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Fun for all at the National Postal Museum’s Family Day!

National Postal Museum
By Katie Burke and Ren Cooper The National Postal Museum recently hosted a Family Day with SpongeBob SquarePants. The event originated from a collaboration with Nickelodeon and the United States Postal Service, and sought to encourage letter writing and philately in children, educate participants about marine life, and provide engaging entertainment for the whole family. As soon as the museum opened at 10:00 a.m., it was packed with visitors of all ages! Photo by Motoko Hioki Several interactive stations were set up throughout the museum. One of the most popular was “Greetings from Bikini Bottom,” a post card writing activity....

National Postal Museum Interns Examine Different Facets of Postal History

National Postal Museum
By Ren Cooper Last summer, the National Postal Museum was fortunate enough to host two fantastic interns – Aleida Fernandez and Ellyse Stauffer – who worked over the course of three months with curator and historian Nancy Pope. Each had their own research project, which resulted in interesting and informative articles currently featured on the National Postal Museum’s website. Anthony Comstock, 1844-1915 Aleida Fernandez delved into the rich history of the Anthony Comstock’s various crusades against “vice.” In her own words: “In the second half of the 19th century, New York City was a battleground between pious reformers and the...

Allen Memorial Art Museum modern addition

Archives of American Art
1 slide : col. ; 5 x 5 cm.

Slide shows the addition to the Allen Memorial Art Museum at Oberlin College, designed by Venturi and Rauch.

U.S. National Museum (NMNH) Preliminary Plans Block Print

Smithsonian Archives - History Div
This print can be located in the Smithsonian Institution Archives Reading Room. The Drawing Control Number associated with this image is SO4/I016, Curator Number N/A . Creator Drawing Number: H/M # 1. Reproduction Neg #: 89-12902.

Print is of the original architectural site plan of the United States National Museum, now known as the National Museum of Natural History. Drawn in 1904 by J. C. Hornblower and J. R. Marshall, the image has an inscribed title of "USNM Preliminary Plans Block Plan." The original material is blueprint, and the original drawing is 32.75"h x 41.50"w. People associated with this drawing were Bernard R. Green, Superintendent of Construction for the new building.

Lewis, Miss with Works at Cooper Union Museum [art work] / (photographed by Peter A. Juley & Son)

Archives and Special Collections, Smithsonian American Art Museum
Black-and-white study print (8x10).

Orig. negative: 8x10, Safety, BW.

This Polish Museum Exhibit Was Completely Curated By Kids

Smithsonian Magazine

The term “museum curator” brings to mind a professional with multiple degrees and thousands of hours of experience in cultural institutions. But a new museum at the National Museum in Warsaw could change that—it was curated by 69 kids between the ages of six and 14. The exhibit, themed “Anything Goes,” shows what happens when children are let loose within a huge museum. 

The lucky 69 children involved were selected based on a first-come, first-serve application process after the museum put out an open call. They spent four hours every week on the exhibition, coming up with a theme and doing everything from designing the exhibit to working on the audio guides and promotional materials.

In a release, the museum, known for its large collection of ancient and modern art, writes that many of the works chosen by kids from its extensive vaults had never been displayed before. “The children said that they found and liberated [the pieces] from the museum’s storeroom,” they write. Since the kids had total freedom over what they chose to display, the exhibitions they designed pair objects in intriguing and sometimes strange ways.

That sense of freedom—fostered by the entire museum staff, which was at the kids’ disposal—shows up in the exhibitions themselves. “Anything Goes” has six segments: A forest entirely devoted to animals that features mummies and 20th-century art; “Dance of the Minotaur,” a labyrinth-like segment that includes a kid-produced interpretation of the myth; the “ghost room,” which features some of the museum’s most disturbing and creepy pieces; “Playing the Hero,” which looks at 32 kid-selected heroes and features a huge multimedia crossword puzzle designed by the kid curators; “Treasure Trove,” which puts together a dizzying ensemble of fancy jewels and rare objects; and “Changes,” which pairs fashion with art and even encourages other kids to try on vintage garments for themselves.

“Anything Goes,” which runs through May 8, isn’t the first exhibition curated by kids—children have long been encouraged to get involved in creating their own exhibitions in school and at other museums. But the sense of adventure and fun captured by the Warsaw kids is nothing if not infectious.

They may lack degrees in fine arts or museum studies, but that could be a good thing, as it allows them to look at existing collections in new, offbeat ways and display them with a fresh perspective. Perhaps in the future, more kids can get involved in bringing a bit of fun to local collections—and prove that museum curation should be seen as child’s play after all.

Postcard of the Smithsonian Institution Castle

Smithsonian Archives - History Div
The Smithsonian Institution Building, or "Castle", was designed by architect James Renwick, Jr. Construction was completed in 1855. The statue out front is of Joseph Henry, first Secretary of the Smithsonian (term 1846-1878).

#5879. Made in Germany. Produced by The Hugh C. Leighton Co., Portland, Maine.

Postcard of the Smithsonian Institution Building, or "Castle" and statue of first Smithsonian Secretary Joseph Henry. The message side of the postcard is blank.

National Museum of African American History and Culture Opens

Smithsonian Archives - History Div
NMAAHC is the nineteenth Smithsonian Museum

"A Century in the Making: The Journey to Build a National Museum," Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture (blog), Tumblr. August 24th, 2016,

"Culture Wars Won and Lost, Part II: The National African-American Museum Project," Radical History Review 70 (1998): 78-101.

The Time Has Come: Report to the President and to the Congress". National Museum of African American History and Culture Plan for Action Presidential Commission, last modified April 2, 2003,

Dodson, Howard. "A Place of our Own: The National Museum of African American History and Culture." Callaloo Vol. 38 No. 4. (2015): 729-741.

The National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) is opened on September 24, 2016 by President Barack Obama during a three day festival on the National Mall produced by Quincy Jones, a member of the museum's advisory board. The only national museum devoted exclusively to the documentation of African American life, history, and culture, its goals are 1) to provide an opportunity for those who are interested in African American culture to explore this history through interactive exhibitions; 2) to help all Americans see how their stories, their histories, and their cultures are shaped and informed by global influences; 3) to explore what it means to be an American and share how American values like resiliency, optimism, and spirituality are reflected in African American history and culture; and 4) to serve as a place of collaboration that reaches beyond Washington to engage new audiences and to collaborate with museums and educational institutions that preserved this important history well before this museum was created.

NMAAHC was established by law in 2003, the culmination of decades of efforts to commemorate African American history. African American civil war veterans began the push to commemorate the African American influence on America with a place on the National Mall in 1915. Veterans of the US Colored Troops were nearly excluded from a 50th anniversary Grand Review Parade celebrating the victorious Union Troops. USCT veterans formed a Committee of Colored Citizens of the Grand Army of the Republic to make sure their military service was remembered and provide help with housing, food, and logistical costs for African American veterans. After the parade, funds from this committee went to a National Memorial Association to create a more permanent memorial to African Americans' contributions to America. The association's aim was to build a building to depict African Americans' contributions in all walks of life, not just military. While no site was designated, the National Mall was the committee's goal.

Despite significant racially charged opposition, this Association worked long and hard to accomplish their goal, and with significant grass roots support that overcame congressional racism, a joint resolution creating a commission for the museum was signed into Law by President Coolidge on March 4, 1929. Unfortunately, due to the stock market crash later that year, the commission was unable to raise funds and the museum was never built. The civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, and the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968 galvanized interest again. An initiative by Tom Mack, president of Tourmobile Sightseeing, a DC shuttle tour company, led to a 1986 Joint Resolution sponsored by Representatives Mickey Leland of Texas and John R. Lewis of Georgia and Senator Paul Simon of Illinois "to encourage and support" private efforts to build a memorial and a museum in Washington, DC.

Starting in 1988, new bills were introduced annually in the Congress by Rep. John Lewis to create a National African American Heritage Museum and Memorial within the Smithsonian Institution. In 1991, a Smithsonian blue-ribbon commission recommended the creation of a national museum devoted to African Americans to collect, analyze, research, and organize exhibitions on a scale and definition that matched the major museums devoted to other aspects of American life. The commission recommended that the museum be temporarily located in the Arts and Industries Building until a new, larger facility could be built, but the legislation stalled amid controversy about funding and the appropriateness of the site. In 2001, a new bipartisan coalition of Representatives John Lewis and J. C. Watts, Jr., and Senators Sam Brownback and Max Cleland renewed efforts to establish a National Museum of African American History and Culture within the Smithsonian Institution. Renewed questions about funding and feasibility of using the Arts and Industries Building resulted in the passage of P.L. 107-106 on December 28, 2001, which established the NMAAHC Plan for Action Presidential Commission to develop a feasible plan to move forward with the museum.

This Norwegian Modern Art Museum Is Also a Bridge

Smithsonian Magazine

The GuggenheimThe Broad. The Denver Art Museum. Modern art museums are often as eye-catching and noteworthy as the art that's within them. And soon, Jevnaker, Norway will have its own showstopper: a museum built inside a bridge.

Danish architecture firm BIG will build a twisted bridge to house the Kistefos Museum, which hosts national and international art. Located in a sculpture garden an hour from Oslo, the Kistefos sits next to the Randselva river.

That's where the bridge idea comes in: Since the sculpture garden is split by the river, BIG architects decided to connect the two halves through the museum itself. The proposed structure is no ordinary bridge, though. Its twisted design means it can rest comfortably on riverbanks of different heights. Packed with installations and exhibitions, the Kistefos will be part work of art, part marvel of infrastructure.

In a release on BIG's website, architect Bjarke Ingels says the design could reimagine the museum experience itself. "The museum visit itself will be a bridge, not a goal," Ingels says. "With the inhabited bridge, we stumbled upon our first experiment with social infrastructure — a building that serves as a bridge — or a cultural institution that serves as a piece of infrastructure."

The only bad news? The redesigned Kistefos isn't scheduled to open until 2019, so art and architecture fans will have to wait a few mores years to see the results.

(h/t ArtNet)

Link Love: 12/19/2014

Smithsonian Institution Archives

Composite of 700 images from the Freer Ramayana.

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Blank Postcard of the Smithsonian Institution Castle

Smithsonian Archives - History Div
The Smithsonian Institution Castle was designed by architect James Renwick, Jr. Construction was completed in 1855. The statue out front is of Joseph Henry, first Secretary of the Smithsonian (term 1846-1878).

#4A-H2182. "C.T. Photo-Colorit," Made Only By Curt Teich & Co., Inc., Chicago, USA. Curt Otto Teich (1877-1974), a German immigrant, founded Curt Teich & Co., which was a postcard printing company that operated from 1898 to 1978. The company specialized in view and advertising postcards, and was the largest volume printer of this type in the world from the 1920s to the 1940s. C.T. Photo-Colorit was a printing process used by Curt Teich & Co.

This postcard is located in Accession #13-204, which is part of Record Unit 95.

For another version of this postcard, see Negatives SIA2013-06645 and SIA2013-06646.

Blank postcard of the Smithsonian Institution Building, or Castle, and statue of Joseph Henry. The grounds are empty and the trees are bare. The message side is blank, and the card has white edging.

Postcard of the Smithsonian Institution Castle

Smithsonian Archives - History Div
The Smithsonian Institution Castle was designed by architect James Renwick, Jr. Construction was completed in 1855. The statue out front is of Joseph Henry, first Secretary of the Smithsonian (term 1846-1878).

#4A-H2182. Genuine Curteich-Chicago "C.T. Photo-Colorit" Post Card. Curt Otto Teich (1877-1974), a German immigrant, founded Curt Teich & Co., which was a postcard printing company that operated from 1898 to 1978. The company specialized in view and advertising postcards, and was the largest volume printer of this type in the world from the 1920s to the 1940s. C.T. Photo-Colorit was a printing process used by Curt Teich & Co.

This postcard is located in Accession #03-140, which is part of Record Unit 95.

For another version of this postcard, see Negatives SIA2013-06649 and SIA2013-06650.

Postcard of the Smithsonian Institution Building, or Castle, and statue of Joseph Henry. The grounds are empty and the trees are bare. It appears to be evening, judging by the sky. The message/address side is blank, and the card has white edging.

Imagining an Alarming Future at Brazil's Museum of Tomorrow

Smithsonian Magazine

A new sentry stands guard on Rio de Janeiro's harbor: a white, beamed canopy that rises from the ground and points toward the sky—and the future. The Museum of Tomorrow's intricate architecture moves with the sun, morphing and changing all day long. And inside this innovative building lies something even more dynamic—a futuristic science museum that looks decades ahead and was specifically designed to elicit an emotional response.

This museum for a new generation doesn’t contain any historical artifacts or meditations on how people in the past lived and survived, aside from quick multimedia overviews of how humans came to exist on Earth. What it holds is far more important to the future world: exhibits showing the effects of humans on the planet and what Earth might look like 50 or more years down the road. Each installation incorporates scientist-outlined visions of where the planet is headed in regard to climate change, population size, lifespan, technology, biodiversity and cultural integration—and points to the possibility of a more sustainable future. The museum leads visitors on a journey through five distinct sections. Each attempts to answer a fundamental question: “Who are we? Where do we come from? Where are we now? Where are we headed to? And how do we want to get there?”

It’s a complex—and interactive—journey. In Cosmos, visitors lay back to face a movie screen for a short video about Earth’s geology and evolution. In the Earth portion, they investigate three large cubes to learn about where human beings came from. The first contains an installation showing two tangled scarves dancing on wind, meant to represent matter in flux. The next cube revolves around DNA, and the last investigates culture and relationships through 1,200 images.

Then it's time to head into Anthropocene, the centerpiece of the museum. The section focuses on the new Age of Man, modern times in which humans have flourished on—and irreparably impacted—Earth. Visitors stand in the middle of a cluster of 32-foot-high video screens that assault them from every direction with images of destruction. Statistics on how humankind has modified (and often destroyed) Earth flash by along with everything from charts that show how much energy, water and meat are consumed by humans to growing population graphs to images of buildings that spew putrid black smoke into blue skies. From there, suitably horrified guests walk on to the Tomorrows exhibit, where they can play interactive games to learn about different possibilities for the future and how their life choices could affect humanity’s survival.

The development project is not without controversy: It sparked the ire of some Rio residents, who claim that the building has pushed out poor citizens and was an unnecessary expenditure ahead of the 2016 Olympics. However, the museum's architecture has drawn applause for its green design. The cutting-edge structure, which was designed by famed Spanish artist Santiago Calatrava, is reminiscent of whalebones or the shell of a ship on the waterside. Fin-like panels along the building's top move in concert with the sun—an innovation used by Calatrava in one of his earlier creations, the Milwaukee Art Museum. The museum's inner workings are as resource-conscious as its exterior is memorable, paying homage to the materials inside. Its fins are actually solar panels, water is drawn from deep in the bay to use in the air-conditioning system, open air pathways keep fresh air circulating and natural light shines down on the exhibition spaces. The result is a museum that uses 40 percent less energy than traditional structures.

Though the building itself is an optimistic example of how mankind can take advantage of renewable resources, the exhibits within were designed to elicit an emotional, and often troubled, response from visitors.

“We hope people will come out feeling disturbed or inspired but not indifferent,” curator Alberto Oliveira told The Guardian’s Jonathan Watts. “If they feel pessimistic, it’s not because of us; it’s because of reality…This is all based on the best available science.” But the main takeaway lies in the last room, Us. Here, visitors walk through a structure full of lights and sounds that interact with their movements, showing that with every action, the world around them is affected.

Historians, Government Officials Clash Over Polish History at New Museum

Smithsonian Magazine

What story should a museum tell? That question can be more complicated than you might think—especially when a museum is tasked with confronting dark chapters in history. Now, reports Vanessa Gera for the Associated Press, that question has flared into a political conflict in Poland, where a soon-to-be opened World War II museum faces criticism for the stark story it tells.

The Museum of the Second World War recently hosted a press day in Gdansk, Poland, to show off the project nearly a decade in the making, which scheduled to open to the public in late February. The preview took place before a Polish court announced on Tuesday that the museum would be forced to merge with another museum and come under government control. Now, the World War II museum will be forcibly pushed into a combined cultural organization along with another museum devoted 1939 battle perceived by Polish nationalists as a brave stand against the Nazis before the country’s eventual surrender and occupation. Ostensibly, reports Deutsche Welle, the change is intended to cut costs. But in effect, it will allow the Polish government to oust the museum's director and change the story it tells.

As the New York Times’ Rachel Donadio notes, the Museum of the Second World War was initially commissioned by Donald Tusk, a historian and the then-Polish prime minister and currently the president of the European Council. Its directive was to look at the civilian experience during World War II from an international perspective.

That would have made it unique among World War II museums. But the idea faced resistance within Poland, where right-wing nationalism has been on the rise in recent years. In 2015, the Law and Justice party, which embraces both an anti-immigrant and nationalist stance, came to power. Since then, Law and Justice has flexed its considerable muscle, cracking down on the media and battling for a more pro-Poland take on the past.

Last year, the government attempted to take over the museum and make it merge with the other institution, but museum officials fought back with a lawsuit. The forced merger is seen by many as an attempt to muzzle the initial museum’s story and to repudiate Poland’s more liberal former government. Now, the takeover will proceed—along with what The Art Newspaper’s Julia Michalska calls “an ongoing battle over national memory.”

In a way, that battle has been raging since World War II itself. Together, Nazi Germany and the USSR conspired to wipe the country off the map, turning the country into a proving ground for the concept of “Lebensraum” and working to annihilate Poland’s people, culture and national identity. During the war, Poland staged a scrappy resistance, but nonetheless millions of Poles were killed before the country was handed over to the Soviet Union, which controlled it until 1989.

However, many Poles also participated in some of the worst atrocities of World War II, collaborating with the Nazis, denouncing one another, indulging in rampant anti-Semitism and even participating in pogroms and death camps. It is this complex and uncomfortable history that Poland’s current right-wing government wants to revise. As SmartNews reported last year, Law and Justice has even cracked down on the words people use to refer to Poland involvement in World War II, threatening to jail anyone who says “Polish death camp” instead of identifying concentration camps as Nazi-run.

Now, reports Gera, that tussle over national identity has bled over into the museum itself. Government officials have accused museum leaders of presenting a story that is “not Polish enough,” withheld funds, and resisted its focus on other nations and civilian experiences. With the Polish court siding in the government's favor, the museum's fate is up in the air.

What’s next for Poland’s embattled World War II museum? It’s a conundrum that may prove as controversial—and unresolved—as the question of which version of Polish history it should present.

The 9/11 Memorial Museum Opens to the Public

Smithsonian Magazine

The National September 11 Memorial Museum will finally open its doors to the public on Wednesday, May 21. For years, there have been tensions over how any memorial at this site would look and operate. The museum was supposed to open in 2012 but disagreements among the state and local, public and private authorities that had a hand in its creation delayed the opening until now.

By all accounts, visiting the museum is an emotional experience. The displays includes artifacts, large and small, from firetrucks to personal objects of people who worked in the two towers. But the road to this museum’s opening has been fraught with controversy, and that doesn’t look to abate anytime in the near future. 

Just a few months ago, for example, clergy members registered their distaste for "The Rise of Al Qaeda," a film shown at the museum, which objectors felt unfairly depicted a link between Islam and terrorism. Right now, an atheist advocacy group is pushing for the removal from the museum of the so-called Ground Zero Cross, a large fragment of steel beams in the shape of a cross. 

In the time that the museum has been open to a limited number of people, including 9/11 families, a couple of complaints have surfaced. Some families are troubled that the museum is being operated as a museum, not a sacred space of grief. For the general public, tickets cost $24 for adults. (Registered rescue and recovery workers and 9/11 families get in free.) There's also a museum membership that gives patrons special discounts in the cafe or gift shop. The gift shop itself has been a particular magnet of ire.  

Steve Kandell, a Buzzfeed editor, lost his sister in the attacks, and wrote a heart-rending account of his visit to the museum during the days that it was open solely to people who had been directly affected by the events of 9/11. Kandell writes: 

I think now of every war memorial I ever yawned through on a class trip, how someone else’s past horror was my vacant diversion and maybe I learned something but I didn’t feel anything. Everyone should have a museum dedicated to the worst day of their life and be forced to attend it with a bunch of tourists from Denmark. Annotated divorce papers blown up and mounted, interactive exhibits detailing how your mom’s last round of chemo didn’t take, souvenir T-shirts emblazoned with your best friend’s last words before the car crash. And you should have to see for yourself how little your pain matters to a family of five who need to get some food before the kids melt down. Or maybe worse, watch it be co-opted by people who want, for whatever reason, to feel that connection so acutely.

Kandell also writes of his visit to the remains repository, where many unidentified remains are stored by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner of the City of New York and which is off-limits to the general public. The repository has been another lightning rod of contention among the families of the deceased. 

But with the emotionally charged nature of the event it memorializes, how could a single place of remembrance exist without disagreement? And the museum may shape-shift over time, as those disagreements develop and change. The New York Times’ Holland Carter writes

[W]ithin its narrow perspective, maybe because of it, the museum has done something powerful. And, fortunately, it seems to regard itself as a work in progress, involved in investigation, not summation. I hope so. If it stops growing and freezes its narrative, it will become, however affecting, just another Sept. 11 artifact. If it tackles the reality that its story is as much about global politics as about architecture, about a bellicose epoch as much as about a violent event, it could deepen all our thinking about politics, morality and devotion.

The span of strongly held opinions about how 9/11 should be remembered, particularly on the WTC site itself, is wide—there may be as many as there are people who remember that day, in some way. Now, you can visit the museum and form your own.

Visit New York’s Guggenheim Museum Without Leaving Your House

Smithsonian Magazine

No longer will art lovers have to travel to New York to explore Frank Lloyd Wright's iconic Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.  The building’s curving galleries are headed to the digital age: The museum can be viewed on Google Street View and some of its groundbreaking collection of contemporary art has been made available as part of Google’s Cultural Institute.

Digital visitors can take in the museum’s swirly open rotunda and appreciate the Guggenheim along a quarter mile of spiral ramps that surround a big plaza and center around a skylight. The museum itself considers its own design to be “one of the greatest works in its collection.”

Wright seems to have designed the building as a kind of inverted ziggurat or pyramid, a place of continuous experience rather than closed-off galleries. At the time the building was opened to the general public in 1959, the building was compared to everything from a cupcake to a nautilus shell to a corkscrew to a toilet bowl.

The building was fraught with controversy and conflict long before it opened. Wright complained about the museum’s New York location and clashed with his patron, which ultimately led to six separate sets of plans and 749 drawings. Both Solomon Guggenheim and Wright died before the building as opened. Much of Wright’s vision was compromised before an effort to return the museum to his initial architectural concepts was launched in 1988. 

These days, Guggenheim museums all over the world have a combined a permanent collection of more than 7,000 pieces of art. The pieces now on display at the Google Institute include two exhibitions: one of contemporary art about storytelling at the Guggenheim and one of contemporary South and Southeast Asian art. It’s all part of a wider initiative by Google to make the world’s cultural treasures available online—in recent months, the search engine giant has digitized everything from a trip up Machu Picchu to collections from the British Museum.

The online experience may never exactly match the breathtaking feeling of climbing within a living work of art, but it comes pretty close. There’s something to be said for the ever-more-creative initiatives to get museums online—and the more people that experience these museums from their laptop at home, the more people may get out and take in some art in person one day.

Sketch of the South Yard Landscape Design

Smithsonian Archives - History Div
A photograph of the sketch of the South Yard landscape design built behind the Smithsonian Institution Building, or "Castle." The South Yard sits at the center of the Quadrangle Building complex, which is made up of the Sackler Gallery, National Museum of African Art, S. Dillon Ripley Center. The complex, with three stories underground, is covered by the Enid A. Haupt Garden which opened in 1987. The landscape design of the Haupt Garden was a collaborative effort of architect Jean Paul Carlhian; Lester Collins, landscape architect from Millbrook, New York; Sasaki Associates Inc. of Watertown, Massachusetts; and James Buckler, founding director of the Smithsonian's Office of Horticulture. The project of building the South Yard was begun in 1979.

Architectural History of the Smithsonian Quadrangle, 1983

Smithsonian Archives - History Div
Ewing, H., & Ballard, A. A Guide to Smithsonian Architecture. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Books, 2009.

Ottesen, Carole. A Guide to Smithsonian Gardens. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Books, 2011.

Ground breaking for the Smithsonian Institution Quadrangle began in 1983, although design and planning for such a unique complex began in 1978. There was a strong desire to place the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery near the Freer Gallery of Art, but space on the mall was limited. The solution, developed by architect Junzo Yoshimura, was to build a discreet, underground complex. Each of the three buildings has an above ground entrance, but the majority (96%) of the National Museum of African Art, Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, and S. Dillon Ripley International center lies underground. The firm of Shepley, Bulfinch, Richardson and Abbot, lead by Jean-Paul Carlhian, also contributed to the design and construction.

The first of the above ground structures, the entrance to the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, is a modern building that took on subtle elements of both the Arts and Industries Building (the pointed roof shape) and the Freer Gallery of Art (its coloring). The second structure, the entrance to the National Museum of African Art, also incorporates elements from the Arts and Industries and Freer Gallery Buildings. The red color matches that of A&I, and the rounded domes on the roof are reminiscent of the rounded archways that line the facade of the Freer Gallery. The third above ground structure, the pagoda-like pavilion that provides entrance to the S. Dillon Ripley Center, was adapted from a drawing by famous garden designer Humphry Repton. The fourth aspect of the Quadrangle, the Enid A. Haupt Garden, was designed by the landscape architects Sasaki Associates, with consultation on plant selection by landscape designer Lester Collins.

The overall architectural feel of the Quadrangle is one of historic American and English colleges and universities, which fits with Secretary S. Dillon Ripley's vision for the Smithsonian as a place for scholars, students, and artists from all over the world to come together.

"The Wonder Years" comes to Smithsonian collections

National Museum of American History

When I was in eighth grade, my government teacher gave us a homework assignment that I did not do. The next day, we were told to hand something in, even if it was a brief explanation as to why we didn't do the homework. I wrote this: "I did not do the homework last night because I was watching the series finale of The Wonder Years and, seeing as how I've grown up watching this show, I thought it was much more important for me to do that." I was given an F, but I did successfully make it out of middle school, and I still count myself as a fan of The Wonder Years.

Today, several objects from the iconic 1980s television series found a new home in our collections and, while they will not be on display right away, are still an exciting addition to the National Museum of American History. I asked our Entertainment Curator Dwight Blocker Bowers to tell me why a show about the 1960s, made in the 1980s, still resonates with people today.

New York Jets jacket from "The Wonder Years"

New York Jets jacket worn by actor Fred Savage as Kevin in The Wonder Years 

"There was something wonderfully true about the show," said Bowers, who works in the museum's Division of Culture and the Arts. "All the elements together—the performances, the costumes, the music—formed a beautiful whole."

My nine-year-old self didn't see the big picture. Every week—for one half hour—while I thought I was simply enjoying a television show about a cute boy, I was actually getting a history lesson. I was spending quality time with my parents while also witnessing what it was like for them to be my age, albeit through a Hollywood version of what it was like to grow up in the 1960s. I developed a love for the culture and an appreciation for the struggles of the era, and when it was all over I found myself nostalgic for a time period I never lived through.

For a show as specific to a period of time as The Wonder Years, the natural fit for our collections is costumes. Perhaps the most iconic article of clothing from the show is Kevin Arnold's green and white New York Jets jacket. This jacket is synonymous with the character played by Fred Savage. Though he eventually outgrew it, it is still widely recognized from the pilot episode when Kevin finds "girl-next-door" Winnie Cooper sitting in the park. He places the jacket on her shoulders and the two share their first kiss.

Along with the jacket, the museum received the two-piece dress worn by matriarch Norma Arnold during the show's opening title sequence during a family barbecue. With the obvious exception of Joe Cocker's rendition of "With a Little Help From My Friends," the one thing that always stood out to me about the credits was this dress. The colorful print top and skirt with bare midriff was evocative of the time. It spoke of a generation of women beginning to reveal their identities through clothing choices and moving away from their conservative predecessors.

Two-piece dress worn by actress Alley Mills

Two-piece dress worn by actress Alley Mills

The hippie wedding dress was worn by Kevin's free-spirited sister, Karen. This too signified a rebellion of sorts within the show. Even as mother Norma was making a statement in her barbecue dress, she maintained a level of decorum common for that time period. This dress, made of unbleached muslin and embroidered with brown flowers, was yet another indication of the growing strength of youth culture.

The Wonder Years was also remarkably innovative. Single-camera comedies were rare, though much of what we see on television today is done in this format. There was no laugh track, and we were allowed to appreciate the human feelings being portrayed, both comedic and tragic.

"Where a show like Happy Days played it for laughs, The Wonder Years totally understood the era which it defined," Bowers explained to me. "Meticulous attention to the elements made [the show] work."

The voice-over narration was almost unheard of at the time and even today is an uncommon practice, except notably in the long-running comedy How I Met Your Mother. As Bowers said, "The past was playing out in front of our eyes, but also being reviewed by an adult Kevin. This allowed America to look back, question, and re-examine that time period."

Few things in life take us back to our childhoods the way television shows, movies and music can. Unfortunately, these things don't always hold up. Time and experiences force us to view the world with a new perspective, or the productions reveal themselves to be contrived and dated. To me, The Wonder Years remains as relevant and poignant as it was when it first aired. No matter my age, no matter my view of the world, just as the narrator states in the last line of the series finale that I was willing to take a failing grade for, "after all these years I still look back, with wonder."

Amelia Avalos works in the museum's Office of Communications and Marketing.

Office of Communications and Marketing Assistant Amelia Avalos
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New York City Might Get a Climate Change Museum

Smithsonian Magazine

Climate change is an environmental issue. But it's civil rights issue, argues lawyer Miranda Massie. “If you don’t have the right to thrive as an organism, then everything else falls away,” she tells reporter Lisa W. Foderaro for The New York Times. “I came to see the environment as a civil rights issue.” The effects that Hurricane Sandy had on New York City helped spur her to this realization. And now, Massie is working hard to build the Climate Museum, a place where the public can gain a broader understanding of the effects of climate change.

The museum is still in the conception stage, but has just received some sketches of potential designs from the Rhode Island School of Design and Tisch School of the Arts, reports Clara Chaisson for On Earth. Many of the designs feature natural influences — the ocean, sculptures spun by the wind, vegetation crawling over the building’s facade — integrated into the urban environment. 

The New York Board of Regents chartered the museum on July 20, reports Clayton Aldern for Grist. That's a necessary step toward making the museum a reality. Massie’s plans are ambitious — she has a target audience of one million visitors per year. (In comparison, Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History sees about 7.3 million each year.) “[C]limate has now reached the point — at the risk of a little bit of hyperbole — that it’s touching every aspect of the human experience, from health to how much we pay for groceries to household finance to insurance premiums to social justice, domestic and international,” Massie tells Aldern. 

It will take time to build the new building, but in the interim, the museum will start in a temporary space and potential pop-up exhibitions. 

The topic may seem like it could be depressing, but Massie also wants to focus the exhibits on potential solutions. Plus, stirring the public's emotions is part of the point, she says. “Museums are intended to provoke thoughts, feelings and conversations,” Edward W. Maibach, a membor of the museum's advisory board tells The Times. “A climate museum, if done well, can help start an important conversation about climate change in America.”

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