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Defying Critics, Paleontologist Paul Olsen Looks for Hidden Answers Behind Mass Extinctions

Smithsonian Magazine

When scientists first suggested in the early 1980s that volcanic activity had wiped out most dinosaurs 66 million years ago, Paul Olsen wasn’t having any of it. He wasn’t even convinced there had been a mass extinction.

Olsen, a paleontologist and geologist at Columbia University, eventually came to accept the idea of mass extinctions. He also acknowledged that volcanoes played a role in certain extinction events. But even then, he wasn’t entirely convinced about the cause of these extinctions.

The leading hypothesis holds massive eruptions blasted carbon dioxide into Earth's atmosphere, cranking up global temperatures within a relatively short period of time. Such a sudden change, the theory goes, would have killed off terrestrial species like the huge ancestors of crocodiles and large tropical amphibians and opened the door for dinosaurs to evolve.

Olsen, who discovered his first dinosaur footprint in the 1960s as a teenager in New Jersey and still uses the state’s geological formations to inform his work, wondered whether something else may have been at work—such as sudden cooling events after some of these eruptions, rather than warming.

It's an idea that's been around in some form for decades, but the 63-year-old Olsen is the first to strongly argue that sulfate aerosols in the atmosphere could have been responsible for the cooling. A sudden chill would explain the selective nature of the extinctions, which affected some groups strongly and others not at all.

His willingness to revive an old debate and look at it from a fresh angle has earned Olsen a reputation as an important voice in the field of earth sciences.

Olsen thinks that the wavy band of rock near the bottom of this image—composed of tangled, cylindrical strands that could be tree roots or other debris—may be the remains of a sudden mass extinction. It could line up with a well-dated giant meteorite that hit what is now southern Canada 215.5 million years ago. (Columbia University Earth Institute)

From the moment Olsen abandoned dreams of becoming a marine biologist as a scrawny teenager and fell in love with dinosaurs, he courted controversy and earned a reputation for making breathtaking discoveries.

Olsen’s first breakthrough came as a young teen, when he, his friend Tony Lessa and several other dinosaur enthusiasts discovered thousands of fossilized footprints at a quarry near his house in Rosemount, New Jersey. They were the remnants of carnivorous dinosaurs and tiny crocodile relatives that dated back to the Jurassic, 201 million years ago. The teens' efforts to successfully designate the quarry as a dinosaur park inspired a 1970 Life magazine article. 

Olsen even sent a letter to President Richard Nixon urging his support for the park, and followed that with a cast of a dinosaur footprint. "It is a miracle that nature has given us this gift, this relic of the ages, so near to our culturally starved metropolitan area," the young Olsen wrote in a later letter to Nixon. "A great find like this cannot go unprotected and it must be preserved for all humanity to see." (Olsen eventually received a response from the deputy director of the Interior Department's Mesozoic Fossil Sites Division.)

Olsen shook things up again as an undergraduate student at Yale. In this case, he and Peter Galton published a 1977 paper in Science that questioned whether the end-Triassic mass extinction had even happened, based on what he called incorrect dating of the fossils. Subsequent fossil discoveries showed that Olsen was wrong, which he readily acknowledged.

In the 1980s, Olsen demonstrated that Earth’s orbital cycles—the orientation of our planet on its axis and the shape of its path around the sun—influenced tropical climates and caused lakes to come and go as far back as 200 million years ago. It was a controversial idea at the time, and even today has its doubters.

More recently, Olsen and colleagues dated the Central Atlantic Magmatic Province—large igneous rock deposits that were the result of massive volcanic eruptions—to 201 million years ago. That meant the eruptions played a role in the end-Triassic mass extinction. They published their results in a 2013 study in the journal Science.

But it is his latest project—reexamining the causes of mass extinctions—that could be his most controversial yet.

Researchers generally recognize five mass extinction events over the past 500 million years, Olsen explains. We may be in the middle of a sixth event right now, which started tens of thousands of years ago with the extinction of animals like the mastodon.

Determining the causes and timing of these extinctions is incredibly difficult. Regardless of cause, however, these events can pave the way for whole new groups of organisms. In fact, the disappearance of nearly all synapsids—a group that includes mammals and their relatives—in the Triassic may have allowed for the evolution of dinosaurs about 230 million years ago.

The accepted theory for the end-Triassic extinction states that gases from enormous volcanic eruptions led to a spike in carbon dioxide levels, which in turn increased global temperatures by as much as 11 degrees F. Terrestrial species, like the huge ancestors of crocodiles and large tropical amphibians, would have perished because they couldn't adapt to the new climate.

The remains of the Triassic are "interesting because [they give] us a different kind of world to look at, to try and understand how earth's systems work," says Olsen. "But it's not so different that it's beyond the boundaries of what we see going on today." (Columbia University Earth Institute)

However, this explanation never sat well with Olsen. “If we are back in the time of the Triassic and the dominant life forms on land are these crocodile relatives, why would a three degree [Celsius] increase in temperature do anything?” asks Olsen, sitting in his office on the campus of Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, New York. 

Some inland tropical areas would have become lethally hot, Olsen says, surrounded by fossils, dinosaur memorabilia and a Nixon commendation on the wall. But the mountains and coastlines would still be bearable. "It’s hard to imagine the temperature increase would be a big deal,” he says.

Three years ago, Olsen began looking at the fossil record of species that survived other mass extinctions, like the Cretaceous-Tertiary (K-T) event 66 million years ago and the Permian event roughly 250 million years ago. What he saw suggested a completely different story: Earth's climate during and after these volcanic eruptions or asteroid impacts got briefly but intensely cold, not hotter, as volcanic ash and droplets of sulfate aerosols obscured the sun.

Scientists generally agree that the reduced sunlight would have disrupted photosynthesis, which plants need to survive. During the K-T extinction event, plant losses would have left many herbivorous dinosaurs, and their predators, with little to eat.

In this case, size became the determining factor in whether a species went extinct. Large animals need more food than smaller animals to survive, Olsen explains. 

With his fluffy white mustache and hearty laugh, Olsen is hard to miss at paleontology meetings. He's not afraid to insert himself into mass extinction debates, but is quick to point out that he counts even his most ardent critics among his friends.

Supporters praise his creativity, persistence and willingness to consider the big unanswered questions in paleontology that, if solved, would alter our understanding of important events like mass extinctions.

“Among academics, you see two types. You see the parachutists and you see the truffle hunters, and Paul is a parachutist,” says Hans Sues, chairman of the department of paleobiology at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. “The parachutist is the one who helps build the big frame in which other people operate.” Sues and Olsen, who have pieced together fossils in the past, have known each other for 30 years.

Olsen's latest project—the volcanic winter theory—has him looking for ancient ash deposits from the United States to Morocco to the United Kingdom. He hopes to find the fingerprints of certain sulfur isotopes and metals that could indicate that sulfur-rich super-eruptions occured. They would also pinpoint the timing of the eruptions relative to the extinctions, Olsen explains.

Evidence of ancient ice would also bolster his case. For those clues, Olsen must look to mud flats laid down in what would have been the tropics—some of which are in areas in New Jersey, where he searched for dinosaurs as a teenager. “If you find these little crystals on mud flats, you know it froze in the tropics," Olsen says.

Sues is among those who believe Olsen’s hypothesis has merit, partly because Olsen is focused on the sulfate aerosols from eruptions. In the recent past, massive volcanic eruptions—like Mount Pinatubo in 1991—belched the sulfate aerosols into the atmosphere, which reduced global temperatures. The trick is finding evidence of extreme cold in rocks, Sues says.

But other scientists, like Spencer G. Lucas, curator of paleontology at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science, have their doubts.

As someone who has long sparred with Olsen on mass extinctions, Lucas agrees that volcanism played a role in extinctions and isn’t ruling out cooling as the cause. But finding chemical evidence of that in the rocks or preserved ash will be difficult, if not impossible, to find, he says.

Searching for those clues isn't a waste of time though, says Lucas. He wants someone who cares about the problem, like Olsen, to collect the evidence and makes a convincing case for the Earth either cooling or warming during these extinctions.

“Paul is sort of the Don Quixote of extinctions,” Lucas says. “He is tilting at a windmill in my mind. But I’m glad he’s doing it because he knows he has got the background, the smarts and the opportunity. If anybody can figure this out, he will.”

Madagascar's Mangroves: The Ultimate Giving Trees

Smithsonian Magazine

Beyond Antananarivo—Madagascar’s capital city—signs of urbanization give way to sprawling farms and sweeping grasslands. At the coastal city of Toliara to the south, after a full day’s journey, the road turns into tire-sucking sandy track that mainly serves cattle-drawn wooden carts. For seven more hours, travelers cross a desert marked with spiny trees, where the sun bakes everything to a dusty crisp. Finally, the Bay of Assassins appears, an oasis thrumming with life, fringed with lush evergreen mangroves.

A mangrove forest is unlike any other. At low tide, the trees loom from exposed mud, balancing on woody, tangled roots like ballerinas en pointe; at high tide, cool seawater erases the dry world, transforming the scene into an underwater spectacle. Glassy shrimp hover, their legs flickering with movement. Tiny metallic fry shimmer past, while adults lurk in the shadows. Slim tree roots stick up like pencils poked into the forest floor. Hermit crabs shuffle along thicker, oyster-encrusted roots that loop down through the water.

Scattered around the bay’s 40-kilometer shoreline, 10 subsistence communities also rely on the mangroves’ offerings: from food, fuel, and building materials to erosion control and shelter for the young fish that will grow up to stock fisheries.

“People go into the mangroves every day,” says Viviany, a young woman wearing a T-shirt, sarong, and golden hoop earrings, her face smeared in a crumbling clay paste to block the sun. She sits on a wooden bench in her family’s home in Vatoavo village, on the shore of the bay. People bustle around her, many of them using the mangroves.

Women crouch next to crackling fires made with mangrove wood. People use nets to sift for shrimp in the saltwater creeks that trickle through the forest, and then pile their catch in the sun to dry. Young men stand up to their waists in deeper channels, angling with simple lines. Older women gather hermit crabs at low tide from the sand farther into the mangroves, methodically smashing the shells against a stone anvil, pinching off the head and claws. Some villagers have built their huts right on the shore, others farther back in the dense mangroves, but all are built with mangrove timber and fenced off with rows of mangrove saplings. Like the rest of the bay’s 3,000-odd residents, Vatoavo’s villagers are poor and very isolated. Their needs are modest. When they take mangrove trees, they usually take small and medium ones, leaving the largest. They log selectively, so the forest appears largely intact.

These mangroves have so far avoided the fate of other, more accessible, mangroves in the Caribbean, Southeast Asia, and Africa, where development of valuable coastal real estate—from aquaculture to big hotel developments to palm oil plantations—has destroyed the trees. But now pressure is rising even here.

Despite the bay’s minimal infrastructure—electricity, healthcare, and education are scarce—villagers are looking to improve their lives, through projects such as carefully managed octopus fisheries, and seaweed and sea cucumber farms. Already the villagers are earning more money and enjoying a higher standard of living. However, as in so many coastal communities, this increasing prosperity is changing the delicate relationship between people and mangroves. Here in the bay, this change has resulted in a rather unusual new industry. People are using more of the biggest, oldest mangrove trees to turn seashells into house-reinforcing—and increasingly affordable—lime clay.

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A mangrove-wood kiln holds seashells that will be baked into valuable lime. (Photo by Helen Scales)

In Lamboara village, on the northern shore of the Bay of Assassins, a man stands next to the kiln he’s building. He looks about 60 and wears a felt fedora with a ribbon band, ripped shorts, and a sweatshirt. The stout waist-high kiln is a rectangle bigger than a queen-sized bed, walled with a ring of mangrove trunks as thick as an elephant’s leg. They are cut from the larger, older trees in the surrounding forest. Hundreds of empty seashells are collected from the villagers’ catches or from the bay—cone shells, spiny murex, and other mollusks—and piled in the center. When the single-use kiln is ready, the whole lot is set alight—wood and shells together—and left to burn until all that’s left is a pile of ashes and the coveted white lime.

Villagers like mangrove wood for limekilns because it’s dense and burns hot enough to fully cook the shells into lime. They use the oldest trees because large logs keep the fire going without refueling. The only alternative for kiln wood is harvesting terrestrial trees from the forests that lie beyond the fringes of the bay, a long journey by cattle-drawn cart.

“One kiln will make 35 or 40 sacks of lime,” the man says. “When the wind is blowing away from the village, I will light it and it will burn for two days.” When this batch is done, he’ll scoop the lime into old rice sacks the size of large garbage bags. The exact amount of lime he’ll get depends on how well the kiln burns.

Mixed with water and smeared on houses, the lime powder hardens like cement and strengthens dwellings against the frequent cyclones that blow through the bay. Rendering a whole house takes at least 70 sacks. The only comparable reinforcement is costly cement that must be bought and carried in from Toliara.

The man plans to use this batch to repair his house, which he says he built when his eldest son was knee-high; now his son has children of his own. He says his house was probably one of the first in Lamboara to be built using lime, suggesting the practice is about a generation old.

This house in southern Madagascar is covered in lime that was made in a mangrove-wood kiln. (Photo by Helen Scales)

“Lime production is not traditional at all,” says Lalao Aigrette, who works with an NGO called Blue Ventures. Aigrette lives in Toliara, working full-time on marine conservation projects in the bay that focus on protecting and preserving the mangroves. Aigrette says villagers have been cooking lime for fewer than 20 years, and its popularity has waxed and waned. Now she thinks that as incomes increase, boosted by other fishing and farming activities in the bay, people will want lime-strengthened houses, creating a market for local lime. Exactly how much demand has gone up remains unclear, but Aigrette sees reason enough to be worried.

Back near Vatoavo village, a few minutes’ walk into the mangroves ends in a dramatic illustration of the impact villagers’ desire for lime is starting to have on the forests. A clear-cut area several hundred meters wide, the size of an average city block, has no living mangrove trees, no green canopy, and no seedlings; just sun-drenched mud dotted with silvery stumps. The ground here has slumped by at least 60 centimeters—an arm’s length—without mangrove roots to bind and hold the soil. These physical changes could stop seedlings from taking hold and prevent the forest from regenerating.

“This is all for lime,” Aigrette says, surveying the cleared area. She recalls that this swath was cut two years ago to supply a big local lime order.

When mangroves are clear-cut, the ecosystem can be devastated. (Photo by Helen Scales)

Demand for lime is extending beyond homes in the bay. Aigrette recalls a priest from Andalambezo, a village about three kilometers south of the bay, who ordered tonnes of lime to build a school. Her colleagues went to talk with him. “He said, ‘This is for your children,’” Aigrette says. The priest reasoned that without a good education, children would likely become the mangrove cutters of the future, perhaps because they would have fewer options for making a living and may be less informed about the importance of intact mangroves. Sacrificing trees now for education that may help secure the forests’ future may seem like a contradiction. The answer, Aigrette believes, is balancing mangrove use and sustainable management.

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Around the city of Ambanja, 1,000 kilometers north of the bay, the practice of charcoal making offers a cautionary tale for the bay’s villagers. To make charcoal, wood is slowly baked in kilns; in Madagascar, these look similar to limekilns, except with wood instead of shells in their bellies. People prefer mangrove charcoal for their cook fires, partly because it burns hotter and produces less smoke—the same reasons it makes a great limekiln. Aigrette has seen whole areas cleared of mangroves around Ambanja because of demand for charcoal from urban populations.

It’s part of a larger pattern; people have destroyed at least a quarter of mangrove forests around the world in the past 35 years, a rate of loss three to five times higher than deforestation on land. How this will end in the Bay of Assassins remains to be seen. The loss of mangroves around the world, has, paradoxically, given the villagers several advantages: foresight and growing scientific knowledge of mangroves’ value. In addition to vital resources and striking biodiversity, mangroves provide valuable ecosystem services, such as sequestering carbon. Aigrette and Blue Ventures are working with some of the bay’s residents on a so-called “blue carbon” initiative, whereby villagers would receive payments from the international carbon market in return for protecting and replanting mangroves in the bay. But the project is still in the assessment stage.

For now, mangroves continue to provide for the inhabitants of the Bay of Assassins and life goes on. Back in Lamboara, the sound of chopping comes from the low canopy of a mangrove tree not far from the limekiln. A few moments later, a boy jumps down into the shallow water below, gathers an armful of branches, and begins the short walk back home to light a fire and feed his family.

Read more coastal science stories at hakaimagazine.com, including:

Cooper stepping out of van

National Air and Space Museum
Cooper Stepping Out of Van. A van viewed from behind at a three-quarters angle occupies the center of the drawing. Astronaut Gordon Cooper is stepping out of the side of the van and a group of simply sketched people are gathered along the bottom of the page. The top portion is full of diagonal lines that converge at the spotlights at left center. Writing in the lower right reads: "Gordon Cooper MA-9," which is the Mercury Atlas 9 mission of 1963.

The spring of 1962 was a busy time for the men and women of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. On February 20, John H. Glenn became the first American to orbit the earth. For the first time since the launch of Sputnik 1 on October 4, 1957, the U.S. was positioned to match and exceed Soviet achievements in space. NASA was an agency with a mission -- to meet President John F. Kennedy's challenge of sending human beings to the moon and returning them safely to earth by the end of the decade. Within a year, three more Mercury astronauts would fly into orbit. Plans were falling into place for a follow-on series of two-man Gemini missions that would set the stage for the Apollo voyages to the moon.

In early March 1962, artist Bruce Stevenson brought his large portrait of Alan Shepard, the first American to fly in space, to NASA headquarters.(1) James E. Webb, the administrator of NASA, assumed that the artist was interested in painting a similar portrait of all seven of the Mercury astronauts. Instead, Webb voiced his preference for a group portrait that would emphasize "…the team effort and the togetherness that has characterized the first group of astronauts to be trained by this nation." More important, the episode convinced the administrator that "…we should consider in a deliberate way just what NASA should do in the field of fine arts to commemorate the …historic events" of the American space program.(2)

In addition to portraits, Webb wanted to encourage artists to capture the excitement and deeper meaning of space flight. He imagined "a nighttime scene showing the great amount of activity involved in the preparation of and countdown for launching," as well as paintings that portrayed activities in space. "The important thing," he concluded, "is to develop a policy on how we intend to treat this matter now and in the next several years and then to get down to the specifics of how we intend to implement this policy…." The first step, he suggested, was to consult with experts in the field, including the director of the National Gallery of Art, and the members of the Fine Arts Commission, the arbiters of architectural and artistic taste who passed judgment on the appearance of official buildings and monuments in the nation's capital.

Webb's memo of March 16, 1962 was the birth certificate of the NASA art program. Shelby Thompson, the director of the agency's Office of Educational Programs and Services, assigned James Dean, a young artist working as a special assistant in his office, to the project. On June 19, 1962 Thompson met with the Fine Arts Commission, requesting advice as to how "…NASA should develop a basis for use of paintings and sculptures to depict significant historical events and other activities in our program."(3)

David E. Finley, the chairman and former director of the National Gallery of Art, applauded the idea, and suggested that the agency should study the experience of the U.S. Air Force, which had amassed some 800 paintings since establishing an art program in 1954. He also introduced Thompson to Hereward Lester Cooke, curator of paintings at the National Gallery of Art.

An imposing bear of a man standing over six feet tall, Lester Cooke was a graduate of Yale and Oxford, with a Princeton PhD. The son of a physics professor and a veteran of the U.S. Army Air Forces, he was both fascinated by science and felt a personal connection to flight. On a professional level, Cooke had directed American participation in international art competitions and produced articles and illustrations for the National Geographic Magazine. He jumped at the chance to advise NASA on its art program.

While initially cautious with regard to the time the project might require of one of his chief curators, John Walker, director of the National Gallery, quickly became one of the most vocal supporters of the NASA art initiative. Certain that "the present space exploration effort by the United States will probably rank among the more important events in the history of mankind," Walker believed that "every possible method of documentation …be used." Artists should be expected "…not only to record the physical appearance of the strange new world which space technology is creating, but to edit, select and probe for the inner meaning and emotional impact of events which may change the destiny of our race." He urged quick action so that "the full flavor of the achievement …not be lost," and hoped that "the past held captive" in any paintings resulting from the effort "will prove to future generations that America produced not only scientists and engineers capable of shaping the destiny of our age, but also artists worthy to keep them company."(4)

Gordon Cooper, the last Mercury astronaut to fly, was scheduled to ride an Atlas rocket into orbit on May 15, 1963. That event would provide the ideal occasion for a test run of the plan Cooke and Dean evolved to launch the art program. In mid-February, Cooke provided Thompson with a list of the artists who should be invited to travel to Cape Canaveral to record their impressions of the event. Andrew Wyeth, whom the curator identified as "the top artist in the U.S. today," headed the list. When the time came, however, Andrew Wyeth did not go to the Cape for the Cooper launch, but his son Jamie would participate in the program during the Gemini and Apollo years.

The list of invited artists also included Peter Hurd, Andrew Wyeth's brother-in-law, who had served as a wartime artist with the Army Air Force; George Weymouth, whom Wyeth regarded as "the best of his pupils"; and John McCoy, another Wyeth associate. Cooke regarded the next man on the list, Robert McCall, who had been running the Air Force art program, as "America's top aero-space illustrator. Paul Calle and Robert Shore had both painted for the Air Force program. Mitchell Jamieson, who had run a unit of the Navy art program during WW II, rounded out the program. Alfred Blaustein was the only artist to turn down the invitation.

The procedures that would remain in place for more than a decade were given a trial run in the spring of 1963. The artists received an $800 commission, which had to cover any expenses incurred while visiting a NASA facility where they could paint whatever interested them. In return, they would present their finished pieces, and all of their sketches, to the space agency. The experiment was a success, and what might have been a one-time effort to dispatch artists to witness and record the Gordon Cooper flight provided the basis for an on-going, if small-scale, program. By the end of 1970, Jim Dean and Lester Cooke had dispatched 38 artists to Mercury, Gemini and Apollo launches and to other NASA facilities.

The art program became everything that Jim Webb had hoped it would be. NASA artists produced stunning works of art that documented the agency's step-by-step progress on the way to the moon. The early fruits of the program were presented in a lavishly illustrated book, Eyewitness to Space (New York: Abrams, 1971). Works from the collection illustrated NASA publications and were the basis for educational film strips aimed at school children. In 1965 and again in 1969 the National Gallery of Art mounted two major exhibitions of work from the NASA collection. The USIA sent a selection of NASA paintings overseas, while the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service created two exhibitions of NASA art that toured the nation.

"Since we …began," Dean noted in a reflection on the tenth anniversary of the program, the art initiative had resulted in a long string of positive "press interviews and reports, congressional inquiries, columns in the Congressional Record, [and] White House reports." The NASA effort, he continued, had directly inspired other government art programs. "The Department of the Interior (at least two programs), the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of the Army and even the Veterans Administration have, or are starting, art programs." While he could not take all of the credit, Dean insisted that "our success has encouraged other agencies to get involved and they have succeeded, too."(5)

For all of that, he noted, it was still necessary to "defend" the role of art in the space agency. Dean, with the assistance of Lester Cooke, had been a one-man show, handling the complex logistics of the program, receiving and cataloguing works of art, hanging them himself in museums or on office walls, and struggling to find adequate storage space. In January 1976, a NASA supervisor went so far as to comment that: "Mr. Dean is far too valuable in other areas to spend his time on the relatively menial …jobs he is often burdened with in connection with the art program."(6) Dean placed a much higher value on the art collection, and immediately recommended that NASA officials either devote additional resources to the program, or get out of the art business and turn the existing collection over the National Air and Space Museum, "where it can be properly cared for."(7)

In January 1974 a new building for the National Air and Space Museum (NASM) was taking shape right across the street from NASA headquarters. Discussions regarding areas of cooperation were already underway between NASA officials and museum director Michael Collins, who had flown to the moon as a member of the Apollo 11 crew. Before the end of the year, the space agency had transferred its art collection to the NASM. Mike Collins succeeded in luring Jim Dean to the museum, as well.

The museum already maintained a small art collection, including portraits of aerospace heroes, an assortment of 18th and 19th century prints illustrating the early history of the balloon, an eclectic assortment of works portraying aspects of the history of aviation and a few recent prizes, including several Norman Rockwell paintings of NASA activity. With the acquisition of the NASA art, the museum was in possession of one of the world's great collections of art exploring aerospace themes. Jim Dean would continue to build the NASM collection as the museum's first curator of art. Following his retirement in 1980, other curators would follow in his footsteps, continuing to strengthen the role of art at the NASM. Over three decades after its arrival, however, the NASA art accession of 2,091 works still constitutes almost half of the NASM art collection.

(1) Stevenson's portrait is now in the collection of the National Air and Space Museum (1981-627)

(2) James E. Webb to Hiden Cox, March 16, 1962, memorandum in the NASA art historical collection, Aeronautics Division, National air and Space Museum. Webb's preference for a group portrait of the astronauts was apparently not heeded. In the end, Stevenson painted an individual portrait of John Glenn, which is also in the NASM collection (1963-398).

(3) Shelby Thompson, memorandum for the record, July 6, 1962, NASA art historical collection, NASA, Aeronautics Division.

(4) John Walker draft of a talk, March 5, 1965, copy in NASA Art historical collection, NASM Aeronautics Division.

(5) James Dean, memorandum for the record, August 6, 1973, NASA art history collection, NASM Aeronautics Division.

(6) Director of Planning and Media Development to Assistant Administrator for Public Affairs, January 24, 1974, NASA art history collection, NASM Aeronautics Division.

(7) James Dean to the Assistant Administrator for Public Affairs, January 24, 1974, copy in NASA Art history Collection, Aeronautics Division, NASM.

Tom D. Crouch

Senior Curator, Aeronautics

National Air and Space Museum

Smithsonian Institution

July 26, 2007

Standing up against disease together—or not

National Museum of American History

Eliminating or lowering rates of communicable disease often requires that we participate together in the battle against infectious disease. Historically, communities—and sometimes even nations—have united to fight malicious microorganisms, with political and scientific leaders inspiring ordinary citizens to join in this battle. Here are three historic stories which illustrate the tensions and difficulties in persuading people to unite to help stamp out threatening illnesses.

Depending on everyone's participation: Eradicating smallpox

At the height of the Cold War, Soviet and American scientists and physicians united to call for a new and very different war—one on infectious disease. Arguing that smallpox would be one of the easiest of infectious diseases to kill permanently, delegates at the 1959 meeting of the World Health Organization (WHO) aggressively called for the worldwide eradication of smallpox.

Colorful cartoon poster showing scene with horses, men with backpacks, woman with child, and general village scene. One man sits on ground with dots all over his body, attended to by doctor. World Health Organization logo in center. Doctor attends to baby in mom's arms. Colors are bright yellow, terra cotta orange.

To break the global chain of infection, scientists estimated that 1.5 billion people would need to be vaccinated. Because many of these people lived in some of the most remote and inaccessible areas of the world, it took eight years for the WHO to develop a campaign which would reach all of these people.

During the planning stages of the campaign, WHO leaders looked for an easy and cost-effective way to administer the vaccine. By the official start of the campaign in 1967, the WHO had found the answer: the jet injector. A gun-like device that administered painless injections without needles, the injector was the brainchild of Robert Hingson, an American physician. Public health practitioners gleefully noted that this method was so painless that it could be used on a sleeping baby. Even better, the jet injector could hold 500 or more doses of vaccine, meaning that hundreds of doses could be delivered within an hour.

Metal case with handle, open to show contents. Contents include medical "gun" with tube, baggies with contents, and small bottles.

The jet injector played a crucial role in the early stages of the smallpox eradication program. Unfortunately, because wear and tear often damaged these injectors, their use required the WHO to maintain staff to care for these devices. As a result, jet injectors were used only in places like Brazil where the campaign was highly organized. In other areas, a bifurcated needle, which could be easily used and sterilized, delivered the vaccine.

As vaccinators crisscrossed the world using both the jet injector and the bifurcated needle, the WHO carefully tracked smallpox outbreaks and cases. In 1980, two years after the last case of smallpox had been documented, WHO officials proudly announced "Smallpox is Dead!"

Is participation really necessary?

In 1926 seven-year-old Belema Siegfried was turned away from school. The reason? Her parents had refused to submit paperwork proving that she had been vaccinated. Several months later, her father, a Brooklyn chiropractor named Louis Siegfried, was arrested. Siegfried's arrest may have been calculated as he had recently launched a new journal, The Quest (Against Vaccination and Cruel Vivisection). Like many of his fellow chiropractors, Siegfried advocated a non-interventionist approach to health, seeing vaccination as an "inherent poison" that was introduced into a healthy body.

Scan of front cover of publication titled "The Quest: Against Vaccination and Cruel Vivisection." Date printed in red on cover is June 1926. "Ten cents." Vignette images of a baby sucking thumb and a collie-type dog looking friendly. Bordered in fancy scroll-work. Blue ink.

Compulsory or mass vaccination can arrest an epidemic, protecting those who are too young to be vaccinated or those who have suppressed immune systems. In early 20th-century America, where epidemics of potentially lethal diseases such as smallpox often ran rampant, compulsory vaccination made a great deal of sense as it protected large segments of the population.

The Quest was just one of many journals founded to oppose vaccination. Even as vaccination against smallpox became increasingly common in the 19th century, many people viewed this procedure with skepticism. Part of the problem stemmed from the fact that, while the smallpox vaccine worked, scientists and physicians could not explain just why vaccination worked. The development of vaccines against a variety of other diseases, including rabies during the mid-19th century, did little to assuage many people's concerns.

In 1879 Americans opposed to vaccination founded the Anti-Vaccination Society of America. Other smaller and more local anti-vaccination groups such as the New England Anti-Compulsory Vaccination League also emerged during this period.

From the 19th and well into the 21st century, Americans have debated and rejected vaccination on religious and political grounds while still others have argued that vaccination not only fails to protect people against disease, it actually causes disease.

Participating to protect the unborn

In the early 1940s, researchers discovered that women exposed to rubella (German measles), a fairly mild childhood disease, in early pregnancy are at high risk for miscarriages and still births. Surviving infants could be born with visual and hearing impairments, heart defects, neurological damage, and other lifelong disabilities. This condition, known as congenital rubella syndrome (CRS), rose to national attention after the U.S. rubella epidemic of 1964–65, which resulted in an estimated 20,000 cases of CRS and another 20,000 fetal deaths.

Following this outbreak, American scientists raced to produce an effective vaccine, and in 1969 the United States was poised to launch a nationwide vaccination campaign to dramatically reduce the incidence of the disease. Public health officials decided that vaccinating all preadolescent children was the best way to protect pregnant women from contracting the virus.

The rubella vaccination campaign presented unique challenges. Parents were being asked to have their children vaccinated in order to protect unborn babies—the health benefit to the vaccinated child was not the issue. Instead, the campaign appealed directly to the individual’s sense of responsibility to the wider community.

Metal clip pin that could be worn on t-shirt. White background. Center image shows a dragon (green with red spots) laying on its back, defeated. Text "Rubella Hero."

Poster with white background. "Free Clinic - Dec. 6, 1969" "Let your child be a rubella hero." Image of defeated dragon.

Thanks to federal support, aggressive vaccination programs by state and local governments, and the participation of about 23 million American children, the U.S. campaign in the early 1970s was largely successful and the expected rubella epidemic (and attendant rise of CRS) of the mid-decade did not occur.

Black text in all caps: "America Participates." A circle, half red and half blue, partially encircles the text. Graphic.

Alexandra M. Lord, Ph.D., is chair of the History of Medicine and Science Division. Diane Wendt is associate curator in the History of Medicine and Science Division. 

Explore our "America Participates" theme in blog posts about philanthropy, women during World War I, and textiles

Posted Date: 
Tuesday, February 23, 2016 - 08:00
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The Murky History of Foosball

Smithsonian Magazine

In the best tradition of skulduggery, claim and counterclaim, foosball (or table football), that simple game of bouncing little wooden soccer players back and forth on springy metal bars across something that looks like a mini pool table, has the roots of its conception mired in confusion.

Some say that in a sort of spontaneous combustion of ideas, the game erupted in various parts of Europe simultaneously sometime during the 1880s or ’90s as a parlor game. Others say that it was the brainchild of Lucien Rosengart, a dabbler in the inventive and engineering arts who had various patents, including ones for railway parts, bicycle parts, the seat belt and a rocket that allowed artillery shells to be exploded while airborne. Rosengart claimed to have come up with the game toward the end of the 1930s to keep his grandchildren entertained during the winter. Eventually his children’s pastime appeared in cafés throughout France, where the miniature players wore red, white and blue to remind everyone that this was the result of the inventiveness of the superior French mind.

There again, though, Alexandre de Finesterre has many followers, who claim that he came up with the idea , being bored in a hospital in the Basque region of Spain with injuries sustained from a bombing raid during the Spanish Civil War. He talked a local carpenter, Francisco Javier Altuna, into building the first table, inspired by the concept of table tennis.  Alexandre patented his design for fútbolin in 1937, the story goes, but the paperwork was lost during a storm when he had to do a runner to France after the fascist coup d'état of General Franco. (Finesterre would also become a notable footnote in history as one of the first airplane hijackers ever.)

While it’s debatable whether Señor Finisterre actually did invent table football, the indisputable fact is the first-ever patent for a game using little men on poles was granted in Britain, to Harold Searles Thornton, an indefatigable Tottenham Hotspur supporter, on November 1, 1923. His uncle, Louis P. Thornton, a resident of Portland, Oregon, visited Harold and brought the idea back to the United States and patented it in 1927. But Louis had little success with table football; the patent expired and the game descended into obscurity, no one ever realising the dizzying heights it would scale decades later.

The world would have been a much quieter place if the game had stayed as just a children’s plaything, but it spread like a prairie fire. The first league was established in 1950 by the Belgians, and in 1976, the European Table Soccer Union was formed. Although how they called it a ‘union’ when the tables were different sizes, the figures had different shapes, none of the handles were the same design and even the balls were made of different compositions is a valid question. Not a unified item amongst them.

The game still doesn’t even have a single set of rules – or one name. You’ve got langirt in Turkey, jouer au baby-foot in France, csocso in Hungary, cadureguel-schulchan in Israel, plain old table football in the UK, and a world encyclopedia of ridiculous names elsewhere around the globe. The American “foosball” (where a player is called a “fooser”) borrowed its name from the German version, “fußball”, from whence it arrived in the United States. (And, really, you can’t not love a game where they have a table with two teams made up only of Barbie dolls, or that is played in tournaments with such wonderful names as the 10th Annual $12,000 Bart O’Hearn Celebration Foosball Tournament, held in Austin, Texas, in 2009.)

Foosball re-arrived on American shores thanks to Lawrence Patterson, who was stationed in West Germany with the U.S. military in the early 1960s. Seeing that table football was very popular in Europe, Patterson seized the opportunity and contracted a manufacturer in Bavaria to construct a machine to his specification to export to the US. The first table landed on American soil in 1962, and Patterson immediately trademarked the name “Foosball” in America and Canada, giving the name “Foosball Match” to his table.

Patterson originally marketed his machines through the “coin” industry, where they would be used mainly as arcade games. Foosball became outrageously popular, and by the late ’80s, Patterson was selling franchises, which allowed partners to buy the machines and pay a monthly fee to be guaranteed a specific geographical area where only they could place them in bars and other locations. Patterson sold his Foosball Match table through full-page ads in such prestigious national publications as Life, Esquire and the Wall Street Journal, where they would appear alongside other booming franchise-based businesses such as Kentucky Fried Chicken. But it wasn’t until 1970 that the U.S. had its own home-grown table, when two Bobs, Hayes and Furr, got together to design and build the first all-American-made foosball table.

From the perspective of the second decade of the third millennium, with ever more sophisticated video games, digital technology and plasma televisions, it’s difficult to imagine the impact that foosball had on the American psyche. During the 1970s, the game became a national phenomenon.

Sports Illustrated and “60 Minutes” covered tournaments where avid and addicted players, both amateur and professional, traveled the length and breadth of America following big bucks prizes, with the occasional Porsche or Corvette thrown in as an added incentive. One of the biggest was the Quarter-Million Dollar Professional Foosball Tour, created by bar owner and foosball enthusiast E. Lee Peppard of Missoula, Montana. Peppard promoted his own brand of table, the Tournament Soccer Table, and hosted events in 32 cities nationwide with prizes of up to $20,000. The International Tournament Soccer Championships (ITSC), with a final held on Labor Day weekend in Denver, reached the peak of prize money in 1978, with $1 million as the glimmering star for America’s top professionals to reach out for.

The crash of American foosball was even more rapid than its rise. Pac-man, that snappy little cartoon character, along with other early arcade games, were instrumental in the demise of the foosball phenomenon. The estimated 1000 tables a month that were selling around the end of the ’70s crashed to 100, and in 1981, the ITSC filed for bankruptcy. But the game didn’t die altogether; in 2003, the U.S. became part of the International Table Soccer Federation, which hosts the Multi-Table World Championships each January in Nantes, France.

But it’s still nice to know that even in a globalized world of evenrmore uniformity, table football, foosball, csosco, lagirt or whatever you want to call it still has no absolutely fixed idea of what really does constitute the core of the game. The American/Texas Style is called “Hard Court” and is known for its speed and power style of play. It combines a hard man with a hard rolling ball and a hard, flat surface. The European/French Style, “Clay Court” is exactly opposite of the American style. It features heavy (non-balanced) men, and a very light and soft cork ball. Add to that a soft linoleum surface and you have a feel best described as sticky. In the middle is European/German Style,  “Grass Court,” characterized by its “enhanced ball control achieved by softening of components that make up the important man/ball/surface interaction.” And even the World Championships use five different styles of table, with another 11 distinct styles being used in various other international competitions.

Until recently this dilettante approach to the tables and rulebooks also applied to the competitions. Up until a few years ago, Punta Umbrí in Huelva, Spain, hosted the World Table Football Cup Championship in August each year. Well, sort of.  It was played on a Spanish-style table and, according to Kathy Brainard, co-author with Johnny Loft of The Complete Book of Foosball and past president of the United States Table Soccer Federation, “If the tournament is run on a Spanish-made table and has the best players from wherever that table can be found, then it could honestly be called the World Championship of Foosball, on that specific table.” A bit of diplomatic looking down the nose there.

Brainard went on to say that the real championship, called the World Championship of Table Soccer, was played in Dallas on a U.S.-made table and offered $130,000 in prize money. Although, admittedly, that was before 2003, at which time the American associations had to accept the ignominy of being part of a truly international World Championship, and not simply be able to hold their own table football version of the baseball World Series.

In the general roly-poly of life, table football is mainly something that people play for fun in a smoky bar—at least they did before cigarettes were banned.

While British “foosers” might not be able to look forward to winning such large prizes as American players, they still take the game seriously. Oxford University is one of the top table football venues in England, with many highly thought of players on the national scene. Thirty college teams and one pub team play regularly on Garlando brand tables against other top pub and university sides.

Dave Trease is captain of Catz I (St. Catherine’s College, Oxford) who says his position as captain hangs on the fact that he has the only “brush shot” in the university.

“A brush shot is where you have the ball stationary and then you have to flick it very hard at an angle. To be honest, I think it’s more luck than anything, but it looks good when it works.” And he admits that his skills on the Garlando don’t travel.

“I’m rubbish on anything else! I’ve found something I’m good at, where I can have a laugh and not take it all too seriously. And you don’t get any table football hooligans either, although you’ve got to keep an eye on people greasing the ball or jamming the table.”

Ruth Eastwood, captain of Catz II, beat all her female opponents (all five of them anyway) to win the women’s event, ranking her fourth nationally. But having won the tournament, does she see big contracts being offered?

“I don’t think it’s likely, particularly when you take into account that my prize money was only £15 and the prizes for the whole competition were only £300. I don’t think we’re in the same league as the World Championships, but at least I can say I was women’s champion, even if there were only five other women!”

It's probably stretching the imagination just that bit too far to think that table football will every become an Olympic sport, but they probably thought the same about beach volleyball at one time. Sadly, the small figures that populate the field during playing time won't be able to collect the medals themselves. That will have to be left to the flick-wristed humans who control their every move.

Culver TD2C-1

National Air and Space Museum
Fully aerobatic, yet comfortable enough for cross-country flight. A red radio-controlled drone with retractable landing gear.

The NASM's Culver, serial number 120035, is one of the 1,198 TD2C drones used by the Navy. Records are incomplete, but it may have been transferred from the Army. In May of 1949 it was located at NAS Johnsville, Pennsylvania. In October of that year the radio control equipment was removed and in June 1950 radomes were installed on the wings for tests conducted by a local electronics laboratory. In October 1950, the aircraft was transferred to Air Development Squadron 2 (VX-2) at NAS Chincoteague, Virginia. It was restricted to normal flying because of the mutilation to the wings resulting from the installation and removal of the radomes. Most of the aircraft's total of 184 flying hours were accumulated in the next two years. In June 1952, 120035 received a new engine, but in November of that year it was transferred to Norfolk to be made ready for transfer to the National Air Museum. The Smithsonian took ownership of the TD2C-1 in 1961 and it is currently in storage at the Paul E. Garber Restoration and Preservation Facility in Suitland, Maryland.

In August 1940, the U.S. Government began to look for a radio-controlled aircraft for use as a target drone in the training of air and anti-aircraft gunners. Some twenty manufacturers of light aircraft were invited to submit designs. Among the entrants was the Culver Aircraft Company of Columbus, Ohio, whose design was the only one chosen and the company thus became the sole supplier of piloted radio-controlled targets to both the Army and Navy.

The Culver TD2C Cadet was the brainchild of the talented aircraft designer, Al Mooney, who began his aviation career in 1925. His father was a railroad engineer, designing and building tunnels, trestles, stations, and other installations, and although Al had been interested in aviation from a young age, he spent his early years following in his father's footsteps. He continued, however, to study the new science of aeronautical engineering in his spare time and impressed a local Denver businessman sufficiently with his knowledge to hire him.

The businessman, J. Don Alexander, produced trailers showing coming attractions at the movies. He was also one of the earliest businessmen to see the value of the airplane in his operations. His plan was to put his salesmen in airplanes to cover the vast territories of the western United States. His problem was that the ubiquitous war-surplus Curtiss Jenny, or any other airplane for that matter, did not have a safe margin of altitude to cross the Rocky Mountains. In true entrepreneurial fashion, Alexander decided to build his own aircraft with the necessary performance.

To accomplish this, he bought the Longren Aircraft Company of Topeka, Kansas and hired the designer of the company's airplane. The design had problems, however, and after his chance meeting with Al Mooney at the Colorado Airways field, Alexander hired Al to find out what was wrong. Al did some calculations and determined that the design was inherently faulty. Taking a risk, he decided to present his ideas for a totally new design to his boss. To his relief, Alexander accepted his proposal, and at nineteen, Al Mooney was officially an aircraft designer.

The resulting design, the Alexander Eaglerock, would become one of the most successful general aviation aircraft of the Twenties. It was the first aircraft to compete with the low-cost, war-surplus Jennys and many of the early pilots soloed in it. And while it is not as well known today as some other designs of the time, it easily outsold them all. The airplane's success, however, did not benefit Al Mooney. Alexander chose to concentrate on selling the aircraft and not on developing the design. Al had little to do and readily accepted an offer to work for another company.

His first design was a biplane, but Al Mooney always had the idea of a small, fast monoplane in mind. He would continue to refine his idea during the next several years, designing aircraft for several companies, including a second stint at Alexander, at Bellanca, and as the head of his own short-lived company. In 1935 he joined the Monocoupe Corporation in St. Louis. At this time he designed what was probably the first light twin, the Monocoach. The Mooney-designed Monosport, however, would continue his dream of a small, fast monoplane, and would lead directly to the Cadet.

By 1937 the Depression was taking its toll on Monocoupe. Under these circumstances, a young, wealthy Monocoupe dealer in Columbus, Ohio, named Knight Culver, offered to buy Al's Monosport design outright and hire its designer for his new company. Culver formed the Dart Manufacturing Corporation which two years later became Culver Aircraft. The company would rename Mooney's design the Dart and put it into production. After further modification, including the addition of a retractable landing gear, the design would become the Culver Cadet. This low-cost, high-performance aircraft was like few others. It was fully aerobatic, yet comfortable enough for cross-country flight.

In late 1940 the United States Army began to look for a target drone to help train the expected influx of pilots as war approached. The drone was to be radio-controlled for target use, but it also had to be piloted for ferry, delivery, and training purposes. The Culver Cadet was a prime candidate and Al was approached about the possibility of Culver manufacturing the drone. After being rejected by Continental and Lycoming for supplies of suitable engines, the Franklin engine company agreed, and Culver decided to produce the drone. The type chosen was the Franklin O-200 (and later the O-300), which after the war would also be used to power the Tucker automobile. Work on fitting the radio-control apparatus to the Cadet to produce a prototype began immediately.

About this time, Culver decided that he did not want to continue in the aircraft manufacturing business because of the pressure of increased orders. The company floundered through new owners, but a group that included Walter Beech of Beechcraft shortly replaced them. After December 7, 1941, the company ceased all civilian production and concentrated totally on drones for the military.

The new drone was originally designated the RAT-8 for Radio Aircraft Target-8. RAT was soon changed to PQ, which stood for piloted (P) drone (Q). Smaller, un-piloted drones were built by film actor Reginald Denny's Radioplanes company in California, and were designated OQ. When the PQ was flown into gunfire without a pilot, it was called a NOLO flight. The radio operator who controlled the drone on these types of flights usually flew in a Cessna UC-78 "Bamboo Bomber" mother ship. Late in 1941 the United States Navy ordered 200 drones which they designated as TDC (for Target Drone Culver).

The PQ-8 was not immediately successful in its intended role. At first, anti-aircraft gunners were shooting down few of the aircraft. It turned out that because the aircraft had been designed to use non-strategic wood for its construction, it did not return a good radar picture - an early form of stealth! The army ordered wires to be strung in the wings, and the bottom to be painted with radar reflective paint, thus curing the problem.

In 1943 Al Mooney designed a strengthened drone with retractable landing gear, which was officially accepted on July 4, and was designated the PQ-14. Of the 1,348 army drones built, 1,201 were transferred to the Navy as TD2C-1s. The drones were very popular with the ferry pilots who would pick them up at the factory and fly them to Texas for installation of the radio control equipment. They would take off and engage in mock dogfights over the factory in the hot little drone before flying off in formation. The last version, which never went into production, was even designed to include a radial engine, making it almost a scaled-down "fighter".

The Culver drones continued to fly for the Air Force and the Navy in various programs after the war. The National Air and Space Museum's Deputy Director, Lieutenant Colonel Donald S. Lopez, USAF, (Ret.) was involved in one such experiment. The Air Force was developing a device that could record the location of rounds of ammunition fired at a target. The target itself, therefore, could be smaller and more easily towed, but the device could track the location of bullets in a larger area. The test platform chosen for the experiment was the Culver drone. Col. Lopez was a test pilot at Eglin Field at the time and was selected to test the system by flying firing passes at the drone in his F-84. To make sure that the bullets actually missed the drone so that the device could record the misses, his fighter carried only two guns and he was required to fire from maximum range and a high angle of deflection. Col. Lopez's gunnery training was so thorough, however that even with the difficult shot, he destroyed the drone after firing only seven or eight rounds. The B-17 carrying the monitoring equipment and the scientists who were running the project, instead of landing, immediately headed back to Wright Field and the project was never heard from again.

Not all the military drones were destroyed in service, however, and a few still fly today in private hands.

The NASM's Culver, serial number 120035, is one of the 1,198 TD2C drones used by the Navy. Records are incomplete, but it may have been transferred from the Army. In May of 1949 it was located at NAS Johnsville, Pennsylvania. In October of that year the radio control equipment was removed and in June 1950 radomes were installed on the wings for tests conducted by a local electronics laboratory. In October 1950, the aircraft was transferred to Air Development Squadron 2 (VX-2) at NAS Chincoteague, Virginia. It was restricted to normal flying because of the mutilation to the wings resulting from the installation and removal of the radomes. Most of the aircraft's total of 184 flying hours were accumulated in the next two years. In June 1952, 120035 received a new engine, but in November of that year it was transferred to Norfolk to be made ready for transfer to the National Air Museum. The Smithsonian took ownership of the TD2C-1 in 1961 and it is currently in storage at the Paul E. Garber Restoration and Preservation Facility in Suitland, Maryland.

Taking on Fannie Farmer: How a baking-impaired intern negotiated a 100-year-old bread recipe in a modern kitchen

National Museum of American History

I do not bake. My cookies burn, my pie crust is either too dry or too sticky, and my pies turn out watery. So how did I find myself lead baker testing a 100-year-old bread recipe? The bread recipe, Entire Wheat Bread, came from the 1911 edition of the 1896 Fannie Farmer's Boston Cooking-School Cookbook, one of the best-selling cookbooks of all time because it was "reliable, comprehensive, and easy-to-follow," everything I needed more than a century later. My predicament sprang from my involvement in a new Smithsonian Food History program, Harvest for the Table, a free daytime hands-on activity exploring the technological innovations in wheat and flour production over 100 years ago. It was my job to test the bread recipe in preparation for possible future programs in our demonstration kitchen.

On a steel kitchen surface, bowls and measuring devices hold different wet and dry ingredients, most white or light in color. There is a wooden spoon laying on the right side by the bowls.

First came the flour. I used the coarse, brown, stone-ground flour milled by museum visitors during our Harvest for the Table program. (See our calendar for dates and times.) Until the 1880s, this type of "entire" or whole wheat flour was standard. The introduction of the steel roller mill, still the dominant mill type today, changed the flour industry by stripping the bran and germ from the wheat kernel, producing a whiter flour (desired by customers) with a greater shelf life and enhanced baking performance. Over 100 years ago, Farmer experienced firsthand these technological innovations and witnessed the rise in white flour. She felt its impacts on home baking, observing how "entire" wheat flour was only available in health food stores and, much to her disapproval, how manufacturers marketed identical flour under a variety of new brand names.

An illustration of a windmill. It may be slightly faded but there is a whimsical feel to it. In the background, there is a sky from a fragonard painting.

Flour. Check.

Next on the ingredient list, one yeast cake. What in the world was a "yeast cake?" Research led me to specialty food sellers still carry these small, moist cakes enclosed in tin foil. Sold by Fleischmann's and others, this is a product with which cooks in the 1890s would be very familiar—but I sure wasn't. I used a modern conversion chart to figure out how much of my dry yeast to add.

According to Farmer, yeast is a necessary addition to the bread dough because it acts as a ferment and "attacks some of the starch in flour, and changes it to sugar, and sugar in turn to alcohol and carbon dioxide, thus lightening the whole mass." Yeast also gives bread its distinctive flavors and irresistible smell while also interacting with the protein in flour, gluten, to give the bread its structure. When the dough is kneaded, the act stretches the gluten and allows it to fill with gas bubbles from the yeast while the dough rises. However, Farmer warns, "If risen too long, [the bread] will be full of large holes; if not risen long enough, it will be heavy and soggy." She continues, "If proper care is taken, the bread will be found most satisfactory, having neither 'yeasty' nor sour taste." That was my goal: to make a "most satisfactory" loaf.

A dark metal oblong object. There is a lip that runs around it but the shape looks like a capsule or glasses case. There is a small latch on one side.

A dark metal rectangular pan. The metal looks old and it is shaped to accommodate a bread loaf.

Experienced bakers will notice that I haven't mentioned the salt or milk Farmer would have used or the modern equivalents. These ingredients certainly have interesting stories to tell, but I need to get this loaf in the oven before my internship is over!

When it came time to put my dough in the oven, I found myself playing the bread whisperer. Farmer's oven was still fueled by fire. Her cookbook even describes how to control airflow and fuel in the cookstove in order to control its temperature. Most recipes classified temperature in three ways: hot, moderate, and cool. Bakers tested their oven's temperature by placing their hand in the oven and seeing how long they could bear the heat or by placing flour on the oven floor and waiting for it to brown or catch fire. According to Farmer in her 1896 cookbook, "Experience is the best guide for testing temperature of [the] oven." Her readers in 1911 had coal- and wood-burning ranges without temperature controls, but I never learned that intuition using today's calibrated ovens. Choosing to avoid oven fires or burning my hand, I did as Farmer suggested and drew from past baking experience. I set my oven to 400 degrees.

A black and white photo of a woman into a white dress kneeling beside an oven. It has a white kettle and pot resting on the stove. There are baking accoutrements laid out on a table in the background. The woman looks at the camera knowingly as she clasps a loaf of bread in a tin pan with a cloth. The woman's face is the focal point of the photo. Her expression could sell a hundred stoves.

With trepidation I placed my doughy loaf into the oven. Even with modern equipment, it had taken me several hours to make a single loaf of bread, having kneaded and let the bread rise twice before baking it for approximately 40 minutes. While there is a movement today to make artisanal bread as an alternative to mass-produced loaves, most modern bread comes from a supermarket. It is hard to imagine making bread every day as a necessity, let alone lighting a fire to bake bread!

A silver-colored metal pot with handles on each side. There is a lid with a hand crank attached.

A silver-colored metal pot with handles on each side. There is a lid with a hand crank attached.

Innovations over the past century have distanced most consumers from their bread, trading nutrients and control for convenience and efficiency. My foray into baking will help reveal to visitors just how distanced some of us have become, and, hopefully, give them a new appreciation for the complex processes that go into making a simple loaf of bread. Baking this recipe on the stage of our demonstration kitchen, using the flour made by visitors in our stone hand mill, with the backdrop of a highly advanced kitchen, juxtaposes the old and new baking technology, demonstrating just how much our bread has changed over time. Who knows how technology will change baking in the next hundred years!

And my entire wheat bread? I cut into my loaf, exposing an even, perfectly baked crumb and releasing a sweetly nutty, maple aroma—a crumbly, moist loaf of whole wheat bread that, hopefully, would make Fannie Farmer proud.

A loaf of bread on a wooden surface. It is light wheat colored and the surface is rough

A piece of bread. The picture is taken at an angle so you see across the width of the bread. It is rough in texture.

A picture of a piece of light brown bread taken from directly over it. The bread is rougher in texture.

If you'd like to hear about the latest food and agriculture history happenings at the museum, be sure to sign up for our Food History newsletter.

Rachel Snyder completed a summer 2016 internship in the Office of Audience Engagement working on food and agriculture programs.

Author(s): 
intern Rachel Snyder
Posted Date: 
Thursday, June 15, 2017 - 09:00
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Wearing Your Art On Your Sleeve

Smithsonian Magazine

Art to wear occupies a unique place in the creative universe. Straddling fashion, craft and art, this hybrid classification has historically sought to elevate dress above its practical role. From the 1890s Pre-Raphaelites to 1930s Surrealist metalsmiths to today’s eco-designers, such crafters acknowledge that the clothes we wear represent ideas and opinions.

Often connected to the precepts of Surrealism or Dada, these artists began to experiment with the shapes, patterns and materials of jewelry and clothing. In fact, surrealism as a movement gained popular esteem from its forays into fashion.

At the apex of this melding of avant-garde art and haute couture, a lauded Italian designer named Elsa Schiaparelli collaborated with such Surrealist luminaries as Jean Cocteau and Salvador Dalí. With Dali, Schiaparelli created one of her most striking garments: the Lobster dress, a cream-colored silk organza gown accented with synthetic horsehair created by Schiarparelli, which Dali then ornamented with a large, parsley-speckled lobster.

Also called the crafts-to-wear movement, and including fiber art, leather crafts, jewelry of all materials, and anything imaginable to adorn the self, the wearable art movement did not identify itself as such until the 1960s. However, many recognize modernist artists and jewelers creating between 1920 and 1950 are among the earliest crafts-to-wear producers.

This week the works of 50 artists selling everything from jewelry, clothing, scarves and handbags go on view at the Smithsonian Institution’s annual Craft2Wear fundraising event at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. Proceeds from the show, produced by the Smithsonian Women’s Committee, support grants and endowments for research at the Institution.

Three artists, Starr Hagenbring, Susan Sanders, and Kathleen Nowak Tucci, working in a variety of physical materials and with decades of experiences in design, will be among those offering items for sale at the event. Their art has appeared across the globe—from a cover of Vogue Italia to Margaret Thatcher’s lapel on broadcast television.

Uniting these three artists and the Crafts2Wear show is an abiding interest in combining high and low art and materials, in keeping with the disruptive mission of the environmentally conscious Wearable Art Movement of the 1960s and 70s.

Hagenbring transforms widely reviled bugs into complex, iridescent tapestries, turning “the ugly into beautiful.” Tucci delights in creating “something of exceptional value out of something that would have ended up in our landfills.” And Sanders, elaborating on the juxtaposition between high and low materials, works in an ultra-tech platform—3D printing—with inexpensive industrial materials, encountering art where it might not be expected.

Starr Hagenbring: The Beauty of Bugs

The New York-based Hagenbring continues the painted fiber-art tradition of Dali and Schiaparelli, using fabric as a canvas, interweaving colored threads and applying bright and opalescent paints to create striking tableaux. Her craft, which can be seen and bought in her New Orleans shop Art & Eyes, takes on numerous subjects: classical and exotic silhouettes, abstract designs, and most recently, realistic and abstract insects.

Her creativity stems from a desire to overcome personal aversions.

As a child, spiders panicked her until she challenged herself to deeply engage in their world. She found their intricate beauty. And the experience spurred a lifelong fascination.

About 25 years ago, while visiting Burma, Hagenbring encountered a carport wall, covered almost entirely with insects of multiple types and sizes. It was as she recalls, “a Smithsonian Institution display of bugs.” Too surprised to be disgusted, she instead examined the “display” and discovered a diversity of size, wing shapes, geometric patterning, hidden cantilevers, and overall beauty. Now, these creature’s multiplicity and strength infuses much of her wearable art.

Insects have inspired the creation of art objects for centuries, from traditional African masks to Picasso’s Cubist paintings, a heritage Hagenbring acknowledges. By focusing on their unexpected beauty and not shying away from large and realistic-looking details, Hagenbring says she has overcome the “ew factor” many people associate with bugs. Her goal is to entice people to find the unexpected loveliness and informs a broader desire to encourage people to, as she says emphatically: “Stop, stop, stop. Look what we’ve got around us.”

Kathleen Nowak Tucci: Ecological Aesthetics

In the 1960s and 1970s, the newly named Wearable Art Movement also embraced environmental awareness as part of its mission, emphasizing the textures and qualities of natural, sustainable materials. Members of the nascent community fused aesthetics with function, seeking to disrupt the traditional rankings or hierarchies within artistic communities that elevate “fine” art above usable crafts. An emphasis on textile work—previously dismissed from the legion of high artists as “women’s work”—dovetailed with the growing women’s liberation movement.

Similarly imbued with political currency, Kathleen Nowak Tucci’s recent work connects with mounting global concerns over ecological destruction, waste and pollution, and extends the traditional wearable artists’ interest in “low” or outré materials to discarded bicycle inner tubes, jettisoned steel brake cables and used Nespresso coffee capsules. Her recycled jewelry began with inner tubes “liberated” from the dust bins of bicycle repair shops.

While struck by the amount of human waste she encounters, gleaning castoffs from bicycle and Harley-Davidson motorcycle shops in Pensacola, Florida, Tucci was initially attracted to working with rubber because the "materials are so fabulous.” The malleable properties of rubber, and the protective qualities of steel create an edgy look reminiscent of medieval chain mail—but much more wearable.


In 2010, Vogue Italia featured Tucci’s jewelry on the cover of an issue reporting on the recent BP oil spill in the Gulf. As someone witnessing the greasy pools smearing the water, Tucci was grateful to be able to materialize a message of resilience and the hope of resurrection through her reclaimed adornments. Not long after that, Tucci spied a box of candy-colored Nespresso capsules in her graphic designer’s office, and began to supplement the matte black of inner tubes with the sparkling jewel tones of anodized aluminum rescued from office trash cans. Eventually, she realized the Nespresso capsules held their own and created standalone fiercely bright pieces. In May 2015, Tucci won the Saul Bell Design Award in Alternative Materials, a category including any material not a precious metal. Next up for the eco-designer? Tucci would love to see a recycled statement piece walk the Hollywood red carpet at a major event (Maggie Gyllenhaal or Tilda Swinton could carry that off beautifully).

Susan Sanders: 3D Printing Her Captivating Handiwork

In the 1980s, wearable art reflected the pop aesthetics and artificial materials popular at the time. Graphic styles and flat appliqué work emphasized surface imagery. Into the 21st century, art-to-wear creators have continued to experiment with techniques and materials, including most recently, 3D printing. Washington, D.C.-native Susan Sanders began her foray into the medium a few years ago after spending years honing her aesthetic on manifold materials, including silver, gold, silk, microfiber, and stone. Her work has appeared in galleries across the world and been sold to a broad spectrum of clients.

Years ago, when Sanders was crafting large, fully articulated bug brooches out of precious metals, she produced a particularly large and striking mosquito. Not long after the museum store at the Whitney in New York sold the creation, United States Secretary of State Madeleine Albright appeared on television wearing it. The pin also appears in Albright’s book Read My Pins: Stories from a Diplomat’s Jewel Box, and as part of a touring exhibition, which arrived at the Smithsonian Institution in 2010.

Sanders has used so many disparate materials throughout her 42-year career—during all which she has worked in Alexandria, Virginia’s Torpedo Factory—because she likes to freshen up her artistic perception periodically. So, when she first saw 3D-printed jewelry a few years ago, her interest was piqued. After a community-college software course, a weekend workshop, countless YouTube instructional videos, and even more guesses and experiments, Sanders began to produce her own 3D printed jewelry, at first in matte black, and then hand-painted in brilliant hues enhancing the many interlocking angles of her captivating handiwork. Sanders, who has a degree in industrial design from Carnegie-Mellon, says her “taste leans toward geometric forms” and the abstract process of formulating her designs feels like she’s “come home.”

Her 3D designs are all created in one piece but often have many moving parts: invisible joints, hinges and curiously caged balls. The lightweight nylon plastic used in the printing process makes it possible for Sanders to create larger pieces that are still very wearable—and affordable. The comparatively low cost of the process enables her to reach a broader buying audience, a nice change from working with precious metals.

All three women agree that the costumers who wear their products must be self-possessed, must be willing to be seen. Dress, whether sweatpants or a brilliantly illustrated beetle-covered coat, is performative. What we wear is the ever-fascinating link between our private selves and the public’s perception. This year’s artists at Craft2Wear offer myriad ways to bridge that gap with humor, flair and individuality.

The 2015 Smithsonian Craft2Wear show will take place Oct. 1 to 3 at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. The show opens Thursday, Oct. 1 with the Advance Chance Party & Fashion Show from 5:30 to 9 p.m. Tickets are $75 and must be purchased in advance. Daily admission for Friday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. is $10 (cash only), payable at the door. On Oct. 2, from 5:30 to 8 p.m. is Artful Happy Hour (5:30 to 8 p.m.) will give shoppers a chance to toast the artists’ skill and celebrate the Smithsonian Women’s Committee’s long-standing support of science and the arts. Raffle tickets for a pair of black pearl mica pod earrings donated by artist Keith Lewis and a peacock mesh handbag donated by craft artists Bozenna and Lukasz Bogucki may be purchased for $5 each or five for $20 each day of the show.

A Maze of Palatial Icebergs Has Floated Into a Washington, D.C. Museum

Smithsonian Magazine

In the past few decades, icebergs have become a kind of potent visual metaphor for the threats posed by climate change. The ice dwindles while world leaders debate what should be done.

To the curious general public, however, how climate change affects icebergs and what that means can seem abstract. That's why the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. will offer a chance to visit an iceberg this summer. Fortunately, a harrowing helicopter ride isn't needed.

"Icebergs," an installation designed by the New York-based landscape architecture and urban design firm James Corner Field Operations, is an artistic interpretation of the underwater world of a glacial ice field. From July 2 through September 5, visitors will be able to explore underwater caves and grottos, and climb up a 56-foot-tall "bergy bit" to peer above the waterline—created by a suspended blue mesh bisecting the installation.

"What we are trying to do is create a very unique experience for the museum visitors, where they are able to immerse themselves in a landscape," says Isabel Castilla, a senior associate with James Corner and the project manager for "Icebergs."

The installation is intended to be a fun, family-oriented space to explore, with a mix of open spaces for gatherings of large groups of people and enclosures where a couple of people can chat more intimately. There will be a kiosk selling refreshments, a labyrinth for children to play and a slide providing a quick ride down from one of the icebergs. It is also a space for learning about the science surrounding icebergs. Ideally, the artificial icebergs will help visitors grasp what is happening to real icebergs at the planet's poles.

The firm studied photographs and research papers to understand icebergs. "We really got very involved in the iceberg world," Castilla says. "It is not something you know as much about as say, a forest ecosystem or a river." That deep delve into an icy world of glaciers gave Castilla and her colleagues a wealth of "ideas about design, color and light." They ended up choosing to work with materials they had never worked with before. The towering, pyramidal icebergs they created are built of reusable materials, such as polycarbonate paneling, a type of corrugated plastic often used in greenhouse construction.

Ironically, the National Building Museum's construction team recommended adding better ventilation to the largest icebergs, since they were so good at trapping heat inside, museum vice president of marketing Brett Rodgers says. These bergs won't melt, but visitors might've.

This map of depths in the southern Atlantic and Southern Ocean near the Antarctic Peninsula and South Georgia Island shows tracks for two icebergs in red. (From Journal of Glaciology, Scambos, T et al, 2008)

Another part of the installation features facts about icebergs printed on the bergs themselves. "[An] iceberg known as B15 was the largest iceberg in history, measuring 23 by 183 miles, nearly the size of Connecticut," details one of the factoids. "If melted, the B15 iceberg could fill Lake Michigan, or 133.7 million National Building Museums."

Scientists are still learning about the factors at play in and around icebergs. Researchers like Ted Scambos take extraordinary risks to study the masses and examine what their role is in the Earth's complicated ecosystem. In 2006, Scambos, a senior research scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) in Boulder, Colorado, and his team sailed on the icebreaker ship A.R.A. Almirante Irizar to take them close to an iceberg measuring roughly seven by six miles and towering more than 100 feet above the sea surface. There, they climbed aboard a military-style helicopter. Their goal was to set foot on the iceberg, place a group of scientific instruments and then remotely track the berg's movement as it floated north to disintegrate.

But on March 4, 2006, "the light over the huge, very smooth berg was almost hopelessly flat—no features at all, like flying over an infinite bowl of milk," wrote Scambos in a research log for the mission at NSIDC's website.

How could the pilot land the team in those conditions? Throwing a small smoke bomb to the surface provided a point of reference, but it wasn't enough. During the first approach, the pilot couldn't quite judge the helicopter’s angle and one of the landing skids struck the iceberg's surface. "The massive helicopter staggered like a lumbering beast that had tripped," Scambos recalls. Fortunately, the pilot was able to recover, throw another smoke bomb and land safely.

Scambos and his team's measurements would provide them with information about how icebergs move and melt, a proxy for how the great Antarctic ice sheet may melt as the climate changes and global temperatures warm. For the scientists, the risk was well worth the opportunity to contribute to the collective knowledge about how ocean levels may rise and endanger coastal cities.

Scambos has seen how a melting iceberg leaves a trail of freshwater in its wake. As the ice sheet that gave birth to the berg moved over the Antarctic continent, it picked up dirt and dust rich in minerals like iron. When the traveling iceberg carries those nutrients out into the ocean, they nourish the water and provoke a bloom of marine algae. The algae in turn are gobbled by microscopic animals and small fish, which feed larger animals such as seals and whales. An iceberg creates its own ecosystem.

"They are really interesting in their own right," Scambos says. "It is an interaction between ocean and ice." He says he's glad that the installation will give the public a way to learn about icebergs.

For example, physical forces can act on icebergs in surprising ways. Scambos and the team described some of these movements after tracking the iceberg they nearly crash-landed on and other icebergs. The data they gathered allowed them to describe the dance of those huge but fragile plates of ice across the ocean in a paper published in the Journal of Glaciology.

Icebergs are steered by currents and wind, but a major influence on their movements that came as surprise to the scientists was the push and pull of the tides. The ebb and flow of the Earth's tides actually tilts the ocean surface into a gentle slope—a difference of just a few feet over 600 miles or so. An iceberg drifting out to sea inscribes curlicues and pirouettes on this inclined surface.

Some of the counterintuitive tracks that icebergs take has to do with their shape. Even though Antarctic icebergs are sometimes hundreds of feet thick, their wide expanse makes them thin in comparison to their volume. Scambos likens them to a thin leaf that drifts across the surface of the ocean.

(In Greenland and other locations in the Arctic, icebergs tend to be smaller chunks, as they break off from glaciers that aren't as large as the Antarctic ice sheet. In "Icebergs," the mountain-like constructions are inspired by Arctic, rather than Antarctic, bergs.)

Image by Courtesy Ted Scambos and Robert Bauer, National Snow and Ice Data Center. Researchers and crew load up the helicopter used to take Ted Scambos and the team to an iceberg in Antarctica. (original image)

Image by Courtesy Ted Scambos and Robert Bauer, National Snow and Ice Data Center. The team leaves the icebreaker ship behind and sets out over the iceberg. (original image)

Image by Courtesy Ted Scambos and Robert Bauer, National Snow and Ice Data Center. A view from the helicopter window of the edge of an iceberg. (original image)

Image by Courtesy Ted Scambos and Robert Bauer, National Snow and Ice Data Center. Scambos (foreground) and the team set up scientific instruments and cameras on top an iceberg. Thanks to the timing of the good weather window, they had to spend the night on the iceberg. (original image)

Image by Courtesy Ted Scambos and Robert Bauer, National Snow and Ice Data Center. The sunset on an iceberg, with a sled carrying RADAR equipment in the foreground. (original image)

Image by Courtesy Ted Scambos and Robert Bauer, National Snow and Ice Data Center. Another view of the edge of a large iceberg (original image)

Eventually, every iceberg's dance stops. Warm air flowing across the surface of the iceberg gives rise to ponds of meltwater that trickle down into ice cracks created by stresses when the berg was part of the larger ice sheet. The weight of liquid water forces the cracks apart and leads to the rapid disintegration of the iceberg.

The instrument station on the first iceberg toppled over into slush and meltwater in early November 2006, about eight months after Scambos and the team installed it. On November 21, GPS data showed the station "teetering on the edge of the crumbling iceberg," according to the NSIDC. Then it fell into the sea.

Watching the breakup of the icebergs taught Scambos and the other researchers about how ice shelves could collapse. "Within a year or so, we can see the equivalent of decades of evolution in a plate of ice that stays next to Antarctica and all the processes that are likely to occur," Scambos says.

As the ice shelf slides off the coast of Antarctica—a natural process that happens sort of like a tube of toothpaste being squeezed, but instead of a giant hand at work, the sheet moves thanks to its own weight—the ice braces against the rocky islands it encounters. When icebergs move and melt away, the movement of the glaciers that feed the ice shelf can accelerate and squeeze out more ice into the ocean to melt.

Scientists have estimated that an iceberg's lifetime from when snow first falls on a glacial field and is compressed to ice to when that ice melts into ocean can take as long as 3,000 years. Global climate change could speed that timeline up, ultimately sending more water into the oceans than is able to fall again as snow.

That's heavy information to absorb at a fun summer exhibit like "Icebergs," but the designers hope that the theme will seem natural . "We were designing the exhibit with the mission to speak to the general public about the built environment and the science," Castilla says. The icebergs are intended to be beautiful and simple, while still showcasing how the materials and shapes come together to create a useable space. In the same way, the science behind icebergs and climate change should emerge through the exhibit's educational facts and lectures on the subject of climate change.

After all, climate change is increasingly a part of everyday life. "It's less news and more something we are always aware of," says Castilla.

Drawing, Pastel on Paper

National Air and Space Museum
Apollo 16 (at night), April 1972. The gantry in red, white, and blue is seen from a distance at night. Specks of electric lights are scattered across the gantry and floodlights angle up and reflect into the black sky. The reflection can be seen in the water at the bottom of the scene.

The spring of 1962 was a busy time for the men and women of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. On February 20, John H. Glenn became the first American to orbit the earth. For the first time since the launch of Sputnik 1 on October 4, 1957, the U.S. was positioned to match and exceed Soviet achievements in space. NASA was an agency with a mission -- to meet President John F. Kennedy's challenge of sending human beings to the moon and returning them safely to earth by the end of the decade. Within a year, three more Mercury astronauts would fly into orbit. Plans were falling into place for a follow-on series of two-man Gemini missions that would set the stage for the Apollo voyages to the moon.

In early March 1962, artist Bruce Stevenson brought his large portrait of Alan Shepard, the first American to fly in space, to NASA headquarters.(1) James E. Webb, the administrator of NASA, assumed that the artist was interested in painting a similar portrait of all seven of the Mercury astronauts. Instead, Webb voiced his preference for a group portrait that would emphasize "…the team effort and the togetherness that has characterized the first group of astronauts to be trained by this nation." More important, the episode convinced the administrator that "…we should consider in a deliberate way just what NASA should do in the field of fine arts to commemorate the …historic events" of the American space program.(2)

In addition to portraits, Webb wanted to encourage artists to capture the excitement and deeper meaning of space flight. He imagined "a nighttime scene showing the great amount of activity involved in the preparation of and countdown for launching," as well as paintings that portrayed activities in space. "The important thing," he concluded, "is to develop a policy on how we intend to treat this matter now and in the next several years and then to get down to the specifics of how we intend to implement this policy…." The first step, he suggested, was to consult with experts in the field, including the director of the National Gallery of Art, and the members of the Fine Arts Commission, the arbiters of architectural and artistic taste who passed judgment on the appearance of official buildings and monuments in the nation's capital.

Webb's memo of March 16, 1962 was the birth certificate of the NASA art program. Shelby Thompson, the director of the agency's Office of Educational Programs and Services, assigned James Dean, a young artist working as a special assistant in his office, to the project. On June 19, 1962 Thompson met with the Fine Arts Commission, requesting advice as to how "…NASA should develop a basis for use of paintings and sculptures to depict significant historical events and other activities in our program."(3)

David E. Finley, the chairman and former director of the National Gallery of Art, applauded the idea, and suggested that the agency should study the experience of the U.S. Air Force, which had amassed some 800 paintings since establishing an art program in 1954. He also introduced Thompson to Hereward Lester Cooke, curator of paintings at the National Gallery of Art.

An imposing bear of a man standing over six feet tall, Lester Cooke was a graduate of Yale and Oxford, with a Princeton PhD. The son of a physics professor and a veteran of the U.S. Army Air Forces, he was both fascinated by science and felt a personal connection to flight. On a professional level, Cooke had directed American participation in international art competitions and produced articles and illustrations for the National Geographic Magazine. He jumped at the chance to advise NASA on its art program.

While initially cautious with regard to the time the project might require of one of his chief curators, John Walker, director of the National Gallery, quickly became one of the most vocal supporters of the NASA art initiative. Certain that "the present space exploration effort by the United States will probably rank among the more important events in the history of mankind," Walker believed that "every possible method of documentation …be used." Artists should be expected "…not only to record the physical appearance of the strange new world which space technology is creating, but to edit, select and probe for the inner meaning and emotional impact of events which may change the destiny of our race." He urged quick action so that "the full flavor of the achievement …not be lost," and hoped that "the past held captive" in any paintings resulting from the effort "will prove to future generations that America produced not only scientists and engineers capable of shaping the destiny of our age, but also artists worthy to keep them company."(4)

Gordon Cooper, the last Mercury astronaut to fly, was scheduled to ride an Atlas rocket into orbit on May 15, 1963. That event would provide the ideal occasion for a test run of the plan Cooke and Dean evolved to launch the art program. In mid-February, Cooke provided Thompson with a list of the artists who should be invited to travel to Cape Canaveral to record their impressions of the event. Andrew Wyeth, whom the curator identified as "the top artist in the U.S. today," headed the list. When the time came, however, Andrew Wyeth did not go to the Cape for the Cooper launch, but his son Jamie would participate in the program during the Gemini and Apollo years.

The list of invited artists also included Peter Hurd, Andrew Wyeth's brother-in-law, who had served as a wartime artist with the Army Air Force; George Weymouth, whom Wyeth regarded as "the best of his pupils"; and John McCoy, another Wyeth associate. Cooke regarded the next man on the list, Robert McCall, who had been running the Air Force art program, as "America's top aero-space illustrator. Paul Calle and Robert Shore had both painted for the Air Force program. Mitchell Jamieson, who had run a unit of the Navy art program during WW II, rounded out the program. Alfred Blaustein was the only artist to turn down the invitation.

The procedures that would remain in place for more than a decade were given a trial run in the spring of 1963. The artists received an $800 commission, which had to cover any expenses incurred while visiting a NASA facility where they could paint whatever interested them. In return, they would present their finished pieces, and all of their sketches, to the space agency. The experiment was a success, and what might have been a one-time effort to dispatch artists to witness and record the Gordon Cooper flight provided the basis for an on-going, if small-scale, program. By the end of 1970, Jim Dean and Lester Cooke had dispatched 38 artists to Mercury, Gemini and Apollo launches and to other NASA facilities.

The art program became everything that Jim Webb had hoped it would be. NASA artists produced stunning works of art that documented the agency's step-by-step progress on the way to the moon. The early fruits of the program were presented in a lavishly illustrated book, Eyewitness to Space (New York: Abrams, 1971). Works from the collection illustrated NASA publications and were the basis for educational film strips aimed at school children. In 1965 and again in 1969 the National Gallery of Art mounted two major exhibitions of work from the NASA collection. The USIA sent a selection of NASA paintings overseas, while the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service created two exhibitions of NASA art that toured the nation.

"Since we …began," Dean noted in a reflection on the tenth anniversary of the program, the art initiative had resulted in a long string of positive "press interviews and reports, congressional inquiries, columns in the Congressional Record, [and] White House reports." The NASA effort, he continued, had directly inspired other government art programs. "The Department of the Interior (at least two programs), the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of the Army and even the Veterans Administration have, or are starting, art programs." While he could not take all of the credit, Dean insisted that "our success has encouraged other agencies to get involved and they have succeeded, too."(5)

For all of that, he noted, it was still necessary to "defend" the role of art in the space agency. Dean, with the assistance of Lester Cooke, had been a one-man show, handling the complex logistics of the program, receiving and cataloguing works of art, hanging them himself in museums or on office walls, and struggling to find adequate storage space. In January 1976, a NASA supervisor went so far as to comment that: "Mr. Dean is far too valuable in other areas to spend his time on the relatively menial …jobs he is often burdened with in connection with the art program."(6) Dean placed a much higher value on the art collection, and immediately recommended that NASA officials either devote additional resources to the program, or get out of the art business and turn the existing collection over the National Air and Space Museum, "where it can be properly cared for."(7)

In January 1974 a new building for the National Air and Space Museum (NASM) was taking shape right across the street from NASA headquarters. Discussions regarding areas of cooperation were already underway between NASA officials and museum director Michael Collins, who had flown to the moon as a member of the Apollo 11 crew. Before the end of the year, the space agency had transferred its art collection to the NASM. Mike Collins succeeded in luring Jim Dean to the museum, as well.

The museum already maintained a small art collection, including portraits of aerospace heroes, an assortment of 18th and 19th century prints illustrating the early history of the balloon, an eclectic assortment of works portraying aspects of the history of aviation and a few recent prizes, including several Norman Rockwell paintings of NASA activity. With the acquisition of the NASA art, the museum was in possession of one of the world's great collections of art exploring aerospace themes. Jim Dean would continue to build the NASM collection as the museum's first curator of art. Following his retirement in 1980, other curators would follow in his footsteps, continuing to strengthen the role of art at the NASM. Over three decades after its arrival, however, the NASA art accession of 2,091 works still constitutes almost half of the NASM art collection.

(1) Stevenson's portrait is now in the collection of the National Air and Space Museum (1981-627)

(2) James E. Webb to Hiden Cox, March 16, 1962, memorandum in the NASA art historical collection, Aeronautics Division, National air and Space Museum. Webb's preference for a group portrait of the astronauts was apparently not heeded. In the end, Stevenson painted an individual portrait of John Glenn, which is also in the NASM collection (1963-398).

(3) Shelby Thompson, memorandum for the record, July 6, 1962, NASA art historical collection, NASA, Aeronautics Division.

(4) John Walker draft of a talk, March 5, 1965, copy in NASA Art historical collection, NASM Aeronautics Division.

(5) James Dean, memorandum for the record, August 6, 1973, NASA art history collection, NASM Aeronautics Division.

(6) Director of Planning and Media Development to Assistant Administrator for Public Affairs, January 24, 1974, NASA art history collection, NASM Aeronautics Division.

(7) James Dean to the Assistant Administrator for Public Affairs, January 24, 1974, copy in NASA Art history Collection, Aeronautics Division, NASM.

Tom D. Crouch

Senior Curator, Aeronautics

National Air and Space Museum

Smithsonian Institution

July 26, 2007

Deep Space Antenna

National Air and Space Museum
Pen and ink sketch of Deep Space Antenna. A sketch of a radio telescope that takes up the majority of the page. The dish is at approximately a 45 degree angle and is pointed to the right. The lower right corner of the page has ink blots and scribbles.

In March 1962, James Webb, Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, suggested that artists be enlisted to document the historic effort to send the first human beings to the moon. John Walker, director of the National Gallery of Art, was among those who applauded the idea, urging that artists be encouraged "…not only to record the physical appearance of the strange new world which space technology is creating, but to edit, select and probe for the inner meaning and emotional impact of events which may change the destiny of our race."

Working together, James Dean, a young artist employed by the NASA Public Affairs office, and Dr. H. Lester Cooke, curator of paintings at the National Gallery of Art, created a program that dispatched artists to NASA facilities with an invitation to paint whatever interested them. The result was an extraordinary collection of works of art proving, as one observer noted, "that America produced not only scientists and engineers capable of shaping the destiny of our age, but also artists worthy to keep them company." Transferred to the National Air and Space Museum in 1975, the NASA art collection remains one of the most important elements of what has become perhaps the world's finest collection of aerospace themed art.

The spring of 1962 was a busy time for the men and women of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. On February 20, John H. Glenn became the first American to orbit the earth. For the first time since the launch of Sputnik 1 on October 4, 1957, the U.S. was positioned to match and exceed Soviet achievements in space. NASA was an agency with a mission -- to meet President John F. Kennedy's challenge of sending human beings to the moon and returning them safely to earth by the end of the decade. Within a year, three more Mercury astronauts would fly into orbit. Plans were falling into place for a follow-on series of two-man Gemini missions that would set the stage for the Apollo voyages to the moon.

In early March 1962, artist Bruce Stevenson brought his large portrait of Alan Shepard, the first American to fly in space, to NASA headquarters.(1) James E. Webb, the administrator of NASA, assumed that the artist was interested in painting a similar portrait of all seven of the Mercury astronauts. Instead, Webb voiced his preference for a group portrait that would emphasize "…the team effort and the togetherness that has characterized the first group of astronauts to be trained by this nation." More important, the episode convinced the administrator that "…we should consider in a deliberate way just what NASA should do in the field of fine arts to commemorate the …historic events" of the American space program.(2)

In addition to portraits, Webb wanted to encourage artists to capture the excitement and deeper meaning of space flight. He imagined "a nighttime scene showing the great amount of activity involved in the preparation of and countdown for launching," as well as paintings that portrayed activities in space. "The important thing," he concluded, "is to develop a policy on how we intend to treat this matter now and in the next several years and then to get down to the specifics of how we intend to implement this policy…." The first step, he suggested, was to consult with experts in the field, including the director of the National Gallery of Art, and the members of the Fine Arts Commission, the arbiters of architectural and artistic taste who passed judgment on the appearance of official buildings and monuments in the nation's capital.

Webb's memo of March 16, 1962 was the birth certificate of the NASA art program. Shelby Thompson, the director of the agency's Office of Educational Programs and Services, assigned James Dean, a young artist working as a special assistant in his office, to the project. On June 19, 1962 Thompson met with the Fine Arts Commission, requesting advice as to how "…NASA should develop a basis for use of paintings and sculptures to depict significant historical events and other activities in our program."(3)

David E. Finley, the chairman and former director of the National Gallery of Art, applauded the idea, and suggested that the agency should study the experience of the U.S. Air Force, which had amassed some 800 paintings since establishing an art program in 1954. He also introduced Thompson to Hereward Lester Cooke, curator of paintings at the National Gallery of Art.

An imposing bear of a man standing over six feet tall, Lester Cooke was a graduate of Yale and Oxford, with a Princeton PhD. The son of a physics professor and a veteran of the U.S. Army Air Forces, he was both fascinated by science and felt a personal connection to flight. On a professional level, Cooke had directed American participation in international art competitions and produced articles and illustrations for the National Geographic Magazine. He jumped at the chance to advise NASA on its art program.

While initially cautious with regard to the time the project might require of one of his chief curators, John Walker, director of the National Gallery, quickly became one of the most vocal supporters of the NASA art initiative. Certain that "the present space exploration effort by the United States will probably rank among the more important events in the history of mankind," Walker believed that "every possible method of documentation …be used." Artists should be expected "…not only to record the physical appearance of the strange new world which space technology is creating, but to edit, select and probe for the inner meaning and emotional impact of events which may change the destiny of our race." He urged quick action so that "the full flavor of the achievement …not be lost," and hoped that "the past held captive" in any paintings resulting from the effort "will prove to future generations that America produced not only scientists and engineers capable of shaping the destiny of our age, but also artists worthy to keep them company."(4)

Gordon Cooper, the last Mercury astronaut to fly, was scheduled to ride an Atlas rocket into orbit on May 15, 1963. That event would provide the ideal occasion for a test run of the plan Cooke and Dean evolved to launch the art program. In mid-February, Cooke provided Thompson with a list of the artists who should be invited to travel to Cape Canaveral to record their impressions of the event. Andrew Wyeth, whom the curator identified as "the top artist in the U.S. today," headed the list. When the time came, however, Andrew Wyeth did not go to the Cape for the Cooper launch, but his son Jamie would participate in the program during the Gemini and Apollo years.

The list of invited artists also included Peter Hurd, Andrew Wyeth's brother-in-law, who had served as a wartime artist with the Army Air Force; George Weymouth, whom Wyeth regarded as "the best of his pupils"; and John McCoy, another Wyeth associate. Cooke regarded the next man on the list, Robert McCall, who had been running the Air Force art program, as "America's top aero-space illustrator. Paul Calle and Robert Shore had both painted for the Air Force program. Mitchell Jamieson, who had run a unit of the Navy art program during WW II, rounded out the program. Alfred Blaustein was the only artist to turn down the invitation.

The procedures that would remain in place for more than a decade were given a trial run in the spring of 1963. The artists received an $800 commission, which had to cover any expenses incurred while visiting a NASA facility where they could paint whatever interested them. In return, they would present their finished pieces, and all of their sketches, to the space agency. The experiment was a success, and what might have been a one-time effort to dispatch artists to witness and record the Gordon Cooper flight provided the basis for an on-going, if small-scale, program. By the end of 1970, Jim Dean and Lester Cooke had dispatched 38 artists to Mercury, Gemini and Apollo launches and to other NASA facilities.

The art program became everything that Jim Webb had hoped it would be. NASA artists produced stunning works of art that documented the agency's step-by-step progress on the way to the moon. The early fruits of the program were presented in a lavishly illustrated book, Eyewitness to Space (New York: Abrams, 1971). Works from the collection illustrated NASA publications and were the basis for educational film strips aimed at school children. In 1965 and again in 1969 the National Gallery of Art mounted two major exhibitions of work from the NASA collection. The USIA sent a selection of NASA paintings overseas, while the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service created two exhibitions of NASA art that toured the nation.

"Since we …began," Dean noted in a reflection on the tenth anniversary of the program, the art initiative had resulted in a long string of positive "press interviews and reports, congressional inquiries, columns in the Congressional Record, [and] White House reports." The NASA effort, he continued, had directly inspired other government art programs. "The Department of the Interior (at least two programs), the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of the Army and even the Veterans Administration have, or are starting, art programs." While he could not take all of the credit, Dean insisted that "our success has encouraged other agencies to get involved and they have succeeded, too."(5)

For all of that, he noted, it was still necessary to "defend" the role of art in the space agency. Dean, with the assistance of Lester Cooke, had been a one-man show, handling the complex logistics of the program, receiving and cataloguing works of art, hanging them himself in museums or on office walls, and struggling to find adequate storage space. In January 1976, a NASA supervisor went so far as to comment that: "Mr. Dean is far too valuable in other areas to spend his time on the relatively menial …jobs he is often burdened with in connection with the art program."(6) Dean placed a much higher value on the art collection, and immediately recommended that NASA officials either devote additional resources to the program, or get out of the art business and turn the existing collection over the National Air and Space Museum, "where it can be properly cared for."(7)

In January 1974 a new building for the National Air and Space Museum (NASM) was taking shape right across the street from NASA headquarters. Discussions regarding areas of cooperation were already underway between NASA officials and museum director Michael Collins, who had flown to the moon as a member of the Apollo 11 crew. Before the end of the year, the space agency had transferred its art collection to the NASM. Mike Collins succeeded in luring Jim Dean to the museum, as well.

The museum already maintained a small art collection, including portraits of aerospace heroes, an assortment of 18th and 19th century prints illustrating the early history of the balloon, an eclectic assortment of works portraying aspects of the history of aviation and a few recent prizes, including several Norman Rockwell paintings of NASA activity. With the acquisition of the NASA art, the museum was in possession of one of the world's great collections of art exploring aerospace themes. Jim Dean would continue to build the NASM collection as the museum's first curator of art. Following his retirement in 1980, other curators would follow in his footsteps, continuing to strengthen the role of art at the NASM. Over three decades after its arrival, however, the NASA art accession of 2,091 works still constitutes almost half of the NASM art collection.

(1) Stevenson's portrait is now in the collection of the National Air and Space Museum (1981-627)

(2) James E. Webb to Hiden Cox, March 16, 1962, memorandum in the NASA art historical collection, Aeronautics Division, National air and Space Museum. Webb's preference for a group portrait of the astronauts was apparently not heeded. In the end, Stevenson painted an individual portrait of John Glenn, which is also in the NASM collection (1963-398).

(3) Shelby Thompson, memorandum for the record, July 6, 1962, NASA art historical collection, NASA, Aeronautics Division.

(4) John Walker draft of a talk, March 5, 1965, copy in NASA Art historical collection, NASM Aeronautics Division.

(5) James Dean, memorandum for the record, August 6, 1973, NASA art history collection, NASM Aeronautics Division.

(6) Director of Planning and Media Development to Assistant Administrator for Public Affairs, January 24, 1974, NASA art history collection, NASM Aeronautics Division.

(7) James Dean to the Assistant Administrator for Public Affairs, January 24, 1974, copy in NASA Art history Collection, Aeronautics Division, NASM.

Tom D. Crouch

Senior Curator, Aeronautics

National Air and Space Museum

Smithsonian Institution

July 26, 2007

Finding the Humor in History

Smithsonian Magazine

In just four years, Kate Beaton has made a name for herself as a cartoonist. She launched her webcomic “Hark! A Vagrant” in 2007 and has since published two books. Her strips, which look like doodles a student might draw in the margins of her notebook, read as endearing spoofs on historical and literary characters. In one, Joseph Kennedy overzealously goads his sons’ aspirations for presidency, and in another, the Brontë sisters go dude watchin’.

Beaton, 28, started penning comics while studying history and anthropology at Mount Allison University in New Brunswick, Canada. Her cartoons, about the campus and its professors at first, ran in the school newspaper. “I don’t know how well I ingratiated myself among the faculty,” she says. But now the New York City-based cartoonist hears of educators who serve up her witty comics as aperitifs to what might otherwise be dry lessons.

Just a few months after the release of her latest book Hark! A Vagrant, Beaton took a break from sketching Heathcliff of Wuthering Heights fame to discuss her work with us.

What do you look for in a subject? Are there certain character traits or plotlines you look for?

A certain amount of conflict makes it easier. But there are no red flags really. In general, you just sort of become very familiar with the subject and then you poke fun at it like you would a friend of yours that you know very well.

You once said that your approach is directly related to the old Gaelic-style humor of Nova Scotia. How so?

My hometown [of Mabou, Nova Scotia] is very small. It is 1,200 people or so, and it is really well known for its Scottish heritage. It was so culturally singular in a way. That culture grew because it was so isolated there for such a long time. There is just a certain sense of humor. They talk about it like it’s a thing. I read once in a book that it was a knowing wink to the human foibles of the people that you know. Usually someone is just sort of being a little hard on you or someone else, but in a friendly way. You have to live with these people. No one is a jerk about it. But it is jokes at the expense of everyone’s general humanity. You could call it small-town humor.

So what kind of research does it take to attain a friendly enough rapport with figures in history and literature to mock them in your comics?

For every character it is totally different. It is not just a character. It is the world around the character or the book or the historical thing. People take history very personally, so an event might have a second or third life depending on who is reading about it and who is writing about it and who cares about it. It is fascinating. I don’t really have a particular process. I just try to find the most credible and interesting sources that I can to read about things and I go from there.

Before you went full steam as a cartoonist, you worked in museums, including the Mabou Gaelic and Historical Society, the Shearwater Aviation Museum and the Maritime Museum of British Columbia. Do you visit museums or nose through their digital collections for inspiration?

Yeah. I recently went to the Museum of the Moving Image to see the Jim Henson exhibit here in New York. I like museums a lot. I like visiting them, more to see how they present information than the information inside. That is usually the most interesting part. What do you choose to leave in? What do you leave out? I think the idea of public history is really interesting. What people know about and what they don’t. What is part of the story publicly? Who do you make a statue of and where do you put it and why?

The bulk of my research is online, although I have quite a few books of my own. You learn how to Google the right things, I guess, either a phrase that you think will work or any kind of key words that will bring you to an essay someone wrote or to Google Books. Archive.org has all kinds of books as well. You can find a lot of university syllabi. You can find so much. Go to the Victoria and Albert Museum website. They have all kinds of costuming stuff there. I needed to find a flintlock pistol recently for a strip about pirates, and there was this person’s website. He has one for sale and has pictures of it from all angles for some collector. It was great. The Internet is pretty wonderful for that kind of thing.

Image by Courtesy of Kate Beaton, harkavagrant.com. When coming up with a subject, cartoonist Kate Beaton looks for a certain amount of conflict and then pokes fun at it like you would a friend you know very well. (original image)

Image by Courtesy of Kate Beaton, harkavagrant.com. Based in New York City, Beaton has her witty comics presented by educators as aperitifs to what might otherwise be dry lessons. (original image)

Image by Courtesy of Kate Beaton, harkavagrant.com. At age 10, Beaton read all of the Nancy Drew books in two weeks during a stay in the hospital. (original image)

Image by Courtesy of Kate Beaton, harkavagrant.com. Beaton remembers the Nancy Drew books in a "weird haze" and assumes that is what turned Nancy into kind of a strange character in her comic. (original image)

Image by Courtesy of Kate Beaton, harkavagrant.com. In doing research for her comics, Beaton finds the most credible and interesting sources and goes from there. (original image)

Image by Courtesy of Kate Beaton, harkavagrant.com. Beaton, 28, started penning comics while studying history and anthropology at Mount Allison University in New Brunswick, Canada. (original image)

How do you make a comic appeal to both someone who has never heard of the figure you are lampooning and someone who is that figure’s biggest fan?

You try and present figures as plainly as you can, I suppose. That’s why my comics got bigger than just a six-panel comic about one subject. It became six smaller comics about one subject or something like that because there is too much information to put in. Maybe the first couple might have a bit more exposition in them so that by the time you get to the bottom, you are familiar with the characters even if you don’t know them from a book or from studying them. If I did a breakdown, you could see that maybe one comic especially will hit it big with someone who doesn’t really know much about it. It might be a sight gag or something, a face or a gesture, and then one will really hopefully pay some kind of tribute to somebody who knows a bit more about it. It would still be funny but it would have a more knowledgeable joke that goes over some people’s heads, and that would be fine.

Is there someone you really want to make a comic about but haven’t figured out the hook?

Yeah. I have been reading a lot about Catherine the Great lately. But she is so larger-than-life; it is difficult to take in all of that information. In some ways, you think it would make it easier, because she is somebody that everybody knows. But she is liked by some people, disliked by others. She had some good qualities and some bad qualities. What do you pick? What do you go with? If I made, say, six comics, what would they be, from a life this large?

What has been the most surprising response from readers?

Emotional responses, definitely. I think that one of the most emotional responses was in doing one about Rosalind Franklin, the DNA research scientist whose work was stolen by James Watson and Francis Crick and put in their Nobel Prize-winning book. That was just a huge deal in the beginnings of DNA research. They didn’t give her credit for her photographs that they took of the double helix. They won Nobel Prizes, and she died. It is so tragic and awful and people really responded to it, because she is just representative of so many people you read about and you can’t believe were overlooked. The joke is respectful to her. It is not the most hilarious comic. But it does give Watson and Crick kind of a villainous role, and her sort of the noble heroine role. It is nice to see people really respond to history that way. It is nice to touch a nerve.

I especially like when you use Nancy Drew covers as springboards for comic strips. How did you get started with that?

I started with Edward Gorey covers. I was trying to think of a comic idea one day, and I was going nowhere. I was so frustrated, and someone on Twitter was like, check out all these Gorey covers, a collection on a website. I looked at them and thought you really could extrapolate from this theme that is on the cover and make a comic about it. So I did, and they went over really well. I started to look for some other book covers that had an action scene on the front that were available in a set. I read all of the Nancy Drew books in two weeks when I was 10 because I was in the hospital and that is the only thing that they had. I read the heck out of those books and probably remember them in a weird haze of a two-week megathon Nancy Drew reading while being sick. Perhaps that weird memory turned Nancy into kind of a weirdo in my comic.

What is on the cover is like, “Here is what’s inside.” Be excited about this. There is no abstract stuff, because kids would be like who cares. There are people doing things and that is why you pick it up. You are like, I like the look of this one. Nancy looks like she is in a real pickle.

Have you ever felt that you went too far in your reinterpretation of history or literature?

Not really. I think I toe a safe line. I don’t really get hate mail. I respect the things that I poke fun at and hopefully that shows. Earlier on, I suppose I went for the more crude humor because you are just trying to figure out your own sense of humor and what your strengths are. It takes a long time to figure out comedy, to figure out what it is that you are capable of in it and what your particular voice is in humor and comedy.

Who do you find funny?

Oh, a lot of people. The same Tina Fey, Amy Poehler crowd that everybody seems to like nowadays. But I also really enjoy the old-style humor. Stephen Leacock is one of my favorites. He was a Canadian humorist around the turn of the century. And Dorothy Parker’s poems are so good and funny. It is hard to be funny. I like to take influences from all over the board. Visually, I have a lot of collections from Punch magazine and that type of stuff, where the visual gags are so good. I respect that level of cartooning.

When you do public readings of your comics, obviously, you are in control of how they are read, where the dramatic pauses are and everything. Do you ever worry about leaving that up to the readers?

You try to engineer it in a certain way. People are going to read it the way they do. My sister reads the end of the book as soon as she starts one. It drives me crazy. Why would you read the last chapter? She can’t stand waiting for the joke or waiting for the end. I try to construct my comics in a way that no one can do that. A joke hits them in the face before they can get to the end.

Simulator

National Air and Space Museum
Simulator, 1970. A photo realist depiction of a lunar mission simulator against a tile floor and wall. The sharp lines and angles of the structure, nearby cabinets, floor, and ceiling convey a stark, mechanical feeling. The colors are predominantly tones of brown and grey. A spiral staircase winds up the center of the simulator to a platform on the top.

The spring of 1962 was a busy time for the men and women of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. On February 20, John H. Glenn became the first American to orbit the earth. For the first time since the launch of Sputnik 1 on October 4, 1957, the U.S. was positioned to match and exceed Soviet achievements in space. NASA was an agency with a mission -- to meet President John F. Kennedy's challenge of sending human beings to the moon and returning them safely to earth by the end of the decade. Within a year, three more Mercury astronauts would fly into orbit. Plans were falling into place for a follow-on series of two-man Gemini missions that would set the stage for the Apollo voyages to the moon.

In early March 1962, artist Bruce Stevenson brought his large portrait of Alan Shepard, the first American to fly in space, to NASA headquarters.(1) James E. Webb, the administrator of NASA, assumed that the artist was interested in painting a similar portrait of all seven of the Mercury astronauts. Instead, Webb voiced his preference for a group portrait that would emphasize "…the team effort and the togetherness that has characterized the first group of astronauts to be trained by this nation." More important, the episode convinced the administrator that "…we should consider in a deliberate way just what NASA should do in the field of fine arts to commemorate the …historic events" of the American space program.(2)

In addition to portraits, Webb wanted to encourage artists to capture the excitement and deeper meaning of space flight. He imagined "a nighttime scene showing the great amount of activity involved in the preparation of and countdown for launching," as well as paintings that portrayed activities in space. "The important thing," he concluded, "is to develop a policy on how we intend to treat this matter now and in the next several years and then to get down to the specifics of how we intend to implement this policy…." The first step, he suggested, was to consult with experts in the field, including the director of the National Gallery of Art, and the members of the Fine Arts Commission, the arbiters of architectural and artistic taste who passed judgment on the appearance of official buildings and monuments in the nation's capital.

Webb's memo of March 16, 1962 was the birth certificate of the NASA art program. Shelby Thompson, the director of the agency's Office of Educational Programs and Services, assigned James Dean, a young artist working as a special assistant in his office, to the project. On June 19, 1962 Thompson met with the Fine Arts Commission, requesting advice as to how "…NASA should develop a basis for use of paintings and sculptures to depict significant historical events and other activities in our program."(3)

David E. Finley, the chairman and former director of the National Gallery of Art, applauded the idea, and suggested that the agency should study the experience of the U.S. Air Force, which had amassed some 800 paintings since establishing an art program in 1954. He also introduced Thompson to Hereward Lester Cooke, curator of paintings at the National Gallery of Art.

An imposing bear of a man standing over six feet tall, Lester Cooke was a graduate of Yale and Oxford, with a Princeton PhD. The son of a physics professor and a veteran of the U.S. Army Air Forces, he was both fascinated by science and felt a personal connection to flight. On a professional level, Cooke had directed American participation in international art competitions and produced articles and illustrations for the National Geographic Magazine. He jumped at the chance to advise NASA on its art program.

While initially cautious with regard to the time the project might require of one of his chief curators, John Walker, director of the National Gallery, quickly became one of the most vocal supporters of the NASA art initiative. Certain that "the present space exploration effort by the United States will probably rank among the more important events in the history of mankind," Walker believed that "every possible method of documentation …be used." Artists should be expected "…not only to record the physical appearance of the strange new world which space technology is creating, but to edit, select and probe for the inner meaning and emotional impact of events which may change the destiny of our race." He urged quick action so that "the full flavor of the achievement …not be lost," and hoped that "the past held captive" in any paintings resulting from the effort "will prove to future generations that America produced not only scientists and engineers capable of shaping the destiny of our age, but also artists worthy to keep them company."(4)

Gordon Cooper, the last Mercury astronaut to fly, was scheduled to ride an Atlas rocket into orbit on May 15, 1963. That event would provide the ideal occasion for a test run of the plan Cooke and Dean evolved to launch the art program. In mid-February, Cooke provided Thompson with a list of the artists who should be invited to travel to Cape Canaveral to record their impressions of the event. Andrew Wyeth, whom the curator identified as "the top artist in the U.S. today," headed the list. When the time came, however, Andrew Wyeth did not go to the Cape for the Cooper launch, but his son Jamie would participate in the program during the Gemini and Apollo years.

The list of invited artists also included Peter Hurd, Andrew Wyeth's brother-in-law, who had served as a wartime artist with the Army Air Force; George Weymouth, whom Wyeth regarded as "the best of his pupils"; and John McCoy, another Wyeth associate. Cooke regarded the next man on the list, Robert McCall, who had been running the Air Force art program, as "America's top aero-space illustrator. Paul Calle and Robert Shore had both painted for the Air Force program. Mitchell Jamieson, who had run a unit of the Navy art program during WW II, rounded out the program. Alfred Blaustein was the only artist to turn down the invitation.

The procedures that would remain in place for more than a decade were given a trial run in the spring of 1963. The artists received an $800 commission, which had to cover any expenses incurred while visiting a NASA facility where they could paint whatever interested them. In return, they would present their finished pieces, and all of their sketches, to the space agency. The experiment was a success, and what might have been a one-time effort to dispatch artists to witness and record the Gordon Cooper flight provided the basis for an on-going, if small-scale, program. By the end of 1970, Jim Dean and Lester Cooke had dispatched 38 artists to Mercury, Gemini and Apollo launches and to other NASA facilities.

The art program became everything that Jim Webb had hoped it would be. NASA artists produced stunning works of art that documented the agency's step-by-step progress on the way to the moon. The early fruits of the program were presented in a lavishly illustrated book, Eyewitness to Space (New York: Abrams, 1971). Works from the collection illustrated NASA publications and were the basis for educational film strips aimed at school children. In 1965 and again in 1969 the National Gallery of Art mounted two major exhibitions of work from the NASA collection. The USIA sent a selection of NASA paintings overseas, while the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service created two exhibitions of NASA art that toured the nation.

"Since we …began," Dean noted in a reflection on the tenth anniversary of the program, the art initiative had resulted in a long string of positive "press interviews and reports, congressional inquiries, columns in the Congressional Record, [and] White House reports." The NASA effort, he continued, had directly inspired other government art programs. "The Department of the Interior (at least two programs), the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of the Army and even the Veterans Administration have, or are starting, art programs." While he could not take all of the credit, Dean insisted that "our success has encouraged other agencies to get involved and they have succeeded, too."(5)

For all of that, he noted, it was still necessary to "defend" the role of art in the space agency. Dean, with the assistance of Lester Cooke, had been a one-man show, handling the complex logistics of the program, receiving and cataloguing works of art, hanging them himself in museums or on office walls, and struggling to find adequate storage space. In January 1976, a NASA supervisor went so far as to comment that: "Mr. Dean is far too valuable in other areas to spend his time on the relatively menial …jobs he is often burdened with in connection with the art program."(6) Dean placed a much higher value on the art collection, and immediately recommended that NASA officials either devote additional resources to the program, or get out of the art business and turn the existing collection over the National Air and Space Museum, "where it can be properly cared for."(7)

In January 1974 a new building for the National Air and Space Museum (NASM) was taking shape right across the street from NASA headquarters. Discussions regarding areas of cooperation were already underway between NASA officials and museum director Michael Collins, who had flown to the moon as a member of the Apollo 11 crew. Before the end of the year, the space agency had transferred its art collection to the NASM. Mike Collins succeeded in luring Jim Dean to the museum, as well.

The museum already maintained a small art collection, including portraits of aerospace heroes, an assortment of 18th and 19th century prints illustrating the early history of the balloon, an eclectic assortment of works portraying aspects of the history of aviation and a few recent prizes, including several Norman Rockwell paintings of NASA activity. With the acquisition of the NASA art, the museum was in possession of one of the world's great collections of art exploring aerospace themes. Jim Dean would continue to build the NASM collection as the museum's first curator of art. Following his retirement in 1980, other curators would follow in his footsteps, continuing to strengthen the role of art at the NASM. Over three decades after its arrival, however, the NASA art accession of 2,091 works still constitutes almost half of the NASM art collection.

(1) Stevenson's portrait is now in the collection of the National Air and Space Museum (1981-627)

(2) James E. Webb to Hiden Cox, March 16, 1962, memorandum in the NASA art historical collection, Aeronautics Division, National air and Space Museum. Webb's preference for a group portrait of the astronauts was apparently not heeded. In the end, Stevenson painted an individual portrait of John Glenn, which is also in the NASM collection (1963-398).

(3) Shelby Thompson, memorandum for the record, July 6, 1962, NASA art historical collection, NASA, Aeronautics Division.

(4) John Walker draft of a talk, March 5, 1965, copy in NASA Art historical collection, NASM Aeronautics Division.

(5) James Dean, memorandum for the record, August 6, 1973, NASA art history collection, NASM Aeronautics Division.

(6) Director of Planning and Media Development to Assistant Administrator for Public Affairs, January 24, 1974, NASA art history collection, NASM Aeronautics Division.

(7) James Dean to the Assistant Administrator for Public Affairs, January 24, 1974, copy in NASA Art history Collection, Aeronautics Division, NASM.

Tom D. Crouch

Senior Curator, Aeronautics

National Air and Space Museum

Smithsonian Institution

July 26, 2007

Bringing Thomas Jefferson's Battered Tombstone Back to Life

Smithsonian Magazine

On July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, political rivals John Adams and Thomas Jefferson died just hours apart. Maintaining a steady correspondence throughout their final years, Adams a Federalist and Jefferson a Republican had grudgingly become friends. "You and I ought not to die until we have explained ourselves to each other," Adams wrote. But with his last breath as the story goes, he worried that his rival had outlived him. "Thomas Jefferson survives," were purportedly Adams' final words.

But Jefferson had died just hours ahead of him.

Adams is buried in a family crypt in Quincy, Massachusetts. But the post-mortem rivalry favors Jefferson if only for the curious tale of the long, peculiar journey of his grave-marker from Monticello, westward to Missouri and then two years ago making a stopover in the conservation laboratories at the Smithsonian Institution before heading home to the University of Missouri in August 2014.

Jefferson's tombstone was no simple grave marker. The Founding Father left very detailed instructions for a three-part stone sculpture: a granite obelisk would sit atop a granite cube and be adorned with an inscribed marble plaque. Visitors flocked to Monticello to see it after it was erected in 1833. And souvenir seekers took to chipping off small chunks of the granite base. The marble plaque remained intact but soon loosened from the granite following the "rude treatment the monument received," wrote one observer at the time.

Horrified that the whole thing would soon be ruined, Jefferson’s heirs ordered a replica be placed at Monticello and donated the original three-part structure to the University of Missouri in 1883. Reasons for why the tombstone went to Mizzou are speculative, but among them is the belief that it was the first school founded within the territory that Jefferson secured with the Louisiana Purchase.

The Edgehill Portrait/Thomas Jefferson by Gilbert Stewart, 1805/1821 (National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; owned jointly with Monticello, Thomas Jefferson Foundation, Incorporated, Charlottesville, Virginia; purchase funds provided by the Regents of the Smithsonian Institution, the Trustees of the Thomas Jeff)

Image by Carol Grissom. In September of 2012, the Smithsonian's Carol Grissom made her first examination of the plaque in the attic of Jesse Hall at the University of Missouri. (original image)

Image by Brittany Hance. Paper shim of a university publication dating to the late 1880s is found between the tombstone's support and the inner wooden box (original image)

Image by Brittany Hance. Old newspapers dating from the 1880s and 1890s, including a Cleveland Newsaper Jung Amerika were used as shims in the box where the plaque was stored. (original image)

Image by Brittany Hance. Toolmarks can be seen on the front surface (bottom) (original image)

Image by Brittany Hance. Microscopic detail of the tombstone showing pink and black inclusions. Conservations scientists identified calcium, potassium, aluminum and silicon. (original image)

Image by Brittany Hance. Tombstone after it was treated by Smithsonian conservators, showing old and new fillings (original image)

Image by Brittany Hance. Green markings show where heavy smoke damage occurred. (original image)

Image by Brittany Hance. Veins in the stone are marked in red (original image)

Image by Brittany Hance. Tombstone after final treatment by Smithsonian scientists (original image)

The tombstone and the plaque were put on display near the entrance to the school’s main building but the marble piece was soon brought inside for safekeeping.

Unfortunately, the building were it was stored burned down in 1892.

The plaque survived but the fire took a heavy toll. Shattered into five pieces and with portions crumbling at the edges, the piece was reassembled like a jigsaw and mounted in a plaster compound. No official report documented how it was reassembled or what materials were used. The plaque was then placed inside two wooden boxes, and again put away in an attic. 

Fragmented, partially disintegrated, even burned and seemingly beyond repair, the marble plaque that marked Jefferson’s gravestone had become a modern-day Humpty-Dumpty tale by the time it arrived in the care of Carol Grissom, a conservator at the Smithsonian’s Museum Conservation Institute.

For more than 100 years it had been stored in a wooden box in a dark corner of an unfinished attic at the University of Missouri, too fragile to be put on display. In 2005, a group of university administrators decided to do something about it.

Jefferson left these instructions for his tombstone (Carol Grissom)

And Grissom, it turns out, was able to do what all of the king’s horses and men couldn’t do for the fairy-tale egg: she found a way to put the marble plaque back together again.

In 2012, Grissom went to the University of Missouri to examine it. “It took a number of people to carry the box,” she says. They didn’t know it at the time, but whoever had tried to restore it after the fire, plastered another marble plaque onto the back.

Grissom had only seen the front of the plaque that day in the attic—which did have considerable losses, weaknesses and stains—when she agreed to take on the project. It wasn’t until she had the plaque in hand at the Smithsonian to fully examine it that she would understand its abysmal condition.

While a paper trail documents how the tombstone got from Virginia to Missouri, Grissom and others knew little else about its history. Where had the marble come from? Some had speculated it was imported from Italy. What were the mysterious dark stains on the face? Who tried to restore it after the fire and when? It was time to play detective.

One mystery was solved almost immediately. Newspaper clippings cushioning the plaque confirmed that the initial restoration occurred shortly after the fire in the late 1880s. Grissom also realized that because the fragments were not aligned, whoever tried to reassemble the plaque did not glue the pieces together before placing them in the wet plaster atop the new marble backing.

As for the mystery of the dark streaks on the surface—were they natural veins from other minerals? Smoke damage? Something else? “I tried scraping some of the black stuff with a scalpel, but that black is really quite mixed with the marble, so I would have had to dig a hole to get rid of all the black material,” she says.

The Thomas Jefferson tombstone plaque is now repaired and returned to the University of Missouri. (Rob Hill, University of Missouri)

Instead, she used a non-destructive scanning process to create maps of the elements present across square inch spots on the surface. If metallic elements existed in a dark spot, and didn’t show up elsewhere on the plaque, then she could determine whether or not the dark streaks were present in the original marble.

Her best guess, she says, is that during the fire, some type of plumbing system, or maybe metal hinges from the box it was stored in, melted and dripped on the plaque. “The materials deposited on the surface are still quite interesting and difficult to resolve,” she says.

Grissom and her team also cracked the mystery of the marble’s origin, determining through a stable isotope analysis, that the source of the marble was a quarry in Vermont.

Next, with dental picks, scalpels and files, Grissom set about removing the pieces from the plaster. She started with a small fragment on the upper-left side, in part to see if this would even be feasible, and in part because she couldn’t stand how misaligned it was. The experiment worked, and over the course of a few hundred hours, Grissom freed all five pieces from the backing, finishing in October 2013.

“Putting it back together was a lot quicker,” she says with a laugh. Grissom concocted a myriad of acrylic and epoxy putties—including one similar to the adhesive used on a broken sculpture at the Met—to glue the fragments together and fill in space where there were losses. After painting the surface to look natural again, she embarked on the painstakingly slow process of re-carving the inscription.

The plaque was as good as new—or, as close to new as possible—but the work wasn’t done.

When the University of Missouri commissioned the project, they also asked for two replicas of the tombstone. For this, a team of experts from the Smithsonian’s Office of Exhibits Central had to be called in.

To simplify a process called photogrammetry—a process that is anything but simple—hundreds and hundreds of photographs of the plaque were taken from all angles, and put into a computer program that created a 3D image of it. Then the information was sent to a computer numerical control (CNC) machine that carved a model of the stone into a polyurethane board. From there, a silicone mold was made to cast replicas, and they were painted to match all the nuances of the original.

In September 2014, the three plaques were returned to the University of Missouri. One of the replicas is used for teaching, and the other is adhered to the original granite obelisk and prominently displayed in the main campus quad. As for the original plaque? It is proudly on display in the main campus building.

So yes, Mr. Adams, Thomas Jefferson survives.

Donkeys, lard, and a telescope: eclipse exploration in 1878 and 1900

National Museum of American History

Photograph of one part of a telescope. It is gold in color. There is a circular part pointing right at the camera, perhaps where you might press your face to the telescope to look at the stars.

Something borrowed, something blue—that is what Samuel P. Langley, director of the Allegheny Observatory in Pennsylvania, was counting on in July 1878 as he waited on Pikes Peak, Colorado, for the wedding of light and shadow displayed by a total eclipse of the sun. At his eye was a telescope borrowed from the U.S. Naval Observatory. Over his head, a sky he reported to be a "deep and transparent blue."

 Photograph in color showing a telescope.

The stint of fair weather was a welcome contrast to the preceding seven days of rain and hail, during which Langley had to transport all his equipment, including this five-inch equatorial refractor made by Alvan Clark & Sons, up Pikes Peak. The scope wasn't exactly light, a fact with which the donkeys tasked with hauling it up to some 14,000 feet would have surely agreed. In a desperate measure to protect the steel components of the telescope from water damage, Langley poured lard over it. If that weren't enough to turn one's stomach, the altitude was. Langley and others in his party severely suffered from "mountain sickness." He described the condition in his report to the U.S. Naval Observatory as a caution to future researchers who sought to obtain clearer observations in the thinner mountain air.

All this fuss over equipment is ironic considering Langley would spend the bulk of his time observing the total phase of the solar eclipse with his unaided eye. (Learn about eclipse safety.) As soon as the moon completely blocked the bright disk of the sun, he sketched his impression of the shape and extent of the suddenly visible solar atmosphere, or corona. Because the corona is so much dimmer than the sun, an eclipse provides one of the easiest ways to observe it. Langley was surprised that the corona appeared dimmer and far more extended than he had seen before. In a coordinated effort organized by the U.S. Naval Observatory, many other observers at multiple locations also created sketches of the corona and submitted them for study and publication.

Drawing in black ink or pencil on white paper. A big circle with two small circles inside it. One is the sun. The sun has flaring lines coming out of it in one direction, at about 7 o'clock, angle-wise.

Black and white sketches made to represent corona in the eclipse.
Sketches of the corona during the 1878 eclipse by various observers. Courtesy of Astronomical and Meteorological Observations, XXII, U.S. Naval Observatory.

The real surprise came after Langley finished his sketch and looked through the telescope. He had only five seconds to observe an "extraordinary sharpness of filamentary structure" of the corona before the sun started to reappear. This structure would haunt him. Photographs taken during this and later eclipse expeditions failed to reproduce what he saw. Was it a figment of his imagination? One has but to look at the variety of drawings from the 1878 eclipse to see how questions of subjectivity could come to play.

White drawing on black background. Sun with lines coming out of it.

When Langley had a chance to witness another eclipse in May 1900, he decided to capture images of the corona with "photography upon a greater scale than any hitherto attempted." By then, he was the Secretary of the Smithsonian and head of its Astrophysical Observatory. He had considerably more resources at his disposal, including $4,000 from the government to study the eclipse. Langley formed the party from staff at the Smithsonian, Catholic University, the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, Williams College, and the U.S. Patent Office. And this time there would be no need to worry about steep mountain hiking, sickness, and freezing rain. The eclipse path crossed the small town of Wadesboro, North Carolina, about 400 miles from Washington, D.C., and accessible by train.

Since Wadesboro was an ideal place to observe the eclipse, other expeditions chose it, which meant a serious influx of astronomers. As "some slight return" for the hospitality extended to the team, the Smithsonian observers invited townspeople to look through a five-inch visual telescope to view the stars on clear nights. That scope was the same one that Langley had borrowed from the U.S. Naval Observatory for the 1878 eclipse. He borrowed it again.

Sepia-toned photograph of an outdoor scene. There is a wooden platform on the grass. On it, a man sits at a desk-like table and peers into a large telescope that is pointed at the sky. He wears a hat. In the background, a tent-like structure is visible.

This time, Langley wanted to record the detail he had glimpsed before. So the team made a really big camera. I mean big. The glass plate negatives it exposed were 30 by 30 inches. The camera lens was 12 inches in diameter and required 135 feet to focus. This "great lens" was borrowed from E. C. Pickering, director of Harvard College Observatory. (If you want to see the original, check out Harvard's Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments.)

Photo during an eclipse. Black and white. Shows a part of a celestial body with a glow around it, including what appear to be two white flares.

Borrowed telescope, borrowed lens—and this from the head of the Astrophysical Observatory of the Smithsonian? What a mooch! Well, hold on a second. Let's not be hasty to judge. It makes sense that Langley would want to use the same telescope in Wadesboro that he had used on Pikes Peak. That is good science. Minimize the variables so you can confidently ascribe any observed change. Borrowing large lenses and other telescopes also makes sense because his Astrophysical Observatory was more concerned with studying the various wavelengths of light from the sun than with making pictures of it. Langley was especially interested in parts of the solar spectrum that were not visible to the naked eye. He developed an instrument to measure infrared radiation, the bolometer. And the Wadesboro expedition was an early attempt to use such an instrument to study the solar corona. While Langley enjoyed the view through his borrowed telescope, two other researchers sat in a small hut and took readings from the bolometer.

Black and white photo. A man wearing a hat sits in a small room manipulating a device of some sort.

Perhaps the excitement of this unfolding field of study was enough to cheer Langley up after he finished watching the 1900 eclipse. "To the writer's view with the 5-inch telescope the inner corona was filled with detail, but far less sharp and definite than he saw it on Pikes Peak in 1878," Langley later wrote. "Having in mind the wonderful structure seen with the same instrument in the clear mountain air twenty-two years before, the impression was a disappointing one." Humidity could have been to blame, or even changes in the sun itself. Whatever the cause of his disappointment, it is hard to believe that anyone could look upon this telescope, learn about the eclipse expeditions it was used for, and be disappointed.

Photograph in color. Part of a telescope. One large gear-like wheel with teeth seems to adjoin three smaller gear-like wheels with teeth. There is a center bar and horseshoe-shaped brace or body.

Kristen Frederick-Frost is curator of modern science in the Division of Medicine and Science. Planning to view the total solar eclipse this summer? The Smithsonian Eclipse app is your interactive guide to the big event. 

Posted Date: 
Wednesday, August 16, 2017 - 08:00
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Geometric Models by A. Harry Wheeler and His Student Paul Tracy, Pentagonal Dodecahedra

National Museum of American History
These cut, folded, and glued tan paper models are part of A. Harry Wheeler’s examination of extensions of the pentagonal dodecahedron. Included are:

1. Model of a regular dodecahedron. No makers marks.

2. Model with five-pointed stars on the top and the bottom, and five interpenetrating isosceles triangles for sides. A mark reads: Pentagonal (/) Dodecahedron (/) Nov 7.1935. Another mark reads: E2/E1.

3. Model with triangular facets, each having three inward pointing isosceles triangles, on the top and bottom. On the sides are eight additional triangles and six irregular pentagons. A mark reads: Pentagonal Dodecahedron (/) Aug 3, 1936 (/) Aug 5, 1936. Another mark reads Ω 26/21.

4. Model composed of the union of three irregular octahedra that are perpendicular to one another. Eight small triangles and four irregular pentagons show on each octagon – pairs of triangles are coplanar. A mark reads: Pentagonal (/) Dodecahedron (/) Aug.12, 1936 (/) Jan 15, 1936. Another mark reads: Model (/) 23. Various sides are labeled with letters of the alphabet.

5. Model with triangular facets, each having three inward pointing isosceles triangles, on the top and bottom. The faces of these triangles each serve as the base of an irregular pentagon facing toward the center of the polygon. Each pentagon also adjoins two other pentagons and two triangles that are toward the center. These central triangles are parts of faces of a parallelepiped. A mark on the model reads: Pentagonal (/) Dodecahedron (/) Nov-13-1933.

6. Model with triangular facets, each having three inward pointing isosceles triangles, on the top and bottom. Around each of these triangular facets are three additional triangular facets. Three larger isosceles triangles surround both of these groups of facets. Six additional triangles of the same size pass around the middle. A mark on the model reads: Pentagonal (/) Dodecahedron (/) Nov 12, 1935+ [sic].

7. Model with two ends that resemble sides of a great dodecahedron. Around the middle are ten isosceles triangles, arranged in pairs. A mark reads: Pentagonal Dodecahedron (/) Nov-7-1935. Another mark reads: Fe12 /) FeH.

8. Model with two ends that resemble sides of a great dodecahedron. Around the middle are ten irregular pentagons. A mark on the model reads: Pentagonal (/) Dodecahedron (/) Oct 24-35.

9. Model with triangular facets, each having three inward pointing isosceles triangles, on the top and bottom. The edge of each facet connects to an irregular octahedron that faces toward the center of the model. Six small triangles, three facing up and three facing down, complete the model. A mark reads: Pentagonal (/) Dodecahedron (/) Jan 5-6 (/) 1935.

10. Model with triangular facets, each having three inward pointing isosceles triangles, on the top and bottom. Six triangles attach to the outer edges of the facets, arranged as in an antiprism. Three sides of an irregular tetrahedron emerge at a base angle of each of the antiprism triangles, producing six points. A mark reads: Pentagonal (/) Dodecahedron (/) Dec-17 1935 (/) Feb-6, 1936.

11. Model with triangular facets, each having three inward pointing isosceles triangles, on the top and bottom. The model has numerous other additional triangles and irregular pentagons for sides, many coplanar in interesting ways. A mark reads: Pentagonal (/) Dodecahedron (/) Jan 28 – 1936 (/) Aug 6m 1936.

12. Model with rough triangular pyramids on the top and the bottom, with a small coplanar triangle jutting from the edge of each base triangle of both pyramids. Six pairs of triangles around the middle (each coplanar with another) complete the model. A mark reads; Pentagonal Dodecahedron (/) Oct-27-1935.

13. Model with the underlying structure of a rhombic parallelepiped. A pentagonal prism juts from each face of the parallelepiped. The prisms are arranged with three around one vertex of the parallelepiped and three around the other edge. Numerous sides are coplanar. A mark on the model reads: Pentagonal (/) Dodecahedron (/) Nov. 27, 1935.

14. A model with two intersecting nine-sided structures, each with three two-sided indentations at the outside and three irregular octagons around the sides. Each triangle on the outside is coplanar with another triangle there. A mark reads: Pentagonal (/0 Dodecahedron (/) Dec 18, 1935.

15. A two-pointed model that has three irregular quadrilaterals around each point, two rings of six small triangles adjacent to the bases of the quadrilaterals, and six pairs of larger isosceles triangles around the middle. Numerous sides are coplanar. A mark reads: Pentagonal (/) Dodecahedron (/) Nov. 12 – 1935.

16. A two-pointed model that has three irregular quadrilaterals around each point, A disjoint irregular pentagon and a small triangle are coplanar with (but separated from) each quadrilateral. Six other small triangles, in pairs, are scattered around the center. A mark reads: Aug.27.1936. Another mark reads: Sep40 / Sep 41.

17 The underling structure of this model is a parallelepiped with two vertices that serve as points. An irregular tetrahedron emerges from six of the vertices. One side of each tetrahedron is coplanar with a side of an adjacent parallelepiped. A mark reads: Pentagonal (/) Dodecahedron (/) Dec 25-26, 1935.

18. The underlying structure of this model is a parallelepiped with two vertices that serve as points. Around the center are six pentagonal pyramids. Each has two edges along edges of the parallelogram of the parallelepiped below it, coplanar with an adjacent parallelogram. Other faces of the pyramids also are coplanar in pairs. A mark reads: Pentagonal (/) Dodecahedron (/) Nov 8 – 1935.

19. The underlying structure of this model is a parallelepiped with two vertices that serve as points. Around the center are three irregular heptagons, each with four small triangles and two irregular pentagons as sides. Each pentagon is coplanar with a small triangle in an adjacent heptagon. The other small triangles are coplanar with sides of the parallelepiped. A mark reads: Pentagonal (/) Dodecahedron (/) Nov 27, 1935 (/) Sept 21, 1936. Another mark reads: Ω10 / Ω9. Compare 19 and 20. They are not identical.

20. The underlying structure of this model is a parallelepiped with two vertices that serve as points. Around the center are three irregular heptagons, each with four small triangles and two irregular pentagons as sides. Each pentagon is coplanar with a small triangle in an adjacent heptagon. The other small triangles are coplanar with sides of the parallelepiped. A mark reads: Pentagonal (/) Dodecahedron (/) Nov 27, 1935. Another mark reads: Ω9/ Ω10. Compare 19 and 20. They are not identical.

21. The underlying structure of this model is a parallelepiped with two vertices that serve as points. Each side of the parallelepiped has two tetrahedra on it that meet along one edge. This creates a seven-sided structure (plus one side that is on a face of the parallelogram). Numerous sides are coplanar. A mark reads: Pentagonal (/) Dodecahedron (/) Dec 25-26, 1935. Another mark reads: Model Ω5.

22. A two-pointed model that has three isosceles triangles around each point. In the middle are three intersecting irregular octahedra like model 4. Above. A mark on the model reads: Paul Tracy (/) Nov. 16, 1936. Another mark reads X11/X12.

23. A model that consists of six irregular tetrahedral held together by two wire triangles. Each tetrahedron ha two smaller triangles and two larger triangles and meets an adjacent triangle at a vertex. Every side of each tetrahedron is coplanar with a side of another tetrahedron. A mark reads: Pentagonal (/) Dodecahedron (/) Jan 12-18 (/) 1936.

24. A model consisting of six pentagonal pyramids glued together in a ring. Each side of each pyramid is coplanar with two sides of other pyramids. A mark on the model reads: Pentagonal Dodecahedron (/) Dec 5 (/) 1935. Another mark reads: Se17.

25. A model with a ring of six regular pentagons on the inside, Three congruent irregular heptagons on the top, and three more of these heptagons on the bottom. A mark reads: Pentagonal (/) Dodecahedron (/) Dec 8 1935. Another mark reads: Se18.

26. A model with a ring of six pentahedra. Each has two isosceles triangles and an irregular quadrilateral around a point and two smaller isosceles triangles below. The pentahedra are glued together so that alternating points face up and down. A mark reads: Pentagonal (/) Dodecahedron (/) Nov-15-1935. Another mark reads: Se13.

27. A model in two identical parts, held together with wires to leave an opening at the center. Each part has twelve sides – three pairs of isosceles triangles on the top and bottom, three larger isosceles triangles around the outside, and three isosceles triangles on the inside. It appears that the top triangle and the bottom triangles have a common vertex at the center, so that numerous sides are coplanar. A mark reads: Pentagonal (/) Dodecahedron (/) Jan 2-18, 1936. Another mark reads: Model (/) S.

28. The top and bottom of this hollow model have triangular facets, surrounded by three isosceles triangles, with six smaller triangles on the inside, arranged in pairs. The outside isosceles triangles join to alternate pentagonal pyramids arranged in a ring (the ring of pyramids is like 24). Numerous sides are coplanar. A mark on the model reads: Pentagonal (/) Dodecahedron (/) Dec 9, 1935. Another mark reads: Σ 9.

29. The top and bottom of this hollow model have triangular facets, surrounded by three isosceles triangles, with six smaller triangles on the inside, arranged in pairs. The outside isosceles triangles join alternate pentahedra which have three triangles of one size and two of a smaller size. The pentahedra also are joined, with points facing alternate directions. A mark reads: Pentagonal (/) Dodecahedron (/) Dec 15, 1935. Another mark reads: 27. Another mark reads: Ω 17/16. Numerous sides are coplanar.

30. The top and bottom of this hollow model have triangular facets, surrounded by three isosceles triangles, with six smaller triangles on the inside, arranged in pairs. Around the center are three hexahedra, each having two irregular pentagons, two isosceles triangles, and two irregular quadrilaterals as sides. Several sides are coplanar. A mark on the model reads: Se 14/15. Another mark reads: Paul Tracy (/) Dec 15-27-1935 9/0 Nov 2,1936. For the underlying ring, see .31.

31. This hollow model consists of three irregular hexahedra, each having two irregular pentagons, two isosceles triangles, and two irregular quadrilaterals as sides. The hexahedra are joined along part of edges of triangles. A mark on the model reads: Pentagonal (/) Dodecahedron (/) Dec. 15, 1935. Another mark reads: NO.63. Another mark reads: Ω15/14.

32.This hollow model is a ring of six irregular pentahedra. Each has two relatively large isosceles triangles, two smaller isosceles triangles, and an irregular quadrilateral as sides. The quadrilaterals or on the inside, with points in alternating directions. A mark on the model reads: Pentagonal (/) Dodecahedron (/) Dec. 28, 1935. Another mark reads: Model (/) 30. The “3” is very faint.

Down the Mississippi

National Air and Space Museum
Down the Mississippi, October 21, 1964. Watercolor scene depicts the back of the barge, named "Promise," carrying the 1st stage and engines of the Saturn V. The Mississippi River is shown in angled areas on the left and the right. A person on the center of the deck is working on a small boat with a red interior. Blue brush strokes radiate from the center in the sky. Text in the lower left reads: "SI-9 Down the Mississippi, Oct 21, 1964." Text in the lower right corner reads: "10am."

The spring of 1962 was a busy time for the men and women of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. On February 20, John H. Glenn became the first American to orbit the earth. For the first time since the launch of Sputnik 1 on October 4, 1957, the U.S. was positioned to match and exceed Soviet achievements in space. NASA was an agency with a mission -- to meet President John F. Kennedy's challenge of sending human beings to the moon and returning them safely to earth by the end of the decade. Within a year, three more Mercury astronauts would fly into orbit. Plans were falling into place for a follow-on series of two-man Gemini missions that would set the stage for the Apollo voyages to the moon.

In early March 1962, artist Bruce Stevenson brought his large portrait of Alan Shepard, the first American to fly in space, to NASA headquarters.(1) James E. Webb, the administrator of NASA, assumed that the artist was interested in painting a similar portrait of all seven of the Mercury astronauts. Instead, Webb voiced his preference for a group portrait that would emphasize "…the team effort and the togetherness that has characterized the first group of astronauts to be trained by this nation." More important, the episode convinced the administrator that "…we should consider in a deliberate way just what NASA should do in the field of fine arts to commemorate the …historic events" of the American space program.(2)

In addition to portraits, Webb wanted to encourage artists to capture the excitement and deeper meaning of space flight. He imagined "a nighttime scene showing the great amount of activity involved in the preparation of and countdown for launching," as well as paintings that portrayed activities in space. "The important thing," he concluded, "is to develop a policy on how we intend to treat this matter now and in the next several years and then to get down to the specifics of how we intend to implement this policy…." The first step, he suggested, was to consult with experts in the field, including the director of the National Gallery of Art, and the members of the Fine Arts Commission, the arbiters of architectural and artistic taste who passed judgment on the appearance of official buildings and monuments in the nation's capital.

Webb's memo of March 16, 1962 was the birth certificate of the NASA art program. Shelby Thompson, the director of the agency's Office of Educational Programs and Services, assigned James Dean, a young artist working as a special assistant in his office, to the project. On June 19, 1962 Thompson met with the Fine Arts Commission, requesting advice as to how "…NASA should develop a basis for use of paintings and sculptures to depict significant historical events and other activities in our program."(3)

David E. Finley, the chairman and former director of the National Gallery of Art, applauded the idea, and suggested that the agency should study the experience of the U.S. Air Force, which had amassed some 800 paintings since establishing an art program in 1954. He also introduced Thompson to Hereward Lester Cooke, curator of paintings at the National Gallery of Art.

An imposing bear of a man standing over six feet tall, Lester Cooke was a graduate of Yale and Oxford, with a Princeton PhD. The son of a physics professor and a veteran of the U.S. Army Air Forces, he was both fascinated by science and felt a personal connection to flight. On a professional level, Cooke had directed American participation in international art competitions and produced articles and illustrations for the National Geographic Magazine. He jumped at the chance to advise NASA on its art program.

While initially cautious with regard to the time the project might require of one of his chief curators, John Walker, director of the National Gallery, quickly became one of the most vocal supporters of the NASA art initiative. Certain that "the present space exploration effort by the United States will probably rank among the more important events in the history of mankind," Walker believed that "every possible method of documentation …be used." Artists should be expected "…not only to record the physical appearance of the strange new world which space technology is creating, but to edit, select and probe for the inner meaning and emotional impact of events which may change the destiny of our race." He urged quick action so that "the full flavor of the achievement …not be lost," and hoped that "the past held captive" in any paintings resulting from the effort "will prove to future generations that America produced not only scientists and engineers capable of shaping the destiny of our age, but also artists worthy to keep them company."(4)

Gordon Cooper, the last Mercury astronaut to fly, was scheduled to ride an Atlas rocket into orbit on May 15, 1963. That event would provide the ideal occasion for a test run of the plan Cooke and Dean evolved to launch the art program. In mid-February, Cooke provided Thompson with a list of the artists who should be invited to travel to Cape Canaveral to record their impressions of the event. Andrew Wyeth, whom the curator identified as "the top artist in the U.S. today," headed the list. When the time came, however, Andrew Wyeth did not go to the Cape for the Cooper launch, but his son Jamie would participate in the program during the Gemini and Apollo years.

The list of invited artists also included Peter Hurd, Andrew Wyeth's brother-in-law, who had served as a wartime artist with the Army Air Force; George Weymouth, whom Wyeth regarded as "the best of his pupils"; and John McCoy, another Wyeth associate. Cooke regarded the next man on the list, Robert McCall, who had been running the Air Force art program, as "America's top aero-space illustrator. Paul Calle and Robert Shore had both painted for the Air Force program. Mitchell Jamieson, who had run a unit of the Navy art program during WW II, rounded out the program. Alfred Blaustein was the only artist to turn down the invitation.

The procedures that would remain in place for more than a decade were given a trial run in the spring of 1963. The artists received an $800 commission, which had to cover any expenses incurred while visiting a NASA facility where they could paint whatever interested them. In return, they would present their finished pieces, and all of their sketches, to the space agency. The experiment was a success, and what might have been a one-time effort to dispatch artists to witness and record the Gordon Cooper flight provided the basis for an on-going, if small-scale, program. By the end of 1970, Jim Dean and Lester Cooke had dispatched 38 artists to Mercury, Gemini and Apollo launches and to other NASA facilities.

The art program became everything that Jim Webb had hoped it would be. NASA artists produced stunning works of art that documented the agency's step-by-step progress on the way to the moon. The early fruits of the program were presented in a lavishly illustrated book, Eyewitness to Space (New York: Abrams, 1971). Works from the collection illustrated NASA publications and were the basis for educational film strips aimed at school children. In 1965 and again in 1969 the National Gallery of Art mounted two major exhibitions of work from the NASA collection. The USIA sent a selection of NASA paintings overseas, while the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service created two exhibitions of NASA art that toured the nation.

"Since we …began," Dean noted in a reflection on the tenth anniversary of the program, the art initiative had resulted in a long string of positive "press interviews and reports, congressional inquiries, columns in the Congressional Record, [and] White House reports." The NASA effort, he continued, had directly inspired other government art programs. "The Department of the Interior (at least two programs), the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of the Army and even the Veterans Administration have, or are starting, art programs." While he could not take all of the credit, Dean insisted that "our success has encouraged other agencies to get involved and they have succeeded, too."(5)

For all of that, he noted, it was still necessary to "defend" the role of art in the space agency. Dean, with the assistance of Lester Cooke, had been a one-man show, handling the complex logistics of the program, receiving and cataloguing works of art, hanging them himself in museums or on office walls, and struggling to find adequate storage space. In January 1976, a NASA supervisor went so far as to comment that: "Mr. Dean is far too valuable in other areas to spend his time on the relatively menial …jobs he is often burdened with in connection with the art program."(6) Dean placed a much higher value on the art collection, and immediately recommended that NASA officials either devote additional resources to the program, or get out of the art business and turn the existing collection over the National Air and Space Museum, "where it can be properly cared for."(7)

In January 1974 a new building for the National Air and Space Museum (NASM) was taking shape right across the street from NASA headquarters. Discussions regarding areas of cooperation were already underway between NASA officials and museum director Michael Collins, who had flown to the moon as a member of the Apollo 11 crew. Before the end of the year, the space agency had transferred its art collection to the NASM. Mike Collins succeeded in luring Jim Dean to the museum, as well.

The museum already maintained a small art collection, including portraits of aerospace heroes, an assortment of 18th and 19th century prints illustrating the early history of the balloon, an eclectic assortment of works portraying aspects of the history of aviation and a few recent prizes, including several Norman Rockwell paintings of NASA activity. With the acquisition of the NASA art, the museum was in possession of one of the world's great collections of art exploring aerospace themes. Jim Dean would continue to build the NASM collection as the museum's first curator of art. Following his retirement in 1980, other curators would follow in his footsteps, continuing to strengthen the role of art at the NASM. Over three decades after its arrival, however, the NASA art accession of 2,091 works still constitutes almost half of the NASM art collection.

(1) Stevenson's portrait is now in the collection of the National Air and Space Museum (1981-627)

(2) James E. Webb to Hiden Cox, March 16, 1962, memorandum in the NASA art historical collection, Aeronautics Division, National air and Space Museum. Webb's preference for a group portrait of the astronauts was apparently not heeded. In the end, Stevenson painted an individual portrait of John Glenn, which is also in the NASM collection (1963-398).

(3) Shelby Thompson, memorandum for the record, July 6, 1962, NASA art historical collection, NASA, Aeronautics Division.

(4) John Walker draft of a talk, March 5, 1965, copy in NASA Art historical collection, NASM Aeronautics Division.

(5) James Dean, memorandum for the record, August 6, 1973, NASA art history collection, NASM Aeronautics Division.

(6) Director of Planning and Media Development to Assistant Administrator for Public Affairs, January 24, 1974, NASA art history collection, NASM Aeronautics Division.

(7) James Dean to the Assistant Administrator for Public Affairs, January 24, 1974, copy in NASA Art history Collection, Aeronautics Division, NASM.

Tom D. Crouch

Senior Curator, Aeronautics

National Air and Space Museum

Smithsonian Institution

July 26, 2007

Using Art to Talk About the Holocaust in ‘The Evidence Room’

Smithsonian Magazine

In 1996 David Irving, a British writer known in certain circles for his expertise on Nazi Germany, sued Deborah Lipstadt, a historian and professor at Emory University, for libel because she called him “one of the most dangerous spokespersons for Holocaust denial.” Irving—who has asserted unequivocally and wrongly that ''there were never any gas chambers at Auschwitz”—strategically filed the lawsuit in the U.K. By law, the burden of proof for libel cases in that country lies with the defendant, meaning he knew that Lipstadt would have to prove he had knowingly promoted a conspiracy theory.

Lipstadt didn’t back down. A lengthy court battle ensued, and four years later, the British High Court of Justice ruled in her favor.

What the trial (later dramatized in the film Denial starring Rachel Weisz) ultimately came down to was a trove of irrefutable documentary evidence, including letters, orders, blueprints and building contractor documents that proved without a doubt the methodological planning, building and operating of the death camp at Auschwitz.

This past summer, The Evidence Room, an installation of 65 plaster casts that manifests a physical, sculptural representation of that trial, came to the United States for the first time, and went on view in the nation’s capital. Those familiar with Washington, D.C., might assume the exhibition was installed at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Instead, it went on view just a short walk down the street at the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, where crowds jostled to see it on its short June to September showing.

“It really opens it up in a whole different way,” says Betsy Johnson, an assistant curator at the Hirshhorn. “You had people coming to see it here in the context of an art museum, who are very different than your populations at a history museum, or at a Holocaust museum.”

The Evidence Room was originally created as a piece of forensic architecture for the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale. Working through 1,000 pages of testimony, Robert Jan van Pelt, an architectural historian and the main expert witness for Lipstadt’s case, and a team from the University of Waterloo School of Architecture led by Donald McKay and Anne Bordeleau with architecture and design curator Sascha Hastings teased out the concept of The Evidence Room from the pieces of court evidence themselves.

“Sometimes,” says gallery guide Nancy Hirshbein, “visitors would say things like: ‘Oh, this is difficult to read,’ and then look at me and go: ‘Oh, because it's difficult material.’” (William Andrews, courtesy of The Evidence Room Foundation)

Everything in the work is unrelentingly white. Three life-size “monuments” are featured. They include a gas chamber door showing that its hinges had been moved because it was determined that if the door opened outward, more bodies could be put in the room. (The door was originally designed to swung inward, but it couldn’t open if too many of the dead were pressed against it.) There’s an early model gas hatch, which is how the SS guards introduced the cyanide-based Zyklon-B poison into the gas chamber. A gas column, which made the killings as efficient as possible, is also depicted. Plaster casts of archival drawings, photographs, blueprints and documents on Nazi letterheads populate the room as well. They are given a three-dimensional aspect thanks to a laser engraving technique and testify to how workers during World War II—carpenters, cement manufacturers, electricians, architects and the like—assisted in creating the most efficient Nazi killing machine possible.

Strong reception to The Evidence Room helped the architects to raise funds to return the work to Waterloo. From there, it was shown at Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, which is where Johnson first experienced it when she was sent there about a year ago by the Hirshhorn’s director and chief curator.

“I went there, and realized almost immediately that even though it hadn't been displayed in an art context before” says Johnson, “that it had potential for fitting into an art context.” Johnson recognized in the work connections with the direction that contemporary art has gone in the past four or five decades, a trend that places more importance on the idea behind the art object itself. "Really when it came down to it, even though it’s not a traditional art project, it fits so well within the trends that have been happening in the realm of contemporary art from the 1960s on,” she says.

But bringing it to the Hirshhorn meant considering the piece differently than how it had been framed before. “We realized fairly early on that there were certain ways that [Royal Ontario Museum] had framed the story that were different than the ways we did,” she says. “Things like the materiality of the work, which while they did discuss this at the Royal Ontario Museum became even more the focus in our museum,” she says. “The plaster was one that was actually quite symbolic for [the creators],” she says. “They were thinking it through on multiple different levels.”

Because this wasn’t a history museum, they also decided to go more minimalist with the text. “We still wanted people to be able to access the information about it,” says Johnson. “But we also wanted them to have this experience of confronting an object that that they don't quite understand at first.”

The Evidence Room "allows history to be recovered,” says Alan Ginsberg. What you're left to do as the viewer, then, “is to understand and try to grapple with what is absent from there.” (William Andrews, courtesy of The Evidence Room Foundation)

Asking the audience to do the work to engage with what they were seeing on their own, she felt, was key. “That work is really important work,” Johnson says. “Especially within the space of this exhibition. We felt like there's something kind of sacred about [it]. We didn't want people to be mediating the space through their phones or through a map that they hold in their hand.” Instead, they relied more on the gallery guides like Nancy Hirshbein to supplement the experience.

Hirshbein says the most frequent question from visitors was: “Why is it all white?”

“That was the number one question,” she says. “Visitors would stop. As soon as they walked in, you can tell that they were struck by the space. And I would approach them and ask if they had any questions. And then I would often prompt and say: ‘If you're wondering about anything, if you're wondering about why the room may be all white, please let me know.’”

That opened up the conversation to discuss the materiality of the white plaster, and what it may have meant to the architects who designed the room.

“I would also like to find out from the visitors their interpretation,” says Hirshbein. “We sometimes did some free association, about how it felt to them to be in this very minimal white space.”

By design, the all-white nature of the panels made them difficult to read. So, visitors often needed to spend time squinting or navigating their own body in order to better read the text or see the image. “Sometimes,” says Hirshbein, “visitors intuited that. They would say things like: ‘Oh, this is difficult to read,’ and then look at me and go: ‘Oh, because it's difficult material.’”

That’s just one thing that could be pulled from that. “We're also looking through a backward lens of history,” as Hirshbein says, “and the further we get away from these things, the more difficult they are to see. That's the nature of history.”

Alan Ginsberg, who serves as the director of the Evidence Room Foundation, the custodian of the work, mentions during our conversation that for him, he notices in different light, coming from different angles, that the shadows the plaster casts stand out. “It allows history to be recovered,” he says. “It allows memory to be recovered.” What you're left to do, as the viewer then, “is to understand and try to grapple with what is absent from there.”

Ginsberg says the Evidence Room Foundation, which partnered with the Hirshhorn on the exhibition, was fully on board with how the Hirshhorn framed the work. “The Hirshhorn was the obvious and perfect and premier place for this debut not only in the United States, but in the world of art,” he says. Like many people, he sees the room embodying many identities, including being a work of contemporary art.

Holocaust art has always been a controversial topic, something that Ginsberg is very aware of when he talks about the room as art. “Can you represent the Holocaust through art without being obscene?” he asks. “This is a question that has been debated endlessly. And I think the answer clearly comes down to—it depends on the specific work. There are works of art that are understood to be commemorative, or educational, or evocative, in a way that is respectful. And that's what The Evidence Room is.”

Still, he says, there's something in the work and the way it’s crafted that does give him pause. “Is it wrong to have something that refers back to atrocities and yet the representation has a certain eerie beauty to it? These are good questions to ask,” he says. “And they're not meant to be resolved. Ultimately, they're meant to create that artistic tension that provokes conversation and awareness.”

The Evidence Room Foundation, which only launched just this year, is looking to use the work as a teaching tool and a conversation starter. Currently, Ginsberg says, they’re speaking with art museums, history museums, university campuses and other kinds of institutions, and fielding inquiries and requests about where to exhibit The Evidence Room in the future. For now, he’ll only say, “Our hope is that we will get a new venue announced and put in place before the year ends.”

The Hunt for the Notorious U-Boat UB-29

Smithsonian Magazine

You get an idea before you even walk in his door that Tomas Termote’s life is bound up with the sea, or at any rate what lies beneath it. Outside his house in Ostend, on the Belgian coast, stands the biggest anchor you’ve ever seen—over 16 feet high, weighing five tons. It was hand-forged for an old British man-of-war, and a trawler hauled it up from the seabed of the English Channel, a stone’s throw from here.

Out in the backyard, there’s a creepy-looking mine from the First World War, about a foot in diameter and prickly all over with detonators. It too came from nearby waters. The Germans occupied the entire Belgian coast during World War I. Their U-boats were based farther inland in Bruges, just outside the range of British naval guns, and passed through canals that fed into the channel at Ostend and the nearby town of Zeebrugge. The dunes outside Termote’s house are still lined with concrete bunkers built by the Germans to defend its U-boat bases from British attack. It was mines like the one in Termote’s backyard that sent more of Germany’s WWI U-boats to the bottom of the channel than anything else.

Termote started diving the icy English Channel at age 14 with his father, Dirk, a retired hotelier. Along the way, he picked up a degree in marine archaeology—a subject that barely existed when he started studying it—and has been studying wrecks around the world ever since. But the vast U-boat cemetery that starts just outside his front door is what he most loves to explore. To date, he has found the remains of 28 U-boats down there, 11 in Belgian waters. His book about U-boats, War Beneath the Waves, was published last year. One newspaper headline called him “the Flemish Indiana Jones.”

“The boats are out!” boasted a 1917 propaganda poster. Attacks on Allied shipping sank 2,550 vessels. (Fine Art Images / Heritage Images / Getty Images )

Termote is a compact, broad-chested man, soft-spoken and amiable. For most of the year, he makes his living diving commercially around the Belgian ports. Summer is for combing the local waters for wrecks, which are getting tougher to find all the time. The seafloor has been well mapped and picked over by now. Yet only last summer Termote stumbled across his most important discovery yet.

In the spring of 2017, Termote was checking Belgian hydrographic department documents online to see if any previously charted wrecks had shifted on the seabed. He took a passing look at one of these flagged wrecks lying some 80 feet deep about 12 miles straight off Ostend. “She’s been on the chart since 1947,” says Termote. “In the 1980s, she was identified as an upturned landing craft, like the ones in Saving Private Ryan. So it didn’t sound very interesting.” Modern multi-beam echo-sounders—the sonar devices now used for hydrographic surveys—are far more sensitive than earlier technologies. “Today you can almost see the links in an anchor chain. This was obviously not a landing craft. It wasn’t shaped like a biscuit tin, but like a cigar, with two pointy ends and a tower in the middle. The surveys also give you the length, and this was 26 or 27 meters. I was like, Bloody hell! This has to be a submarine!”

The original faulty identification had almost certainly thrown other wreck hunters off the scent. It helped, too, that the sub lay in the middle of a shipping lane, further discouraging the curious. “Every 15 or 20 minutes, you get 200-meter tankers passing over it—it would be like diving on a freeway.”

Since 2013, the governor of West Flanders, which includes Belgium’s short seacoast, has been Carl Decaluwé. In addition to his other duties, Decaluwé is Belgium’s Receiver of Wrecks, which means he has authority over anything found in Belgian territorial waters. He’s another of Termote’s old friends, not to mention a maritime history buff. So when Termote went down for the first time last June, maritime police were standing by and coastal radar had been alerted; a 1,000-foot exclusion zone kept commercial shipping from the dive site. “In the first half-minute, I knew it was a German UB II-class submarine,” remembers Termote. “After 30 U-boats, you just feel it. I can’t describe the elation I felt when I came up.”

(Guilbert Gates)

Termote made six dives that summer. The submarine was indeed a UB Class II U-boat. Both periscopes had been bent forward. Swimming around the bow, Termote saw that the top starboard torpedo tube had been twisted and ripped in what must have been a massive explosion—UB II-class subs had two tubes on each side, one on top of the other.

Miraculously, given that it had been so violently sunk, the sub had escaped more extensive damage and was largely intact. “Finding a U-boat in such a condition is unique,” says Termote. “Most are heavily damaged—blown in two, or heavily salvaged. You won’t find another like this.” Still, the identification number painted on the conning tower was missing, corroded over time. At a press conference last September, when Belgian authorities announced the discovery, the sub’s identity remained a mystery.

In the absence of tower markings, the surest way to identify a U-boat is by its bronze propeller, often stamped by date and, if you’re lucky, serial number. Termote went down again and examined the U-boat’s stern. The port-side propeller had been sheared off. Termote suspects it was lost when Belgian authorities had “wire-dragged” the sea down to 25 meters to make sure nothing sticking up any higher could endanger local shipping. The starboard propeller was still there, but was made of iron and unmarked—the first time Termote had found a U-boat with an iron propeller. “By the end of 1916, U-boat crews knew they were on a suicide mission because the British had gotten so good at detecting and destroying U-boats,” says Termote. “Why bother putting a nice propeller on her?”

Termote made a final dive before winter last November. To put a name to his U-boat, he hoped to match a number on the periscope with records from the optics supplier, Berlin’s C.P. Goerz. He did find the number—417—but the Goerz archives, he learned, no longer exist. “On the dive, I started cleaning the torpedo tubes; you can find markings there,” says Termote. “Clean, clean, clean—and this ten-centimeter plaque comes free. It says, UB-29. I can’t describe that feeling.”

**********

UB-29 was based in the medieval town of Bruges as part of the Flanders Flotilla, Germany’s English Channel fleet. The sub first took to sea in March 1916. At the helm was Herbert Pustkuchen, who was to become one of Germany’s most deadly U-boat aces. Pustkuchen ranks 31st among 37 commanders who each sank over 100,000 tons of Allied shipping during World War I. For this he won two Iron Crosses and the Royal House Order of Hohenzollern.

Pustkuchen is best known not for the ships he sank, but for one he didn’t. On March 24, 1916, Pustkuchen sighted a cross-channel ferry, the SS Sussex, en route from Folkestone in England to Dieppe in France with 325 passengers aboard. With no prior warning, UB-29 fired a torpedo from 1,400 yards, tearing off the ferry’s bow. Lifeboats were lowered, but several capsized. At least 50 passengers lost their lives. The Sussex managed to stay afloat and was towed, stern-first, to France. There were Americans on board the Sussex, and several were among the wounded. Pustkuchen had kicked a hornet’s nest.

Less than a year before, a German U-boat sank the liner Lusitania in the Irish Sea, and 128 Americans died. President Woodrow Wilson put Germany on notice that “unrestricted submarine warfare”—the shoot-first tactic that U-boat skippers took up after early losses—would bring the United States into the war. Now UB-29 had done it again, and Wilson threatened to break diplomatic relations. Cowed, Germany signed the “Sussex Pledge.” Henceforth, her U-boat captains would surface and search merchant ships for munitions. If armaments were found, the sub crew could sink the ship, after allowing its merchant crew to board lifeboats. Passenger shipping would be spared. These were known in maritime law as “cruiser rules,” reducing the effectiveness of U-boats, now denied their surprise torpedo attacks.

UB-29’s last patrol came less than a year after it entered service, under a new captain, Erich Platsch. (Herbert Pustkuchen went down with his crew in June 1917, when his UC-66 was bombed by a Curtis flying boat near England’s Scilly Isles; the wreck was found in 2009.) It was Platsch’s second time out. On December 13, 1916, UB-29 was spotted by the British destroyer HMS Landrail near the Strait of Dover. The Landrail managed to ram the sub before it could fully submerge. The destroyer dropped several depth charges over the side (the depth-charge launcher had yet to be invented). UB-29 was never seen again. Around midnight, Landrail’s searchlights picked out oil and debris on the surface of the water.

The weather was bad and the night was black. Landrail headed for home. In the absence of conclusive evidence, Landrail was never credited with an official kill, but the crew was awarded prize money anyway. English authorities marked the unseen grave of UB-29 southwest of the Goodwin Sands, six miles off the coastal town of Deal in Kent.

By early 1917, the German high command had concluded that it would be hard-pressed to win the war of attrition on the Western Front. The Allies could shovel men and arms into the mouth of war faster than Germany. Some two weeks after UB-29 went down, German Adm. Henning von Holtzendorff, in so many words, called for an end to the pledge it had provoked, and urged Germany to let U-boats fire at will. Holtzendorff predicted that Allied shipping losses would climb to 600,000 tons a month for the first four months, almost double their rate under cruiser rules. Losses would continue at 400,000 tons a month. England, crippled by falling food stocks, industrial strikes and economic chaos, would sue for peace in five months. At a conference in the German town of Pless on January 9, 1917, the German High Command decided that unrestricted submarine warfare would commence February 1.

**********

Here’s what Termote thinks happened to UB-29. When the Landrail rammed the sub, the impact bent the two periscopes simultaneously, which is why he found them at the same angle. The depth charges wounded it and ruptured its oil tanks. But, he argues, UB-29 crawled away, slowly limping the 60 or so miles back home on compass. Platsch and his 21 crewmen must have felt a wild elation. “They were probably celebrating their escape—‘We’re going to be home in an hour! We made it! Let’s party, drink champagne!’ And then Boom!” Termote suggests that UB-29 hooked a mine with one of the twisted periscopes, dragging it down directly onto its hull.

UB-29’s last moments must have been slow and horrible. “You can see the damage is limited to the bow, so you could imagine that the people from the command center up to the engine room might still have been alive afterwards. It’s not like the U-boats you find blown in half where everybody dies immediately,” says Termote. As the water rose inside the hull, the crewmen may have cut short their inevitable agony by shooting themselves with their long-barreled service Lugers. Or they may have stuffed cotton in their mouths and noses and drowned themselves. Both were known to happen. “Terrible,” says Termote. However they met their end, they lie within UB-29’s steel walls, buried in the sand that has filtered through its cracks for a hundred years.

The History of Foosball

Smithsonian Magazine

In the best tradition of skulduggery, claim and counterclaim, foosball (or table football) ,that simple game of bouncing little wooden soccer players back and forth on springy metal bars across something that looks like a mini pool table, has the roots of its conception mired in confusion.

Some say that in a sort of spontaneous combustion of ideas, the game erupted in various parts of Europe simultaneously sometime during the 1880s or ’90s as a parlor game. Others say that it was the brainchild of Lucien Rosengart, a dabbler in the inventive and engineering arts who had various patents, including ones for railway parts, bicycle parts, the seat belt and a rocket that allowed artillery shells to be exploded while airborne. Rosengart claimed to have come up with the game toward the end of the 1930s to keep his grandchildren entertained during the winter. Eventually his children’s pastime appeared in cafés throughout France, where the miniature players wore red, white and blue to remind everyone that this was the result of the inventiveness of the superior French mind.

There again, though, Alexandre de Finesterre has many followers, who claim that he came up with the idea , being bored in a hospital in the Basque region of Spain with injuries sustained from a bombing raid during the Spanish Civil War. He talked a local carpenter, Francisco Javier Altuna, into building the first table, inspired by the concept of table tennis.  Alexandre patented his design for fútbolin in 1937, the story goes, but the paperwork was lost during a storm when he had to do a runner to France after the fascist coup d'état of General Franco. (Finesterre would also become a notable footnote in history as one of the first airplane hijackers ever.)

While it’s debatable whether Señor Finisterre actually did invent table football, the indisputable fact is the first-ever patent for a game using little men on poles was granted in Britain, to Harold Searles Thornton, an indefatigable Tottenham Hotspur supporter, on November 1, 1923. His uncle, Louis P. Thornton, a resident of Portland, Oregon, visited Harold and brought the idea back to the United States and patented it in 1927. But Louis had little success with table football; the patent expired and the game descended into obscurity, no one ever realising the dizzying heights it would scale decades later.

The world would have been a much quieter place if the game had stayed as just a children’s plaything, but it spread like a prairie fire. The first league was established in 1950 by the Belgians, and in 1976, the European Table Soccer Union was formed. Although how they called it a ‘union’ when the tables were different sizes, the figures had different shapes, none of the handles were the same design and even the balls were made of different compositions is a valid question. Not a unified item amongst them.

The game still doesn’t even have a single set of rules – or one name. You’ve got lagirt in Turkey, jover au baby-foot in France, csocso in Hungary, cadureguel-schulchan in Israel, plain old table football in the UK, and a world encyclopedia of ridiculous names elsewhere around the globe. The American “foosball” (where a player is called a “fooser”) borrowed its name from the German version, “fußball”, from whence it arrived in the United States. (And, really, you can’t not love a game where they have a table with two teams made up only of Barbie dolls, or that is played in tournaments with such wonderful names as the 10th Annual $12,000 Bart O’Hearn Celebration Foosball Tournament, held in Austin, Texas, in 2009.)

Foosball re-arrived on American shores thanks to Lawrence Patterson, who was stationed in West Germany with the U.S. military in the early 1960s. Seeing that table football was very popular in Europe, Patterson seized the opportunity and contracted a manufacturer in Bavaria to construct a machine to his specification to export to the US. The first table landed on American soil in 1962, and Patterson immediately trademarked the name “Foosball” in America and Canada, giving the name “Foosball Match” to his table.

Patterson originally marketed his machines through the “coin” industry, where they would be used mainly as arcade games. Foosball became outrageously popular, and by the late ’80s, Patterson was selling franchises, which allowed partners to buy the machines and pay a monthly fee to be guaranteed a specific geographical area where only they could place them in bars and other locations. Patterson sold his Foosball Match table through full-page ads in such prestigious national publications as Life, Esquire and the Wall Street Journal, where they would appear alongside other booming franchise-based businesses such as Kentucky Fried Chicken. But it wasn’t until 1970 that the U.S. had its own home-grown table, when two Bobs, Hayes and Furr, got together to design and build the first all-American-made foosball table.

From the perspective of the second decade of the third millennium, with ever more sophisticated video games, digital technology and plasma televisions, it’s difficult to imagine the impact that foosball had on the American psyche. During the 1970s, the game became a national phenomenon.

Sports Illustrated and “60 Minutes” covered tournaments where avid and addicted players, both amateur and professional, traveled the length and breadth of America following big bucks prizes, with the occasional Porsche or Corvette thrown in as an added incentive. One of the biggest was the Quarter-Million Dollar Professional Foosball Tour, created by bar owner and foosball enthusiast E. Lee Peppard of Missoula, Montana. Peppard promoted his own brand of table, the Tournament Soccer Table, and hosted events in 32 cities nationwide with prizes of up to $20,000. The International Tournament Soccer Championships (ITSC), with a final held on Labor Day weekend in Denver, reached the peak of prize money in 1978, with $1 million as the glimmering star for America’s top professionals to reach out for.

The crash of American foosball was even more rapid than its rise. Pac-man, that snappy little cartoon character, along with other early arcade games, were instrumental in the demise of the foosball phenomenon. The estimated 1000 tables a month that were selling around the end of the ’70s crashed to 100, and in 1981, the ITSC filed for bankruptcy. But the game didn’t die altogether; in 2003, the U.S. became part of the International Table Soccer Federation, which hosts the Multi-Table World Championships each January in Nantes, France.

But it’s still nice to know that even in a globalized world of evenrmore uniformity, table football, foosball, csosco, lagirt or whatever you want to call it still has no absolutely fixed idea of what really does constitute the core of the game. The American/Texas Style is called “Hard Court” and is known for its speed and power style of play. It combines a hard man with a hard rolling ball and a hard, flat surface. The European/French Style, “Clay Court” is exactly opposite of the American style. It features heavy (non-balanced) men, and a very light and soft cork ball. Add to that a soft linoleum surface and you have a feel best described as sticky. In the middle is European/German Style,  “Grass Court,” characterized by its “enhanced ball control achieved by softening of components that make up the important man/ball/surface interaction.” And even the World Championships use five different styles of table, with another 11 distinct styles being used in various other international competitions.

Until recently this dilettante approach to the tables and rulebooks also applied to the competitions. Up until a few years ago, Punta Umbrí in Huelva, Spain, hosted the World Table Football Cup Championship in August each year. Well, sort of.  It was played on a Spanish-style table and, according to Kathy Brainard, co-author with Johnny Loft of The Complete Book of Foosball and past president of the United States Table Soccer Federation, “If the tournament is run on a Spanish-made table and has the best players from wherever that table can be found, then it could honestly be called the World Championship of Foosball, on that specific table.” A bit of diplomatic looking down the nose there.

Brainard went on to say that the real championship, called the World Championship of Table Soccer, was played in Dallas on a U.S.-made table and offered $130,000 in prize money. Although, admittedly, that was before 2003, at which time the American associations had to accept the ignominy of being part of a truly international World Championship, and not simply be able to hold their own table football version of the baseball World Series

In the general roly-poly of life, table football is mainly something that people play for fun in a smoky bar—at least they did before cigarettes were banned.

While British “foosers” might not be able to look forward to winning such large prizes as American players, they still take the game seriously. Oxford University is one of the top table football venues in England, with many highly thought of players on the national scene. Thirty college teams and one pub team play regularly on Garlando brand tables against other top pub and university sides.

Dave Trease is captain of Catz I (St. Catherine’s College, Oxford) who says his position as captain hangs on the fact that he has the only “brush shot” in the university.

“A brush shot is where you have the ball stationary and then you have to flick it very hard at an angle. To be honest, I think it’s more luck than anything, but it looks good when it works.” And he admits that his skills on the Garlando don’t travel.

“I’m rubbish on anything else! I’ve found something I’m good at, where I can have a laugh and not take it all too seriously. And you don’t get any table football hooligans either, although you’ve got to keep an eye on people greasing the ball or jamming the table.”

Ruth Eastwood, captain of Catz II, beat all her female opponents (all five of them anyway) to win the women’s event, ranking her fourth nationally. But having won the tournament, does she see big contracts being offered?

“I don’t think it’s likely, particularly when you take into account that my prize money was only £15 and the prizes for the whole competition were only £300. I don’t think we’re in the same league as the World Championships, but at least I can say I was women’s champion, even if there were only five other women!”

It's probably stretching the imagination just that bit too far to think that table football will every become an Olympic sport, but they probably thought the same about beach volleyball at one time. Sadly, the small figures that populate the field during playing time won't be able to collect the medals themselves. That will have to be left to the flick-wristed humans who control their every move.

When the Idea of Home Was Key to American Identity

Smithsonian Magazine

Like viewers using an old-fashioned stereoscope, historians look at the past from two slightly different angles—then and now. The past is its own country, different from today. But we can only see that past world from our own present. And, as in a stereoscope, the two views merge.

I have been living in America’s second Gilded Age—our current era that began in the 1980s and took off in the 1990s—while writing about the first, which began in the 1870s and continued into the early 20th century. The two periods sometimes seem like doppelgängers: worsening inequality, deep cultural divisions, heavy immigration, fractious politics, attempts to restrict suffrage and civil liberties, rapid technological change, and the reaping of private profit from public governance.

In each, people debate what it means to be an American. In the first Gilded Age, the debate centered on a concept so encompassing that its very ubiquity can cause us to miss what is hiding in plain sight. That concept was the home, the core social concept of the age. If we grasp what 19th-century Americans meant by home, then we can understand what they meant by manhood, womanhood, and citizenship.

I am not sure if we have, for better or worse, a similar center to our debates today. Our meanings of central terms will not, and should not, replicate those of the 19th century. But if our meanings do not center on an equivalent of the home, then they will be unanchored in a common social reality. Instead of coherent arguments, we will have a cacophony.

A Currier & Ives print called “Home Sweet Home” (Image courtesy of Library of Congress)

When reduced to the “Home Sweet Home” of Currier and Ives lithographs, the idea of “home” can seem sentimental. Handle it, and you discover its edges. Those who grasped “home” as a weapon caused blood, quite literally, to flow. And if you take the ubiquity of “home” seriously, much of what we presume about 19th-century America moves from the center to the margins. Some core “truths” of what American has traditionally meant become less certain.

It’s a cliché, for example, that 19th-century Americans were individualists who believed in inalienable rights. Individualism is not a fiction, but Horatio Alger and Andrew Carnegie no more encapsulated the dominant social view of the first Gilded Age than Ayn Rand does our second one. In fact, the basic unit of the republic was not the individual but the home, not so much isolated rights-bearing-citizen as collectives—families, churches, communities, and volunteer organizations. These collectives forged American identities in the late-19th century, and all of them orbited the home. The United States was a collection of homes.

Evidence of the power of the home lurks in places rarely visited anymore. Mugbooks, the illustrated county histories sold door to door by subscription agents, constituted one of the most popular literary genres of the late-19th century. The books became monuments to the home. If you subscribed for a volume, you would be included in it. Subscribers summarized the trajectories of their lives, illustrated on the page. The stories of these American lives told of progress from small beginnings—symbolized by a log cabin—to a prosperous home.

A picture from a late 19th century “mugbook”: Ira and Susan Warren of Calhoun County, Michigan represented millions of Americans who saw the meaning of their lives in establishing, sustaining, and protecting homes. (Image courtesy of History of Calhoun County, Michigan by H. B. Pierce, L.H. Everts & Co, 1877)

The concept of the home complicated American ideas of citizenship. Legally and constitutionally, Reconstruction proclaimed a homogenous American citizenry, with every white and black man endowed with identical rights guaranteed by the federal government.

In practice, the Gilded Age mediated those rights through the home. The 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments established black freedom, citizenship, civil rights, and suffrage, but they did not automatically produce homes for black citizens. And as Thomas Nast recognized in one of his most famous cartoons, the home was the culmination and proof of freedom.

“Emancipation,” an illustration by Thomas Nast from around 1865 (Image courtesy of Library of Congress)

Thus the bloodiest battles of Reconstruction were waged over the home. The Klan attacked the black home. Through murder, arson, and rape, Southern terrorists aimed to impart a lesson: Black men could not protect their homes. They were not men and not worthy of the full rights of citizenship.

In attacking freedpeople, terrorists sought to make them cultural equivalents of Chinese immigrants and Indians—those who, purportedly, failed to establish homes, could not sustain homes, or attacked white homes. Their lack of true homes underlined their supposed unsuitability for full rights of citizenship. Sinophobes repeated this caricature endlessly.

An 1878 lithograph panel called “While they can live on 40 cents a day, and they can’t.” (Image courtesy of Library of Congress)

In the iconography of the period, both so-called “friends” of the Indian and Indian haters portrayed Indians as lacking true homes and preventing whites from establishing homes. Buffalo Bill’s Wild West had Indians attacking cabins and wagon trains full of families seeking to establish homes. They were male and violent, but they were not men. Americans decided who were true men and women by who had a home. Metaphorically, Indians became savages and animals.

A poster for Buffalo Bill’s Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders of the World in the late 1890s. (Image courtesy od Library of Congress)

Even among whites, a category itself constantly changing during this and other eras, the home determined which people were respectable or fully American. You could get away with a lot in the Gilded Age, but you could neither desert the home nor threaten it. Horatio Alger was a pedophile, but this is not what ultimately cost him his popularity. His great fault, as women reformers emphasized, was that his heroes lived outside the home.

Position people outside the home and rights as well as respectability slip away. Tramps were the epitome of the era’s dangerous classes. Vagrancy—homelessness—became a crime. Single working women were called “women adrift” because they had broken free of the home and, like Theodore Dreiser’s Sister Carrie, threatened families. (Carrie broke up homes but she, rather than the men who thought they could exploit her, survived.) European immigrants, too, found their political rights under attack when they supposedly could not sustain true homes. Tenements were, in the words of Jacob Riis, “the death of the home.”

As the great democratic advances of Reconstruction came under attack, many of the attempts to restrict suffrage centered on the home. Small “l” liberal reformers—people who embraced market freedom, small government, and individualism but grew wary of political freedom—sought to reinstitute property requirements. Failing that, they policed voting, demanding addresses for voter registration, a seemingly simple requirement, but one that required permanent residences and punished the transience that accompanied poverty. Home became the filter that justified the exclusion of Chinese immigrants, Indian peoples, eventually African-Americans, transients, and large numbers of the working poor.

The home always remained a two-edged sword. American belief in the republic as a collection of homes could and did become an instrument for exclusion, but it could also be a vehicle for inclusion. Gilded-Age social reformers embraced the home. The Homestead Act sought to expand the creation of homes by both citizens and non-citizens. When labor reformers demanded a living wage, they defined it in terms of the money needed to support a home and family. Freedpeople’s demands for 40 acres and a mule were demands for a home. Frances Willard and the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union made “home protection” the basis of their push for political power and the vote for women. Cities and states pushed restrictions on the rights of private landholders to seek wealth at the expense of homes. In these cases, the home could be a weapon for enfranchisement and redistribution. But whether it was used to include or exclude, the idea of home remained at the center of Gilded-Age politics. To lose the cultural battle for the home was to lose, in some cases, virtually everything.

The idea of home has not vanished. Today a housing crisis places homes beyond the reach of many, and the homeless have been exiled to a place beyond the polity. But still, the cultural power of the home has waned.

A new equivalent of home—complete with its transformative powers for good and ill—might be hiding in plain sight, or it could be coming into being. When I ask students, teachers, and public audiences about a modern equivalent to the Gilded-Age home, some suggest family, a concept increasingly deployed in different ways by different people. But I have found no consensus.

If we cannot locate a central collective concept which, for better or worse, organizes our sense of being American, then this second Gilded Age has become a unique period in American history. We will have finally evolved into the atomized individuals that 19th-century liberals and modern libertarians always imagined us to be.

The alternative is not a single set of values, a kind of catechism for Americans, but rather a site where we define ourselves around our relationships to each other rather than by our autonomy. We would quarrel less over what we want for ourselves individually than over what we want collectively. Articulating a central concept that is the equivalent of the 19th-century idea of home would not end our discussions and controversies, but it would center them on something larger than ourselves.

I wish I could announce the modern equivalent of home, but I am not perceptive enough to recognize it yet. I do know that, once identified, the concept will become the ground that anyone seeking to define what it is to be an American must seize.

Richard White, the Margaret Byrne Professor of American History at Stanford University, is the author of The Republic for Which It Stands: The United States during Reconstruction and the Gilded Age, 1865-1896 He wrote this essay for What It Means to Be American, a project of the Smithsonian and Zócalo Public Square.

What It's Like to Live in This Smart, Energy-Efficient Home of the Future

Smithsonian Magazine

At first glance, it looks like an ordinary home with a neat yard. Inside there is a wooden dining table and chairs, a taupe sectional sofa, a 65-inch built-in flat screen TV in one living room wall and a white kitchen with silver appliances. But the house, on the University of California campus in Davis, is a cradle of technology that foretells the future of home design.

The Honda Smart Home, completed last spring, is an experiment in efficiency. With 1,944 square feet of comfortable living space, the structure uses 75 percent less energy and three times less water than a typical home. It runs on solar energy and a battery system for storing solar electricity that is then used at night, and doesn't need a conventional air conditioner and heater, a remarkable feat when temperatures easily climb to the 90s in summer days and dip to the 30s in winter nights. The home’s automated and energy-efficient LED lighting system helps to regulate humans' sleep-and-wake cycle by adjusting the brightness and warmth of the lights to mimic the shift in natural lighting throughout the day.

The house is equipped with an energy management system Honda created to monitor and manage its energy production and consumption. Though it's connected to the electrical grid, the abode produces more energy than it uses throughout the year, making it a "zero net" home. California requires all new homes to be zero net energy starting in 2020. Honda posts the home's architectural and technical designs online, says Michael Koenig, who leads the smart home project.

"This house is smarter than me," says Stu Bennett with a chuckle. He fiddles with an iPad app that allows him to control the lighting, the entertainment system, the charging of an electric car in the garage and the opening and closing of the window shades. He can also check the solar energy production, the charged level of the battery pack and room temperatures on the tablet. "You can even pipe music into your garage. This is the ultimate remote control," he says.

It took Stu Bennett, Susan O'Hara and their twin daughters a couple of months to adjust to the home's technologies. (Ucilia Wang)

Bennett, his wife Susan O'Hara and their twin 9-year-old daughters moved into the home in October. O'Hara is the executive director of UC Davis' School of Education while Bennett is an actuary for California's public employee health and retirement plan system, CalPERS, in Sacramento. Bennett's need to commute 17 miles each way to work was one of the reasons that Honda picked the family to be the first occupants. The carmaker wants to collect data about charging and driving electric cars and provides Bennett with a blue, all-electric Fit.

The couple was renting a much larger home nearby when they applied to live in the smart home, intrigued by the chance to experience its technology. "We knew this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," Bennett says.

While Honda is best known for making cars, it has a broader interest in developing technologies for dealing with climate change. The smart home allows Honda and UC Davis researchers to test gadgets, software and design, of their own or from other companies, and monitor how well they work together. Some of the technologies are already available to consumers, such as solar panels installed by SolarCity and the energy-efficient Bosch dishwasher and Kitchen Aid refrigerator. Other technologies are employed in novel ways. LED lights are programmed to mimic the change in color and warmth of natural light—white and bright in the morning and yellow and warm near dusk—that research has shown affects human health. Then there are quite a few experimental technologies, such as the house's heating and cooling system and Honda's own energy management system that monitors and controls electricity production and use throughout the home. The university's California Lighting Technology Center, Western Cooling Efficiency Center and other departments contributed to the home's design.

Image by Honda. With 1,944 square feet of comfortable living space, the structure uses 75 percent less energy and three times less water than a typical home. (original image)

Image by Honda. Engineers at UC Davis designed a heating and cooling system with water that runs through pipes under the home's floor and in the second-floor ceiling to regulate the indoor temperature. (original image)

Image by Honda. LED lights are programmed to mimic the chance in color and warmth of natural light. They are white and bright in the morning. (original image)

Image by Honda. At night, the lighting is yellow and warm. (original image)

Image by Honda. Honda plans to collect energy and other data from the home's occupants for three years. (original image)

Honda didn't just want to build a model home. It wanted to know: can this house really provide a comfortable and healthy living space? It chose UC Davis to host this living lab because the company worked with the university on car-sharing research back in the 1990s. It's also no accident that the home is located in West Village, a community on campus that's designed to achieve "net zero energy," or that it could generate enough energy to meet its needs over a year period. While the home is designed to accommodate suburban living in a place where the summer temperatures reach the 90s, its many designs, materials and equipment can be applied to urban housing. To promote energy efficient home construction, Honda has put many of the home's technical specs online.

For its first set of occupants, Honda advertised its desire to host a family from the university community that has no pets, can move in quickly and is interested in sustainable living. The family also had to be open to doing interviews and receiving visitors from the media and public. The visitors have ranged from Governor Brown to two students who were intrigued by the house and rang the doorbell at 11 o’clock one night.

The company also looked for a commuter in the family who would need to drive about 30 miles per day, because it wanted a driver for the electric Fit and charging equipment it would provide. O'Hara and Bennett moved in less than two months after they applied. 

Koenig's interest in sustainable home design is personal. He wanted to build an energy-efficient home for himself in Ohio, where he was working for Honda's research and development center before he was transferred to Los Angeles three years ago. Good information about sustainable materials and home construction was hard to come by, he found.

"I was getting reasonably close to figuring it out," Koenig recalls. "In the U.S., it's difficult to search for and understand how sustainable many products are. It was hard to find sustainable wood—we spent a lot of time investigating it. But individuals can't afford to spend that much time."

What impressed Bennett and O'Hara when they first stepped into their future home on a hot day was the cool air that greeted them. Honda designed the home to forgo the need for a conventional air conditioner and heater. The south-facing windows have sloping eaves to block the sun during the hottest time of the day, but they allow the low-angled light of the winter sun to come in to warm the home. The walls are thicker than typical homes to provide more insulation while the roofing material reflects rather than absorbs light. The polished concrete floor provides more insulation. The concrete itself is infused with a naturally occurring material called pozzolan to reduce the amount of cement needed. Cement production accounts for about 5 percent of manmade carbon emissions.

Engineers at UC Davis designed a ground-source heat pump system in the yard, with 24-inch-wide, 20-feet-deep bore holes that use the relatively stable temperatures of the earth to cool or warm the air that flows through the house. The system heats up or cools down the water that runs through pipes under the home's floor and in the second-floor ceiling to regulate the indoor temperature. While ground-source heat pumps aren't a new concept, the one at the smart home uses a novel design to reduce cost. The bore holes are much shallower and wider than typical heat exchange wells, which tend to be several dozen feet deep and six inches in diameter. Digging these shallow wells can reduce cost by as much a 90 percent, says Jonathan Woolley, a research engineer at the Western Cooling Efficiency Center at UC Davis.

"When we came to visit, I was shocked that it was 74 degrees inside when it was 104 outside," O'Hara says. "You don't need the noisy air conditioning. In the winter, you come home to a floor that is warm to the touch. It's very nice."

Honda also designed the home to be three times more water efficient than a typical house. It features dual-flush toilets, an efficient washing machine and dishwasher, and low-flow faucets that shut off automatically. The heat-exchange system also makes it possible to get hot water quickly, without wasting the cold water that often flows out of the faucet first. The home collects and filters gray water—used water from sinks, showers and the dishwasher—to irrigate the drought-resistant plants in the backyard.

The water efficiency features might get more attention these days as Californians are required to reduce their home water use by 25 percent compared to 2013. Governor Brown on April 1 ordered that mandatory water consumption cut, because the state is in its fourth year of drought and local water agencies haven't been able to meet the voluntary reduction goal that he set in January last year.

The energy efficiency designs have provided teaching moments for their daughters, Aisling and Sabha, who have taken to pointing out wasteful water and electricity use when they visit their grandmother, O'Hara notes.

Honda might add more technology over time, but currently it's focusing on collecting data from the first family that is living there. The family had a short learning curve to become familiar with the technologies. They like the programmable lighting and blinds that open and close early in the morning and at night, O'Hara says. She notes that some of the lights come on at 6 a.m. to help bring the family out of sleep, and that feature makes a big difference for one of her daughters who used to have trouble getting out of bed to get ready for school.

"There was a short adjustment period. After a month or two, it was seamless with our life," O'Hara says.

Honda plans to collect energy and other data from the home's occupants for three years. Although the Bennett family was supposed to live there for only a year, they wanted to stay for another year. Honda has agreed to that.

"It's difficult for me to live without all these technologies now. There's a sense that the house is living and breathing with you," O'Hara says. "It's become an integral part of our lives."

Taking on Fannie Farmer: How a baking-impaired intern negotiated a 100-year-old bread recipe in a modern kitchen

National Museum of American History

I do not bake. My cookies burn, my pie crust is either too dry or too sticky, and my pies turn out watery. So how did I find myself lead baker testing a 100-year-old bread recipe? The bread recipe, Entire Wheat Bread, came from the 1911 edition of the 1896 Fannie Farmer's Boston Cooking-School Cookbook, one of the best-selling cookbooks of all time because it was "reliable, comprehensive, and easy-to-follow," everything I needed more than a century later. My predicament sprang from my involvement in a new Smithsonian Food History program, Harvest for the Table, a free daytime hands-on activity exploring the technological innovations in wheat and flour production over 100 years ago. It was my job to test the bread recipe in preparation for possible future programs in our demonstration kitchen.

On a steel kitchen surface, bowls and measuring devices hold different wet and dry ingredients, most white or light in color. There is a wooden spoon laying on the right side by the bowls.

First came the flour. I used the coarse, brown, stone-ground flour milled by museum visitors during our Harvest for the Table program. (See our calendar for dates and times.) Until the 1880s, this type of "entire" or whole wheat flour was standard. The introduction of the steel roller mill, still the dominant mill type today, changed the flour industry by stripping the bran and germ from the wheat kernel, producing a whiter flour (desired by customers) with a greater shelf life and enhanced baking performance. Over 100 years ago, Farmer experienced firsthand these technological innovations and witnessed the rise in white flour. She felt its impacts on home baking, observing how "entire" wheat flour was only available in health food stores and, much to her disapproval, how manufacturers marketed identical flour under a variety of new brand names.

An illustration of a windmill. It may be slightly faded but there is a whimsical feel to it. In the background, there is a sky from a fragonard painting.

Flour. Check.

Next on the ingredient list, one yeast cake. What in the world was a "yeast cake?" Research led me to specialty food sellers still carry these small, moist cakes enclosed in tin foil. Sold by Fleischmann's and others, this is a product with which cooks in the 1890s would be very familiar—but I sure wasn't. I used a modern conversion chart to figure out how much of my dry yeast to add.

According to Farmer, yeast is a necessary addition to the bread dough because it acts as a ferment and "attacks some of the starch in flour, and changes it to sugar, and sugar in turn to alcohol and carbon dioxide, thus lightening the whole mass." Yeast also gives bread its distinctive flavors and irresistible smell while also interacting with the protein in flour, gluten, to give the bread its structure. When the dough is kneaded, the act stretches the gluten and allows it to fill with gas bubbles from the yeast while the dough rises. However, Farmer warns, "If risen too long, [the bread] will be full of large holes; if not risen long enough, it will be heavy and soggy." She continues, "If proper care is taken, the bread will be found most satisfactory, having neither 'yeasty' nor sour taste." That was my goal: to make a "most satisfactory" loaf.

A dark metal oblong object. There is a lip that runs around it but the shape looks like a capsule or glasses case. There is a small latch on one side.

A dark metal rectangular pan. The metal looks old and it is shaped to accommodate a bread loaf.

Experienced bakers will notice that I haven't mentioned the salt or milk Farmer would have used or the modern equivalents. These ingredients certainly have interesting stories to tell, but I need to get this loaf in the oven before my internship is over!

When it came time to put my dough in the oven, I found myself playing the bread whisperer. Farmer's oven was still fueled by fire. Her cookbook even describes how to control airflow and fuel in the cookstove in order to control its temperature. Most recipes classified temperature in three ways: hot, moderate, and cool. Bakers tested their oven's temperature by placing their hand in the oven and seeing how long they could bear the heat or by placing flour on the oven floor and waiting for it to brown or catch fire. According to Farmer in her 1896 cookbook, "Experience is the best guide for testing temperature of [the] oven." Her readers in 1911 had coal- and wood-burning ranges without temperature controls, but I never learned that intuition using today's calibrated ovens. Choosing to avoid oven fires or burning my hand, I did as Farmer suggested and drew from past baking experience. I set my oven to 400 degrees.

A black and white photo of a woman into a white dress kneeling beside an oven. It has a white kettle and pot resting on the stove. There are baking accoutrements laid out on a table in the background. The woman looks at the camera knowingly as she clasps a loaf of bread in a tin pan with a cloth. The woman's face is the focal point of the photo. Her expression could sell a hundred stoves.

With trepidation I placed my doughy loaf into the oven. Even with modern equipment, it had taken me several hours to make a single loaf of bread, having kneaded and let the bread rise twice before baking it for approximately 40 minutes. While there is a movement today to make artisanal bread as an alternative to mass-produced loaves, most modern bread comes from a supermarket. It is hard to imagine making bread every day as a necessity, let alone lighting a fire to bake bread!

A silver-colored metal pot with handles on each side. There is a lid with a hand crank attached.

A silver-colored metal pot with handles on each side. There is a lid with a hand crank attached.

Innovations over the past century have distanced most consumers from their bread, trading nutrients and control for convenience and efficiency. My foray into baking will help reveal to visitors just how distanced some of us have become, and, hopefully, give them a new appreciation for the complex processes that go into making a simple loaf of bread. Baking this recipe on the stage of our demonstration kitchen, using the flour made by visitors in our stone hand mill, with the backdrop of a highly advanced kitchen, juxtaposes the old and new baking technology, demonstrating just how much our bread has changed over time. Who knows how technology will change baking in the next hundred years!

And my entire wheat bread? I cut into my loaf, exposing an even, perfectly baked crumb and releasing a sweetly nutty, maple aroma—a crumbly, moist loaf of whole wheat bread that, hopefully, would make Fannie Farmer proud.

A loaf of bread on a wooden surface. It is light wheat colored and the surface is rough

A piece of bread. The picture is taken at an angle so you see across the width of the bread. It is rough in texture.

A picture of a piece of light brown bread taken from directly over it. The bread is rougher in texture.

If you'd like to hear about the latest food and agriculture history happenings at the museum, be sure to sign up for our Food History newsletter.

Rachel Snyder completed a summer 2016 internship in the Office of Audience Engagement working on food and agriculture programs.

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intern Rachel Snyder
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Thursday, June 15, 2017 - 09:00
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A monument to modernity: Conserving Alexander Calder's "Gwenfritz"

National Museum of American History

If you’ve ever visited the museum, you've likely passed by an enormous abstract sculpture called Gwenfritz. After undergoing a massive conservation effort last fall, this remarkable work is back in its original location. 

2 photos of large sculpture

Left: Gwenfritz shortly after its installation in 1969, courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution Archives. Right: The sculpture back in its original location, with construction on the reflecting pool underway, in July 2014.

Just outside the western wall of the museum, 35 tons of metal reach skyward. With its jagged angles and rich, matte paint, this 40-foot tall sculpture creates a commanding presence. Gwenfritz, created by the third-generation American sculptor Alexander Calder in 1968, is returning to its original site-specific location after a recent restoration.

This stabile—a stationary sculptural form, in contrast to Calder’s famous kinetic mobiles commissioned by Washington, D.C., philanthropist Gwendolyn Cafritz for this location at the brand-new Museum of History and Technology (our name until 1980). Although the sculpture has always been a part of the Smithsonian American Art Museum's collections, it is a site-specific sculpture designed to be installed outside the west end of this museum. Fabricated at the Etablissements Biémont foundry in Tours, France, close to where the Pennsylvania-born artist kept a studio, the sculpture was shipped to D.C. in six crates. Smithsonian staff assembled all 71 pieces, secured them with heavy-duty bolts, and applied black paint as recommended by the sculptor before its dedication on June 3, 1969. Sited between the Washington Monument and the museum, the visual impact of the Gwenfritz was made more dramatic, thanks to the reflecting pool that surrounded it.

Photo of sculpture, large

In this archival photo taken before it was sent to D.C., light can be seen streaming through the holes where the bolts will be placed. It was not fully assembled until it reached the National Mall. From the Institutional History Division of the Smithsonian Institution Archives.

By 1984, Calder's sculpture was moved closer to Constitution Avenue to make way for a bandstand between the museum and the National Mall. The stabile remained at this location for 30 years. Last fall, after nearly 45 years of exposure to the elements, this piece of art underwent an extensive conservation treatment. Finally, this month, visitors will once again be able to see Gwenfritz in its original site. (My favorite view is through the windows at the museum's Stars and Stripes cafe.)

Conserving the sculpture in an off-site location required disassembling the massive structure like a three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle, hauling it away in a caravan of trucks, removing three layers of primer and paint, repairing the metal where needed, recoating it with industrial paints, and finally, reassembling it with more than 1,200 new bolts. Because the original paint was lead-based, the conservators had to handle and dispose of it as a hazardous material.

This led the team to understand Calder's work as a feat of engineering. "This conservation project gave us an opportunity to appreciate the engineering behind the sculpture," said Karen Lemmey, Smithsonian American Art Museum's curator of sculpture. "You could see how each part was put together, much in the way that a ship is built. There is a tremendous sense of balance, of design, of precision, of line... and that Calder is able to visualize what this is going to look like from the maquette to the monumental scale."

2 photos of gwenfritz

Left: Calder's scale model shows Gwenfritz on the west side of the museum—which was the case from 1969 to 1983. Right: Gwenfritz visible in an undated photograph. Photos from the Institutional History Division of the Smithsonian Institution Archives (left and right).

The sculpture dramatically changed the face of public art in the nation's capital. Gwenfritz —along with Jose de Rivera's 1967 sculpture Infinity, located just outside the museum's entrance from the National Mall—is one of the first abstract sculptures in D.C. One of its biggest impacts was "heralding a new aesthetic," said Lemmey. In the late 1960s, she explained, "There was a certain degree of predictability in public art, which was not perhaps reflective of the very vibrant arts scene" at that time.

Much like the museum's modern design, which was a certain departure from the standard look of classically-inspired federal buildings, Calder embraced the intersection of science, technology, history, and the arts to create a new aesthetic fitting of that revolutionary time. 

Maintaining the stabile's unique appearance was a major concern for Richard Barden, the museum's preservation services manager. "When you're conserving a piece like this—a monumental, abstract sculpture—what we're really preserving is the aesthetic of it, how it looked," he said. "It's a piece of art, so the aesthetics of it—the visual—is important."

Calder suggested that the work should be covered in a matte black paint, which would absorb light and allow viewers to see the interaction between bolts and planes. Barden, who is a sculptor himself, explained that the sculpture's context is hugely influential in regards to light and shadows. Bringing Gwenfritz out from under the trees allows the tones of black to change based on the time of day and season. This more open location also attracts fewer birds and insects, which created nests and left droppings in its previous spot, accelerating damage to the sculpture's surface.

2014 color photo of Gwenfritz under trees

The sculpture in its Constitution Avenue location, under the trees

Barden found that the conservation was so substantial that the effect surprised even him: "The sculpture looks much different than I thought it would. I had no idea how well it would look, or how well the lines, the bolts, and the planes would all interact with each other. I couldn’t tell you that it would end up looking like several shades of black," he said.

Barden, who oversees all preservation initiatives at the museum, said that the Gwenfritz conservation is the tallest, widest, and heaviest project he has seen in his 22 years here. His staff of four conserves a wide range of artifacts in three labs: Objects, Paper, and Costumes/Textiles. The team has spent a significant amount of time researching how this piece was originally assembled: "In order to conserve an artifact, whatever it is, you have to know how it's made. You have to know what it's made of, how they make the materials, how the manufacture of the materials affects the structure of that object, and then what the environment does to it," he said.

One of more than 1,200 bolts replaced during the conservation process

One of more than 1,200 bolts replaced during the conservation process, which stabilized corroded metal and replaced lead-based paint with a formula developed by the U.S. Army Research Lab and the National Gallery of Art. The restoration of the Gwenfritz is made possible with generous support from The Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation, with additional support from Donna and Marvin Schwartz.

Throughout the conservation process, Barden has made a conscious effort to maintain detailed records for future conservators. Although they do not anticipate another large-scale restoration effort for many more years, keeping track of the steps they've taken will no doubt assure that future maintenance is done correctly. Almost half a century after Calder unveiled this stabile as a modern complement to the Washington Monument, Gwenfritz has returned to its original location looking like new.

Photo of Gwenfritz with construction cranes

The reflecting pool when the sculpture was originally installed in 1969 was four feet deep. Construction crews added 132 cubic yards of concrete over the summer so that the pool's new depth will be 18 inches. In this view from the museum's west wing—set to open in summer 2015— construction takes place on the new National Museum of African American History and Culture behind Gwenfritz.

For more pictures of the Gwenfritz, check out the Flickr album. Gwenfritz will be officially re-dedicated on October 31, 2014. Auni Gelles interned in the New Media office over the summer.

Author(s): 
Intern Auni Gelles

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