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Found 10,001 Resources

Wooden Sword

NMNH - Anthropology Dept.
FROM CARD: "INVENTORIED 1975."

Illustrated in Fowler and Matley (1979) (Figure 64a).

“Southern Paiute, Southern Utah” is a distinction observed by Fowler and Matley (1979) when specific band identification was not possible. “Southern Paiute. Southern Utah refers in general to the bands that Powell encountered in southern Utah and the Arizona Strip (that portion of present-day Arizona north of the Grand Canyon), i.e., the Kaibab, Uinkarets, Unkakaniguts and Shivwits.” [see: Fowler and Matley (1979), p. 5-6]

Culture attribution per Fowler and Matley (1979)

Wooden Toiletry Box used by Travelling Matt from Fraggle Rock

National Museum of American History

This small wooden toiletry box with brush, comb, and mirror was used with the puppet Travelling Matt from the HBO series Fraggle Rock. In the first episode of Fraggle Rock, Travelling Matt goes through a hole into the human world and what he considers “Outer Space.” Reminiscent of a 19th century anthropologist, Travelling Matt observes common objects in “Outer Space” and makes mostly wrong observations about how the human world works. He shares these observations in postcards that he sends back to his nephew Gobo in Fraggle Rock.

Fraggle Rock is a children’s television program created by Jim Henson that aired for five seasons on HBO from 1983 to 1987. Henson created the Fraggle world as one where different types of creatures lived together in a world where they were interconnected and important to one another. From the beginning, the show was designed to be easily adaptable to different cultures, which generally led to each country having its own human character, such as Doc in the American version, with the same Fraggle scenes dubbed in local languages.

Working the Land with Catalan Ceramist Pep Madrenas

Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage

Leer esta entrada de blog en español

Time seemed to stop in front of Pep Madrena’s wheel. The nearby music, human towers, and dance performances at the Folklife Festival were muffled while visitors of all ages stood hypnotized by his work, which culminated in a wide clay mural that looked like a tilled field.

The dimensions of the project, roughly 10.5 by 6.5 feet, took over a large part of the tent where Madrenas spent the majority of his time during the Festival. The sizable mural quickly attracted the attention and curiosity of visitors. As they watched the mural unfold before them, questions such as, “Why are the pieces curved?” or, “Why are the pieces placed next to one another?” led to conversations about the tradition but also about Catalan values. 

When I talked to Madrenas, he explained that the mural was a performative and visual representation of a Catalan proverb: Llaurada fonda fa bon blat. It roughly translates to “A deep tillage brings good wheat,” and it is a reminder that hard work pays off. While working hard in Washington, D.C., for example, the artisan and his son, Jan Madrenas, needed to adjust quickly to the Festival environment.

“I had to adapt to the clay, because it is different from the one I normally use, but I found a way around it,” the elder Madrenas explained. “The most complicated thing was dealing with the heat and the sun. We’ve had to spray [the pieces with water]. However, I think we achieved what we envisioned.”

In addition to Catalan values, the mural represented traditional ceramics.

“We took traditional Catalan pottery pieces such as the botxa which is used to make pots, and the soup plate called the plat de gos, which is a medieval vessel,” Madrenas said. “So, we placed them and gave ourselves the artistic freedom to create a rhythm that resembled tilled land.”

Jan Madrenas llaurada clay sculpture
Pep’s son, Jan Madrenas, fits together the components of the clay sculpture.
Photo by Pruitt Allen, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives

A total of 166 pieces, one half botxes and the other half plat de gos, were carefully molded and placed on a wooden frame.  

Madrenas’ trajectory as a ceramicist goes back almost five decades. He spent his childhood summers captivated by the work of the ceramicists in Sant Julià de Vilatorta, a town that is a half-hour walk away from his hometown, Folgueroles. At age sixteen, one of these ceramicists offered him a job.

Several years after working there, Madrenas’ growing interest in the occupation led him to study in Barcelona and France. Today, he is a master artisan with a career that reflects the efforts that Catalans put into their creative enterprises.

For Madrenas, his life as a ceramicist also has meaning beyond the pottery wheel. As he explained, “I’ve enjoyed working with the land, with the feeling that this is what campesinos (farmers) also do. This is how I feel. I feel like I’m a trabajador de la tierra (worker of the land).”

I watched Madrenas’ Llaurada fonda fa bon blat come together piece by piece over the ten days of the Festival, and like many visitors was invited to shape and connect with the clay on the wheel. Although the piece—just like the rest of the Festival—had to be dismantled in the end, the Catalan values of hard work and connection to the earth stay with us.

Mariángel Villalobos is a Catalonia program intern for the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. She will start her PhD in ethnomusicology at the University of Maryland in the fall. She is from San José, Costa Rica.

Pep Madrenas llaurada clay sculpture
The completed sculpture on the final day of the Folklife Festival.
Photo by Deyane Moses, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives

Trabajando la Tierra con el Ceramista Catalán Pep Madrenas

El tiempo parecía detenerse frente al torno de Pep Madrenas. La música, las presentaciones de danza y los castillos humanos parecían lejanos mientras visitantes de todas las edades eran hipnotizados por su trabajo, el cual culminó en un ancho mural que imitaba un campo labrado.

Las dimensiones del proyecto, aproximadamente 10.5 por 6.5 pies, ocupó gran parte de la carpa donde los Madrenas trabajaron durante el Festival. El mural rápidamente atrajo la atención de los curiosos visitantes. Al verlo progresar frente a ellos, preguntas como, “¿Por qué la curvatura de las piezas?”, o, “¿Por qué colocan las piezas juntas?” llevaron a diálogos que explicaban la tradición y los valores catalanes representados.

Cuando hablé con Madrenas, él me explicó que el proceso de la creación del mural y el mural en sí fueron una representación visual de un proverbio catalán: Llaurada fonda fa bon blat. El cual se traduce a “Labrar a fondo trae buen trigo,” y es un recordatorio de que el trabajo duro trae buenos resultados. Trabajando duro en Washington, D.C., por ejemplo, el artesano y su hijo, Jan Madrenas, necesitaron adaptarse al entorno del Festival.

“Me tuve que adaptar al barro porque era distinto del que uso yo normalmente, pero ya fui encontrando la manera,” comentó Madrenas. “Lo que se nos ha dado más complicado es el calor y el sol, hemos tenido que ir mojando [las piezas]. Pero bueno, creo que al final hemos logrado lo que queríamos.”

Además de los valores catalanes, el mural representó piezas tradicionales de cerámica.

Pep Madrenas
Pep Madrenas
Photo by Robert Leopold, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives
Jan Madrenas
Jan Madrenas
Photo by Daniel Martinez Gonzalez, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives

“Tomamos piezas antiguas de la tradición catalana de alfarería, como la botxa que sirve para hacer ollas y el plato hondo o el plat de gos que era un plato medieval. Nos hemos tomado la licencia artística de colocarlas en un ritmo que asemejara una tierra arada.”

Un total de 166 piezas, mitad botxes y mitad plat de gos, fueron moldeadas y colocadas cuidadosamente en un marco de madera.

El ceramista tiene una trayectoria de casi cinco décadas. Cuando era un niño, él pasaba sus veranos captivado por el trabajo de los ceramistas en Sant Julià de Vilatorta, un pueblo a media hora de distancia de su pueblo natal, Folgueroles. A los dieciséis años, uno de estos ceramistas le ofreció un trabajo.

Varios años después, el interés de Madrenas por la ocupación lo llevó a estudiar en Barcelona y Francia. Hoy, él es un maestro artesano con una carrera que refleja los esfuerzos que los catalanes ponen en sus empresas creativas.

Para Madrenas, su vida como ceramista tiene significado más allá del torno. Como él me explicó, “Me ha gustado trabajar la tierra con el sentimiento de que es lo que hacen los campesinos. Este es mi sentir, me siento un trabajador de la tierra.”

Observé como el mural Llaurada fonda fa bon blat era finalizado, pieza por pieza, durante los diez días del Festival. Al igual que a los otros visitantes, me invitaron a darle forma y conectar con la arcilla en el torno. A pesar de que el mural–al igual que el resto del Festival–fue desmantelado al final, los valores catalanes del trabajo duro y conexión con la tierra se quedarán con nosotros. 

Pep Madrenas llaurada clay sculpture
Pep Madrenas continues to work in the background beside his completed Llaurada fonda fa bon blat sculpture.
Photo by Julie Byrne, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives

Mariángel Villalobos es una pasante del programa de Cataluña para el Smithsonian Folklife Festival. Ella es de San José, Costa Rica, y empezará su doctorado en etnomusicología en la Universidad de Maryland en otoño.

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

Workman's Basket

NMNH - Anthropology Dept.
Collector's notes: "I have observed men hauling wet concrete in baskets such as this while engaged in construction work. "Aramco World," July-Aug 1964, p. 26 [see copy in the accession file] shows a farm worker carrying freshly-cut vegetables in [a basket like this]."

Large basket, woven in 2/2 twill inside, and covered on the outside with unwoven palm-trunk fiber. Horizontal rows of large stitches with coarse twine secure fibers to the base. Two handles on each side, one thick rope, and the other rope covered in white cotton cloth.

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

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

World Airlines The Right Airline, The Right Aircraft

National Air and Space Museum
The right airline…the right aircraft. Right now! Color photographic print advertising World Airways’ charter MD-11s. Image displays computerized readouts and screens in cockpit; through the windshield is a map of the world floating over a laser grid, referencing the high-tech instrumentation in the cockpit. Text in white at the bottom: The right airline…the right aircraft. Right Now! Advanced-technology MD-11s flying nonstop for World Airways. Small image of an MD-11 below text. Offset Photolithograph.

Fly Now: The National Air and Space Museum Poster Collection

Throughout their history, posters have been a significant means of mass communication, often with striking visual effect. Wendy Wick Reaves, the Smithsonian Portrait Gallery Curator of Prints and Drawings, comments that "sometimes a pictorial poster is a decorative masterpiece-something I can't walk by without a jolt of aesthetic pleasure. Another might strike me as extremely clever advertising … But collectively, these 'pictures of persuasion,' as we might call them, offer a wealth of art, history, design, and popular culture for us to understand. The poster is a familiar part of our world, and we intuitively understand its role as propaganda, promotion, announcement, or advertisement."

Reaves' observations are especially relevant for the impressive array of aviation posters in the National Air and Space Museum's 1300+ artifact collection. Quite possibly the largest publicly-held collection of its kind in the United States, the National Air and Space Museum's posters focus primarily on advertising for aviation-related products and activities. Among other areas, the collection includes 19th-century ballooning exhibition posters, early 20th-century airplane exhibition and meet posters, and twentieth-century airline advertisements.

The posters in the collection represent printing technologies that include original lithography, silkscreen, photolithography, and computer-generated imagery. The collection is significant both for its aesthetic value and because it is a unique representation of the cultural, commercial and military history of aviation. The collection represents an intense interest in flight, both public and private, during a significant period of its technological and social development.

World Airways The Right Airline...the Right Aircraft. Right now!

National Air and Space Museum
Offset Photolithograph: Photograph of cockpit of World Airways airplane (McDonnell Douglas MD-11) View from cockpit is graphic of the globe, showing all continents.

Fly Now: The National Air and Space Museum Poster Collection

Throughout their history, posters have been a significant means of mass communication, often with striking visual effect. Wendy Wick Reaves, the Smithsonian Portrait Gallery Curator of Prints and Drawings, comments that "sometimes a pictorial poster is a decorative masterpiece-something I can't walk by without a jolt of aesthetic pleasure. Another might strike me as extremely clever advertising … But collectively, these 'pictures of persuasion,' as we might call them, offer a wealth of art, history, design, and popular culture for us to understand. The poster is a familiar part of our world, and we intuitively understand its role as propaganda, promotion, announcement, or advertisement."

Reaves' observations are especially relevant for the impressive array of aviation posters in the National Air and Space Museum's 1300+ artifact collection. Quite possibly the largest publicly-held collection of its kind in the United States, the National Air and Space Museum's posters focus primarily on advertising for aviation-related products and activities. Among other areas, the collection includes 19th-century ballooning exhibition posters, early 20th-century airplane exhibition and meet posters, and twentieth-century airline advertisements.

The posters in the collection represent printing technologies that include original lithography, silkscreen, photolithography, and computer-generated imagery. The collection is significant both for its aesthetic value and because it is a unique representation of the cultural, commercial and military history of aviation. The collection represents an intense interest in flight, both public and private, during a significant period of its technological and social development.

World War II Patriotic cover

National Postal Museum
The pen-and-ink cachet design by L. I. Olsen features the B-17 Flying Fortress plane ... see the glass-and-metal observation nose cone and the gun turret projecting from the underbelly. A large American flag and cumulus clouds are in the background. [Lawrence Sherman refers to a similar design on colored envelopes by Matthew J. Huss.]

A one and a half-cent United States Scott 805 is affixed. The cover is postmarked Chicago 40, Illinois; date unknown.

Worshipers observing a baptism near Dayton, Tennessee

Smithsonian Institution Archives
See also number 7091Davis49

During the weeks of the Scopes trial, an independent group of Holiness movement followers, who rejected the theory of evolution and other expressions of modernism, camped near Dayton and held services every night. Many of the visiting journalists, scientists, and attorneys had observed the group's nighttime services. On Sunday, July 19, 1925, some of the residents of Defense Mansion, including Arthur Garfield Hays, Frank Thone, and Watson Davis, watched an outdoor baptism service being held in a nearby creek. Davis took eight photographs of the events.

Worshipers observing a baptism near Dayton, Tennessee

Smithsonian Institution Archives
See also number 7091Davis16

During the weeks of the Scopes trial, an independent group of Holiness movement followers, who rejected the theory of evolution and other expressions of modernism, camped near Dayton and held services every night. Many of the visiting journalists, scientists, and attorneys had observed the group's nighttime services. On Sunday, July 19, 1925, some of the residents of Defense Mansion, including Arthur Garfield Hays, Frank Thone, and Watson Davis, watched an outdoor baptism service being held in a nearby creek. Davis took eight photographs of the events.

Worshipers observing a baptism near Dayton, Tennessee

Smithsonian Institution Archives
See also number 7091Davis50

During the weeks of the Scopes trial, an independent group of Holiness movement followers, who rejected the theory of evolution and other expressions of modernism, camped near Dayton and held services every night. Many of the visiting journalists, scientists, and attorneys had observed the group's nighttime services. On Sunday, July 19, 1925, some of the residents of Defense Mansion, including Arthur Garfield Hays, Frank Thone, and Watson Davis, watched an outdoor baptism service being held in a nearby creek. Davis took eight photographs of the events. This image shows the group assembling on the bank and appearing to chase away two interlopers.

Worshipers observing a baptism near Dayton, Tennessee

Smithsonian Institution Archives
See also number 7091Davis44

During the weeks of the Scopes trial, an independent group of Holiness movement followers, who rejected the theory of evolution and other expressions of modernism, camped near Dayton and held services every night. Many of the visiting journalists, scientists, and attorneys had observed the group's nighttime services. On Sunday, July 19, 1925, some of the residents of Defense Mansion, including Arthur Garfield Hays, Frank Thone, and Watson Davis, watched an outdoor baptism service being held in a nearby creek. Davis took eight photographs of the events.

Worshipers observing a baptism near Dayton, Tennessee

Smithsonian Institution Archives
See also number 7091Davis47

During the weeks of the Scopes trial, an independent group of Holiness movement followers, who rejected the theory of evolution and other expressions of modernism, camped near Dayton and held services every night. Many of the visiting journalists, scientists, and attorneys had observed the group's nighttime services. On Sunday, July 19, 1925, some of the residents of Defense Mansion, including Arthur Garfield Hays, Frank Thone, and Watson Davis, watched an outdoor baptism service being held in a nearby creek. Davis took eight photographs of the events. Here, Preacher Joe Leffew (with light-colored hair and wearing a vest) is visible on the opposite bank standing at right.

Worshipers observing a baptism near Dayton, Tennessee

Smithsonian Institution Archives
See also number 7091Davis45

During the weeks of the Scopes trial, an independent group of Holiness movement followers, who rejected the theory of evolution and other expressions of modernism, camped near Dayton and held services every night. Many of the visiting journalists, scientists, and attorneys had observed the group's nighttime services. On Sunday, July 19, 1925, some of the residents of Defense Mansion, including Arthur Garfield Hays, Frank Thone, and Watson Davis, watched an outdoor baptism service being held in a nearby creek. Davis took eight photographs of the events. This photograph may be the one that E. E. Slosson believed to represent "a woman seized by the power of the spirit and going into convulsions."

Worshipers observing a baptism near Dayton, Tennessee

Smithsonian Institution Archives
See also number 7091Davis48

During the weeks of the Scopes trial, an independent group of Holiness movement followers, who rejected the theory of evolution and other expressions of modernism, camped near Dayton and held services every night. Many of the visiting journalists, scientists, and attorneys had observed the group's nighttime services. On Sunday, July 19, 1925, some of the residents of Defense Mansion, including Arthur Garfield Hays, Frank Thone, and Watson Davis, watched an outdoor baptism service being held in a nearby creek. Davis took eight photographs of the events. Preacher Joe Leffew is visible in the center, praying over the young woman seated on a rock.

Worshipers observing a baptism near Dayton, Tennessee

Smithsonian Institution Archives
See also number 7091Davis51

During the weeks of the Scopes trial, an independent group of Holiness movement followers, who rejected the theory of evolution and other expressions of modernism, camped near Dayton and held services every night. Many of the visiting journalists, scientists, and attorneys had observed the group's nighttime services. On Sunday, July 19, 1925, some of the residents of Defense Mansion, including Arthur Garfield Hays, Frank Thone, and Watson Davis, watched an outdoor baptism service being held in a nearby creek. Davis took eight photographs of the events. In this image, some of the outside observers are visible in the foreground.

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

41uerH6nTNL._SL160_.jpg

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.”

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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The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America's Childhood

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Wounded Knee: Healing the Wounds of the Past

National Museum of the American Indian
On Tuesday, December 29, 2015, we observe the 125th anniversary of the Massacre at Wounded Knee, a "sad and horrible event" Native and non-Native Americans still struggle to comprehend.

Woven Body Armor

NMNH - Anthropology Dept.
Three bird carcasses are attached to the front of the armor and red feathers run along the top and back. In September 2003 these were identified by Carla Dove, Bird Division, NMNH Vertebrate Zoology Department. Starting from left to right (observer's point of view): 1) The red feathers are from the Vulturine Parrot (Psittrichas flugidus). 2) The bird on the far left with blue and red feathers is the Blue Breasted Pitta (Pitta erythrogaster). 3)The smallest bird in the middle with brownish and yellowish feathers is the Magnificent Bird of Paradise (Cicinnurus magnificus). 4) The largest bird on the far right with white feathers and a green throat is the Lesser Bird of Paradise (Paradisaea minor). This one is particularly interesting because it is an immature male and unique to NMNH collections.

Wright EX Vin Fiz

National Air and Space Museum
Wood and fabric biplane. Single 35-horsepower Wright vertical four-cylinder engine driving two pusher propellers via sprocket-and-chain transmission. Smaller, experimental version of the standard 1910-12 Wright Model B airplane.

The first crossing of the United States by airplane was achieved by Calbraith Perry Rodgers in 1911. In 1910, famed publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst announced his offer of a $50,000-prize for a U.S. transcontinental flight in thirty days or less. Rodgers' Wright EX biplane was named the Vin Fiz after his sponsor's grape soda product. He left Sheepshead Bay, New York, on September 17, 1911. A "hangar" car, a rolling workshop filled with spare parts to repair and maintain the airplane, followed along. The flight was punctuated by numerous stops, delays, and accidents. When Hearst's 30-day time limit expired, Rodgers had only reached Kansas City, Missouri. Undaunted, he continued on, determined to make the first transcontinental airplane flight whether he received the money or not. He arrived in Pasadena, California, to a hero's welcome, 49 days after setting out. Although Pasadena was the official end of the coast-to-coast journey, Rodgers flew on to Long Beach to complete the flight at the shore of the Pacific Ocean. The total distance covered was 6,914 km (4,321 mi) in 82 hours, 4 minutes, total flying time at an average speed of 82.4 kph (51.5 mph).

The first crossing of the United States by airplane was achieved by Calbraith Perry Rodgers in 1911 in his Wright EX biplane, named the Vin Fiz. Rodgers had a rich personal heritage of exploration and adventure. He was a descendant of Commodore Mathew Calbraith Perry, famous for opening Japan to U.S. trade in 1853, his brother Oliver Hazard Perry, and Commodore John Rodgers, all of whom had historic naval careers. Rodgers's interest in attending the U.S. Naval Academy was thwarted by his deafness, a condition resulting from a serious bout with scarlet fever as a young boy. Given his nautical lineage, he was an avid sailor and was elected to the prestigious New York Yacht Club in 1902. Rodgers had a love of speed, which he pursued through the recently introduced technologies of motorcycles and automobiles.

Rodgers, typically called Cal, was introduced to aviation in June 1911. His cousin, John, a Naval Academy graduate, had been selected to learn to fly the Navy's newly purchased Wright airplane, and was sent to the Wright factory and flying school in Dayton, Ohio, in March 1911. On a visit to his cousin during his training, Cal was immediately hooked on flying, and soon began flight instruction. Shortly thereafter, with his cousin, he ordered a new Wright Model B airplane. A quick study, Rodgers was already flying public exhibitions in Ohio and Indiana with his new aircraft in July. On August 7, 1911, he passed his flight tests for pilot's license number 49, issued by the Aero Club of America. On August 10, he arrived in Chicago to compete in the Chicago International Aviation Meet at Grant Park. He won the duration contest, and along with his performance in other events, earned total prize money of $11,285, and instant celebrity.

Ten months earlier, famed publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst, had captured the attention of the aviation world when he announced a $50,000-prize for the first flight across the United States in thirty days or less. The offer was good for one year beginning on October 10, 1910. The bold challenge interested many of the leading names in aviation, including the Wright brothers and Glenn Curtiss. But the technical and logistical demands of such a flight precluded any immediate attempts.

In September 1911, three competitors were finally in the race. Cal Rodgers was one of them, along with Robert Fowler and James Ward. Fowler took off from San Francisco on September 11, but after three failed attempts to cross the Sierras, aborted his transcontinental flight by the end of the month. Ward took off from the east coast on September 13, but withdrew little more than a week later, not even making it out of New York State.

Following the Grant Park competition in August, Rodgers decided to attempt the coast-to-coast flight. While still in Chicago, he secured financial backing from the Armour Company, a local firm which was then introducing a new grape-flavored soft drink called Vin Fiz. Armour provided a special train, emblazoned with the Vin Fiz logo, with cars for the accommodation of Rodgers's family and his support crew, and a "hangar" car, which was a rolling workshop, filled with spare parts to repair and maintain the airplane over the course of the flight. There was even an automobile on board to pick up Rodgers after forced landings away from the rail line. The pilot would receive five dollars for every mile he flew east of the Mississippi River and four dollars for every mile west of the river. Rodgers agreed to pay for the fuel, oil, spare parts, his mechanics, and the airplane itself, which the Wright Company agreed to build. Chief mechanic on the flight was Charles Taylor, who had worked for the Wright brothers since 1901 and had built the engine for the Wright Flyer, the world's first airplane that flew at Kitty Hawk in 1903.

The airplane was a Wright EX, a special design that was used for exhibition flying, which was a slightly smaller version of the Wright Company's standard Model B flyer. Like the support rail car, Rodgers's aircraft carried the Vin Fiz logo on its wings and tail, and was quickly dubbed the Wright EX Vin Fiz. It was powered by a 35-horsepower, Wright vertical four-cylinder engine, and it carried enough fuel for a maximum of 3½ hours flying time.

Rodgers began his epic journey from Sheepshead Bay, New York, on September 17, 1911. The flight was punctuated by numerous stops, delays, and accidents. When the 30-day time limit Hearst imposed for the $50,000 prize had expired, he had only reached Kansas City, Missouri. Undaunted, Rodgers continued on, determined to make the first transcontinental airplane flight whether he received the money or not. Upon leaving Kansas City, he flew due south to Texas, and then made his way across the southern U.S. border toward Pasadena, California, the official termination point of the flight. Rodgers continued to experience frequent mechanical failures, damage to the airplane in hard landings, and weather delays. Trouble arose again on November 3, shortly after passing over Imperial Junction, California, less than 320 km (200 mi) from the finish. At 1,200 m (4,000 ft), an engine cylinder exploded, damaging one of the wings and driving steel shards into Rodgers's right arm. He struggled to regain control of the Vin Fiz and, amazingly, managed to glide the 10 km (6 mi) back to Imperial Junction and land safely. The engine and airplane were repaired a day later, and despite his painful injury, Rodgers departed for Pasadena once again on November 4. Further engine problems forced him down in Banning, California, about half way to his final destination. On November 5 he was airborne again, and after brief stops in Beaumont and Pomona, he arrived in Pasadena to a hero's welcome, 49 days after setting out from Sheepshead Bay.

Although Pasadena was the official end of the coast-to-coast journey, Rodgers wanted to fly all the way to the Pacific shore to complete the flight. Several coastal towns bid for the honor, and Long Beach was the final selection. They agreed to pay Rodgers $1,000, plus part of the gate receipts of an exhibition of the Vin Fiz after arrival. Rodgers took off from Pasadena for the short 37 km (23 mi) trip to Long Beach on November 12. Minutes into the flight, engine failure forced him down near Covina Junction. Repairs to a broken fuel line had him back in the air that afternoon. But again, just a short time after takeoff, near Compton, California, Rodgers was down. This time it was a serious crash. The airplane was severely damaged and Rodgers was badly hurt. It took several weeks to make the Vin Fiz airworthy again and for Rodgers to recover from his injuries. On December 10, yet needing crutches to move about on his still healing ankle, Rodgers boarded his battered aircraft, determined to fly the Vin Fiz all the way to the Pacific Ocean. As at Pasadena, Rodgers's arrival was an organized public event and a large crowd gathered at Long Beach to welcome him. The remainder of the great adventure met without incident and Rodgers landed to cheering crowds. To create a photo opportunity for the press and the spectators the Vin Fiz was rolled into the surf, allowing the Pacific to lap over it wheels. The 6,914 km (4,321 mi) were covered in 82 hours, 4 minutes, total flying time at an average speed of 82.4 kph (51.5 mph). Cal Rodgers had secured his place in aviation history. (Robert Fowler began another west-to-east transcontinental flight on October 19, this time taking a southern route to avoid the mountains. He arrived in Jacksonville, Florida, on February 8, 1912, completing the trip in more than twice as many days as Rodgers.)

Rodgers and his wife liked Pasadena and decided to stay. He kept the Vin Fiz and a second airplane, a two-seat Wright Model B, at nearby Dominguez Field. He made exhibition flights with the Vin Fiz and took up passengers and gave flight instruction with the Model B. He later moved the airplanes to Long Beach and operated from there. On April 3, 1912, Rodgers was airborne in the Model B, making a test flight after some tuning of the engine in preparation for another passenger ride. Witnesses observed a steep dive as Rodgers apparently attempted to avoid a flock of seagulls. In the next instant he was seen struggling with the controls just before the airplane crashed into the surf, only one hundred yards from his landing spot after the last leg of the transcontinental flight in December. Rodgers was killed instantly. Various causes for the accident were put forth, ranging from a seagull jamming the controls to Rodgers's recklessness or carelessness as a pilot. The precise cause remains undetermined. The wreckage of Rodgers's Model B was acquired by one of his mechanics, Frank Shaffer, and his partner Jesse Brabazon. They rebuilt it and flew for approximately one year until it was destroyed in a crash while being piloted by Brabazon's friend, Andrew Drew, who was killed.

The Vin Fiz was acquired after Cal's death by his cousin, Lt. John Rodgers, USN. He offered it to the Smithsonian Institution, but it was not accepted on the grounds that it was very similar to the recently acquired Wright Military Flyer. It then passed to Rodgers's wife, Mabel, who, not long after Cal's death, married Charles Wiggin. They exhibited and flew the Vin Fiz publicly for two years, until Rodgers's mother was awarded possession of the airplane in 1914 in a court ruling regarding Cal's estate. The history of the airplane becomes somewhat murky at this point. According to Charles Taylor, the Wright mechanic who assisted Rodgers on the transcontinental flight, Rodgers's mother shipped the Vin Fiz to the Wright factory in Dayton, Ohio, for refurbishment. Either unable or unwilling to pay for the work, she allowed the airplane to languish at the Wright factory and it was destroyed in 1916 after the company was sold. But this version of events is at odds with the fact that Rodgers's mother had the Vin Fiz restored and donated it to the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh in 1917. The airplane was later acquired by the Smithsonian from Carnegie in 1934.

The probable explanation for the conflicting information lies in the misconception that there was a single Vin Fiz airframe. On the transcontinental flight, several sets of wings and a large supply of other components and spare parts were brought along on the support train. Rodgers's airplane was repaired and rebuilt many times during the trip. By the time the wheels of the Vin Fiz were rolled into the Pacific at Long Beach, almost nothing of the airplane that took off from Sheepshead Bay remained. As a result, at the end of the journey, there were enough flown, genuine Vin Fiz parts to make up more than one airplane. Charles Taylor was probably accurate when he stated that the Vin Fiz sent to the Wright factory (i.e., the intact airplane that Mabel and Charles Wiggin flew in 1912-14) was destroyed. The airplane that ended up at the Carnegie Institute, and then the Smithsonian, was very likely reconstructed from the parts left over from the many repairs and rebuilds during the flight. Thus, the airplane in the NASM collection is genuine in that it is comprised of components that, at various points, were part of the Vin Fiz during the historic coast-to-coast flight.

When on display at the Carnegie Institute, the engine mounted on the Vin Fiz was a wooden mock-up. The whereabouts of the original engine are unknown. At the Smithsonian, an original Wright engine of the correct type, but not associated with the flight nor with Rodgers, was put on the airplane. In 1960, the Smithsonian fully restored the Vin Fiz. In 1996, when it was part of a traveling Smithsonian exhibition, a new wooden mock-up engine was made and placed on the airplane. This was done to reduce potential wear and tear on the artifact caused by repeated removal of the heavy, original engine during assembly and disassembly of the airplane on the many stops of the exhibition tour. The mock-up engine remains on the Vin Fiz.
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