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"Todo Lo Que Tengo (All That I Have)" by Quetzal from "Imaginaries"

Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage
Purchase the album at folkways.si.edu: http://www.folkways.si.edu/albumdetails.aspx?itemid=3365 Inspired by traditional son jarocho music of Veracruz, Mexico, and spiked with urban rhythms, rock and R&B, East LA Chicano group Quetzal will release 'Imaginaries', its 5th album and 1st for Smithsonian Folkways, on Feb. 28, 2012. Quetzal, a GRAMMY winning ensemble, called "provocative, heartfelt and strikingly original" by the LA Times and founded by guitarist Quetzal Flores, rose from the ashes of uprisings in LA in 1992 as a vehicle for social commentary and activism. More information about the album release can be found here: http://www.folkways.si.edu/about_us/news_press.aspx#12.14.11_quetzal 'Imaginaries' begins with the dark but lively "2+0+1+2=Five," about a barren landscape ruined by environmental abuse; set in 5/4 time, the composition is punctuated by lush strings, organs and eerie vocals. It sets the tone for a fiery, innovative, percussive and bilingual album that fuses many touchstones of the East LA plurality―including the title track, a taut mix of rock and R&B, and the Veracruz-informed "Tragafuegos." Listen to "Imaginaries": http://snd.sc/vITVjX Listen to "Tragafuegos" (Fire Breathers): http://snd.sc/sMDeUs Watch "Imaginaries": http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sxz-Pj_tlu4 Watch "Estoy Aqui" (I Am Here): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_PQ9QNV4U6g "Imaginaries" is the 35th release in the Smithsonian Folkways Tradiciones/Traditions series since 2002. The series, a co-production with the Smithsonian Latino Center, showcases the diverse musical heritage of the 50 million Latinos living in the USA. Record release party at Fais Do Do in Los Angeles March 2, 2012 http://quetzaleastla.com/ http://www.facebook.com/pages/Quetzal/121358363248 http://shorefire.com/clients/folkways/ The content and comments posted here are subject to the Smithsonian Institution copyright and privacy policy (http://www.si.edu/copyright/ ). Smithsonian reserves the right in its sole discretion to remove any content at any time.

Quetzal Performs "Estoy Aqui" at the 2012 Smithsonian Folklife Festival

Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage
Purchase this recording from Smithsonian Folkways and support our mission as the non-profit record label of the national museum of the United States: http://www.folkways.si.edu/albumdetails.aspx?itemid=3365 Also available on iTunes, Amazon, Spotify, Rdio and everywhere else... Quetzal, a GRAMMY winning ensemble, called "provocative, heartfelt and strikingly original" by the LA Times and founded by guitarist Quetzal Flores, rose from the ashes of uprisings in LA in 1992 as a vehicle for social commentary and activism. Quetzal's music has its roots in traditional son jarocho music from Veracruz, Mexico, but is reinterpreted through alternative rock. Incorporating other Mexican, Afro-Caribbean, and R&B rhythms, as well as writing bilingual lyrics, reflects the multicultural environment of Quetzal's native East LA. "Estoy aquí" ("I am Here") is a backbeat cumbia inviting people to both dance and also to think. Quetzal uses this song to validate claims of space and presence made by Mexican and Mexican-American communities despite oppression by local governments. 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.

Estoy Aqui - Quetzal

Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage
For more information, and to purchase the album: http://www.folkways.si.edu/albumdetails.aspx?itemid=3365 Inspired by traditional son jarocho music of Veracruz, Mexico, and spiked with urban rhythms, rock and R&B, East LA Chicano group Quetzal will release 'Imaginaries', its 5th album and 1st for Smithsonian Folkways, on Feb. 28, 2012. Quetzal, a GRAMMY winning ensemble, called "provocative, heartfelt and strikingly original" by the LA Times and founded by guitarist Quetzal Flores, rose from the ashes of uprisings in LA in 1992 as a vehicle for social commentary and activism. More information about the album release can be found here: http://www.folkways.si.edu/about_us/news_press.aspx#12.14.11_quetzal 'Imaginaries' begins with the dark but lively "2+0+1+2=Five," about a barren landscape ruined by environmental abuse; set in 5/4 time, the composition is punctuated by lush strings, organs and eerie vocals. It sets the tone for a fiery, innovative, percussive and bilingual album that fuses many touchstones of the East LA plurality―including the title track, a taut mix of rock and R&B, and the Veracruz-informed "Tragafuegos." Listen to "Imaginaries": http://snd.sc/vITVjX Listen to "Tragafuegos" (Fire Breathers): http://snd.sc/sMDeUs Watch "Imaginaries": http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sxz-Pj_tlu4 Watch "Todo Lo Que Tengo": http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7yV8UJa2Kic "Imaginaries" is the 35th release in the Smithsonian Folkways Tradiciones/Traditions series since 2002. The series, a co-production with the Smithsonian Latino Center, showcases the diverse musical heritage of the 50 million Latinos living in the USA. Record release party at Fais Do Do in Los Angeles March 2, 2012 http://quetzaleastla.com/ http://www.facebook.com/pages/Quetzal/121358363248 http://shorefire.com/clients/folkways/ The content and comments posted here are subject to the Smithsonian Institution copyright and privacy policy (http://www.si.edu/copyright/ ). Smithsonian reserves the right in its sole discretion to remove any content at any time.

"Todo Lo Que Tengo (All That I Have)" by Quetzal from "Imaginaries"

Smithsonian Institution
Inspired by traditional son jarocho music of Veracruz, Mexico, and spiked with urban rhythms, rock and R&B, East LA Chicano group Quetzal will release 'Imaginaries', its 5th album and 1st for Smithsonian Folkways, on Feb. 28, 2012. Quetzal, called "provocative, heartfelt and strikingly original" by the LA Times and founded by guitarist Quetzal Flores, rose from the ashes of uprisings in LA in 1992 as a vehicle for social commentary and activism. 'Imaginaries' begins with the dark but lively "2+0+1+2=Five," about a barren landscape ruined by environmental abuse; set in 5/4 time, the composition is punctuated by lush strings, organs and eerie vocals. It sets the tone for a fiery, innovative, percussive and bilingual album that fuses many touchstones of the East LA plurality―including the title track, a taut mix of rock and R&B, and the Veracruz-informed "Tragafuegos." Listen to "Imaginaries": http://snd.sc/vITVjX Listen to "Tragafuegos" (Fire Breathers): http://snd.sc/sMDeUs "Imaginaries" is the 35th release in the Smithsonian Folkways Tradiciones/Traditions series since 2002. The series, a co-production with the Smithsonian Latino Center, showcases the diverse musical heritage of the 50 million Latinos living in the USA. Record release party at Fais Do Do in Los Angeles March 2, 2012 http://quetzaleastla.com/ http://www.facebook.com/pages/Quetzal/121358363248 http://shorefire.com/clients/folkways/ The content and comments posted here are subject to the Smithsonian Institution copyright and privacy policy (http://www.si.edu/copyright/ ). Smithsonian reserves the right in its sole discretion to remove any content at any time.

When Scientists, Social Media, and the Kardashians Collide

Smithsonian Magazine

Normally, an article that cites Kim Kardashian's Wikipedia entry as a reference wouldn’t make it into a scientific journal. But last week, the journal Genome Biology published a commentary by genome scientist Neil Hall that did just that.

The paper, meant to be satirical, was titled “The Kardashian index: a measure of discrepant social media profile for scientists,” and it proposed a way of determining whether scientists on social media had more influence than their scientific renown would warrant. It proposed a measure called the K-index, which would compare a scientist's number of citations to his or her number of Twitter followers. Scientists who had more followers than citations would have a high K-index.

From the paper

I propose that all scientists calculate their own K-index on an annual basis and include it in their Twitter profile. Not only does this help others decide how much weight they should give to someone’s 140 character wisdom, it can also be an incentive - if your K-index gets above 5, then it’s time to get off Twitter and write those papers.

There's a thorough and interesting conversation out there about how scientists are or should be using social media. For many scientists on social media, the K-index paper was not a welcome contribution. The paper touched several nerves, inspiring satirical pieces and even spawning a hashtag, #AlternateScienceMetrics. Critics were quick to point out that comparing scientists who use social media to Kim Kardashian was, in fact, kind of an insult to scientists who use social media. 

Molecular biologist Buddhini Samarasinghe writes in a post

This 'joke' article is only funny if you are a senior tenured professor with lots of papers and yet have a low follower count on social media. "Ha ha, let's laugh at those silly scientists doing social media outreach when they should be writing papers!" The K-index trivialises those of us who work hard to communicate science with the public. 

Anthropologist Kate Clancy made a similar point, noting that the joke, which skewered people with less power in the scientific community, just wasn’t funny. And Mick Watson pointed out that “number of citations is not a measure of quality.”

But the win for a point-by-point rebuttal of the article, which is dry enough in tone that it’s been taken seriously, goes to Red Ink, which has produced a brilliantly scathing annotation of the paper. 

"Imaginaries" by Quetzal

Smithsonian Institution
Inspired by traditional son jarocho music of Veracruz, Mexico, and spiked with urban rhythms, rock and R&B, East LA Chicano group Quetzal will release 'Imaginaries', its 5th album and 1st for Smithsonian Folkways, on Feb. 28, 2012. Quetzal, called "provocative, heartfelt and strikingly original" by the LA Times and founded by guitarist Quetzal Flores, rose from the ashes of uprisings in LA in 1992 as a vehicle for social commentary and activism. More information about the album release can be found here: http://www.folkways.si.edu/about_us/news_press.aspx#12.14.11_quetzal "When we become critical of the discourses that teach an outlook of community assessment through a lens of deficit and instead look to our communities from an asset-based perspective, we stand to create something much more sustainable. In this sense, we imagine. We visualize. We gather our resources. We design and construct. Taking part in communities that have exercised decolonializing methods such as these, as well as dialoguing and learning from communities that survive by adopting the same strategies and principles, inspired this song." --Band member Martha Gonzales, on the title track "Imaginaries" 'Imaginaries' begins with the dark but lively "2+0+1+2=Five," about a barren landscape ruined by environmental abuse; set in 5/4 time, the composition is punctuated by lush strings, organs and eerie vocals. It sets the tone for a fiery, innovative, percussive and bilingual album that fuses many touchstones of the East LA plurality―including the title track, a taut mix of rock and R&B, and the Veracruz-informed "Tragafuegos." Listen to "Imaginaries": http://snd.sc/vITVjX Listen to "Tragafuegos" (Fire Breathers): http://snd.sc/sMDeUs Watch "Todo Lo Que Tengo": http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7yV8UJa2Kic "Imaginaries" is the 35th release in the Smithsonian Folkways Tradiciones/Traditions series since 2002. The series, a co-production with the Smithsonian Latino Center, showcases the diverse musical heritage of the 50 million Latinos living in the USA. Record release party at Fais Do Do in Los Angeles March 2, 2012 http://quetzaleastla.com/ http://www.facebook.com/pages/Quetzal/121358363248 http://shorefire.com/clients/folkways/ The content and comments posted here are subject to the Smithsonian Institution copyright and privacy policy (http://www.si.edu/copyright/ ). Smithsonian reserves the right in its sole discretion to remove any content at any time.

Banneker’s Almanack and Ephemeris for the Year of Our Lord 1793

National Museum of African American History and Culture
This Banneker's Almanack is a 48-page printed booklet printed in 1793. The almanac is a booklet comprised of 8 segments of folded paper, bound together by two stitches of cream-colored thread on the left-hand side that are knotted at the back. The top edge of the booklet is trimmed, but the side and bottom edges are not. The pages are unnumbered. Pages 37-40 are uncut along the top edge.

Banneker's Almanack contains a varied assortment of information. Primarily an annual calendar, each month is listed along with important dates, statistical information, phases of the moon, astronomical data, and tide tables. The Almanack also includes political and social commentary most notably on anti-slavery issues. Banneker included abstracts such as, “A Plan of a Peace-Office, for the United States”, “Extracts from the Debates in the Last Session of the British Parliament, Apr. 1792”, “Extract from Jefferson’s Notes on Virginia”, “Extract from Wilkinson’s Appeal to England on Behalf of the Abused Africans”, poetry, Census data, tables of interest at 5% and 7%, currency exchanges, roads and mileage from various starting points to nearby towns and cities, and information about Federal, State and Local courts.

"Imaginaries" by Quetzal from the Smithsonian Folkways album "Imaginaries"

Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage
For more information, and to purchase the album: http://www.folkways.si.edu/albumdetails.aspx?itemid=3365 Inspired by traditional son jarocho music of Veracruz, Mexico, and spiked with urban rhythms, rock and R&B, East LA Chicano group Quetzal will release 'Imaginaries', its 5th album and 1st for Smithsonian Folkways, on Feb. 28, 2012. Quetzal, a GRAMMY winning ensemble, called "provocative, heartfelt and strikingly original" by the LA Times and founded by guitarist Quetzal Flores, rose from the ashes of uprisings in LA in 1992 as a vehicle for social commentary and activism. More information about the album release can be found here: http://www.folkways.si.edu/about_us/news_press.aspx#12.14.11_quetzal "When we become critical of the discourses that teach an outlook of community assessment through a lens of deficit and instead look to our communities from an asset-based perspective, we stand to create something much more sustainable. In this sense, we imagine. We visualize. We gather our resources. We design and construct. Taking part in communities that have exercised decolonializing methods such as these, as well as dialoguing and learning from communities that survive by adopting the same strategies and principles, inspired this song." --Band member Martha Gonzales, on the title track "Imaginaries" 'Imaginaries' begins with the dark but lively "2+0+1+2=Five," about a barren landscape ruined by environmental abuse; set in 5/4 time, the composition is punctuated by lush strings, organs and eerie vocals. It sets the tone for a fiery, innovative, percussive and bilingual album that fuses many touchstones of the East LA plurality―including the title track, a taut mix of rock and R&B, and the Veracruz-informed "Tragafuegos." Listen to "Imaginaries": http://snd.sc/vITVjX Listen to "Tragafuegos" (Fire Breathers): http://snd.sc/sMDeUs Watch "Todo Lo Que Tengo": http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7yV8UJa2Kic Watch "Estoy Aqui" (I Am Here): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_PQ9QNV4U6g "Imaginaries" is the 35th release in the Smithsonian Folkways Tradiciones/Traditions series since 2002. The series, a co-production with the Smithsonian Latino Center, showcases the diverse musical heritage of the 50 million Latinos living in the USA. Record release party at Fais Do Do in Los Angeles March 2, 2012 http://quetzaleastla.com/ http://www.facebook.com/pages/Quetzal/121358363248 http://shorefire.com/clients/folkways/ The content and comments posted here are subject to the Smithsonian Institution copyright and privacy policy (http://www.si.edu/copyright/ ). Smithsonian reserves the right in its sole discretion to remove any content at any time.

The real calypso. Vol. 2 [sound recording] : send your children to the orphan home / compiled and annotated by Samuel Charters

Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections
Title continues: Calypso songs of social commentary and love troubles.

Descriptive notes written by Samuel Charters (6 p.) inserted in container.

Cover design by Ronald Clyne.

Cover photograph by Samuel Charters.

Recorded at various locations in Trinidad in the 1930's and 1940's.

In This Heartfelt Video, American Muslims Connect With World War II Internees

Smithsonian Magazine

In response to the recent groundswell of anti-Muslim sentiment in American politics, activist filmmaker Frank Chi—whose previous work has addressed women’s representation in government and African-Americans’ tragic mistreatment at the hands of white police—was moved to remind his country of a previous era in which state-sanctioned xenophobia was allowed to flourish in the United States: World War II, the era of Japanese internment.

This period, which FDR worshippers are quick to gloss over, saw more than 100,000 Americans interned within their own borders by express order of the executive—prisoners in their own home. Whole families were forcibly removed from their places of residence and sent away to high-walled, barbed-wired concentration camps, often with nothing in their possession save hastily filled trash bags.

Seeking to resurrect the humanity of these persecuted innocents, Mr. Chi pored over hundreds of letters that young Californian internees had sent to a sympathetic librarian in San Diego during their confinement, a woman known to the prisoners as “Miss Breed.” The letters, which are by turns hopeful and dejected, forgiving and fed-up, tell compelling human stories.

Frank Chi’s ingenious idea for his new video was to put these stories in the hands of Muslim-American children, whose families are the modern-day targets of nativist vitriol in the United States. “Children are everything,” Chi says. “When we live in times of heightened hatred toward other people, we tend to forget that.”

In the short film, titled “Letters from Camp,” these young practitioners of Islam read the Miss Breed letters to former World War II internees, whose faces tacitly betray the hardship they endured in the 1940s as they listen.

Eventually, the Japanese-American elders assist the youngsters with their reading, reinforcing their voices in a powerful show of transracial, trans-generational solidarity. The video ends with an erstwhile internee who, through choked sobs, reads a letter prophesying the elimination of racist bigotry from the globe following the conclusion of World War II—a notion that now seems as far-off as ever.

In bringing the voices of Muslim-American youth to the personal narratives of those interned after Pearl Harbor, Frank Chi unites past and present, and reminds us how thoroughly destructive us vs. them attitudes can be. His, and theirs, is a message of compassion.

“We are talking about people that many Americans don’t understand,” Chi says. “Everybody is just trying to do the best for their family. We have a lot more in common than we have that is different.”

Mr. Chi's video, along with numerous other artistic social commentaries, will be presented this Memorial Day Weekend at the Smithsonian Arts and Industries Building in Washington, D.C., as a part of Crosslines: A Culture Lab on Intersectionality.

Oral history interview with William P. Daley, 2004 August 7-December 2

Archives of American Art
Transcript: 81 pages

An interview of William P. Daley conducted 2004 August 7-December 2, by Helen W. Drutt English, for the Archives of American Art's Nanette L. Laitman Documentation Project for Craft and Decorative Arts in America, in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania.

Daley speaks of his family and being raised in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York; his father teaching him to paint houses; his father's interest in art and literature; working with clay for the first time at the Massachusetts College of Art; attending college with other war veterans; living in a prison camp during World War II; learning ceramics from his mentor, Charles Abbott; marrying Catherine, also an art student at Mass Art; teaching workshops at summer schools such as the Penland School of Crafts; traveling to Ireland and Korea; the influence of Ireland on his artwork; the ceramic movement in America; creating functional pots; defining religion and the influence of his spirituality on his work; how the market for craft has changed during his career; his relationship with art dealers; having a studio in his home; teaching at the Philadelphia College of Art; being part of a community of artists as teachers; learning from colleagues and students; the importance of university art programs; how his work has been received; being inspired by books and periodicals; using clay as a medium of expression; working on commissioned projects; exhibiting his first pieces; social commentary in art; being involved in organizations such as the American Craft Council and NCECA; and plans for the future. Daley also recalls Frans and Marguerite Wildenhain, Dan Dailey, William Parry, Richard Rinehart, Wayne Higby, and others.

Reggae Officially Declared Global Cultural Treasure

Smithsonian Magazine

Next time you turn on the reggae station, take a moment to appreciate that you’re now listening to a piece of “Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.” As Laura Snapes at the Guardian reports, on Thursday, Unesco, the United Nations’ cultural agency, inscripted the “uniquely Jamaican” musical tradition into its collection of important cultural practices from around the world.

While many of the cultural practices on the list are truly ancient, reggae as an artform only emerged in the 1960s but has gone on to become, arguably, Jamaica’s No. 1 cultural export as well as an international musical language.

“While in its embryonic state Reggae music was the voice of the marginalized, the music is now played and embraced by a wide cross-section of society, including various genders, ethnic and religious groups. Its contribution to international discourse on issues of injustice, resistance, love and humanity underscores the dynamics of the element as being at once cerebral, socio-political, sensual and spiritual,” the UN says in a statement. “The basic social functions of the music – as a vehicle for social commentary, a cathartic practice, and a means of praising God – have not changed, and the music continues to act as a voice for all.”

The recognition is aimed at raising the status and awareness of the Jamaican tradition. Not that reggae is obscure by any stretch of the imagination—musicians including Peter Tosh, Bob Marley, Toots and the Maytals, Jimmy Cliff and Burning Spear are international superstars, and the distinctive rhythms of a reggae tune are known the world over, and have had deep influences on contemporary pop music and hip hop.

Still, the recognition is a welcome one. Laurence Cane-Honeysett, author of a book about the influential U.K.-based reggae label Trojan Records, calls the inscription an “amazingly positive” move in an interview with Snapes of the Guardian. “The impact and influence of the genre globally has long been overlooked,” Cane-Honeysett says. “It has contributed significantly to the development of multiculturalism, with the ska, rock steady and reggae of the 1960s and early '70s having a notably positive effect in the breaking down of social barriers by bringing together people of all colors, particularly in Britain.”

Reggae’s rise and global success is especially remarkable considering its origins. The music grew out of earlier popular styles in Jamaica, ska and rock steady. Reggae combined these styles with highly politicized lyrics by poor musicians, mainly in the capital city of Kingston, to create style of music that spoke for the downtrodden, calling for social change. For that reason, it attracted followers of the Rastafarian movement, which has its roots in Jamaica. The community believes in the divinity of Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie I, who was crowned in 1930, among its other tenets, and followers faced discrimination by police and public, both in pre- and post- British colonial rule. In Jamaica, the Rastafarian community lives by a set of dietary guidelines and grows marijuana for sacramental use. Many popular reggae songwriters, most notably Bob Marley, spread Rastifarian messages and iconography across the world through their music.

Reggae is not the only cultural tradition that made Unesco’s cut this year. Traditional Korean wrestling and Georgian wrestling were added to the list, as well as the Irish sport of hurling, Kazakh horse breeding, Poland’s nativity-scene tradition and Slovenian lace-making.

Oral history interview with Michael Smith, 2018 July 30-August 1

Archives of American Art
Audio: 9 sound files (6 hr., 27 min.) digital, wav

Transcript: 97 pages.

An interview with Michael Smith conducted 2018 July 30 and August 1, by Liza Zapol, for the Archives of American Art at Smith's studio, in Brooklyn, New York.

Smith discusses memories of his home, growing up on the South Side of Chicago; his father's work in real estate in Chicago; his understanding of the contract buyers lawsuit; his recollections of the changing demographics of his neighborhood from Jewish to African American; his relationship to his mother, father, and brother; his relationship to his Jewish identity growing up; his involvement in singing, sports, and girlfriends as a teenager; the influence of television, movies, and comedy records on his childhood; his early experiences of art and watching his brother paint; his departure from Chicago and attending the University of Colorado in 1968, where his brother went, and following in his footsteps as an artist; protesting the Vietnam War and avoiding the draft; his first experience in New York City at the Whitney Independent Study Program [ISP]; his training in dance with Hanya Holm at Colorado College, his first choreographies; his studio in Boulder, and then in Chicago; his transition from painting into performance; seeing improvisation, performance, and dance in Chicago; Seeing William Wegman's work; creating his first comedy performances; influence of Jackie Vernon; developing the ideas for "Mike" and "Baby Ikki"; his early scripts and performance notes; influence of Alfred Jarry and Richard Foreman; his script, costume, and movement for "Baby Ikki"; the creation of Comedy Hour in Chicago, and other early "skits"; the inspiration for Minimal Message Movement; Coming to New York and meeting Marcia Tucker; his inclusion in Performances: Four Evenings, Four Days, at the Whitney Museum; performing at the Collective, Artists Space, Franklin Furnace, and other downtown locations; living in SoHo and the East Village in New York; developing a sense of timing and pacing in his early work; the sets and props of Let's See What's in the Refrigerator; the social commentary or politics of "Mike"; creating the composition and set of Notes for a Rec Room; his notebooks, nation and brainstorms for work. In session two, Michael Smith describes his sense of humor; Jackie Vernon and his sense of delivery; the humor of Jacques Tati and Buster Keaton; creating his first work composed for video, Secret Horror; his relationship to music, punk, New Wave, Muzak, rap, and his band the Social Climbers; his involvement with the Times Square Show and Colab; creating more video work that placed Mike in a cultural context with Government Approved Home Fallout Shelter, Go For it, Mike, Death of a Salesman, and others; collaboration with William Wegman on World of Photography; working with Steve Paul on live variety shows such as Mike's Talent Show, and Mike's TV Show; creating work for Saturday Night Live and Cinemax; creating Mike's Kiddie Show and working with Doug Skinner; the changes in arts funding in the 1990s; Working with Joshua White and creating Musco; starting to work in education and teaching in Los Angeles, at Yale, and at the University of Texas at Austin, Teaching performance art and specific assignments; a photographic series of class photographs; Creating Open House at the New Museum, and Interstitial for the installation; Returning to Baby Ikki and working with Mike Kelley on A Voyage of Growth and Discovery; his friendship with Mike Kelley; his thoughts about infantilist themes with "Baby Ikki", The theme of aging in his work and current work,; the creation of Excuse Me!?!...I'm Looking For the "Fountain of Youth," and Not Quite Under_Ground, commenting on social practice art; planning for his next project in Mexico City; his relationship to performance art; his dealers; curators, his response to critiques; his archive and thinking about his legacy. Smith also recalls Ron Clark, Malcolm Morley, Brice Marden, Carl Andre, Lawrence Weiner, Hanya Holm, Vito Acconci, Jim Self, Barbara Dilley, Mike Kelley, John Baldessari, Dike Blair, Mark Fischer, Carole Ann Klonarides, Eric Bogosian, Charlie Ahearn, Dick Connette, Mark Bingham, Alan Herman, Tim Maul, Amy Sillman, Andrea Blum, Sharon Hayes, Chuck Nanney, Annette Carlozzi, Toiny Castelli, Patty Brundrage, Christine Burgin, Emi Fontana, Chris Dercon, and Jay Sanders.

A Pop-Up Museum Documents the Stories of Philadelphia's Black Women

Smithsonian Magazine

Walk into the front door of Vashti DuBois' house in Philadelphia’s Germantown neighborhood and you find yourself in a living room filled with artifactswooden statues and lace doilies on the mantle, huge oil paintings on the walls. Go upstairs, and each of the 10 rooms is a different chapter in the story of black women in the city. The bedroom hits on themes of love and shelter (and includes voodoo dolls), and the toolshed holds horse tack and old photographs of female factory workers.

DuBois, an artist and Philadelphia native, saw a gap in the stories being told in American history about women of color. She decided to turn her home into a pop-up culture center and art exhibition, called the Colored Girls Museum. She still lives in the house, and thinks of it kind of like a bed and breakfast, as other people come through her space.

“There should be a place in the world where colored girls' history is being built and archived,” DuBois says.

In 2014, DuBois put a call out, through the nonprofit and arts communities she'd worked in, to black women in Philadelphia. She asked women, of all ages, to contribute artifacts that embodied their experience as girls—anything from coffee cups to heirloom paintings. She received a huge collection of objects, ranging from hand tools to a painting of the singer Lauryn Hill. Then she had 10 local artists each curate a room. For instance, the laundry room is a shrine to the concept of the washerwoman, a powerful concept for many of the women. “For a lot of women of color, our grandmothers took in laundry. It’s very personal, and that history was not that long ago,” she says. Many of the rooms blend history, art and social commentary. The idea was to create a collection of experiences, to show what life looked like for these girls and to draw a broader picture of what it meant to grow up as a woman of color in America.  

Vashti Dubois in front of her house. (Zamani Feelings)

DuBois has been pushing the boundaries of art installations since she was a sophomore at Wesleyan University in the late 1970s. There, she saw her peers ignoring the arts in favor of more traditional career paths, so she curated an art show, called "Women's Work," in the Black Student Union house.  “I started it as a way for women of color to come together around something generative,” she says. After college, while running arts programs at a center for adjudicated youth in Philadelphia, she saw how art was an avenue for girls to process and contextualize their decisions and experiences. The Colored Girls Museum is meant to expose people to art in a non-traditional museum venue, and to be a welcoming place.

Image by Deborah Lehman. The laundry room unpacks the concept of the washerwoman. (original image)

Image by Deborah Lehman. Pieces of art on the walls (original image)

Image by Deborah Lehman. DuBois' son's room (original image)

Image by Deborah Lehman. The attic is covered in clouds. (original image)

Image by Deborah Lehman. A variety of dolls in the dining room (original image)

Image by Deborah Lehman. Murals and pottery in the kitchen (original image)

Image by Denise Allen. The artists who helped curate the Colored Girls Museum (original image)

“Houses put people at ease,” DuBois says. “We’re reimagining the museum as a sanctuary for colored girls. I want it to be a gathering space, celebrating and acknowledging, and looking closely at the things that have shaped us in the country and in the world.” The museum is a mix of traditional arts, like quilts and rag dolls, modern art that speaks to the experience of being a black woman, and heirlooms. It's a mashup of comics, murals and stained glass.

DuBois is currently a finalist in the Knight Cities Challenge, which grants a total of $5 million to civic projects focusing on three areas: attracting talented people, expanding economic opportunity and creating a culture of civic engagement. The grant would help her build out a web exhibition for those who can't visit in person, and replicate the model in other cities. Detroit and Raleigh are next.

"It's a traveling, pop-up event that can land in any city,” DuBois says. “Museums are culture’s symbolic altar. We're looking at the things that culture says is important. That’s really powerful, and we recognize that different communities are going to be able to relate in a different way."

Watch This $1.4 Million Bansky Painting Shred Itself As Soon As It's Sold

Smithsonian Magazine

On Friday night, a painting by the anonymous street artist known as Banksy sold at Sotheby’s auction house in London for $1.4 million. But as soon as the auctioneer dropped the gavel, something unexpected happened: a beeping alarm went off and the frame began eating the painting, spitting half of it out the bottom in what may be the first instance of a self-destructing painting, reports Scott Reyburn at The New York Times.

The piece was a classic Banksy motif known as “Girl with Balloon,” created using spray paint on canvas back in 2006. In a video posted after the incident, Banksy shows how he built a custom shredding device into the large gilt frame in case the work was ever sold at auction. He also posted an Instagram quoting Picasso, “The urge to destroy is also a creative urge.”

The painting’s sale coincides with Frieze Week, one of London’s most significant art fairs. The staff of Sotheby’s denies any prior knowledge of the shredding.

“We’ve been Banksy-ed,” Alex Branczik, Sotheby’s head of European Contemporary art said in a press conference after the incident. “I’ll be quite honest, we have not experienced this situation in the past, where a painting is spontaneously shredded upon achieving a record for the artist.”

However, Reyburn reports that there is some evidence the auction house was in on the gag, despite their denials. First, a man operating an electronic device inside a bag was spotted in the auction house, presumably someone turning on the remote control shredder, as seen in a post from the chairman of Sotheby’s Switzerland, Caroline Lang’s private Instagram account, Reyburn reports. He was later said to have been removed by security. Doubters point out that Sotheby’s does not allow people to carry bags into their auctions.

“If it had been offered earlier in the sale, it would have caused disruption and sellers would have complained about that,” says Morgan Long, head of the art investment company the Fine Art Group who witnessed the shredding from the front row. “And Sotheby’s let a man with a bag into the building. They must have known.”

The painting—just a piece of canvas on a wooden backing—would have also been much wider and heavier than normal, raising suspicion, especially during any condition report, or routine examination of a high-dollar artwork.

The most suspicious element is the placement of the painting and timing of the sale. The piece was hung on the wall instead of being placed on a podium like other paintings up for sale. And it was the last piece in the auction, meaning the shredding would not disrupt the rest of the sale.

It’s not known what the anonymous buyer of the shredded artwork thinks about the piece or whether Sotheby’s will discount or cancel the sale. Sebastian Smee at The Washington Post reports that there is some talk that the shredding incident will actually increase the value of the artwork.

He also points out the mixed message of the shredding. The self-destructing “Girl with Balloon” is believed to be a comment on capitalism and the art market. However, if Banksy wanted to make a real statement, Smee points out, he would have totally destroyed the art. Instead, what remains could conceivably be put back together or kept in its shredded state to later be displayed or even sold again, raising the idea that the work was less of a social commentary and more of a self-promoting publicity stunt.

That’s in contrast to truly destructive artists, like Michael Landy. In 2001, he created an installation called Break Down. Over two weeks, he placed all 7,227 of his worldly belongings, including his passport, birth certificate and the pieces of his Saab car, on a conveyor belt and ran them through an industrial shredder, finishing the project with nothing but the clothes on his back.

Oral history interview with John Cederquist, 2009 April 14-15

Archives of American Art
Sound recording: 11 sound files (4 hr., 54 min.) : digital, wav file

Transcript: 111 pages

An interview of John Cederquist conducted 2009 April 14-15, by Mija Riedel, for the Archives of American Art's Nanette L. Laitman Documentation Project for Craft and Decorative Arts in America, at Cederquist's studio, in San Clemente, California.

John Cederquist speaks of his recent series Dollar Bill; his long-standing interest in perspective and use of tool imagery in his work; his childhood in Southern California; his early interest in art through custom car art; high school art instruction and focusing on craft; earning undergraduate and graduate degrees at California State University, Long Beach in the late 1960s and early 1970s; teaching at Saddleback College, Mission Viejo, California, starting in the early 1970s; work in wood and leather; other brief teaching jobs in Southern California universities; early exhibitions; exhibition and demonstrations at Parnham House, Beaminster, England, 1978; starting to teach perspective at Saddleback; Number One; the Egg and the Eye gallery/cafe, Los Angeles, California; Game Table [1982]; Auntie Macassar Goes West, 1987-88; philosophical and aesthetic differences between wood artists on the East and West coasts; exhibition: "Material Evidence: Master Craftsmen Explore ColorCore," Workbench: the Gallery, New York, New York, 1984; "California Woodworking," the Oakland Museum [of California, 1980; Thonet catalog as source material]; influence of animation in film and television; the perceptual and conceptual issues in translating two dimensions into three, and vice versa; the nature of illusion and perception; inclusion of work in an exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1989; the influence of How to Wrap Five Eggs: Traditional Japanese Packaging, Hideyuki Oka, Trumbull, Connecticut: Weatherhill, 1967; use of the Thomas Chippendale book (1754) as source material; subtle influence of cubism on Ghost Boy [1992] piece; his choice of furniture as the vehicle for his aesthetic exploration; series Furniture That Builds Itself (1991-2007), and continued influence of cartoons and animation; his choice of different kinds of wood; series How to Wrap Five Crates; series Kimonos and the influence of Japanese aesthetics; When Machines Dream of Hokusai [1995]: Road to Dreamland; series Wave (early to mid-1990s), and Tubular [1990], the first in the series; series Kosode; series This Is Not Lunch; historical Japanese tattoos as a source of inspiration; "Furniture That Builds Itself," Franklin Parrasch Gallery, New York, New York, 2003; sense of humor and "goofiness" in his work; Flat Foot Floogie Builds a Bench. [2003]; influence of photography on his work; his pieces as functional furniture and the artistic potential therein; social commentary in his recent Kosode pieces; Heavenly Victory; how his pieces get named; "The Art of John Cederquist: Reality of Illusion," Oakland Museum of California, 1999-2000; Breakthrough series: Steamer, early 1990s; Top Drawer (1985); Space Age Wave Machine (1999); use of thick wood instead of veneer; strengths and weaknesses of a university setting for art studies; the importance of being part of the craft movement; the role of Garth Clark's gallery in the movement; the importance of working with the Franklin Parrasch gallery; his admiration for art critic Robert Hughes; the role of online media in art journalism and criticism and journalism. He also recalls Gary Zuercher, Franklin Parrasch, John Snidecor, George Turnbull, John Makepeace, Edward S. Cooke, Garry Knox Bennett, Wendy Maruyama, Tom Gaines, Bob and Chris Straight, Arthur Danto, and Roberta Smith.

Oral history interview with Val Cushing, 2001 April 16

Archives of American Art
Transcript: 46 pages

An interview of Val Cushing conducted 2001 April 16, by Margaret Carney, for the Archives of American Art's Nanette L. Laitman Documentation Project for Craft and Decorative Arts in America, in Cushing's studio, Alfred Station, New York.

Cushing speaks of his early interest in drawing; applying to Alfred University without a portfolio and being accepted on an athletic scholarship to play football; his teachers at Alfred including Katherine Nelson, Charles Harder, Marion Fosdick, Kurt Ekdahl, and Dan Rhodes; his classmates at Alfred including Herb Cohen, Marty Moskof, Marty Chodos, Luis Mendez, Ed Pettengill, and Richard Homer; the influence of Marguerite Wildenhain, who came to Alfred to teach for two weeks in 1952 (Cushing's senior year); his first job making pots at Santa's Workshop in Adirondack Mountains in New York in 1951, and the value of throwing every day; learning that "technique is not enough"; his travels; serving in the military police in Fort Dix, New Jersey, during the Korean War; visiting the Metropolitan Museum to sketch pots; meeting his wife Elsie Brown, who was private-duty nurse in New York; Charles Harder as an administrator and teacher; attending graduate school at Alfred on the G.I. Bill from 1954 to 1956; his decision to become teacher rather than full-time potter at the suggestion of Charles Harder; teaching at University of Illinois in 1956 and then Alfred University in 1957; the "famous" dialogues between Charles Harder and Bernard Leach; the importance of designing functional handmade objects; the evolution of the American craft market; his work for Andover China; exhibitions; his close-knit ceramics community in the 1950s and 1960s; his relationships with galleries including American Hand and The Farrell Collection in Washington, D.C., Helen Drutt Gallery and the Works Gallery in Philadelphia, The Signature Shop & Gallery in Atlanta, Martha Schneider Gallery in Chicago, and Cedar Creek Gallery in Creedmoor, North Carolina; teaching at Penland, Haystack, Arrowmont, Archie Bray, and Anderson Ranch; "the Alfred connection at Archie Bray" and his grant to study at Archie Bray in 1968; the importance of Alfred's summer school to the history of contemporary clay in America; the value of university training; Bob Turner's and Ted Randal's influence on his work through their "philosophic stance" and "presence as artists"; his working space and his 1983 NEA grant to adapt an existing barn for use as a studio; the influence of nature on his work; working with kick wheel, Soldner wheel, Venco Pug Mill, natural gas and electric kilns; his glaze expertise; opportunities for experimentation; his love of jazz music and its influence on his working methods; pricing his pots; commissions; ceramic workshops as theatrical "performances" and an American phenomenon; the role of specialized periodicals in the craft field; the difference between craft critics and painting and sculpture critics; and the place of ceramics in museum collections in the United States and abroad.

Cushing also talks about his involvement with NCECA [The National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts], the American Craft Council, and the American Ceramics Society; the lack of political and social commentary in his work; his teaching experiences in Europe and Asia; his participation in the opening of The Shigaraki Ceramic Cultural Park in Japan; and the importance of ceramic history for the contemporary ceramist. He also recalls Susan Peterson, Bill Pitney, Marv Rickel, Don Frith, Winslow Anderson, Ken Deavers, Joan Mondale, Joan Farrell, Don Reitz, Gerry Williams, Bill Parry, Ken Ferguson, and others.

Oral history interview with Ramona Solberg, 2001 March 23

Archives of American Art
Transcript: 35 pages.

An interview of Ramona Solberg conducted 2001 March 23, by Vicki Halper, for the Archives of American Art's Nanette L. Laitman Documentation Project for Craft and Decorative Arts in America, in Solberg's apartment, Seattle, Washington.

Solberg speaks of her family background and childhood in Seattle; her jewelry studies with Ruth Pennington at the University of Washington in Seattle and her use of found objects; her service in the Unites States Army; attending the Edison Vocational School on the GI Bill and pursuing a masters degree in jewelry at the University of Washington; studies with Coralyn Pence; her travels to Mexico and her fascination with pre-Columbian objects; enameling in Norway; collecting beads from around the world; her book, "Inventive Jewelry-Making" (New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1972); leading tours for a Seattle-based group, "Friends of the Crafts," to the Middle East, Asia, Antarctica, and elsewhere for 16 or 17 years; teaching at Central Washington State College and creating her first bead and found object pieces there in 1956; her fondness for turquoise, lapis, and coral; inviting Don Tompkins to teach at Central Washington State College; Tompkins's "tongue-in-cheek" use of metals; her desire to make jewelry that can "shake, rattle, and roll"; teaching and workshops; her use of preliminary sketches; her soldering technique; fasteners; the weight of her jewelry; the "restraints of jewelry"; her lack of interest in making matched sets and bracelets and rings; the lack of social commentary in her work; her series of pieces inspired by the book, "Watership Down;" the influence of Fred Woell and his use of "American throw-aways"; her involvement with the Northwest region of the American Craft Council; her association with a group of jewelers in the Northwest including Ron Ho, Laurie Hall, Nancy Worden, and Kiff Slemmons; making beaded fibulas; curating exhibitions such as Ubiquitous Bead (1987) and Ubiquitous Bead II (1998) at the Bellevue Art Museum in Seattle; exhibitions at Facèré Jewelry Art Gallery in Seattle and the Henry Art Gallery at the University of Washington in Seattle; working in small spaces; getting into the exhibition Objects: USA "through the back door"; her status as an international artist; pricing her work; her pieces in museum collections; and her health. She recalls Russell Day, Jack Lenor Larsen, Sam and Frieda Maloof, John Marshall, Marvin Lipofsky, LaMar Harrington, Mary Lee Hu, and others.

Nancy Spero

National Portrait Gallery
Throughout her fifty-year career, Nancy Spero used art as the vehicle for pointed political, social, and cultural commentary. Defying the supreme authority of Abstract Expressionist painting within the male-dominated art world, she chose instead to represent the human figure, most often on paper, and frequently in nontraditional formats, such as banners, friezes, and scrolls. During the 1960s and 1970s, Spero critiqued the past and present victimization of women through multi-figure compositions that combine female imagery from a wide range of cultures and historic epochs—from ancient Egyptian sarcophagi to the modern magazine. In the 1980s, she became intrigued by female myths and archetypes embodying “the idea of the Goddess . . . a powerful, self-sustaining, and autonomous being.”

In this photograph, Spero poses with one of her favorite motifs: the Sheela-Na-Gig, a female figure brazenly exposing her genitals, which Spero interpreted as a Celtic goddess of fertility and destruction.

A lo largo de su carrera de 50 años, Nancy Spero utilizó el arte como vehículo para un incisivo comentario político, social y cultural. Desafiando la suprema autoridad de la pintura expresionista abstracta dentro de un mundo artístico dominado por los hombres, decidió representar la figura humana, a menudo sobre papel y en formatos no

tradicionales como estandartes, frisos y pergaminos. Durante los años sesenta y setenta, Spero criticó la victimización pasada y presente de las mujeres en composiciones de múltiples figuras que combi- naban imágenes femeninas de una amplia fuente de culturas y períodos históricos, desde los antiguos sarcófagos egipcios hasta las revistas del momento. En la década de 1980 se interesó por los mitos y arquetipos femeninos que encarnan “la idea de la diosa […,] un ser poderoso, autosuficiente y autónomo”.

En esta foto la artista posa con uno de sus motivos favoritos: la Sheela-Na-Gig, figura femenina que muestra sus genitales sin pudor, interpretada por Spero como una diosa celta de la fertilidad y la destrucción.

In the Heart of the Storm: The Resilience of Culture

Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage

When news started coming in about the catastrophic damage Hurricane Irma brought to the Caribbean, I happened to be filing materials from the 1990 Smithsonian Folklife Festival’s program about the U.S. Virgin Islands. In my twenty-nine years at the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, I’ve produced a healthy amount of research, but in going through those particular boxes, I felt odd reverberations.

On September 17, 1989, in the midst of ongoing research for the U.S. Virgin Islands program, Hurricane Hugo struck the islands, with the greatest damage occurring in St. Croix. As described in a Washington Post special report, “Not only was Christiansted strewn with uprooted trees, broken utility poles, shattered cars and tons of debris from buildings that looked bombed, but the verdant tropical island suddenly had turned brown. So strong were Hugo’s winds that most trees still standing were shorn of leaves.” While St. Croix suffered the brunt of the storm, St. Thomas and St. John were also significantly damaged.  

We wondered if we should cancel or defer the Festival program to let the region recuperate, physically and financially. But our partners in the Virgin Islands responded with one voice: now, more than ever, the people of the Virgin Islands needed a cultural event to raise their spirits, remind them of their resilience, and tell the world they were recovering. It is particularly in times of disaster that people turn to culture not only for solace but for survival.

“The recent disaster of Hurricane Hugo made fieldwork a little more difficult than usual,” reported Mary Jane Soule, who was doing research on musicians in St. Croix. “I was unable to rent a car for the first five days I was there, which limited my mobility. Many phones were still not working, so getting in touch with informants was harder than usual. However, once I actually located the individuals I wanted to see, I found most of them willing to talk.”

St. Croix parade
Photo by Mary Jane Soule, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives
Hurricane Hugo T-shirts
Photo by Mary Jane Soule, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives

A local press announced that, regardless of the circumstances, the Three Kings Day Parade would not be canceled: “Neither rain or hurricane nor winds nor controversy will stop the Crucian Christmas Fiesta.” In her field research tape log, Soule lists the role of Hugo in the fiesta, adding that calypso bands had recorded songs about it.

“Eve’s Garden troop is depicting Hugo,” she wrote. “The No Nonsense (music and dance) troop is doing ‘The Hugo Family’ depicting the looting and tourists on the run. Mighty Pat’s song ‘Hurricane Hugo’ played from speakers on one of the numerous trucks. Sound Effex (band) can be heard playing ‘Hugo Gi Yo’(Hugo Gives You).”

Several months later when staff returned to the islands, “Hugo Gi Yo” was still very popular, as were the black, monographed sailors’ caps that proclaimed “Stress Free Recovery for 1990, St. Thomas, V.I.”   

Songs about Hugo relieved anxiety. Many people had lost everything. But like all good calypso tunes, they comically contributed to the oral history of the islands. Look at the verses of “Hugo Gi Yo”:

It was the seventeenth of September 1989 Hugo take over.
Hey, that hurricane was a big surprise,
When it hit St. Croix from the southeast side.
Hey rantanantantan man the roof fall down.
Rantanantantan galvanize around…
No water, no power, no telephone a ring.
We people we dead; there’s nothing to drink….

Sound Effex
The band Sound Effex plays for bystanders in a carnival parade in St. Croix, Virgin Islands.
Photo by Mary Jane Soule, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives
“Hugo Gi Yo”
by Sound Effex at Children’s Parade in Christiansted, St. Croix, January 5, 1990

Calypso songs are noted for their social commentary on events as well as on responses from mainstream society. The Washington Post reported on St. Croix following the hurricane: “The plunder started on the day after the Sunday night storm, as panicky islanders sought to stock up on food. It quickly degenerated into a free-for-all grab of all sorts of consumer goods that some witnesses likened to a ‘feeding frenzy.’ Three days of near-anarchy followed Hugo’s terrible passage during the night of Sept. 17-18 and prompted President Bush to dispatch about 1,100 Army military police and 170 federal law-enforcement officers, including 75 FBI and a ‘special operations group’ of U.S. Marshalls Service.”

In turn, “Hugo Gi Yo” responds:

You no broke nothing.
You no thief nothing.
You no take nothing.
Hugo give you.

As program research advisor Gilbert Sprauve explained, calypsonians “lend themselves heartily to expressing the underclass’s frustrations and cynicism. They make their mark with lyrics that strike at the heart of the system’s dual standards.”

St. Croix parade signs
A parade goer prepares her sign, jokingly addressing the post-hurricane looting that plagued the island of St. Croix.
Photo by Mary Jane Soule, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives
St. Croix parade signs
Another resident readies her sarcastic sign for the parade.
Photo by Mary Jane Soule, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives
Mighty Pat
Mighty Pat’s parade float encourages fellow residents to “stay positive.”
Photo by Mary Jane Soule, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives

Soule transcribed existing racial and economic tensions in St. Croix expressed in Mighty Pat’s “Hurricane Hugo”:

After the hurricane pass, people telling me to sing a song quickly.
Sing about the looting, sing about the thiefing, black and white people doing.
Sing about them Arabs, up on the Plaza rooftop
With grenade and gun, threaten to shoot the old and the young.

Curfew a big problem, impose on only a few, poor people like me and you.
Rich man roaming nightly, poor man stop by army, getting bust__________
Brutality by marshal, send some to hospital,
Some break down you door, shoot down and plenty more.

When I looked around and saw the condition
of our Virgin Island.
I tell myself advantage can’t done.
One day you rich. Next day you poor.
One day you up the ladder. Next day you
crawling on the floor.
Beauty is skin deep; material things is for a time.
A corrupted soul will find no peace of mind
I think that is all our gale Hugo was trying to say
to all mankind.
Don’t blame me. Hugo did that.

St. Croix coal pot
The ubiquitous coal pot depicted on the side of a snack shack in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands.
Photo by Mary Jane Soule, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives

Hurricane Hugo also came up in conversations about craft. Knowing the importance of charcoal making, especially in St. Croix, researcher Cassandra Dunn interviewed Gabriel Whitney St. Jules who had been making coal for at least forty years and was teaching his son the tradition. In Dunn’s summary report, thoughts of the hurricane are not far away.

“Cooking food by burning charcoal in a coal pot is a technique utilized in the West Indies and Caribbean from the mid-1800s,” she wrote. “Charcoal makers learned the techniques of using a wide variety of woods including that from mango, tibet, mahogany, and saman trees. After Hurricane Hugo, those in St. Croix who had lost access to gas or electricity reverted to charcoal and the coal pot.”

With similar stories from St. Thomas, it became clear that this quotidian cultural artifact that reconnected islanders with their heritage served as an essential item for survival with dignity. The image of the coal pot became central to the themes of the Festival program, both as a useful utensil and a symbol of resilience.

To our surprise, the coal pot, which looks much like a cast iron Dutch oven, was identical to that used by participants in the Senegal program featured that same year and led to increased cultural interaction between the two groups. This prompted a re-staging of both programs in St. Croix a year later.

1990 Folklife Festival
From St. Croix to Washington, D.C., Virgin Islanders bring their parade to the National Mall for the 1990 Folklife Festival.
Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives

The cultural responses to Hurricane Hugo and those I suspect we’ll see following the calamitous hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria remind us that when disaster strikes, whether natural, social, political, or economic, communities often turn to shared cultural resources. Stories, experiences, and traditional skills prove useful, inspiring us to overcome obstacles and help our communities regain their footing.

Olivia Cadaval was the program curator for the U.S. Virgin Islands program at the 1990 Folklife Festival and is currently a curator and chair of cultural research and education at the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. Audio recorded by Mary Jane Soule and mastered by Dave Walker.

Reference
Sprauve, Gilbert. “About Man Betta Man, fission and Fusion, and Creole, Calypso and Cultural Survival in the Virgin Islands, 1990 Festival of American Folklife, edited by Peter Seitel, Smithsonian, 1990.

The Tinman's Hat From "The Wiz" Offers Just a Hint of the Musical's Beating Heart

Smithsonian Magazine

There he was, on stage: a skillet for a hat, steel wool for hair, an aluminum garbage can for a torso and an oversized beer can for a shin guard. When Dorothy and the Scarecrow, fellow travelers on the Yellow Brick Road, found him, his rust-encrusted joints had rendered him immobile. As Dorothy dispensed the restorative oil, he slipped into song and a little soft shoe—“Slide some oil to me, Let it trickle down my spine, If you don’t have S.T.P., Crisco will do just fine.”

He needed some oil, yes, and he would need a heart, but this particular tin woodman and his stage friends from The Wiz, an all-black musical adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s 1900 story The Wizard of Oz, had plenty of soul.

Forty years ago, however, mainstream, elite Broadway seemed poised to reject all that groove.

When the show opened at the Majestic Theater on January 5, 1975, it marked a Broadway first. There had been all-black and interracial productions of white musicals—Hello Dolly and The Pajama Game, respectively—and there had been major black musicals before—Purlie and Raisin. But none had, as Jack Viertel, artistic director of the City Center Encores! observed in Playbill, “dared to be entirely post Jim Crow.” In none had all the creators been black. From the producer—Ken Harper—to the costume designer and eventual director—Geoffrey Holder, and from lyricist and composer to choreographer, The Wiz represented a landmark moment. And the inspiration for that landmark moment—that effervescent celebration of black culture, humor and music—was none other than Baum’s beloved children’s book, whose 1939 film adaptation with Judy Garland had been virtually sanctified by the American public’s adoration. Instead of “Follow the Yellow Brick Road” and “We’re off to See the Wizard,” The Wiz offered up a rhythm and blues alternative: “Ease on Down the Road.”

Today, as the musical marks the 40th anniversary of its Broadway debut, its status as a part of the nation’s narrative finds affirmation from historians, curators and conservationists at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. One of the museum’s largest collections, The Black Fashion Museum Collection, acquired in 2007, includes not only the Tinman’s headpiece, but also more than 700 garments, 300 accessories and 60 boxes of archival material, much of which curators are still processing. Among those garments are several other original costumes designed by Holder for The Wiz, including those for Dorothy, the Wiz, Addaperle (the good witch of the north) and Evillene (the wicked witch of the west). “Taking the Stage,” one of the inaugural exhibitions planned for the museum’s opening in 2016, will exhibit, among others, the Tinman’s entire costume.

The Wiz challenged white audiences to broaden their vision of Baum’s classic American fairy tale. “With The Wiz, African Americans were staking a claim to a fairy tale that was central to American culture. They were saying, ‘We have been left out of that story—but it is our story, too,’” says historian Megan Williams, visiting professor at Skidmore College, in Saratoga Springs, New York, where she teaches a course called “The Wizard of Oz as American Myth.”

The Wizard of Oz is about Dorothy liberating people who are enslaved by others—the witches—or who feel, personally and psychologically, oppressed and unable to move,” Williams says. “Slavery, emancipation, mobility and resistance to oppression in the forms of religion, music and dance—black audiences saw all this in The Wiz and appreciated it.”

Mainstream critics, however, did not: “There are many things to enjoy in The Wiz,New York Times critic Clive Barnes wrote, “but, with apologies, this critic noticed them without actually enjoying them.” Days later, critic Walter Kerr, also writing for the Times, denounced The Wiz for its dearth of laughs and focus, declaring the adaptation “feeble at every turn.”

Yet, six months later, the all-black production had garnered seven Tony awards—including ones for best musical, best costume design and best director. When the Broadway run of The Wiz finally closed, four years had passed and with them 1,672 performances. The show, by 1978, had become a popular film starring Michael Jackson as the Scarecrow and Diana Ross as Dorothy.

“Luckily, most blacks don’t pay any attention to the critics,” producer Harper, who died in 1988, told an interviewer in 1976. “Black people like my mother and Stephanie Mills’ [Dorothy] mother, both come from churches with large congregations. They really got the word out.” Within a matter of weeks, word of mouth, editorials in black newspapers and TV commercials—a Broadway anomaly, having previously been utilized only for the musical Pippin—delivered busloads of black theatergoers from nearby cities and suburbs and kept The Wiz alive.

The 1975 Broadway production took home seven Tony Awards, including Best Musical. (Wikipedia Commons)

Creatively embedded with satire and social commentary, The Wiz was rich with details that would have resonated with black audiences, says Dwandalyn Reece, curator of music and performing arts at the Smithsonian’s African American History Museum. Consider the Tinman’s costume. With his oilcan, fashioned by Holder from a Dominican percussion instrument, a güira, blacks detected a nod to the African diaspora. From the skillet atop the Tinman’s head wafted allusions to life in the kitchen and the role of slaves as domestics. And from the Tinman’s trash-like armor—beer cans and garbage cans—came echoes of the urban experience.  

The Wiz remained true to the way the American musical had been conceived—as a fantasy world—The Wiz was pure entertainment—but it was coded with images and sensibilities that were tied to the African American community,” says Reece. “The show opened up the landscape, asked about how certain topics could be treated and how black musical theater could operate in the larger milieu of mainstream musicals.”

“We’ve got work to do,” says the museum’s head of collections Renee Anderson about the Tinman’s headpiece, worn by actor Tiger Haynes in the original production. “Broadway theater costumes take a beating.”

The molded leather of the skillet? “Cracked.” The stitching? “Coming undone.” The polyurethane ear padding? “Degraded.” And the rivets on the canvas belting? “Rusted from Tiger Haynes’ perspiration as he sang and danced across the stage,” says Anderson. (Again, the rust.)

She adds, “We will stabilize and reinforce the headpiece, but we want to show that patina.”

For Reece, that patina has a personal connection. When she was ten years old and living in Denver, she and her family travelled to New Jersey to visit relatives. Her mother took Reece into Manhattan to see The Wiz. “I am not sure I grasped the significance of every line and image,” she says, “but I remember the splendor of it all. Seeing the story cast in a new light was exciting. I loved the movie The Wizard of Oz, and I loved Judy Garland as Dorothy, but seeing characters I could relate to—Stephanie Mills as Dorothy and characters who looked like my father or like my uncle—I remember feeling at home.”

The Tinman's hat from the Broadway musical The Wiz will go on view in 2016 in the exhibition, “Taking the Stage,” one of the inaugural shows planned for the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Why Were Medieval Knights Always Fighting Snails?

Smithsonian Magazine

It’s common to find, in the blank spaces of 13th and 14th century English texts, sketches and notes from medieval readers. And scattered through this marginalia is an oddly recurring scene: a brave knight in shining armor facing down a snail.

It’s a great unsolved mystery of medieval manuscripts. As Got Medieval writes, “You get these all the time in the margins of gothic manuscripts.”

And I do mean all the time. They’re everywhere! Sometimes the knight is mounted, sometimes not. Sometimes the snail is monstrous, sometimes tiny. Sometimes the snail is all the way across the page, sometimes right under the knight’s foot. Usually, the knight is drawn so that he looks worried, stunned, or shocked by his tiny foe.

Epic snail-on-knight combat showed up as often in medieval manuscripts as Kilroy across Europe. “But the ubiquity of these depictions doesn’t make them any less strange,” says the British Library, rounding up a number of examples of the slimy battles.

No one knows what, exactly, the scenes really mean. The British Library says that the scene could represent the Resurrection, or it could be a stand in for the Lombards, “a group vilified in the early middle ages for treasonous behaviour, the sin of usury, and ‘non-chivalrous comportment in general.’”

The valiant snails could be a commentary on social oppression, or it could just be medieval humor, says Got Medieval: “We’re supposed to laugh at the idea of a knight being afraid of attacking such a “heavily armored” opponent. Silly knight, it’s just a snail! “

For Digital Medievalist, Lisa Spangenberg floated another idea. She says that “the armored snail fighting the armored knight is a reminder of the inevitability of death,” a sentiment captured in Psalm 58 of the bible: “Like a snail that melteth away into slime, they shall be taken away; like a dead-born child, they shall not see the sun.”

More from Smithsonian.com:

Islam’s Medieval Underworld
Centuries Ago, a Cat Walked Across This Medieval Manuscript
The Secret Lives of Medieval Books

Camera-ready comic art drawing for Gordo

National Museum of American History
This pen-and-ink drawing prepared for the Gordo newspaper comic strip shows Gordo’s nephew ruining the gifts Gordo is bringing his date by trying to explain them scientifically. Gustavo "Gus" Arriola (1917-2008) was a Mexican American comic artist and animator. He was born in Arizona, and raised by his older sister in a Spanish-speaking home. His first jobs included preparing animation art for Screen Gems and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Arriola's strip, which debuted in 1941, promoted a better understanding of Mexican culture and environmental concerns. The strip was suspended during World War II until 1943, when Arriola began drawing again from his military station. He remained the sole artist and writer on the strip for its entire run. Gordo (1941-1985) was a strip about a Mexican dirt farmer, drawn with stereotyped attributes. After complaints from his public about his style and message Arriola altered the character to offer a more realistic representation. The strip’s subject was presented as a continuous narrative with daily gags. In later years it included features about Aztec and Mexican history and culture, as well as political and environmental commentary.

Oral history interview with Kay WalkingStick, 2011 December 14-15

Archives of American Art
Sound recording: 7 sound files (5 hr., 21 min.)

Transcript: 105 pages

An oral history interview of Kay WalkingStick conducted 2011 December 14-15, by Mija Riedel, for the Archives of American Art's Nanette L. Laitman Documentation Project for Craft and Decorative Arts in America, at WalkingStick's studio, in Jackson Heights, Queens, New York.

WalkingStick speaks of her childhood experiences and her parents; her grandfather Simon Ridge Walkingstick and jurisprudence; Dartmouth and Indian scholarships; how her parents met; her mother as a big influence; drawing and art in the family; her siblings; Syracuse; outdoors; Onondaga Valley; painting; winning a Scholastic Art Award; moving to Huntington Valley, Pennsylvania; attending Beaver; the 1950s; Pratt; review in Artnews; Danforth Foundation; Christianity; the women's movement; Cannabis Gallery; Native American heritage; Teepee Form and Chief Joseph; using wax; Dawes Commission; influences and artists; Catholicism; Italy; Bowling Green; sketchbooks; eroticism; Edward Albee's summer camp; Wenger Gallery; The Cardinal Points; being biracial; spirituality; Rome; abstraction and patterns; Il Cortile; Cairo; traveling; teaching; Cornell; Stony Brook; photography; technology; social and political commentary in art; changes to artwork over time; landscapes; mountains and the Rockies; Colorado; dialogues with God; symbols; art world; dealers; the WalkingSticks; Late Afternoon on the Rio Grande; art theory; drawing; diptych format; Venere Alpina; Sex, Fear and Aging; prints and books; and curiosity and humor. WalkingStick also recalls Simon Ralph WalkingStick, Margaret Emma McKaig, Charles WalkingStick, Murray Peterson McKaig, Benton Spruance, Michael Echols, Bear Paw, Bertha Urdang, Ramona Sakiestewa, Jody Folwell, Jaune Quick-To-See Smith, Emmi Whitehorse, George Longfish, David Penny, Dirk Bach, Bryn Mawr, and Marsden Hartley.
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