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Rush mat, old design

National Anthropological Archives
Submitted by Frances Densmore.

Black and white original glass negative

Bulletin 86 Bureau of American Ethnology - Chippewa Customs - Plate 63.

Bird Design n.d. Drawing

National Anthropological Archives

Bird Design n.d. Painting

National Anthropological Archives

Peyote Design n.d. Painting

National Anthropological Archives

Bird Design n.d. Drawing

National Anthropological Archives

Bird Design n.d. Drawing

National Anthropological Archives

Sun Design n.d. Drawing

National Anthropological Archives

Bird Design n.d. Drawing

National Anthropological Archives

Sink or Float: Water and Design Solutions

Smithsonian Education
People around the world are confronted with rising water, drought conditions, increased weather extremes and are challenged by the need for sustainable energy resources. From increasing access to water to helping people respond to changing environments, designers are responding with innovative solutions ranging from floating houses to energy produced by ocean waves. Presented by: Cynthia E. Smith, Curator of Socially Responsible Design and Caroline Payson, Educator at Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum Original Airdate: February 8, 2012 You can stay connected with the Smithsonian's upcoming online events and view a full collection of past sessions on a variety of topics.: With support from Microsoft Partners in Learning.

Model of Museum of History and Technology

Smithsonian Archives - History Div
Note that color in negative has deteriorated to red tones.

Model of the proposed Museum of History and Technology, now the National Museum of American History, designed by the firm McKim, Mead and White (and the successor firm Steinmann, Cain, and White). Photo shows the south or National Mall facade of the building. The plaque reads "Smithsonian Institution Museum of History and Technology, McKim, Mead & White Architects, Mills, Petticord & Mills, Associate Architects. Scale 1" x 24'."

Dan Brown’s Smithsonian: Fact or Fiction?

Smithsonian Magazine

Towards the beginning of his new thriller The Lost Symbol, Dan Brown introduces his main character Peter Solomon, Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. Peter's phone number is mentioned twice in two pages (a detail that struck this reader as odd). And if by chance you should happen to call the number, as I did, your call will go directly to a hauntingly realistic voicemail—"Hello. You've reached Peter Solomon…."

Typical Dan Brown.

The bestselling writer is notorious for blurring the boundary between fact and fiction, and his latest book is no exception. The Smithsonian plays a dominant role in the plot. A major character works at the Smithsonian's Museum Support Center in Suitland, Maryland. The true-life address of that facility is even revealed. And he includes brief forays into the architecture and history of the Castle and the story of founder James Smithson.

So naturally (the magazine has schooled me well in fact checking), I thought I'd look into some of the details included in the book. How accurately did Brown describe the Smithsonian?

Fact or fiction?

1.Dan Brown asserts that the Museum Support Center, a storage center for objects in the Smithsonian collection not on display, houses more pieces than the Hermitage, the Vatican Museum and the New York Metropolitan, combined.

Fact: The MSC houses 55 million objects and specimens. Some quick sleuthing on the web sites of the Hermitage, the Vatican Museum and the Met reveal that the total number of objects in their collections, combined, is less than 10 million.

2. In the story, the MSC is a zigzag-shaped building and includes five connected pods—each larger than a football field.

Fact: Each pod is three stories high, and in addition to the pods, there is a wing with labs and offices. The pods are referred to by number, as Brown does in the book, but he took some liberties with their uses.

3. The "wet pod," with its many jarred specimen, houses over 20,000 species.

Fact (sort of): The operative word here is "over." Brown was a little off. I checked in with MSC. Try about 212,000 species.

Image by Chip Clark, Smithsonian Institution. Five large pods, each approxiamately the size of a football field and rising to approximately 28 feet in height, are separated from an office and laboratory complex by a 20-foot-wide central corrider or "street." (original image)

Image by Chip Clark, Smithsonian Institution. By mid-2009, Pod 5 housed all of the National Museum of Natural History's biological collections (25 million specimens) preserved in fluids, such as alcohol and formalin, and informally known as the "wet collections." The facility has the latest technology for the safe use of flammable liquids. (original image)

Image by Chip Clark, Smithsonian Institution. Pods 1, 2 and part of 4 contain more than 15,000 storage cabinets. A portion of Pod 4, referred to as "high bay," houses oversize specimens such as boats, totem poles, fossils and meteorites. (original image)

Image by Chip Clark, Smithsonian Institution. The Smithsonian's Museum Support Center was dedicated in May 1983, after two years of construction and a decade of planning. The building, now with two additions, incorporates the latest in museum technology and was designed to provide the optimum conditions for the preservation and study of the Smithsonian's collections. (original image)

4. The MSC contains, in its holdings, poisoned darts from New Guinea, handwritten codices, a kayak made of baleen and extinct flowers.

Fiction: This may be splitting hairs, but a source at the MSC says that Brown was shown poison darts from Ecuador on the tour he took of the facility in April 2008. They have a few blowgun darts from New Guinea, but they do not know if they are poisoned. Also, some handwritten Islamic and Buddhist manuscripts, prayer books and Korans, all from the 19th and 20th centuries, are kept there. But they don't really fit the definition of a codex. The facility reports having no kayaks made completely of baleen and says that extinct flowers are kept in the herbarium at the National Museum of Natural History. He did, however, get it right in saying that the MSC has meteorites, a collection of elephant skulls brought back from an African safari by Teddy Roosevelt and Sitting Bull's pictographic diary.

5. Only two percent of the Smithsonian's collection can be displayed in the museums at any given time; the MSC stores the other 98 percent.

Fiction: The Smithsonian, as a whole, displays less than two percent of its collection, estimated at the end of 2008 to be 136.8 million items. And the MSC stores more like 40 percent of the collection, while the rest of the objects not on display are housed behind-the-scenes in the museums (about 58 percent at the Natural History museum) or other off-site storage facilities.

6. The Smithsonian Castle, located on the National Mall, is a blend of Gothic and late Romanesque architecture—basically, a quintessential Norman castle, like those found in England at about the 12th century.

Partly Fiction: Though influenced by the Gothic, Romanesque and Norman styles, the building is a 19th century hybrid, a romanticized Victorian era mix that was meant to be a new "national style" of architecture, according to Richard Stamm, curator of the Castle collection.

7. The Castle once had two resident owls, named Diffusion and Increase.

Fact: Secretary S. Dillon Ripley (1964-84) had a pair of barn owls housed in one of the towers. He hoped that they would produce offspring (increase), explains Stamm. They did, but they "flew the coop" (diffusion) when the windows were opened to let the owls fend for themselves. Ripley named the adult pair Increase and Diffusion in reference to the Smithsonian's mission, "for the increase and diffusion of knowledge."

Interested in more about Dan Brown's Washington? Read about the Masonic temple that features heavily in the novel.

First House Designed by Antoni Gaudí to Open as a Museum

Smithsonian Magazine

Casa Vicens, the first house designed by Antoni Gaudí, introduced the Spanish architect as an exceptional, visionary talent. Built in the late 19th century, the Barcelona home was a visual feast: it boasted rippled corners and towering turrets, and was decorated with vibrant checkerboard patterns, exposed brickwork, and intricately painted tiles. For more than a century, this marvelous work of architecture was a private residence, but as Claire Voon reports for Hyperallergic, Casa Vicens will soon open to the public as a museum. 

Following a two-year renovation project, the Casa Vicens museum is scheduled to launch in October of 2017. It will host both permanent and temporary exhibitions, but the most arresting relic on display is arguably the house itself.

When he was just 31-years-old, Gaudí designed Casa Vicens as a summer residence for the tile manufacturer Manel Vicens i Montaner. Construction took place between 1883 and 1885, and as Columbia University art history professor George R. Collins wrote in Encylopaedia Britannica, Casa Vicens was inspired by the Moorish style—a uniquely Spanish aesthetic that blends Muslim and Christian designs. The house also displays Japanese and Indian influences, according to Visit Barcelona.

Casa Vicens, with its straight lines and Asian influences, stands distinct from the curvaceous, undulating structures that defined Gaudí’s later career. But according to the Casa Vicens website, the house “heralds and displays the creative freedom that would become the hallmark of [Gaudí’s] entire future oeuvre.”

In 1899, Casa Vicens was purchased by the Herrero-Jover family, who enlarged it to make it a three-home residence. In 2014, it was sold to the private bank MoraBanc with the intention of opening the building to public visits.

Led by a trio of Spanish architects, restoration experts have been hard at work hand-painting ceramic tiles, reconstructing an artificial waterfall that once flowed in the garden, restoring a set of ornate lamps, and undertaking other tasks to rejuvenate the home. Once the project is completed in the fall, visitors will be able to bask in the glory of Gaudí’s singular vision.

Model of Museum of History and Technology

Smithsonian Archives - History Div
Model of the proposed Museum of History and Technology, now the National Museum of American History, designed by the firm McKim, Mead and White (and the successor firm Steinmann, Cain, and White). Photo shows the south or National Mall facade of the building.

Jar with Tendrial Design

Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery

National Postal Museum Presents Congressional Stamp Exhibit

National Postal Museum
The Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum will display philatelic items from the personal collections of Senators Orrin Hatch, Carl Levin and Lisa Murkowski, and U.S. Representatives Gary Ackerman, Robert Aderholt, Lacy Clay, Joseph Pitts, and Silvestre Reyes. The exhibit will be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. July 24 - 26 in the Rayburn House Office Building at Independence Avenue and South Capitol Street S.W., Washington, DC. The exhibit is designed for collectors and non-collectors alike with unique philatelic material that has never before been seen by the public.

How the Smithsonian Prepares for Hurricanes and Flooding

Smithsonian Magazine

In his office a block from the National Mall, Eric Gentry has spent the past week monitoring updates from the National Hurricane Center and passing information to his colleagues at the Smithsonian. As Hurricane Florence makes landfall, Washington, D.C., home to the majority of the Smithsonian museums, has been receiving variable reports on the storm’s approach, including most recently threats of flooding and downed trees. If that happens, Gentry has a high-tech operations center ready to go.

As director of the Office of Emergency Management at Smithsonian Facilities, Gentry oversees a team responsible for protecting the Institution’s 19 museums and galleries, the Zoo and numerous other complexes from disasters such as hurricanes, floods and fires—such as the one that destroyed most of the collections at Brazil’s National Museum in early September. The job is particularly difficult at the Smithsonian, given how varied its sites and collections are.

“We’re dealing with multiple museums and research facilities and a very large staff in multiple locations around the world,” Gentry says. “We’re trying to support the activities of all of them and monitor what’s happening. It is far different for a smaller museum. They face the same issues, but they face them in one location and [with] one group of curators and one collection…. We’re dealing with everything from live collections to storage facilities.”

Hurricane Florence made landfall Friday, and the National Hurricane Center warned that it will likely bring “a life-threatening storm surge” and “catastrophic flash flooding” to parts of North and South Carolina. Washington D.C. and its neighboring states could experience rain and flooding, and the governors in surrounding Virginia and Maryland have declared a state of emergency.

Washington has experienced such weather before. In 2003, Hurricane Isabel caused heavy flooding, tree damage and power loss in the area. And Washington’s National Mall, home to 11 Smithsonian museums, flooded in 2006, causing millions of dollars in damage. Sections of the Mall are in the 100-year and 500-year floodplains, meaning flooding has a one in 100 or one in 500 chance, respectively, of happening there in any given year. A Smithsonian assessment listed two of the museums there as at “high” risk of storm surge flooding and two more at “moderate” risk.

When major events happen or could happen, Gentry activates an emergency operations center at his office that includes a 20-seat room with projectors and monitors that can stream video feeds from any closed-circuit camera at the Smithsonian, from as far away as research facilities in Hawaii and Panama. (Smithsonian Institution)

“Even if we’re not in the direct path,” says Gentry, who previously was an official at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, “if you look at some of the worst damage in D.C. history, they come from the remnants of these storms.” He adds, “Areas hundreds of miles away from the hurricane can actually have the heaviest rains.”

When major events happen or could happen, Gentry activates an emergency operations center at his office that includes a 20-seat room with projectors and monitors that can stream video feeds from any closed-circuit camera at the Smithsonian, from as far away as research facilities in Hawaii and Panama. At the center of the room is a table with a high-definition map of the Mall. Officials from across the Smithsonian, as well as representatives from local emergency services, come to the operations center. Recent events the team has monitored include the 2017 presidential inauguration and Women’s March, and the 2018 Stanley Cup Final games and victory celebrations in Washington.

“We’re the center hub. We hold coordination calls, pass information as we get it from the other surrounding agencies,” Gentry says. “We’re kind of the spoke of the wheel.”

But it is up to the individual museums and facilities to make their own specific emergency preparations and deal immediately with events. Perhaps the collections most vulnerable to extreme weather are at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington and the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, based in Fort Royal, Virginia, given their outdoor animals.

“Any time there’s wind, any time there’s rain, we always have to be prepared for potential wind damage or flooding,” says Brandie Smith, who as associate director for animal care sciences at the National Zoo oversees all of the 4,000 or so animals. “We can’t have a tree go down on one of our exhibits. We can’t have an animal get injured or a keeper get injured.” The Zoo also has protocols for moving animals into shelters if the wind reaches certain speeds. “Sometimes we might walk them into secure buildings,” she says, and for higher wind speeds, “we could actually put them in crates and move them somewhere where they’re more secure,” such as concrete bunkers.

“We’re dealing with multiple museums and research facilities and a very large staff in multiple locations around the world,” Gentry says (above, the National Museum of Natural History). (Beth Py-Lieberman)

To prepare for Hurricane Florence, Smith and her colleagues have been monitoring the weather “constantly” and preparing sandbags. She says staff members also have “a big red book” containing emergency instructions for how to care for an animal they don’t typically look after, if the usual keepers cannot get to the Zoo. “It’s essentially a cookbook. ‘Here’s how you take care of giant pandas,’” she says.

This week at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, which studies and breeds animals, the staff is mainly concerned about potential flooding and outdoor objects becoming airborne, according to William Pitt, the deputy director. “Securing things on a 3,200-acre site is a challenge,” he says, and they’re making sure that “everything is secure and locked down.” After weather events, they often review how they responded in order to make improvements, Pitt says. At least some of the animals there don’t mind certain severe weather; When the site received four feet of snow a few years ago, the bison “had more fun than anybody else,” Pitt says.

The museums have protocols in place, too, says Samantha Snell, a Smithsonian collections management specialist and the chair of the Preparedness and Response in Collections Emergencies team, known as PRICE. The team formed in 2016 to advise the units overseeing collections across the Smithsonian on how to prevent and handle emergencies. “Our role is trying to get everybody on the same page,” Snell says. Staff members have been identifying objects in places that could experience leaking, and “those collections are being protected or rearranged as necessary,” she says.

Last year, PRICE hosted training sessions and taught dozens of Smithsonian staff members about saving objects such as textiles and paper from water damage. Snell’s team also has a workshop on recovering from fires.

One Smithsonian museum in a location vulnerable to flooding is the newest one at the Institution—the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Not only is the building located in or near a floodplain, but also its galleries are largely underground. Brenda Sanchez, the Smithsonian’s senior architect and senior design manager, who was involved in the design and construction of the building, says Hurricane Florence will be the first major test of the museum’s flood-protection systems. “This is the first major hurricane that we have coming in this area” since the museum opened in 2016, she says, “but any other main rains that we have had have been handled very well.”

In simulation workshops, Smithsonian staff practice documenting salvaged items in preparation for any emergency events. (Michael Barnes)

The flood-protection systems include an automatic floodgate that prevents water from reaching the loading dock, and a series of cisterns that collect and store stormwater. “Only if we got a 500-year flood we would have to do something,” Sanchez says. “If we do get to the 100-year flood, we’re ready.” She adds that the newer the building, the better positioned it can be against certain emergencies. (The Institution’s oldest building is the Smithsonian Castle, constructed in 1855.)

The Smithsonian also prepares for emergencies that can arise with less warning than a hurricane, such as the fire at Brazil’s National Museum that destroyed an estimated millions of artifacts, likely including the oldest human remains ever found in the Americas. Brazil’s culture minister has said the fire could have been prevented.

Sanchez, the Smithsonian architect and design manager, says the news of the fire made her feel “pain, a lot of pain.”

“Their cultural heritage has been lost,” says Snell, from PRICE. “It pains me to see what has happened there and what could have prevented this level of destruction.” The Smithsonian has offered to assist with the recovery efforts.

As precious as the collections are, Gentry, the emergency management director, says he is most concerned about Smithsonian visitors and employees.

Sanchez agrees. “Our first concern of course is the people, our patrons. The second concern is the exhibits,” she says. “Whatever can be done, we are doing it.”

Creationists Visit the Natural History Museum

Smithsonian Magazine

Everyone is welcome at the Smithsonian Institution, though we locals may grumble when our museums start to fill up with tourists in the spring. But I’m not sure which of these I would find more annoying on a trip through the National Museum of Natural History: 40 hyperactive first graders or the Advanced Creation Studies class from Liberty University, which the Washington Post wrote about in yesterday’s paper.

I know that there are a lot of creationists in this country. But creationism is religion, and the museums are about science. Many creationists seem a bit surprised when the Smithsonian Institution (and this magazine—you should see the letters we get!) does not treat “creation science” (or its brother, intelligent design) in the same way as it does evolution. Smithsonian Institution spokesman Randall Kremer:

"Evolution is the unifying principle for all the biology, past and present, in our halls," Kremer said. "That is the foundation of the research we conduct at the museum."

The Liberty University professor mentioned in the Post article brings his creation studies students to the museum each year to expose them to the other side (i.e., evolution) and to strengthen their belief in creationism. But the students still seemed somewhat surprised that religion played no part in the museum’s displays of how animals came to be:

In the hall of mammals, which reopened in 2003 after a $23 million renovation, evolution assumes center stage, and the Liberty students grew a bit more subdued. They openly admired the well-lighted, meticulously designed dioramas. But they lamented that the texts and videos give no credit at all to a higher power for the wondrous animal variety on display.

The visit didn’t change any minds, according to the article, which I find a bit sad. Evolution is an incredibly fascinating area of science, and it opens the door to all of biology.

The article reminded me of another visit to the “other side,” when a secular group from Indiana University visited the Creation Museum. But do they seem to be having more fun than the students in the Post story?

SAIU trip to the Creation Museum from Secular Alliance on Vimeo.

Kay Lewis with unidentified group at the Cooper Union Museum [photograph] / (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.

Kay Lewis, American designer and teacher, 1921-.

H. Prouse Cooper's Down Town Store, New York

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Hewitt, Miss [art work] / (photographed by Peter A. Juley & Son)

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

Black-and-white study print (11x14).

Orig. negative: 11x14, Nitrate, BW.

copy 1 negative: 8x10, Safety, BW.

Yayoi Kusama Secretly Built a Museum

Smithsonian Magazine

As her "Infinity Mirrors" exhibit tours the world to great acclaim, Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama is quietly preparing to open a new museum in Tokyo to showcase her work and life.

Known for her elaborate sculptures, paintings, clothing and installations, which play on patterns using mirrors, polka dots and bright colors, Kusama was born in Japan in 1929. As a child, she began suffering from hallucinations, which she dealt with by drawing patterns. In her late 20s, she destroyed most of her early works and moved to the United States. There, she settled in New York where she became an early pioneer in the pop art movement in the early 1960s alongside luminaries like Andy Warhol. 

Long regarded as an enigmatic figure, Kusama's latest act fits neatly into that persona—in almost total secrecy, she designed and built her own museum in Tokyo. The five-story building in the bustling Shinjuku neighborhood was completed in 2014, reports Brian Boucher for artnet News, but Kusama did not reveal its purpose until late last week, when she unexpectedly announced that it would be a museum of her work, with the first show opening October 1.

The motivation behind the museum appears to be Kusama reflecting on her own legacy and mortality, something that she touched on in a February profile by the Washington Post's Anna Fifield, which briefly mentioned that a museum of her art was in the works. Kusama wanted the museum to stay secret until now as a "surprise to her fans," her publicist told Stephanie Eckardt of W magazine.

Once it opens, the museum will showcase two exhibits per year from Kusama's work, reports Roslyn Sulcas of the New York Times, with the first exhibit, “Creation Is a Solitary Pursuit, Love Is What Brings You Closer to Art,” which will display works from the series "My Eternal Soul." Archival material and a room to read her papers will be housed on the museum's top floor.

If her recent exhibits in the United States are any testament, attendance will likely be high at the museum, so mark your calenders—tickets go on sale online for the show starting August 28.

The Smithsonian Spotlights American Invention at This Weekend’s Innovation Festival

Smithsonian Magazine

Whether they're tinkering in home kitchens or top-of-the-line laboratories, today’s inventors are imagining a different world. This weekend, a number of innovators will share a glimpse of this exciting future at an Innovation Festival at the National Museum of American History.

The two-day event is part of a five-year collaboration between the Smithsonian Institution and the United States Patent and Trademark Office. The USPTO is contributing funding for public programs and exhibitions related to American innovation in the museums. 

Watch this video in the original article

The two jointly organized a festival at the National Air and Space Museum last fall. This July, the exhibition “Inventing in America,” a combined effort featuring patent models, trademarks and inventions of National Inventors Hall of Fame members, opened in the American History Museum’s new Innovation Wing. For the partnership, is hosting a special website with stories that highlight the innovative spirit at the Smithsonian and beyond.

“The Smithsonian may be known for documenting the intricacies of our nation’s history, but it looks at innovation as a way of continuing to tell the story of America,” said John Gray, director of the American History Museum, in a press release. “The Innovation Festival gives visitors the opportunity to discover inventions and meet the people who design and create such innovations.”

Image by Lego Mindstorms Build 4 Good. Shubham Banerjee built the prototype for his Braigo Braille printer with a Lego Mindstorms EV3 robotics kit. (original image)

Image by Rex Bionics. The centerpiece of University of Houston engineer Jose Contreras-Vidal's work is a thought-controlled exoskeleton to help paralyzed people walk. (original image)

Image by Karl E. Steinbrenner, Virginia Commonwealth University. Peter Pidcoe (here) and Thubi Kolobe invented a Self-Initiated Prone Progressive Crawler, to help motor-challenged babies learn to inch themselves around. (original image)

Visitors will see breakthrough technologies from 13 companies, universities, government agencies and independent inventors, selected by a juried panel. Shubham Banerjee, a 13-year-old inventor from California, will show the Braigo Braille printer he built in 2014 from a Lego Mindstorms EV3 kit. University of Houston engineer Jose Contreras-Vidal will demonstrate his mind-controlled exoskeleton, and Peter Pidcoe, an engineer and physical therapist at Virginia Commonwealth University, will be on hand to show his patented assistive crawling device for infants with motor development delays. For the sweet tooth, Mars, Incorporated will be giving taste tests of patented chocolate flavors.

The museum’s Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation is organizing hands-on activities, demonstrations, talks with inventors and lessons about the patent process for adults and children. Curators will be surfacing artifacts from the collection, not currently on public display, that capture the nation’s history of invention. The hope is that the festival inspires future generations of inventors.

“From the fields of Kitty Hawk to the orchards of the Silicon Valley, our nation has been driven by ingenuity and fueled by innovation,” said Michelle K. Lee, the under secretary of commerce for intellectual property and director of the USPTO, in the release. “The Innovation Festival provides an excellent opportunity for visitors to learn how America’s intellectual-property system has driven innovation and shaped our nation.”

The Innovation Festival will be held this Saturday, September 26, and Sunday, September 27, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the National Museum of American History.

How Dorothy's Ruby Slippers Came to the Smithsonian

Smithsonian Magazine

On a spring day in 1970, as MGM studios was clearing out its famous backlot property in Culver City in advance of its sale to a developer, a costumes worker named Kent Warner slipped into the deep storage on the third floor. He crept up the stairs to the lady’s character wardrobe.

On a dusty shelf, he found what he was looking for—a collection of ruby slippers that Judy Garland wore for her portrayal of Dorothy Gale for the filming of the 1939 Wizard of Oz. These were the famous shoes that only needed to be tapped three times and that touched so many hearts with their magical theme—“There’s no place like home.”

There were several sets of ruby slippers on the shelf, plus a curly-toed test pair. Warner had been told to destroy all but one. The single remaining pair were to be offered for sale at the seminal multi-day MGM Studios auction, where 350,000 costumes were to be sold, including the loin cloth worn by Johnny Weissmuller in Tarzan and Gene Kelly’s sailor hat from the 1949 film On the Town

Warner picked out a pair of ruby slippers for the sale. But on the sly, he stuffed the others in a bag and walked them off the lot. 

The pair that Warner delivered to MGM for the auction sold for an astounding $15,000 to an anonymous buyer, who donated them to the Smithsonian Institution nine years later.

Today, we know that the Smithsonian’s Ruby Slippers are a mismatched pair, with a half-size difference. To the critical eye, they’re almost underwhelming. Under low lights and displayed on a mock yellow-brick road carpet, the roughly 2,400 cellulose nitrate sequins sewn onto the heels are a duller shade of red than you might expect, and the bows are slightly different.

But the millions of visitors that come to the National Museum of American History annually to stand transfixed before them—smudges on the heavy glass vitrine must be routinely cleaned—seem not to notice that age is taking its toll.

Dawn Wallace, the objects conservator who cares for the slippers, says that the delicate threads—frayed a little on the right toe—and the imperfections that betray a human touch are part of the appeal.

Earlier this year, the museum launched a Kickstarter campaign to clean and study the fragile sequins, and build a custom state-of-the-art case to preserve the shoes. A similar crowdsourcing project last August raised $719,779 to pay for the conservation costs of Neil Armstrong’s 1969 Apollo 11 spacesuit and the suit worn by Alan Shepard during the 1961 Mercury flight. (Among the rewards for contributions is a signed poster by Broadway costume designer William Ivey Long and a hand-sewn replica pair of the slippers by bead artist Randy Struthers.)

Image by NMAH. (original image)

Image by NMAH. (original image)

Image by NMAH. (original image)

Image by NMAH. (original image)

The ruby slippers are, of course, one of the most iconic relics of the golden age of Hollywood.

“They’re a portal—a promise that you can click your heels and go home,” says Morgan White, the director of the acclaimed 2016 documentary, The Slippers that premiered at this year’s South By Southwest Conference in Austin, Texas.

The ruby slippers that Kent Warner lifted were just one of thousands of pieces he rescued—or stole—from trash bins and off racks.

From The Wizard of Oz film, he carried off Dorothy’s signature blue gingham dress, as well as a sepia-toned iteration that was used for the scenes before the film burst into Technicolor. But he also carried off dresses worn by Marilyn Monroe, Fred Astaire’s shoes, even—allegedly—Humphrey Bogart’s trench coat from Casablanca.

“He recognized Hollywood’s history before anyone in Hollywood really did,” says Rhys Thomas, the reporter who discovered Warner’s story and author of The Ruby Slippers of Oz, the 1989 account of where the other ruby slippers skipped to after Warner took them.

Of course, Warner’s motives were not always altruistic. He often saved items by selling them off. In doing so, he is credited with launching the lucrative, somewhat shady aftermarket for Hollywood memorabilia. But a pair of Ruby Slippers that he kept for himself—the best pair—was his crown jewel.

But what happened to the others?

Before the auction, MGM gave one away as second prize in a 1940 contest to name the ten best movies of 1939. Roberta Jeffries, a high school junior in Memphis, Tennessee, won them and didn’t think much of it until she read about the 1970 auction, though she had shown the shoes at libraries and schools. When she came forward to verify that her pair was bona fide, she caused a huge stir—most people didn’t know there was more than one pair. "It was real exciting," she told Thomas in 1988, in an article for the L.A. Times. "I called the paper right away and said, 'I have a pair of the ruby red slippers' and that's when all the commotion started."

She sold them in 1988 for $165,000, and a private collector owns them now.

Another pair was stolen while on loan to the Judy Garland Museum in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, in 2005 and disappeared. Police searched the surrounding area, even diving into nearby Tioga Mine Pit Lake on the hunch that they may have been chucked in the water after the crime, but found nothing. Even a $1 million reward failed to shake them loose.

Warner parted with his pair in 1981 for just $12,000 to an anonymous buyer. He was one of the first men on the west coast diagnosed with AIDS, and he was struggling to pay his medical bills. He died in 1984.

But the shoes, at last, will get the kind of celebration he always wanted for them.

His pair were sold to Leonardo DiCaprio and Steven Spielberg in 2012, to be displayed at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, which opens in 2018 in Los Angeles.

The 80-year-old Ruby Slippers at the Smithsonian have since become one of the most popular and treasured of its artifacts. It’s an ending that would have pleased the man who saved them, says Morgan White. “Kent was the man behind the curtain.”

UPDATE: 12/15/2016: Following the success of the Kickstarter Campaign, changes were made to this article.

UPDATE: 10/24/2016Just before midnight on October 23, after only seven days, the National Museum of American History announced that its goal of $300,000 on its first Kickstarter Campaign had been met. More than 5,300 financial backers stepped up with small donations from between $25 and $7,000 to help the museum's conservators restore the Ruby Slippers worn by Judy Garland in her role as Dorothy Gale in 1939 movie classic, The Wizard of Oz. Dubbed #KeepThemRuby, the campaign now has another 23 days to go; and the museum will announce later today its stretch goal, suggesting that another character that journeyed down the Yellow Brick Road in the popular film will be its next focus. Brains, courage or heart? But of course, one only needs not much of a brain to guess; given which of the three costumes the museum holds in its collections. —Ed

The National Museum of American History invites donations with a goal of $300,000 to protect the Ruby Slippers from environmental harm and to slow deterioration. Funds will also be used to build a state-of-the-art display case for the famous shoes. Donations can be made at the museum's Kickstarter page through November 16, 2016. 

New Study Offers Clues to Dominance of Curve-Filled Museum Designs

Smithsonian Magazine

Curved edges abound in architecture—particularly when it comes to museums, with cultural institutions ranging from Spain’s Guggenheim Bilbao to France’s Louis Vuitton Foundation, Israel’s Design Museum Holon, Mexico’s Museum Soumaya and Canada’s Art Gallery of Alberta embracing undulating forms over sharp angles.

Interestingly, a new study published in Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts suggests individuals’ responses to such curvilinear spaces differ based on their understanding of architecture, art history and interior design.

As Rachel Corbett reports for artnet News, researchers led by Oshin Vartanian of the University of Toronto found that 71 students without prior knowledge of these fields showed little preference for curvilinear versus rectilinear rooms. Participants who self-identified as professional architects or designers, however, consistently judged curved spaces to be more beautiful than straight-edged ones.

But when asked how likely they were to enter a curved versus rectangular room, non-experts overwhelmingly opted for the former. This may be because humans of all ages tend to exhibit an innate preference for curvilinear forms: In an interview with Alexa Samuels, founder of art startup Mercartto, Vartanian notes that wavy patterns are viewed as more “natural” than angular ones.

Vartanian and his team have previously researched the subject, which offers bread crumbs to the recent findings. In a 2013 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the team asked participants to view images of curve-filled versus rectilinear rooms while under observation in a brain-imaging machine. Not only did subjects continually consider rounded rooms to be more beautiful than straight-edged spaces, but they also exhibited heightened brain activity when looking at curved interiors. Crucially, this activity occurred in the anterior cingulate cortex, a neural region closely associated with emotion.

Canada's Art Gallery of Alberta (IQ Remix via Flickr under CC BY-SA 2.0)

Summarizing the findings for The Globe and Mail, Dave McGinn outlines two possible explanations: One, supported by a separate 2007 study, posits that humans have developed a fear of sharp angles over time, with the potential danger represented by a straight versus rounded line triggering the brain’s amygdala, or fear center. The second theory emphasizes the prevalence of rounded features in the natural world, suggesting that our knowledge of such shapes has bred familiarity and, in turn, comfort.

“Curved buildings can point to nature, whereas angular buildings contrast with it,” Paul Silvia, a psychology expert from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro who was not involved in the 2013 study, tells CNN’s William Lee Adams. “Instead of blending into the environment or evoking natural themes, they stand apart from it by using one of the few shapes you never see in nature—a perfect box.”

In conjunction with earlier research, the latest study adds an intriguing wrinkle to conversations centering on curves. In a twist, the researchers also found that professionals differed from non-experts on their willingness to enter curved or rectangular rooms. Unlike non-experts, who may not have preferred curvilinear rooms but were more likely to enter them, the experts were equally willing to enter either type of space. It's possible that while those in the field can appreciate rounded forms on a purely aesthetic level, the expertise that guides this decision also bypasses unconscious links, stopping experts from equating curvature with certain cultural phenomena.

This leads us to the paradoxical conclusion suggested by the research: While the average individual may not exhibit a strong preference for curved shapes, the Guggenheim’s circular exterior appears to be more inviting to them than what Corbett of artnet terms “the boxy Brutalism” of the Met Breuer. And while experts assessing architectural edges are just as likely to visit the Guggenheim as they are the Met Breur, they make that choice in full acknowledgement of the Guggenheim’s seemingly superior aesthetic appeal.

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