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Face mask

National Museum of African Art
Wood face mask with a wide forehead, narrow slit eyes accentuated with a series of arched striations incised above as eyebrows and replicated in metal below the eyes, a long and narrow nose, a small projecting mouth and a round narrowing chin. The bottom end of the framework carries a series of linear holes for costume attachements. The headdress is an elaborate composition predominately of red cloth supported by an internal wicker and woven raffia framework. The upper part is embellished with strands of cowrie shells that frame the forehead and radiate out along the top and sides; a string of dark blue and yellow beads runs directly below the first line of cowrie. The back of the headdress is adorned with a glass beads composition, arranged in zigzag patterns and largely composed of small, white and light blue beads.

Reliquary guardian figure

National Museum of African Art
Standing male wood figure with elongated torso and hands above his penis. The figure has an oil patina and a restored chin.

Shoulder mask

National Museum of African Art
Wood yoke or shoulder mask with rectangular eye holes between flattened pendant breasts; cylindrical neck with cylindrical projection from back of neck; curved jaw and projecting 1/4 circular nose, blank almost semicircular eyes, cylindrical mouth, pprojecting C-form ears; raised block pattern bands on face, neck and chest, incised chevrons in hair; projecting sagittal crest hairstyle. There are small circular holes for attachments through the nostrils, and top, back and bottom of ear, as well as in each support. The mask has an overall dark brown surface.

Homemade Clothes for Hollywood - Made Movies

Smithsonian Magazine

A modest low-slung metal building, set in the woods off a dirt road, is home to the world-famous Thistle Hill Weavers, workplace and studio of textile historian and weaver Rabbit Goody. Approaching the building a muffled thwack-thwack-thwack mechanical sound created by power looms can be heard. When the door is opened, the noise spills out along with the smell of fibers mixed with machine oil.

Goody has been involved in movies for nearly 15 years. Since her start with the movie adaptation of The Scarlet Letter (1995), starring Demi Moore, Thistle Hill Weavers has worked on dozens of films. The studio has created historically accurate fabric for a number of iconic costumes, from Tom Hanks’ Depression-era overcoat in Road to Perdition to Daniel Day Lewis’ oil man outfit in There Will Be Blood to many of the costumes in HBO‘s John Adams. Goody understands how costume designers place great importance on the most miniscule details and knows how to get them right.

Costume designer Kimberly Adams worked with Thistle Hill on a number of projects including The Chronicles of Narnia and There Will Be Blood. “As a designer, you always want to sell the time period with fabrics and shapes that are true to the period in order to bring the audience into the real world of the story,” says Adams.

“Today’s fabrics often don’t work in other time periods,” Adams explains. “The weights, textures and content are quite different, and these factors really do make a difference in making a costume look true to a time period.”

Considering her Hollywood-based clientele, upstate New York seems an unlikely setting for Goody’s textile mill. She landed in the Cherry Valley area in the 1970s as part of the counter-culture movement, and she never left. (Allen Ginsberg had a farm down the road as did a number of other poets, artists and musicians.) Although she came to the area to farm – even today she notes “weaving is my trade but my lifestyle is agricultural” – she soon established herself as an accomplished hand weaver. Before setting up Thistle Hill, she worked for the New York State Historical Association in the nearby Farmer’s Museum, located in Cooperstown.

Over the years she amassed an encyclopedic knowledge of American textiles and weaving technology, which has made her indispensible to the film industry and historic properties that are looking for historically accurate reproductions of clothing, bed hangings, window treatments and carpet.

Goody got her first movie job when the costume designer from The Scarlet Letter saw the textile work she did for Plimoth Plantation, a museum and educational center in Plymouth, Massachusetts, that recreates 17th-century America. The film needed clothing and interior furnishing fabrics accurate to that same time period from Nathaniel Hawthorne's novel.

“The camera eye is better than any human eye so inaccuracies show up glaringly,” explains Goody. “The minute anyone sees an inaccuracy in a movie, that picture is trashed – if you don’t believe one part of it, you’re not going to believe any part of it. A lay person may not know what would be appropriate for 17th-century fabric, but it will register that something is wrong.”

Image by Rachel Dickinson. One of Thistle Hill's weavers works with a power loom that the studio uses to create fabrics for major motion pictures. (original image)

Image by Rachel Dickinson. Rabbit Goody uses patterns to reproduce lace from an 18th century carriage. (original image)

Image by Rachel Dickinson. Rabbit Goody has been involved in movies for nearly 15 years. (original image)

Image by Rachel Dickinson. The finish room at Thistle Hill is overrun with fabrics from past projects. (original image)

Image by Rachel Dickinson. Goody's studio features a silk warper built in 1918. (original image)

When a designer contacts them, Rabbit and Jill Maney, Thistle Hill’s office manager, who also has a PhD in early American history, research everything they can about the movie – time period, characters, basic plot and what color schemes the costume designers will use. Then they send the designer an enormous packet of textile samples. From there it becomes a collaborative process. The designers determine what they like and don’t like (need it rougher, smoother, more texture, less texture) and if they like something, Goody asks what it is about the fabric that appeals to them.

“Costume designers for the most part do not speak ‘cloth,’” says Goody. “They do by the end, though.” Rabbit has found that designers pay a surprising amount of attention to detail. Drape, weight, texture, how a fabric moves, how it reflects color, or how it works with somebody’s coloring, for example, are all important to them.

Accurate fiber content is not as important to movies as it is for a historic house or museum looking for a historic reproduction. But Thistle Hill always uses natural fibers when creating movie textiles, so that the fabric can be dyed and aged by the costumers.

“Sometimes we hardly recognize our fabrics because they’ve been so aged,” says Maney. “For [the 2007 film] No Country for Old Men we made plaid cowboy shirts from the 1970s – doesn’t sound like a project for us – but the designer found a shirt she liked but couldn’t find enough of them so we provided yardage. Then the shirts had be aged in all different ways – sun-faded, torn, tattered, and soiled – and that’s the kind of detail that makes the movie believable.”

Six weavers work at Thistle Hill although Goody is the only one who does the design work. Everyone performs multiple tasks, from running power looms to spinning thread to making trim. Rabbit’s power looms are all at least 100 years old – there are a couple of nonworking looms sitting out behind the mill that are cannibalized for parts when the old looms break down.

The bulk of the mill is one big room with weavers either setting up or running huge looms. The noise is so deafening the weavers wear ear protectors. Everywhere you look big metal machines are creating gorgeous lengths of fabric, including striped Venetian carpet and white cotton dimity and soft, cream-colored cloth from Peruvian alpaca thread. One weaver sits at a bench before a loom pulling 3,300 threads through heddles – they keep the warp threads separate from each other. She then threads them through the sley, which resembles the teeth of a giant comb. The entire painstaking process takes her three days to complete.

Leftover yardage from past projects sits in an adjacent fitting room. Thistle Hill mixes in movie work with weaving for museums and historic houses so Goody can point to fabric used for George Washington’s bed at his historic headquarters in Newburgh, New York, as well as Brad Pitt’s trousers from The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

Clothing for John Adams and the other founding fathers kept Goody and her weavers busy for half a year. “Thistle Hill wove such beautiful fabrics,” remembers Michael Sharpe, first assistant costume designer for the miniseries. “They recreated fabrics that would have been ‘homespun’ by settlers in the New World. Thistle Hill fabrics allowed us to set the tone of ‘America’s’ fibers versus that of the fine English and French silks and woolens.”

Sharpe liked the fabric so much that as Maney sent him boxes of period-appropriate textiles from the finishing room, he kept wanting more. “I was frequently asked by our costume makers in the United States, London, Canada and Hungary where we’d found such incredible fabrics,” says Sharpe. “I happily replied – ‘We made them!’”

Are These Baked Mushroom Sandals the Future of Fashion?

Smithsonian Magazine

Over the past three years, the fashion industry has started paying attention to biodegradable and renewable fabrics. Last year, Salvatore Ferragamo used a citrus byproduct material that feels like silk for a collection of shirts, dresses and pants; Philippines-based AnanasAnam created a faux-leather out of pineapple leaves dubbed Piñatex; and Dutch textile designer Aniela Hoitink created a mycelium dress that was as stylish as any satin cocktail dress.

Yes, mycelium—the interlocking root system that spawns forests of mushrooms in your yard after it rains. And this fungi fashion seems to be a trend: Microsoft’s Artist-in-Residence Erin Smith grew her own wedding dress out of tree mulch and mycelium; lighting designer Danielle Trofe uses mycelium to create biodegradable light fixtures; and Life Materials sells sheets of its mycelium leather for anyone interested in a do-it-yourself creation.

Jillian Silverman, a University of Delaware fashion and apparel graduate student focused on environmental sustainability, recently crafted a prototype shoe that combines mushrooms, agriculture waste and fabric scraps. “A lot of fashion fabrics are not compostable or it takes a really long time for them to break down,” says Silverman. In her shoe, “everything is natural, everything is biodegradable, nontoxic. It's a perfect solution to reducing the impacts of textile waste, reducing toxic inputs and using all renewable inputs.”

Because mushroom mycelium has previously been used to create compostable packaging and building materials, Silverman thought there was a good chance it could be grown into fashion products to replace other unsustainable materials in the fashion industry. Her university is also conveniently close to Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, is “the mushroom capital of the world,” says Silverman. “So this offers opportunities for local sourcing and the expertise of the nearby mushroom farms and growers.”

Mycelium naturally binds together materials—in the shoe’s case, chicken feathers and other textile—as it grows. After testing, Silverman decided to use reishi, oyster, king oyster, and yellow oyster varieties for their superior aesthetic and strength. She then designed a shoe sole mold in which to grow the mycelium into the specific shape needed. Mycelium can grow to fill any mold in about a week. Once it filled the mold, Silverman baked it to “halt the growth and prevent mushrooms from fruiting on the surface.”

“There is only a slightly earthy smell during the growing process,” says Silverman. “There is no live fungi in the finished product.”

Silverman (R) and Wing Tang (L), an undergraduate student helping her with the shoe project. (provided by the University of Delaware)

Huantian Cao, Silverman’s graduate advisor, says the challenge was creating the perfect growth mixture for the mycelium to thrive. To do this, Silverman tested several fabrics and decided upon an insulation material comprised of recycled cotton and jute, a rough fiber similar to twine or rope. This material, which would otherwise be destined for a landfill, created a strong material as it intertwined and bonded with the fibers during its growth stage.

Other components in the final mycelium substrate included psyllium husk (a natural plant fiber), cornstarch (which acted as food sources for the mycelium) and chicken feathers (which added strength to the final product).

“Both the textile material and feathers are soft, but strong,” says Cao, a professor of fashion and apparel studies and co-director of the University of Delaware’s Sustainable Apparel Initiative. “Including these materials in mycelium composite makes the composite comfortable to wear and also strong to step on.”

According to Silverman, the end result is a compostable, biodegradable mushroom-based sole that could replace rubber and other manmade components. But if it’s a compostable material, what happens if you wear the shoe in the rain?

John Taylor, professor of plant and microbial biology at the University of California at Berkeley, believes that unless the shoe sole is treated to prevent water intrusion, it’s far from ready to wear.

“There is likely a trade-off in durability versus compostability,” says Taylor, who isn’t involved in Silverman’s project. “Mycelium would absorb water if untreated, leading to degradation of shoe soles but promoting compostability. If the mycelium is treated to prevent absorption of water, the shoe sole function would be improved, but the compostability would decline.”

Silverman says that compostable products cannot compost without the correct conditions and organisms, so the soles shouldn't just biodegrade during use. “Mycelium is naturally water-resistant so we believe if we let it grow to fully cover the substrate materials that the shoes would be able to tolerate at least some moisture,” says Silverman, though she does admit that “we do have some concerns about the flexibility of the material.”

While Silverman’s product may need some fine-tuning before it is market-ready, a California-based materials innovation startup called Bolt Threads is already accepting pre-orders for its mushroom “leather” bag in June. The company is known for creating its Microsilk fabric by copying spider silk gene technology. Through a new partnership with Ecovative Design, a company that created mycelium-based packaging and industrial-based materials, Bolt Threads Co-Founder Dan Widmaier is excited about the possibilities of renewable, sustainable fabrics, especially one that has the ability to replace leather and possibly lessen leather’s carbon footprint.

“If you think about leather, you've got a product there that is from the waste stream of the meat industry,” says Widmaier. “Then you look at a future with 7 billion inhabitants on Planet Earth, growing to 10 billion … there’s just not enough skins and hides to make leather.” That’s what makes mycelium a sustainable solution, says Widmaier, who points out the contrast between producing mycelium and raising an animal for meat/leather.

“Mycelium is growing on a celluloise feedstock – in our case, corn stover (the leaves, stalks and cobs leftover in a field after a harvest),” he says. “That’s a pretty low impact compared to raising a whole animal for three years when you look at the sustainability profile of water use, land use, carbon cycle, nitrogen cycle.”

Stella McCartney, a designer known for her commitment to sustainable fashion, recently used Bolt Thread’s mycelium “leather” (branded as Mylo) for a handbag trimmed in metal chain at the Victoria and Albert Museum’s Fashioned from Nature exhibit, which opened April 21.

While Widmaier’s company is a few steps ahead of Silverman, both are in agreement that mushrooms have a place in fashion. And both see a future where material innovation evolves and grows as more consumers realize that fashion can be on-trend both stylishly and sustainably—a future where fungi fabric is as common as silk or cotton. “Biowaste materials in general are gaining a lot of attention and a lot of traction in the sustainable fashion industry as well as other industries,” says Silverman.

Let’s hope so, because our current levels of consumer waste are frankly unsustainable. Every year, the average person throws away roughly 70lbs of clothing and other wearable waste like backpacks, broken watches and hats, according to the Council for Textile Recycling. The EPA estimates that textile waste make up 5 percent of all landfill space, with those dirty leather and rubber soles coexisting for upwards of 50 years surrounded by other consumer waste.

Lowering our waste levels will require all sectors of society to catch up. “For an industry where we make something like 80 billion units of apparel every year, we need new ways to make materials that are more long-term compatible with the planet and the environment,” says Widmaier.

Geissler. Mensch Imall

National Air and Space Museum
Woodblock print with black ink on white translucent paper with long fibers. Geissler Mensch Im all, 1966.

In March 1962, James Webb, Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, suggested that artists be enlisted to document the historic effort to send the first human beings to the moon. John Walker, director of the National Gallery of Art, was among those who applauded the idea, urging that artists be encouraged "…not only to record the physical appearance of the strange new world which space technology is creating, but to edit, select and probe for the inner meaning and emotional impact of events which may change the destiny of our race."

Working together, James Dean, a young artist employed by the NASA Public Affairs office, and Dr. H. Lester Cooke, curator of paintings at the National Gallery of Art, created a program that dispatched artists to NASA facilities with an invitation to paint whatever interested them. The result was an extraordinary collection of works of art proving, as one observer noted, "that America produced not only scientists and engineers capable of shaping the destiny of our age, but also artists worthy to keep them company." Transferred to the National Air and Space Museum in 1975, the NASA art collection remains one of the most important elements of what has become perhaps the world's finest collection of aerospace themed art.

The spring of 1962 was a busy time for the men and women of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. On February 20, John H. Glenn became the first American to orbit the earth. For the first time since the launch of Sputnik 1 on October 4, 1957, the U.S. was positioned to match and exceed Soviet achievements in space. NASA was an agency with a mission -- to meet President John F. Kennedy's challenge of sending human beings to the moon and returning them safely to earth by the end of the decade. Within a year, three more Mercury astronauts would fly into orbit. Plans were falling into place for a follow-on series of two-man Gemini missions that would set the stage for the Apollo voyages to the moon.

In early March 1962, artist Bruce Stevenson brought his large portrait of Alan Shepard, the first American to fly in space, to NASA headquarters.(1) James E. Webb, the administrator of NASA, assumed that the artist was interested in painting a similar portrait of all seven of the Mercury astronauts. Instead, Webb voiced his preference for a group portrait that would emphasize "…the team effort and the togetherness that has characterized the first group of astronauts to be trained by this nation." More important, the episode convinced the administrator that "…we should consider in a deliberate way just what NASA should do in the field of fine arts to commemorate the …historic events" of the American space program.(2)

In addition to portraits, Webb wanted to encourage artists to capture the excitement and deeper meaning of space flight. He imagined "a nighttime scene showing the great amount of activity involved in the preparation of and countdown for launching," as well as paintings that portrayed activities in space. "The important thing," he concluded, "is to develop a policy on how we intend to treat this matter now and in the next several years and then to get down to the specifics of how we intend to implement this policy…." The first step, he suggested, was to consult with experts in the field, including the director of the National Gallery of Art, and the members of the Fine Arts Commission, the arbiters of architectural and artistic taste who passed judgment on the appearance of official buildings and monuments in the nation's capital.

Webb's memo of March 16, 1962 was the birth certificate of the NASA art program. Shelby Thompson, the director of the agency's Office of Educational Programs and Services, assigned James Dean, a young artist working as a special assistant in his office, to the project. On June 19, 1962 Thompson met with the Fine Arts Commission, requesting advice as to how "…NASA should develop a basis for use of paintings and sculptures to depict significant historical events and other activities in our program."(3)

David E. Finley, the chairman and former director of the National Gallery of Art, applauded the idea, and suggested that the agency should study the experience of the U.S. Air Force, which had amassed some 800 paintings since establishing an art program in 1954. He also introduced Thompson to Hereward Lester Cooke, curator of paintings at the National Gallery of Art.

An imposing bear of a man standing over six feet tall, Lester Cooke was a graduate of Yale and Oxford, with a Princeton PhD. The son of a physics professor and a veteran of the U.S. Army Air Forces, he was both fascinated by science and felt a personal connection to flight. On a professional level, Cooke had directed American participation in international art competitions and produced articles and illustrations for the National Geographic Magazine. He jumped at the chance to advise NASA on its art program.

While initially cautious with regard to the time the project might require of one of his chief curators, John Walker, director of the National Gallery, quickly became one of the most vocal supporters of the NASA art initiative. Certain that "the present space exploration effort by the United States will probably rank among the more important events in the history of mankind," Walker believed that "every possible method of documentation …be used." Artists should be expected "…not only to record the physical appearance of the strange new world which space technology is creating, but to edit, select and probe for the inner meaning and emotional impact of events which may change the destiny of our race." He urged quick action so that "the full flavor of the achievement …not be lost," and hoped that "the past held captive" in any paintings resulting from the effort "will prove to future generations that America produced not only scientists and engineers capable of shaping the destiny of our age, but also artists worthy to keep them company."(4)

Gordon Cooper, the last Mercury astronaut to fly, was scheduled to ride an Atlas rocket into orbit on May 15, 1963. That event would provide the ideal occasion for a test run of the plan Cooke and Dean evolved to launch the art program. In mid-February, Cooke provided Thompson with a list of the artists who should be invited to travel to Cape Canaveral to record their impressions of the event. Andrew Wyeth, whom the curator identified as "the top artist in the U.S. today," headed the list. When the time came, however, Andrew Wyeth did not go to the Cape for the Cooper launch, but his son Jamie would participate in the program during the Gemini and Apollo years.

The list of invited artists also included Peter Hurd, Andrew Wyeth's brother-in-law, who had served as a wartime artist with the Army Air Force; George Weymouth, whom Wyeth regarded as "the best of his pupils"; and John McCoy, another Wyeth associate. Cooke regarded the next man on the list, Robert McCall, who had been running the Air Force art program, as "America's top aero-space illustrator. Paul Calle and Robert Shore had both painted for the Air Force program. Mitchell Jamieson, who had run a unit of the Navy art program during WW II, rounded out the program. Alfred Blaustein was the only artist to turn down the invitation.

The procedures that would remain in place for more than a decade were given a trial run in the spring of 1963. The artists received an $800 commission, which had to cover any expenses incurred while visiting a NASA facility where they could paint whatever interested them. In return, they would present their finished pieces, and all of their sketches, to the space agency. The experiment was a success, and what might have been a one-time effort to dispatch artists to witness and record the Gordon Cooper flight provided the basis for an on-going, if small-scale, program. By the end of 1970, Jim Dean and Lester Cooke had dispatched 38 artists to Mercury, Gemini and Apollo launches and to other NASA facilities.

The art program became everything that Jim Webb had hoped it would be. NASA artists produced stunning works of art that documented the agency's step-by-step progress on the way to the moon. The early fruits of the program were presented in a lavishly illustrated book, Eyewitness to Space (New York: Abrams, 1971). Works from the collection illustrated NASA publications and were the basis for educational film strips aimed at school children. In 1965 and again in 1969 the National Gallery of Art mounted two major exhibitions of work from the NASA collection. The USIA sent a selection of NASA paintings overseas, while the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service created two exhibitions of NASA art that toured the nation.

"Since we …began," Dean noted in a reflection on the tenth anniversary of the program, the art initiative had resulted in a long string of positive "press interviews and reports, congressional inquiries, columns in the Congressional Record, [and] White House reports." The NASA effort, he continued, had directly inspired other government art programs. "The Department of the Interior (at least two programs), the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of the Army and even the Veterans Administration have, or are starting, art programs." While he could not take all of the credit, Dean insisted that "our success has encouraged other agencies to get involved and they have succeeded, too."(5)

For all of that, he noted, it was still necessary to "defend" the role of art in the space agency. Dean, with the assistance of Lester Cooke, had been a one-man show, handling the complex logistics of the program, receiving and cataloguing works of art, hanging them himself in museums or on office walls, and struggling to find adequate storage space. In January 1976, a NASA supervisor went so far as to comment that: "Mr. Dean is far too valuable in other areas to spend his time on the relatively menial …jobs he is often burdened with in connection with the art program."(6) Dean placed a much higher value on the art collection, and immediately recommended that NASA officials either devote additional resources to the program, or get out of the art business and turn the existing collection over the National Air and Space Museum, "where it can be properly cared for."(7)

In January 1974 a new building for the National Air and Space Museum (NASM) was taking shape right across the street from NASA headquarters. Discussions regarding areas of cooperation were already underway between NASA officials and museum director Michael Collins, who had flown to the moon as a member of the Apollo 11 crew. Before the end of the year, the space agency had transferred its art collection to the NASM. Mike Collins succeeded in luring Jim Dean to the museum, as well.

The museum already maintained a small art collection, including portraits of aerospace heroes, an assortment of 18th and 19th century prints illustrating the early history of the balloon, an eclectic assortment of works portraying aspects of the history of aviation and a few recent prizes, including several Norman Rockwell paintings of NASA activity. With the acquisition of the NASA art, the museum was in possession of one of the world's great collections of art exploring aerospace themes. Jim Dean would continue to build the NASM collection as the museum's first curator of art. Following his retirement in 1980, other curators would follow in his footsteps, continuing to strengthen the role of art at the NASM. Over three decades after its arrival, however, the NASA art accession of 2,091 works still constitutes almost half of the NASM art collection.

(1) Stevenson's portrait is now in the collection of the National Air and Space Museum (1981-627)

(2) James E. Webb to Hiden Cox, March 16, 1962, memorandum in the NASA art historical collection, Aeronautics Division, National air and Space Museum. Webb's preference for a group portrait of the astronauts was apparently not heeded. In the end, Stevenson painted an individual portrait of John Glenn, which is also in the NASM collection (1963-398).

(3) Shelby Thompson, memorandum for the record, July 6, 1962, NASA art historical collection, NASA, Aeronautics Division.

(4) John Walker draft of a talk, March 5, 1965, copy in NASA Art historical collection, NASM Aeronautics Division.

(5) James Dean, memorandum for the record, August 6, 1973, NASA art history collection, NASM Aeronautics Division.

(6) Director of Planning and Media Development to Assistant Administrator for Public Affairs, January 24, 1974, NASA art history collection, NASM Aeronautics Division.

(7) James Dean to the Assistant Administrator for Public Affairs, January 24, 1974, copy in NASA Art history Collection, Aeronautics Division, NASM.

Tom D. Crouch

Senior Curator, Aeronautics

National Air and Space Museum

Smithsonian Institution

July 26, 2007

Gruppenflug

National Air and Space Museum
Woodblock print with black ink on white translucent paper with long fibers. Gruppenflug, 1966.

In March 1962, James Webb, Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, suggested that artists be enlisted to document the historic effort to send the first human beings to the moon. John Walker, director of the National Gallery of Art, was among those who applauded the idea, urging that artists be encouraged "…not only to record the physical appearance of the strange new world which space technology is creating, but to edit, select and probe for the inner meaning and emotional impact of events which may change the destiny of our race."

Working together, James Dean, a young artist employed by the NASA Public Affairs office, and Dr. H. Lester Cooke, curator of paintings at the National Gallery of Art, created a program that dispatched artists to NASA facilities with an invitation to paint whatever interested them. The result was an extraordinary collection of works of art proving, as one observer noted, "that America produced not only scientists and engineers capable of shaping the destiny of our age, but also artists worthy to keep them company." Transferred to the National Air and Space Museum in 1975, the NASA art collection remains one of the most important elements of what has become perhaps the world's finest collection of aerospace themed art.

The spring of 1962 was a busy time for the men and women of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. On February 20, John H. Glenn became the first American to orbit the earth. For the first time since the launch of Sputnik 1 on October 4, 1957, the U.S. was positioned to match and exceed Soviet achievements in space. NASA was an agency with a mission -- to meet President John F. Kennedy's challenge of sending human beings to the moon and returning them safely to earth by the end of the decade. Within a year, three more Mercury astronauts would fly into orbit. Plans were falling into place for a follow-on series of two-man Gemini missions that would set the stage for the Apollo voyages to the moon.

In early March 1962, artist Bruce Stevenson brought his large portrait of Alan Shepard, the first American to fly in space, to NASA headquarters.(1) James E. Webb, the administrator of NASA, assumed that the artist was interested in painting a similar portrait of all seven of the Mercury astronauts. Instead, Webb voiced his preference for a group portrait that would emphasize "…the team effort and the togetherness that has characterized the first group of astronauts to be trained by this nation." More important, the episode convinced the administrator that "…we should consider in a deliberate way just what NASA should do in the field of fine arts to commemorate the …historic events" of the American space program.(2)

In addition to portraits, Webb wanted to encourage artists to capture the excitement and deeper meaning of space flight. He imagined "a nighttime scene showing the great amount of activity involved in the preparation of and countdown for launching," as well as paintings that portrayed activities in space. "The important thing," he concluded, "is to develop a policy on how we intend to treat this matter now and in the next several years and then to get down to the specifics of how we intend to implement this policy…." The first step, he suggested, was to consult with experts in the field, including the director of the National Gallery of Art, and the members of the Fine Arts Commission, the arbiters of architectural and artistic taste who passed judgment on the appearance of official buildings and monuments in the nation's capital.

Webb's memo of March 16, 1962 was the birth certificate of the NASA art program. Shelby Thompson, the director of the agency's Office of Educational Programs and Services, assigned James Dean, a young artist working as a special assistant in his office, to the project. On June 19, 1962 Thompson met with the Fine Arts Commission, requesting advice as to how "…NASA should develop a basis for use of paintings and sculptures to depict significant historical events and other activities in our program."(3)

David E. Finley, the chairman and former director of the National Gallery of Art, applauded the idea, and suggested that the agency should study the experience of the U.S. Air Force, which had amassed some 800 paintings since establishing an art program in 1954. He also introduced Thompson to Hereward Lester Cooke, curator of paintings at the National Gallery of Art.

An imposing bear of a man standing over six feet tall, Lester Cooke was a graduate of Yale and Oxford, with a Princeton PhD. The son of a physics professor and a veteran of the U.S. Army Air Forces, he was both fascinated by science and felt a personal connection to flight. On a professional level, Cooke had directed American participation in international art competitions and produced articles and illustrations for the National Geographic Magazine. He jumped at the chance to advise NASA on its art program.

While initially cautious with regard to the time the project might require of one of his chief curators, John Walker, director of the National Gallery, quickly became one of the most vocal supporters of the NASA art initiative. Certain that "the present space exploration effort by the United States will probably rank among the more important events in the history of mankind," Walker believed that "every possible method of documentation …be used." Artists should be expected "…not only to record the physical appearance of the strange new world which space technology is creating, but to edit, select and probe for the inner meaning and emotional impact of events which may change the destiny of our race." He urged quick action so that "the full flavor of the achievement …not be lost," and hoped that "the past held captive" in any paintings resulting from the effort "will prove to future generations that America produced not only scientists and engineers capable of shaping the destiny of our age, but also artists worthy to keep them company."(4)

Gordon Cooper, the last Mercury astronaut to fly, was scheduled to ride an Atlas rocket into orbit on May 15, 1963. That event would provide the ideal occasion for a test run of the plan Cooke and Dean evolved to launch the art program. In mid-February, Cooke provided Thompson with a list of the artists who should be invited to travel to Cape Canaveral to record their impressions of the event. Andrew Wyeth, whom the curator identified as "the top artist in the U.S. today," headed the list. When the time came, however, Andrew Wyeth did not go to the Cape for the Cooper launch, but his son Jamie would participate in the program during the Gemini and Apollo years.

The list of invited artists also included Peter Hurd, Andrew Wyeth's brother-in-law, who had served as a wartime artist with the Army Air Force; George Weymouth, whom Wyeth regarded as "the best of his pupils"; and John McCoy, another Wyeth associate. Cooke regarded the next man on the list, Robert McCall, who had been running the Air Force art program, as "America's top aero-space illustrator. Paul Calle and Robert Shore had both painted for the Air Force program. Mitchell Jamieson, who had run a unit of the Navy art program during WW II, rounded out the program. Alfred Blaustein was the only artist to turn down the invitation.

The procedures that would remain in place for more than a decade were given a trial run in the spring of 1963. The artists received an $800 commission, which had to cover any expenses incurred while visiting a NASA facility where they could paint whatever interested them. In return, they would present their finished pieces, and all of their sketches, to the space agency. The experiment was a success, and what might have been a one-time effort to dispatch artists to witness and record the Gordon Cooper flight provided the basis for an on-going, if small-scale, program. By the end of 1970, Jim Dean and Lester Cooke had dispatched 38 artists to Mercury, Gemini and Apollo launches and to other NASA facilities.

The art program became everything that Jim Webb had hoped it would be. NASA artists produced stunning works of art that documented the agency's step-by-step progress on the way to the moon. The early fruits of the program were presented in a lavishly illustrated book, Eyewitness to Space (New York: Abrams, 1971). Works from the collection illustrated NASA publications and were the basis for educational film strips aimed at school children. In 1965 and again in 1969 the National Gallery of Art mounted two major exhibitions of work from the NASA collection. The USIA sent a selection of NASA paintings overseas, while the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service created two exhibitions of NASA art that toured the nation.

"Since we …began," Dean noted in a reflection on the tenth anniversary of the program, the art initiative had resulted in a long string of positive "press interviews and reports, congressional inquiries, columns in the Congressional Record, [and] White House reports." The NASA effort, he continued, had directly inspired other government art programs. "The Department of the Interior (at least two programs), the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of the Army and even the Veterans Administration have, or are starting, art programs." While he could not take all of the credit, Dean insisted that "our success has encouraged other agencies to get involved and they have succeeded, too."(5)

For all of that, he noted, it was still necessary to "defend" the role of art in the space agency. Dean, with the assistance of Lester Cooke, had been a one-man show, handling the complex logistics of the program, receiving and cataloguing works of art, hanging them himself in museums or on office walls, and struggling to find adequate storage space. In January 1976, a NASA supervisor went so far as to comment that: "Mr. Dean is far too valuable in other areas to spend his time on the relatively menial …jobs he is often burdened with in connection with the art program."(6) Dean placed a much higher value on the art collection, and immediately recommended that NASA officials either devote additional resources to the program, or get out of the art business and turn the existing collection over the National Air and Space Museum, "where it can be properly cared for."(7)

In January 1974 a new building for the National Air and Space Museum (NASM) was taking shape right across the street from NASA headquarters. Discussions regarding areas of cooperation were already underway between NASA officials and museum director Michael Collins, who had flown to the moon as a member of the Apollo 11 crew. Before the end of the year, the space agency had transferred its art collection to the NASM. Mike Collins succeeded in luring Jim Dean to the museum, as well.

The museum already maintained a small art collection, including portraits of aerospace heroes, an assortment of 18th and 19th century prints illustrating the early history of the balloon, an eclectic assortment of works portraying aspects of the history of aviation and a few recent prizes, including several Norman Rockwell paintings of NASA activity. With the acquisition of the NASA art, the museum was in possession of one of the world's great collections of art exploring aerospace themes. Jim Dean would continue to build the NASM collection as the museum's first curator of art. Following his retirement in 1980, other curators would follow in his footsteps, continuing to strengthen the role of art at the NASM. Over three decades after its arrival, however, the NASA art accession of 2,091 works still constitutes almost half of the NASM art collection.

(1) Stevenson's portrait is now in the collection of the National Air and Space Museum (1981-627)

(2) James E. Webb to Hiden Cox, March 16, 1962, memorandum in the NASA art historical collection, Aeronautics Division, National air and Space Museum. Webb's preference for a group portrait of the astronauts was apparently not heeded. In the end, Stevenson painted an individual portrait of John Glenn, which is also in the NASM collection (1963-398).

(3) Shelby Thompson, memorandum for the record, July 6, 1962, NASA art historical collection, NASA, Aeronautics Division.

(4) John Walker draft of a talk, March 5, 1965, copy in NASA Art historical collection, NASM Aeronautics Division.

(5) James Dean, memorandum for the record, August 6, 1973, NASA art history collection, NASM Aeronautics Division.

(6) Director of Planning and Media Development to Assistant Administrator for Public Affairs, January 24, 1974, NASA art history collection, NASM Aeronautics Division.

(7) James Dean to the Assistant Administrator for Public Affairs, January 24, 1974, copy in NASA Art history Collection, Aeronautics Division, NASM.

Tom D. Crouch

Senior Curator, Aeronautics

National Air and Space Museum

Smithsonian Institution

July 26, 2007

Wegbereiter Ikarus

National Air and Space Museum
Woodblock print with black ink on white translucent paper with long fibers. Wegbereiter Ikarus, 1966.

In March 1962, James Webb, Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, suggested that artists be enlisted to document the historic effort to send the first human beings to the moon. John Walker, director of the National Gallery of Art, was among those who applauded the idea, urging that artists be encouraged "…not only to record the physical appearance of the strange new world which space technology is creating, but to edit, select and probe for the inner meaning and emotional impact of events which may change the destiny of our race."

Working together, James Dean, a young artist employed by the NASA Public Affairs office, and Dr. H. Lester Cooke, curator of paintings at the National Gallery of Art, created a program that dispatched artists to NASA facilities with an invitation to paint whatever interested them. The result was an extraordinary collection of works of art proving, as one observer noted, "that America produced not only scientists and engineers capable of shaping the destiny of our age, but also artists worthy to keep them company." Transferred to the National Air and Space Museum in 1975, the NASA art collection remains one of the most important elements of what has become perhaps the world's finest collection of aerospace themed art.

The spring of 1962 was a busy time for the men and women of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. On February 20, John H. Glenn became the first American to orbit the earth. For the first time since the launch of Sputnik 1 on October 4, 1957, the U.S. was positioned to match and exceed Soviet achievements in space. NASA was an agency with a mission -- to meet President John F. Kennedy's challenge of sending human beings to the moon and returning them safely to earth by the end of the decade. Within a year, three more Mercury astronauts would fly into orbit. Plans were falling into place for a follow-on series of two-man Gemini missions that would set the stage for the Apollo voyages to the moon.

In early March 1962, artist Bruce Stevenson brought his large portrait of Alan Shepard, the first American to fly in space, to NASA headquarters.(1) James E. Webb, the administrator of NASA, assumed that the artist was interested in painting a similar portrait of all seven of the Mercury astronauts. Instead, Webb voiced his preference for a group portrait that would emphasize "…the team effort and the togetherness that has characterized the first group of astronauts to be trained by this nation." More important, the episode convinced the administrator that "…we should consider in a deliberate way just what NASA should do in the field of fine arts to commemorate the …historic events" of the American space program.(2)

In addition to portraits, Webb wanted to encourage artists to capture the excitement and deeper meaning of space flight. He imagined "a nighttime scene showing the great amount of activity involved in the preparation of and countdown for launching," as well as paintings that portrayed activities in space. "The important thing," he concluded, "is to develop a policy on how we intend to treat this matter now and in the next several years and then to get down to the specifics of how we intend to implement this policy…." The first step, he suggested, was to consult with experts in the field, including the director of the National Gallery of Art, and the members of the Fine Arts Commission, the arbiters of architectural and artistic taste who passed judgment on the appearance of official buildings and monuments in the nation's capital.

Webb's memo of March 16, 1962 was the birth certificate of the NASA art program. Shelby Thompson, the director of the agency's Office of Educational Programs and Services, assigned James Dean, a young artist working as a special assistant in his office, to the project. On June 19, 1962 Thompson met with the Fine Arts Commission, requesting advice as to how "…NASA should develop a basis for use of paintings and sculptures to depict significant historical events and other activities in our program."(3)

David E. Finley, the chairman and former director of the National Gallery of Art, applauded the idea, and suggested that the agency should study the experience of the U.S. Air Force, which had amassed some 800 paintings since establishing an art program in 1954. He also introduced Thompson to Hereward Lester Cooke, curator of paintings at the National Gallery of Art.

An imposing bear of a man standing over six feet tall, Lester Cooke was a graduate of Yale and Oxford, with a Princeton PhD. The son of a physics professor and a veteran of the U.S. Army Air Forces, he was both fascinated by science and felt a personal connection to flight. On a professional level, Cooke had directed American participation in international art competitions and produced articles and illustrations for the National Geographic Magazine. He jumped at the chance to advise NASA on its art program.

While initially cautious with regard to the time the project might require of one of his chief curators, John Walker, director of the National Gallery, quickly became one of the most vocal supporters of the NASA art initiative. Certain that "the present space exploration effort by the United States will probably rank among the more important events in the history of mankind," Walker believed that "every possible method of documentation …be used." Artists should be expected "…not only to record the physical appearance of the strange new world which space technology is creating, but to edit, select and probe for the inner meaning and emotional impact of events which may change the destiny of our race." He urged quick action so that "the full flavor of the achievement …not be lost," and hoped that "the past held captive" in any paintings resulting from the effort "will prove to future generations that America produced not only scientists and engineers capable of shaping the destiny of our age, but also artists worthy to keep them company."(4)

Gordon Cooper, the last Mercury astronaut to fly, was scheduled to ride an Atlas rocket into orbit on May 15, 1963. That event would provide the ideal occasion for a test run of the plan Cooke and Dean evolved to launch the art program. In mid-February, Cooke provided Thompson with a list of the artists who should be invited to travel to Cape Canaveral to record their impressions of the event. Andrew Wyeth, whom the curator identified as "the top artist in the U.S. today," headed the list. When the time came, however, Andrew Wyeth did not go to the Cape for the Cooper launch, but his son Jamie would participate in the program during the Gemini and Apollo years.

The list of invited artists also included Peter Hurd, Andrew Wyeth's brother-in-law, who had served as a wartime artist with the Army Air Force; George Weymouth, whom Wyeth regarded as "the best of his pupils"; and John McCoy, another Wyeth associate. Cooke regarded the next man on the list, Robert McCall, who had been running the Air Force art program, as "America's top aero-space illustrator. Paul Calle and Robert Shore had both painted for the Air Force program. Mitchell Jamieson, who had run a unit of the Navy art program during WW II, rounded out the program. Alfred Blaustein was the only artist to turn down the invitation.

The procedures that would remain in place for more than a decade were given a trial run in the spring of 1963. The artists received an $800 commission, which had to cover any expenses incurred while visiting a NASA facility where they could paint whatever interested them. In return, they would present their finished pieces, and all of their sketches, to the space agency. The experiment was a success, and what might have been a one-time effort to dispatch artists to witness and record the Gordon Cooper flight provided the basis for an on-going, if small-scale, program. By the end of 1970, Jim Dean and Lester Cooke had dispatched 38 artists to Mercury, Gemini and Apollo launches and to other NASA facilities.

The art program became everything that Jim Webb had hoped it would be. NASA artists produced stunning works of art that documented the agency's step-by-step progress on the way to the moon. The early fruits of the program were presented in a lavishly illustrated book, Eyewitness to Space (New York: Abrams, 1971). Works from the collection illustrated NASA publications and were the basis for educational film strips aimed at school children. In 1965 and again in 1969 the National Gallery of Art mounted two major exhibitions of work from the NASA collection. The USIA sent a selection of NASA paintings overseas, while the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service created two exhibitions of NASA art that toured the nation.

"Since we …began," Dean noted in a reflection on the tenth anniversary of the program, the art initiative had resulted in a long string of positive "press interviews and reports, congressional inquiries, columns in the Congressional Record, [and] White House reports." The NASA effort, he continued, had directly inspired other government art programs. "The Department of the Interior (at least two programs), the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of the Army and even the Veterans Administration have, or are starting, art programs." While he could not take all of the credit, Dean insisted that "our success has encouraged other agencies to get involved and they have succeeded, too."(5)

For all of that, he noted, it was still necessary to "defend" the role of art in the space agency. Dean, with the assistance of Lester Cooke, had been a one-man show, handling the complex logistics of the program, receiving and cataloguing works of art, hanging them himself in museums or on office walls, and struggling to find adequate storage space. In January 1976, a NASA supervisor went so far as to comment that: "Mr. Dean is far too valuable in other areas to spend his time on the relatively menial …jobs he is often burdened with in connection with the art program."(6) Dean placed a much higher value on the art collection, and immediately recommended that NASA officials either devote additional resources to the program, or get out of the art business and turn the existing collection over the National Air and Space Museum, "where it can be properly cared for."(7)

In January 1974 a new building for the National Air and Space Museum (NASM) was taking shape right across the street from NASA headquarters. Discussions regarding areas of cooperation were already underway between NASA officials and museum director Michael Collins, who had flown to the moon as a member of the Apollo 11 crew. Before the end of the year, the space agency had transferred its art collection to the NASM. Mike Collins succeeded in luring Jim Dean to the museum, as well.

The museum already maintained a small art collection, including portraits of aerospace heroes, an assortment of 18th and 19th century prints illustrating the early history of the balloon, an eclectic assortment of works portraying aspects of the history of aviation and a few recent prizes, including several Norman Rockwell paintings of NASA activity. With the acquisition of the NASA art, the museum was in possession of one of the world's great collections of art exploring aerospace themes. Jim Dean would continue to build the NASM collection as the museum's first curator of art. Following his retirement in 1980, other curators would follow in his footsteps, continuing to strengthen the role of art at the NASM. Over three decades after its arrival, however, the NASA art accession of 2,091 works still constitutes almost half of the NASM art collection.

(1) Stevenson's portrait is now in the collection of the National Air and Space Museum (1981-627)

(2) James E. Webb to Hiden Cox, March 16, 1962, memorandum in the NASA art historical collection, Aeronautics Division, National air and Space Museum. Webb's preference for a group portrait of the astronauts was apparently not heeded. In the end, Stevenson painted an individual portrait of John Glenn, which is also in the NASM collection (1963-398).

(3) Shelby Thompson, memorandum for the record, July 6, 1962, NASA art historical collection, NASA, Aeronautics Division.

(4) John Walker draft of a talk, March 5, 1965, copy in NASA Art historical collection, NASM Aeronautics Division.

(5) James Dean, memorandum for the record, August 6, 1973, NASA art history collection, NASM Aeronautics Division.

(6) Director of Planning and Media Development to Assistant Administrator for Public Affairs, January 24, 1974, NASA art history collection, NASM Aeronautics Division.

(7) James Dean to the Assistant Administrator for Public Affairs, January 24, 1974, copy in NASA Art history Collection, Aeronautics Division, NASM.

Tom D. Crouch

Senior Curator, Aeronautics

National Air and Space Museum

Smithsonian Institution

July 26, 2007

Gemini-Rendezvous

National Air and Space Museum
Woodblock print with black ink on white translucent paper with long fibers. Gemini-rendevous, 1966.

In March 1962, James Webb, Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, suggested that artists be enlisted to document the historic effort to send the first human beings to the moon. John Walker, director of the National Gallery of Art, was among those who applauded the idea, urging that artists be encouraged "…not only to record the physical appearance of the strange new world which space technology is creating, but to edit, select and probe for the inner meaning and emotional impact of events which may change the destiny of our race."

Working together, James Dean, a young artist employed by the NASA Public Affairs office, and Dr. H. Lester Cooke, curator of paintings at the National Gallery of Art, created a program that dispatched artists to NASA facilities with an invitation to paint whatever interested them. The result was an extraordinary collection of works of art proving, as one observer noted, "that America produced not only scientists and engineers capable of shaping the destiny of our age, but also artists worthy to keep them company." Transferred to the National Air and Space Museum in 1975, the NASA art collection remains one of the most important elements of what has become perhaps the world's finest collection of aerospace themed art.

The spring of 1962 was a busy time for the men and women of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. On February 20, John H. Glenn became the first American to orbit the earth. For the first time since the launch of Sputnik 1 on October 4, 1957, the U.S. was positioned to match and exceed Soviet achievements in space. NASA was an agency with a mission -- to meet President John F. Kennedy's challenge of sending human beings to the moon and returning them safely to earth by the end of the decade. Within a year, three more Mercury astronauts would fly into orbit. Plans were falling into place for a follow-on series of two-man Gemini missions that would set the stage for the Apollo voyages to the moon.

In early March 1962, artist Bruce Stevenson brought his large portrait of Alan Shepard, the first American to fly in space, to NASA headquarters.(1) James E. Webb, the administrator of NASA, assumed that the artist was interested in painting a similar portrait of all seven of the Mercury astronauts. Instead, Webb voiced his preference for a group portrait that would emphasize "…the team effort and the togetherness that has characterized the first group of astronauts to be trained by this nation." More important, the episode convinced the administrator that "…we should consider in a deliberate way just what NASA should do in the field of fine arts to commemorate the …historic events" of the American space program.(2)

In addition to portraits, Webb wanted to encourage artists to capture the excitement and deeper meaning of space flight. He imagined "a nighttime scene showing the great amount of activity involved in the preparation of and countdown for launching," as well as paintings that portrayed activities in space. "The important thing," he concluded, "is to develop a policy on how we intend to treat this matter now and in the next several years and then to get down to the specifics of how we intend to implement this policy…." The first step, he suggested, was to consult with experts in the field, including the director of the National Gallery of Art, and the members of the Fine Arts Commission, the arbiters of architectural and artistic taste who passed judgment on the appearance of official buildings and monuments in the nation's capital.

Webb's memo of March 16, 1962 was the birth certificate of the NASA art program. Shelby Thompson, the director of the agency's Office of Educational Programs and Services, assigned James Dean, a young artist working as a special assistant in his office, to the project. On June 19, 1962 Thompson met with the Fine Arts Commission, requesting advice as to how "…NASA should develop a basis for use of paintings and sculptures to depict significant historical events and other activities in our program."(3)

David E. Finley, the chairman and former director of the National Gallery of Art, applauded the idea, and suggested that the agency should study the experience of the U.S. Air Force, which had amassed some 800 paintings since establishing an art program in 1954. He also introduced Thompson to Hereward Lester Cooke, curator of paintings at the National Gallery of Art.

An imposing bear of a man standing over six feet tall, Lester Cooke was a graduate of Yale and Oxford, with a Princeton PhD. The son of a physics professor and a veteran of the U.S. Army Air Forces, he was both fascinated by science and felt a personal connection to flight. On a professional level, Cooke had directed American participation in international art competitions and produced articles and illustrations for the National Geographic Magazine. He jumped at the chance to advise NASA on its art program.

While initially cautious with regard to the time the project might require of one of his chief curators, John Walker, director of the National Gallery, quickly became one of the most vocal supporters of the NASA art initiative. Certain that "the present space exploration effort by the United States will probably rank among the more important events in the history of mankind," Walker believed that "every possible method of documentation …be used." Artists should be expected "…not only to record the physical appearance of the strange new world which space technology is creating, but to edit, select and probe for the inner meaning and emotional impact of events which may change the destiny of our race." He urged quick action so that "the full flavor of the achievement …not be lost," and hoped that "the past held captive" in any paintings resulting from the effort "will prove to future generations that America produced not only scientists and engineers capable of shaping the destiny of our age, but also artists worthy to keep them company."(4)

Gordon Cooper, the last Mercury astronaut to fly, was scheduled to ride an Atlas rocket into orbit on May 15, 1963. That event would provide the ideal occasion for a test run of the plan Cooke and Dean evolved to launch the art program. In mid-February, Cooke provided Thompson with a list of the artists who should be invited to travel to Cape Canaveral to record their impressions of the event. Andrew Wyeth, whom the curator identified as "the top artist in the U.S. today," headed the list. When the time came, however, Andrew Wyeth did not go to the Cape for the Cooper launch, but his son Jamie would participate in the program during the Gemini and Apollo years.

The list of invited artists also included Peter Hurd, Andrew Wyeth's brother-in-law, who had served as a wartime artist with the Army Air Force; George Weymouth, whom Wyeth regarded as "the best of his pupils"; and John McCoy, another Wyeth associate. Cooke regarded the next man on the list, Robert McCall, who had been running the Air Force art program, as "America's top aero-space illustrator. Paul Calle and Robert Shore had both painted for the Air Force program. Mitchell Jamieson, who had run a unit of the Navy art program during WW II, rounded out the program. Alfred Blaustein was the only artist to turn down the invitation.

The procedures that would remain in place for more than a decade were given a trial run in the spring of 1963. The artists received an $800 commission, which had to cover any expenses incurred while visiting a NASA facility where they could paint whatever interested them. In return, they would present their finished pieces, and all of their sketches, to the space agency. The experiment was a success, and what might have been a one-time effort to dispatch artists to witness and record the Gordon Cooper flight provided the basis for an on-going, if small-scale, program. By the end of 1970, Jim Dean and Lester Cooke had dispatched 38 artists to Mercury, Gemini and Apollo launches and to other NASA facilities.

The art program became everything that Jim Webb had hoped it would be. NASA artists produced stunning works of art that documented the agency's step-by-step progress on the way to the moon. The early fruits of the program were presented in a lavishly illustrated book, Eyewitness to Space (New York: Abrams, 1971). Works from the collection illustrated NASA publications and were the basis for educational film strips aimed at school children. In 1965 and again in 1969 the National Gallery of Art mounted two major exhibitions of work from the NASA collection. The USIA sent a selection of NASA paintings overseas, while the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service created two exhibitions of NASA art that toured the nation.

"Since we …began," Dean noted in a reflection on the tenth anniversary of the program, the art initiative had resulted in a long string of positive "press interviews and reports, congressional inquiries, columns in the Congressional Record, [and] White House reports." The NASA effort, he continued, had directly inspired other government art programs. "The Department of the Interior (at least two programs), the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of the Army and even the Veterans Administration have, or are starting, art programs." While he could not take all of the credit, Dean insisted that "our success has encouraged other agencies to get involved and they have succeeded, too."(5)

For all of that, he noted, it was still necessary to "defend" the role of art in the space agency. Dean, with the assistance of Lester Cooke, had been a one-man show, handling the complex logistics of the program, receiving and cataloguing works of art, hanging them himself in museums or on office walls, and struggling to find adequate storage space. In January 1976, a NASA supervisor went so far as to comment that: "Mr. Dean is far too valuable in other areas to spend his time on the relatively menial …jobs he is often burdened with in connection with the art program."(6) Dean placed a much higher value on the art collection, and immediately recommended that NASA officials either devote additional resources to the program, or get out of the art business and turn the existing collection over the National Air and Space Museum, "where it can be properly cared for."(7)

In January 1974 a new building for the National Air and Space Museum (NASM) was taking shape right across the street from NASA headquarters. Discussions regarding areas of cooperation were already underway between NASA officials and museum director Michael Collins, who had flown to the moon as a member of the Apollo 11 crew. Before the end of the year, the space agency had transferred its art collection to the NASM. Mike Collins succeeded in luring Jim Dean to the museum, as well.

The museum already maintained a small art collection, including portraits of aerospace heroes, an assortment of 18th and 19th century prints illustrating the early history of the balloon, an eclectic assortment of works portraying aspects of the history of aviation and a few recent prizes, including several Norman Rockwell paintings of NASA activity. With the acquisition of the NASA art, the museum was in possession of one of the world's great collections of art exploring aerospace themes. Jim Dean would continue to build the NASM collection as the museum's first curator of art. Following his retirement in 1980, other curators would follow in his footsteps, continuing to strengthen the role of art at the NASM. Over three decades after its arrival, however, the NASA art accession of 2,091 works still constitutes almost half of the NASM art collection.

(1) Stevenson's portrait is now in the collection of the National Air and Space Museum (1981-627)

(2) James E. Webb to Hiden Cox, March 16, 1962, memorandum in the NASA art historical collection, Aeronautics Division, National air and Space Museum. Webb's preference for a group portrait of the astronauts was apparently not heeded. In the end, Stevenson painted an individual portrait of John Glenn, which is also in the NASM collection (1963-398).

(3) Shelby Thompson, memorandum for the record, July 6, 1962, NASA art historical collection, NASA, Aeronautics Division.

(4) John Walker draft of a talk, March 5, 1965, copy in NASA Art historical collection, NASM Aeronautics Division.

(5) James Dean, memorandum for the record, August 6, 1973, NASA art history collection, NASM Aeronautics Division.

(6) Director of Planning and Media Development to Assistant Administrator for Public Affairs, January 24, 1974, NASA art history collection, NASM Aeronautics Division.

(7) James Dean to the Assistant Administrator for Public Affairs, January 24, 1974, copy in NASA Art history Collection, Aeronautics Division, NASM.

Tom D. Crouch

Senior Curator, Aeronautics

National Air and Space Museum

Smithsonian Institution

July 26, 2007

Die Astronauten X Undy

National Air and Space Museum
Woodblock print with black ink on white translucent paper with long fibers. Die Astronauten X Undy, 1966.

In March 1962, James Webb, Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, suggested that artists be enlisted to document the historic effort to send the first human beings to the moon. John Walker, director of the National Gallery of Art, was among those who applauded the idea, urging that artists be encouraged "…not only to record the physical appearance of the strange new world which space technology is creating, but to edit, select and probe for the inner meaning and emotional impact of events which may change the destiny of our race."

Working together, James Dean, a young artist employed by the NASA Public Affairs office, and Dr. H. Lester Cooke, curator of paintings at the National Gallery of Art, created a program that dispatched artists to NASA facilities with an invitation to paint whatever interested them. The result was an extraordinary collection of works of art proving, as one observer noted, "that America produced not only scientists and engineers capable of shaping the destiny of our age, but also artists worthy to keep them company." Transferred to the National Air and Space Museum in 1975, the NASA art collection remains one of the most important elements of what has become perhaps the world's finest collection of aerospace themed art.

The spring of 1962 was a busy time for the men and women of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. On February 20, John H. Glenn became the first American to orbit the earth. For the first time since the launch of Sputnik 1 on October 4, 1957, the U.S. was positioned to match and exceed Soviet achievements in space. NASA was an agency with a mission -- to meet President John F. Kennedy's challenge of sending human beings to the moon and returning them safely to earth by the end of the decade. Within a year, three more Mercury astronauts would fly into orbit. Plans were falling into place for a follow-on series of two-man Gemini missions that would set the stage for the Apollo voyages to the moon.

In early March 1962, artist Bruce Stevenson brought his large portrait of Alan Shepard, the first American to fly in space, to NASA headquarters.(1) James E. Webb, the administrator of NASA, assumed that the artist was interested in painting a similar portrait of all seven of the Mercury astronauts. Instead, Webb voiced his preference for a group portrait that would emphasize "…the team effort and the togetherness that has characterized the first group of astronauts to be trained by this nation." More important, the episode convinced the administrator that "…we should consider in a deliberate way just what NASA should do in the field of fine arts to commemorate the …historic events" of the American space program.(2)

In addition to portraits, Webb wanted to encourage artists to capture the excitement and deeper meaning of space flight. He imagined "a nighttime scene showing the great amount of activity involved in the preparation of and countdown for launching," as well as paintings that portrayed activities in space. "The important thing," he concluded, "is to develop a policy on how we intend to treat this matter now and in the next several years and then to get down to the specifics of how we intend to implement this policy…." The first step, he suggested, was to consult with experts in the field, including the director of the National Gallery of Art, and the members of the Fine Arts Commission, the arbiters of architectural and artistic taste who passed judgment on the appearance of official buildings and monuments in the nation's capital.

Webb's memo of March 16, 1962 was the birth certificate of the NASA art program. Shelby Thompson, the director of the agency's Office of Educational Programs and Services, assigned James Dean, a young artist working as a special assistant in his office, to the project. On June 19, 1962 Thompson met with the Fine Arts Commission, requesting advice as to how "…NASA should develop a basis for use of paintings and sculptures to depict significant historical events and other activities in our program."(3)

David E. Finley, the chairman and former director of the National Gallery of Art, applauded the idea, and suggested that the agency should study the experience of the U.S. Air Force, which had amassed some 800 paintings since establishing an art program in 1954. He also introduced Thompson to Hereward Lester Cooke, curator of paintings at the National Gallery of Art.

An imposing bear of a man standing over six feet tall, Lester Cooke was a graduate of Yale and Oxford, with a Princeton PhD. The son of a physics professor and a veteran of the U.S. Army Air Forces, he was both fascinated by science and felt a personal connection to flight. On a professional level, Cooke had directed American participation in international art competitions and produced articles and illustrations for the National Geographic Magazine. He jumped at the chance to advise NASA on its art program.

While initially cautious with regard to the time the project might require of one of his chief curators, John Walker, director of the National Gallery, quickly became one of the most vocal supporters of the NASA art initiative. Certain that "the present space exploration effort by the United States will probably rank among the more important events in the history of mankind," Walker believed that "every possible method of documentation …be used." Artists should be expected "…not only to record the physical appearance of the strange new world which space technology is creating, but to edit, select and probe for the inner meaning and emotional impact of events which may change the destiny of our race." He urged quick action so that "the full flavor of the achievement …not be lost," and hoped that "the past held captive" in any paintings resulting from the effort "will prove to future generations that America produced not only scientists and engineers capable of shaping the destiny of our age, but also artists worthy to keep them company."(4)

Gordon Cooper, the last Mercury astronaut to fly, was scheduled to ride an Atlas rocket into orbit on May 15, 1963. That event would provide the ideal occasion for a test run of the plan Cooke and Dean evolved to launch the art program. In mid-February, Cooke provided Thompson with a list of the artists who should be invited to travel to Cape Canaveral to record their impressions of the event. Andrew Wyeth, whom the curator identified as "the top artist in the U.S. today," headed the list. When the time came, however, Andrew Wyeth did not go to the Cape for the Cooper launch, but his son Jamie would participate in the program during the Gemini and Apollo years.

The list of invited artists also included Peter Hurd, Andrew Wyeth's brother-in-law, who had served as a wartime artist with the Army Air Force; George Weymouth, whom Wyeth regarded as "the best of his pupils"; and John McCoy, another Wyeth associate. Cooke regarded the next man on the list, Robert McCall, who had been running the Air Force art program, as "America's top aero-space illustrator. Paul Calle and Robert Shore had both painted for the Air Force program. Mitchell Jamieson, who had run a unit of the Navy art program during WW II, rounded out the program. Alfred Blaustein was the only artist to turn down the invitation.

The procedures that would remain in place for more than a decade were given a trial run in the spring of 1963. The artists received an $800 commission, which had to cover any expenses incurred while visiting a NASA facility where they could paint whatever interested them. In return, they would present their finished pieces, and all of their sketches, to the space agency. The experiment was a success, and what might have been a one-time effort to dispatch artists to witness and record the Gordon Cooper flight provided the basis for an on-going, if small-scale, program. By the end of 1970, Jim Dean and Lester Cooke had dispatched 38 artists to Mercury, Gemini and Apollo launches and to other NASA facilities.

The art program became everything that Jim Webb had hoped it would be. NASA artists produced stunning works of art that documented the agency's step-by-step progress on the way to the moon. The early fruits of the program were presented in a lavishly illustrated book, Eyewitness to Space (New York: Abrams, 1971). Works from the collection illustrated NASA publications and were the basis for educational film strips aimed at school children. In 1965 and again in 1969 the National Gallery of Art mounted two major exhibitions of work from the NASA collection. The USIA sent a selection of NASA paintings overseas, while the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service created two exhibitions of NASA art that toured the nation.

"Since we …began," Dean noted in a reflection on the tenth anniversary of the program, the art initiative had resulted in a long string of positive "press interviews and reports, congressional inquiries, columns in the Congressional Record, [and] White House reports." The NASA effort, he continued, had directly inspired other government art programs. "The Department of the Interior (at least two programs), the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of the Army and even the Veterans Administration have, or are starting, art programs." While he could not take all of the credit, Dean insisted that "our success has encouraged other agencies to get involved and they have succeeded, too."(5)

For all of that, he noted, it was still necessary to "defend" the role of art in the space agency. Dean, with the assistance of Lester Cooke, had been a one-man show, handling the complex logistics of the program, receiving and cataloguing works of art, hanging them himself in museums or on office walls, and struggling to find adequate storage space. In January 1976, a NASA supervisor went so far as to comment that: "Mr. Dean is far too valuable in other areas to spend his time on the relatively menial …jobs he is often burdened with in connection with the art program."(6) Dean placed a much higher value on the art collection, and immediately recommended that NASA officials either devote additional resources to the program, or get out of the art business and turn the existing collection over the National Air and Space Museum, "where it can be properly cared for."(7)

In January 1974 a new building for the National Air and Space Museum (NASM) was taking shape right across the street from NASA headquarters. Discussions regarding areas of cooperation were already underway between NASA officials and museum director Michael Collins, who had flown to the moon as a member of the Apollo 11 crew. Before the end of the year, the space agency had transferred its art collection to the NASM. Mike Collins succeeded in luring Jim Dean to the museum, as well.

The museum already maintained a small art collection, including portraits of aerospace heroes, an assortment of 18th and 19th century prints illustrating the early history of the balloon, an eclectic assortment of works portraying aspects of the history of aviation and a few recent prizes, including several Norman Rockwell paintings of NASA activity. With the acquisition of the NASA art, the museum was in possession of one of the world's great collections of art exploring aerospace themes. Jim Dean would continue to build the NASM collection as the museum's first curator of art. Following his retirement in 1980, other curators would follow in his footsteps, continuing to strengthen the role of art at the NASM. Over three decades after its arrival, however, the NASA art accession of 2,091 works still constitutes almost half of the NASM art collection.

(1) Stevenson's portrait is now in the collection of the National Air and Space Museum (1981-627)

(2) James E. Webb to Hiden Cox, March 16, 1962, memorandum in the NASA art historical collection, Aeronautics Division, National air and Space Museum. Webb's preference for a group portrait of the astronauts was apparently not heeded. In the end, Stevenson painted an individual portrait of John Glenn, which is also in the NASM collection (1963-398).

(3) Shelby Thompson, memorandum for the record, July 6, 1962, NASA art historical collection, NASA, Aeronautics Division.

(4) John Walker draft of a talk, March 5, 1965, copy in NASA Art historical collection, NASM Aeronautics Division.

(5) James Dean, memorandum for the record, August 6, 1973, NASA art history collection, NASM Aeronautics Division.

(6) Director of Planning and Media Development to Assistant Administrator for Public Affairs, January 24, 1974, NASA art history collection, NASM Aeronautics Division.

(7) James Dean to the Assistant Administrator for Public Affairs, January 24, 1974, copy in NASA Art history Collection, Aeronautics Division, NASM.

Tom D. Crouch

Senior Curator, Aeronautics

National Air and Space Museum

Smithsonian Institution

July 26, 2007

Kosmische Fahrt

National Air and Space Museum
Woodblock print with black ink on white translucent paper with long fibers. Kosmische Fahrt, 1966.

In March 1962, James Webb, Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, suggested that artists be enlisted to document the historic effort to send the first human beings to the moon. John Walker, director of the National Gallery of Art, was among those who applauded the idea, urging that artists be encouraged "…not only to record the physical appearance of the strange new world which space technology is creating, but to edit, select and probe for the inner meaning and emotional impact of events which may change the destiny of our race."

Working together, James Dean, a young artist employed by the NASA Public Affairs office, and Dr. H. Lester Cooke, curator of paintings at the National Gallery of Art, created a program that dispatched artists to NASA facilities with an invitation to paint whatever interested them. The result was an extraordinary collection of works of art proving, as one observer noted, "that America produced not only scientists and engineers capable of shaping the destiny of our age, but also artists worthy to keep them company." Transferred to the National Air and Space Museum in 1975, the NASA art collection remains one of the most important elements of what has become perhaps the world's finest collection of aerospace themed art.

The spring of 1962 was a busy time for the men and women of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. On February 20, John H. Glenn became the first American to orbit the earth. For the first time since the launch of Sputnik 1 on October 4, 1957, the U.S. was positioned to match and exceed Soviet achievements in space. NASA was an agency with a mission -- to meet President John F. Kennedy's challenge of sending human beings to the moon and returning them safely to earth by the end of the decade. Within a year, three more Mercury astronauts would fly into orbit. Plans were falling into place for a follow-on series of two-man Gemini missions that would set the stage for the Apollo voyages to the moon.

In early March 1962, artist Bruce Stevenson brought his large portrait of Alan Shepard, the first American to fly in space, to NASA headquarters.(1) James E. Webb, the administrator of NASA, assumed that the artist was interested in painting a similar portrait of all seven of the Mercury astronauts. Instead, Webb voiced his preference for a group portrait that would emphasize "…the team effort and the togetherness that has characterized the first group of astronauts to be trained by this nation." More important, the episode convinced the administrator that "…we should consider in a deliberate way just what NASA should do in the field of fine arts to commemorate the …historic events" of the American space program.(2)

In addition to portraits, Webb wanted to encourage artists to capture the excitement and deeper meaning of space flight. He imagined "a nighttime scene showing the great amount of activity involved in the preparation of and countdown for launching," as well as paintings that portrayed activities in space. "The important thing," he concluded, "is to develop a policy on how we intend to treat this matter now and in the next several years and then to get down to the specifics of how we intend to implement this policy…." The first step, he suggested, was to consult with experts in the field, including the director of the National Gallery of Art, and the members of the Fine Arts Commission, the arbiters of architectural and artistic taste who passed judgment on the appearance of official buildings and monuments in the nation's capital.

Webb's memo of March 16, 1962 was the birth certificate of the NASA art program. Shelby Thompson, the director of the agency's Office of Educational Programs and Services, assigned James Dean, a young artist working as a special assistant in his office, to the project. On June 19, 1962 Thompson met with the Fine Arts Commission, requesting advice as to how "…NASA should develop a basis for use of paintings and sculptures to depict significant historical events and other activities in our program."(3)

David E. Finley, the chairman and former director of the National Gallery of Art, applauded the idea, and suggested that the agency should study the experience of the U.S. Air Force, which had amassed some 800 paintings since establishing an art program in 1954. He also introduced Thompson to Hereward Lester Cooke, curator of paintings at the National Gallery of Art.

An imposing bear of a man standing over six feet tall, Lester Cooke was a graduate of Yale and Oxford, with a Princeton PhD. The son of a physics professor and a veteran of the U.S. Army Air Forces, he was both fascinated by science and felt a personal connection to flight. On a professional level, Cooke had directed American participation in international art competitions and produced articles and illustrations for the National Geographic Magazine. He jumped at the chance to advise NASA on its art program.

While initially cautious with regard to the time the project might require of one of his chief curators, John Walker, director of the National Gallery, quickly became one of the most vocal supporters of the NASA art initiative. Certain that "the present space exploration effort by the United States will probably rank among the more important events in the history of mankind," Walker believed that "every possible method of documentation …be used." Artists should be expected "…not only to record the physical appearance of the strange new world which space technology is creating, but to edit, select and probe for the inner meaning and emotional impact of events which may change the destiny of our race." He urged quick action so that "the full flavor of the achievement …not be lost," and hoped that "the past held captive" in any paintings resulting from the effort "will prove to future generations that America produced not only scientists and engineers capable of shaping the destiny of our age, but also artists worthy to keep them company."(4)

Gordon Cooper, the last Mercury astronaut to fly, was scheduled to ride an Atlas rocket into orbit on May 15, 1963. That event would provide the ideal occasion for a test run of the plan Cooke and Dean evolved to launch the art program. In mid-February, Cooke provided Thompson with a list of the artists who should be invited to travel to Cape Canaveral to record their impressions of the event. Andrew Wyeth, whom the curator identified as "the top artist in the U.S. today," headed the list. When the time came, however, Andrew Wyeth did not go to the Cape for the Cooper launch, but his son Jamie would participate in the program during the Gemini and Apollo years.

The list of invited artists also included Peter Hurd, Andrew Wyeth's brother-in-law, who had served as a wartime artist with the Army Air Force; George Weymouth, whom Wyeth regarded as "the best of his pupils"; and John McCoy, another Wyeth associate. Cooke regarded the next man on the list, Robert McCall, who had been running the Air Force art program, as "America's top aero-space illustrator. Paul Calle and Robert Shore had both painted for the Air Force program. Mitchell Jamieson, who had run a unit of the Navy art program during WW II, rounded out the program. Alfred Blaustein was the only artist to turn down the invitation.

The procedures that would remain in place for more than a decade were given a trial run in the spring of 1963. The artists received an $800 commission, which had to cover any expenses incurred while visiting a NASA facility where they could paint whatever interested them. In return, they would present their finished pieces, and all of their sketches, to the space agency. The experiment was a success, and what might have been a one-time effort to dispatch artists to witness and record the Gordon Cooper flight provided the basis for an on-going, if small-scale, program. By the end of 1970, Jim Dean and Lester Cooke had dispatched 38 artists to Mercury, Gemini and Apollo launches and to other NASA facilities.

The art program became everything that Jim Webb had hoped it would be. NASA artists produced stunning works of art that documented the agency's step-by-step progress on the way to the moon. The early fruits of the program were presented in a lavishly illustrated book, Eyewitness to Space (New York: Abrams, 1971). Works from the collection illustrated NASA publications and were the basis for educational film strips aimed at school children. In 1965 and again in 1969 the National Gallery of Art mounted two major exhibitions of work from the NASA collection. The USIA sent a selection of NASA paintings overseas, while the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service created two exhibitions of NASA art that toured the nation.

"Since we …began," Dean noted in a reflection on the tenth anniversary of the program, the art initiative had resulted in a long string of positive "press interviews and reports, congressional inquiries, columns in the Congressional Record, [and] White House reports." The NASA effort, he continued, had directly inspired other government art programs. "The Department of the Interior (at least two programs), the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of the Army and even the Veterans Administration have, or are starting, art programs." While he could not take all of the credit, Dean insisted that "our success has encouraged other agencies to get involved and they have succeeded, too."(5)

For all of that, he noted, it was still necessary to "defend" the role of art in the space agency. Dean, with the assistance of Lester Cooke, had been a one-man show, handling the complex logistics of the program, receiving and cataloguing works of art, hanging them himself in museums or on office walls, and struggling to find adequate storage space. In January 1976, a NASA supervisor went so far as to comment that: "Mr. Dean is far too valuable in other areas to spend his time on the relatively menial …jobs he is often burdened with in connection with the art program."(6) Dean placed a much higher value on the art collection, and immediately recommended that NASA officials either devote additional resources to the program, or get out of the art business and turn the existing collection over the National Air and Space Museum, "where it can be properly cared for."(7)

In January 1974 a new building for the National Air and Space Museum (NASM) was taking shape right across the street from NASA headquarters. Discussions regarding areas of cooperation were already underway between NASA officials and museum director Michael Collins, who had flown to the moon as a member of the Apollo 11 crew. Before the end of the year, the space agency had transferred its art collection to the NASM. Mike Collins succeeded in luring Jim Dean to the museum, as well.

The museum already maintained a small art collection, including portraits of aerospace heroes, an assortment of 18th and 19th century prints illustrating the early history of the balloon, an eclectic assortment of works portraying aspects of the history of aviation and a few recent prizes, including several Norman Rockwell paintings of NASA activity. With the acquisition of the NASA art, the museum was in possession of one of the world's great collections of art exploring aerospace themes. Jim Dean would continue to build the NASM collection as the museum's first curator of art. Following his retirement in 1980, other curators would follow in his footsteps, continuing to strengthen the role of art at the NASM. Over three decades after its arrival, however, the NASA art accession of 2,091 works still constitutes almost half of the NASM art collection.

(1) Stevenson's portrait is now in the collection of the National Air and Space Museum (1981-627)

(2) James E. Webb to Hiden Cox, March 16, 1962, memorandum in the NASA art historical collection, Aeronautics Division, National air and Space Museum. Webb's preference for a group portrait of the astronauts was apparently not heeded. In the end, Stevenson painted an individual portrait of John Glenn, which is also in the NASM collection (1963-398).

(3) Shelby Thompson, memorandum for the record, July 6, 1962, NASA art historical collection, NASA, Aeronautics Division.

(4) John Walker draft of a talk, March 5, 1965, copy in NASA Art historical collection, NASM Aeronautics Division.

(5) James Dean, memorandum for the record, August 6, 1973, NASA art history collection, NASM Aeronautics Division.

(6) Director of Planning and Media Development to Assistant Administrator for Public Affairs, January 24, 1974, NASA art history collection, NASM Aeronautics Division.

(7) James Dean to the Assistant Administrator for Public Affairs, January 24, 1974, copy in NASA Art history Collection, Aeronautics Division, NASM.

Tom D. Crouch

Senior Curator, Aeronautics

National Air and Space Museum

Smithsonian Institution

July 26, 2007

Welcome to Rawda

Smithsonian Magazine

It's 8 p.m. on a Friday night at Rawda, a coffee house in the Al Sahin district of Damascus, Syria, and the regulars are filing in. They occupy chairs and tables under languid ceiling fans and a haphazardly joined ceiling of corrugated plastic sheets. Water pipes are summoned, primed and ignited, and soon the din of conversation is dueling with the clatter of dice skittering across backgammon boards.

Once a movie theater, Rawda is an enclave for artists and intellectuals in a country where dissent is regularly smothered in its crib. Lately, it has become a bosom for the dispossessed. The war in Iraq has triggered a mass exodus of refugees to neighboring Syria, and Rawda plays hosts to a growing number of them. Most are artists, orphaned by a conflict that has outlawed art.

"We can no longer work in Iraq," says Haidar Hilou, an award-winning screenwriter. "It is a nation of people with guns drawn against each other. I can't even take my son to the movies."

Some two million Iraqis have fled the sectarian violence in Iraq. They are Sunnis driven out by Shiite militias and Shias threatened by the Sunni insurgency. They include some of the country's most accomplished professionals—doctors, engineers and educators—targets in the militants' assault on the Iraqi economy.

But there is another war in Iraq, one on artistic expression and critical thought. Among the exiles slumping their way to Damascus are writers, painters, sculptors, musicians and filmmakers, who are as important to Iraq's national fiber as its white-collar elites. Rawda, which means "garden" in Arabic and was itself founded by Russian émigrés before World War II, has become their smoke-filled sanctuary.

"People from all walks of life come here," says dissident Abu Halou, who left Baghdad in the 1970s and is now the unofficial "mayor" of Syria's Iraqi diaspora. He says the owners were once offered several million U.S. dollars in Syrian pounds by a developer who wanted to turn Rawda into a shopping mall. "They turned him down," Abu Halou says, seated as always at the main entrance, where he appraises all new comers. "The family understands how important this place is to the community."

For the Iraqis, Rawda is a refuge of secularism and modernity against pathological intolerance back home. They swap tales, like the one about the Baghdadi ice merchant who was attacked for selling something that did not exist during the time of the Prophet, or the one about the motorist who was shot by a militant for carrying a spare tire—a precaution that, for the killer, betrayed an unacceptable lack of faith. In Syria, at least, the art colonists of Rawda can hone their skills while the sectarian holocaust rages next door.

"The militants believe art is taboo," says Bassam Hammad, a 34-year-old sculptor. "At least here, we can preserve the spirit of Iraq, the smells of the place. Then maybe a new school can emerge."

After the fall of Saddam Hussein, Hammad says he was cautiously optimistic about the future. But as the insurgency grew in intensity, so did proscriptions against secular expression. Liquor stores were torched, women were drenched with acid for not wearing the veil and art of any kind was declared blasphemous. In July 2005, Hammad was commissioned by a Baghdad municipal council to create a statue that would honor 35 children who were killed in a car bombing. It was destroyed by militants within two months, he says.

Image by Stephen J. Glain. Once a movie theater, Rawda is an enclave for artists and intellectuals in Syria, where dissent is regularly smothered in its crib. (original image)

Image by Stephen J. Glain. "We can no longer work in Iraq," says Haidar Hilou, an award-winning screenwriter. (original image)

Image by Stephen J. Glain. Rawda, which means "garden" in Arabic, has become a smoke-filled sanctuary for writers, painters, sculptors, musicians and filmmakers. (original image)

Though Hammad turned down two more such commissions, he began receiving death threats taped to the door of his home. He remained locked indoors for five months before he abandoned Iraq for Syria. "They made me a prisoner in my home," he says. "So I came here."

Iraq was once legendary for its pampered bourgeoisie, and its artists were no exception. Just as Saddam Hussein, a frustrated painter who fancied himself an adept playwright, subsidized Iraq's professional classes, he also gave its painters, musicians and sculptors generous stipends. They were allowed to keep whatever money they could make selling their work, tax-free, and the state would often buy what was left over from gallery exhibitions. Like athletes from the old Soviet Union, young students were tested for artistic aptitude and the brightest ones were given scholarships to study art and design, including at the Saddam Center for the Arts, Mesopotamia's own Sorbonne. Iraqi art festivals would attract artists from all over the Middle East.

In a surreal counterpoint worthy of a Dali landscape, Baghdad under Saddam was a hothouse for aestheticism and culture. "It was so easy to be an artist then," says Shakr Al Alousi, a painter who left Baghdad after his house was destroyed during an American bombing raid. "It was a golden age for us, providing you stayed away from politics."

Filmmaker Ziad Turki and some friends enter Rawda and take their positions in one of the naves that abut the main courtyard. At 43, Turki was born too late to experience modern Iraq's artistic apex. A veteran of several battles during the Iraq-Iran war, he remembers only the deprivation of the embargo that was imposed on Iraq following its 1990 invasion of Kuwait. Turki studied cinematography at the Art Academy of Baghdad and after graduating made a series of short films with friends, including Haider Hilou.

In July 2003, they began producing a movie about the U.S. invasion and the insurgency that followed. They used rolls of 35-millimeter Kodak film that was 22 years older than its expiration date and shot it with a borrowed camera. Whenever firefights erupted and car bombs exploded, says Turki, the crew would grab their gear and compete with news teams for footage. Everyone on the project was a volunteer, and only two of the players had any acting experience. Post-production work took place in Germany with the help of an Iraqi friend who was studying there.

Turki called his movie Underexposed. "It's about what is going on inside all Iraqis," he says, "the pain and anguish no one ever sees." The film cost $32,000 to make and it won the 2005 award for best Asian feature film at the Singapore International Film Festival. (Critics hailed the production's realistic, granular feel, says Turki, which he attributes to that outdated Kodak film.)

Syria once had a thriving movie industry, but it was claimed decades ago by cycles of war and autocracy. There is little for a filmmaker to do in Damascus, even celebrated ones like Turki and Hilou. They are currently producing short documentaries about refugees, if nothing else, to lubricate their skills. Turki draws inspiration from Francis Ford Coppola but models himself on the great Italian directors like Federico Felinni and Luigi Comencini, who could finesse powerful emotions from small, austere films. "As a third-world country, we will never make high-tech blockbusters," Turki says between tokes from a water pipe. "Our movies will be simple, spare. The point is that they be powerful and truthful."

Turki fled Iraq in November 2006 after militant set fire to his home. Like his fellow émigrés, he is grateful to Syria for allowing him in. (Neighboring Jordan, also home to about a million Iraqi exiles, is turning many away at the border.) But he's not sure where he'll end up. "Frankly, I don't know where I'll be tomorrow," he says.

Tonight at least, there is Rawda, proudly anachronistic, an old-world coffee house in one of the planet's final Starbucks-free frontiers. It may seem strange that refugee artists would find asylum in an authoritarian state like Syria, but perversity is one of the Arab world's most abundant resource these days. A war that was waged, retroactively at least, in the name of liberty and peace has made a neighboring autocracy look like an oasis.

"Art requires freedom of expression," says Hammad, the sculptor. "If we can't have it in Iraq, then at least we can create art in exile."

Stephen J. Glain is a Washington, D.C.-based contributing editor to Newsweek International.

Why Does Very Hot Water Sometimes Feel Cold?

Smithsonian Magazine

You trudge across the sodium lit street toward the front door, footsteps echoing off the adjacent houses—it’s been a long day. Plodding up the stairs, you enter the bathroom and turn on the shower. Finally, a time to relax and unwind. But when the steaming water first hits your skin, you're jolted by a sharp, icy-cold sensation, accompanied by searing pain. Why does that hot water feel so cold?

The human body senses temperature changes through specialized nerve endings called thermoreceptors, located just beneath the skin. These receptors are distributed throughout the body and are constantly transmitting temperature information to the brain. A decrease in temperature activates cold receptors, and an increase activates warm receptors. Thermoreceptors can also respond to specific chemicals. For example, menthol activates cold receptors, which explains the chilling sensation you might feel after brushing your teeth or using an analgesic cream. Capsaicin, a chemical found in chili peppers, has been shown to activate warm receptors, causing the familiar red-hot burning and sweating reaction that accompanies a spicy meal.

Cold receptors primarily react to temperatures ranging from 68 to 86˚F, while warm receptors are activated between 86˚F and 104˚F. At extreme temperatures—below 60˚F and beyond 113˚F—the temperature signal is accompanied by a sensation of pain. Weirdly, researchers have discovered that at temperatures greater than 113˚F, some cold receptors can also fire. This phenomenon, known as paradoxical cold, has puzzled scientists for decades. No one is quite sure why the effect happens, since it doesn't seem to offer an evolutionary or adaptive benefit, says Barry Green, director of the John B. Pierce Laboratory and professor of surgery at Yale University School of Medicine. Today researchers are considering a wide array of interpretations of the strange sensation.

The majority of scientists support the theory that paradoxical cold is a malfunction of the thermoreceptor system. Evidence suggests that pain receptors that respond to potentially harmful heat levels coexist on the same sensory fibers as cold thermoreceptors, says Lynette Jones, a senior research scientist at MIT. So when the nerve fiber sends a signal to the brain, it can sometimes be misinterpreted as a sensation of extreme cold. Paradoxical cold is the “strange operation of a system under unusual stimulation conditions,” she says.

It's also possible that cold receptors can do double duty, says Green. Based on his research, he thinks cold receptors can be recruited to help the brain sense potentially harmful temperatures at both hot and cold extremes. So instead of considering the input from cold and warm receptors separately, the brain integrates them.

“The brain is a highly economical computational machine. It is using all the information it can to make as quick and accurate a judgment as possible,” says Green. “There is an array of receptors that comes into play, and I believe it is the total readout that the brain is using.” This theory is supported by the fact that there are far more cold receptors beneath the skin than warm ones, and the signals from cold receptors actually travel to the brain up to ten times faster than signals from warm receptors. That suggests cold receptors could provide additional pain signaling when you encounter dangerous temperatures.

However, paradoxical cold only activates a subset of cold receptors, and your body temperature at the time determines whether you feel it. Having a higher internal body temperature lowers your threshold for sensing cold, so the warmer you are, the greater the chance of experiencing a paradoxical cold response.

Scientists have also confirmed the equally puzzling existence of paradoxical heat, in which even a relatively mild cold blast produces a hot sensation. Until sufficient research is found to tip the balance toward a particular theory, the actual workings of paradoxical sensations will remain a topic of heated debate in the scientific community.

The Mystery of What Venus de Milo Was Once Holding

Smithsonian Magazine

She was uncovered in 1820, armless but beautiful, on Melos, an island between mainland Greece and Crete. The Venus de Milo was claimed by France, and heralded as a prime example of classical art (though it was actually Hellenistic) and now graces the Louvre Museum in Paris. While her broken arms are now part of what makes her treasured, people have never stopped wondering what the original statue might have held. There have been many theories, writes Virginia Postrel for Slate:

She was imagined standing beside a warrior—Mars or Theseus—with her left hand grazing his shoulder. She was pictured holding a mirror, an apple, or laurel wreaths, sometimes with a pedestal to support her left arm. She was even depicted as a mother holding a baby. One popular turn-of-the-century theory understood her not as Venus but as Victory, supporting a shield on her left thigh and recording the names of heroes on it with her right hand. Other versions imagined her using the shield as a mirror, the goddess of beauty admiring her reflection.

One idea in particular piqued the interest of Elizabeth Wayland Barber, a professor emeritus at Occidental College who wrote the book Women’s Work: The First 20,000 Years. Perhaps, Barber thought, Venus was spinning thread. Spinning in ancient Greece had associations with fertility and sex — fitting for the goddess of love and reproduction. Women created thread, seemingly from nothing but a bit of fluff, similar to the mystery of birthing babies. Also, women on Greek vases depicted spinning are actually prostitutes occupying themselves as they wait for clients. 

The idea of a spinning Venus de Milo can be tested using the latest technology: 3D digital scanning and printing. Postrel describes how she hired the San Diego-based designer and artist Cosmo Wenman to do the job — figuring out exactly how the marble woman's arms were positioned. The result it a digital model, later printed table-top sized in white plastic by Shapeways, of Venus spinning.

While it's impossible to know what the original Venus was holding, Barber's model shows her with and upraised arm, only a shoulder on the statue, holding a distaff (a tool that contains the unspun fibers) and her other hand steadies the thread pulled down to the drop spindle

Wenman has argued that museums should all release 3D digital scans of masterpieces because they’d allow other artists to remake the works in new, innovative ways. Postrel writes:

Using his own scans, I knew that he’d restored the lost nose on the Louvre’s Inopos bust of Alexander the Great and had remixed elements of classical sculptures in a contemporary bust he’d done for a client. I also knew he had made a 3-D photocapture of the Venus from a highly accurate 1850 plaster cast now housed in the Skulpturhalle Basel in Switzerland.

Wenman realized that those spinning tools couldn’t have been made of marble because they would put too much weight on the arms, so he instead imagined them carved of wood. Postrel writes:

The re-creation provides a plausible answer to a question posed by the original advocate of a spinning Venus, archeologist Elmer G. Suhr, in the 1950s and 1960s. Suhr identified many classical sculptures with poses suggestive of spinning, but none of them had implements. Where did the tools go? Suhr argued that “the equipment of a spinner must have been a disturbing element to the artist,” who simply dispensed with the distaffs and spindles, assuming that “everyone in ancient times was sufficiently familiar with the process” to recognize the stance and gestures. Cosmo’s version suggests a better answer: that the tools were separate accessories made of perishable materials or precious metals and have simply been lost or stolen.

The process doesn’t prove that the Venus de Milo actually spun, but it does offer a possibility and demonstrates an interesting way to reimagine classic works of art.

Wisconsin - Cultural Destinations

Smithsonian Magazine

The Milwaukee Art Museum's permanent collection includes nearly 20,000 works from ancient objects to art of the present. Primary strengths are 19th- and 20th-century American and European works, contemporary art, American decorative arts, American and European folk art, and an outstanding Haitian art collection. The dramatic new Santiago Calatrava-designed expansion will feature changing exhibitions.

Considered one of the best natural history museums in the U.S., the Milwaukee Public Museum offers world-class exhibits of natural wonders, cultures and scientific discovery. Travel the world and celebrate the cultures of Africa, the Arctic, China, Japan, India, the Pacific Islands and Middle, Central and South America. Walk through the vanishing ecosystem of a Costa Rican rain forest. Visit the ancient civilizations of Egypt, Syria, Greece and Rome. The museum also features exhibits specific to the history of Wisconsin such as Streets of Old Milwaukee where hundreds of original period objects and structural elements reconstruct a bygone era.

Tucked away between major art players Milwaukee and Chicago, the Racine Art Museum (RAM) is surrounded by restaurants, bars, shops, galleries, and an urban beat reminiscent of Soho in New York—only smaller, and with cheaper parking. Sleek and modern, with translucent, opaque and iridescent architecture, the RAM holds a collection of artistic treasures that focuses on ceramics, fibers, glass, metals, and wood from nationally and internationally recognized artists in the craft movement.

In the shadow of the State Capitol building, just up the street from the University of Wisconsin campus, the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art features works of modern art from some of the most respected artists of the last century, including native daughter Georgia O'Keeffe, Romare Bearden, Cindy Sherman and Claes Oldenburg. The largest of the museum's new galleries, a 9,000-square-foot space with 18-foot ceilings, will enable the museum to mount exhibitions of an exhilarating scope and scale.

On Capitol Square in downtown Madison, the Wisconsin Historical Museum tells the story of the state's rich history from arrival of the earliest Native Americans to the successive waves of European migration. Explore Wisconsin's distinctive heritage and a variety of other American history topics through artifacts, photographs, dioramas, audio-visual presentations and interactive multimedia programs.

With just a small space devoted to its permanent collection (a small but stunning display of Chihuly, Lalique, and Steuben studio glass), the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum features ever-changing exhibits, so there's something new every few months, from Victorian needlework to Russian icons, from Egyptian objects to William Wegman photographs. Weather permitting, visitors can stroll the 4 acres of grounds along brick walkways and admire the Margaret Woodson Fisher Sculpture Gallery. The grounds also sport a formal English garden and shaded arbor with seating.

The Elvehjem is the art museum for the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Eight galleries feature selections from the museum's permanent collection of more than 17,500 works of art ranging from ancient to contemporary. Five of the galleries display European and American painting and sculpture but South Asian sculpture and East Asian scroll-painting can also be seen here.

Frank Lloyd Wright is widely regarded as America's greatest architect. Wisconsin, Wright's former home, is rich in public buildings and private residences created by the architect, including his own estate. Taliesin East emerges from behind a hillside in the Wyoming Valley, as a breathtaking work of wood and stone by Wright. Described as one of the greatest landscapes in America, the 600-acre estate was Wright's home and studio and it was here, among his beautiful objets d'art, which include Asian prints, Native American artifacts, Mission-style furniture and pottery, that Wright found his inspiration.

The Wright-designed First Unitarian Society Meeting House on Madison's near west side was completed in 1951 and is recognized as one of the world's most innovative examples of church architecture. The structure was constructed of native limestone and oak with large glass areas, a soaring copper roof and a deep-red concrete floor. One of its most prominent features is a prow made of interlacing glass and wood that creates an inspiring, light-filled space in the auditorium.

About an hour's drive north of Madison, the Seth Peterson Cottage stands on the edge of a wooded bluff overlooking picturesque Mirror Lake in Mirror Lake State Park. The only Wright-designed house in the world available today for public rental, the cottage was originally designed for a Wisconsin native with a lifelong interest in Wright's work. The elegant yet simple structure has been described as "having more architecture per square foot than any other building (Wright) ever designed." It can be rented for special events, meetings and overnight getaways, and public tours are given the second Sunday of each month.

Revered as one of "America's Castles," the Paine Art Center and Gardens is a unique combination of historic mansion, art galleries and botanical gardens. Experience the grandeur of a Tudor Revival manor house, a world-class collection of French and American landscape paintings and exquisite decorative objects. Surrounded by three acres of twenty themed garden design areas, the Paine offers a source of inspiration for art and nature lovers alike.

Established by an Act of Congress in 1958, the National Railroad Museum is home to thousands of artifacts and more than 70 pieces of rolling stock including diesel, steam and electric locomotives, and passenger and freight cars. A must-see is the largest steam locomotive ever operated, Union Pacific No. 4017 Big Boy. Admission fare includes a train ride aboard vintage rollick stock with historical narrative provided by the conductor.

The Circus World Museum houses the largest circus history collection in the world. Baraboo was the birthplace and home of the Ringling Borthers as well as the winter headquarters of their world-famous circus from 1874-1919. Home to more than 270 priceless circus parade wagons, the collections is the most extensive of its kind anywhere in the world. Visitors can also explore several buildings filled with model circuses, costumes, props and a collection of more than 10,000 circus posters.

Crown

National Museum of African Art
Stem on cone beaded crown with a panel veil with a bird attached to the top of tge stem with iron legs on top of two chameleons. Another bird is on front with the beak touching the stem. Male and female figures flank the frontal face design over the face veil. Male and female figures are kneeling and one male figure stands at the back. Beads are on the face veil and flaps in lattice and lozenge patterns, and similar designs are on the cap and stem. The flaps are lined with red material. The beads are turquoise, blue, red, yellow, green and black.

Reliquary guardian figure

National Museum of African Art
Standing male figure with elongated torso, arms bent at the elbow, hands clasped in front and stout, rounded legs bent. Figure has rounded head with large forehead and diminutive face with overall oil patina.

Reliquary guardian figure

National Museum of African Art
Standing male figure with hands in front of torso, round brass eyes, necklet and heavy layers of white and red pigment over an oil patina.

Crest mask

National Museum of African Art
Male antelope crest mask on rectangular base with openwork neck and mane formed by projecting notched forms, two vertical horns with backward curving tips and two upward projecting ears with cowrie shell pendant earrings. Mask has a round metal disk on the head under the horns and a thick upward curving tail with attachment repair with iron staple. Neck and face have fine, incised geometric designs, obscured by surface patina.

Female figure with child

National Museum of African Art
Female figure seated crosslegged on a square plinth with a small male child across her knees. The smaller figure has one hand on his penis, one on the woman's breast. Added decoration on the female figure includes brass tacks on the forehead, inlaid glass eyes, a blue glass bead necklace, geometric scarification on the chest and back and a representation of a knotted fiber cap of high status.

Southern Cook Book of Fine Old Dixie Recipes

National Museum of African American History and Culture
A 48 page booklet containing various recipes attributed to the cooking traditions of the American South. The front cover bears the title [SOUTHERN / COOK BOOK / Of / Fine Old Dixie Recipes] and the text [322 Fine Tested Recipes / 40 Characteristic Illustrations / 50 Poems and Spirituals]. The cover illustration is of two women and a child standing in a kitchen around a table. The older woman wears a blue dress and white apron and headscarf. She stands behind the table and stirs a mixing bowl. A younger woman in a floral patterned blue and orange dress with matching headscarf stands in front of the table with her hand resting on it, facing the older woman. A young girl with pigtails and an orange quilted dress stands with her back to the viewer and her hands up on the table. A plaque hangs on the wall between the two women and reads [A Good Dinner / Sharpens the Wits / and / Softens the Heart]. The artist's signature is in the lower lefthand corner.

The book itself is divided into 22 different categories: Appetizers, Beverages, Bread and Biscuits, Cakes, Candies, Eggs, Fritters Pancakes Waffles and Mush, Fruit and Vegetables, Icings, Jellies and Jams, Meat, Meat and Poultry Stuffing, Misc. Items, Pies, Potatoes, Poultry, Puddings, Salads and Relishes, Sauces and Dressings, Sea Food, Small Cakes and Cookies, and Soups.

Most pages in the book contain a charcoal pencil illustration in the bottom left or right hand corner. These illustrations are predominantly of men, women, and children performing labors and eating or preparing food with a few landscape vignettes. Often the drawing seems in part to be an illustration of a few lines of song or poem that accompanies it.

Two sections of verse, "De Cote House In De Sky" and "Oh, Elephant, You Shall Be Free!" are printed on the inside of the front and back covers, respectively.

Patti the Patagonian Pig Marionette

National Museum of American History
The circus has a long history in America entertainment beginning in the 18thc, Traveling by wagon and train the circus exposed Americans to sites and sounds never seen before, including exotic animals, people from far away lands and daring performances that required great skill and bravery. Popular with all ages, the Haines brought the spirit of the circus to hundreds of people in an around Philadelphia through their elaborate puppet shows.

The Haines' circus puppet characters included Tightrope Star, Mitzi from Vienna, Boxers Kanga and Roo, Patagonian Pigs Pinkie and Patti, Tony the Dog in clown outfit, performing bears Laska, Pete and Repete, Flying Trapeze Artist Tim, Mugsy the Barker, and a Ringmaster..

Pinkie and Patti, the Patagonian pigs are standing side by side

holding wooden sticks with leather heads and playing the marimba. The instrument is made of wood and decorated with colorful fringe around the front. Their heads are carved from wood painted pink with black eyes and bright red lips. The heads swivel at the neck.. The wooden torso is hinged at the waist and their one piece arms and legs are hinged at the top sockets. Patti is dressed in a gold satin ruffled blouse and a long paisley print gathered skirt of many bright colors. Her head is covered with a bright pink wrapped turban embellished with straw fruit and flowers and she wears a blue grass multi strand necklace, gold bead earrings and gold bracelets on both wrists. . Patti is operated with a 2--piece wooden T-shaped control and a separate one piece bar control with 7 strings.

Human Flesh Looks Like Beef, But the Taste Is More Elusive

Smithsonian Magazine

Even if you have no desire to eat the flesh of fellow humans, it's not so uncommon to wonder from time to time what human flesh looks and tastes like. io9 recently took up the first question and explained that human flesh firmly falls into the red meat camp. Beef, they concluded, would be the closest visual equivalent of a human fillet or rump roast. io9 explains the science behind the color:

Muscle's red color can be traced to the presence of a richly pigmented protein called myoglobin and, more specifically, hemes, the chemical compounds that myoglobin uses to bind and store oxygen as a fuel source for active muscles. 

According to the Meat Science section of Texas A&M University's Department of Animal Science, pork, lamb and beef average 2, 6 and 8 milligrams of myoglobin per gram of muscle (that translates to a myoglobin concentration of 0.2%, 0.6% and 0.8%), respectively. 

The concentration of myoglobin in human muscle tissues is relatively high – even relative to pigs, sheep and cows, coming in at close to 20 mg per gram of certain muscle fibers, or a 2% concentration of myoglobin.

But, according to the testimony of people who have actually eaten other people, the taste of human meat does not reflect its beef-like appearance. Both serial killers and Polynesian cannibals have described human as being most akin to pork. But not all cannibals agree with this description. William Seabrook, an author and journalist, traveled to West Africa in the 1920s and later described an encounter with man-flesh in great detail in his book, Jungle Ways. Human, he said, in fact tastes like veal. Here's Seabrook's description

It was like good, fully developed veal, not young, but not yet beef. It was very definitely like that, and it was not like any other meat I had ever tasted. It was so nearly like good, fully developed veal that I think no person with a palate of ordinary, normal sensitiveness could distinguish it from veal. It was mild, good meat with no other sharply defined or highly characteristic taste such as for instance, goat, high game, and pork have. The steak was slightly tougher than prime veal, a little stringy, but not too tough or stringy to be agreeably edible. The roast, from which I cut and ate a central slice, was tender, and in color, texture, smell as well as taste, strengthened my certainty that of all the meats we habitually know, veal is the one meat to which this meat is accurately comparable.

This account is the most descriptive to date, but it has also been called into question. As Slate reports, Seabrook "later confessed that the distrustful tribesmen never allowed him to partake in their traditions." Instead, the author insisted that he attained samples of human flesh from a Parisian hospital and cooked it up himself.  

Regardless of Seabrook's credibility, however, Slate points out that, like any meat, the flavor of human would likely depend a great deal on how it is prepared, and also what cut is sampled. The Azande tribe's human stew likely tastes entirely different from the deep-fried, parsley-strewn human genitals a Japanese exhibitionist artist recently served at a dinner party. In the end, both pork and veal might be accurate approximations to the flavor of human meat, though—thankfully—most will never find out for themselves. 

Negroes fishing in creek near cotton plantations outside Belzoni Miss. Delta, October 1939

National Museum of African American History and Culture
A dye transfer color photograph of rural life outside of Belzoni, Mississippi by Marion Post Wolcott. At a daytime muddy creek near a cotton plantation, a man and three women fish. They are surrounded by dry foliage and dull green mature trees. Seated along the edges of the creek, the man, crouched, wears a sand-colored hat; bright shirt; dark trousers, and holds a long fishing rod in his proper right hand. Seated to his proper left, arms crossed, is a woman wearing a light-colored long sleeve dress and light-colored wide-brim bucket hat. To her proper left sits another woman, her legs sprawled towards the water. She wears a light-colored wide-brim hat and blouse, and holds a fishing rod. Nearer to the unseen photographer among the dry foliage, at the bottom right of the camera’s frame, stands a woman wearing a long pink dress over a short sleeve shirt and wide-brim hat. She holds a fishing rod in her proper right hand. The back of the photograph, from the top left corner to bottom right, features provenance marks and inscriptions: [RWFA 1868 / PF113003-111 / ARTIST: MARION POST WOLCOTT / TITLE: NEGROES FISHING IN CREEK NEAR COTTON PLANTATIONS OUTSIDE BELZONI MISS. DELTA / TRANSPARENCY DATE: OCT. 1939 / PRINTING DATE: 12/86 / LIGHT GALLERY REG. NO.: 107.8]. Beneath the authentication disclaimer is the signature [Tennyson Schad].
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