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The emergence of modernism in early 20th century American advertising: Lucian Bernhard and his REM Cough Syrup advertisements

National Museum of American History

What does it take for an advertisement to capture the attention of a potential consumer?

It takes aesthetically pleasing simplicity, vibrant colors, and a straightforward message—according to Lucian Bernhard.

A photograph of a poster rolled out on a table. Two women in blue appear to hurry through rain under a blue umbrella. The word "REM" is surrounded by an orange circle in the upper righthand corner. There is an orange ribbon at the bottom that says "Fast relief for coughs due to colds"

German-born artist Lucian Bernhard (1883–1972) worked prolifically in both German and American advertising. Although a prominent graphic designer, he also worked in other mediums including painting, typeface design, and interior design. Straightforwardness, color, and simplicity defined his artistic mode. Here is a look at the style and the career of the man that helped bring modernism to American advertising.

Bernhard pioneered modern artistic techniques and made a name for himself as an innovative and progressive commercial artist. He is known as the innovator of two new types of poster art, Sachplakatand PlakatstilSachplakat artwork emphasizes a bold lettering design paired with a simple central image and bold, nuanced hues. Plakatstil is visually similar to Sachplakat but can include more complex imagery beside the brand name. The images in both methods are typically deconstructed and simplistic.

A pencil and watercolor sketch depicting a bottle of REM cough syrup

Both of these techniques rejected Art Nouveau in that they intended to diverge from past artistic modes in order to emulate the modern, fast-paced, industrial world. Art Nouveau preferred flowing lines and harmony with nature; Modernism embraced the new urbanism and fought to attract the viewer's eye amidst a barrage of advertising posters. In order to achieve this goal, commercial artists of these styles utilized simplicity and color, which revolutionized advertisements and changed the landscape of commercial art.

In the 1920s, Bernhard immigrated to New York City and carried Sachplakat and Plakatstil with him to begin his prolific career in American commercial art. Continuing his focus on color and simplicity, he created various types of advertisement art for many firms, notably REM cough syrup.

A poster for REM cough syrup. Three men in grey bend over with their hands on their hats, appearing to struggle through the rain. It says "for coughs" in the upper righthand corner and "REM" on the right side in white with an orange background

The museum's Archives Center possesses a collection of Lucian Bernhard materials including REM advertising sketches, prints, lithographs, and oversize posters. The sketch and posters all adhere to the artist's use of color, featuring bold, distinctive shades that attract the eye with their intensity and contrast. Bernhard utilizes only a few different colors, but his posters command the attention of the urban viewer with their eye-catching shades and combinations in the busy advertisement space.

A graphic, black and white illustration of a stylized man in a top hat and cane pointing to the word "REM" in the sky. It appears to be storming, as trees are blown sideways. It says "Cough?" in the upper lefthand corner

Bernhard's works, large and small, follow the Sachplakat and Plakatstil mode in that they feature curved lines with sharp, angular corners. They also depict simple and highly deconstructed figures, such as the shaded men illustrated in the lithograph. The small print also follows this idea by depicting a man via geometric blocks. Lucian Bernhard utilized abstraction to create his advertisements in a more modern aesthetic, and succeeded in his efforts to more quickly disseminate information in a rapid urban environment.

If you are interested in viewing these materialsmake an appointment with the Archives Center at the National Museum of American History. Please email or call 202-633-3270.

Holly Nelson completed an internship at the Archives Center at the National Museum of American History. She is also a History major at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

intern Holly Nelson
Posted Date: 
Monday, November 28, 2016 - 08:00
OSayCanYouSee?d=qj6IDK7rITs OSayCanYouSee?d=7Q72WNTAKBA OSayCanYouSee?i=9R-f8KO64Js:C5801RFx-mU:V_sGLiPBpWU OSayCanYouSee?i=9R-f8KO64Js:C5801RFx-mU:gIN9vFwOqvQ OSayCanYouSee?d=yIl2AUoC8zA

The emergence of modernism in early 20th century American advertising: Lucian Bernhard and his REM Cough Syrup advertisements

National Museum of American History

What does it take for an advertisement to capture the attention of a potential consumer?

It takes aesthetically pleasing simplicity, vibrant colors, and a straightforward message—according to Lucian Bernhard.

A photograph of a poster rolled out on a table. Two women in blue appear to hurry through rain under a blue umbrella. The word "REM" is surrounded by an orange circle in the upper righthand corner. There is an orange ribbon at the bottom that says "Fast relief for coughs due to colds"

German-born artist Lucian Bernhard (1883–1972) worked prolifically in both German and American advertising. Although a prominent graphic designer, he also worked in other mediums including painting, typeface design, and interior design. Straightforwardness, color, and simplicity defined his artistic mode. Here is a look at the style and the career of the man that helped bring modernism to American advertising.

Bernhard pioneered modern artistic techniques and made a name for himself as an innovative and progressive commercial artist. He is known as the innovator of two new types of poster art, Sachplakatand PlakatstilSachplakat artwork emphasizes a bold lettering design paired with a simple central image and bold, nuanced hues. Plakatstil is visually similar to Sachplakat but can include more complex imagery beside the brand name. The images in both methods are typically deconstructed and simplistic.

A pencil and watercolor sketch depicting a bottle of REM cough syrup

Both of these techniques rejected Art Nouveau in that they intended to diverge from past artistic modes in order to emulate the modern, fast-paced, industrial world. Art Nouveau preferred flowing lines and harmony with nature; Modernism embraced the new urbanism and fought to attract the viewer's eye amidst a barrage of advertising posters. In order to achieve this goal, commercial artists of these styles utilized simplicity and color, which revolutionized advertisements and changed the landscape of commercial art.

In the 1920s, Bernhard immigrated to New York City and carried Sachplakat and Plakatstil with him to begin his prolific career in American commercial art. Continuing his focus on color and simplicity, he created various types of advertisement art for many firms, notably REM cough syrup.

A poster for REM cough syrup. Three men in grey bend over with their hands on their hats, appearing to struggle through the rain. It says "for coughs" in the upper righthand corner and "REM" on the right side in white with an orange background

The museum's Archives Center possesses a collection of Lucian Bernhard materials including REM advertising sketches, prints, lithographs, and oversize posters. The sketch and posters all adhere to the artist's use of color, featuring bold, distinctive shades that attract the eye with their intensity and contrast. Bernhard utilizes only a few different colors, but his posters command the attention of the urban viewer with their eye-catching shades and combinations in the busy advertisement space.

A graphic, black and white illustration of a stylized man in a top hat and cane pointing to the word "REM" in the sky. It appears to be storming, as trees are blown sideways. It says "Cough?" in the upper lefthand corner

Bernhard's works, large and small, follow the Sachplakat and Plakatstil mode in that they feature curved lines with sharp, angular corners. They also depict simple and highly deconstructed figures, such as the shaded men illustrated in the lithograph. The small print also follows this idea by depicting a man via geometric blocks. Lucian Bernhard utilized abstraction to create his advertisements in a more modern aesthetic, and succeeded in his efforts to more quickly disseminate information in a rapid urban environment.

If you are interested in viewing these materialsmake an appointment with the Archives Center at the National Museum of American History. Please email or call 202-633-3270.

Holly Nelson completed an internship at the Archives Center at the National Museum of American History. She is also a History major at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

intern Holly Nelson
Posted Date: 
Monday, November 28, 2016 - 08:00
OSayCanYouSee?d=qj6IDK7rITs OSayCanYouSee?d=7Q72WNTAKBA OSayCanYouSee?i=7sH7n_Mvc8E:C5801RFx-mU:V_sGLiPBpWU OSayCanYouSee?i=7sH7n_Mvc8E:C5801RFx-mU:gIN9vFwOqvQ OSayCanYouSee?d=yIl2AUoC8zA

How an Exquisitely Designed Cart for Homeless People Inspired a Wave of Artists’ Activism

Smithsonian Magazine

One day in the late 1980s, a homeless man in a red cap walked through a park in New York City, pushing a strange, wheeled object. The thing looked like a cross between a shopping cart and a rocket ship, with an arc of safety-orange fabric stretched over the top. The man paused to pick up a discarded beer can and tossed it in the cart’s basket.

A camera followed him, and a small crowd gathered as the man parked the vehicle and began to demonstrate its functions. He tugged on one end, and the object expanded to three times its original length. He pulled at another spot, and a retractable seat slid out. “It’s like a mobile home,” he said. The cart had a storage area for personal belongings, a washbasin that doubled as support for a table, a bin to hold cans and bottles, and, beneath its orange roof, just enough space for a desperate homeless man to sleep.

The cart’s creator, Krzysztof Wodiczko, was not on camera that day. He is a Polish-born artist who in the late 1980s began making several of these houses-on-wheels, which he called Homeless Vehicles. One of them, Homeless Vehicle, Variant 5, from 1988-1989, is now among the collections of the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.

Wodiczko, who had begun his career as an industrial designer, spent hours consulting with homeless people who collected bottles and cans for a living, asking about their needs and seeking feedback on his designs. By presenting an idea of emergency housing both elegant and disturbing, he hoped to raise awareness of the homeless and their concerns. The Homeless Vehicles helped launch a renewed interest in social activism among artists, an interest that can be seen today in forms that range from the neighborhood development projects of Rick Lowe to Yoko Ono’s Twitter feed. “The question is,” Wodiczko said in a recent interview, “What can we do as artists to be useful in our work?”

Born in Warsaw in 1943, Wodiczko lived in Communist Poland until moving to Canada in the 1970s and later to the U.S. Arriving in New York in the 1980s, the artist was shocked by a “catastrophic situation”: tens of thousands of people living without homes in that wealthy city. The can and bottle collectors stood out, pushing shopping carts wherever they went. Though they were dismissed by the public “much as every other homeless person, faceless, seemingly using stolen consumer equipment,” he says, he saw them as working people doing tough jobs that benefited the city, day and night, for very little money in return. In the Homeless Vehicles, he tried to “create a legitimate vehicle for collecting bottles and cans, so these people will be recognized as legitimate members of the urban community.”

It one sense Homeless Vehicle is exquisitely functional, almost charming in the way it squeezes so many useful features into one neat, rolling package. Artists have created functional objects forever, usually for the wealthiest stratum of society, whether ancient Chinese incense burners or opulent Art Deco doors. Some artists, in the Bauhaus of the 1920s, for example, designed mass-produced goods for a broader public. But it was something new, says Stéphane Aquin, chief curator of the Hirshhorn, for an artist to create a beautifully functional tool for the poorest of the poor. “It was designed for the use of those who need it the most,” he says.

Looked at another way, though, Homeless Vehicle isn’t functional at all. As either a real home or a long-term solution to the shortage of affordable housing, it’s absurdly, even horribly, inadequate. Wodiczko says he didn’t intend for the vehicles to be mass-produced, and he didn‘t give away even the few that were made (partly because he feared they would be so desirable that people would get hurt fighting over them).

Instead, Homeless Vehicle can be understood as a critique of economic inequality. Among the places where one of the artworks was photographed was in front of Trump Tower. Aquin sees the absurdity of the vehicle as Wodiczko’s metaphor for “the absurdity…of the extreme capitalist society of the late 1980s: the trickle-down economics of the Reagan years, the rise of Trump Tower, a dramatic rise in homelessness in New York City.” Even with all its homey amenities, Homeless Vehicle looks a lot like a missile. One of its intended functions was as a weapon of social disruption.

Homeless Vehicle in New York City by Krzysztof Wodiczko, 1988-1989 (Hirshhorn © Krzysztof Wodiczko; Courtesy Galerie Lelong & Co., New York)

They may not have known it, but the people in the park gawking at it were part of the artwork, too. Wodiczko says that the vehicles were addressing two different emergencies: a need to make homeless people’s existence a little less harsh, and an equally urgent need to give this mostly ignored group of people a chance to be heard, to “speak of their lives to nonhomeless people.” In this sense, he says, the can and bottle collectors who worked with him turned out to be performers. As they wheeled his strange vehicles around the city, they attracted questions from passersby, which led sometimes to friendly conversations between homeless people and their neighbors or, sometimes, to outrage (“We can’t have 100,000 vehicles like this!”). Either way, the discussion was part of the point. It was, Wodiczko says, “on one hand, emergency help; on the other hand, a situation for thinking.”

Looking back on it as a piece of art history, Aquin says that Homeless Vehicle “raised awareness in the art world about social issues” and about the ways artists could apply their creativity to solving social problems.

If Wodiczko’s social activism was unusual among artists in the 1980s, in the decades since it has rippled into many parts of the art world. Nato Thompson, artistic director of the cultural organization Philadelphia Contemporary and author of Seeing Power: Art and Activism in the Twenty-First Century, has seen a significant rise in what he calls “socially engaged art” in the last decade or so, of “artists interested in using their skills to better their communities.“ He adds, “Even the conversation of community as a part of art has grown tremendously. It’s not only artists, but there are more institutions supporting it, and more foundations.”

Wodiczko’s work has continued to give marginalized people—from immigrants to abused women to military veterans—a platform to speak publicly, now often in large-scale audio and video projections. (Ewa Harabasz)

Activism has influenced a range of art made since the Homeless Vehicles’ era. Aquin sees their humor and absurdism as an older sibling of “ludicrously satirical” work like the Yes Men’s Survivaball from the early 2000s, a bloblike suit supposed to protect the wearer from climate change. Wodiczko’s own work has continued to give marginalized people—from immigrants to abused women to military veterans—a platform to speak publicly, now often in large-scale audio and video projections. (His 1988 projection Hirshhorn Museum, Washington, D.C. was recently restaged at the museum.) Meanwhile, as Thompson points out, other artists have gone on to address problems of homelessness and affordable housing, such as Michael Rakowitz with paraSITE, a series of inflatable plastic shelters, or Rick Lowe and Project Row Houses, an artists’ urban renewal project in Houston.

The Danish artists’ group Superflex has focused on functional art addressing social issues, from a series of projects with biofuels in the 1990s to a recent work exhibiting and then donating medical equipment for a hospital in Syria. Mark Beasley, curator of media and performance art at the Hirshhorn, says the group continually grapples with the question of “how you create an active space for discussion”—in much the same way that Wodiczko hoped to provoke that discussion in a public park.

Thirty years after Homeless Vehicle, the Internet and social media have become natural places for public discussion. “Artists are very adept and very promiscuous in taking to new media,” Beasley says, as “another platform for discussion or dispersion of ideas.”

An 18th-century artist might have used history painting to comment on events, he says, but “rather than 10 people clustered around a painting,” an artist on social media can reach millions in a matter of seconds. “Artists are engaging in that in the same way that any corporate brand is engaging in that.” Beasley says that since much of Yoko Ono’s work is text-based, for example, it is a natural fit for social media. Jenny Holzer’s aphorisms, he says, are a form of discussion, whether they’re projected onto the side of a building or posted on Twitter.

The discussion continues. Thompson says he hasn’t seen a dramatic change in artists’ work since the election of Donald Trump as president, but it may be coming. “The arts take a while to recalibrate themselves,” he says. “The shift to dealing with the new political atmosphere I don’t think has happened yet.” At the moment, he says “we don’t have a large protest movement going on in serial way,” with regularly repeated protests like those around the Vietnam War, AIDS or civil rights, which often galvanized political art in the past.

For now, Wodiczko’s Homeless Vehicles tell us something about what art can accomplish, and what it can’t. Innovative as they were, the vehicles didn’t shift public opinion enough to replace homes-on-wheels with real housing for those in need. More than half a million people were homeless in the U.S. on a single night last year. And so Homeless Vehicle, Variant 5 serves to remind us, Aquin says, “that solutions still need to be found.”

Homeless Vehicle, Variant 5 is on view at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden as part of the exhibition “Brand New: Art and Commodity in the 1980s” through May 13.

This Man Claims He Has the World’s Largest Collection of Toy Dinosaurs, and He Loves Them All

Smithsonian Magazine

Randy Knol doesn't know how many toy dinosaurs he has.

It is hard to tell exactly. They aren't all in one place. Most of them are in the basement and the attic. Stacked in boxes, bags and giant Rubbermaid containers. A few have strayed into the kitchen, which is supposed to be off-limits. Bags of the latest arrivals are spread out on the coffee table. More are spread out on the deck behind his house. A tiny rubber triceratops peeks out from under the couch. I didn't go into the bathroom.

Little white brontosauruses from the 1950s with their tails dragging on the ground. A waist-high, anatomically correct sauropod with life-like wrinkles. A Jurassic Park-branded hadrosaurus, still in the original box. Literal six packs of velociraptors. Think of any toy dinosaur from your childhood; Knol has it.

Some of the dinosaurs also leave his collection. Knol teaches summer classes for Smithsonian Associates on building dinosaur dioramas; he supplies the dinos and the kids take those home. He's got the credentials for the job. He's a columnist with the popular magazine Prehistoric Times, dedicated to dinosaur enthusiasts and he is a member of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology. (His day job is with the U.S. Census Bureau.) 

The massive collection began when Knol was a child in the 1960s. “My grandfather gave me a 'Flintstones' playset for Christmas,” he says of the popular television series featuring Fred Flintsone and his pet dinosaur. Both the toys and Knol's appetite for knowledge have increased ever since.

A fascination for collecting dinosaurs began for Randy Knol in the 1960s when his father gave him a toy play set of the popular prehistoric Flintstones family. (Jackson Landers)

Today, Knol possesses what he thinks is the world's largest collection of toy dinosaurs. How large? “Probably about five or six thousand,” Knol guessed. “I knew a couple of collectors who had more but they're all dead now. I saw their collections show up on eBay. That's how you know they've left the world.”

“My wife accuses me of being a hoarder,” says Knol as he sorts through a cardboard box filled with hundreds of figures that his students had jumbled together. “That's ok, I don't mind. They're not supposed to be in the kitchen any more. I used to have a diorama in the top of the kitchen but periodically dinosaurs would fall on top of her while she was cooking and she didn't like that.”

Knol's family may have a little extra patience with his hobby because of the higher purpose associated with it.

Knol says toy dinosaurs educate children about paleontology and other fields of science when they are well-made. Usually they aren't, which perpetuates a 70-year-old feedback loop of misinformation.

“Most [toy dinosaurs] were driven by popular art” when they first appeared on the market in the 1950s, Knol says. “In the United States, the most influential piece of art at the time was by a man named Zallinger who did the Yale Peabody mural. And if you look at it, most of these figures were directly copied from the mural.”

Rudolph Zallinger's 110-foot-long mural The Age of Reptiles was groundbreaking when it was completed in 1947. It was the first major work of art depicting recreations of what dinosaurs might have looked like when they were alive. A close-up of the mural ran on the cover of Life magazine in 1953 and the artwork quickly became the gold standard for what dinosaurs really looked like. Toymakers cribbed designs from Zallinger's work, as did editors and illustrators of educational books for adults and children.

The problem was that Zallinger's mural was painted at a time when scientists didn't really know very much about dinosaurs or the world that they lived in.

“When I was a kid, plate tectonics did not exist [as a scientific field],” Knol says. “The idea that at the end of the Mesozoic, a comet or giant asteroid hit, that was controversial. The idea that dinosaurs are ancestral to birds, nobody had believed that. Birds were supposed to just be some kind of cousin.”

In 1947, nobody knew that most theropod dinosaurs (these were the ones that mostly walked around on two feet rather than all four) probably had feathers. They were thought of as slow-moving, monochromatic, tail-dragging, cold-blooded lizards.

Today, scientists generally agree that these ideas were wrong. The imagined T. Rex of the 1940s resembles the reconstructed T. Rex of today about as much as a domestic cow resembles a bison. All the same parts are technically present, but the final effect is very different.

Despite decades of new research, more toys continue to be made from the old molds. Educational books for children continue to be illustrated with images based on those toys and past artwork, including Zallinger's mural (which is still prominently featured at the Yale Peabody Museum). And then the images in the books drive demand for the flawed toys. A few companies are trying to make more accurate models but the market has resisted them.

Knol's collection boxes become a stage to display some of the toy dinos they hold. (Jackson Landers)

“I was talking to the Safari Company, who've I've known for years,” says Knol. “They were very progressive. They put out a brand new T. Rex that didn't drag its tail or anything. Retailers insisted that they keep the old one because it still sold better. And because what is in all the childrens books? They don't have feathers, they don't have their tails up the air! The kids want things that look like the books that their parents are giving them to read.”

Knol carefully chooses the toys used for his diorama classes. He specially orders models that represent up-to-date science (the kids will paint them in colors according to their own imagination, though). While playing with models is fun, accurate science is at the heart of the entire program. Kids learn about geology, climatology, ecology, biomechanics and botany along the way.

“We visit the [United States] Botanic Garden every year with the kids. One of the things we teach the kids is the difference between spores and seeds. We teach the differences between gymnospores and flowering plants. One of the big issues with using plants in dinosaur dioramas was that you couldn't use grasses because they didn't exist. Well, it turns out that they did.”

The classes are offered as part of a summer camp offered annually by Smithsonian Associates. Exposure to good science at Smithsonian's camps seems to be paying long-term dividends, according to Brigitte Blachere, program manager at the organization. “Some of these kids have come back as college students and done internships with certain scientists,” she says.

Campers discover the flora and fauna of the prehistoric world and create a diorama board that depicts a landscape of the Mesozoic era. (Smithsonian Associates)

“Smithsonian has been presenting summer camps for about 45 years now,” says Blachere. “Randy has been a big part of that at least for the last 15 years.”

The Smithsonian Associates Summer Camp program offers one and two week programs geared towards specific interests. Other Associates programs include courses focused on gardening, modern art, robots and diorama classes focused on famous conflicts such as the Battle of the Somme and the Mexican-American War.

The military diorama classes were what brought Knol and his incredible dinosaur collection to Smithsonian in the first place.

“My son was taking a class for the military stuff,” says Knol, “and I was talking to the guy who did the dioramas. I said that I do dioramas, too, but I mostly do dinosaur stuff. He said we desperately want a dinosaur diorama class. . .and that was over ten years ago and I've been doing it ever since.”

Knol lined up six examples of T. Rex figures for comparison. “This isn't something you should really teach with, but it still seems to sell pretty well,” he says as he holds an upright, featherless, green T. Rex that looks like something out of the 1933 version of King Kong. Several others had a bird-like posture but their feet were oversized (to help the toy stand up). Only two have feathers and sinewy, hawk-like legs. One of these lies twisted and dead on the ground with chunks of flesh torn away to reveal bones and intestines within.

Truly realistic toy dinosaurs are hard to find and often expensive. The two most accurate of the T. Rexes, both made by Collecta, retail for around $30. Highly collectable discontinued models, such as Knol's prized diplodocus, sculpted by Dan LoRusso and made in 1994 by Battat for the Boston Museum of Science, can fetch up to $600 on eBay. Quality and scientific accuracy are highly valued by the community of adult collectors, if less so by parents buying toys for their children.

Even the dinosaurs carried by the gift shops at some museums are usually suspect. “It's all trash,” Knol says. “They are low-end... My favorite was the triceratops that only had one horn.”

“Science is really important,” says Knol. “Getting people interested, especially young people interested in science is important. …there's almost no branch of science that I can't teach while showing kids stuff with dinosaurs. Everything from plate tectonics to why asteroids hit the earth and what the solar system looks like. When we're looking for creative ways to teach kids, let's do it through gamification and introduce these things while having fun rather than doing these death-by-Power-Point lectures that turn everyone off.”

There is something to be learned even from the inaccurate toy dinosaurs with their dragging tails and reptilian postures, according to Knol.

“Science is not just measuring factoids; it's really the whole process of 'we had this information and we thought this, and now we have this other piece of information, so now we think these other things.' ...there's a lot of science ignorance today. Dinosaurs are a nice way of making people literate about science.”

Knol hopes that his life's work will not suffer the same fate as the previous records for the world's largest collection. He would like to see it displayed in a museum, but there is currently no institution prepared to display over 5,000 toy dinosaurs.

“My son has promised to bury it with me but my daughter and my wife will put it all on eBay.”

Oral history interview with Wayne Higby, 2005 April 12-14

Archives of American Art
Sound recording: 9 sound files (4 hr., 55 min.) digital, wav

Transcript: 66 pages

An interview of Wayne Higby conducted 2005 April 12-14, by Mary McInnes, for the Archives of American Art's Nanette L. Laitman Documentation Project for Craft and Decorative Arts in America, in Alfred Station, New York. Higby speaks of growing up in Colorado Springs, Colorado; choosing to go to University of Colorado, Boulder; traveling to Europe, Asia, and Africa; being influenced by Minoan pottery; working for ceramicist Betty Woodman; deciding to become a teacher; getting a graduate degree at the University of Michigan; working at Archie Bray Foundation; teaching at the University of Nebraska and Rhode Island School of Design; having his first one person art show and exhibiting nationally; teaching at Haystack Mountain School of Crafts; the influence of landscape on his work; how the craft market has changed during his career; working with the Helen Drutt Gallery; writing about craft and the need for critical dialogue in craft publications; being inspired by Asian art; learning ceramics from Jim and Nan McKinnell, and the influence of other teachers on his career; getting hired at Alfred University; the challenges and benefits of teaching at Alfred; his colleagues at Alfred; making functional art and using the vessel form; his teaching philosophy; putting ceramics in a larger art context; his current project; his studio practice; themes in his artwork; choosing to work in porcelain; lecturing and touring in China; being interested in landscape painting; the public response to his work; and recently being awarded several honors. Higby also recalls Manuel Neri, Peter Voulkos, Paul Soldner, Fred Bauer, David Shaner, Francis Merritt, Ted Randall, Bob Turner, Val Cushing, Kenneth Ferguson, Robert Motherwell, and others.

Unprecedented Carved Skulls Discovered at a Stone Age Temple in Turkey

Smithsonian Magazine

Archeologists at a Stone Age temple in Turkey called Göbekli Tepe have discovered something straight out of Indiana Jones: carved skulls. The deeply chiseled human craniums are the first of their kind in the region. Taken together with statues and carvings depicting headless people and skulls being carried, researchers suggest the ancient people of Göbekli Tepe may have belonged to a "skull cult," reports Andrew Curry at Science.

When researchers first began excavations at the 12,000-year-old temple, they expected to find human burials. Instead, they unearthed thousands of animal bones as well as 700 fragments of human bone, more than half of which came from skulls, Curry reports. But only three fragments were modified with incisions.

According to a press release, one of the skulls had a hole drilled through it and contained remnants of red ochre, a pigment used for millennia in cave paintings and religious rituals. Using the latest microscopy techniques, the researchers from the German Archeological Institute ruled out the possibility that the marks were made by animals gnawing the bones, or by other natural processes. Instead, they were made with flint tools not long after the individuals had died. Other small marks show the skulls were defleshed before carving. The research was published Wednesday in Science Advances.

Artwork recovered at the site also shows an interest in decapitated heads: One statue was beheaded, perhaps intentionally, and another called “The Gift Bearer” depicts someone holding a human head.

Image by German Archeological Institute. Groove incised in a skull fragment from Göbekli Tepe. (original image)

Image by German Archeological Institute. Aerial view of Gobekli Tepe in Turkey. (original image)

Image by One of the carvings from Göbekli Tepe. (original image)

The researchers are uncertain what the skulls were used for. They speculate the bones could have been hung on sticks or cords to scare enemies, or decorated for ancestor worship. Lead author Julia Gresky tells Ian Sample at The Guardian the hole in one fragment would have allowed the skull to hang level if it was strung on a cord, and the grooves would help prevent the lower jaw from falling off. “It allows you to suspend [the skull] somewhere as a complete object,” she says.  

While the markings are unlike any the researchers have come across before, the obsession with skulls is not. “Skull cults are not uncommon in Anatolia,” Gresky tells Shaena Montanari at National Geographic. Remains from other sites in the region suggest people exhumed the skulls of their dead and even reconstructed their faces using plaster.

The other mystery at Göbekli is that the carvings only appear on three skulls, even though many skull fragments have been unearthed there. It’s hard to imagine why these three particular individuals were singled out. Some researchers have expressed skepticism that the limited evidence offers proof of rituals or decoration. "This is thousands of years before writing so you can't really know. The marks do appear to be intentional, but what the intention was I can't say," archaeologist Michelle Bonogofsky told Curry

While the skull cult is exciting, Göbekli Tepe has already upended what we know about Neolithic people. Researchers previously believed religion and complex society emerged after the development of agriculture. But Curry reports for Smithsonian Magazine that Göbekli and ritual sites like it show the timeline may be the other way around: hunter-gatherers may have flocked to the sites, requiring agriculture to support their large gatherings.

Secrets of the Tower of London

Smithsonian Magazine

For almost 1,000 years, the Tower of London has been an intimidating fortress on the River Thames. Originally designed as a castle for William the Conqueror in 1078, it’s hardly a cozy palace like Buckingham or Kensington. In the centuries that followed, a stone wall was erected around the gleaming Caen stone residence, and later a moat. An additional wall and series of towers rose up around the complex, making it virtually impenetrable by 1350.

During the Tudor Dynasty, the Tower of London gained its notorious reputation as a torture chamber. While the residence functioned as a state prison, it was also where Henry VIII imprisoned two of his six wives (Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard) and where conspirator Guy Fawkes was tortured and executed. Even the Duke of Gloucester, best known as Richard III, is said to have held captive and murdered his nephews, 12-year-old Prince Edward and his younger brother, 9-year-old Richard. Skeletons found beneath a staircase in the tower in the 1600’s are thought to be those of the two young royals.

Only 22 total executions took place at the Tower of London, but the citadel’s dark and bloody reputation precedes the historic site. Today, visitors to London flock here in droves to see the Crown Jewels, and the display of antique suits of armor (like Charles I’s gilt, gold leaf-armor) at the Line of Kings: the world’s longest-running visitor attraction, which dates back to 1688.

Royal treasure isn’t the only thing hidden inside the Tower of London. For more surprising facts and well-kept secrets, read on.

The Tower of London doubled as the Mint

For 500 years, beginning in 1279, the Tower of London guarded the country’s Mint. Until 1663, coins were hammered by hand.

It protects $32 billion worth of treasure

The dazzling Crown Jewels—a priceless collection of historic ceremonial objects—have been on display since the 17th century. Among the most prized items is the Star of Africa, a single diamond worth $400 million, and the Imperial Crown, which sits protected in a bullet-proof glass case, and is embedded with exactly 2,868 diamonds, 273 pearls, 17 sapphires, 11 emeralds and 5 rubies.

Animals once called the Tower home

Before the Tower was a prison, it was a zoo for exotic animals. Founded by King John as a royal menagerie in 1210, the gallery’s various residents included lions, ostrich, elephants, and even a polar bear. Supposedly, the poor creature hunted fish in the River Thames.  

A sorcerer was imprisoned in the 1500’s

One of the tower’s more unusual inmates was an innkeeper from Bristol named Hew Draper. This being the 1500s, authorities incarcerated Draper for the gravest offense: sorcery. Evidence of his occult practices can still be seen today in the Salt Tower, where Draper left a cryptic astrological sphere, labeled with the twelve zodiac signs, inscribed on the stone wall of his cell.

It wasn’t as deadly as it sounds

Despite all the infamous tales of torture, only 22 people were actually executed inside the Tower’s walls. Josef Jakobs, a German spy, was the last person to be killed on the property. He was shot by a firing squad on August 15, 1941.

The ravens are the Tower’s guardians

Charles II insisted that the resident ravens—six in total, plus one spare—should be protected. He foresaw that if the ravens departed, the kingdom and the Tower would fall. Perhaps more out of respect for tradition, the ravens are housed and cared for to this day. According to the Raven Master, they are fed raw meat and blood-soaked bird biscuits every day.

Other articles from Travel + Leisure:

How to Install a 340-ton Work of Art

Smithsonian Magazine

A pioneer in monumental artworks made of earth and stone, Michael Heizer had waited 40 years for the perfect rock for one of his projects. It was 1968 when he first conceived of a large-scale work that would suspend a giant boulder over a trench cut in the earth. Four decades later at a stone quarry in Riverside, California, Heizer spotted his prize—a pyramid-shaped, 340-ton chunk of granite that had been dynamited from a cliff. He proclaimed it “the most beautiful rock I’ve ever seen.” In a few weeks, the piece he designed so long ago, called Levitated Mass, will be installed at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art with the 21-foot-high monolith as its crowning centerpiece.

Obtaining the work was a coup for the museum’s permanent collection, says LACMA’s director, Michael Govan, who is committed to expanding the museum’s holdings beyond framed paintings in white-walled galleries. “Because of our unique location in the center of Los Angeles but within 20 acres of parkland, we can create a unique indoor/outdoor setting for monumental art,” he explains. LACMA is already home to large-scale sculptures by such acclaimed artists as Tony Smith, Richard Serra and Chris Burden and can well accommodate Heizer’s mammoth work.

“This piece is perfect for LACMA because we are an encyclopedic museum,” Govan says. “It is a series of opposites: positive and negative, linear and more or less spherical, weight and emptiness, civilization and geological times, geometry and the organic, regular and irregular, and ancient and modern. The piece frames time.”

Govan worked with Heizer during the installation of the artist’s North, East, South, West —four huge geometric sculptures of weathering steel sunk 20 feet beneath the gallery floor —at DIA: Beacon in New York. Heizer’s new work has “echoes of ancient monuments but is invested in present human experience,” Govan says. “In that way it is utterly modern.” Levitated Mass is to be installed on a two-and-a-half-acre site on the museum’s north side; opposite, on the south end, is Burden’s Urban Light, a sculpture incorporating 202 restored antique cast-iron lampposts that once lit Los Angeles streets. Museumgoers are not expected to passively observe Levitated Mass. As visitors walk through the 456-foot-long concrete-lined channel that descends 15 feet into the ground, the boulder, resting on steel and concrete supports, will have the appearance of floating or levitating above their heads. It’s bound to be awe-inspiring and probably tinged with an element of danger.

Image by Los Angeles County Museum of Art. It was 1968 when artist Michael Heizer first conceived of a large-scale work that would suspend a giant boulder over a trench cut in the earth. (original image)

Image by AP Photo / Jae C. Hong. The boulder Heizer chose for his installation weighs 340 tons and is as tall as a two-story house. (original image)

Image by Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Getting permits to transport the boulder has postponed the project. The weight alone could overburden the roads. It can't be taken over bridges and could take down power lines once it's loaded on a specially designed rig. (original image)

If all goes well, Levitated Mass will open to the public in late November, but at this writing the boulder hasn’t left the quarry, which is about 60 miles from the museum. The logistics of transporting such a large rock have been profound. The ancients moved monoliths with far cruder technology than that available today. Getting permits, however, from the various municipalities on the route to Los Angeles has postponed the boulder’s departure numerous times as officials review potential hazards. The weight alone could overburden the roads. It can’t be taken over bridges. As tall as a two-story house, the rock could take down power lines once it’s loaded on the 270-foot-long rig specially designed to haul it. Navigating the grid of city streets seems nightmarish.

To address these challenges, LACMA commissioned Emmert International, a specialist in transporting heavy objects. Project supervisor Rick Albrecht shrugged off any suggestion that this is an unusual job. “We've moved big transformers that weighed about 1.2 million pounds, so this shouldn’t be a problem,” he said, standing in the dusty quarry, while behind him workers assembled the enormous transport vehicle around the boulder. The rig’s perforated red beams resemble a giant segmented insect. It is the width of three lanes of traffic and will ride on nearly 200 tires. Its modular design will facilitate turning corners.

The weight of the boulder is comparable to other projects Emmert has handled, Albrecht says, but the rock’s irregular shape and the permitting processes have kept it grounded. Once the paperwork is cleared, the transport rig will be accompanied by police escort and trucks and proceed at five miles an hour, but only at night to avoid disrupting traffic. Special daytime parking arrangements for the heavy load have to be worked out with towns along the route. The trip is expected to take nine nights.

While the transport itself has been stalled, building the channel has had its own difficulties. Though a marvel of artistic vision and engineering, it still had to comply with building codes, seismic safety standards and handicap accessibility. Contiguous to the archaeologically important La Brea Tar Pits complex, the site was also scouted for fossils during excavation.

Despite the delays, the estimated $10 million exhibition is worth the wait. Thousands of people will be able to visit the work of an artist who has influenced much of the public large-scale land art movement of the late 20th- and early 21th-centuries right in the heart of Los Angeles. Levitated Mass will inscribe itself onto the environment, inviting people to experience the intersection of modern and ancient. It will be a primordial reminder of our time and place, and of our power and vulnerability.

Tokyo in Transition: Woodblock Prints Cast an Ambiguous Light on Japan's Modernization

Smithsonian Magazine

In the artwork, “Sumida River by Night,” a man and a woman stand on a shoreline, shrouded by twilight, in 19th- century Japan. Their silhouettes are dark against the rippling water as they stare across its depths at the vanishing city of Edo, already well on its way toward becoming a bustling, modernized Tokyo. The female, a geisha, wears flowing robes and a traditional hairstyle. Her companion, however, is outfitted in Western apparel; a bowler hat is perched on his head, and his suit’s sharp angles cast the aura of a worldly gentleman. Is the man’s garb a sign of sophistication? Or is it a cynical sign that he’s “trying on” a foreign identity that’s not really his own?

Created by Kobayashi Kiyochika (1847-1915), whose work primarily depicts the atmospherics and happenings during the dusk and dawn of the day, this woodblock print is featured along with more than 40 of the artist's urban landscapes in the current exhibition, “Kiyochika: Master of the Night.” Kiyochika’s woodblock prints have been described as “studies in shadow and light”—a dichotomy that suits the artist, who is often described as both Japan’s last great woodblock print master and one of its first great modernists. The artist's works are also ambiguous in mood and intent. “You don’t know whether he’s excited and praising [his modernizing surroundings], or being sardonic,” says James Ulak, a curator at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.

Kiyochika came of age during the fall of the shogun and the rise of the Emperor Meiji. A son of a minor government official, the young Kiyochika was exiled from his birth city, Edo, during the country’s civil war. Rechristened “Tokyo,” or “Eastern Capital,” Edo transformed from a sleepy feudal outpost into an industrial capital teeming with horse-drawn carriages, gaslights and telegraph lines. Six years later, Kiyochika came home to his old city—and a new world. “You could probably almost say it was a Rip van Winkle moment,” says Ulak. “He walked in, and all these changes were happening. How do you memorialize them? How do you visualize them?”

Little has been recorded about Kiyochika’s life, but scholars believe that he was a self-taught artist who dabbled in photography, printmaking and Western-style and traditional painting. So in response to his country’s rapid modernization, Kiyochika set out to record the changes in Tokyo in a series of woodcuts unlike any seen before in Japan.

While most woodcuts were celebratory and colorful, Kiyochika’s were moody and dark. They featured Japanese imagery, but also incorporated crosshatching and other techniques that appear to have been influenced by Western lithographs. Most importantly, though, many of the woodcuts depicted the introduction of new innovations,  like railroads, brick buildings and block towers. The artist’s sense of wonder is palpable, as is his unease.  

“Kiyochika was as curious as he was pessimistic,” says François Lachaud, a professor of Japanese Studies at the French School of the Far East in Paris who helped curate “Kiyochika: Master of the Night.”

“He learned Western techniques of representation, not to celebrate the famous sites of the new capital, but to question modern bureaucratic aesthetics.”

The woodblock prints portray a country on the precipice of historic change. But they aren’t condemning; just observant. “If Kiyochika was a man of strong political convictions, he never was, nor intended to be, a ‘political artist,’” says Lachaud.

Kiyochika aspired to create 100 prints, but his plan was cut short by two large fires that obliterated much of Tokyo in 1881. Kiyochika’s studio burned down; after completing 93 images in his series, he returned to a more traditional style of art. By then, however, he’d become Japan’s first transnational artist, and had invented a new way to represent the country’s modern industrial centers.

“Traditionally, the whole idea of cityscapes in Japanese art was to celebrate something—for example, the rebirth of a city after an earthquake or a fire,” says Ulak. “Sometimes what was depicted was not necessarily true to fact. In Kiyochika’s series, he’s showing Tokyo like he sees it. It’s not a documentary take; it’s an interpretive one.”

"Kiyochika: Master of the Night" is on view daily, 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., through July 12, at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, 1050 Independence Ave. SW.

Washington - History and Heritage

Smithsonian Magazine

Washington's history is an ancient one chronicling more than 10,000 years of mankind's existence in the region with over 11,000 documented archaeological sites. Traces of these early civilizations are revealed in ancient quarries, campsites, caves, pictographs, petroglyphs and the 9,300-year-old remains of Kennewick Man.

Prior to the arrival of European explorers, the area was home to several Pacific Indian tribes, each with their own unique culture. Today, Washington is home to 26 Indian reservations and icons of Northwest Indian culture—salmon fishing, dugout canoes, totem poles, powwows and potlatches still abound in museum photographs and exhibits, while the arts, crafts and celebrations may still be experienced at the reservations themselves.

The Colville Indian Reservation, one of the largest in the state, encompasses 1.4 million acres and over 5,000 residents. Prior to the 1850s and the influx of white settlers, the ancestors of the 12 Colville Tribes were nomadic. An order executed by President Grant in 1872 created the Confederated Tribes of Colville Reservation, now covering much of the Okanogan highlands and valleys in the northern part of the state.

On the Port Madison Indian Reservation, the Suquamish Museum portrays the lifestyle of the Suquamish people, descendents of Chief Seattle, before and after the coming of white settlers. Rated by Smithsonian magazine as the best historical museum of Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest, the museum constructs a comprehensive picture through photographs, artifacts and recorded interviews.

Since time immemorial, the Nimiipuu or Nez Perce have lived among the rivers, canyons and prairies of the inland northwest. At Nez Perce Historical Park, the Buffalo Eddy Petroglyphs preserve artwork from early Nez Perce people dating back over 4,500 years. Visitors can also walk among battlefields from the region's Indian-European conflicts or visit three sites used by the Lewis and Clark expedition—the Weippe Prairie (1805), Canoe Camp (1805), and Long Camp (1806).

The 3,300 acre Columbia Hills State Park, on the southern border, was formerly the site of the largest Indian burial ground in the area and contains some of the oldest pictographs in the Northwest. It also includes Horsethief Lake, where Lewis and Clark arrived on October 24, 1805. The entire park offers camping facilities and 7,500 feet of freshwater shoreline along the Columbia River.

Following the Columbia River to Kalama, visitors can find four totem poles featuring mythical forms, symbols and creatures of Pacific Northwest Native American culture. The tallest pole, carved from Western Red Cedar (native to the Northwest), is recorded as the world's tallest at 140 feet.

On the tip of the Olympic Peninsula, the fishing village of Neah Bay has been the hub and heartbeat of the Makah community for thousands of years and provides some of the best bottom fish and salmon fishing in the nation. It also possesses remarkable views of Canada and the Pacific Ocean.

As settlers moved west in increasing numbers during the overland migrations of the mid-1800s, many migrated into the north part of Oregon Territory into what would become Washington state, settling the Puget Sound area.

Washington's pioneer history comes alive at beautifully restored Fort Nisqually, a former bustling center of trade during the mid 1800's. Experience how people lived over a hundred years ago as the staff, dressed in period clothing, take you back in time through stories and crafts demonstrations.

Fort Simcoe, a former military installation established in the 1850's to keep peace between the European settlers and Indians, is now a day park situated throughout an old oak grove. It paints a picture of mid-19th century army life with original buildings, including the Commander's house, and an interpretive center. Take in the surroundings by strolling the 200-acre greens.

At Fort Vancouver, a former fur trading post, the northwest's early political, cultural and commercial future began to unfold. A popular pit stop for trappers, missionaries, explorers and mountain men traveling within Oregon country, the fort's reconstructed buildings tell the tale of this historical trading hub.

Rich in history, Dayton is home to117 buildings listed on the National Register, offering an impressive and memorable historical experience for all. Settled in the 1850s, successful businessmen and farmers built impressive residential, commercial, and public buildings here during the town's economic boom in the 1880s.

Seattle's Museum of History and Industry shares the city's story from 1850 to the present with exhibits and photographs in its home near Lake Washington. The museum's vast collection exemplifies the area's diverse social, cultural and economic history.

Washington is also home to many vibrant ethnic communities. The International District in Seattle is perhaps the only place in the United States where Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Korean, Vietnamese, Samoan, Cambodian, Laotian, and Native Hawaiian inhabitants settled together building a single neighborhood. Visit the I.D., as it is known, and enjoy Asian restaurants, specialty shops, markets, as well as the Wing Luke Asian Museum where residents celebrate their culture and art.

Nestled in the foothills of the Cascades, the Bavarian village of Leavenworth beckons visitors year round with its Bavarian eats, specialty shops and cozy accommodation. Festivals are a part of life here, the most popular being the Autumn Leaf Festival, Oktoberfest, Christmas Lighting Festival and Ice Fest.

The Ballard community, an eclectic and artsy district of Seattle, is steeped in Scandinavian heritage. It is brimming with boutique shops, restaurants, pubs, and waterfront parks and is the site of the Nordic Heritage Museum.

The Vancouver National Historic Reserve in Vancouver, Washington offers an immense open history book that includes Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, Vancouver Barracks, Officers Row, Pearson Field and portions of the Columbia River waterfront. Programs at the reserve include interpretive walks and ranger-led talks as well as living history programs and multi-media presentations.

Tichkematse book of drawings, 1887 April

National Anthropological Archives
Tichkematse a.k.a. Squint Eyes, Quchkeimus (1857-1932) was one of the best known groups of Plains artists was among the men held prisoner at Fort Marion in Saint Augustine, Florida, from 1875-1878. Tichkematse, a Cheyenne, was one of these prisoner artists. While imprisoned, he learned to speak English and to read and write. Upon release he attended school at the Hampton Institute in Virginia for about a year before coming to the Smithsonian. There he was trained in the preparation of bird and mammal specimens for study and display. During his time at the Smithsonian, he also produced drawings illustrating his old life on the Plains, full of buffalo hunts and battles as well as everyday camp life. In 1880 he returned to the Cheyenne and Arapaho Reservation in what is now Oklahoma, but he continued his affiliation with the Smithsonian. He was active in collecting bird and mammal specimens as well as craft items acquired from Cheyenne friends and relatives, which he shipped to the museum. For additional information on Tichkematse, see Plains Indian Art from Fort Marion by Karen Daniels Petersen (University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, OK 1971), "Squint Eyes: Artist and Indian Scout" by Bob Rea, (2002) /, and "Tichkematse: A Cheyenne at the Smithsonian" by Candace Greene, (2000) / For further information on the Cheyenne scouts and their artwork, see "Artists in Blue: the Indian Scouts of Fort Reno and Fort Supply," by Candace S. Greene (American Indian Art Magazine, Winter 1992, pp.50-57) Major John Dunlop was a supply sergeant in San Antonio before the Civil War, then went to Mexico, and later to Washington. While in Washington he met Col. Bliss and the maintained a friendship over time, resulting in his visiting Bliss in Indian Territory and participating in the hunt depicted.

Fort Supply, established in 1868, was initially designated as a supply camp where U.S. Cavalry troops could restock and refresh themselves. It was from this post that Custer and the Seventh Cavalry marched to the Battle of Washita. Over the next twenty-five years, soldiers from Fort Supply performed duties that included peace-keeping and monitoring of the Cheyenne and Arapaho reservation and the Cherokee Outlet as well as monitoring the Land Run of 1893. From 1869 to early 1870, the post served as the temporary location for the Cheyenne and Arapaho Indian Agency. For more information on Fort Supply see Fort Supply, Indian Territory: Frontier Outpost by Robert C. Carriker, 1990 Norman: University of Oklahoma Press; and "History of Fort Supply" at

Purchase/donation from Mr. and Mrs. David D. Longmaid, April 24, 1991. David Longmaid was the grandson of Major John Dunlop. The Tichkematse notebook was passed down through the family, eventually coming into Mr. and Mrs. Longmaid's possession. In the 1970s, the drawings were loaned to the NAA for study and a photographic record made of the entire book (Photo Lot 79-24). After return to the owner, drawings were separated from their binding and many were sold separately to individual collectors. In 1991the remaining drawings were acquired by the NAA in a purchase/donation.

Drawings in a small notebook of ruled paper, now disbound, covers retained. Drawings document an 1887 hunting excursion taken by Colonel Bliss of Fort Supply (in Indian Territory) and Major John Dunlop, a visitor to the fort from Washington D.C.. Included in the manuscript are a cyanotype picture featuring Colonel Bliss, end papers, and covers of the book as well as a typescript note pasted to the inside cover describing the drawings. The inscription reads as follows: "This pictorial history of various hunts made by Cheyenne Indians, and white men, was drawn and painted entirely by Squint Eye, a Cheyenne and Sergeant of the Scouts at Fort Supply, Indian Territory, April 1887. It will be observed that Sergt. Squint Eye, and Major Dunlop are the most important personages represented ; and it will also be observed that the Sergt. never forgets to put on his stripes, or chevrons. If any difference is noticed between the verbal report made by the major, of his encounter with the Catamount, and Squint eye's representation of it, it will please be ascribed to the native Scotch and Cheyenne modesty of the participants. Fort Supply, I.T., April 17, 1887, with compliments of Z.R. Bliss, on this his birthday." Many drawings are inscribed names identifying the figures, most of whom are Cheyenne men who were enlisted as Army scouts.

Speaking of Pictures: Thomas LeClear?s Interior with Portraits

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Link Love: 6/13/2014

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For the First Time, See Historically Excluded Black Folk Artists at the Met

Smithsonian Magazine

WNYC’s art critic Deborah Solomon predicts that many of the artists featured in a recently opened show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art will soon become household names.

It’s a high bar, but one that History Refused to Die excites. The exhibition highlights 30 works by self-taught black artists from the American South. This is the first time the Met has exhibited works by these historically excluded artists. By presenting their sculptures, paintings, quilts and other artistic works alongside the Met’s 20th-century collection, the artists—considered Outsider artists for their nontraditional approaches or mediums—are finally being given the recognition they deserve.

The show, originated by former Met curator Marla Prather and organized by Randall R. Griffey, curator in the department of modern and contemporary art, and Amelia Peck, curator of American Decorative Arts, comes from a selection of works donated to the museum by the Atlanta-based Souls Grown Deep Foundation.

The organization has collected an estimated 1,100 works by more than 160 self-taught African-American artists, two-thirds of whom are women, since 2010. Starting in 2014, the foundation began presenting these works to institutions and museums throughout the world.

The Met spent almost two years considering which pieces to select for the exhibition, according to The New York Times’ Roberta Smith. Much of the work on view was built from found or scavenged materials, like cans or clothing.

Take Thornton Dial’s 2004 piece “History Refused to Die,” from which the exhibition takes its name. The sculpture measures 9 feet tall and was built from okra stalks, clothes and chains. The American artist and metalworker, who died two years ago, is perhaps the best-known artist in the show, and nine of his pieces are showcased.

Ten intricate, hand-sewn patchwork quilts created in Alabama’s remote black community of Gee’s Bend are also on view. According to the Souls Grown Deep website, the approximately 700-strong community has been producing masterpieces since the mid-19th century; the oldest surviving textile goes back to the 1920s. “Enlivened by a visual imagination that extends the expressive boundaries of the quilt genre, these astounding creations constitute a crucial chapter in the history of African American art,” the organization writes.

Souls Grown Deep, which was founded by art historian and collector William Arnett, traces the history of many of these Outsider artist creations back to the collapse of agricultural economy in the aftermath of the Civil War, when African-Americans were forced to migrate out of rural areas to bigger cities in search of work. One of these places was Birmingham, Alabama, where there were iron and steel industry jobs and where black art started to take shape through quilting and funerary.

Black folk artists had reasons aside from stylistic ones to use scavenged material: Many of them were poor, so they worked with what they had.

The tradition of using everyday objects in artwork is known as assemblage. The Tate Museum traces its history back to Europe the early 1900s when Pablo Picasso started making 3-D works with found objects. However, as Solomon points out, some of the best-known mid 20th-century assemblage artists, like the artist Robert Rauschenberg—born Milton Rauschenberg in Port Arthur, Texas—may have pulled their inspiration from work by these black folk artists.

In her review about History Refused to Die she muses that there’s a compelling case that assemblage “may have originated in the vernacular culture of the South.”

“If [the Met] had included works from the ‘40s and ‘50s and put everything in context, then we could show how the assemblage tradition, which was part of black vernacular culture, influenced artists,” Solomon writes.

The works on view are more recent, many dating from the 1980s and '90s. As Solomon says, that just calls attention to the need for another show to specifically grapple with how these artists influenced the discipline.

"History Refused to Die" will run at the Met through September 23

You Can Now Download 150,000 Free Illustrations of the Natural World

Smithsonian Magazine

Botanical illustrations offer mesmerizingly detailed and vividly colored glimpses of the natural world. Now, reports Hakim Bishara for Hyperallergic, more than 150,000 such artworks are freely available for download via the Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL), an open-access digital archive that preserves images and documents related to botany, wildlife and biodiversity.

Captured in watercolor paintings, lithograph prints and black-ink linework, the collected illustrations demonstrate the diversity of Earth’s wildlife as observed over hundreds of years. The BHL’s earliest texts date to the mid-1400s; its digital collection includes illustrations as recently created as the early 1900s.

The practice of creating detailed illustrations of flora and fauna, whether to document an expedition or a medical practice, gained popularity well before photography was up to the task. Even today, an illustration can offer more clarity than a photograph.

Small red Siberian apples from New York (Courtesy of the Biodiversity Heritage Library)

“An illustration can show various parts of a plant at the same time, something a photo really can’t,” Robin Jess, director of the New York Botanical Garden’s Botanical Art and Illustration program, told the Associated Press’ Katherine Roth in 2019. “It can show extra details of the fruit, for example, and what it looks like bisected.”

Founded in 2006 by a consortium of natural history libraries, among them the Smithsonian Libraries, the BHL launched its online portal the following year. Then 300 titles strong, the database has since grown to more than 200,000 volumes, 150,000 illustrations and information on some 150 million species. Per Hyperallergic, selections range from animal sketches to historical diagrams and botanical studies.

Collected illustrations and digitized pages of preserved plants, called herbaria, provide insights for researchers studying the ways plants have adjusted to a changing climate. Other works, like the zoological sketches of Joseph Wolf, show how societal norms have shaped the ways people imagine animals.

Joseph Wolf's African Elephants reflects a Victorian family structure rather than actual wild elephant behavior. (Courtesy of the Biodiversity Heritage Library)

Wolf illustrated two volumes of rare animals depicted in their natural environment rather than the London zoo where they actually lived. In one lithograph, a trio of African elephants stands by a river. As BHL’s Elisa Herrmann points out in a blog entry, the illustration “reflects the ideal of a Victorian family,” with two parents and a child, but fails to capture actual wild elephant behavior. Unlike what’s shown in the illustration, bull elephants are rogue, and adult female elephants have tusks.

The Flora Graeca, compiled by botanist John Sibthorp between 1806 and 1840, exemplifies the importance of illustrators’ field notes. Described by 20th-century botanist W.T. Stearn as “the most costly and beautiful book devoted to any flora,” the text features drawings printed with hand-colored engraved plates based on Austrian artist Ferdinand Lukas Bauer’s trove of 1,000-plus field sketches.

The BHL is currently cataloging thousands of field books in partnership with the Smithsonian Institution Archives, the Smithsonian Libraries and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. Since the project began in 2010, the group has cataloged more than 9,500 field books and digitized some 4,000.

Estimates of the number of animals lost in Australia's recent wildfires do not include insects. (Courtesy of the Biodiversity Heritage Library)

In its mission statement, the BHL cites swiftly changing ecosystems and extinctions as reasons for bringing together a body of knowledge about biodiversity that may help researchers track how the world is changing today. In the wake of Australia’s wildfires, for instance, scientists could make use of this 1907 catalog of Australia’s insects.

Today, writes Adrian Higgins for the Washington Post, botanical illustrators are “rare and becoming as endangered as some of the plants they draw.” The fruits of their labor, however, have and continue to be “essential” for botanists detailing new species or assembling lists of regions’ native plants.

Speaking with the Associated Press, Jess of the New York Botanical Garden explained, “Contemporary botanical artists share a concern for the environment, particularly in light of climate change, as well as for drawing attention to plants.”

C-3PO, from Return of the Jedi

National Museum of American History
In the fictional universe of George Lucas' Star Wars films, robots called droids (short for android) come in many shapes and serve many purposes. Two droids--R2-D2 and C-3PO--have won enormous popularity for their supporting roles in all six of the series. In the collections of the museum are costumes of R2-D2 and C-3PO from "Return of the Jedi," released in 1983 and the third film in the Star Wars series. Designed from artwork by Ralph McQuarrie in 1975, R2-D2 looks more like a small blue-and-white garbage can than a human being. In the films, R2-D2 is the type of droid built to interface with computers and service starships--a kind of super technician suited for tasks well beyond human capability. By turns comic and courageous, this helpmate communicates with expressive squeals and head spins, lumbers on stubby legs, and repeatedly saves the lives of human masters. Several R2-D2 units, specialized according to function and edited into a final composite, were used for making a single movie scene. Some units were controlled remotely. Others, like this one, were costume shells, in which actor Kenny Baker sat and manipulated the droid movements. R2-D2's sidekick and character foil, based on art by Ralph McQuarrie, is C-3PO. Termed a protocol droid in the films, C-3PO serves the diverse cultures of Lucas' imaginary galaxy as a robotic diplomat and translator, speaking six million languages. Where R2 is terse, 3PO is talkative. Where R2 is brave, 3PO is often tentative and sometimes downright cowardly. Where R2 looks like a machine, 3PO--in spite of the distinctive gold "skin"--more closely resembles a human in movements, vision, and intelligence. In each of the Star Wars films, actor Anthony Daniels wore the C-3PO costumes. Like the R2-D2 units, more than one C-3PO costume was used for each movie. The Star Wars, films are much more than pop entertainment. Since the first of the series was released in 1977, they have been so immensely popular that they have become cultural reference points for successive American generations. And like other popular works of science fiction, they play a powerful role in shaping our vision of the future. Likewise, the droids are more than movie stars in these influential films. They are also indicators of the place of robots in the American experience. Conceived at a time when robots inhabited the imaginative worlds of science fiction rather than the real world, R2-D2 and C-3PO represent the enduring dream of having robots as personal servants, to do things we will not or cannot do for ourselves. Today, real robots are more numerous. They mostly work on industrial production lines, but researchers are working to extend the use of robots for tasks not humanly possible. It is likely we will see more of them in the future--as aids for medicine and surgery, for military and security, and even for exploring, if not a galaxy far away, at least the far reaches of our own solar system.

Visually Impaired People Can Now Explore Andy Warhol’s Work With Their Ears and Fingers

Smithsonian Magazine

What does an Andy Warhol look like? On the surface, that’s easy to explain: a soup can here, a Marilyn Monroe head there. But for people with low or no vision, that question can be a vexing one. Until now: Pittsburgh’s Andy Warhol Museum just launched a guide aimed at helping people with visual impairment enjoy Warhol’s works.

The museum just launched a new attempt to make Warhol’s life and work accessible to people who can’t see them, including an audio guide called Out Loud and tactile reproductions of a number of Warhol’s works. The initiative, which was developed along with the Innovation Studio at Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, was designed to make the Warhol Museum more inclusive and was developed with extensive feedback within the visually impaired community. 

At the center of the initiative is Out Loud, a location-aware audio guide in the form of an app. The app uses beacons installed near different pieces of art instead of asking visually impaired patrons to input an art number. When it launches, it introduces the piece, then brings in short-form stories about Warhol’s life and times, including archival audio and anecdotes about Warhol from his associates. 

Billed by developers as “a guide for people who hate museum audio guides,” Out Loud learns a user’s preferences as they walk through the museum and serves up audio selections that match the user’s interests. The open-source code, which is available on GitHub, was developed not just for people with visual impairments—though they were central to the design process—but also for visitors who are interested in experiencing Warhol in an entirely new way. 

Speaking of new ways to experience Warhol, visitors to the seventh floor of the museum can also now touch reproductions of Warhol art created by a tactile reproduction expert. David Whitewolf created the reproductions using a Computer Numerically Controlled (CNC) router, a high-speed, precise cutting machine that transforms 2D images into an accurate relief that can be experienced with the hands. 

It's part of an ongoing attempt to make museums more accessible. In recent years, museums have begun to cater to people with conditions like memory loss, and museum officials regularly study how to make sure their collections are open and inviting to more people. One barrier to accessibility is the amount of preparation it can take to get to a museum in the first place: As a survey of people with low vision demonstrated in 2011, many people with vision problems spend a lot of time researching what kinds of features are available at museums they would like to visit, and negative experiences lead not just to the termination of their interest in going to museums, but lower attendance on the part of their families and friends.

Of course, a glimpse at Warhol’s pieces in person goes far beyond 2D—his screen-printed pieces, for example, contain remnants of the printing process that contain a surprising amount of depth. The 3D versions also contain that detail, though some sections must still be described in the audio guide. It’s a fitting tribute to a man who famously said that “If you want to know all about Andy Warhol, just look at the surface: of my paintings and films and me, and there I am. There’s nothing behind it.” There was, of course, plenty behind Warhol the man and the artist—and thanks to Out Loud, there’s now plenty to discover beyond the visual aspects of Warhol’s work, too. 

Editor's Note, November 7, 2016: This story has been corrected to reflect that a Computer Numerically Controlled router, not a 3D printer, was used to create these reproductions.

Explore Taiwan’s Unique Themed Restaurant Culture

Smithsonian Magazine

At the Star Tower Restaurant in Taipei, guests are doing more than just eating in a rotating restaurant with great views of the city. They’re also learning about the central core of the building—a giant incinerator for the garbage dump below, and the restaurant sits at the top of the smokestack.

But this is far from the most unusual restaurant in Taiwan. Restaurateurs in the country have a penchant for picking a unique theme and carrying it out through the entire restaurant, food and decorations included.

“Some restaurants transfer the serious atmosphere of particular places like the toilet, hospital, and aircraft cabin into a fun and totally different mood,” Katherine Cheng, a spokesperson for the Taiwan Tourism Bureau, told “And this arouses people's curiosity to visit. People go to these novel restaurants not only for exploring a new thing but also to connect with their friends and the whole society.”

Although some of the best have come and gone—like DS Music Restaurant (themed like a hospital) and A380 Sky Kitchen (themed like the inside of a jetliner)—these six are open now for that completely unique dining experience.

Modern Toilet, Taipei

This restaurant chain launched in 2004, inspired by one of the owners’ experience sitting on the toilet and reading a manga, Dr. Slump. Ice cream came first—a big pile of chocolate served in a squat toilet bowl—but the concept has grown to include more than a dozen full-service restaurants.

Every seat in Modern Toilet is a non-working toilet. All the food—dishes like “poop meatballs” and “stuffed brown sugar poop pancake”—comes in toilet- or urinal-shaped dinnerware, drinks are served in toilet-shaped cups, and glass tables are placed atop washtubs.

Rilakkuma Café, Taipei

One of the newest theme restaurants in Taipei, this one caters to an adorable stuffed bear named Rilakkuma. His little face dons framed photos on the walls, tiny cakes, rice molds, pudding, bread bowls and more.

One thing to note before going: Yelpers say there’s a cover charge that equals the purchase of one drink—so no matter what you buy, if you haven’t ordered a drink, you’ve not met the minimum.

Five Dime Driftwood Restaurant, Taipei

This restaurant is a trip into one woman’s imagination, where diners are greeted by two giant aboriginal figures made from driftwood and eat immersed in artistic creations. It’s like walking into a painting and staying for a while.

Artist Hsieh Li-shiang conceived the idea while walking on the beach. She saw a piece of driftwood next to a sand dollar and used that scene as inspiration for the name and interior. Everywhere you turn, there’s another artsy architectural element—from tables made of driftwood to giant indoor landscapes with trees and a pond.

See-Join Puppet Theater Restaurant, Taipei

Hand puppets are a traditional type of entertainment in Taiwan, and See-Join celebrates that in every aspect. Puppets displayed on shelves surround the dining area, artwork featuring the puppets can be found at many tables, and interactive shows are ongoing at the puppetry theater in the restaurant. You can even test out the puppets yourself, but be careful—some of them are fire-breathers.

During dinner, either enjoy the show and the scenery, or take lessons how to properly use the puppets. Portions are big, so you’ll have plenty of time to play.

Hello Kitty Kitchen and Dining, Taipei

Cue the heart-eyed emoji; everything at this restaurant will cause cuteness-induced swooning. Hello Kitty makes an appearance on everything—from dishes to shaped cakes to her face perfectly toasted onto a piece of bread. And Hello Kitty herself is there too, walking around and interacting with customers.

The restaurant’s interior design echoes the food’s cuteness. All the booths are pink (matching the walls, chairs and light fixtures) and shaped like the bow atop Hello Kitty’s head.

Carton King, Taichung

Not every restaurant is as up-front as Carton King—the website declares that “the food may not be fantastic, and it can be a little pricey”—but food isn’t necessarily the main focus here. At Carton King, everything in the restaurant is made of corrugated cardboard. Diners sit on cardboard chairs and eat out of cardboard bowls on cardboard tables. Drinks are served in cardboard cups.

And if you’re worried about the strength of furniture made from mere cardboard, fear not. The restaurant routinely brings out the 220-pound chef to test the furniture—and a waitress sits on his lap for extra weight.

Beyond Blenheim

Smithsonian Magazine

While the madding crowd moves on to the next sight, probably Stratford-upon-Avon, why not linger in the area a few more days? Within an hour's drive of the Churchills' palace estate are some of the area's most interesting country manors, with their lovely gardens, and even a splendid medieval castle.

Pope's Retreat

"To err is human, to forgive divine," penned Alexander Pope, one of England's most quoted writers. At Stanton Harcourt Manor you can tour the tower over the chapel that he made into his summer retreat during the years 1717 and 1718 so that he could translate Homer's Iliad. A pane of glass in one of the windows bears the inscription: "In the year 1718 I Alexander Pope finished here the fifth volume of Homer." The manor house itself was built between 1380 and 1470. It was one of the first homes of that period to be erected without fortifications.

Don't miss the enormous cone-shaped wooden roof over the stone kitchen building, an ingenious medieval chimney design that's unique to this area. As smoke from the open fires collected in the cooking area below, wooden louvers in the roof opened in the direction of the wind to draw it out. Open from April through September, admission to the house and gardens is £5 (about $7) for adults and £3 (about $4) for children under age 12. Stanton Harcourt Manor House and Gardens (011-44-1-86-588-1928) is located nine miles west of Oxford on the B4449.

A Botanical Inspiration

"Here then are a few words about a house that I love," wrote designer and craftsman William Morris in 1895 of his beloved country home, Kelmscott Manor. Built in 1570 of local limestone, the home became a haven for Morris from 1871 until his death in 1896. In the garden Morris found inspiration for his botanical textile designs. An appreciator of garden design, he was quick to point out how the look of a fine home could be ruined when it was surrounded by "a nightmare of horticulture." His garden, he often noted, grew in perfect, pleasing harmony with the manor.

Kelmscott Manor is open from April through September on Wednesdays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.; on the third Saturday in April, May, June and September from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.; and on the first and third Saturdays in July and August from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is £6 for adults (about $9) and £3 (about $4) for children 8 to 16 years old. Younger children will be admitted at the discretion of the staff. For information, call 011-1-36-725-2486. From Oxford take the A40 exit to Cheltenham. At Witney take A4095 to Faringdon. Look for the Kelmscott sign on the right after the village of Clanfield and follow the signs to Kelmscott Manor. There is no public transportation to the village.

The Splendors of Upper-crust Poverty

Sometime in the late 1940s the aristocratic owner of Chastleton House told visitors, "We lost our money in the war." Mrs. Irene Whitmore-Jones was referring to England's Civil War; that would be when Oliver Cromwell defeated King Charles II in 1651. Her ancestor, Arthur Jones, had sided with the king, and the family never recovered financially after that miscalculation. Consequently, the family never updated the manor, bought new furniture or added any artworks over the years. So the home, recently restored by the National Trust, retains its 1630s furnishings. Be sure to ask to see the secret room above the entrance porch where Arthur Jones hid from Cromwell's soldiers while his wife plied them with jugs of ale laced with laudanum.

Chastleton House is open April through October, Wednesday through Saturday, from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is arranged by advanced booking; write to Box Office,

P.O. Box 180,High Wycombe, Bucks HP14 4XT, England; or call 011-441-49-475-5572. Tickets are £5.10 for adults (about $7), £2.55 for children (about $4) and £12.75 for families (about $18). Chastleton House is six miles from Stow-on-the-Wold on the A436.

A Castle to Remember

Broughton Castle, surrounded by a three-acre moat, is one of those romantic medieval castles that you're sure you've seen in the movies. And, of course, you have. In Shakespeare in Love, Viola's parents (Viola is played by Gwyneth Paltrow) lived here. In fact, you've probably seen the castle several times, since the place has provided scenery for about a dozen films and documentaries.


Broughton Castle was built in 1300 and has been owned by the same family, the Fiennes, since 1377. Today the family maintains a comprehensive Website , about the castle and about the family's achievements, particularly those of actor Ralph Fiennes, who starred in Schindler's List, Quiz Show and The English Patient.Broughton Castle is open Wednesdays and Sundays from May 18 to September 14, and on Thursdays in July and August from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is £4 for adults (about $6), £2.50 for children (about $4) and £3.50 (about $5) for senior citizens and groups. For information, call or fax 011-44-1-29-527-6070. Broughton Castle is located about 30 minutes south of Oxford on the B4035.


Kent's Masterwork

"All gardening is landscape painting," explained William Kent, and Rousham Park and Garden is the best surviving example of the 18th-century architect and landscape designer's work. Today the grounds remain almost as Kent left them. The same family has lived here for some 360 years, and the property retains a private, noncommercial feel. There are no gift shops or places to buy a snack, so bring a picnic--and don't be bothered by the herd of longhorn cattle in the park.

Rousham Park House is open from 2 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Sundays from April through September. The garden is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Admission is £3 (about $4), and children under 15 are not admitted. For information, call 011-44-1-86-934-7110. Rousham House is located 12 miles north of Oxford off the A4260.

Latest National Report Card Shows Little Student Improvement in Music and Art

Smithsonian Magazine

Every year, the National Center for Education Statistics releases a report card detailing how well America’s students do in math, reading and science. But every once in a while the survey also looks at how well students are doing when it comes to visual arts and music education. LA Johnson at NPR reports that in a recently release report, students aren’t doing too hot.

According to the report card, which has been issued twice before in 1997 and 2008, student knowledge about and skill in the arts has remained flat for the past eight years. According to Johnson, the survey was given to 8,800 eighth graders from 280 schools. They were asked questions like "Identify a correct time signature for a piece of printed music" and "Identify the style of an artwork as surrealism."

In the 2008 music test, students averaged 150 on a 300 point scale. In 2016, they averaged 147. In visual arts, the average was also 150 in 2008 and was 149 last year.

While holding steady may not seem too horrible, digging into the data shows both good and bad trends.

-According to the data, boys are falling behind girls when it comes to music. While the music score for girls did not change between 2008 and 2016, staying steady at 155, the average score for boys fell from 145 to 140.

-Students are not participating in music and arts activities as much outside of school. According to the data, about 35 percent of students said that they played a musical instrument outside of school and only 13 percent reported taking art classes outside of school. Less than half of students in the survey, only 42 percent, took an art class in school.  The Nation's Report Card paints a picture that shows eighth-graders continuing to take arts classes at the same rates and performing at the same levels as eight years ago," Peggy Carr, the acting commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics says in a press release. “We are noticing, however, that students are less likely to participate in activities such as taking art classes or playing a musical instrument outside of school.”

-In visual arts, the score gap between white and Hispanic students decreased from 26 points in 2008 to 19 points in 2016. In music the difference changed from 32 points in 2008 to 23 points in 2016. The performance of students identified as Asian and Pacific Islanders surpassed white students for the first time, with scores averaging four points higher in music and eight points higher in visual arts. Scores in both categories remain almost unchanged for black students.

-While the four major regions of the United States—the Northeast, Midwest, South and West—all saw at least small ticks downward, in music, the Midwest saw a six point drop. In visual arts, the West saw an increase of five points while the Midwest saw a seven point drop. The south and Northeast stayed virtually the same, with the Northeast boasting the highest averages in both music and visual arts. They also reported taking more art classes outside of school. Jeff Poulin, the program director for arts education at Americans for the Arts,
tells Jackie Zubrzycki at Education Week that the regional data isn't surprising and “speaks to the importance of state education policy for arts education.”

-Lower income students who qualified for free or subsidized lunches did significantly worse than their better off peers, scoring 24 points lower in music and 22 points lower in art. “[T]oo often in America, zip code is destiny,” Michael Blakeslee, the executive director of the National Association for Music Education, tells Zubrzycki. “We'd love to see a more equitable access to the arts and to the results arts can bring.” 

See the Inner Anatomy of Barbie, Mario and Mickey Mouse—Bones, Guts and All

Smithsonian Magazine

Oftentimes, when parents first see Jason Freeny's sculptures that reveal the inner anatomy of cherished childhood toys, they get a little worried that their children will be disturbed. Most kids, though, have a rather different reaction.

"Kids aren't scared by them. They're fascinated," says Freeny, the New York-based artist who's hand-sculpted hundreds of these inner anatomies, built into commercially-available toys, over the last seven years. "I believe that being frightened by inner anatomy is a learned thing. It's something that's taught to kids by society, rather than something that's innate."

Freeny himself responds to supposedly morbid anatomical features—like, say, a Lego's intestines, or Mario's lungs—the same way kids generally do. "I love anatomy," he says. "As an artist, I've always been a big fan of drawing organic shapes, because of their complex detail."

Freeny, who now creates the sculptures and other art full-time, documenting their creation on his Facebook page, began working on the project in 2007 on the side, while he still worked his day job as a designer at a tech startup. It began when, while digitally illustrating a balloon animal, he decided to try his hand at drawing its inner anatomy. "I started by drawing its skeleton system, and I was just fascinated by the completely grotesque skeletal system that its shape was dictating to me," he says.

After illustrating the innards of several other characters (including a gummy bear), his startup closed, and he was laid off. Eventually, he moved from his 600-square-foot Manhattan apartment to Long Island—where he had enough space in the garage to do some sculpting—and embarked on his first 3D anatomy project. "I started cutting into a little Dunny toy, and decided to give it a clay skeleton anatomy," Freeny says. "That's when it all really took off."

In the years since, Freeny has anatomically-supplemented dozens of different characters from video games, movies and even brand advertisements. For each sculpture, he begins by buying a high-quality toy ("If it's a crappy toy to begin with, the sculpture is going to end up looking crappy too," he says), then cuts away a portion of it. Using clay, he sculpts the character's bones and a few internal organs, then paints them what he imagines to be realistic colors. Working on several pieces at a time, he completes about four or five per month, and sells the hand-built sculptures on his website along with his other artworks. 

Hypothesizing the proportion of each character's innards is the trickiest part. "It's like a reverse forensics project," Freeny says. "The exterior shape dictates what the skeleton looks like."

He generally uses scientific illustrations to make the sculptures as accurate as possible. However, because the characters themselves are fictional, that's sometimes impossible. "Mickey Mouse, for example, is a mouse, but he walks upright, like a person," he says. "So his body, like many characters, ends up being more of a version of a human skeleton, distorted to fit inside the character. It's a balancing act."

One of Freeny's current projects—Sid, the sloth from Ice Age—has proven to be particularly difficult. "His body's just very extreme, and cartoony," he says. "At first, I was approaching him as a human, and it just wasn't working, so I used some sloth anatomy proportions. Almost the entire length of their bodies are ribcage, which solved a lot of anatomical problems for me."

Initially, Freeny was unsure what reactions his unconventional work would garner, but they've been overwhelmingly positive. In some cases, he's even gotten praise from the creators and manufacturers of the characters (although he's also had a couple of corporate legal teams tell him to stop making the sculptures, alleging intellectual property infringement).

Although he recognizes the value of his sculptures as tools for scientific education—and has seen his own kids learn from the dozens of pieces lying around his workshop—his original intention was never to teach anyone anatomy. "I just love exploring these characters, and seeing what they look like inside," Freeny says. "I want to see the grotesque, weird anatomies that these toys dictate."

What the Handwriting Says About the Artist

Smithsonian Magazine

Note Georgia O’Keeffe’s signature squiggle in this 1939 letter featured in the exhibition, “The Art of Handwriting.” Image courtesy of Archives of American Art

The American painter Charles E. Burchfield once said of handwriting: “Let the mind rule the writing not the eye … someone will decipher your hieroglyphics.” Whether impeccable cursive or illegible chicken scratch, an artist’s “hand” is never far from hieroglyphic. It is distinctive, expressive of the artist’s individuality—an art form in and of itself. The handwriting of more than 40 prominent American artists is the subject of “The Art of Handwriting,” a new exhibition by the Archives of American Art.

Housed in the Lawrence A. Fleischman Gallery at the Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture, “The Art of Handwriting” is guided by the notion that artists never stop being creative. “Being an artist carries through in all aspects of your life,” says curator Mary Savig. “Their creativity is lived and breathed through everything they do, and that includes writing letters.”

“The solitary Christmas card signature is evidence that Moses could turn out a cultivated script when she took the time,” writes Leslie Umberger, curator of folk and self-taught art at the American Art Museum. Image courtesy of Archives of American Art

For each letter, note and postcard in the exhibition, a scholar explains how the formal qualities of the artist’s handwriting shed light on his or her style and personality. Curator Leslie Umberger of the American Art Museum finds in the “pleasant and practical” script of Grandma Moses her twin roles as artist and farmwife. For National Gallery of Art curator Sarah Greenough, Georgia O’Keeffe’s distinctive squiggles and disregard for grammar reveal the spirit of an iconoclast. And author Jayne Merkel observes that Eero Saarinen displayed as much variety in his handwriting as he did in his architecture.

Jackson Pollock’s irregular schooling may explain his messy penmanship. Image courtesy of Archives of American Art

In some cases, an artist’s handwriting seems to contradict his or her artwork. Dan Flavin, for instance, was known for his minimalist installations of fluorescent lights but wrote in a surprisingly elaborate, traditional cursive. Art historian Tiffany Bell attributes the discrepancy to Flavin’s interest in 19th-century landscape painting. “Artists don’t live in vacuums,” says Mary Savig. “They’re really inspired by the art history that came before them.”

They are also shaped by their schooling. Many artists learned to write and draw by rote, practicing the Palmer method and sketching still lifes until they became second nature. Jackson Pollock is one exception that proves the rule: according to Pollock expert Helen Harrison, the artist’s messy scrawl had as much to do with his sporadic education as with his nascent creativity.

Handwriting may be a dying art, now that nationwide curriculum standards no longer require the teaching of cursive. Some have criticized the omission, citing the cognitive benefits of cursive instruction, while others argue that the digital revolution has rendered cursive obsolete. But for now, most visitors can still wax nostalgic over the loops and curlicues left behind by American artists.

Savig admits that her own handwriting looks more like Jackson Pollock’s than, say, the precise script of fiber artist Lenore Tawney. The variety of styles in the exhibition suggests that artists really are, she jokes, just like us: “Hopefully there’s a letter in here that is for every single person.”

Speaking of Pictures: John Quidor's The Headless Horseman

SI Center for Learning and Digital Access
Roll over this artwork to read excerpts from the famous Halloween tale "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow."

Man Ray’s Signature Work

Smithsonian Magazine

In 1935, the avant-garde photographer Man Ray opened his shutter, sat down in front of his camera and used a penlight to create a series of swirls and loops. Because of his movements with the penlight, his face was blurred in the resulting photograph. As a self-portrait—titled Space Writings—it seemed fairly abstract.

But now Ellen Carey, a photographer whose working method is similar to Man Ray’s, has discovered something that has been hidden in plain sight in Space Writings for the past 74 years: the artist’s signature, signed with the penlight amid the swirls and loops.

“I knew instantly when I saw it—it’s a very famous self-portrait—that his signature was in it,” says Carey, a photography professor at the University of Hartford. “I just got this flash of intuition.” Her intuition was to look at the penlight writing from Man Ray’s point of view—which is to say, the reverse of how it appears to anyone looking at the photograph. “I knew that if I held it up to a mirror, it would be there,” Carey says. She did, and it was.

“This makes perfect sense if you understand that throughout his career, Man Ray did many artworks based off his signature,” says Merry Foresta, who curated a 1988 exhibition of his work at the National Museum of American Art (now the Smithsonian American Art Museum) and decorates her Washington, D.C. office with a poster of his iconic Tears image.

Man Ray’s mischievous gesture is typical of his work. He was born Emmanuel Radnitsky in Philadelphia in 1890, but he spent most of his youth in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. In 1915, he met Marcel Duchamp, who introduced him to the modern art scene; the pair were involved with the Dadaists, who rejected traditional aesthetics (Duchamp, for example, displayed a urinal titled Fountain as part of his readymades series), and, later, the Surrealists.

In 1921, Man Ray left for Paris, joining Duchamp and serving as the unofficial photographer for the city’s art elite, including Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali. When the Nazis invaded Paris in 1940, Man Ray left for Hollywood, where he worked as a fashion photographer. He returned to Paris in 1951 and created photographs, paintings, sculptures and film until he died, at age 86, in 1976.

It was in his early years in Paris that he developed a technique for creating photographic images by placing objects directly on light-sensitive paper and then exposing the assemblage to light. “Rayographs,” he called them. Although he often included images of hands—main, the French word for “hand” is pronounced like men with a swallowed ‘n’—and other symbolic references to his name, Space Writings is one of only a few works in which he is known to have left a literal signature.

Image by © 2009 Man Ray Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY / ADAGP, Paris. On the left is the original version of Man Ray's Space Writings. On the right is the same work of art as seen in a mirror. Ellen Carey, a photography professor at the University of Hartford, discovered Man Ray's signature in the photo when she held it up to a mirror. (original image)

Image by Getty Images. Avant-garde photographer Man Ray may have written his name with a penlight in his self-portrait titled Space Writings. (original image)

He created the image around the time he was preparing to return to New York for “Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism,” a 1936 exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art. This was the first exhibition to bring Dadaist and Surrealist art to the United States, and it included many of his works. Foresta, director of the Smithsonian Photography Initiative, speculates that he was hoping the show would provide a great re-entry into his home country—but also worrying about leaving the city that had become his artistic home. “This was really a turning point in his career,” she says. “He was about to lose his identity as an important artist.”

Adding his signature to Space Writings, she says, might have been his way to declare himself to a new audience.

But it’s still not clear why he chose to have the writing reversed in the image. “I think it mattered to Man Ray to be known as a mysterious inventor, an alchemist,” Foresta says. “He can see it, but to us, it’s still an abstract image.”

She and Ellen Carey have known each other for 20 years; Carey’s work has been exhibited in museums around the world, and the Smithsonian Institution holds some of her work in its collection. When Foresta stopped by Carey’s studio for a visit last year and saw Carey working with penlights, she suggested that Carey take a look at Space Writings because of the similarity in technique. That suggestion led to Carey’s discovery.

Foresta says she thinks Carey was uniquely qualified to find the signature because she looks at Man Ray’s work from the point of view of a practicing artist, rather than as an art historian. And like Man Ray, Carey creates images that focus on the photographic process rather than on realistic representations. (In her best-known series, “Pulls,” she literally pulls film through a large-format Polaroid camera to create streaks of color.) “You really need to look at the object, and the object will talk to you or stare back,” Carey says. “I think it was just a matter of looking.”

It might have taken seven decades and a like-minded photographer to see the disguised signature, but the evidence is clear. “Oh, it’s definitely there,” Carey says. “It’s saying, ‘Hello, how come no one noticed for 70 years?’ I think [Man Ray] would be chuckling right now. Finally, somebody figured him out.”

Her discovery will be cited in the catalogue for the Jewish Museum’s exhibition Alias Man Ray: The Art of Reinvention, opening November 15 in New York City.

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