham’s research are included in Spencer’s papers at the NAA.

Katherine Christensen
Contract Archivist
National Anthropological Archives

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

A New Virtual Finding Aid for the Virginia Drew Watson Papers

Virginia Drew Watson (1918-2007) was an archaeologist and cultural anthropologist who was best known for her work in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea, where she worked both with her husband, James B. Watson, and with J. David Cole. She made two trips to Papua New Guinea with her husband, the first (1954-1955) to study the socio-cultural aspects of the Tairora and Agarabi groups, and the second (1963-1964) to complete the archaeological work of their student, J. David Cole1, who was unable to complete it due to illness. The result of this second trip was the completion of her dissertation, "Agarabi Female Roles and Family Structure, a study of socio-cultural change" (1965); the publication of Prehistory of the Eastern Highlands of New Guinea (1977), in which Watson analyzed tools excavated by Cole at 76 different archaeological sites; and the publication of Anyan’s Story: A New Guinea Woman in Two Worlds (1997), in which Watson showed the changes in Tairora culture resulting from contact with the West through the life experience of Anyan. 

Watson, Virginia Drew, and J. David Cole. Prehistory of 
the Highlands of New Guinea. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1977. And Watson, Virginia Drew. Anyan’s Story: A New Guinea Woman in Two Worlds. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1997. The Virginia Drew Watson papers, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution.

Watson also did field work in Brazil, with the Cayua Indians of Mato Grosso (1943), and in Colorado, with  the Anglo-Spanish community in Del Norte (1949-1950). She worked in the Cultural Relations Department of the American Consulate General in Sao Paulo, Brazil, (1944-1945) and lectured at a variety of universities and museums (the Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago; the University of Oklahoma, Norman; Washington University in St. Louis; Seattle University; and the University of Washington, Seattle). While she was teaching at Washington State University, she made a study of the Wulfing plates, which had been donated to the university by John Max Wulfing.

Three images from Watson, Virginia Drew. The Wulfing Plates: Products of Prehistoric Americans. St. Louis: Washington University Press, 1950. The Virginia Drew Watson papers, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Insitution.

These 8 copper plates were created by the Mississippian culture and discovered in Missouri in 1906. Watson’s study of these plates resulted in the publication of The Wulfing Plates: Products of Prehistoric Americans (1950). The plates had previously not been studied extensively, though they had been on exhibit in the St. Louis Art Museum, and her work brought them to the attention of other anthropologists.2


The finding aid for Watson’s papers has recently been published on SOVA through the funding of the Smithsonian Collections Information (CIS) pool for fiscal year 2019. The finding aid for James B. Watson’s papers is also available on SOVA. 


Katherine Christensen
Contract Archivist
National Anthropological Archives


1For more on the work of J. David Cole in the Eastern Highlands of Papua New Guinea, see this mini-exhibit at the Burke Museum: Objects from this expedition are included in the Uncovering Pacific Pasts website created by the University of Sydney:

2Robb, Matthew H. “Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum Spotlight Series March 2010.” St. Louis Art Museum. Accessed June 8, 2020, The Smithsonian Institution has similar plates in its collections, which you can see here:

Monday, August 3, 2020

A New Virtual Finding Aid for Ethel Cutler Freeman Collection

Portrait of Ethel Cutler Freeman. The Ethel Cutler Freeman papers, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution.

Ethel Cutler Freeman (1886-1972) was a remarkable woman who defied expectations to become a celebrated anthropologist. She was born in 1886 in Morristown, New Jersey. After studying abroad in England at Mademoiselle Marie Souvestre’s Academy for Girls, Freeman returned to the United States and married New York stockbroker Leon S. Freeman in 1909. Over the course of the next 25 years, she gave birth to three children (two daughters and a son) and lived the life of a socialite and well-to-do wife and mother. However, she was determined to move beyond the expected activities for a woman of her social class, and in 1934, decided to look to education to clear a “brain full of cobwebs.”1 Freeman’s papers reveal that dedication for growth; for example, there are several notes that she wrote to herself on themes like “How to Give a Good Lecture” evidenced by a folder labeled “Analysis of my writing by myself.”

“What is wrong with my writing,” a list of critiques by Freeman about her writing. The Ethel
Cutler Freeman papers, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution.

Freeman decided to venture out and grow her interests beyond ordinary daily social activities and, on the advice of her friend Marcellus Hartley Dodge, attended Columbia University, taking courses in psychology and sociology. She became interested in Native American cultures, specifically that of the Seminole Tribe of Florida, due to the proximity of her family’s home in Naples, Florida, to the Big Cypress Reservation. She met Dr. Clark Wissler, then curator of the Indian Division of the American Museum of Natural History, who was supportive of Freeman’s pursuit of anthropology but discouraged her from attempting a study of Seminole communities, as they were not typically open to outsiders. 

Ethel Cutler Freeman with councilman and medicine man Josie Billie and Frank Cypress outside of Freeman’s chiki on her arrival at the Big Cypress Reservation in 1941. The Ethel Cutler Freeman papers, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution. 

Despite Dr. Wissler’s comments (and his own experience of not being able to work with Seminole communities), Freeman was able to make around thirty stays with the Seminole Tribe of Florida at the Big Cypress Reservation starting in February of 1940. She brought one of her daughters, Condict, and son, Leon Jr., with her on many of her trips. Although Freeman acted with the permission of the Seminole of Florida and developed close relationships with many members of the tribe, it is important to note that she was not acting in collaboration with or at the invitation of the community, as she would today.

Ethel Cutler Freeman demonstrating the use of her 16mm Ciné Kodak camera for children on the Big Cypress Reservation. The Ethel Cutler Freeman papers, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution.

Over the course of the 1940s, Freeman added to her fieldwork in Florida with trips to Mexico and New Mexico, working with the Mascogo, Tohono Oʼodham, Kickapoo, Navajo, and Hopi peoples. The Mascogo community was of particular interest to Freeman as they are a Seminole group descended from escaped African slaves who joined with the Seminole peoples.2 During this period, she also established herself as an expert in Seminole culture and, in 1947, was appointed as the American Civil Liberties Union’s representative on the National Coordinating Committee for Indian Affairs. She additionally took on a role as a consultant for the Bureau of Indian Affairs and, in 1948, was appointed to the Hoover Commission for Reorganization of Government as their representative. These accomplishments were remarkable for the time, as there were very few female anthropologists.

Scene from  Seminole Indians, ca. 1950  (HSFA# 1986.11.9) Ethel Cutler Freeman papers, Human Studies Film Archives, Smithsonian Institution.

Freeman published articles and gave talks and lectures on the Seminole at events ranging from international conferences to garden club meetings. In doing so, she used her privilege and education to advocate for awareness, recognition, and acknowledgement of the Seminole people.
 The finding aid for Freeman’s papers has recently been published on SOVA through the funding of the FY2019 Collections Information (CIS) pool.

Katherine Christensen (Contract Archivist) and Kaitlin Srader (Intern)
1Freeman to Marcellus Hartley Dodge. The Ethel Cutler Freeman papers, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution.
2For more information on the Mascogo, see Katarina Wittich, “The Mascogo,” Lest We Forget, Hampton University, accessed June 23, 2020,

Monday, July 13, 2020

Hattie Meyers Weaver: Life During the Great Influenza Epidemic of 1918

From an early age, Hattie Meyers was fascinated with flight. At first, being a “mere girl,” she contented herself with building models in her Glen Ridge, New Jersey, home with the help of her older brother Charlie, a member of the Aero Club of New York. She recalled her first model, made of cranberry red silk from Scotland, being named the “Red Devil” for the “wicked prohibitive sound and the hope that it would raise the ‘devil’ with the long distance model record held by Percy Pierce.” Hattie’s model shattered the record (and the cellar window)! Hattie’s model success gained her entry into the “boy’s” shop in back of their house, where she was nominally allowed to participate in their endeavor to build a man-carrying glider, often taking the blame for hijinks, all for the promise of a ride in the final product.

Hattie and Charles Meyers, ages five and seven. (Photo is dated 189[9], but is most likely 1903.) NASM 9A16573  
In 1916, Charlie brought home a friend from the Aero Club of Illinois—known only as “Buck.” Hattie immediately noted that he was “a real aviator and not just a model builder” and twenty-one to boot! She also was not a fan of the black and white checkered cap he constantly wore (not knowing that this was the proud symbol of an early aviator). As they courted, Hattie learned his full name was George Weaver. After he turned down an opportunity to fly with Katherine Stinson in Japan, George and Hattie announced their engagement on June 14, 1917, with the specter of the United States’ entrance into World War I looming.

Civilian Flying Instructors, Rich Field, Waco, Texas, January 1918. George E. “Buck” Weaver is the third from the left in the seated row. NASM 9A16576 
George and Charlie registered for the war and went to work at Aeromarine. Already a capable aviator tapped as a civilian flying instructor, George was first sent to the U.S. Naval Reserve School on Long Island then to Dayton and then to Rich Field in Waco, Texas. Hattie left everything she knew in New Jersey to meet his family in Chicago on her way to joining George in Texas. They married on February 12, 1918, with George rushing in from work, washing the castor oil off his face.

George “Buck” Weaver and Hattie Meyers Weaver together in Waco, Texas, March 19, 1918. NASM 9A16575
Hattie settled into life at Rich Field as a wife, impatiently waiting for the war’s end, even as Rich Field was struck by the influenza. George received a doctor’s note for influenza for over a week’s absence in April. Effective as of October 4, all officers and enlisted men were given antiseptic treatment daily as a precaution. Hattie recalled, “The big husky men at Camp MacArthur died faster than burial and when the wind blew from there the odor gave proof.” She noted the other target—pregnant women like herself.

Doctor’s letter, dated April 12, 1918, certifying that George “Buck” Weaver was absent from work due to influenza. NASM NASM.XXXX.0171-M0000127-00300
 On November 11, 1918, Hattie and George joined the Armistice parade in downtown Waco in their Buick convertible: “Flu and babies forgotten.” George obtained a leave of absence so that he could go to Chicago with Hattie to prepare for the baby. By the time they had reached St. Louis, Hattie knew she “had a cold, sneezes and snuffles.” She arrived in Chicago with a fever and full-blown influenza. Although she had “coughs that hurt and would not stop,” Hattie was apologetic that she was a sick nuisance to her mother-in-law.

George E. "Buck" Weaver and wife Hattie Meyers Weaver pose in their Buick Roadster, October 1918. Another version of this photograph was labeled “Mrs. W pregnant, flu epidemic.” NASM 9A16574

George Charles Weaver, nicknamed “Buddie,” was born on December 12, 1918. Hattie noted that the “fever had burned off the weight, the flesh was loose on the 5 lb. 3oz. baby.” She blamed herself and her illness for the premature birth and promised “to do better next time.” George exited the room and only later did Hattie learn he had fainted. He returned to Texas soon after to receive his discharge papers. He had been warned if he was not present, he would not receive the end-of-war separation benefits package.

Hattie convalesced in Chicago under the watchful eye of the Weaver family. Her doctor insisted that she needed to be strong and nurse the baby. Her youngest brother-in-law taught her how to walk again. George wrote often. It was difficult for Hattie to learn that many of the women with whom she had made baby clothes at Rich Field had succumbed to the flu, along with their children. In a January 5 letter, Hattie wrote: “George, that grips me by the heart at nights and when Son is sleeping quietly I have to feel him to be sure he is living. I have tried to write Mrs. Blair but each time I have become deathly sick. I cannot. Oh Georgie how grateful we are.” George returned to Chicago when Buddie was eight weeks old.

After the war, George Weaver took up barnstorming. In 1920, along with Clayton Bruckner and Elwood "Sam" Junkin, he founded the Weaver Aircraft Company. George “Buck” Weaver died on July 31, 1924, from a septic blister. He was eulogized by some of aviation’s greats, including Katherine Stinson: “You [Hattie] have been very dear to and made very happy this boy whom we all loved so dearly.”

Reproduction of July 29, 1924 telegram from Katherine Stinson to Hattie Meyers Weaver regarding the death of George “Buck” Weaver. NASM NASM.XXXX.0171-M0000014-00140

The company was later renamed Advanced Aircraft and, later, Waco (pronounced wah-co, as opposed to way-co). Hattie married Sam Junkin in 1926, but he died shortly afterwards (their daughter Janet was only a few months old). The company slipped out of Hattie’s hands soon after. The Waco Aircraft Company flourished during the interwar period as Waco aircraft were operated by public, private, military and corporate owners in thirty-five countries. During World War II, Waco devoted itself entirely to war production, particularly gliders, but could not adjust to the postwar market.

Hattie and her son Buddie lived long lives. In 1929, Hattie married Ralph Stanton Barnaby, a glider pilot, but the marriage was short-lived. Hattie wrote several versions of the Waco Company history. She was one of the first women to earn a glider class C license. She studied law at the University of Washington (DC), but fell ill before taking the bar.

Hattie Meyers Junkin with son George “Buddie” Weaver, age six, January 1927. Hattie noted on the back that she had trimmed her crepe tunic with beaver from an ageing coat. NASM 9A16577 
In 1976, an episode of the hit television show Upstairs Downstairs prompted Hattie to recall her bout of influenza in a letter to Buddie: “The report again in the final chapter of the ‘Spanish’ flu that caused more deaths than the millions slaughtered in [World] War One, naturally brings me agin [sic] to my carrying you, the Armistice, (pic in my album) of my Kewpie doll body as your father was chosen to lead the parade in our Buick convertible….” She revisited the circumstances of Buddie’s birth, adding, “Since then it is remarkable how we have escaped attempts, literally on our lives.” Hattie Meyers Weaver Junkin died in 1990 and George “Buddie” Weaver followed in 1991.

The National Air and Space Museum Archives holds the Hattie Meyers Junkin Papers, the Waco Aircraft Company Records, and the Ralph Stanley Barnaby Papers. The Waco collection includes almost 25,000 drawings on paper, business records (including purchase orders for individual aircraft), and engineering reports. Ralph Barnaby’s collection holds documents from his gliding career and correspondence received late in his life from other aviation pioneers.

Hattie’s papers are digitized, containing materials from every stage of her life. Her diaries and correspondence are especially rich in the World War I and early Waco periods. She saved everything for years, including photos and cards straight out of George “Buck” Weaver’s wallet and satchel, and donated the collection to the Museum in 1983. In fact, the Smithsonian TranscriptionCenter is looking for volunteers to transcribe materials from the Hattie Meyers Junkin Papers!

Elizabeth C. Borja
National Air and Space Museum Archives

Monday, June 29, 2020

Anders Zorn: Swedish Superstar and American Idol

Zorn’s self-portrait appears on the cover of the  brochure for a 
memorial exhibition that traveled the United States in 1925.  

“Special Exhibition of Oil Paintings and Water Colors by Anders Zorn.” 
Grand Central Art Galleries. Carnegie Institute, 
Museum of Art records, 1883-1962, bulk 1885-1940, Series 3: 
Exhibitions, Box 204, Folder 23: Zorn, Anders L., 1924-1925, 
Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
The year 2020 marks the centennial of the death of Swedish painter Anders Zorn (1860–1920). While he may no longer be a household name, at the time of his death at the age of sixty, Zorn was a world-renowned painter and etcher—highly sought after for portrait commissions not only throughout Europe but also across the United States. His sitters included three U.S. presidents, industrialists Andrew Carnegie and Robert Brookings, and countless other high society figures. Several days after his death was announced in the U.S. press, the New York Times ran a piece on Zorn noting: “Those who noticed the death of the Swedish artist Anders Zorn felt . . . a shock which may be taken as a measure of his significance in art.” [i]

Whereas Zorn’s friends and admirers in the United States were stunned by his death, it was even more deeply felt in Sweden, where he is still known as a “Swedish Superstar.” [ii] Zorn was born and raised in rural Mora, Sweden, about two hundred miles northwest of Stockholm. His mother, who had been working in Stockholm as a bottle washer in a brewery, returned to live with her parents in Mora after becoming pregnant. She gave birth to Zorn in a stable next to their farmhouse. Zorn’s artistic gifts were recognized at an early age. With initial support from his extended family, he made his way to the Royal Swedish Academy of Arts in Stockholm at the age of fifteen. Once there, Zorn managed to finance his living expenses, education, and appetite for travel through portrait commissions, eventually living and working for extended periods in London and Paris and traveling throughout Spain and Italy.

Zorn first traveled to the United States in 1893, when he led a delegation of Swedish artists exhibiting at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, which is often referred to as the Chicago World’s Fair. His art and his personality alike made quite the impression on fair attendees. Two significant  sales at the event effectively launched Zorn’s career in the United States and brought new commissions: one was the purchase of his painting Omnibus (1892) by Isabella Stewart Gardner, which remains on display at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, Massachusetts, and the other was the sale of The Waltz (1891) to George Vanderbilt, who installed it at his Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina, where it can still be viewed.
Mary Hardin by Anders Zorn, date unknown 1977.134.2 
Etching Smithsonian American  Art Museum,  Gift of Laura Dreyfus 
Barney and Natalie Clifford Barney  in memory of their mother, 
Alice Pike Barney 

Zorn was a master etcher whose ability to depict light
and shadow with a few strokes was widely admired.

An article in Art Amateur, which ran at the time of the World’s Fair in 1893, commented, “Zorn’s manner may be said to be that of a careful and scientific Impressionist intent on getting the greatest possible amount of sunlight, quality of color and verity of expression into his work with the least possible display of means.” [iii] While the article was referring to Zorn’s etching, many of his paintings were also characterized by the use of a limited, tonal color palette and the skillful treatment of light. The same Art Amateur article includes the wry observation: “We believe that if a vote were taken, Mr. Zorn would turn out to be the most popular artist with artists at The World’s Fair.” [iv] This popularity was apparently not limited to fellow artists, as his initial trip to the United States led to lifelong friendships with Gardner, Chicago businessman Charles Deering, and others. Their well-documented travels throughout Europe and the United States, lengthy visits to each other’s homes, and extensive correspondence spanning the next twenty-five years, which is now saved in the archives of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and Zornmuseet (Zorn Museum) in Mora, Sweden, attest to the depth of their affection for Zorn.

Oil on canvas
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution;
gift of the Reverend Thomas G. Cleveland

Zorn painted this portrait in 1899, two years after 
Cleveland had completed his second term. The sittings 
took place at the former president’s estate in Princeton, 
New Jersey, where the artist and subject bantered happily 
for several days. Cleveland expressed satisfaction with t
his portrait, declaring, “As for my ugly mug, I think the 
artist has ‘struck it off’ in great shape.” 
[Excerpted from the National Portrait Gallery’s
museum label]

How did a person of humble origins establish such easy rapport with U.S. high society? Zorn attributed the values instilled in him by his peasant grandparents as a key to his success in developing deep, lasting friendships in the United States. In his memoirs, Zorn wrote:

I got on well in America and with Americans. Their frank, straightforward manner suited my nature. I’ve never really been able to stand our urban Europeans’ ceremonious style and artificial customs . . . . But the simple rules of conduct that were so severely impressed on me by my grandfather from my earliest childhood were not so tricky; faithfulness, being true to one’s word, honesty and punctuality, were virtues I discovered were unnecessary with my fellow countrymen in the cities . . . . Why was I more than other foreigners during [my first visit to America] closest to the elite of American and introduced in all the clubs? Everywhere I went, I ascribed this to my grandfather, the splendid old Mora peasant who raised me until I was twelve… Over there [in America], when they say “he’s all-right,” all doors can open to the foreigner, which Europeans cannot understand. Openness, honesty, straight forwardness, punctuality, and true to friendship -- these things are included in the testimonial "he's all-right." [v] 

Zorn embraced the American entrepreneurial spirit and principles like authenticity, reliability, and trustworthiness that he felt defined his own character. Much like industrialists of the Gilded Age, he was a self-made man.

During Zorn’s third trip to the United States from 1898–1899, he was asked to paint President Grover Cleveland and First Lady Frances Folsom Cleveland, who had recently left the White House. Although President Cleveland informed Zorn that “he would rather go to the dentist than to sit for his portrait,” [vi] he too was eventually won over by Zorn’s personality and engaging repartee. While Zorn gained additional prominence from the opportunity to paint a U.S. president, he was perhaps more inspired by the prospect of painting Frances Cleveland. A fashion icon noted for her beauty and charm, she has been referred to as the country’s “first celebrity first lady.” [vii] Pleased with the resulting portrait of Frances Cleveland, Zorn produced a copy of the painting and presented it to Isabella Stewart Gardner for her birthday in 1899.

Frances Folsom Cleveland by Anders Zorn, 1899 Oil 
on canvas National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian 
Institution; gift of Frances Payne S/NPG.77.124 

First Lady Frances Folsom Cleveland’s portrait toured 
alongside her husband's as part of the memorial
exhibition organized in the U. S. after Zorn's death.

Although Zorn’s commissions ultimately made him wealthy, he stayed true to his roots, returning every summer to Mora and its surroundings to paint. While he is best known in the U.S. as a portrait painter, he is perhaps better known in Sweden for his depictions of rural folklife. With his earnings, he invested extensively in the community in and around Mora and the preservation of its traditional architecture, music, textiles, wood carving, and other folk arts. Likely inspired by Gardner’s plans to turn her home, Fenway Court, into a museum, Zorn and his wife Emma ensured that their home and studio would eventually be converted into a museum complex.

In 1924, four years after his death, an extensive memorial exhibition showcasing more than five hundred of Zorn’s works was held in Stockholm and highlighted the breadth of his career. Around the same time, a traveling exhibition organized by the Carnegie Institute also toured the United States. While the name Zorn may no longer elicit instant recognition in the United States, his body of work is worth revisiting, as is his unconventional path to superstardom, his entrepreneurial spirit, and his commitment to community, which continues to inspire.

By Beth Gottschling Huber, intern, Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, Catalog of American Portraits

i “The Art of Anders Zorn,” New York Times, August 29, 1920. 

ii “Zorn–A Swedish Superstar,” Nationalmuseum, Stockholm, accessed May 20, 2020, 

iii “Mr. Zorn’s Exhibition.” The Art Amateur: A Monthly Journal Devoted to Art in the Household (December 1893): 3. 

iv Ibid. 

v Cited after the English translation in William Hagans and Willow Hagens, Zorn in America: A Swedish Impressionist of the Gilded Age (Chicago: Swedish-American Historical Society in cooperation with the American Swedish Institute, 2009), 6. 

vi Ibid, 138. vii S. J. Ackerman, “The First Celebrity First Lady: Frances Cleveland,” Washington Post, July 3, 2013, accessed June 1, 2020,

Friday, May 29, 2020

Cultures in Motion: The Huichol Film Project 1973-1975 Part II

For Part I of this blog post please click here.

Image from copy at University of California Libraries.
Accessed via Internet Archive
Kalmun Müller was not to the first outsider to experience the Hikuri Neixa (a ceremony which marks the end of the Huichol year and the time prepare the soil for planting and to call upon the rain), but he was likely the first to film it. Other foreign researchers, mostly ethnographers, had visited San Andres Cohamiata during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The eminent Norwegian explorer and ethnographer Carl Lumholtz (1851 – 1922) had been the most prolific researcher to visit the place to date. On a grant from the American Museum of Natural History, Lumholtz visited most of the indigenous communities in Sierra Madre from 1895 to 1898. Following this experience, in 1900 and in 1902, Lumholtz would author Symbolism of the Huichol Indians and Unknown Mexico, which remain important works on the Huichol. 

Like Lumholtz, Müller also extensively documented Huichol lifeways, but he stuck to the camera. After filming the Hikuri Neixa ceremony in 1973, Müller produced and helped produce four more film projects totaling 43,590 feet of film (approximately 20 hours).[i] The Huichol ceremonies of Las Pachitas, the Peyote Pilgrimage, and the
Cambio de Varas are among other important ceremonies that Müller documented. Aspects of daily life of Huichols, with a particular emphasis on child rearing and development also figure prominently in the films.

Notes for camera roll 28, 
helping to identify film after processing and printing.
HSFA 1989.3.3 (ephemera)
This interest did not come from Müller himself, but came from of a group of researchers at the National Institute of Health, the patrons who had financed Müller’s expedition into the Sierra Madre.[ii]

Indeed, one key difference between the film project Müller led in Mexico and the film projects he had led in Europe or the South Pacific, was that the former was conceived and produced as a scientific project. The project was itself part of a broader research agenda to use film as a research method.

According to E. Richard Sorenson, Müller’s supervisor for this project and one of the proponents of the film research agenda:

because the light sensitive emulsion of film produces an objective chemical facsimile of the pattern of light falling on it, it preserves a phenomenological record of the pattern of light received. The data does not have to be screened by the cognitive organization of a human observer before it can be preserved. Because of this, film preserves information not just of what has been “seen” and “selected” by the culturally programmed mind of the filmer but also what he has not.[iii]

Film, in other words, would be inevitably more objective a method of describing reality than the pen of even the most experienced researcher. Unlike humans, the argument went, cameras could capture a fuller representation of the present, which would enable future researchers to see aspects which would have otherwise escaped the eye of the field researcher. Sorenson’s perspective was heavily influenced by his mentor Margaret Mead, who also believed in the objectivity and emancipatory nature of film. It was this faith in film that motivated Mead to help found the National Anthropological Film Center in 1975, the predecessor to today’s Human Studies Film Archives.

Huichol social interaction at the Fiesta de las Pachitas, Summer 1974 [iv]
Frame grab from HSFA 1989.3.1-3A
Applied to the Huichol people of San Andres, the research film method would generate increased understanding on questions such as: How do children in isolated societies become “enculturated”? How do psychedelic plants influence indigenous social organization? And, perhaps more importantly, what can the U.S. learn from people like the Huichol to address their own sociocultural ailments?[v]  

In practice, however, the research film method as Müller applied translated into long and mostly static takes without an explicit narrative arc or angle, and indeed most of the 46 film rolls that make up this collection were made this way. The other, and perhaps more important component of the Huichol project as a scientific enterprise, was the annotations to the films themselves. Dozens of synchronized and non-synchronized, Spanish and English annotations accompany the films Müller made. These annotations, drafted in collaboration with Eliseo Castro Villa (Müller’s main indigenous informant/collaborator in San Andres) and Rocio Echaverría (a government nurse who had worked in San Andres for many years prior to Müller’s arrival and who would marry him in 1973), added a rich layer of detail on the specific names and processes for the people, ceremonies, plants and other things filmed. 

Kalmun Müller narrating the first time a child in San Andres Cohamiata consumes peyote during the Hikuri Neixa ceremonyWinter 1975. HSFA 1989.3.3-9A 16mm workprint (Workprint is a temporary copy of film footage used for editing. It can have unstable color dyes causing the film to fade to a reddish hue.)

This added layer greatly amplifies the amount of contextual information about the moving images that appear on the films. But it would be after longs hours of conversation—while annotating these films behind a flat bed editing table—when Müller, Castro, and Echaverría would reveal even more telling pieces of information regarding Huichol culture and behavior. For it was at these times, when the commentators would reveal in jest, irritation, or silence, how their visions and concerns about the Huichol people differed. 

It is through Echaverría’s silence, punctuated with occasional outbursts of detailed information during one of these sessions, that one learns about the ways the Huichol people were coping with the debt and poverty the U.S.-backed Green Revolution was bringing to Huichol communities in the early ‘70s. [vi] It is through Müller’s repetitive dismissal of her comments that we may infer why she keeps mostly silent through the annotation process. It is also through Castro’s mocking of Müller as a friend of the Huichols who does not know their names that we learn about his possible irritation with the project.[vii]  A frustration which other Huichols may or may not have shared with Castro but that nonetheless makes one wonder: what was the story on the other side of the lens?

Photo by Kalmun Müller, 1975
As master storytellers who were historically weary of the power of narratives in shaping their cultures, landscapes, and societies, who knows how the Huichol of San Andres Cohamiata may have bent their own reality for Müller’s camera?  
We may never know, but what is certain is that to understand how cultures negotiate power in film, we must look at what lay behind the camera as well as in front of it.  
Enabling viewers to do so—to see through both sides of the lens—is indeed what makes the Huichol Film Project most remarkable. Influenced by the scientific film method, the extensive annotations and structured approach to filmmaking of this collection offer not only a more nuanced image of the Huichol people as film subjects, but also a more detailed glimpse into the culture and perspective of its filmmakers. As a clear and multifaceted window into the past, this collection represents a valuable resource for scholars interested in the history of film and of the Huichol people. For its incredible detail on the social and cultural practices of their ancestors, the Huichol Film Project should be of most interest and value to the Huichol people of San Andres Cohamiata. 

José Carlos Pons Ballesteros
Graduate Fellow
NMNH-Department of Anthropology

Original film footage of the Huichol Film Project, along with sound recordings and associated documentation, form part of the collections of the Human Studies Film Archives.  You can find more information about this film collection here.

[i] According to catalogue records the Huichol Film Project is made of 50 camera rolls, according to the Processing Proposal for the collection, the Huichol Film Project is made of 46 rolls.  Muller’s footage was used to produce the edited film Huichols: People of the Peyote around 1976. Thomas Perry produced this film in collaboration with Steven Dreben, who edited and directed it.

[ii] There is dark back story to the main proponents of this research film method, visual anthropologist E. Richard Sorenson (1939 – 2015) and his mentor medical researcher Carleton Gajdusek (1923 – 2008), interest in childhood development, which I will not address here as it is complex and not the focus of this essay.  Suffice it to say that Gajdusek was charged with child molestation in April 1996. For more information about this watch the excellent documentary The Genius and the Boys by Bosse Lindquist (2009) or read: Spark, Ceridwen. 2009. “Carleton’s Kids: The Papua New Guinean Children of D. Carleton Gajdusek.” The Journal of Pacific History 44 (1): 1–19. 

[iii] Quote drawn from The Huichol Film Project, Unfinished Draft of the Huichol Enculturation: a Preliminary Report. Human Studies Film Archives, Smithsonian NMNH.

 [iv] The Huichols celebrate the Fiesta de las Pachitas around the time of Ash Wednesday. This ceremony mixes Mesoamerican, Mexican, and Catholic symbolism and rituals to commemorate the early attempts by Catholic missionaries to convert the Huichol people into Christianity. For this festival the Huichol participants are divided into two main bands, the Jews and the Toros, while the rest of the community watches, as the film roll 89.3.1-3A suggests, often in jest. The Jews represent the Huichol ancestors. The Huichol represent the Jews by painting their faces black, some men dressing as women, all of whom try to escape the Toros. Huichols representing the Toros carry red flags and bull horns with which they run after the Jews. One interesting historical relationship this festival, and in particular the depiction of Christian missionaries as Toros, may speak to is the connection between the arrival of Christianity and the development of cattle agriculture in northwest Mexico. For more information on this complex ceremony read:  Jáuregui, Jesús. "Las Pachitas en la Mesa del Nayar (Yaujque’e)." Dimensión antropológica 34 (2009). 

[v] The Huichol Film Project, Grant Application. Human Studies Film Archives, Smithsonian NMNH. The question as to what Western society can learn from indigenous peoples is not unique to the Huichol film project, in fact it has served as the inspiration for much of the ethnographical research that has been conducted for the last half-century. For a short but interesting comment on this matter see the Introduction by Kathleen Berrin in her edited book Art of the Huichol Indians, 1979.

[vi] Huichol FIlm Project, 1975, sound roll 1989.3.3-1, annotation track in Spanish. This tape describes the First Use of  a Corn Thresher

[vii] Huichol FIlm Project, 1975, round roll 1989.3.1-14, annotation track in Spanish. This tape describes the yearly Huichol Tree Planting Ceremony