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Saturday, February 27, 2016

Families by Scurlock

It has been really fun for me to watch people’s reactions when I reveal that I spent my summer looking at pictures at the Smithsonian. Of course, it’s much more than that, but the bulk of my time was spent viewing and analyzing family portraits. Over ten weeks, I worked closely with David Haberstich in the Archives Center at the National Museum of American History. I examined portraits from the vast Scurlock Studio collection, and thoroughly enjoyed my time there.

I enjoy looking at photographs. At home and on my own time, I can spend hours going through my family’s old scrapbooks. I like to pretend to be a detective and find connections between the photographs that were not discussed or are frequently overlooked by the elders in my family. I am interested in race and class dynamics, and viewed the Scurlock Studio collection to shed light on the black middle class of Washington, D.C.

Self-portrait of the young Addison Scurlock with his future wife Mamie, ca. 1910. Scurlock Studio Records, Archives Center, National Museum of American History.
After going through at least 100 boxes, some small and some large, of photo prints and negatives, I was very happy to come across a specific sub-collection of photos of strictly families. I spent hours viewing the photos, taking notes, and comparing them. To my surprise, for the most part, all of the family portraits looked the same. Depending on the time period, as the Scurlock Studio was open for 83 years, the backdrops were the same, the poses the same, and the clothing colors were all the same. If I used the Scurlock Studio to define the middle class based on these family portraits, I would say that the black middle class was composed of 1) stylish people, 2) Howard University graduates, and 3) nuclear families.

It is very clear that style and fashion were of major importance to the black middle class in Washington. In the earliest photographs from the collection, individuals wore elegant gowns and dapper suits. As time passed, the black middle class paid attention to fashion trends and seemed to wear their Sunday Best in the portraits. Many of the photos in this collection showed young black professionals and recent Howard University graduates with their families. The men often stood behind their wives and children, and children who recently graduated donned their graduation cap and gown. This showed the importance of education and pride in educational achievements among the black middle class. Men who served in the armed forces proudly displayed their military uniforms. Well-dressed children appear happy and privileged, having solo photo shoots with children’s toys and other props. The family portraits show the characteristics that were important to the black middle class and coincide with narratives of black middle class families in popular culture.

As I viewed these photographs, I connected their “look” to the many television shows of black families that have dominated primetime television, one of the most recognizable and influential family shows being The Cosby Show. In several instances, I could hardly differentiate the two, as the families captured by the Scurlock Studio seemed like exact replicas of TV families. Additionally, as the time period changed, I thought of other television shows such as "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air," "My Wife and Kids," and "Black-ish." Many of these portraits reaffirmed these shows as portraying realistic family structures representations on television.

While I am proud to say that I awesomely spent the summer digging through family portraits and drawing the connections between them, I am now more excited to continue my research on black middle class family structures. It is clear that the Scurlocks dealt with a specific clientele in Washington, but I am interested in revealing what they did not capture. There were very few photographs in the collection of a single parent and child(ren). In these instances, because the portraits are not all labeled or dated, it is difficult to know if the parents were indeed single or if the other parent was absent. We know that the images of mothers and children that were taken for Ebony magazine "'Gold Star Wives' series" are women whose husbands were away in the military. For these clearly middle class (or even upper-middle class) women, background information is available, but unfortunately, each photograph in the collection does not have a similar description.

My archival research in the Scurlock Studio collection raised many unforeseen questions. Are the families with in-home portraits wealthier than those families with in-studio portraits? Who determined the poses? The photographer? The family? Why did some family portraits include the parents and children only, while others included grandparents and in-laws? Who made these decisions? As these photographs show what the middle class physically looked like between the periods of 1911-1994, they force me to wonder how other families who also fit middle class descriptions looked in Washington.

Aysha L. Preston, Visiting Graduate Student, Summer 2015
Archives Center, National Museum of American History

Friday, February 26, 2016

One Hundred Years of Museum History

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Museum of the American Indian (MAI), the National Museum of the American Indians’s (NMAI) predecessor institution. On May 10, 1916, George Heye—along with Trustees F. Kingsbury Curtis, Frederick K. Seward, and William Lare—signed a foundation deed creating the museum, an institution for “the collection, preservation, study and exhibition of all things connected with the anthropology of the aboriginal people of North, South and Central Americas, and containing objects of artistic, historic, literary and scientific interest” [1]. The basis of the MAI’s collection was the the approximately 175,000 specimens already assembled by George Heye and informally referred to as the “Heye Museum.”

George Heye laying the cornerstone of the Museum of The American Indian– Heye Foundation, November 8, 1916 (NMAI P11449)

While MAI was officially founded in 1916, the seeds of the institution were planted over a decade earlier. George Heye had begun collecting Native American objects in 1897 but by 1904 he became serious about founding his own museum, devoting much of his time to acquiring large collections and cataloging them. He hired museum assistants, including staff from the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), to work after hours to help clean and organize his collections.

1905 time card for George Lentz, AMNH Museum Assistant, for his evening work for George Heye
(NMAI.AC.001, Box 266.5)

Heye cultivated relationships with collectors, dealers, and institutions with Native American collections. He developed a vast network of ethnologists and archaeologists such as George Pepper (AMNH), Marshall Saville (Columbia University), Mark Raymond Harrington (a Columbia graduate), and archaeologist Theodoor de Booy, who conducted expeditions and collected material for Heye throughout the Americas.

Supper at “the Heye Museum,” 10 East 33rd Street, NYC, 1912. From left, seated: Mrs. Marie Heye (George Heye’s mother), Harmon Hendricks, Mrs. Thea Page (later Mrs. George Gustav Heye), and George Gustav Heye; standing: George Pepper, Theodoor De Booy, and Marshall H. Saville. (NMAI N10987)
As early as December 1905, Heye sought support to found an institution with two facilities—one for exhibitions and one for storage—with research space for students. His motivation for collecting was not solely to amass a large private collection but instead to create an institution for the serious anthropological study of the people of the Americas. In 1906, after Heye discussed his museum idea with philanthropist Archer Huntington, Heye decided that the time was not right to create an institution that would rival the American Museum of Natural History. Instead, Heye placed his growing North American ethnology and archaeology collections at the University of Pennsylvania Museum in Philadelphia. There the collections were cared for and exhibited in two galleries from 1909 until 1916 when Heye withdrew them to create the MAI, much to the dismay of the University Museum staff, who believed he would ultimately donate his collection to their museum.

In the decade following his first conversations about building a museum, Heye was able to generate support for his vision of a new anthropological institution in New York and create the MAI in 1916. In 1922, the museum building finally opened to the public at Audubon Terrace at 155th and Broadway in New York on a site donated by Archer Huntington.

Mrs. Thea Heye placing the first specimen in a display case in the Museum of the American Indian–Heye Foundation, 155th and Broadway, New York. (NMAI N02173)

Heye and MAI staff members continued to collect specimens, sending out archaeological and ethnographic expeditions to the far reaches of the Americas, purchasing from collectors, and traveling abroad to purchase Native American items that had found their way into European collections. By 1990, when the MAI became part of the Smithsonian Institution, the collection included more than 800,000 objects, most of which were acquired during George Heye’s lifetime.

If not for the vision and determination of George Heye and the MAI staff who followed in his footsteps, the National Museum of the American Indian would not exist in its present form nor would it contain the impressive collections NMAI is known for. This year we celebrate the founding of the Museum of the American Indian and the many collectors and individuals involved in buildings its collections. As part of our centenary celebration, this month the NMAI Archive Center will add the newly digitized George Heye records and correspondence to the SOVA.  See an earlier blog for more information about using the SOVA and check back here and on the NMAI blog for more information about the museum’s history and the people associated with it!

-Maria Galban, Museum Specialist, NMAI Collections Research and Documentation

[1] MAI Foundation Deed, 1916. Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation Records, Box 153, Folder 3. NMAI Archive Center, Smithsonian Institution.

This post also appears on the National Museum of the American Indian Blog

Friday, February 19, 2016

President Garfield and the Smithsonian

Inspired by President’s Day, let’s look beyond the presidents who appear on our currency and consider one of our less celebrated presidents and his relationship to the Smithsonian.  President James A. Garfield (1831-1881) held office for just a few short months before his assassination.  Though one of our shortest serving presidents; Garfield had a long career in public service and a long association with the Smithsonian.

National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; transfer from the Smithsonian American Art Museum; gift of the International Business Machines Corporation to the Smithsonian Institution, 1962. NPG.65.25
After being selected to serve as a Smithsonian Regent, one of the three regents from the U.S. House of Representatives, Garfield became an active part of the Smithsonian. Garfield was a member of the Smithsonian’s Board of Regents for a total of seven terms over twelve years.  First appointed under Joseph Henry, he left the board for a few years before being reappointed as Spencer Baird entered office as Secretary.  As a regent, Garfield was a conscientious attendee at meetings. From his letters and regular attendance, it is clear that Garfield took his duties seriously and became a correspondent and colleague of both our first Secretary Joseph Henry and our second Secretary Spencer F. Baird.

Garfield corresponded with Henry about a variety of subjects related to Smithsonian business, from natural history expeditions to the Smithsonian’s scientific publications.  While their acquaintance may have begun on Smithsonian business, Baird also corresponded with Garfield on other matters important to him as well. Garfield’s position in the U.S. House of Representatives made him a valuable ally when seeking funding for new scientific expeditions or an alteration in U.S. government policy.

Broadside for "The Grand Fete to Garfield and Arthur at the National Museum Building." Smithsonian Institution Archives. Negative Number 75-11115. 
Garfield’s term as regent only came to an end with his swearing in as President on March 4th, 1881. But his regard for the Smithsonian was reflected in these festivities as well.  Though he was leaving the Board of Regents, his inaugural ball was held in the newly constructed U.S. National Museum building, now called the Arts & Industries building.  The first event in this space, the building was not even fully finished – it would take another eight months to open to the public. Yet, perhaps this signifies the importance of the Smithsonian to Garfield. As a regent, he would have been involved in approving and monitoring the building’s construction. The Board of Regents authorized its use with the condition that no precedent would be set for other uses of the building, making a special exception for the new President. Temporary wooden floors had to be constructed and ten thousand bins were built to accommodate the hats, coats, and wraps of the approximately seven thousand visitors that would stream through the front doors on inauguration day.
The rotunda of the new United States National Museum (USNM), now the Arts and Industries Building (A&I), decorated for President James A. Garfield's and Chester A. Arthur's Inaugural Ball, March 4, 1881. Smithsonian Institution Archives. Negative Number MAH-37715A. 
Sadly, Garfield died just seven months after his inauguration. Shot by Charles Guiteau while waiting to board a train on July 2, 1881, neither of the two bullets that hit their mark were initially fatal. One glanced Garfield’s arm, but the other pierced his back and shattered a rib before embedding itself deep inside Garfield.  In agonizing pain, doctor after doctor tried to help the President, but the bullet that eventually killed him could not be found. Alexander Graham Bell even tried a newly-invented metal detector in an attempt to find the bullet.  Bell and Garfield shared a connection to the Smithsonian.  Joseph Henry was a mentor and close friend of Bell, encouraging his research and experiments. As a member of the Board of Regents and fellow correspondent of Henry, it is possible that Garfield made Bell’s acquaintance through their mutual friend Joseph Henry and the Smithsonian Institution.  And Bell followed in Garfield’s footsteps, serving on the Smithsonian Board of Regents from 1898 to 1922.

Lisa Fthenakis, Program Assistant

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Be Your Own Navigator

"Present day navigators are apt to place so much reliance on mechanical and tabular aids that we sometimes forget that primitive peoples were able to voyage over a large part of the world without any such devices. A study of these primitive methods shows that there are many valuable aids we have neglected or forgotten, and that a continued reliance on mechanical aids places us in a very helpless position when deprived of them. In the lore of the sea and the sky one can still find those fundamental and simple means which gave early man confidence and enabled him to find his way on the trackless seas."
So wrote the 20th-century’s master navigator of both sky and sea, Harold Gatty (1903-1957), in his beguiling The Raft Book. Last fall, the United States Naval Academy reintroduced the requirement of a formal course in celestial navigation after an absence of nearly two decades from the curriculum. At that time, this nifty publication, its title and author unknown to me, needed to be cataloged for the National Air & Space Museum Library’s special collections. 

The book’s covers are blue heavy paper stock, embossed in silver with a majestic, soaring albatross upon a field of stars. Within its original slipcase are also two large folding leaves containing tables for navigation computations, scales for measuring distance ("Greenwich date and hour scales”) and a unique world-wide chart. What librarian could resist a survival book that first acknowledges one of its own, C. R. Taylor of the Alexander Turnbull Library in Wellington, New Zealand? Isn’t my profession all about navigating through an ocean of information? 

While an interesting, well-illustrated, carefully thought-out, and concise specimen of book production, The Raft Book is both a training manual (on shore) and a survival guide (at sea). An errata slip in the first edition of 1943 states: “For service use in rafts and lifeboats the book will be waterproofed and will have spiral plastic binding. The book and charts will be contained in a waterproofed envelope.”  It directs the reader to always carry a pocket watch set to Greenwich Time in order to determine longitude. How to protect that valuable piece?: “get a rubber sack (obtainable from pharmacist) for it and keep it dry.”  
"Harold Gatty instructs an Air Corps officer in the use of the drift indicator he invented" National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution (link here)
Gatty wrote The Raft Book here in Washington, D. C., at the behest of the U. S. Army Air Forces for pilots flying over the Pacific, and perhaps always with an eye toward others such as fishermen and sailors. He is the sole author and, with his (second) wife, the copyright holder, not the U. S. Government. Gatty was ideally suited for the task. He had first learned navigation as a midshipman at the Royal Australian Naval College and then celestial wayfaring by his own observations stargazing on long voyages. Landing in California, Gatty taught marine navigation to yachtsmen at his own school in Los Angeles before taking on the challenges of charting routes in the skies with both celestial navigation and dead reckoning. Philip Van Horn Weems became his mentor at his navigational school in San Diego and the two had a long collaboration.

Gatty was navigator to pilot Wiley Post during their world record circumnavigation of the globe in 1931. Touching down in Roosevelt Field on Long Island, having bested the 21-day record set by the airship Graf Zeppelin, they were feted with an exuberant ticker-tape parade that only New York City can provide. The two wrote Around the world in eight days: the flight of the Winnie Mae, with an introduction by Will Rogers. They rivaled Charles Lindbergh in popularity. Post, the high-altitude aviator in the Golden Age of Aviation who discovered the jet stream, and Rogers, humorist, writer, social commentator, and actor, were killed together in 1935 when their plane crashed in the Territory of Alaska. 
Lockheed Vega "Winnie Mae" National Air and Space Museum
Not as well remembered today is the innovative, resourceful Gatty whom Lindbergh anointed the “Prince of Navigators.” Roscoe Turner, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Clyde Pangborne, Howard Hughes, Arthur Goebel, Harold Bromley, and Pan American Airways all turned to Gatty for his expertise and advice. In 1932 he was appointed Senior Aerial Navigation Engineer for the U. S. Army Air Corps. 

Of special value to the military at the start of World War II in the vast, still largely uncharted Pacific was Gatty’s long study of Polynesian seafaring skills over millennia. In The Raft Book, Gatty laid out simple and practical methods of determining location and charting a course to shore in a lifeboat or dinghy without a map and compass. The book describes how Polynesians viewed the stars as moving bands of light. “They knew the stars which passed over particular islands, and used these stars as heavenly beacons to lead them to their destination.” Along with the ability to measure distance from the Equator by either the North Star or the Southern Cross and other celestial bodies, the author explains how all the senses were to be employed for survival with the “lore of the sea and sky.”  

For example, Gatty describes how seafarers should pay attention to the light at dawn, the appearance of clouds, and the currents and wave patterns of the ocean. In addition, familiarity with the habits of sea and land birds, fishes and insects can be used as navigational aids, and will enable a hungry castaway to more easily catch these creatures for food when necessary. Less obvious senses can have an essential role in survival on the ocean, as well. Such as being alert to scent: “I have personally experienced the fragrance of new-mown hay 80 miles off the New Zealand coast in the springtime.” And sounds from land: “The roar of heavy surf may be heard long before the shore is seen. At night, the continued cries of sea-birds from one particular direction will signify their roosting place on land.” Looking at the directions of the wind, waves, and swells, can also be aids for a castaway. Understanding the color of the sea and even testing the temperature of the water with one's fingers are also part of the "lore" in the book.

Other editions of The Raft Book—in a smaller type, with fewer of the colored plates, less of a lyrical cover, and waterproofed—soon became part of the survival kits of all Allied airmen serving in the Pacific Ocean theater. The publication portrays the world’s oceans not as indifferent or hostile but teeming with life, with routes voyaged for centuries by many cultures, including the Phoenicians, the Arabians, and the Vikings. Gatty conveyed his deep knowledge of using the sea and sky and their movements to find one’s way to land, interspersed with quotes from Shakespeare, Dante, and William Cullen Bryant, not at all pretentiously but to underline a particular lesson. 

                                        Now do I lay the bows of my canoe
                                        To the rising of the Sun, nor deviate from there
                            Straight to the land, to the Fatherland
Ancient Maori Karakia

Post-war, Gatty continued to chart his own course in life. Despite various U. S. military appointments and honors, he kept his Tasmanian citizenship (Congress had to pass special bills to accommodate his request to remain an un-naturalized citizen despite his official positions). Gatty found his way to Fiji, where he owned the island of Katafanga, ran a plantation, served in the Legislature, created Fiji Airlines, and continued to study ancient wayfaring. Gatty’s last work, Nature is your guide, was published posthumously. He died of a cerebral hemorrhage in August 1957. 

Gatty’s The Raft Book, as perhaps the U. S. Navy has discovered, is still relevant today as we have become ever-more reliant on high-tech instruments, on land in a car, out at sea in a boat, and in the skies in an aircraft. Increasingly dependent on sophisticated but vulnerable technology, know that one can still be one’s own navigator.  

Julia Blakely, Special Collections Cataloger

Johnston, Andrew K., Roger D. Connor, Carlene E. Stephens, and Paul E. Ceruzzi. Time and navigation: the untold story of getting from here to there. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Books, 2015.

Winnie Mae Newsreels

US Army Air Corps Avigation Training