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Smithsonian American Art Museum

"I know a City Called Okeechobee" by Ella Jenkins at Music Center at Strathmore 2006

SI Center for Learning and Digital Access
Ella Jenkins sings her song "I Know a City Called Okeechobee" before a sold out crowd at the Music Center at Strathmore in 2006. The performance was part of a concert event where luminaries in the folk and children's music genre, such as Pete Seeger and Sweet Honey in the Rock, paid tribute to Ella's career and legacy.

"I'll Be Satisfied" by Paschall Brothers

SI Center for Learning and Digital Access
Tidewater gospel quartet is a long and proud a cappella tradition, and the Paschall Brothers are among its last tradition-bearers. With a seemingly unbreakable family bond, the Paschall Brothers have followed in the footsteps of their father, Reverend Frank Paschall Sr. (1923–1999), who led them both philosophically and musically by example. Since the 1960s, the Tidewater style of a cappella gospel has all but disappeared. However, with the descendants of Frank Paschall Sr. the tradition continues to fulfill its purpose of bringing the good news to all those who want to hear it. Here the brothers rehearse and discuss their father's legacy at their Newport, Virginian home.

"Idiomas Californias" 1821

National Anthropological Archives
On Microfilm Reel 1

Copy by E. T. Murray from the original manuscript [in Bancroft Library], October - November, 1878. Notes on pages 2-3 by A. S. Gatschet.

Copied by E.T. Murray in 1878 from the original made in 1821. It includes vocabularies of the following languages: Esselen, San Antonio (Salinan), San Miguel (Salinan), San Luis Obispo (Obispeno Chusmash), Santa Barbara (Barbareno Chumash), La Purisima (Purismeno Chusmash), Santa Inez (Inezeno Chumash), Nophrinthres of San Juan Bautista (a Yokuts dialect), Lathruunen (Yokuts), San Luis Rey (Uto-Aztecan), Karkin (Costanoan), Saclan (Miwok), Juichun (Costanoan), Huimen (Marin Miwok), and Suisen (a dialect of Patwin [Wintun]).

"Imaginaries" by Quetzal from Imaginaries

SI Center for Learning and Digital Access
Songwriter and lead singer Martha Gonzáles calls Quetzal an “East LA Chican @ rock group,” summing up its roots in the complex cultural currents of barrio life, its social activism, its strong feminist stance, and its rock and roll beginnings. Here, Quetzal performs "Imagineries", the title track from its first Smithsonian Folkways release.

"In Her Words" Exhibition and Women’s Letters from World War I

National Postal Museum
By Lynn Heidelbaugh, Curator “If you do not hear from me often you may know I am all right & just busy,” were the reassuring words that army nurse Greta Wolf sent to her family on October 28, 1918. Her hospital was indeed busy. The American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) was in the midst of its largest, and ultimately last, offensive. Just two days prior to Wolf’s letter, the hospital had a record number of 2,288 patients.[i] She wrote: “My ward has 112 patients and they are from all over. My, the boys have had some experiences over here.” In the...

"Interruptions and Embarrassments": The Smithsonian Institution during the Civil War

Smithsonian Archives - History Div
This paper consists of the revised version of a talk delivered on September 25, 1996, as part of the Smithsonian Institution History Lecture Series during the Smithsonian's sesquicentennial celebration and on December 10, 1997, to the Smithsonian Associates. The author was an editor of The Papers of Joseph Henry.

This detailed and highly readable paper discusses the impact of the Civil War on the Smithsonian Institution, which was founded in 1846 and led by its first Secretary, Joseph Henry, until his death in 1878. The author begins by placing the Smithsonian geographically, to show how physically vulnerable the building was during the war, and briefly discusses the Institution's origins and activities. She then goes on to describe some specific institutional casualties of the war, beginning with the Smithsonian's meteorology program. Many volunteer observers left their posts and in some cases, their equipment was destroyed. War-related business made telegraph lines unavailable for weather dispatches. The Smithsonian's finances also felt the impact of the war due to Congress's inability to make payments on time and the war's devaluation of currency. The Institution's publications program suffered from the high cost of paper and printing.

Despite his reservations about the war, Joseph Henry contributed to the Union effort. When approached by a balloonist for support, Henry recommended the balloonist provide reconnaissance for the Union Army, and a balloon corps was established. He also served on the three-member Permanent Commission of the Navy, which reviewed and reported on hundreds of proposals submitted to the Navy for warships, torpedoes, and other ordnance.

Henry also participated in Union Army signal tests from the Smithsonian Building's high tower, and was accused of treason for allegedly attempting to communicate with the Confederate Army. The author relates the details of this story and other reasons Henry was believed by some to be a southern sympathizer. A controversy ensued, for example, when Henry attempted to bar an abolitionist lecture series from taking place at the Smithsonian due to its political and religious content. In addition, the Institution lost several members of the Board of Regents because they were loyal to the Confederacy. Henry was also known to have been friends with Jefferson Davis, a former regent. Finally, he refused to fly a U.S. flag over the Smithsonian during the war, in part because he felt it would make the Institution a target.

Joseph Henry was also struck by personal tragedy during the Civil War years. His son became ill and died in 1862. His close friend and fellow leader of the American scientific community, Alexander Bache, suffered a breakdown from which he never recovered.

A major fire broke out at the Smithsonian in January 1865. Although much of the building and its contents were burned, Henry weathered this crisis with "surprising equanimity," says the author. The fire helped Henry make the case for eliminating the Smithsonian's lecture series (the lecture room had been destroyed) and for transferring the Smithsonian's library to the Library of Congress.

"I’ve Got a Friend in Chicago"

SI Center for Learning and Digital Access
Students will listen to, analyze, and perform music created by children in the United States and for children by American folk artists.In addition, students will record their own games, songs, and chants.

"I’ve Lived the Life of 500 People": The Photography of Art Wolfe

Smithsonian Magazine

For five decades, Art Wolfe has traveled the globe, camera in hand, documenting everything from bull elephants in Botswana to blue icebergs in Antarctica. In Earth Is My Witness: The Photography of Art Wolfe, his life's work is laid out across more than 400 glossy pages, offering readers a chance to immerse themselves in the threatened places, animals and cultures that he has dedicated his career to capturing. The book is both a testament to a prodigious career and a celebration of a man who has devoted his life to conservation photography. 

Wolfe is no stranger to publishing: Since 1989, he has released at least one book a year, but he looks at Earth Is My Witness through a different lens. "I've done 80 books," Wolfe told, "and if anyone has entertained the idea of owning one of my books, I think this is the book that covers all the bases. I'm very proud of it." Wolfe travels nearly nine months out of the year, but recently spoke with us from his Seattle office about his lengthy career, avoiding "writer's block" and the places he most wants to see to next.


Earth Is My Witness: The Photography of Art Wolfe

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Smithsonian: How did you come to photography?

Wolfe: I was an art major at the University of Washington, but also during those college years I got into climbing. I was always a young naturalist—I always loved the natural world, and as I got older, I got more and more into hiking up into mountains and onto glaciers. During the week I’d go to school and learn about composition, and on the weekends, I got a little camera to document the climbs. My allegiances shifted during those college years. I absorbed everything I was learning in art school and applied it to my photos. By the time that I graduated, I saw myself as a photographer rather than a painter.

What did photography offer that was different from fine art?

It was much easier to create original compositions through the photographic process than to try to sit and stare at a blank piece of canvas or watercolor paper and create a meaningful composition. And I started seeing, fairly fast, that the camera could be a ticket to travel. I've always wanted to see what was beyond the ocean. Living on the West Coast you look out across the ocean toward Asia, and the camera became a passport into the unknown: to cultures, to countries that I wanted to see.

The book is a massive 400-page collection of photographs from your entire career thus far. How has your approach to photography and to capturing what you see changed or evolved? Can we see that in the book?

I think the greatest thing that art gave me was the insatiable curiosity to look at what I was doing but not to be completely satisfied and lulled into a sense of complacency. With people, there are classic portraits, there are candid moments, but there's also a subset of photos where I've completely created an abstract composition, where I've arranged up to 60 monks in a rosette below me in a monastery on the outskirts of Katmandu. A lot of people would condemn that and say that I'm altering reality, but wearing the hat of an artist ... I've given myself permission to do that.

The thing I was trying to avoid was something analogous to writer's block, where you run out of ideas. Fine art training and studying art taught me and encouraged me to evolve my work and never to get in a rut and shoot the same thing forty years later, and that has kept me excited and moving forward in a positive direction.

What do you find that inspires you most?

Capturing an image that may be a very private moment between you and a subject, but if it's successful, it can be seen and witnessed by millions of people around the globe. I think that's the undercurrent of almost everything I've done over the last 40 years. It's why sculptors sculpt and writers write and painters paint ... communicating a thought and idea that, if successful, reaches a broad audience. I wear the hat of a communicator. I photograph for my own enjoyment, but that in and of itself wouldn't do it. It's communicating, inspiring and encouraging people through the photographic medium that really puts the fire in my belly.

There's this idea, among people who study memory, that in order to feel as though you've lived a long life, it's not necessarily about living a lot of years but doing a lot of things, and having a lot of memories to fill those years. I look at your book, and I see all of the places you've been and all the memories you must have—is there one, or a few, in particular, that stands out to you?

I totally agree with that. My father passed away when he was 94 a couple of years ago. I would come home from yet another trip and he was living in an assisted care facility very close to where I lived, and I would naturally stop by before I even went home. And he was looking at me under the covers kind of worried, and I said "Are you worrying about me?" And he would nod, and I would say, "Listen, I’ve lived the life of 500 people. I've seen all of the charismatic animals I've ever wanted to see, from snow leopards to giant pandas to mountain gorillas to great white sharks. I've been all over the Earth, I've lived the life of 500 people; do not worry about me. Take care of yourself."

When I first looked at that book as a published book, with all the photos in it, it was humbling. I felt humbled by having been to the Karakoram Range and looking at K2, or being involved in the first Western expedition to Tibet, or being in the heart of the Amazon and witnessing tribes that hadn’t been exposed to the outside world. All of those—almost any one of those photos that I focus on in that book will have an etched memory in my brain. I cannot remember the names of people I taught two days ago, but show me an image and I can tell you a story about it with clarity.

Having done so much—having lived those 500 lives—what's next? Are there places you haven't been that you want to go?

I've got like five or six books in my mind, many of which I've been working on. The fear is running out of ideas, writer's block. Creative energy courses through my body. I'll always be working on something, I'll never be retired.

There are a lot of places I've never been: Egypt, Spain, places that people would maybe think would be the first places I would go. I'm holding those off until I get a little older. I want to go through the Middle East.

"Joropo quitapesares" by Cimarrón at 2011 Smithsonian Folklife Festival

SI Center for Learning and Digital Access
Cimarrón, of the llanos plains region of Colombia, are masters of the joropo llanero genre. Here, these Grammy-nominated musicians perform "Joropo quitapesares" (arr. Carlos Rojas) at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival for the second time since the 2009 Las Amerícas program. The group’s new album ¡Cimarrón! Joropo Music from the Plains of Colombia is available from Smithsonian Folkways

"Jubilee" by the McIntosh County Singers

SI Center for Learning and Digital Access
Acclaimed upholders of the African American ring shout, the McIntosh County Shouters keep the faith, form, and fervor of the generations-old tradition rooted in their small community of coastal Georgia.

"La Bamba" by José Gutiérrez and Los Hermanos Ochoa from La Bamba: Sones Jarochos from Veracruz

SI Center for Learning and Digital Access
Son jarocho is the traditional rural music of Veracruz in the Gulf region of Mexico. The son includes coplas or stanzas sung by a "caller" who is accompanied by the hard-driving rhythms of musicians playing unique regional guitars and harp. Jarocho describes the people and culture of southern Veracruz. "La Bamba" is among the best known jarochosongs inside and outside Mexico. The version performed here by José Gutiérrez and Los Hermanos Ochoa showcases a lively harp solo by virtuoso Felipe Ochoa and the rhythmic plucking of the requinto jarocho guitar.

"Lay It Up!"

Smithsonian Magazine

Across the world's frost belt, more than a million people go curling each winter. The vast majority are in Canada, where the game takes a back seat only to ice hockey. About 160 of the 15,000 devotees in this country are associated with the Heather Curling Club in Mapleton, Minnesota, a rural community with a strong Scottish presence. On a typical night at the club's rink, the sound of stones sliding across the "sheets" competes with the constant chatter of curling. "Remember, we've got the hammer!" "Take 'er out, Cathy!" "Off the broom!"

Most modern sports were invented in the last century, but curling goes back at least as far as the 1500s. No one knows who cast the first stone, but it was most likely thrown on a frozen loch in Scotland. Scottish soldiers brought the game to North America during the French and Indian War.

Curling is a bit like shuffleboard on ice, but it's played with more finesse and strategy. Brooms are used to help a sliding stone travel farther and in the right direction. In communities like Mapleton, the spirit of curling is passed on from one generation to the next. One night Mary Duncanson, still active at the rink at 71, was playing in one match while her husband, son and nephew were playing in others nearby. Her grandchildren, too, are learning the game. For folks like the Duncansons, curling is much more than a pastime; it's a way to keep a family and a community together.

"Let All Religions Come Together" by Akuseka Takuwa from Delicious Peace: Coffee, Music & Interfaith Harmony in Uganda

SI Center for Learning and Digital Access
Watch a live performance from a group featured on Delicious Peace: Coffee, Music & Interfaith Harmony in Uganda.

"Liberator" broadside advertising a bus trip to the 1963 March on Washington

National Museum of African American History and Culture
Blue print on yellowed paper. At center, a drawing of a bus. The text reads, "RIDE WITH THE LIBERATOR IN THE MARCH ON WASHINGTON WEDNESDAY AUGUST 28, 1963."

"Liberty Funeral March" by the Liberty Brass Band from New Orleans Brass Bands: Through the Streets of the City

SI Center for Learning and Digital Access
Watch the Liberty Brass Band share their classic New Orleans sound with a performance of their new song "Liberty Funeral March," one of six Liberty Brass Band songs to appear on New Orleans Brass Bands: Through the Streets of the City, alongside recordings by Hot 8 Brass Band and Treme Brass Band.

"Life's just a merry-go-round": Exploring carousel animals in the museum's collection

National Museum of American History

"Unless something is done [the carousel] will turn the minds of people here, and no one would be surprised if in a few days, whole families… were chartering the machine for hours at a time."
Milwaukee Journal, July 30, 1892

Unlike the people of late 19th century Milwaukee, carousels were not really my thing. I rolled my eyes after learning Smithsonian interns are allowed a free ride on the carousel on the National Mall once a day, convinced I would never need that. I loved carousels when I was a kid, mostly because of my favorite childhood movie, Mary Poppins. In one memorable scene, the live actors are transported into a magical, animated world, and take part in a horse race while riding carousel animals that had managed to detach themselves from a merry-go-round. Every time I rode carousels as a child, the music and movement transported me; I wasn't Marilyn, I was Mary Poppins: "practically perfect in every way." But, as I grew up and my imagination dimmed, I soon left the romance of merry-go-rounds behind me.

Colorful carousel horse with pink saddle and light pink mane

Because I had long dismissed carousels as something irrelevant to my life, I was surprised to encounter them again not at an amusement park, but behind the scenes at the National Museum of American History. I have been working with the Culture and the Arts Department's extensive folk art collection, which includes a vast assortment of carousel animals. And when I say carousel animals, I don't just mean horses. Like the Speedwell Foundation Conservation Carousel at the National Zoo with its 58 different species, the museum's collection of carousel critters includes peacocks, roosters, sea monsters, storks, elephants, and camels—just to name a few. While delving deeper into the stories of these vibrant objects, I learned merry-go-rounds have a rich history that stretches back centuries, rekindling my childhood love for them in the process.

Black and white photo of a giraffe carousel figure with long neck and saddle

Culture is not produced in a vacuum. During my time here in the Culture and the Arts Department, I've learned that many modern forms of entertainment are just re-interpretations of old ones—refashioned and re-purposed to reflect today's values. Broadway musicals evolved from vaudeville and blackface minstrelsy. Tabloids evolved from the penny press of the early 19th century. Movies evolved from the theater and magic lantern shows. Mp3 players evolved from records and phonographs. There are an infinite number of examples.

Carousels are no different. Rotating devices of various sorts were in use across the Islamic Empire, Europe, Latin America, and India as early as 500 AD. Hunters in early-modern Europe used them to train for a tournament known as a carousel and later adapted them for entertainment purposes. They were originally powered by a laborer or a horse running in a circle, and eventually by a crank. By the 1860s, European carousel-makers introduced the use of steam engines in merry-go-rounds, and carousels began to more closely resemble what we would recognize today.

European immigrants to the United States brought this tradition with them to America. German carousel-maker Gustav A. Dentzel imported the United States' first known carousel when he arrived in America in 1864. Immigrants from Eastern and Southern European countries increased during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and many of these newcomers were carousel-makers. Merry-go-rounds soon became common fixtures at American fairs and amusement parks.

Selfie of young woman smiling with carousel horses in the background

Even if we dismiss merry-go-rounds as a "little-kiddie" ride, they have a universal appeal that cannot be denied. People all over the world have enjoyed these rotating devices for centuries. Anyone who looks at the museum's carousel animal collection can see why they have had such long-lasting appeal. Check out the sea horse pictured below! Look at the way its mane appears to blow in the wind and the intricacy of the scales on its tail. Now imagine yourself spinning around and around with music clanking in the background, laughing with your friends as your sea horse moves you up and down. How could you not fall in love with the magic of carousels?

Black and white photo of carousel figure, a horse with saddle and fish-like tail

Marilyn Bradford was a curatorial intern in the Culture and the Arts Department in winter 2015.

Intern Marilyn Bradford
Posted Date: 
Monday, May 2, 2016 - 08:00
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"Little Bird, Little Bird" by Elizabeth Mitchell from You Are My Little Bird

SI Center for Learning and Digital Access
"Little Bird, Little Bird" is from Elizabeth Mitchell's most recent album You Are My Little Bird released in 2006. Elizabeth will release on her fourth children's album, "Sunny Day" in 2010 on Smithsonian Folkways.

"Little Birdie" by Ralph Stanley at 2003 Smithsonian Folklife Festival

SI Center for Learning and Digital Access
Ralph Stanley, born in Virginia, USA, in 1927, is an influential and celebrated figure in the history of bluegrass music. He created a unique style of banjo playing, sometimes called "Stanley Style," characterized by incredibly fast "forward rolls" (a technique in banjo playing) led by the index finger. Stanley often played with a capo to use the higher registers of the banjo. This 2003 performance by Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys demonstrates the instrumental solos and breakneck speed that characterize bluegrass music.

"Little Boxes" and Big Ideas

Smithsonian Magazine

"Look Ma, No Hands!" A Rock Climber Scales Cliffs Without Using His Hands

Smithsonian Magazine

Johnny Dawes—the Stone Monkey, the Leaping Boy, the Dawes—is a living legend in certain niche circles. In the 1980s and 90s, he earned rockstar status in the rock climbing community by making some of the most difficult and dangerous climbs up Britain’s crags, such as “The Indian Face.” Now 50, Dawes has moved on to new ventures: he's still scaling rock faces, but now without the use of his hands.

“It’s a bit like climbing’s like lager or wine, and no-hands is really like a liqueur or sprit,” Dawes says. “It’s a lot stronger coordination medium.”

Watch Dawes in action:

Is Dawes serious about his feats of handless derring-do? Steve Casimiro of the Adventure Journal frames it best:

It is such a preposterous and brilliant idea, and delivered with such British aplomb, that I keep thinking it might be the world’s greatest climbing put-on. Watch it as if it’s totally fake and you’ll find yourself cracking up; watch it as if it’s real and you’ll be nodding your head and saying, “Yeah, Johnny!” It could go either way.

But this isn’t the first time Dawes’ unconventional and buoyant ways have garnered public attention. After he published a memoir, Full of Myself, in 2011, Dawes waxed philosophical on climbing and on life with the Guardian

So, will no-hands climbing take off? “It’s a really good question as to why other people aren’t interested in this,” Dawes says. “It’s not really cool . . . It’s sort of like a stamp collecting club. You know, happy being really boring.”

But those who know Dawes also know that “boring” is by no means a fitting descriptor for the man. And now that other disciplines of climbing are no longer the safe havens for nonconformists that they once were, maybe – just maybe – there’s room for this no-hands thing to fill that void.

The best part about it? “If it’s a cold day, you can wear gloves as well,” Dawes says. 

"Los Vecinos" by Suni Paz from Alerta Sings and Songs for the Playground/ Canciones Para el Recreo

SI Center for Learning and Digital Access
Suni Paz is an award-winning performer for children and a pioneer in the use of music to teach Spanish-language curricula. Her songs in Spanish encourage children to have pride in their heritage while respecting all cultures. In 2003, Suni was awarded the Magic Penny Award by the Children's Music Network. Here, she discusses the importance of singing to children and the impact it has had on her career. She also performs "Los Vecinos" (The Neighbors), an original composition about the beauty of bilingualism.

"Lost Continent" Rises Again With New Expedition

Smithsonian Magazine

Tens of millions of years after it disappeared under the waters of the Pacific Ocean, scientists have completed the first explorations of what some scientists are calling a hidden continent, Naaman Zhou reports at the Guardian.

During a two-month ocean voyage this summer, a team of more than 30 scientists from 12 countries explored the submerged landmass of Zealandia on an advanced research vessel and collected samples from the seabed. Scientists were able to drill into the ocean floor at depths of more than 4,000 feet, collecting more than 8,000 feet of sediment cores that provides a window into 70 million years of geologic history, reports Georgie Burgess for ABC News.

More than 8,000 fossils from hundreds of species were also collected in the drilling, giving scientists a glimpse at terrestrial life that lived tens of millions of years ago in the area. "The discovery of microscopic shells of organisms that lived in warm shallow seas, and of spores and pollen from land plants, reveal that the geography and climate of Zealandia were dramatically different in the past," expedition leader Gerald Dickens said in a statement. While more than 90 percent of Zealandia is now submerged under more than a kilometer (two-thirds of a mile) of water, when it was above the surface, it likely provided a path that many land animals and plants could have used to spread across the South Pacific, notes Naaman Zhou of the Guardian.

The Geological Society of America officially endorsed the long-standing theory that a nearly 2 million-square-mile section of Pacific Ocean floor around the country of New Zealand was actually continental crust that had submerged beneath the water in a paper published by its journal in February. As Sarah Sloat reports for Inverse, this sinking, believed have taken place after the continent broke off from Australia around 60 to 85 million years ago, made New Zealand, and other seemingly disparate islands in the area, the remains of what was once a large landmass. 

However, classifying Zealandia as a continent is still a source of debate among scientists. In an interview with Michael Greshko of National Geographic in February, Christopher Scotese, a Northwestern University geologist was skeptical. “My judgment is that though Zealandia is continental, it is not a continent,” Scotese said. “If it were emergent, we would readily identify it with Australia, much like we identify Greenland with North America and Madagascar with Africa.” 

Scientists now plan to study the sediment cores and fossils to help create models of how the region looked and changed over the course of tens of millions of years, reports Sloat, and plans are always in the works for a return expedition next year.

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