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You Had Me at Ground Sloth Poo!

National Museum of Natural History
By Lesley Parilla, Field Book Project Cataloger A. Remington Kellogg on a Field Trip in Arizona. Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 9516, Box 1, Watson M. Perrygo Oral History Interviews. 84-8990. When I began my work in the Department of Paleobiology, my department contact was kind enough to show me...

You Can Now Inherit Someone’s Facebook Account

Smithsonian Magazine

Your will lays out who gets what—your money and other assets are divvied up among your favorite friends and family—and long-established rules determine how your physical and financial assets are handled in your passing. Yet there's one glaring oversight in all this—dealing with digital assets, like social media accounts or websites.

As it stands, when you die, your digital accounts often become inaccessible. Family can ask for your Facebook page to be frozen as a memorial, but they can't take it over, says ABC News. A new law in Delaware, however, is set to change how the state's residents handle digital assets. Under the Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets and Digital Accounts Act, says Ars Technica, digital accounts can now be handed down just like anything else.

This change matters, because more and more often people tend to be keeping things online rather than in hard copy. A deleted Facebook account can mean years of photos gone into the aether. In other cases, digital accounts like online video game profiles can actually be worth significant amounts of real money.

According to lawyers interviewed by Ars Technica, there may be some privacy problems with the new law: imagine your family having full access to years' worth of Facebook chat logs or Twitter direct messages. But since the decision to hand over the keys rests with you, hopefully you'll have a chance to scrub everything down before you kick the bucket.

[H/t 5 Intriguing Things]

You Can Help Try to Track Down D.B. Cooper’s True Identity by Digging Through FBI Files

Smithsonian Magazine

On November 24, 1971, a man bought a one-way plane ticket from Portland, Oregon, to Seattle, Washington, and set off a decades-long mystery. During the trip, the man told the flight attendants that he was carrying a bomb and managed to successfully hold the airplane ransom before jumping out on the wooded outskirts of Seattle with four parachutes and $200,000 in cash strapped to his body.

The hunt for this mysterious skyjacker sparked a a major manhunt. At first, the only clue that investigators from the FBI had to go on was the name the man gave at the ticket booth—“Dan Cooper,” which was later misreported by the press as “D.B. Cooper.” However, after decades of frustration, in July, the federal agency finally gave up and closed the case.

"If it [a new lead] comes in, we've got to follow up with it," FBI Special Agent Curtis Eng, who had been on the case since 2010, told CNN's Farida Fawzy.  "It takes time and resources away from my other cases, where there are victims now. Where there's problems and crimes now."

D.B. Cooper's seat on the plane (True.Ink)

But for journalist Geoff Gray, the search hasn’t stopped.

“He’s a cultural hero, a figure that has been sort of immortalized as a gentleman thief, this sort of swashbuckling sky pirate who was able to commit the ‘perfect crime,’ hurting nobody, at least physically, and getting away with it,” Gray tells Smithsonian.com.

Gray first got bit by the “Cooper Curse,” as he calls it, when he was working for New York magazine as an investigative reporter in 2007. Since then, Gray has become something of an expert on Cooper. He began looking into Cooper’s story and eventually found his way to the FBI’s archives, where he uncovered a trove of case files that had never been publically released. These documents included all sorts of details that Gray believes could help shed light on the man behind the myth—including photographs and interviews with the plane’s passengers and crew in the immediate aftermath of the incident.

“For instance, according to a passenger, Robert Gregory, he says Cooper had wavy, Marcelled hair,” Gray says. “And then the wavy hair is seconded by a stewardess. No sketch of Cooper has him with wavy hair—he has flat, kind of mousy hair. This guy Gregory, we know, was never interviewed [for] the FBI artist sketch...potentially decades of investigative time were spent not knowing that clue.”

Artist sketches of D.B. Cooper, who vanished in 1971 with $200,000 in stolen cash. (FBI)

Even though the FBI has given up on the case for now, Gray believes the files could still hold clues to Cooper’s true identity—and he’s looking for help. On the 45th anniversary of D.B. Cooper’s heist this November, Gray launched “The D.B. Cooper Project” through the web magazine True.Ink. By enlisting everyday investigators to the crowdsourced project, Gray hopes that getting thousands of new eyes on the material will dredge up new clues and insights that could help finally track Cooper down. But considering that the case has gone decades without being solved, Gray is aware that finding definitive proof of Cooper’s identity is tricky, to say the least.

“To me the most fascinating part is not really who was Cooper, but why are we so fascinated with this guy?” Gray says. “Why does he still after 45 years capture the public’s interest?”

So far, Gray has released one batch of interviews and other documents, with more to come on the night of the hijacking and the subsequent manhunt over the next few months. Regardless of whether or not Cooper’s identity is ever discovered, these documents provide a unique look at a modern mystery.

Yo Te Sigo Queriendo (I Still Love You): Memories of Selena

National Museum of American History

A dark-haired woman in a gold hat and top holds up a bottle of Coca Cola and smiles. There is a dark border created by the visible film strip around the photograph.

From the 1950s to 1970s, U.S. advertising started to shift from mass marketing to recognizing and defining distinct target markets. A unique example of this includes the rise of Selena Quintanilla-Pérez (1971–1995), whose hard-won fame spoke to a large cross-section of fans in the United States, in Latin American markets, and across the world. A new display opening September 12, 2017, in our American Enterprise exhibition explores marketing history and this pop icon.

Three women on our staff share their personal connections with Selena and discuss why her legacy matters not just to them but to many Americans.

When Selena was…

By Melinda Machado

On the evening of March 31, 1995, we returned home to the blinking light of the answering machine. Each message from Cousin Victor in San Antonio, Texas, was more frantic than the last. "Berin and Melinda, call home immediately." All we understood was that someone had been shot.

That someone turned out to be Selena Quintanilla-Perez—the 23-year-old Tejana singer who had just become the first Latina artist to top the U.S. Billboard 200 chart with her predominantly Spanish-language album. And somehow we had missed the news that Friday morning. The World Wide Web was relatively new. There were no smart phones. So it wasn't until that night that we learned she had been killed by the woman who was managing the Selena fan club and the artist's boutiques.

As I prepare to publicize the museum's Hispanic Advertising History initiative with the opening of a new display on that includes Selena artifacts, I can look back and see how my life intersected with hers and how I came to know and admire who she was. It's a good opportunity to reflect on the impact she made on American culture and to mourn what could have been.

At a time when she was popular across the Southwest and in Mexico but relatively little known in other parts of the U.S., we saw Selena perform in Washington, D.C., in 1993. That year's Hispanic Heritage Month provided a forum for members of Congress and Hispanic arts organizations to showcase the amazing talent in their respective districts. My memory is a little fuzzy as to the event we attended but it was most likely the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute Gala as Representative Solomon Ortiz of Texas, whose district included Corpus Christi where Selena grew up, was the chairman responsible for the program. But my memory is clear about the energetic performance Selena gave. In her signature leather jacket with bejeweled bra underneath, her mane of hair flew as she crossed the stage to the rousing rhythm of the large band behind her, sending out the sounds of South Texas, familiar to us from weddings, quinceañeras, and bailes (dances), out into the nation's capital.

A black leather jacket with gold detailing, slim pants and boots positioned upright on a headless mannequin in from of a colorful backdrop of reds and blues

In late September 1998, my husband joined me on a work trip to New Orleans that ended up with us trapped in the city ahead of Hurricane Georges—flights were canceled and the city shut down. But we were lucky—our hotel was one of the few with its own generator and so we had power and cable TV. The Selena biographical film, starring Jennifer Lopez, had never opened in D.C. so we had not seen the 1997 movie. We were soon immersed in the story of an American family, a family much like the ones we grew up in. And it is this movie that has ensured her legacy is passed down from generation to generation.

Selena's family donated one of her performance costumes to the museum in 1999, shortly after I arrived as the director of public affairs. This outfit, with its leather boots, spandex pants, satin bustier, and motorcycle jacket, was iconic of what our then curator of Latino history and culture Marvette Pérez described as Selena's idiosyncratic style, "wavering between sexy rebel and Mexican American good girl." We placed the costume on view in 2001 as part of Moda y Música: Stage, Fashion, and Style, a display of four showcases featuring Hispanic performers and designers. Raised speaking English, Selena had to learn to sing Spanish phonetically. Ironically, her "cross-over" material for English-language radio was not released until the end of her career.

This summer, when "Despacito" reached the number one spot on Billboard's Hot 100 chart, I could only wonder, what if she had lived? Would Selena have been first?

Melinda Machado is the museum's director of communications and marketing and is a Texan of Mexican American and Cuban descent.

Who Selena was…

If you were a teenage Latina in Texas in the mid-1990s, chances are you not only knew who Selena was, you were also a fan. Despite the fact that both my parents listened to her music and both attended what became her final concert at the Houston Rodeo, I was an exception. As a kid, my dad introduced me to his Beatles albums and big band music. At 16, I was more interested in the Fab Four and Frank Sinatra than I was the young woman whose looks were more reminiscent of my own.

Still, I have vivid memories of March 31, 1995, and seeing the tears in the eyes of family friends when news broke that Selena had been shot. I remember spending the afternoon on that last day of my spring break watching the story unfold. I also remember trying to understand what was so special about this person I knew so little about.

A rectangular stamp positioned vertically depicting a young woman with long dark hair singing into a microphone with her eyes closed

Two years later when a movie about her life was released I went with some friends to see what I could learn about the Tejano music superstar whose death had catapulted her to legendary status. This is what I found out: Selena Quintanilla grew up in southeast Texas, as did I. She was Mexican American, as was I. She loved disco and rock music, so did I.

What surprised me the most was finding out Spanish was not Selena's first language. My parents, grandparents, and relatives spoke Spanish but my generation of the family had not been taught it. We were never bothered by this. In fact, it never occurred to me to care until I was old enough to face other people's judgement and assumptions. The more I looked into the life of Selena, the more I realized that this young woman who had become a Latina icon faced similar adversity by not being as "culturally appropriate" as some thought she should be.

Selena's story is as American as one could get. She had hopes and dreams just like the rest of us. She had a family that supported those dreams and did what they could to make them a reality. She may have achieved success as a recording artist but she never intended to limit herself. She was determined to enter the fashion industry and had begun to step into the realm of celebrity endorsements. Though she had been performing for the majority of her life, her career was only just getting started.

In life, and in death, Selena meant many things to many people. Her significance to Tejano music and the efforts for her to "cross-over" to English music are not lost on anyone, but it is her impact as a businessperson that we are now able to get a sense of as we look back. If her life had not been cut tragically short, there is no telling what she could have accomplished, but her ongoing popularity is a testament to her significance in American culture.

Amelia Thompson is a museum communications specialist and a native of Houston of Mexican American descent.

What Selena means…

Selena means car rides with my mother and singing as loud as I could in our little green minivan. To me, Selena represents all the rough days that could be solved by popping in a wonderful mix of songs and spending time with my family. The CD of my mother's own creation was always in the car. It featured Latina artists from Celia Cruz to Selena. Though Selena was murdered in 1995, a year before I was born, she was and still is very relevant to young Latinos everywhere. To me, her legacy lives on.

Selena succeeded in popularizing a genre of music that wasn't often in the limelight and got her album Dreaming of You, which was predominantly in Spanish, to the number-one slot on the Billboard 200 charts when it was released after her death. Her vivacity was infectious and she was a beacon of creativity and happiness. Her example is one of hope and determination to be the very best you can be and all it takes is passion, hard work, and surrounding yourself with people who love and care about you.

Listening to this music with my mom not only gave me an appreciation for the humility, talent, and passion of Selena. It also helped me to learn the language at a young age and made me curious about Spanish-language music as a whole. Artists like Selena popularized a different type of genre that the American public in many places wasn't always accustomed to. Released after her death, the movie Selenaintroduced more people to the young singer from Corpus Christi. Incidentally, it also served as a breakout for Jennifer Lopez, now an international music, movie, and television star.

In 2016, MAC Cosmetics issued a limited edition makeup line honoring Selena's legacy. The company created the line in response to a fan-generated petition asking for the creation of this collection. In October, women and men were interviewed in the lines waiting for store openings. It quickly sold out and it was relaunched just after Christmas, December 28 and 29—and sold out again. Despite the passage of time, Selena still has a huge impact on her original fans and on new generations of fans like me.

A black wristwatch with a white clock face

In the American Enterprise exhibition, the objects that will highlight Selena's contributions to Hispanic advertising history include her leather motorcycle jacket and beaded bra, photographs from the Coca-Cola advertising campaign, and Selena memorabilia that help to illustrate her personality, style, impact, and powerful fandom. The exhibit will give the public a chance to see pieces of who she was and the gorgeous music that she created. The display will also showcase the 1988 Clio Award that Sosa, Bromley, Aguilar & Associates, the advertising firm that worked with Selena in Texas, was awarded for work in HIV/AIDS awareness.

A gold award. There is a circular base with engravings on the front and a slim figure holding up a flat circle with lines running across it.

Having these objects on display in the museum gives me a sense of happiness and pride because of her music's influence on my life and the fact that she is being recognized for her contributions to America at the Smithsonian.

Even 22 years after her tragic death, her legacy is clear and many still love her music, music that has been passed down from parent to child as it was for me. While there is an outpouring of support toward representation of minorities in the country, there still aren't many who are as influential as Selena was in her day. She brought together many communities and people through the beauty of her music. Selena was one of my first introductions to the world of Latino artists and I wouldn't have it any other way.

Chloe Reynolds is a native of Virginia and a graduating senior at Bucknell University. She was a communications intern during the summer of 2017.

Learn more about Hispanic advertising and Selena's role in it in our American Enterprise online exhibition.

Author(s): 
Melinda Machado, Amelia Thompson, intern Chloe Reynolds
Posted Date: 
Tuesday, September 12, 2017 - 08:00
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Yes, Astronauts Are Afraid to Go to Space

Smithsonian Magazine

Image: Blastframe

Gravity is only the latest of a long line of books and movies to seize upon the dangers—often deadly—of space travel. But actual astronauts never seem afraid to pierce the atmosphere and plunge into the icy depths beyond our planet. So, are storytellers taking liberties? Is space not quite so dangerous? Are astronauts actual super humans? No—they’re actually quite scared. But they go anyway.

Luca Parmitano is no stranger to the hostility of space. He nearly drowned in his own space suit just a few months ago. On his blog yesterday, he explained that, even though astronauts may seem stoic, they are very aware of how dangerous their jobs are. When asked whether he’s afraid, he says that he often wants to lie:

The temptation to answer simply “no” is great, everyone would breathe a sigh of relief and go on knowing that there are out of the ordinary men and women in the world who work without fear: astronauts. But super humans do not exist – and it is better this way.

My humble opinion is that only fools say they are never afraid – and they are lying when they say it. Fear is a series of sensations, a primordial mechanism that has developed over millennia of evolution to preserve our lives. It would be a waste not to use such a tool. But like any tool, it can be used well or badly: a scalpel, in the expert hands of a surgeon, can save a life while the same scalpel can be lethal when used without skill and knowledge.

The urge to lie about your fear doesn’t just hit Parmitano. In 2011, Maggie Koerth-Baker interviewed astronaut Rex Walheim about going to space. A reader asked, “When you’re going through the selection process, hoping beyond hope to be chosen to train as an astronaut, would you admit to being afraid of anything, or would than seem not very astronaut-like? Is there a place in the training for people to admit to having fear?”

Wilheim’s answer was double-edged:

I think it would depend on how you talk about something like that. If you say, “I’m scared to death,” you might not make it. But you can say, “I’m concerned about my safety.” Frankly, if you’re not concerned about sitting on 10 stories of high explosives, you’re not thinking hard enough. The funny thing is, after 5 years of training, it actually doesn’t cross your mind too much.

As Wilheim suggests, many astronauts won’t fess up directly to being afraid like Parmitano does. In 2009, astronaut Wilson Rothman wrote a first person account of his trip to space on Gizmodo. He wrote:

I remember during one of my launch counts, the ladies were taking our pre-launch breakfast orders, going around the table. I was hearing things like, dry toast. A little yogurt. Cereal. You gotta be kidding me, what kind of pantywaists am I flying with? They got to me and I replied firmly and evenly, “Steak and eggs, medium rare and over easy.” Everyone looked at me funny. I stated the obvious. “Hey, we might go out tomorrow and get blown up. I’m going to have steak and eggs!”

Greg Johnson, the pilot of Endeavor, told ABC in 2011 that any astronaut who won’t fess up to being afraid is just lying. “I feel the risk, and I compare launching on the space shuttle a little like going into combat,” he told them. “Any sane astronaut will feel the fear, or concern just prior to liftoff. If they don’t admit they are lying to you.”

In every interview, though, astronauts repeat some variation of the same sentiment: yes, it’s scary, but it is also worth it.

More from Smithsonian.com:

Luca Parmitano Shared Exactly How It Feels to Start Drowning in Space

Yasir Arafat Museum Opens in Ramallah

Smithsonian Magazine

The new Yasir Arafat Museum in Ramallah in the West Bank, opened last month on the 12th anniversary of the Palestinian Liberation Organization leader’s death. Daniel Estrin at NPR reports that the three-story museum is located next to Arafat’s former compound and includes the nearby rooms where he spent the final years of his life as well as his mausoleum.

Isabel Kershner at The New York Times reports that the $7 million project was funded by the Palestinian Authority and chronicles much of Arafat’s life, but it will not likely settle any of the controversy about his legacy. Arafat was the founding leader of the Al-Fatah political party, the chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization and president of the Palestinian Authority, so most Palestinians regard him as as a revolutionary hero who fought for an independent homeland; most Israelis and their allies viewed him with, at best severe skepticism or, at worst, as "a master terrorist," as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu put it in an interview with CNN in 2002.

The museum charts Arafat's life, beginning with an explanation of Palestinian nationalism in the early 20th century, then, the Nakba, "'the catastrophe', as Palestinians call the period leading up to and following the creation of the state of Israel in 1948," as Peter Beaumont at The Guardian, reports. 

"​The museum treads a fine line, honoring the Palestinian narrative while dealing dispassionately with some of the more awkward periods in the Palestine Liberation Organization’s chronology," writes Estrin. For example, the museum calls attention to the more violent acts carried out by Palestinian factions during Arafat's time in power, but does not discuss the extent of Arafat's involvement, Kershner writes. 

But as American diplomat Dennis Ross explains in his bookThe Missing Peace: The Inside Story of the Fight for Middle East Peace:

Arafat's greatest travesty as a leader is that he did nothing to delegitimize those who used violence against the Israelis. Never throughout the Oslo process did he declare that those carrying out terror and violence against Israelis were wrong, were illegitimate, were enemies of the Palestinian cause. He might arrest them from time to time; he might tell us he had "zero tolerance for terror." But the message for Palestinians was that he was under pressure from us or the Israelis and he had to do this—not that Palestinian aspirations were being threatened by violence and that Palestinian interests demanded it not be tolerated.

Displays in the museum include Arafat’s thick black glasses, signature olive green shirt, his pistol and the checkered keffiyeh headdress that he wore in almost every image taken of him. Visitors can also peer into the bedroom where he spent the last 34 months of his life, which has been left untouched. In 2000, after a Palestinian uprising known as the Second Intifada, Israeli tanks kept Arafat under house arrest in his compound, even demolishing some of the structure. In 2004, in ill health, Arafat was taken to France where he died of unknown causes, reports Estrin. 

“His legacy is in many ways too big for a single museum to hold. He was a symbol of unity for the Palestinian people, a national leader, a freedom fighter and a father,” museum director Mohammad Halayqa tells Beaumont. “His life overlapped with the Palestinian experience, so we have tried to tell both stories together without intruding Arafat in events where he does not belong.”

Some claims made in the museum do not hold water, such as an exhibit that states Arafat was poisoned with radiation by Israeli agents while in France, though several studies have concluded that there is no evidence of that.

The opening of the museum underscores the way the Palestinian movement has fractured in a decade without Arafat; Gaza is led by Hamas, and the West Bank by Fatah, a schism that rose in the wake of Arafat's death.  To condense an incredibly complex situation into a few words, Fatah seeks a peaceful agreement with Israel to create a two-state solution, while Hamas refuses to Israel recognize Israel and seeks to destroy it, splintering Palestinian culture.

“We all miss him,” museum visitor Ahmad Aboushi tells Estrin. “The person who can unify us. We miss the leadership in his character and charisma, I think.”

In 2007, Hamas seized control of Arafat’s former headquarters in Gaza, looting the building and most of the artifacts from his life, including the Nobel Prize medal he won in 1994 for negotiating a peace deal with Israel. (The object was returned to the museum in October.) So far, none of the other artifacts have surfaced.

Yalálag Interviews [sound recording]

National Anthropological Archives
Digitization and preparation of these materials for online access has been funded through generous support from the Arcadia Fund.

Side 1: On lable Virginia Limeta. Side 2: Augustina Fernandez. Recorded in Yalálag, Oaxaca in Mexico

Yalálag Interviews [sound recording]

National Anthropological Archives
Digitization and preparation of these materials for online access has been funded through generous support from the Arcadia Fund.

On label: " Lucia & Saula, Agapita Poblano" and "Francesca Dominguez"

Writing Is Memory

Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage

“When I write, I am flying,” says Armenian calligrapher Ruben Malayan.

Pen poised on paper, eyes intent, he breathes as if aligning his body with his mind. When his hand graces the page, ink flies over paper in a dance of strokes and curves. Like choreography, there is rhythm and melody in the way he writes—as if the script were embodied in his person.

His words do not lie flat on the page. Instead, the letters appear alive, and the space between and around the letters feels charged. “Negative space,” he explains, “creates the air within which the letter lives and breathes.” To him, the written word is powerful because it is both image and text. The calligrapher’s art is to contemplate and create both form and meaning.  

“When I write, I often make the words slightly difficult to read. I want the brain to wrestle with the form in order to understand the living shape of a word.”

Words like journey and freedom, never cease to fascinate him. Like mantras, he writes the words over and over again. For both writer and reader, their meaning is always in flux.

Malayan grew up in Armenia in a home full of art. His late father, the renowned painter Petros Malayan, taught at the State Institute of Fine Arts of Armenia.

“As a boy, I would look at my father’s art books every night before falling asleep,” he recalls. “I was fascinated by the prints of the Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai. His pictures were so lively, and the Japanese writing filled my imagination. I could not read it, but the symbols excited me. I have been captivated by letterforms ever since.”

Camera and interview: Albert Tong
Story and editing: Kaylie Connors
Music: The Secret Trio
Photos: Ruben Malayan

After studying fine arts and graphic arts in Yerevan, Malayan moved to Israel and began working as an art director in Tel Aviv. His work involved developing digital typography, yet Malayan often found himself writing by hand.  All fonts, he explains, have calligraphic roots. “The experiment happens on paper.” He left the commercial world and began to teach himself calligraphy. In the absence of a tutor, once again, books became his teachers. He studied ancient illuminated manuscripts and scoured scholarly publications to teach himself the history of Armenian writing.

The earliest forms of Armenian calligraphy exist in illuminated Christian manuscripts. The alphabet, developed by linguist and ecclesiastical leader Mesrop Mashtots in 405 CE, allowed for both the recording and dissemination of theology to Armenians. A written language also protected Armenians against linguistic dominance in a region that, over centuries, fell to Byzantine, Persian, Ottoman, and Soviet rules.

Malayan is now one of two calligraphers left in Armenia. Last July, he demonstrated his artistry to an eager audience on the National Mall for the Armenia: Creating Home program at the Folklife Festival. For Armenian American visitors, his calligraphy seemed particularly meaningful. An Armenian American woman approached him to say, “These letters are sacred. And they’re ours.”  Her comment, though seemingly minor, reflects Armenia’s emotional relationship with its script.

Yet his experience at the Folklife Festival does not reflect general attitudes toward calligraphy and penmanship, which Malayan finds distressing and tragic. He routinely faces misconceptions of calligraphy as nostalgic handwriting in period style and penmanship as a decorative yet ultimately superfluous skill. Letter culture, he says, is suffering. 

Armenian calligrapher Ruben Malayan
Artwork by Ruben Malayan
Photo by Sonya Pencheva, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives

Today, we type, tap, and swipe on keyboards and touchscreens. With smartphones and laptops, we send emails and texts, draft essays and reports. In the digital age, communicating messages and recording information has never been easier or faster. Typed letters all look the same—serif and sans serif. “Our writing is so impersonal. Now we all push the same buttons.” We still use letters, but we no longer create them.

“Handwriting is profoundly expressive,” Malayan urges. “Your handwriting is unique to you. Even a simple note that says, ‘Don’t forget the milk!’ will look different from person to person.”

Knowingly or unknowingly, we all make decisions on how to draw letters—from the size and spacing to the shape of a curve, or the speed with which we write. Our focus, posture, and breathing also affect our handwriting. Words penned by hand embody our individual traits, creating an almost intimate imprint of the self on the page. Malayan insists that handwritten words carry the writer’s emotion and energy—regardless of whether the text was penned yesterday or a thousand years ago.

“Writing is memory, both individual and collective,” he says. “When we write, we are intentionally making a record. We are putting down what matters to us—words we want to remember.” To him, written text is memory embodied and the act of writing expresses a will to remember. Early religious texts and current news stories alike are pieces of memory—expressions of lived experience. From the ancient world to the internet age, he believes all writing is connected. Although our tools and materials have changed, writing continues to record and shape our human story.

Armenian calligrapher Ruben Malayan
Ruben Malayan’s booth at the Folklife Festival was lined with canvases.
Photo by Narek Harutyunyan, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives

Throughout that story, certain changes have endangered calligraphy traditions. In addition to the digital shift, Malayan says that the widespread popularity of the ballpoint pen in the 1960s had a detrimental effect on calligraphic traditions. With a ballpoint, writing by hand required less skill than with a fountain pen. Regardless of the direction or orientation of the pen, the width of line remained consistent. The convenience was unparalleled and the ballpoint eventually became ubiquitous around the world. As a result, “we lost the plasticity and elasticity of lines, and many traditional scripts were no longer produced,” Malayan laments.

Now, sustaining the art of Armenian calligraphy requires considerable effort. Malayan believes the revival of letter culture will start in the classroom. In fact, he thinks children are unique in that they take the alphabet seriously. As kids learn to read and write, they examine the shapes of letters, learn the sounds they make, and practice drawing freeform symbols. Though penmanship has been increasingly phased out of formal education, schools provide an opportunity for revival. Malayan is currently developing a comprehensive first-of-its-kind primer to support those who wish to learn Armenian calligraphy. He plans to found a school where students can learn Armenian calligraphic traditions as well as experiment with letterforms.

Currently, Malayan is an adjunct lecturer at the American University in Yerevan. In his visual communications course, he teaches his students to generate and express visual ideas. His students are English majors with little to no background in the arts. Yet his curriculum, which draws from calligraphy and typography, is practice-based. Over the course of a semester, his students must learn formal composition—proportions, contrasts, and balance—to create works of their own.

“After developing technical skill comes the question of substance,” he says. Beautiful letters are not enough. An artist must have something to say. “If I have nothing significant to say, I will not write a word. We don’t need more visual pollution.”

Armenian calligrapher Ruben Malayan
Ruben Malayan demonstrates his art for visitors at the Folklife Festival.
Photo by Sonya Pencheva, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives

For Malayan, advertising exemplifies visual pollution. Billboards, commercials, pop-ups, and flyers plaster our daily lives with consumerist messaging. “Ads are often sexy, funny, or visually appealing. Some use cheap tricks, others are well thought out campaigns. But the message is the always same: buy.”

Discourse and dialogue have little relevance in consumer culture. Malayan urges his students to consider visual messaging that contributes to a larger public conversation. For their final projects, he tasked them to create a poster that responded to the following question: what message is urgent for you to say to Armenia, to the world? This is Malayan’s call to action: to participate in visual culture not as consumers but as citizens.  

During the protests of the recent nonviolent revolution, Malayan worked round the clock to create placards to fuel demonstrations and marches. He felt a sense of responsibility not only to reflect his personal opinions, but also to echo those of others. He observed and listened to the way political discontent played out in the public and private realm. “I wanted to capture what we all were feeling, what was on our minds,” he says.

In this way, his efforts were both anthropological and activist in nature. His work created a feedback loop, capturing the public sentiment and expressing it back on the street. Along with the compelling slogans, his posters featured eternal words like freedom and journey.

Armenian calligrapher Ruben Malayan
“Journey,” created by Ruben Malayan at the 2018 Folklife Festival.
Photo by Sonya Pencheva, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives

Maya Potter is a cultural sustainability project assistant at the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. At the 2018 Smithsonian Folklife Festival, she worked with Ruben Malayan and other artisans in The Workshop to facilitate craft activities and classes for the public.

Would the Legendary Babe Ruth Still Be a Star if He Played Today?

Smithsonian Magazine

Baseball has been a part of the author Jane Leavy’s life from the time she acquired her first baseball mitt as a youngster growing up on Long Island. Her second home was her grandmother’s apartment, in the Yankee Arms, a building a long loud foul ball from Yankee Stadium. Naturally, as a lover of sports, the Bronx Bombers became her main squeeze.

Leavy is an acclaimed sports writer, formerly for the Washington Post, and the author of best-selling biographies about Sandy Koufax and Mickey Mantle. Her current project, a biography of the Yankee’s immortal slugger, Babe Ruth, The Big Fella will be available in the fall of 2018. Concurrent with a show I curated at the National Portrait Gallery exhibition, “One Life: Babe Ruth,” I invited Leavy to share her insights about one of America’s most iconic sporting legends.

What attracted you to Babe Ruth? For Ruth, there are so many gaps in primary sources, is a thorough biography possible?

Where do you go after Koufax and Mantle? The Babe. The more difficult question for me is where do you go AFTER The Babe. I was very concerned about the lack of primary sources when I agreed to do the book. I’m a journalist. Talking to people—and finding people to talk to—is what I’m trained to do. For this project, I had to learn to be more of a historian than a reporter. I had to learn to plumb newly digitized state and newspaper archives to find material about his early life that wouldn’t have been readily available to previous biographers. So what began as a daunting challenge actually became an advantage. 

Who are you interviewing? Are you able to bring new reportage to this story? What are you learning?

I tracked down as many of his far-flung descendants as I could with the understanding that much of their knowledge was anecdotal at best and not all of it would survive fact-checking. I was able to find an astonishing number of 90-year-olds who had met him in the 1940s.  Their childhood recollections helped capture the awe he was held in by kids even as he was aging and dying. I dug up as many relatives as possible of folks who either participated in or attended his barnstorming games in October 1927. That barnstorming tour, orchestrated by Ruth’s agent Christy Walsh, for Ruth and Gehrig forms the spine of the book.

Ruth routinely ignored most of the traditional training and fitness régimes most athletes adhere to. How could he manage to excel as a baseball star?

The caricature of the fat man on “debutante” ankles is what we remember but it wasn’t an accurate picture of The Babe who hit 59 home runs in 1921. He was sublimely talented but he was also bigger, taller and stronger than any of his contemporaries.  He stood quite literally head and shoulders above them. In his early years, before he bulked up—to put it kindly—he was 6’2” and perhaps 200 pounds. The reason he remains undoubtedly the best player in Major League history is that he was both an extraordinary pitcher for the Boston Red Sox, a league-leading lefty starter who might well have made the Hall of Fame on those credentials, as well as the man who created power baseball.

How would Ruth have fared in today's world, both in and out of the ball park?

Off the field, he’d have protectors to shield him against his own worst instincts but he’d be subject to iPhone stalkers and the videos that have exposed present day athletes—see Michael Phelps et al. And he wouldn’t have a complicit press corps willing to draw and observe the line between public and private. He’d be as big a personality as he was then but he wouldn’t be the original he was when he decided to remake baseball in his own image. His peers would be as large physically as he was or bigger and, of course, he’d have to face the best of the very large pool of African-American talent that was barred from Major League competition.  

What aspect of Ruth's life do you find to be the most compelling to contemplate—his baseball prowess, his risqué social life, both?

I think he was a revolutionary, an inadvertent radical, a man who decided not that he was bigger than the game but to make the game bigger than it was. Why should he play small ball and allow the game to be dictated from the dugout when he can control it from the batter’s box? Why shouldn’t he barnstorm against Negro Leaguers? Why shouldn’t he hire an agent—the first in professional sports—to represent his interests? He reinvented the game on and off the field in his own image. 

Ruth was a loquacious extravert. Did he have a secret life? Was he good at keeping secrets?

Yes, he was good at keeping secrets but he also had a lot of help from the press until Joe Patterson, owner of the New York Daily News, decided to cover him by modern standards, exposing in 1925 the extra-marital affair with Claire Hodgson that ended his first marriage. He wouldn’t get away with it today.

How long did it take to research and write your biography of Ruth? Did you encounter any surprises? Did Ruth's few descendents have any insights to share?

I’m still making calls and still researching so it’s going on six years. Yes, but I’ve got to keep some of those surprises for the book. His daughter Julia Ruth Stevens, a very gracious woman now 100-years-old, told me something that became a sort of touchstone in my understanding of him. When I asked her what he shared about his years at St. Mary’s Industrial School, the reform school in Baltimore where he was sent by his parents, she replied, “He said he never felt full.” I think that was both a literal and emotional truth for him.

As a former sports reporter, have you met any athletes who reminded you of Ruth in character and temperament? And in what way?

Nobody comes close.  

How extraordinary was Ruth? Does he live up to the legends about him? Was Ruth truly one of a kind?

To quote the late Jim Murray, of the Los Angeles Times:  "A star is not something that flashes through the sky. That’s a comet. Or a meteor. A star is something you can steer ships by. It stays in place and gives off a steady glow; it is fixed, permanent. A star works at being a star… Stars never take themselves for granted. That’s why they’re stars.” That’s Ruth

"One Life: Babe Ruth" is on view through May 21, 2017 at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. 

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Would You Pass Thomas Edison’s Employment Test?

Smithsonian Magazine

Of what kind of wood are kerosene barrels made? How is sulfuric acid made? What cereal is used all over the world? Where is the Assuan Dam? If any of these questions give you pause, we have bad news—you’d probably fail Thomas Edison’s employment test. But don’t worry…you wouldn’t be the only one.

In 1921, Thomas Edison was one of the most famous men in America—and jobs at his plant among the country’s most coveted. But the self-educated inventor who famously credited his success to one percent inspiration, 99 percent perspiration was suspicious of college graduates and frustrated when they weren’t qualified to do the job. So he came up with a brutal 146-question employment test (think: a more demanding 1920s version of Google’s dreaded open-ended interview).

There was only one problem—Edison’s test was nearly impossible to pass. As Matt Novak reports for Paleofuture, the test was laden with irrelevant trivia. And when it leaked to the press, it became a controversial public sensation:

Everybody had an opinion on the test, and those who scored well weren't shy to tell you about it. However, those who did well were definitely in the minority.

The Chicago Tribune sent reporters down to the University of Chicago to see how students would fare. They asked them each 20 questions and nobody did well...Reporters even quizzed Albert Einstein, who was said to have “failed” Edison’s quiz for not knowing the speed of sound off the top of his head. Edison's youngest son Theodore, a student at MIT, did poorly as well when questioned by a visiting reporter.

When the New York Times published the test in May 1921, it slammed the quiz as “a test of a man’s memory and store of miscellaneous information, rather than of his knowledge, reasoning power or intelligence.” The article included bitter testimony from people who had failed the test, including a man who apparently took it while the inventor paced and ranted about his executives’ “bone-headed” ways.

But Edison defended his test, claiming that each lapse of memory cost him up to $5,000. “Millions and millions of facts which have come into your mind...ought still to be there,” he maintained.

So how would you fare on Edison’s test? Try for yourself: Novak has listed the questions and their 1921 answers here.

Would Astronauts Survive an Interstellar Trip Through a Wormhole?

Smithsonian Magazine

In the space opera Interstellar, astronauts seeking to save humanity have found a lifeline: a wormhole that has mysteriously appeared next to Saturn. The tunnel through spacetime leads to a distant galaxy and the chance to find habitable planets that humans can colonize. The movie's wormhole is based on real physics from retired CalTech professor Kip Thorne, an astrophysics pioneer who also helped Carl Sagan design his wormhole for the novel Contact. The visualizations are stunning and are being hailed as some of the most accurate simulations of wormholes and black holes in film. But there is one aspect of plunging into an interstellar express that the film doesn't address: How do you survive the trip?

Although they didn't call it such, the original wormhole was the brainchild of Albert Einstein and his assistant Nathan Rosen. They were trying to solve Einstein's equations for general relativity in a way that would ultimately lead to a purely mathematical model of the entire universe, including gravity and the particles that make up matter. Their attempt involved describing space as two geometric sheets connected by "bridges," which we perceive as particles.

Another physicist, Ludwig Flamm, had independently discovered such bridges in 1916 in his solution to Einstein's equations. Unfortunately for all of them, this "theory of everything" didn't work out, because the theoretical bridges did not ultimately behave like real particles. But Einstein and Rosen's 1935 paper popularized the concept of a tunnel through the fabric of spacetime and got other physicists thinking seriously about the implications.

Princeton physicist John Wheeler coined the term "wormhole" in the 1960s when he was exploring the models of Einstein-Rosen bridges. He noted that the bridges are akin to the holes that worms bore through apples. An ant crawling from one side of the apple to another can either plod all the way around its curved surface, or take a shortcut through the worm's tunnel. Now imagine our three-dimensional spacetime is the skin of an apple that curves around a higher dimension called "the bulk." An Einstein-Rosen bridge is a tunnel through the bulk that lets travelers take a fast lane between two points in space. It sounds strange, but it is a legit mathematical solution to general relativity.

Wheeler realized that the mouths of Einstein-Rosen bridges handily match descriptions of what's known as a Schwarzschild black hole, a simple sphere of matter so dense that not even light can escape its gravitational pull. Ah-ha! Astronomers believe that black holes exist and are formed when the cores of exceedingly massive stars collapse in on themselves. So could black holes also be wormholes and thus gateways to interstellar travel? Mathematically speaking, maybe—but no one would survive the trip.

In the Schwarzschild model, the dark heart of a black hole is a singularity, a neutral, unmoving sphere with infinite density. Wheeler calculated what would happen if a wormhole is born when two singularities in far-flung parts of the universe merge in the bulk, creating a tunnel between Schwarzschild black holes. He found that such a wormhole is inherently unstable: the tunnel forms, but then it contracts and pinches off, leaving you once more with just two singularities. This process of growth and contraction happens so fast that not even light makes it through the tunnel, and an astronaut trying to pass through would encounter a singularity. That's sudden death, as the immense gravitational forces would rip the traveler apart.

"Anything or anyone that attempts the trip will get destroyed in the pinch-off!" Thorne writes in his companion book to the movie, The Science of Interstellar

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There is an alternative: a rotating Kerr black hole, which is another possibility in general relativity. The singularity inside a Kerr black hole is a ring as opposed to a sphere, and some models suggest that a person could survive the trip if they pass neatly through the center of this ring like a basketball through a hoop. Thorne, however, has a number of objections to this notion. In a 1987 paper about travel via wormhole, he notes that the throat of a Kerr wormhole contains a region called a Cauchy horizon that is very unstable. The math says that as soon as anything, even light, tries to pass this horizon, the tunnel collapses. Even if the wormhole could somehow be stabilized, quantum theory tells us that the inside should be flooded with high-energy particles. Set foot in a Kerr wormhole, and you will be fried to a crisp.

The trick is that physics has yet to marry the classical rules of gravity with the quantum world, an elusive bit of mathematics that many researchers are trying to pin down. In one twist on the picture, Juan Maldacena at Princeton and Leonard Susskind at Stanford proposed that wormholes may be like the physical manifestations of entanglement, when quantum objects are linked no matter how far apart they are.

Einstein famously described entanglement as "spooky action at a distance" and resisted the notion. But plenty of experiments tell us that entanglement is real—it's already being used commercially to protect online communications, such as bank transactions. According to Maldacena and Susskind, large amounts on entanglement change the geometry of spacetime and can give rise to wormholes in the form of entangled black holes. But their version is no interstellar gateway.

"They are wormholes which do not allow you to travel faster than light," says Maldacena. "However, they can allow you to meet somebody inside, with the small caveat that they would both then die at a gravitational singularity."

OK, so black holes are a problem. What, then, can a wormhole possibly be? Avi Loeb at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics says our options are wide open: "Since we do not yet have a theory that reliably unifies general relativity with quantum mechanics, we do not know of the entire zoo of possible spacetime structures that could accommodate wormholes."

A still from the Interstellar trailer shows the flower-like Endurance spaceship approaching the wormhole. (Paramount Pictures and Warner Brothers Entertainment, in association with Legendary Pictures)

There's still a hitch. Thorne found in his 1987 work that any type of wormhole that is consistent with general relativity will collapse unless it is propped open by what he calls "exotic matter" with negative energy. He argues that we have evidence of exotic matter thanks to experiments showing how quantum fluctuations in a vacuum seem to create negative pressure between two mirrors placed very close together. And Loeb thinks our observations of dark energy are further hints that exotic matter may exist.

"We observe that over recent cosmic history, galaxies have been running away from us at a speed that increases with time, as if they were acted upon by repulsive gravity," says Loeb. "This accelerated expansion of the universe can be explained if the universe is filled with a substance that has a negative pressure … just like the material needed to create a wormhole." Both physicists agree, though, that you'd need too much exotic matter for a wormhole to ever form naturally, and only a highly advanced civilization could ever hope to gather enough of the stuff to stabilize a wormhole.

But other physicists are not convinced. "I think that a stable, traversable wormhole would be very confusing and seems inconsistent with the laws of physics that we know," says Maldacena. Sabine Hossenfelder at the Nordic Institute for Theoretical Physics in Sweden is even more skeptical: "We have absolutely zero indication that this exists. Indeed it is widely believed that it cannot exist, for if it did the vacuum would be unstable." Even if exotic matter was available, traveling through it may not be pretty. The exact effects would depend on the curvature of spacetime around the wormhole and the density of the energy inside, she says. "It is pretty much as with black holes: too much tidal forces and you get ripped apart."

Despite his ties to the film, Thorne is also pessimistic that a traversable wormhole is even possible, much less survivable. "If they can exist, I doubt very much that they can form naturally in the astrophysical universe," he writes in the book. But Thorne appreciates that Christopher and Jonah Nolan, who wrote Interstellar, were so keen to tell a story that is grounded in science.

“The story is now essentially all Chris and Jonah's,” Thorne told Wired in an exclusive interview. “But the spirit of it, the goal of having a movie in which science is embedded in the fabric from the beginning—and it's great science—that was preserved.”

Worn-Out Teeth Expand the Narrative of the Ancient Egyptian Career Woman

Smithsonian Magazine

Women could choose from at least seven professions in ancient Egypt: priestess, musician, singer, dancer, mourner, weaver and midwife. But the full diversity of women’s occupations in ancient Egypt hasn’t been reflected in the artifacts and texts that have survived through the millennia, as a recently analyzed set of teeth suggests.

The find comes from Tell er-Rub’a, the site of Mendes, an ancient city, which was briefly the capital of Egypt. In the late 1970s, the New York University Institution of Fine Arts went on an expedition to Mendes and excavated 68 burials there. In the 1990s, Nancy Lovell of the University of Alberta and her team excavated the remains of an additional 66 adults there. That left Lovell and Kimberley Palichuk, her former student, a total of 1070 teeth. Among them, they noticed unusual wear patterns in the teeth belonging to the skeleton of one older woman, whose burial was also more elaborate than the rest of the dataset, populated with alabaster vessels, a bronze mirror and cosmetics.

Her 14 chompers showed flat abrasions while the incisors were worn into wedge shapes. Horizontal wear showed she was also a habitual tooth brusher, a rarity in the ancient world.

In some cultures, tooth modification is intentional, but that’s not the case in ancient Egypt. The wear patterns appear similar to those found in other parts of the world where craftspeople split vegetative material like reeds with their teeth. In Mendes, papyrus reeds would have been plentiful and the silica phytoliths found in them would have scoured her teeth and likely led her to brush her teeth regularly to clean off the plant material.

Based on that evidence, the researchers believe the woman presents the first solid evidence that Egyptian women were employed in craftwork.

“A strong case can be made that the plant was Cyperus papyrus, an aquatic sedge that grew abundantly in the delta,” the researchers write in a paper published in Bioarchaeology of Marginalized People. “Papyrus stalks were used for firewood, to make boxes and baskets for storage and transport of goods, and to make sandals, curtains, and floor mats.”

The finding is not particularly surprising, according to the researchers, since there’s available scholarship that shows ancient Egyptian women and men were equal under the law when it came to “owning, purchasing, inheriting or disposing of their property.” Women, they note, could also “enter into contracts, take oaths and witness statements.”

The distortion in what they could do professionally and what they were documented doing occurred because tomb paintings were made by men and commissioned by men. Thus, they write in their paper, they “represent an idealized and stereotyped world, conforming to the conventional view of daily life in which women do not work in anything other than domestic contexts.”

The women’s tooth wear contradicts this narrative, they write, making visible “the professionalization of women that is not registered in the documents and tomb scenes that are created by men and reflect male interests and biases.”

Egyptologist Joann Fletcher of the University of York, not involved in the study, tells Rosie McCall at IFLScience that the finding adds to our understanding of ancient Egyptian culture. “I think we can say it adds to a growing amount of evidence that the women of ancient Egypt played a far more active role in economic life than has traditionally been acknowledged, something which equates with their role within society as a whole,” Fletcher says.

Sonia Zakrzewski, a bioarchaeologist at the University of Southhampton, not involved in the study, echoes this sentiment. In an interview with Forbes’ Kristina Killgrove, she says, the finding helps place Egyptian women in the correct context. “We can now see her as being at the core of her community rather than as a marginalized person,” Zakrewski says, “albeit after having been marginalized by archaeologists in the past.”

World’s Longest Sea Bridge Opens Amid Controversy

Smithsonian Magazine

After nine years, $20 billion and a seemingly endless string of controversies, the world’s longest sea crossing bridge between Zhuhai, China and the autonomous regions of Hong Kong and Macau, was officially opened today by Chinese President Xi Jinping.

According to James Griffiths and Sarah Lazarus of CNN, the 34-mile bridge, which spans the Pearl River Delta, may cut travel times between the three locations to as little as 30 minutes, down from three hours. The bridge will be accessible to traffic starting Wednesday, but private drivers will need a permit to be able to cross it. And as Hallie Detrick reports for Forbes, permits are not in abundant supply. Just 300 permanent permits are available for Hong Kong residents making the trip to Macau, and permits to mainland China are only granted to individuals who meet certain criteria, such as having donated to charities on the mainland or being employed at a “recognized high tech enterprise.” Without proper documentation, drivers will have to switch to special shuttle buses that cost between $8 to $10 per trip, depending on the time of day.

The new structure is an impressive feat of engineering, encompassing not only a bridge, but also an underground tunnel strung between two artificial islands, which will help reduce disruptions to busy shipping routes. Some 400,000 tons of steel were used to build the bridge, which, as Violet Law of the Los Angeles Times puts into perspective, means that it “stretches longer than 14 Golden Gate Bridges lined up end to end.” It is also reportedly strong enough to withstand an 8.0-magnitude earthquake, a typhoon and strikes by cargo vessels.

The bridge is a major part of the Chinese government’s “Greater Bay Area” project, which aims to connect Hong Kong and Macau with nine major cities of the coastal mainland province of Guangdong. Officials hope to build the region into an economic and tech hub similar to Silicon Valley, and to make it easier for tourists to travel between the cities. Hong Kong and Macau, a gambling destination known as the “Las Vegas of Asia,” are already popular vacation spots for travelers from mainland China. In the first half of the year, 23.7 million and 11.7 million mainland visitors traveled to Hong Kong and Macau respectively, reports Alice Yan of the South China Morning Post.

But there are fears the bridge will be used as a political tool in China’s efforts to tighten its grip on Hong Kong. A former British colony, Hong Kong reverted to Chinese control in 1997, but it was granted semi-autonomous status. Though Beijing denies the charges, there is concern that the Chinese government intends to curtail Hong Kong’s independence.

“[The bridge] links Hong Kong to China almost like an umbilical cord,” Claudia Mo, a lawmaker who supports greater democracy in Hong Kong, told CNN’s Lazarus in May. “You see it, and you know you're linked up to the motherland."

From the start, the ambitious project has been mired in several controversies. Seven people died while building the bridge, and another 275 were injured, according to Griffiths and Lazarus. Over the past year, six subcontractors have been fined for endangering workers’ safety.

The Chinese white dolphin, an endangered species that was once most abundant in the Pearl River Delta region, has also been threatened by the construction of the new bridge and other development projects in the area. According to Law of the Los Angeles Times, “the constant burr of jackhammering and welding” is pushing the animals away and destroying their habitat. A government report revealed that only 47 dolphins were seen in Hong Kong waters between April 2017 and March 2018, down from 80 in 2012.

In response to environmentalists’ concerns, the Hong Kong government established protected marine parks for the dolphins and other aquatic animals. But Heyman Mak of the Hong Kong Dolphin Conservation Society tells Law that officials “set up the conservation zones only after construction has begun — that’s too late.”

Hong Kong taxpayers were also on the hook to cover 60 percent of the cost to build the bridge. “I don’t think people are too excited about it. It’s been dragged on for so long and it’s so expensive, and there are already means of going to the western side of the Pearl River Delta,” Mee Kam Ng, a professor of geography at the Chinese University in Hong Kong, tells the Guardian’s Lily Kuo.

And while there may be mainland interest in a speedier trip to Hong Kong and Macao, a new poll released today by Hong Kong’s Lingnan University and Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, reveals Hong Kong residents appear to have a much more muted interest in traversing the Greater Bay Area. Of 1,033 residents interviewed this summer, 4.7 percent reported they had traveled to the Greater Bay Area, excluding Hong Kong and Macao, more than once a month in the past year; 53.9 percent said they had not visited the nine mainland cities at all in that time.

Nevertheless, as Ng tells Kuo of the Guardian, the bridge's opening will certainly serve as “an interesting experiment,” as it will link together three jurisdictions that span wide-ranging cultural histories, currencies and legal systems.

Worlds of Sound: The Ballad of Folkways Documentary Trailer from Smithsonian Channel

Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage
Download on iTunes here: http://goo.gl/zJifO More info here: http://tinyurl.com/ye6a2wv The film will be screened on October 20th, 12:10pm in Thessaloniki, Greece as part of the WOMEX Film Market. Visit http://www.worldmusicfilms.com/index.php?id=708 for more information. Trailer for the Smithsonian Channel documentary Worlds of Sound: The Ballad of Folkways, a 60-minute documentary about the 60-year history of the little record label that could. Narrated by Pete Seeger and featuring interviews with dozens of artists and producers, this program is a companion to the 2008 book, Worlds of Sound: The Story of Smithsonian Folkways written by Richard Carlin: http://tinyurl.com/ye6a2wv The program airs regularly on Smithsonian Channel please click here for a current schedule: http://www.smithsonianchannel.com/site/smithsonian/schedule.do From Smithsonian Channel: Folkways Records founder Moses Asch turned the music business model on its head. He avoided hit makers and catered to unknown musicians. He dug into vanishing traditions around the world to harness music and sounds that inspire people. Artists like Woody Guthrie and Lead Belly can still be heard on this original indie label with the mission of gathering sound and spreading it to the people. Purchase the book Worlds of Sound: The Story of Smithsonian Folkways and get an exclusive, free CD sampler! The content and comments posted here are subject to the Smithsonian Institution copyright and privacy policy (/www.si.edu/copyright/). Smithsonian reserves the right in its sole discretion to remove any content at any time.

World War II: Victory in Europe - STEM in 30

National Air and Space Museum
As part of the 75th Anniversary of VE Day, STEM in 30 will take a look at how the airplane contributed to the Allies’ Victory over the Axis powers. In this episode we will feature collections and stories from the World War II Museum in New Orleans and will showcase students’ interviews with veterans. The program will also offer tips and resources on how your students can conduct their own interviews with the veterans in their lives. For more FREE teacher resources from the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum visit STEM in 30, the museum's Emmy nominated TV show for middle school students: https://airandspace.si.edu/stem-30

World War I Letters From Generals to Doughboys Voice the Sorrow of Fighting a War

Smithsonian Magazine

One of several exhibitions in the nation's capital noting the 100th anniversary of America’s involvement in World War I begins and ends with letters by Gen. John J. Pershing.

One of them, of course, is the widely distributed missive to “My Fellow Soldiers,” after which the exhibition at the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum in Washington, D.C. was named, extolling the troops’ extraordinary work. 

“Whether keeping lonely vigil in the trenches or gallantly storming the enemy’s stronghold; whether enduring monotonous drudgery at the rear, or sustaining the fighting line at the front, each has bravely and efficiently played his part,” Pershing wrote

At the end of the war, General John J. Pershing wrote a letter of appreciation to the members of the American Expeditionary Forces that began: "My Fellow Soldiers." (National Postal Museum)

While every member of the American Expeditionary Forces under his command received that communication, a different, quite personal handwritten letter, opens the show. In it, Pershing shares the personal grief to a family friend at the horror of losing his wife and three young daughters in a house fire two months earlier, while he was deployed in Fort Bliss, Texas.

October 5, 1915.

Dear Ann: -

I have been trying to write you a word for some time but find it quite impossible to do so.

I shall never be relieved of the poignancy of grief at the terrible loss of Darling Frankie and the babies. It is too overwhelming! I really do not understand how I have lived through it all thus far. I cannot think they are gone. It is too cruel to believe. Frankie was so much to those whom she loved, and you were her best friend.

Ann Dear, if there is anything I can do for you ever, at any time, please for Frank’s sake let me know. And, I want to hear from you just as she would want to hear from you. [page break] My sister and Warren are here with me. Warren is in school. I think his is such a sad case – to lose such a mother and such sisters.

I am trying to work and keep from thinking; but oh! The desolation of life: the emptiness of it all; after such fullness as I have had. There can be no consolation.

Affectionately yours

John J Pershing

It’s the first time the letter has been on public display, says Lynn Heidelbaugh, the postal museum curator who organized the show. “This is a touching letter of the heart wrenching, about how he’s dealing with his profound grief.” 

Just a year and a half after that tragedy Pershing was made commander of the American Expeditionary Force by President Woodrow Wilson, overseeing a force that would grow to two million soldiers.

An American Red Cross postcard depicts military personel sending mail. (National Postal Museum)

If World War I was unlike any conflict fought before, that was also reflected in the post office, which had to handle an unprecedented number of cards, letters and packages overseas Before cell phones, Skype and email, pen and paper was the only way for soldiers to stay in touch with loved ones and the postal service struggled to keep up.

“In that first year alone, there were 52 million pieces of mail going back and forth, most of it from the U.S., but a fair number coming from the military as well,” Heidelbaugh says. “We wanted to show how quotidian letter-writing was. This is what you did as much as we email today."

“My Fellow Soldiers: Letters from World War I” is the first temporary exhibition within the permanent “Mail Call” corner of the Postal Museum covering mail from all the U.S. armed conflicts. Many of the items are donated from the Center for American War Letters at Chapman University in Orange, Calif.  But in all, more than 20 institutions lent pieces for the show.

Because of the fragility of paper; the display will change over time, with other letters and other stories swapped in, as others are removed, Heidelbaugh says. But all of its items will be available for examination—and transcribed—in a nearby electronic kiosk. 

“There are a lot of stories to cover,” she says. “We do cover the military mail of soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, but we also have letters from people working for social welfare organizations overseas—some of the people who were there even before the U.S. entered the war,” she says. “And then we have people that are working in the Red Cross campaign as well as on the home front. We really wanted to get as many voices and perspectives as we could.”

Stewart C. Lockhart sent this card to Mrs. Nellie Bailey in October 1918. (National Postal Museum)

Many are handwritten and “their personality comes out through their handwriting and turn of phrase.” Others are typewritten as an efficient way to get a lot of words on a page.

But there was always a question of how much the writers could express, since they could fall in enemy hands or were otherwise examined by military censors to ensure secrets or locations were not revealed. 

“‘Somewhere in France’ becomes a huge phrase,” Heidelbaugh says.

Letters give an insight on women’s involvement in the war effort and African-American troops whose participation in segregated units was more welcomed than their citizenship was at home. 

The letters on hand may reflect the gulf between the educated and non-literate, Heidelbaugh adds, but there are some examples that suggest letters had been dictated to others.

One World War I veteran writes his perspective on foreign war to his son, about to embark on combat in World War II. 

“It’s not a letter about bravado, Heidelbaugh says. It says, ‘You will have adventures, but it’s the people that you meet and your own character that will get you through.’ It’s a touching letter and it in many ways reflects Pershing’s letter about the character of the military, to face the trials of war.”

And because the exhibition will change, replacing and adding frail letters over its 20 months, repeat visits will be rewarded. 

In addition to the letters, there are artifacts of the era, such as examples of pens designed to work in the trench, or some of the many examples of sheet music about the process of writing to the troops over there. One from 1918 is titled “Three Wonderful Letters from Home.” 

World War I is when the Army Post Office was established—the APO—as a way to get mail to a specific unit without naming its location. The APO is still in existence 100 years later. 

Though modern electronic communications provides more instant contact with loved ones back home, Heidelbaugh says the personal letter still has a place. “Through my interviews and taking to people, even studies show that a personal letter on paper has carried more weight—providing that tactile experience in that connection.”  

Through correspondence official and personal, Heidelbaugh says “we hope this will inspire people to go back to their own family collections, if not to their WWI letters, then other sets of letters, or to consider their own communication. 

“How do they even archive communication today or create records of our communication, how we express ourselves? These are analog and relatively easy to save and people share their stories that they might not have been able to have come home and shared themselves. And now with 100 years of perspective we can share those stories.”

“My Fellow Soldiers: Letters from World War I” is on view through Nov. 29, 2018 at the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum Mail Call Gallery. Read an excerpt from the new book My Fellow Soldiers by Andrew Carroll, a companion to the exhibition, on the death of President Theodore Roosevelt's son Quentin. 

Workroom and Simulator

National Air and Space Museum
Workroom and Simulator, July 1974. Page from a spiral-bound sketchbook. The simulator in the foreground on the right is the most detailed element of the sketch. At the top is a conical section, below that a spherical section surrounded by a catwalk, and then the base is broader and partially obscured by a console and other equipment on the lower right. The deep perspective shows the large interior of the room extending into the background. One figure stands to the left of the simulator. A group of figures are facing a control panel on one side of a short wall in the center of the scene, and on the other side of the wall appears to be another vehicle. Writing in the lower left says "July 1974 USSR."

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

Workmen on a Platform

National Air and Space Museum
Sketch of three workmen on a platform that occupies the horizontal space of the top half of the page. The three figures are loosely defined against the background of heavy dark strokes. Three pipes descend from the platform on the right side.

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

Workman

National Air and Space Museum
Workman. A sketch of the rear view of a workman. The body is thinly outlined and unfinished at the feet. The arms and the hair under the hat have dark shading.

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

Working with James Brown: Fred Wesley Interview Part 3

Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage
Legendary trombone player Fred Wesley talks about his work with James Brown.

Fred Wesley and The New JBs perform every day from July 7 through July 11, with a special evening concert on the Motor City Stage on July 7, 6 to 7:30 p.m.

Production: Charles Weber, Mark Puryear, Mariana Alvarez-Heitzge, and Michael Headley.

Working Together on the Catalonia Program

Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage

There is a reason no two Folklife Festival programs look alike, although the ingredients are the same. Each program is the result of conceptual discussions and many research trips, ultimately resulting in a final list of participants. Yet for every thematic program, we forge new partnerships, oftentimes across borders, and that collaborative practice yields an exceptional process and product every time.

In one of its central messages, the Catalonia program highlights the pervasive role of associations in the daily lives of Catalans. Consequently, we have learned a lot throughout this curatorial process from our partners in Catalonia who have “working together” down to a science. Here is a snapshot of our process from the last ten months.

In May, co-curator Michael Atwood Mason and program coordinator Pablo Molinero-Martinez traveled to Barcelona to hold a series of meetings. The advisory planning meeting brought together representatives from the Department of Traditional and Popular Culture of Catalonia, our program’s main partner and sponsor, along with La Xarxa Comunicació Local, the Association for the Diffusion of Folklore (ADIFOLK), journalists and tradition bearers Ester Plana and Quim Rutllant, independent researchers Meritxell Martin-Pardo and Pablo Giori, and co-curator David Ibánez.

Catalonia program research trip
David Dorca stretches dried cane to make a traditional chair seat in Vall d’en Bas.
Photo by Pablo Molinero-Martinez

After a long meeting exploring and debating many aspects of Catalan culture, the outcome was a curatorial framework that identifies the main program themes. Essentially, we agreed to tell the story of how Catalans ensure the vitality of their local culture through bold creativity, often inspired by traditions.

At the end of June, Festival director Sabrina Lynn Motley joined us on our next trip. We had the honor of meeting some talented artist: Anxovetes, Criatures, and Joan Garriga and Carles Belda, who embody different Catalan music styles such as havaneras, rumba, messtisatge, and traditional folk. We also attended the Festa Major de les Santes (Mataro) and private rehearsals of the collas castellers (human tower building clubs) from Valls, where we could feel the pride of Catalans celebrating their local popular traditions.

We visited the municipality of Vall d’en Bas, in La Garrotxa (Central Catalonia), composed of six small towns with just over 3,000 residents. Immediately, we could see that this place was replete with examples of community-based cultural heritage enterprise, which is the overall theme of our 2018 Festival. Through these enterprises, they have developed a strong national and global presence.

During that visit, we also organized an orientation course with our researchers, two full-time and six part-time. It was a chance to explain our Festival research process, which we use to identify potential stories and participants and gather material to contextualize their music, craft, foodways, and festival arts presentations.

Catalonia program research trip
Families interact with “Imaginario Festivo” in the Mataró city hall, a exhibition showing the beasts, “bigheads,” and giants used in processions and festivals.
Photo by Pablo Molinero-Martinez

The participant selection process started on September, when co-curator Cristina Diaz-Carrera joined the project full time, and we are currently in the final stages. More than 120 individuals and groups submitted their applications, and several dozen more are in consideration for participation in the Festival. It was the first time we used a combined selection process consisting of 1) an open call, allowing individuals and groups from all over Catalonia to apply to perform their traditions and cultural expressions at the Festival, and 2) our traditional research-based approach done by independent researchers based in the region. For the open call, we collaborated with ADIFOLK staff members who have over thirty years of experience organizing the annual APLEC festival of Catalan expressive traditions in different cities in Europe.

Currently, our research team has almost completed interviews with all of our potential participants.  These interviews give us important information about the artist and help us to frame their presentation at the Festival. We have started contacting some of them already, and Mason has met some groups in person when he visited Barcelona at the end of January. He also came back with ideas about how to display engalaments (street decorations from the Festa Major de Gràcia) on the National Mall.

It has been challenging to pick the final 75 participants, in addition to over 200 castellers coming to build human towers at the Festival, but given the diverse and compelling proposals we have before us, it will be a rich program indeed. We hope to have a final participant list very soon.

Cristina Diaz-Carrera is the co-curator for the Catalonia program at the 2018 Folklife Festival, and Pablo Molinero-Martinez is the program coordinator.

 

Working Magic, Occupations of the Film Industry: Introducing Matt Noonan, Location Manager

Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage

Matt Noonan is often the first on a location film set and the last to leave. He also probably has more control over what happens on the location set than the director.

When you think about the true scope of making a movie—the sheer quantities of people and equipment involved to shoot five minutes of a two-hour feature—it’s amazing that such a huge production can move off a stage set at all. But for those times when a studio shot simply won’t do—that is, when a film is shot “on location”—move they do. And Matt Noonan is the man in charge.

He works in film as a location manager, which means pretty much exactly what it sounds like. He’s responsible not only for finding the right location—one that both looks good on camera and is actually functional—he’s also responsible for making sure everything goes smoothly throughout the day. No detail is too small, because even small mistakes can snowball into much larger problems. From making sure everyone on the crew has parking in the morning to directing trash pick-up at the end of the day, Matt does it all.

This is the third podcast in a series highlighting different jobs in the film industry. Matt was
interviewed by Betty Belanus and Mike West. In this episode, Matt talks about how to translate a location from script page to three-dimensional reality, the importance of professionalism on a film set, and the few simple rules that make a day on a location shoot go smoothly.

Interview with Matt Noonan

Read a transcript of the interview excerpt.

Find out more about NoonanFilms.

Julia Fernandez will graduate from Smith College in 2014 with a B.A in American Studies focusing on popular culture. This past year, as an intern at the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, she worked on the future Festival program on occupations in the film industry, conducting interviews with local film professionals and creating this podcast series.

Interview recorded with Betty Belanus on September 13, 2010.

Working Magic, Occupations of the Film Industry: Introducing Kid Richmond, Stuntman

Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage

When was the last time you sat through all the credits after watching a movie? How many of those job titles did you understand?

I rarely sit through the credits unless I know there is some sort of bonus scene at the end, and only recently have I begun to learn the details of movie-making. Since I started my internship with curator Betty Belanus here at the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage on research for a future Folklife Festival program on occupations in the film industry, one of the things I’ve discerned while doing this research is that “working in the film industry” can encompass a wide variety of professions. From pre-production to post-production, a huge team of professionals all lend their unique skills to make a finished film. Often, however, their only recognition is seeing their names in the end credits.

At the beginning of my internship in September, I was tasked with creating podcasts of some of the interviews which had been done by Betty and interns before me. Betty has been talking to people whose occupations range from set building to sound engineering to so much more, learning about the crafts of film production to put together an exciting Festival program in which visitors will learn how complex a job it is to produce a movie. I was also encouraged to find and interview other film workers once I familiarized myself with the concept behind the Festival program and the type of information Betty was seeking.

Producing these podcasts meant teaching myself a whole new suite of skills. With no previous experience editing audio, I downloaded free software and taught myself how to cut, rearrange, and tweak the sound. It was slow going, and sometimes involved listening to the same five seconds of audio over twenty times just to figure out what was wrong with it. I had to remind myself what human breath naturally sounds like. In the end, though, I had a lot of fun and wanted to share the end result here.

I’ve always loved movies but had never thought too hard about what it really takes to make a good one. This series will explore a tiny sample of the wide variety of jobs involved in making film; a stuntman seemed like an explosive place to start.

We kick off this series by introducing Jake “Kid” Richmond, a stunt actor and coordinator who built his career from the ground up by literally driving out to Hollywood from his native Richmond, Virginia. For my first podcast effort, I worked with an interview conducted by Betty and then-intern Mike West at Kid’s home. Kid is also the inventor of Devil Skin stunt gel, allowing him and other stuntmen to safely set fire to skin without a protective garment. In this episode, Kid talks about his struggles breaking into the film industry, how moving to Los Angeles changed his assumptions about what it meant to work in film, what it means to be successful as a stuntman, and much more.

Interview with Kid Richmond

Click here to read Jake “Kid” Richmond podcast transcript.

Click here to find out more about Kid Richmond on his website.

Julia Fernandez will graduate from Smith College in 2014 with a B.A in American studies focusing on popular culture. This past semester, as an intern at the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, she worked on the future Festival program on occupations in the film industry, conducting interviews with local film professionals and creating this podcast series.

Interview recorded with Betty Belanus on November 17, 2010.

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