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“If I Had a Girl Like You”

National Museum of American History
This sheet music is for the song “If I Had a Girl Like You” that was written and composed by Louis W. McDermott. The sheet music was published by Leo Feist Inc. of New York City, in 1930. The red, pink, grey and black cover features a central photograph of Chester Gaylord with an illustration of a young woman in the lower right corner of the cover. Chester Gaylord was a recording artist for Brunswick, and featured this song on Brunswick record number 4819.

“I snapped and brought” waka

Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery

“Hunger” Amidst Plenty

Smithsonian Gardens
Hunger Ghada Amer, (1963 – ), born in Egypt, based in New York Earthwork in “Earth Matters” Site-specific, 2013 Ghada Amer is one of a selected number of artists invited by the National Museum of African Art to take part in the exhibit Earth Matters: Land as Material and Metaphor by creating an earthwork in […]

“How a Superman Comic Book is Created” Poster

National Museum of American History
Poster titled “How a Superman Comic Book is Created” that has text explaining the steps of creating a comic book, including script, pencils, lettering, inking, coloring, separations, and printing. The poster features Superman No. 8 from August 1987 with artwork by John Berne, Karl Kesel, and Tom Ziuko.

“Hello Central! Give Me No Man's Land”

National Museum of American History
This sheet music is for the song “Hello Central! Give Me No Man's Land.” The song’s lyrics were written by Sam Lewis and Joe Young, and the music was composed by Jean Schwartz. The sheet music was published by Waterson, Berlin, and Snyder Co. in 1918. The song was introduced by Al Jolson in the show “Sinbad.” The cover features a photograph of Jolson over a black and red illustration of a World War One era No Man’s Land between enemy lines, signed by Barbelle. There is a silhouette image of a young child on the telephone, asking the central operator to be connected to No Man’s Land so the child can talk to its father. There is an image of American singer, comedian, and actor Al Jolson (1886-1950) on the cover.

“Hebe Giving Support to the Bald Eagle” Fire Engine Panel Painting

National Museum of American History
In the nineteenth century, volunteer fire companies often commissioned paintings to decorate their hand-pumped fire engines for parades, competitions, and community events. Sometimes framed with elaborate carvings, they adorned the tall air chamber located at the middle or rear of a pumper. The paintings would often feature patriotic, heroic, or allegorical images to associate the volunteer companies with these lofty ideals. This fire engine panel painting likely came from the Aetna Fire Engine Company No. 16 of New York City that was active from 1786 to 1833. The painting is attributed to Thomas Sully and dates to around 1832. This painting takes after Edward Savages’ Liberty in the Form of the Goddess of Youth: Giving Support to the Bald Eagle [1796], a popular image of the period. The image parallels the mythological figure of Hebe, cupbearer to the gods of classical Greece, bringing them ambrosia and the nectar of immortal youth. It depicts a figure of Liberty pouring a bowl of ambrosia for an American bald eagle, granting it the immortality of the gods. Neo-classical themes on panel paintings linked the new nation to the ancient ideals of liberty, democracy and prosperity. They also allowed the volunteer companies to display paintings of an idealized female form, an image that was sure to be eye-catching during parades.

“Health, Hair, and Heritage” Discussion at National Museum of African Art

Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage

The Sanaa Circle, a friends group of the National Museum of African Art, will present a panel in the Smithsonian’s Ripley Center Pavilion, Friday, June 7, from 6:30 to 9 p.m.; it is FREE and open to the public, but RSVPs are required. The panelists will discuss contemporary hair, health, and beauty in reference to the heritage and history of Africa. The discussion will be moderated by Diana N’Diaye, curator of The Will to Adorn Festival program.

Johnnetta Betsch Cole, director of the National Museum of African Art, will begin the evening with opening remarks. A reception will follow with hair models featuring images of contemporary beauty. The panelists will be available for additional conversation during the reception.

Panelists include:

  • Dr. Monte Harris, a Sanaa committee member and internationally recognized plastic surgeon, lectures and leads discussions on the role of hair in an individual’s perceptions of beauty and identity. As the leader of the Center for Aesthetic Modernism and Do Good H.A.I.R. Project, Harris provides comprehensive health guidance for women seeking to achieve personal beauty that aligns with their ancestral heritage.
  • Karen Milbourne is a curator at the National Museum of African Art. Her expertise includes the arts and pageantry of western Zambia and contemporary African art. She has curated the exhibitions Artists in Dialogue: António Ole and Aimé Mpane (2009) and Artists in Dialogue 2: Sandile Zulu and Henrique Oliveira (2011). She also served as coordinating curator for the exhibitions Yinka Shonibare MBE (2010) and Central Nigeria Unmasked (2011).
  • Gina Paige is president and founder of African Ancestry Inc., the nation’s leading genetics-based people ancestry-tracing company, sparking global interest, dialogue and focus on the importance of people knowing who they are.

Click here for more information and to reserve your free ticket .

The National Museum of African Art is America’s only museum dedicated to the collection, conservation, study and exhibition of traditional and contemporary African art.

“First Hototogisu” Waka Poem

Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery

“Down Among the Sheltering Palms”

National Museum of American History
This sheet music is for the song “Down Among the Sheltering Palms,” which was written by James Brockman and composed by Abe Olman. Leo Feist, Inc. of New York, New York published this sheet music in 1915. The yellow and green cover features an image of a steamboat going down a river. The cover is signed with a Rosebud, the symbol of an artist or multiple artists often employed by Feist and Berlin. There is an inset photograph of Al Jolson on the lower right of the cover.

“Do Something”

National Museum of American History
This sheet music is for the song “Do Something” that was written and composed by Edward Laska. The sheet music was published by the Waterson, Berlin, & Snyder Company of New York City in 1917. The cover has a central photograph of Joseph Santley that is framed by illustrations of various wartime symbols. The illustration is signed by the artist, Albert Barbelle. The song was an exhortation for every American to “do something” to aid the military during World War I.

“Chiura Obata: American Modern” at the Smithsonian American Art Museum

Smithsonian American Art Museum
Chiura Obata ranks among the most significant California-based artists and Japanese American cultural leaders of the last century. Born in Okayama, Japan, Obata immigrated to San Francisco as a teenager in 1903. By then, he was integrating Western practices into his art-making, and continued experimenting with new styles and methods throughout his seven-decade career. As a professor at University of California, Berkeley, and a founder of the East West Art Society, a Bay Area artists’ collective, he facilitated cross-cultural dialogue, despite widespread prejudice against Asian Americans. In 1942, when World War II fears and Executive Order 9066 forced Obata and more than one hundred thousand West Coast Japanese Americans into incarceration camps scattered across the western United States, he created art schools in the camps to help fellow prisoners cope with their displacement and loss. After the war, Obata returned to his callings as a painter, teacher, and cultural ambassador with scars that brought new emotional force to his work.

“Chattanoogie Shoe Shine Boy”

National Museum of American History
This sheet music is for the song “Chattanoogie Shoe Shine Boy” that was written and composed by Harry Stone and Jack Stapp. Acuff-Rose Publications of Nashville, Tennessee published this sheet music in 1950. The cover has a woven background, and an inset image of Red Foley who recorded the song for Decca Records.

“Call Me Ishmael” Is the Only Melville Tradition in This Innovative Presentation of “Moby Dick”

Smithsonian Magazine

“Call me Ishmael.” So begins Arena Stage’s current presentation of the play Moby Dick. But after that familiar line, this highly engaging production shrugs off tradition with strobe lights flashing, giant waves crashing and the audience swept up in a relentless sense of movement. The play has become an "experience" of life aboard the Nantucket whaler Pequod with Capt Ahab in pursuit of the white whale Moby-Dick.

Arriving at Arena from Chicago’s Lookingglass Theatre Company and with an upcoming stop at South Coast Repertory in Cosa Mesa, California in January, Moby Dick is the product of a multidisciplinary group that received the 2011 Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theatre.

Founded in 1988, the company is dedicated to creating original, story-centered theater through physical and improvisational techniques. For this production, playwright-director and founding member David Catlin was inspired by the challenge of transforming Herman Melville’s lengthy 1851 novel into a compact 21st-century production that reflects the pace and interaction demanded by today’s audiences.

As a faculty member of Northwestern University, Catlin calls himself a “theater-maker who acts, writes, directs and teaches.” Since Lookingglass was created, he has been part of more than 50 world premieres, and currently serves as the company’s director of artistic development.

Traditional “static theater” is dead-in-the-water to today’s theatergoers who are “used to interacting with multiple screens” and multitasking, says Catlin. So the idea for Moby Dick was to dramatically reimagine Melville’s classic seafaring tale, strip it of convention, and make it pulsate with bold acrobatics.

“We refer to the stage as the deck,” Catlin says, and “the people working back stage are the crew.”

He appreciates that theater has long been a primarily auditory experience. “In Shakespearean England, you wouldn’t go to see a play, you’d go to hear a play,” he says, referring to the rich language and iambic rhythms of Elizabethan theater. 

While he respects that tradition, Catlin wants to experiment with a type of theater that people “can experience in other ways, too.”

Lookingglass continually innovates with a performance style that shapes an immersive audience environment. Their method incorporates music, circus, movement, puppetry and object animation, symbol and metaphor, and visual storytelling to create work that is visceral, kinesthetic, cinematic, aural and psychological.  

The company collaborated with The Actors Gymnasium, in Evanston, Illinois, one of the nation’s premier circus and performing arts training centers. Actors tell their stories acrobatically, propelling themselves across a set designed as a ship’s deck. Filled with interlocking cables and rope riggings, the entire stage, or deck, is framed by arching steel-tubed pipes suggesting the curved ribs of a whale. The set, says Catlin, conveys the long connection between theater and ships—many of the mechanical elements used to move theatrical scenery are common to sailing, such as the block and tackle used to raise and lower curtains, and the use of rope lines.

This production of Moby Dick with its daring use of circus techniques plays to a shared history with the book’s origins.

Anthony Fleming III as Queequeg, Christopher Donahue as Captain Ahab and Emma Cadd as Fate in Moby Dick at Arena Stage. (Liz Lauren/Lookingglass Theatre Company)

Herman Melville published Moby Dick in a decade that’s been called “the golden age of the circus.” The circus was considered America’s most popular form of entertainment in the mid-19th century, and master showman P.T. Barnum even established his American Museum as a proto-circus on Broadway, winning great notoriety by displaying such wildly diverse entertainments as “industrious fleas, automatons, jugglers, ventriloquists….” 

While Melville never met Barnum, he was certainly aware of the circus and wrote about it evocatively in his short story “The Fiddler,” published anonymously in Harper’s in 1854. The story depicts a sad poet being cheered up by a friend who takes him to a circus:  he is swept up by “the broad amphitheater of eagerly interested and all-applauding human faces. Hark! claps, thumps, deafening huzzas; one vast assembly seemed frantic with acclamation. . . .” 

The stage audience experiences circus and movement, says Catlin, “in a visceral and kinesthetic and muscular way.” Some of the performers are circus-trained, adding authenticity to the aerial acrobatics displayed.

“The dangers of sailing and whaling are made that much more immediate,” he says, “when the performers are engaged in the danger inherent in circus.” 

Herman Melville's sixth and most famous novel, Moby-Dick was published in 1851. (Moby Dick, illustration by Rockwell Kent, Random House, 1930, NMAH)

Using movement to propel the art of storytelling is an increasingly popular theatrical approach. Earlier, modern dance pioneers occasionally incorporated a mix of artistic and theatrical ingredients; Martha Graham notably had a brilliant 40-year collaboration with sculptor Isamu Noguchi that resulted in 19 productions. A photograph of Noguchi’s “Spider Dress” for Graham is currently on display in the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s new exhibition, "Isamu Noguchi, Archaic/Modern."

Choreographer Christopher Wheeldon is contemporary ballet’s leading proponent of storytelling through movement, and has applied his flowing narrative approach both to classical ballet and to Broadway, where his production of An American in Paris won a 2015 Tony Award.

Perhaps the singular, most dramatic example of a company that tells stories through movement is the Synetic Theater in Arlington, Virigina, which is renowned for its fluid synthesis of innovative techniques for silent storytelling using only mime and movement.    

Moby Dick has inspired countless adaptations: Orson Welles broadcast a 1946 radio version, Gregory Peck starred in a 1956 film, Cameron Mackintosh produced a 1992 musical that became a West End hit, and there was a 2010 Dallas Opera production that was a box office triumph.

The Lookingglass production of Moby Dick taps into the public’s continuing fascination for the classic novel with a grand and obsessive vengeance, but Lookingglass employs a more intimate approach.

The company creates a small-scale immersive theatrical experience that largely succeeds, although coherent storytelling in Act II sometimes loses out to vivid theatricality. The costume designs are highly imaginative—actors opening-and-closing black umbrellas seem perfectly credible as whales spouting alongside the Pequod, and the humongous skirt of one actor magically flows across the stage/deck in giant wave-like ocean swells.

Ahab’s doom is never in doubt, and we are there for every vengeful step. For David Catlin, the set’s rope riggings convey the play’s essential metaphor: the web they weave provides the “aerial story-telling” that connects Ahab to his fate, and the rest of us “to each other.”

Moby Dick is a co-production with The Alliance Theatre and South Coast Repertory. It will be in residence at Arena Stage through December 24, before heading to the South Coast Repertory in Cosa Mesa, California, January 20 through February 19, 2017. 

“Artists Respond: American Art and the Vietnam War, 1965-1975” at Smithsonian American Art Museum

Smithsonian American Art Museum
"Artists Respond: American Art and the Vietnam War, 1965-1975" examines the contemporary impact of the Vietnam War on American art and brings together nearly 100 works by fifty-eight of the most visionary and provocative artists of the period. Listen to Melissa Ho, curator of 20th century art, talk about "Artists Respond" at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

“A Sailboat in the Moonlight”

National Museum of American History
This sheet music for the song "A Sailboat in the Moonlight" was written and composed by Carmen Lombardo and John Jacob Loeb. The song was published by the Crawford Music Corp. of New York, New York in 1937. The cover features an inset picture of Kate Smith, who featured the song. The cover features an illustration of sailboat in a green sea under a dark blue sky, floating in the reflection of the moonlight.

“A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody”

National Museum of American History
This sheet music is for the song “A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody” from the 1919 revue “Ziegfeld Follies.” Irving Berlin wrote the lyrics and composed the music to the song, and Irving Berlin Inc. of New York City published this sheet music in 1919. The cover features an illustrated image of a member of the chorus for the Ziegfeld Follies revue called a “Ziegfeld Girl.” The artist Henry Clive signed the illustration in the lower left.

“One, Two, Three; Step, Swing” Armenian Dance Across Generations

Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage

I am toddling in the dance line, holding tightly to the hands of my grandmother and grandfather. It’s after a Sunday dinner, and we are dancing to Armenian tunes played on the phonograph in my living room. My grandparents were from the provinces of Kharpert, Cesaria, and Sepastia in the historic Armenian lands of Anatolia, and they brought with them the dance styles of their towns in the “old country.”

To me, Armenian dancing evokes memories of good food and a loving family.

As a cultural educator and a dancer trained in various forms, I am curious about this history and evolution of Armenian dance traditions. Over the centuries of invasion, the destruction of much of our material culture has made it difficult to study Armenian dance historically. Dance traditions are often ephemeral, particularly ethnic dance forms of refugees and ethnic minorities. So exploring, discovering, and recovering my ancestral dance tradition is especially rewarding for me.

From the “Old Country”

Armenian dance
Program from the 1939 World’s Fair in New York City
Archives of the Armenian Folk Dance Society of New York

There are two distinct styles of dance, “Western Armenian” or Anatolian, and “Eastern Armenian” or Caucasian. (For more on Armenian dance history, read “Dancing Armenian in Anatolia, the Caucasus, and Beyond” on the Festival Blog.) Most Armenian immigrants in the United States in the early twentieth century came from Anatolia, so Armenian American folk dance styles were Anatolian.

One of the first Armenian American dance ensembles was the Armenian Folk Dance Society of New York, formed in 1937 initially to represent Armenia at international festivals in the New York region. Recently, a descendent of one of the members of this group gave me part of their archives as a gift—what a treasure!

Six boxes arrived in the mail filled with yellowing envelopes and albums, smelling of must and old paper. Inside I found their rehearsal and staging notes, photographs, performance flyers, and printed programs. The society collected and performed over twenty-five different regional dances, particularly from Sepastia, Van, and Garin. As a performance-oriented group, they only collected dances that could be presented on stage. Unfortunately, those deemed too boring or simple were ignored and subsequently lost.

Across the Ocean

Armenian dance
Armenian picnic in Springfield, Massachusetts, c. 2000s.
Photo courtesy of C. Rapkievian

Armenian dancing was always part of my childhood. Every summer, on the weekends, we went to the Armenian picnics held in Maynard, Massachusetts. The Armenians from Kharpert and the Armenians from Caeseria were always trying to outdo each other—who could host the best picnic? There was always the smoky smell of shish kebab cooking, with pilaf, salad, other Armenian treats, and bottles of Fanta. A live band would play on the wooden “band shell” with a paved dance “floor” in front. Families, friends, and acquaintances all danced together.

My parents met at one of the Armenian formal dances they attended as young adults in the 1940s and 1950s in Boston, Hartford, and New York. Some of the dances were held jointly with the Greek American community. “We learned their dances,” my mother noted. At intergenerational dance parties today, older Armenian bands will still play the Greek tunes (Miserloo, Tsamiko, and sometimes a Kalamatiano), and many of the older generations still dance them or the Armenian adaptations. In other cities, both in the United States and the old country, Armenians shared dances with neighboring cultures, such as Laz Bar (a Black Sea dance), Sheikhani (similar to an Assyrian dance), and the Michigan Hop (similar to a Bulgarian dance).

Growing up, I attended Armenian dances in the Boston area with my younger cousins and learned the current repertoire of Armenian American party dances. Some were the old village styles, but most of them were adapted by Armenian American youth.

Armenian dance
An Armenian divinity student teaches a folkdance to local children at the Tatev Monastery in Armenia, 2016.
Photo courtesy of C. Rapkievian

Years later, on a trip to Armenia with Smithsonian colleagues, we happened upon a children’s dance lesson in the courtyard of an ancient monastery. I recognized the dance and, at the urging of my colleagues, joined the circle. The children were surprised! And I was too—it turns out that their teacher learned Papuri from dance leader Gagik Ganosyan in Armenia, who had learned the dance from Susan Lind-Sinanian from Massachusetts. It was an amazing example of a dance traveling over and back across an ocean.

Across Generations

On my trips to Armenia, I visited and took classes with noted dance leaders, including the legendary Artoush Karapetyan, as well as Gagik Karapetyan, Gagik Ganosyan, and Edik Khachatryan. I also learned their philosophies about teaching Armenian folk dances to youth and young adults. One focused on artistic expression, another on preserving old dances while making them exciting to new generations, and another on providing positive activities for underprivileged children. Every town and village seemed to have a folk dance troupe of some kind. In fact, in 2005, Minister of Culture Hovik Hoveyan complained, “There are too many Armenians dancing”!

Armenian dance
Artoush Karapetyan teaching at the Pedagogical College in Yerevan Armenia, 2012.
Photo by C. Rapkievian

When my son was a baby, I joined the Antranig Armenian Dance Ensemble of New York and New Jersey. For a few months each year, we had the privilege of studying with Gagik Karapetyan, the director of the State Dance Ensemble in Armenia. We performed many of the Caucasian Armenian dances as well as “Gago’s” original choreographies.

My son grew up at the rehearsals, first on my back, later playing and watching the dances, and finally performing in Lincoln Center with other children of ensemble members. By the time he was three years old, he had been to Armenian picnics at Camp Hayastan, eaten Grandma’s good Armenian food, and looked forward to games and dancing with his friends in Antranig, so when I took him to see the ocean for the first time, he exclaimed, “Mommy, this is really Armenian!”

I was puzzled for a moment, and then I laughed. He thought “Armenian” was an adjective meaning “a good time.”

Across Borders

When I discovered YouTube in 2006 shortly after its inception, I searched for Armenian dance and was astonished to find a group in Dagestan, a Russian republic separated from Armenia by Georgia and Azerbaijan. Shortly after, I found a video of a wonderful Armenian French group doing dances similar to those I had learned in Antranig. I was amazed! Before the era of social media, most Armenian Americans had little knowledge of the existence of diaspora communities worldwide. Now, people around the world can share and adapt regional dance styles.

Armenian dance
Maral Armenian Dance Ensemble in Istanbul, Turkey, 2015.
Photo by C. Rapkievian

Most Armenian Americans were told growing up that there were no Armenians living in Turkey. But when I traveled to Istanbul in 2015, I was thrilled to join a dance rehearsal in the inconspicuous Armenian community center. I hoped I would see the dances of my grandparents in their true form, but they too are now doing the dances from the Republic of Armenia.

Here in Washington, D.C., a group of adult dancers called the Arax Armenian Dance Ensemble, named for a river that winds through the old country, performed from 2004 to 2014. As the director, I was always amazed at the composition of the group: some dancers were born in the United States and their grandparents came from Anatolia in 1915, one from Armenia, and the rest from Armenian communities in Canada, France, Russia, Turkey, Cypress, Iran, Lebanon, Iraq, and Syria. It was truly the diaspora reunited! Since their grandparents came from several regions in historic Armenia, we strove to present dances from each members’ place of origin.

In more recent years, as the director of the Arev Armenian Dance Ensemble (arev means “sun”), I have realized that because we seem to be unique in our presentation of Anatolian Armenian dances, we are focusing on preserving and performing these dances. While not as flashy as staged Caucasus dances, we hope to play a vital role in maintaining the diversity of our intangible heritage. And we are excited to do so this summer at Smithsonian Folklife Festival—hope to see you there!

Armenian dance
Arev Armenian Dance Ensemble, 2017.
Photo by J. Urban

Carolyn Rapkievian is serving as an Armenian dance advisor for the 2018 Folklife Festival and is assistant director for interpretation and education at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian.

‘The Courtesan Osayo’ Enacted By Onoe Kikugorō

Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery

‘Lost’ Klimt Drawing Found in Cupboard of Museum Personal Assistant

Smithsonian Magazine

In 1951, the artist and collector Olga Jäger loaned four works—one by Gustav Klimt, three by Egon Schiele—to the Lentos Museum in Linz, Austria. More than five decades later, in 2006, her descendants tried to reclaim the pieces, but when the museum went to retrieve the works, they were nowhere to be found. Now, as the Agence France-Presse reports, the missing Klimt drawing has been discovered in an unlikely place: the cupboard of a recently deceased Lentos Museum personal assistant.

The unnamed personal assistant, who retired in 1977 and died in 2017, appears to have taken the drawing, titled "Zwei Liegende" ("Two Reclining Figures"), and hid it, reportedly leaving instructions that it should be returned to the city upon her death. The three Schiele works—a watercolor, an oil painting and a drawing—have not been found, and a spokesperson for the city of Linz said there were “no serious indications” that the secretary had also taken those items as well, according to Henri Neuendorf of artnet News.

Klimt and Schiele, radical and evocative painters who worked together in Vienna in the early 20th century, are among Austria’s best-known artists. The Lentos’ Museum’s misplacement of their work led to a protracted legal battle with Jäger’s heirs, who were ultimately awarded €8.2 million (around $10.2 million) for the loss of the works. Included in that sum was €100,000 (around $124,000) for the Klimt drawing.

Between March and May, the rediscovered work will be included in an exhibition of 76 paintings and graphics to mark the centenary of the deaths of Klimt, Schiele and ​Koloman Moser, one of the foremost artists of the Vienna Secession movement.

Museum officials believe  "Zwei Liegende" ("Two Reclining Figures") dates to 1916 or 1917, during the last creative stretch of Klimt's life, and may have been a study for "Die Freundinnen" ("Two Friends"). "What is remarkable," the museum writes about the work in a press release, "is the way the two half-naked, sleeping women subside and almost disappear into eiderdowns, cushions and plaids, which enhances the white heightening on their bare abdomen and genitalia."

After the show ends in late May, Jäger’s heirs will be reunited with the lost drawing, on the condition that they refund the money that was paid to them for it. Police, meanwhile, are still looking for the missing Schiele works. A Neuendorf police spokesperson tells the Austrian press agency APA that anyone who “may be in possession of a lost artwork should ask themselves if they are handling stolen goods, and do the reasonable thing and come forward.”

‘Life’ Magazine’s Earliest Women Photojournalists Step Into Spotlight

Smithsonian Magazine

The debut cover of LIFE magazine is dominated by the monumental spillway of Montana’s Fort Peck Dam, then under construction and poised to become the world’s largest earth-filled dam. But the eye is drawn to two humans, dwarfed by their surroundings, standing at the bottom of the shot.

The cover image is typical of its creator’s work. Dedicated to revealing both the human side of stories and the settings in which they took place—including such far-flung locales as the Soviet Union, Korea, India and North Africa—Margaret Bourke-White quickly emerged as one of LIFE’s most talented photographers after editor Henry Luce’s photography-centric weekly launched in November 1936. But today, she and the other pioneering female photojournalists who worked for LIFE during the 1930s and onto the 1970s remain little known, their iconic snapshots rendered more recognizable than their own names and histories.

LIFE: Six Women Photographers, a new exhibition on view at the New-York Historical Society Museum & Library, aims to correct this imbalance, presenting more than 70 images taken by six early photojournalists: Marie Hansen, Martha Holmes, Lisa Larsen, Nina Leen, Hansel Mieth and Bourke-White.

Marie Hansen's photograph of Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps recruits at their Des Moines training center (© LIFE Picture Collection, Meredith Corporation)

“Many of these women are not known, they’re not even in photography history books,” co-curator Marilyn Kushner tells the Guardian’s Nadja Sayej. “These women have not gotten their due, and this is just the tip of the iceberg.”

According to Kushner, fewer than 10 women served on LIFE’s photography staff during the time period covered by the show. (As a 2015 study found, this gender imbalance persists today, with 85 percent of 1,556 photojournalists surveyed identifying as men.) Despite their small numbers, they covered a vast array of subjects, from Hollywood’s elite to the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) formed at the height of World War II, the House Un-American Activities Committee hearings, and rampant homelessness in San Francisco and Sacramento.

As Louise Mirrer, president and CEO of the New-York Historical Society, explains in a press release, “These pioneering women photographers captured events international and domestic, wide-ranging and intimate, serious and playful. At the forefront of history, [they] enabled the public ‘to see life; to see the world; to eyewitness great events,’ as LIFE founder and editor-in-chief, Henry Luce, described it.”

In addition to photographing the cover of LIFE’s first issue, Bourke-White became the first Western photographer accredited to enter the Soviet Union and the first female photographer to cover active World War II combat zones. Hansen, a Missouri native who joined LIFE in 1942, meanwhile, publicized women’s contributions to the war effort by producing a photo essay on WAAC recruits training for deployment. One image in particular, depicting a room full of gas mask-wearing trainees, is among those most widely associated with the initiative.

Image by © LIFE Picture Collection, Meredith Corporation. Lisa Larsen, photograph from “Tito As Soviet Hero, How Times Have Changed!” (original image)

Image by © LIFE Picture Collection, Meredith Corporation. Nina Leen, unpublished photograph from “American Woman’s Dilemma" (original image)

Image by © LIFE Picture Collection, Meredith Corporation. Margaret Bourke-White, photograph from “Franklin Roosevelt’s Wild West" (original image)

Three of the women featured in the exhibition—Larsen, Leen and Mieth—were born in Europe but moved to the U.S. at some point during the 1930s. Larsen, a German Jew who fled her home country after Kristallnacht, documented Yugoslavian President Josip Broz’s 1956 visit to the Soviet Union, capturing crowd shots of the hordes who flocked to the Kremlin while also managing to snap intimate portraits of the men and women who were likely in attendance under duress.

Mieth, another German-born photographer, arrived in America in the midst of the Great Depression; her “socially engaged” photo essays, in the words of the New-York Historical Society, generated sympathy for organized labor and exposed the harsh conditions prevalent across the nation. During the war, she photographed Japanese Americans incarcerated at Heart Mountain in Wyoming, and in the aftermath of the conflict, she returned to Germany to document the “psychological effects and physical damage” inflicted on her home country.

Leen, a Russian native who emigrated to New York in 1939, focused mainly on American domesticity. Her “American Woman’s Dilemma” series envisioned women as “empowered protagonists,” Timeline’s Rian Dundon writes, “emphasizing the distinct traits and desires of American teens, mothers, and busy professionals navigating the optimism and possibilities of a booming economy.” But domestic life wasn’t Leen’s only interest: Google Arts & Culture details that she was also a prolific animal photographer, often taking snapshots of her dog Lucky, and was additionally a talented group portraitist. Her photo of the so-called “Irascibles,” a group of Abstract Expressionists including Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning and Mark Rothko, aptly captured the tension existing between these avant-garde artists’ desire for career success and their disdain for the establishment.

Martha Holmes' photograph of a white woman embracing mixed-race singer Billy Eckstine (© LIFE Picture Collection, Meredith Corporation)

Holmes, the final journalist spotlighted in the exhibition, photographed celebrities including Pollock, Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Judy Garland, Eleanor Roosevelt, Salvador Dali and Joan Fontaine. But she is perhaps best known for her 1950 snapshot of a white woman embracing mixed-race singer Billy Eckstine.

“When that photo was taken, they weren’t sure if they should put it into the issue—a white woman embracing a black man,” Kushner tells the Guardian’s Sayej. “But Luce put it in there because he said: ‘This is what the future is going to be. Run it.’”

At the time, the photograph attracted widespread condemnation, and Eckstine’s career was permanently damaged by the fallout. Still, Bobbi Burrows, a longtime LIFE editor who spoke to The New York Times’ Dennis Hevesi upon Holmes’ death in 2006, said that the image remained the photographer’s favorite among the thousands she had taken throughout her career.

LIFE: Six Women Photographers is on view at the New-York Historical Society through October 6, 2019.

‘I Remember’: An Artist’s Chronicle of What We Wore

Smithsonian Magazine

A fashion spread, Hollywood movie or advertisement usually doesn’t reflect with accuracy what everyday people actually wore at a given time. Historically speaking, to really get a sense of the fashions of the times, old newsreels, photojournalism and catalogs offer more true-to-life examples of what was in style.

The cover of Joe Brainard’s I Remember

One literary source is the book-length poem I Remember, by writer and artist Joe Brainard. When it was originally published—in three parts between 1970 and 1973 by Angel Hair Books—the small print runs sold out quickly. Most recently it’s been published by Granary Books. The 1,000 entries in this work all begin with “I remember . . .” and each describes a single memory from Brainard—growing up in Oklahoma in the 1940s, arriving in New York in the ’60s, making art, making friends, making a living.

As the poet and his lifelong friend Ron Padgett explains:

…the repetition in I Remember proved to be a springboard that allowed Joe to leap backward and forward in time and to follow one chain of associations for a while, then jump to another, the way one’s memory does. Coupled with Joe’s impulse toward openness, the I Remember form provided a way for him to lay his soul bare in a confession that is personable, moving, perceptive, and often funny.

The book is a time capsule, a beautiful and candid catalog of one person’s memories, however fleeting. Incorporated into those recollections is documentation of how people dressed—some styles are still worn today, while others were passing trends that are relegated to fashion history. They all share Brainard’s funny, insightful and accessible style. Michael Lally of The Village Voice agreed: “Joe Brainard’s memories of growing up in the ’40s and ’50s have universal appeal. He catalogues his past in terms of fashion and fads, public events and private fantasies, with such honesty and accuracy and in such abundance that, sooner or later, his history coincides with ours and we are hooked.” What follows are a selection of favorites:

Sack dress, 1949. Image from carlylehold via Flickr.

I remember sack dresses.

Singer in pillbox hat, 1958. Lesley University Archives via Flickr.

I remember pill box hats.

I remember thinking how embarrassing it must be for men in Scotland to have to wear skirts.

I remember old women’s flesh-colored hose you can’t see through.

I remember when girls wore lots of can can slips. It got so bad (so noisy) that the principal had to put a limit on how many could be worn. I believe the limit was three.

Woman with beehive working an IBM accounting machine, 1960s.

I remember when “beehives” got really out of hand.

I remember when those short-sleeved knitted shirts with long tails (to wear “out”) with little embroidered alligators on the pockets were popular.

I remember plain camel hair coats that rich girls in high school wore.

Ad for Flagg Bros. shoes, 1970s.

I remember having a crush on a boy in my Spanish class who had a pair of olive green suede shoes with brass buckles just like a pair I had. (“Flagg Brothers.”) I never said one word to him the entire year.

I remember sweaters thrown over shoulders and sunglasses propped on heads.

If, after reading I Remember, you crave more information about the work and life of Joe Brainard, who passed away in 1994, watch filmmaker Matt Wolf’s short documentary  I Remember: A Film About Joe Brainard. Described on the website as “an elliptical dialog about friendship, nostalgia, and the strange wonders of memory,” the film combines archival images, audio recordings of Brainard, and an interview with poet Ron Padgett. Download the film here or check it out at the following upcoming screenings:

April 18 – 28, 2013
Festival IndieLisboa, Portugal
Screening TBA

April 25, 26, 27, 2013
Brooklyn Academy of Music
Crossing Brooklyn Ferry
Screening Times TBA


National Museum of the American Indian

‘Hamilton: The Exhibition’ Opens in Chicago to Eager Fans

Smithsonian Magazine

On Saturday, April 27, hundreds of fans waiting in line for the opening of "Hamilton: The Exhibition" received a special surprise: The man behind the hit Broadway musical, Lin-Manuel Miranda himself, appeared on the scene with donuts in hand, ready to reward the so-called "Hamilfans" who had braved the dismal Chicago weather with sweet treats and selfies.

As Michael Paulson reports for The New York Times, a specially constructed 35,000-square-foot structure on Chicago’s Lake Michigan shoreline is the first locale to host an immersive, surprisingly educational exhibition on "Hamilton." Dubbed "Hamilton: The Exhibition," the show features an in-depth look at the eponymous Founding Father’s life, correcting historical inaccuracies seen in the musical while simultaneously fleshing out events and themes raised by Miranda’s Tony Award-winning creation.

Catering to the musical enthusiasts sure to flock to the space, the exhibit also includes an audio guide narrated by Miranda and original cast members Phillipa Soo and Christopher Jackson, a reworked instrumental version of the soundtrack recorded by a 27-piece band, and 3-D footage of Miranda leading the Washington, D.C. cast in a performance of the musical’s opening number.

Amazingly, "Hamilton: The Exhibition" cost $1 million more to launch than its Broadway predecessor. Built to travel (at least with the aid of 80 moving trucks), the show carries a hefty price tag of $13.5 million, as opposed to the musical’s $12.5 million—a fact that may account for its high admission rates, which stand at $39.50 for adults and $25 for children. Although the exhibit’s Chicago run currently has no fixed end-date, Jeffrey Seller, the musical's lead producer and the individual in charge of this latest venture, tells Paulson it will likely stay in the Windy City for several months before moving on to cities such as San Francisco and Los Angeles.

According to the Chicago Tribune’s Steve Johnson, Miranda, who served as an artistic advisor for the exhibition, describes the show as a “choose-your-own-adventure” experience. Those hoping to delve into the details of the Revolutionary War, federalism and early 19th-century fiscal policy will want to pay attention to wall text and audio narration, while those more interested in the musical will enjoy interactive visuals, games and set pieces crafted by exhibit designer David Korins.

Writing for the Chicago Sun-Times, Miriam Di Nunzio highlights several of the exhibition’s 18 galleries: There’s the “Schuyler Mansion” ballroom, dominated by bronze statues of Alexander Hamilton, the Schuyler sisters, and George and Martha Washington, and a recreation of the Battle of Yorktown that Seller, in an interview with the Sun-Times’ Mary Houlihan, likens to “a giant [animated] Risk board.” Also of note are a “Hurricane” room centered on Hamilton’s youth in St. Croix, a gallery dedicated to Eliza Hamilton’s efforts to ensure her husband’s legacy following his death in 1804, and a “Duel” space featuring life-size statues of Hamilton and Aaron Burr with their pistols raised.

In essence, "Hamilton: The Exhibition" strives to fill the historical gaps left by its namesake musical.

“I couldn't even fit Ben Franklin in my show,” Miranda tells the Daily Beast’s Kimberly Bellware. “I couldn't get the state of Pennsylvania in. But here, we can do a deeper dive on slavery in the north and the south. We can talk about Native American contributions, [and] we can talk about women in the war effort.”

As Bellware observes, one such nod to these hidden histories is a statue of an enslaved woman standing at the edge of the Schuyler ballroom. Rather than providing a cursory overview of slavery in colonial America, the accompanying audio narration urges visitors to consider the figure as an individual, asking, “Where was she from? Who did she love? What were her dreams?”

Focusing on Hamilton specifically, The New York Times’ Jacobs points toward an unassuming sign clarifying the “ten-dollar Founding Father without a father”’s stance on slavery: Although the song “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story” finds Eliza stating, “I speak out against slavery / You could have done so much more if you / only had— / Time,” the exhibit notes, “The real Hamilton wasn’t an abolitionist, but he did oppose slavery.”

It’s worth noting that "Hamilton: The Exhibition" has its flaws: For the Chicago Tribune, Johnson notes that the show features a cast of reproductions, as the warehouse’s climate has yet to prove stable enough to house actual artifacts, and argues that it too often relies on heavy blocks of text to convey the history behind the musical’s catchy tunes. Still, Johnson concludes, these are just “quibbles.” Overall, “there are a thousand choices on display in this exhibition, and almost all of them at least satisfy, while a great number go beyond that to surprise and delight.”

In the words of "Hamilton"’s King George III—the musical's resident source of comic relief—you’ll be back.

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