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A Crusader-Era High Altar Resurfaces in Jerusalem’s Holy Sepulcher

Smithsonian Magazine

For decades it was known only as the “graffiti stone.” Leaning against a wall in a shadowy corner of Jerusalem’s Holy Sepulcher, the big blank rock the size of a dining-room table invited scribbling by passing pilgrims and tourists.

But two Israeli researchers who recently examined the other side of the stone say the neglected artifact appears to be part of the high altar fashioned in the early 12th century by medieval Crusaders for the holiest church in Christendom, and upon which Mass was celebrated for more than 500 years. The stone’s intricate design, they add, is based on what was the latest Roman style and suggests a direct link to the papacy itself. The revelation highlights the complicated religious politics that still trouble Jerusalem.

The Crusaders were heeding the call of Pope Urban II, who in 1095 urged Western Christians to assist the Byzantine Empire in recovering territory long ruled by Muslims, including Jerusalem. When the European invaders arrived four years later, they put tens of thousands of the city’s inhabitants, Muslims and Jews alike, to the sword and rushed to the Holy Sepulcher, the shrine to the death and resurrection of Jesus. The victorious knights immediately ejected the Greek Orthodox clergy, whom they suspected of both heresy and complicity with Islamic rulers (the eastern and western churches had split in 1054). They then seized control of the city’s other sites sacred to Jews and Muslims as well as Christians, forbidding those of other faiths from entering Jerusalem.

The Roman Emperor Constantine, who legalized Christianity, approved construction of the Holy Sepulcher in 326 A.D., and ordered “that it should surpass all the churches of the world in the beauty of its walls, columns, and marbles.” He had a Roman temple demolished to make way for a massive 250-foot-long basilica and an open-air colonnade enclosing the traditional site of the Crucifixion. He also had a round building situated just to the west built above a rock-cut tomb from the 1st century A.D., venerated as the place where Jesus rose from the dead.

By the time the Crusaders entered the once-sumptuous complex more than 700 years later, it had already been battered by neglect and earthquakes, and largely destroyed once during a Persian conquest and later at the order of a mad Egyptian king. The newcomers rebuilt the church in the grand Romanesque and early Gothic style, uniting all three areas into one structure that survives to this day. Western European control of Jerusalem lasted only until 1187, when a Muslim army under Saladin reconquered the city. Though Crusader knights gained brief access to Jerusalem in the following century, the invaders were finally driven from the Holy Land in 1291. They left behind enormous castles and a bevy of churches, but their brutal tactics engendered resentment among the region’s Jews, Muslims, and eastern Christians that lingers even now. After the Crusaders left, the Greek Orthodox reclaimed much of the church, including the Aedicule, the small building sheltering the tomb, and the central nave and high altar to the east.

A devastating fire in 1808 gutted much of the church’s interior. The Aedicule was rebuilt, but but the high altar set up by the Crusaders east of the tomb vanished in the subsequent renovation.

A Greek team of engineers and architects recently restored the Aedicule, which had long been in danger of collapse. In the course of the effort, the construction crew used a crane to lift a two-ton block, referred to as the “graffiti stone” after visitors’ penchant for leaving their mark on it, into a steel cradle, turning it around in the process but relegating it to another dark corner.

Amit Re’em of the Israeli Antiquities Authority, who was monitoring the Aedicule work, spotted the newly revealed side of the limestone panel one day and was stunned by the intricate circles carved into the rock with traces of marble and the rich red stone called porphyry. “It is an exquisite piece of art,” he says. “And it was clear to me that the size of the stone and the unique decoration must be something special.”

Re’em, who specializes in medieval archaeology, immediately went to a Jerusalem library to look for evidence of other stones with similar decorations in order to pinpoint its origin. With the help of historian Ilya Berkovich at Munich’s Ludwig Maximillian University, he pieced together the stone’s strange odyssey, and what it might reveal about the Crusader era.

They discovered that Greek archaeologists in 1969 began excavating in the nave and under the main altar east of the Aedicule, areas that remain in the hands of the Greek Orthodox clergy. Though the results were never made public, a curious Catholic priest reported that the team found Crusader-era remains. Some were covered up, but others, including the rectangular panel examined by Re’em, were removed so that the researchers could access material from the earlier Byzantine era.

Re’em and Berkovich tracked the geometric pattern on the stone’s design to a style popular in Rome in the 12th century. The use of four circles surrounding a central circle, all richly inlaid, was the trademark design of the Cosmati family, Roman artisans who worked for the pope. The stone's design “symbolized the power, both temporal and spiritual, that the Papacy achieved during the 12th century,” writes art historian and New York architect Paloma Pajares-Ayuela in the definitive book on the style. That suggested the stone was carved and inlaid when the Crusaders rebuilt the church.

“I think that this exquisite piece of art could be evidence for the papal artistic patronage in the church,” Re’em says. “It is proof that Crusader art was highly developed” and reflects the direct influence of Rome on the distant Jerusalem shrine. Most of the Crusader knights were French and German, and there are few contemporary reports detailing the 12th-century reconstruction of the church. The stone panel, he added, suggests that papal craftsmen may have been directly involved in the work.

The two researchers then examined the panel to see where it might have been used. Since the bottom portion was unfinished, they determined that it was not flooring, nor was such a design used in the various tombs in and around the church. Instead, it appeared to have been a standing stone framed by other materials.  “The best answer is that this was the high altar of the Crusader-era church,” said Re’em. Mass was first celebrated on the altar July 15, 1149, exactly 50 years after the Crusaders conquered the city, and remained the site of Eucharistic offerings until the 1808 fire, when it was buried under the new floor, and only exhumed nearly a half century ago and then propped against a north wall of the church.

One European archaeologist, who requested anonymity because of religious sensitivities, explained that the altar’s disappearance reflects ancient tensions. Greek Orthodox clergy, he explained, are more interested in remains of the original Constantinian church than recovering those of the early 12th century, when the triumphant Crusaders for a brief time banished them as heretics from the complex they had long overseen.

One art historian, who likewise requested anonymity, is unconvinced by Re’em’s analysis, noting that some Byzantine craftsmen used similar designs that influenced Cosmati work in Rome. More research needs to be done to determine with precision the maker and precise placement of the stone. Since part of the panel is broken off, Re'em hopes to find the location of the remaining section. 

In the meantime, Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholics, Armenians, Copts, and Syrians jealously guard their respective territories within the Holy Sepulcher, with Ethopians relegated to the roof. Scuffles among clergy of the different sects is not uncommon, and occasional bloodshed is recorded. Two Muslim families hold the keys to the great Crusader doors to ensure everyone access.

The Greek Orthodox spokesman, Metropolitan Isychios of Kapitolias, did not reply to request for comment on the stone panel, and the scaffolding containing the stone remains parked and unmarked against a wall, just a few dozen yards from its original presumed position on the rebuilt high altar. Now, however, its faded but graceful decoration, a likely reminder of Rome’s fateful impact on the medieval Middle East, can once again be seen. 

David Copperfield Welcomes New Citizens With a Magic Show and a History Lesson

Smithsonian Magazine

On Friday, which marked the celebration of Flag Day in the United States, hundreds gathered at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History and watched master illusionist David Copperfield perform a historic feat: reuniting the original Star-Spangled Banner with its long-lost 15th star.

“This should be interesting,” Copperfield said with a grin. “I hope it works.”

Audience members watched in awe as Copperfield worked his magic on two seemingly ordinary cardboard boxes, levitating and spinning them until, in the blink of an eye, out popped—a man? With a satchel?

It wasn’t just any man, Copperfield explained. It was the courier he’d sent back in time to search for the star. At some point between the Battle of Fort McHenry, that September 1814 night of rockets' red glare and bombs bursting in air, and when the famed flag was given to the Smithsonian in 1907, one of the 15 stars—representing the 15 states of the time—was likely clipped off.

The time-hopping detective reached into his bag and triumphantly produced a bundle of linen, and unfurled it with great flair to reveal the long-lost stretch of the flag—or at least, a historically accurate replica of it. The audience leapt to their feet at the sight of the most famous flag in U.S. history reunited, if only for a moment, with an essential missing piece.

The illusion was designed as part of the museum’s traditional Flag Day programming and accompanied a naturalization ceremony for 14 newly minted American citizens.

David Skorton, 13th Secretary of the Smithsonian, (far left, seated second from the left) and David Copperfield (far left, seated third from the left) join as a group of 14 people become naturalized U.S. citizens. (Smithsonian's National Museum of American History)

The idea for the illusion was born after Copperfield visited the museum about a year ago and learned about the absent star. When he realized the flag was an iconic artifact with an element of mystery involved, Copperfield says he was hooked.

“If anything is a mystery, it’s a good way to dream,” Copperfield says. “So, I said, ‘OK, missing star. Now you're in my world. Why don't we blend some fact and fiction, and let people know what I didn’t know?’”

For the “fact” side of that equation, Copperfield turned to Jennifer Jones, the curator for the Star-Spangled Banner exhibit at the National Museum of American History. Historians have long puzzled over the fate of the missing star, which was likely clipped from the banner more than a century ago. According to Jones, many of the clues we do have about the star’s fate come from the writings of Georgiana Armistead Appleton, whose father commanded Fort McHenry during the battle and claimed the flag as a memento following the historic win. In 1873, Georgiana wrote that the star was cut out and given to “some official person.” Unfortunately for historians, she didn’t elaborate on who the lucky recipient was.

The practice of chipping away at artifacts was common at the time, Jones says, even if it may seem shocking to today’s more conservation-minded history lovers. And with no flag code in place until 1942, the Star-Spangled Banner was not exempt.

“The 19th century really is about souveniring and memorialization,” Jones says. “It was the norm to be cutting and giving away pieces of relics or things that were of significance.”

So Copperfield took a break from the Las Vegas stage to conjure the star back and return it to its rightful place on the exact banner that inspired Francis Scott Key to write the poem that would become our national anthem. Jones says she provided backup on the historical details that were central to crafting Copperfield's performance, from speculating on potential recipients of the star clipping to offering physical descriptions for the replica—like measurements, color, materials, and even stitch counts. Of course, Copperfield wasn’t allowed to handle the actual flag. Only four people have been allowed inside the pressurized chamber that has housed the banner since it returned to public view at the National Museum of American History when it reopened in 2008. Copperfield says he fully understood the importance of preserving the precious piece of history. (A museum proprietor himself, his International Museum and Library of the Conjuring Arts boasts more than 80,000 magical artifacts.)

The replica star created for the performance will now be added to the museum’s collections where it will join about 13 real fragments that have been rediscovered over the years. The real star, however, will probably remain “lost to history,” Jones says.

Even though his magic couldn’t bring back the original fragment, Copperfield says he hoped to spark a greater interest in the flag’s history, as well as present a symbol of unity during a disunited moment in American history. Through his illusions, he says he always looks to bring in a deeper narrative.

He points to his iconic 1983 trick of making the entire Statue of Liberty disappear. By instantly taking away an essential symbol of freedom, Copperfield says he hoped to send a message about the freedoms we take for granted. Now, he’s basically done the opposite: He brought back a long-lost symbol of national unity, but with a similar goal of reminding the American people of an important truth.

“Reuniting the stars symbolizes how much stronger we are as a nation when we're united,” Copperfield says. “At a time here where people could say that we're divided in many ways, the illusion can remind us that we are a diverse people that have done amazing things because of our differences—because of our backgrounds, our artistic skills, our languages, our cultures.”

That message was also highlighted throughout the rest of the Flag Day ceremony. After a lively performance by the student choir from Cardinal Shehan School in Baltimore, 14 people from 14 different countries—from Bolivia to South Korea, Nepal to Ethiopia—took the oath of allegiance and officially became naturalized as U.S. citizens.

Anthea Hartig, the new director of the museum, says she thought of the entire ceremony, including the custom-made Copperfield illusion, as a gift to the new citizens and an opportunity to reconsider the meaning of the American flag.

“Today is a very special day, to not only welcome these new citizens, but through illusion and through history, to remind us all of the power of our citizenship, and the fact that it’s a muscle that has to be flexed,” Hartig says. “In certain respects, our democracy is always fragile, because it takes us to uphold it.

Among the first to congratulate the new citizens was Smithsonian secretary David J. Skorton. The ceremony marked the last public event for Skorton before he steps down as secretary, and he said he couldn’t imagine a more meaningful or fitting sendoff.

And Copperfield, who described himself as the “proud son of immigrants,” said he was humbled to be part of the ceremony.

“You’re now a member of our great American constellation,” Copperfield told the new citizens. “I hope you shine.”

Mothers in World War I

National Museum of American History

When people think of World War I, they often think of soldiers fighting in trenches. But soldiers weren't the only ones doing the work of war. In honor of Mother's Day and the centenary of the Great War, we examine some of the roles mothers played in World War I.

Mothers were used in recruitment

Poster with striking orange background. Color illustration of a young man with hand in pocket and mother with arm raised. Text: "Go! It's your duty lad. Join to-day."

This British World War I recruitment poster shows a mother encouraging her son to enlist as a soldier and fight in the war. Wartime propaganda artists recognized the power of mothers in recruiting soldiers. They used mother figures to remind men of their duty to their country and family, and to assure them of how proud their mothers (and wives) would be when they became soldiers.

Poster with illustration of a smiling soldier in uniform hugging his mother and wife, who look up at him and smile

Mothers raised funds for the war effort

Quilt with American flag on it draped

Mothers who remained at home while their sons and daughters served overseas, had much to do to keep the household running, to fill in for soldiers in the workplace and support war production, and to help raise funds for the war effort. One mother, Hosteen Nez Basa, a Navajo woman from New Mexico, donated this blanket to the Red Cross for a fundraising raffle. According to the donor, Ms. Basa originally made this blanket for her son, a soldier serving in Europe during the war. Convinced that her son would die serving, Ms. Basa made this blanket to be used for his burial. When her son returned from the war front alive, she donated the blanket to benefit the local Red Cross, raising close to $1,500 in war relief. It is now in the museum's Division of Armed Forces History.

"Mothers" as nurses 

Poster with illustration of a nurse in a very maternal pose, cradling an injured soldier on her lap. She has flowing nurse garments. A bright red cross is also on the poster. Text: "The greatest mother in the world."

According to this Red Cross poster, the nurses of World War I acted as great "mothers" to all of the soldiers fighting in the war. Scholars have noted that the nurse's pose mimics that of another famous mother, the Virgin Mary cradling the body of Jesus in the Pieta. The strength, grace, and purity evoked by Mary were all traits held by the ideal World War I nurse. An American text from 1917 on surgical war nursing listed these "motherly" personal qualifications of a nurse: "patience, kindness of heart and manner, a power of unremitting attention and that indescribable quality called tact."

Mothers as memory keepers

Red flag with white rectangle in center and blue star.

The devastating loss of life in World War I meant that many mothers were left with the heartbreaking task of mourning and memorializing their dead. One way of memorializing those killed in action was the Gold Star. Families hanging a Man-in-Service flag in their window would cover the blue star with gold fabric, symbolizing their loss. Women were encouraged to forgo traditional mourning garb in favor of a simpler black armband with a gold star. Woodrow Wilson referred to these women as gold star mothers. After the war, in 1928, the organization American Gold Star Mothers was founded. To this day, mothers who have lost a child in military service wear a gold star pin to honor the deceased.

Purple circular pin with gold star in center and gold laurels/foliage around the edge.

Patri O'Gan is a project assistant in the Division of Armed Forces History. Mallory Warner is curatorial assistant in the Division of Medicine and Science.

Posted Date: 
Friday, May 6, 2016 - 08:00
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The Brain-Freezing Science of the Slurpee

Smithsonian Magazine

It’s cold. It’s fizzy. It’s sickly sweet. It’ll make you grab your head in pain if you drink it too fast. It’s the Slurpee (or ICEE, depending on where you purchase it).

These frosty concoctions came about one hot day during the late 1950s when Dairy Queen owner Omar Knedlik was desperate for cold beverages to serve. Omar was a World War II veteran and had a strong entrepreneurial sense. When he returned from the war, he used his military pay to purchase his first ice cream shop in Belleville, Kansas. Several business ventures later, he bought the Dairy Queen in Coffeyville, a city in the state’s southeast corner.

But the store didn’t come without its kinks—his soda fountain broke, leaving Knedlik without cold drinks in the Kansas heat. So he sent away for bottles of soda and plunged them into the frosty depths of his freezer to chill for his thirsty customers. When he popped the lids, the sodas instantly turned slushy, says Phil Knedlik, one of Omar’s two sons.

Though it sounds like a party trick, this actually involves some flashy chemistry. There are likely a few factors at work here, but one of the most important is the formation of what is known as a supercooled liquid. This means, that the drink is actually colder than the point at which the solution transforms into ice—but not frozen yet.

(Courtesy of Flickr user Austin Kirk)

This can happen because for ice to form, it needs somewhere to start—a rough spot in the glass or even a flake of dust. Without it, the water just keeps chilling. When you open a bottle of supercooled soda, the bubbles of carbon dioxide begin to fizzle out, providing plenty of surfaces for ice to form, creating a refreshingly light and slushy beverage. Try it for yourself.

The slushy sodas made a splash. “A lot of people said, ‘hey, I’d like to have one of those [sodas] that when you pop the lid the whole thing freezes,’” says Phil.

Though Omar replaced his soda fountains, the idea of frozen sodas still brewed in his head. “He kept thinking about that old soda pop machine breaking down,” says Phil. “And that gave him the idea.”

Omar fiddled with an old Taylor ice cream maker to recreate the frosty brew. Soon, he came up with a basic machine for making frozen soda, says Phil. But he continued to tinker with it for several years to get the fluffy slush just right. Omar hired the artist Ruth Taylor to dream up the brand. She named the drink “ICEE” and created a logo. His first flavor: cola.

(Courtesy of Flickr user Steve Snodgrass)

The chemistry of these frozen concoctions is actually more complex than you may think. The solution of flavor syrup, water and carbon dioxide starts out in a barrel, where it is chilled under pressure. An auger churns the solution to keep it moving, scraping away any ice that forms on the container sides.

The constant movement and syrupy sugars keep the solution from freezing into a solid log—interestingly, no one has yet figured out how to make a sugar-free ICEE. When a customer pulls down the handle, out comes the semi-frozen foam, which appears to puff up and solidify as it fills the cup.

An ICEE is a little bit like an avalanche. “If you are in an avalanche, it’s sort of like you’re swimming around in snow,” explains Scott Rankin, a food scientist at University of Wisconsin-Madison. “As soon as the avalanche stops, it becomes very rigid, very cement-like.”

Similarly, when the ICEE is mixed in the chamber, the motion prevents ice particles from binding together. But once the avalanche of frosty sugary drink enters the cup, the motion stops, allowing the ice to bind together and solidify.

Something else, however, could also be at work, says Richard Hartel, a food engineering professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. When the semi-frozen solution leaves the tap, it appears to puff up and form more ice crystals. This extra oomph of frost may come from the so-called Joules-Thomson effect. When gas expands, it absorbs heat, cooling the surrounding solution. So as the ICEE comes out of the tap, the dissolved carbon dioxide starts to escape, both puffing up and further freezing the solution.

"Want a glob of your favorite flavor?" asks an ICEE ad from 1966. (The Hearne Democrat, Hearne, Texas)

When ICEE first hit the market, word of mouth drew crowds to Omar’s shop. “Some of my fondest memories are working in the Dairy Queen store,” says Phil, “meeting all the people and seeing the big long lines of people waiting on the ICEE machine to catch up.”

That first machine had two taps. One was usually Coke, and the other was a rotating array of flavors—root beer, Dr. Pepper, orange soda. In the early days of ICEE, the machines could make a few drinks at a time, then people had to wait for more soda to freeze.

Omar received a patent for his frozen soda machine in 1968. (Google Patents)

In 1960, Omar teamed up with the John E. Mitchell company to mass produce his invention, eventually patenting it, “The Machine for Dispensing Semi-Frozen Drinks and Control Therefor.”

In 1965, the ICEE craze got the attention of 7-Eleven stores who purchased some of the machines, renaming their frosty brew Slurpee—after the characteristic slurping sound of the drink.

"The first time I heard that sound through a straw, it just came out 'slurp.’" said Bob Stanford, the director of 7-Eleven’s in-house ad agency, in a 1967 meeting. He later explained, "We added the two e’s to make a noun. It was just a fun name and we decided to go with it."

Meanwhile, the ICEE Company forges on, selling the drinks under the ICEE name at other stores, fast food restaurants, cinemas and gas stations in the United States, Canada, Mexico, China and the Middle East.

Now, roughly 60 years after the first ICEE hit the glass and 50 since Slurpee got in the game, the machines produce the frosty foam quicker and more consistently, and in flavors like birthday cake and strawberry shortcake.

Every year 7-Eleven celebrates its birthday on July 11 (or rather, 7/11), giving away millions of free Slurpees to customers. Should you partake, stop and think about the complex chemistry you’re guzzling. The changes in pressure and temperature, and all that sugar, is enough to give anyone a brain freeze.

Book of ledger drawings

National Museum of the American Indian

Cultural Tradition Meets Economic Difficulties: A Reflection on Sustaining Miao Embroidery

Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage
Pan Yuzhen and Zhang Hongying at the 2014 Smithsonian Folklife Festival. Photo by Francisco X. Guerra, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives
Photo by Francisco X. Guerra, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives
Pan Yuzhen and Zhang Hongying at the 2014 Smithsonian Folklife Festival.

The China program at the 2014 Folklife Festival provided so much to see—even for a native Chinese person like myself. And as a graduate student specializing in international development policy, I am especially interested in the economic opportunities and challenges that traditional artisans face, given the fast pace of urbanization and development in China.

During the Festival, I worked closely with Pan Yuzhen 潘玉珍 and her daughter Zhang Hongying 张红英, embroiderers who are Miao, an ethnic minority. While they live in Beijing now, they are originally from Taijiang county in Qiandongnan Miao and Dong Autonomous Prefecture, Guizhou Province, where the Miao constitute over forty percent of the population. Miao were among the first people to settle in present-day China, and many continue to practice their community’s traditional crafts, including embroidering, batik, and silver jewelry making.

Pan made several visits to Beijing starting in 1976, when China’s state museums began collecting artwork from ethnic minority groups. During one visit, a Japanese woman saw her wearing her Miao traditional clothing; she became very interested in Miao embroidery and eventually purchased some pieces from Pan. Seeing the opportunities there, Pan started selling her works in Beijing markets in 1997. A year later, her daughter joined her.

Zhang Hongying explains the embroidery process and meaning to Festival visitors. Photo by Kate Mankowski, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections, Smithsonian Institution
Zhang Hongying explains the embroidery process and meaning to Festival visitors. Institution
Photo by Kate Mankowski, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections, Smithsonian Institution

Zhang remembers the first winter she spent in Beijing with her mother in 1998: “It was so cold in Beijing. I didn’t know whether people would buy our embroidery. I wanted to go back home. ”

They did not go back home, but instead stayed in Beijing and now sell their goods every week at Panjiayuan Antique Market. Still, the question of returning home has come up every year for the past seventeen years. In fact, they have witnessed other traditional craftspeople leaving the market.

“But we don’t have a choice,” Zhang says. “Few people would come to our village and buy the embroidery.”

When business is going well, they ask for help from “sisters” 姐妹 in their Miao village—mainly women in their fifties who need income but cannot work in urban factories. Either Pan or Zhang then travels back to their home village to bring the embroidery to Beijing for the market. The journey from the nation’s capital to their village takes almost thirty hours by train. They rarely fly home because plane tickets cost twice as much as train tickets.

As living expenses go up in Beijing, Pan and Zhang may change their minds about staying. Since 2005, the city has undergone considerable redevelopment and new construction. They have had to move several times in search of affordable rent and once because their building was torn down for new development. In the past ten years, their annual rent has increased from 20,000 RMB to 50,000 RMB ($8,100).

As the parent of a young child, Zhang will need to make a decision based on the opportunities and expenses of schooling. Under the current huji policy, Zhang’s daughter is not considered a Beijing resident. Since non-Beijingers have restricted access to state services, including education, Zhang’s daughter is currently enrolled in a private school for migrant children. In the future, they may have to return to their hometown for her continued education because of regional differences in curriculum and the way in which college admission criteria is applied to non-Beijing residents. In 2011, after a long-standing debate in academia and the media, former Chinese premier Wen Jiabao finally called for speeding up policy reform in this area. For now, it is unclear whether or not Zhang’s daughter will benefit from this.

Pan Yuzhen participates in a discussion on the China program narrative stage. Photo by Rachel Winslow, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections, Smithsonian Institution
Pan Yuzhen participates in a discussion on the China program narrative stage.
Photo by Rachel Winslow, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections, Smithsonian Institution

On the other hand, Pan and Zhang recognize that returning to Guizhou may not improve their opportunities. Relatives and fellow villagers who have remained in the province continue to sell embroidery at the town market on weekends as per tradition, but they too face the challenges of meeting the rising cost of living. Nearly half the young people in their village (between the ages of eighteen and thirty-five) have left to work in urban factories in search of higher salaries and new opportunities.

In 2012 alone, over 800,000 people from the Qiandongnan Miao and Dong Autonomous Prefecture migrated to work in coastal areas of China, such as the greater Yangtze River Delta and Pearl River Delta metropolitan region.¹ They often leave behind parents and children who depend on them for care. However, Zhang explained that many of these migrant workers often return without much money or any useful skills. These long-term relocations also prevent young people from learning traditional crafts such as Miao embroidery, which require years of practice to master.

Guizhou Province has historically been a less developed area in China because of the mountainous landscape and lack of policy support during the early economic reform period.² It is reported that people living in these areas, thirty-seven percent of them ethnic minorities³, lack the necessary business skills and technology to compete with the rapid modernization of the majority of China’s population. Pan and Zhang do not have a website. Nobody in the family knows how to create and protect their own brand or run an online shop. In fact, Zhang never used email before the months leading up to the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, when it was necessary to communicate with our staff.

In recent years, the Chinese government has responded to endangered cultural traditions by subsidizing economic development in regions that are home to many ethnic minorities. In 2014, the traditional village preservation project selected eleven villages from Qiandongnan Miao and Dong Autonomous Prefecture to receive financial support for preservation of their historic, cultural, artistic, and economic values. Until the end of 2013, the central government had allocated 2.8 billion RMB ($456 million) as special funds to preserve national cultural heritage.

While these have brought financial opportunities to some communities, it will take more time for a larger number of people to benefit from them. I hope Pan and Zhang, and other artisans like them, will no longer need to struggle for a living far away from home. With such energetic entrepreneurial spirit, extraordinary skills, and years of hard work, they deserve a better future.

Qiaoyun Zhao is an intern with the 2014 China Folklife Festival program. Originally from Nanjing, China, she is currently a graduate student in the University of Maryland, School of Public Policy. She finished her undergraduate study in Nanjing University before she came to United States in 2013.

¹ According to statistics provided by Qiandongnan Miao and Dong Autonomous Prefecture

² The early period of China’s reform focused mainly on the development of the coastal areas, which traditionally had a relatively well-developed infrastructure and a strong economic base. The gap between the coastal and interior areas continued to widen. For example, the per capita GDP of Shanghai is 21,213 RMB; the poorest region, Guizhou, is 5,397 RMB.

³ Minority groups account for more than thirty-seven percent of the population, and they include Miao (including Gha-Mu and A-Hmao), Yao, Yi, Qiang, Dong, and Zhuang.

Capturing the Social Life in Folklife

Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage

As the first new media projects employee for the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, I’ve been excited to introduce to our followers all the amazing content and hard work that goes on within these walls. Not only this, but I’m also tasked with communicating the array of concerts, demonstrations, storytelling, and art that will exist outside our walls on the National Mall during the 2014 Smithsonian Folklife Festival.

The talented interns that came before me did a spectacular job at maintaining the Center’s social media accounts, but the larger picture of our digital presence is often buried among the logistics in planning an international multi-program Festival. Part of my goal in heading up our new media projects has been to portray our Center and its staff, interns, and volunteers as the colorful, intelligent, and innovative ensemble that they are. Additionally, I’ve focused on creating social media avenues through which our followers and fans are able to interact and engage with our content, as well as voice their opinions.

To give readers a snapshot of our social life from its many platforms, I’ve compiled a list of my favorite posts and some of our social initiatives leading up to the #2014Folklife Festival. If you haven’t already done so, you can click to “follow” along in each of these posts to learn more about our China and Kenya programs this year, the Festival’s history in Washington, D.C., and the Folklife characters that make it happen every year.

Additionally, you can download our Folklife Festival App on iPhone and Android devices for the ultimate connection to the Festival—post status updates and pictures, watch videos, learn more about the Festival artists and musicians, and build a personalized schedule.

The first Smithsonian Folklife Instagram Contest is themed “Capture a Moment of Discovery.” We are challenging our Festival visitors to capture that fleeting moment when someone learns a new dance step, sings a new song, or eats a new food. Read our contest rules here [PDF].

For the past couple years, we have used an iteration of #2014Folklife to gather social posts for each Festival. This year I introduced an additional hashtag, #MyFolklifeFestDC, to give our Festival-goers, both seasoned and new, a voice to share what the Festival means to them. Our followers have answered with fond memories and passionate opinions about having a Festival like ours on the National Mall and in their lives.


With the two-part Tweet below, I encouraged our Twitter followers to RSVP to our main Facebook event page and I gave them an idea of the scope of the Festival (one million visitors!). Since this post, we’ve had about three hundred more RSVPs, and we expect many more for each of our evening concerts, such as the Ralph Rinzler Memorial Concert: Smithsonian Folkways Tribute to Pete Seeger.

Each social media platform offers its own variety of multimedia options. Instagram is becoming increasingly versatile with a seemingly endless amount of apps developed to enhance your ‘gram. The collage and video features have been a great way to demonstrate some of the Festival crafts.

The interactive 360 Panorama photo speaks for itself. As tents went up last week, these panoramas place the user right on the National Mall and right in the middle of Festival preparations. I imagine these will only get more and more busy and exciting as we get closer to opening day. You can spin through all of our 360-degree panoramas on our Occipital page.


Snapchat is brand new to the Center. Following in the footsteps of other organizations (Smithsonian Channel, for one), I’m excited to get snapping with fun, smart, and on-your-toes sharing. While Snapchat messages do disappear, they offer a low-stakes and lighthearted way to communicate the Festival. Add “SmithsonianFolk” to your Snapchat contacts and you’ll get pictures of Festival setup, messages from the staff, and Festival highlights snapped right from the National Mall.


KC Commander, a Georgia girl with a background in musicology, is the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage’s new media projects assistant. A former Smithsonian Folkways intern, she is excited to post, tweet, snap, and tumble the 2014 Smithsonian Folklife Festival right from the National Mall.

Meissen cup and saucer (part of a service)

National Museum of American History
TITLE: Meissen coffee and tea service

MAKER: Meissen Manufactory

PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: ceramic, porcelain (overall material)

MEASUREMENTS: Two cups: H. 1¾" Two saucers: D. 5¼"; Coffeepot and cover: H. 9" 22.9cm; Teapot and cover: H. 4¼" 10.8cm; Milk jug and cover: H. 5½"14cm; Sugar bowl and cover: H. 4¼" 10.8cm; Bowl: H. 3½" 8.9cm

OBJECT NAME: Coffee and tea service

PLACE MADE: Meissen, Saxony, Germany



Domestic Furnishing

Industry and Manufacturing

CREDIT LINE: Hans C. Syz Collection

ID NUMBER: Two cups and saucers 1981.0702.05; Coffee pot and cover 1981.0702.06ab; Teapot and cover 1981.0702.07ab; Milk jug and cover 1981.0702.08ab; Sugar bowl and cover 1981.0702.09ab. Rinsing bowl 1981.0702.10

COLLECTOR/ DONOR: 354;355;356;357;358;894


(DATA SOURCE: National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center)

MARKS: Crossed swords in underglaze blue; “O” impressed on sugar bowl; “21” impressed on rinsing bowl.

PURCHASED FROM: Ginsburg & Levy, New York, 1943.

This cup and saucer is from a coffee and tea service in the Smithsonian’s Hans Syz Collection of Meissen Porcelain. Dr. Syz (1894-1991) began his collection in the early years of World War II, when he purchased eighteenth-century Meissen table wares from the Art Exchange run by the New York dealer Adolf Beckhardt (1889-1962). Dr. Syz, a Swiss immigrant to the United States, collected Meissen porcelain while engaged in a professional career in psychiatry and the research of human behavior. He believed that cultural artifacts have an important role to play in enhancing our awareness and understanding of human creativity and its communication among peoples. His collection grew to represent this conviction.

The invention of Meissen porcelain, declared over three hundred years ago early in 1709, was a collective achievement that represents an early modern precursor to industrial chemistry and materials science. The porcelains we see in our museum collections, made in the small town of Meissen in the German States, were the result of an intense period of empirical research. Generally associated with artistic achievement of a high order, Meissen porcelain was also a technological achievement in the development of inorganic, non-metallic materials.

The cup and saucer has large tree peony flowers distributed along rooted brown twigs with two or three upright thorny stems in blue rising behind. The brown rim lines derive from original Kakiemon pieces in which a brown pigment applied to the rims before glazing was said to give some protection against chipping. The pattern has a symmetry that is not characteristic of Japanese Kakiemon-style porcelains, but for the European market Arita painters adapted some of their patterns to suit the preference for greater symmetry and less empty space. No Japanese prototype for this onglaze enamel painted pattern has come to light and it is possible that it is an adaptation by Meissen designers based on Japanese Kakiemon-style vessels in the royal porcelain collection in Dresden.

Kakiemon is the name given to very white (nigoshida meaning milky-white) finely potted Japanese porcelain made in the Nangawara Valley near the town of Arita in the North-West of the island of Kyushu. The porcelain bears a characteristic style of enamel painting using a palette of translucent colors painted with refined assymetric designs attributed to a family of painters with the name Kakiemon. In the 1650s, when Chinese porcelain was in short supply due to civil unrest following the fall of the Ming Dynasty to the Manchu in 1644, Arita porcelain was at first exported to Europe through the Dutch East India Company’s base on Dejima in the Bay of Nagasaki.

The Japanese traded Arita porcelain only with Chinese, Korean, and Dutch merchants and the Chinese resold Japanese porcelain to the Dutch in Batavia (present day Jakarta), to the English and French at the port of Canton (present day Guangzhou) and Amoy (present day Xiamen. Augustus II, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland, obtained Japanese porcelain through his agents operating in Amsterdam who purchased items from Dutch merchants there and at the annual Leipzig Fair, and from a Dutch dealer in Dresden, Elizabeth Bassetouche.

For two more examples of this pattern see Pietsch, U., 2011, Early Meissen Porcelain: the Wark Collection from the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens, p.265; see also Weber, J., 2013, Meissener Porzellane mit Dekoren nach ostasiatischen Vorbildern: Stiftung Ernst Schneider in Schloss Lustheim, Band II, S. 195-198. Julia Weber identifies this pattern as one produced for the Parisian dealer Rodolphe Lemaire.

On the origins of Arita porcelains see Takashi Nagatake, 2003, Classic Japanese Porcelain: Imari and Kakiemon.

Jefferson Miller II, J., Rückert, R., Syz, H., 1979, Catalogue of the Hans Syz Collection: Meissen Porcelain and Hausmalerei, pp. 172-173.

Meissen covered pot and stand

National Museum of American History
TITLE: Meissen covered pot and stand

MAKER: Meissen Manufactory

PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: ceramic, porcelain (overall material)

MEASUREMENTS: Pot: H. 4" 10.2cm; D. 6¼" 15.9cm

OBJECT NAME: Pot and stand

PLACE MADE: Meissen, Saxony, Germany



Domestic Furnishing

Industry and Manufacturing

CREDIT LINE: Hans C. Syz Collection

ID NUMBER: 1983.0565.34 abc



(DATA SOURCE: National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center)

MARKS: Caduceus in underglaze blue on pot; crossed swords and a dot in underglaze blue on stand.

PURCHASED FROM: Adolf Beckhardt, The Art Exchange, New York, 1947.

This cream pot and stand is from the Smithsonian’s Hans Syz Collection of Meissen Porcelain. Dr. Syz (1894-1991) began his collection in the early years of World War II, when he purchased eighteenth-century Meissen table wares from the Art Exchange run by the New York dealer Adolf Beckhardt (1889-1962). Dr. Syz, a Swiss immigrant to the United States, collected Meissen porcelain while engaged in a professional career in psychiatry and the research of human behavior. He believed that cultural artifacts have an important role to play in enhancing our awareness and understanding of human creativity and its communication among peoples. His collection grew to represent this conviction.

The invention of Meissen porcelain, declared over three hundred years ago early in 1709, was a collective achievement that represents an early modern precursor to industrial chemistry and materials science. The porcelains we see in our museum collections, made in the small town of Meissen in the German States, were the result of an intense period of empirical research. Generally associated with artistic achievement of a high order, Meissen porcelain was also a technological achievement in the development of inorganic, non-metallic materials.

The covered pot and stand, painted in the Imari style with Indian flowers (indianische Blumen) and heavy fringes of lambrequins falling from the rims, demonstrates the use of underglaze blue painting in conjunction with polychrome overglaze enamels that is characteristic of the original Japanese Imari patterns. The shapes are European, but the pattern came from a Japanese prototype in the collections of Augustus II, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland.

The so-called lambrequin design likely came to Japan through porcelain imported from China where Chinese porcelain painters in turn adapted the design from the stylized lotus flower motif of Buddhist origin in Indian and Tibetan paintings and textiles. Lambrequin is a term used by Western scholars to describe the panels that are reminiscent of ornamental fringes on ceremonial textile canopies or baldechins, and it is also a term with origins in European heraldry (mantling). Eurasian cultures developed the pendant lambrequin motif to adorn interior and exterior architectural features in wood, stucco, and in textiles, often with elaborate foliate designs contained within the pendants. Interesting examples of lambrequin patterns influenced by both Chinese and European motifs can be seen on Rouen soft-paste porcelains. Lambrequin is a word of French origin first used in the 1720s.

Japanese Imari wares came from kilns near Arita in the north-western region of Kyushu, Japan’s southernmost island, and were exported to Europe via the port of Imari to the island of Dejima in the Bay of Nagasaki, from where the Dutch were permitted to trade. Decorated in the Aka-e-machi, the enameling center in Arita, Imari wares are generally distinguished from those made in the Kakiemon style by the darker palette of enamel colors and densely patterned surfaces, some of which are clearly derived from Japanese and South-East Asian textiles and known in Japan as brocade ware (nishiki-de), but there are considerable variations within this broad outline.

The caduceus mark (Merkurstab) on the cream pot was in use at Meissen as early as 1721-1722 and its application continued into the early 1730s. With the single serpent the mark resembles more closely the staff of the Greek healer of antiquity, Asclepius, and not the twin serpents on the winged staff of Hermes or Mercury, the winged messenger god of ancient Greece and Rome.

The function of this type of object could be to hold a broth for invalids or women recovering from childbirth, or for holding thick cream or a sauce.

For a detailed account of the Imari style and its European imitators see Ayers, J., Impey, O., Mallet, J.V.G., 1990, Porcelain for Palaces: the fashion for Japan in Europe 1650-1750.

Rotondo-McCord, L., 1997, Imari: Japanese Porcelain for European Palaces: The Freda and Ralph Lupin Collection.

For a comparable object see Pietsch, U., 2011, Early Meissen Porcelain: the Wark Collection from the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens, p.327, and for more examples and information about this pattern see Weber, J., 2013, Meissener Porzellane mit Dekoren nach ostasiatischen Vorbildern: Stiftung Ernst Schneider in Schloss Lustheim, Band II, S. 65-81.

Jefferson Miller II, J., Rückert, R., Syz, H., 1979, Catalogue of the Hans Syz Collection, pp. 204-205. Note on the caduceus mark p.591.

Battle for the Senate

National Portrait Gallery

Why Albert Einstein, the Genius Behind the Theory of Relativity, Loved His Pipe

Smithsonian Magazine

It’s not exactly the thing that made Albert Einstein renown in human history. But the modest smoking device just may have helped create his world-changing theories and formulas.

Since it first arrived at the Smithsonian more than 30 years ago, Einstein’s pipe isn’t just a notable personal item from one of history’s great thinkers, it is also the most popular single exhibit in the museum’s entire modern physics collection, officials there say.

It beats the Nier mass spectrograph, the first atom–beam block and even the Bose-Einstein Condensation Apparatus.

“It’s in a class by itself,” says Roger Sherman, the Smithsonian’s associate curator for the modern physics collection, says of the modest wooden pipe from before 1948.

The pipe itself is not currently on display among the science holdings of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington. Instead, as proof of its popularity, it’s at the National Museum of American Jewish History, a Smithsonian affiliate in Philadelphia, for several years.

“We get requests from other museums to borrow it,” Sherman says.  Requests from other museums is the main way to measure popularity of an artifact, he says, and “It’s been on loan many, many times.”

It may be only 6 ¼ inches long with a bowl standing less than 1 ½ inches high, but the pipe takes on added importance since it is one of the few personal objects remaining from the Nobel Prize winning creator of the theory of relativity.

“People associate him with the life of the mind and writing theoretical papers,” Sherman says. “So anything that is a material presence related to him has a particular appeal that perhaps doesn’t apply to other people.”

The fact that there aren’t many surviving artifacts of Einstein’s—or pipes, though he was pictured as having a variety of them—“is an aspect of how Einstein lived,” Sherman says. "He did not value material possessions."

Image by Sygma/Corbis. Albert Einstein, ca. 1939 (original image)

Image by Bettmann/CORBIS. Albert Einstein and his sister Maja Winteler-Einstein at the 1939 Worlds Fair. (original image)

Image by Corbis. Albert Einstein, undated (original image)

Image by Lucien Aigner/CORBIS. Albert Einstein, in his study, 1940 (original image)

Image by Lucien Aigner/CORBIS. Albert Einstein, at home in Princeton, New Jersey, 1940. (original image)

“For example, the house he lived in [in Princeton, New Jersey], is not a museum; it’s just a private house. And there aren’t museum sites with collections of things that belonged to him anywhere. His most valuable legacy is his papers.”

And most of them are preserved today in Jerusalem, Sherman says.

The pipe, however, may have been a crucial tool in the formulation of his theories.

“I believe that pipe smoking contributes to a somewhat calm and objective judgment in all human affairs,” Einstein was once quoted as saying in 1950.

It didn’t take an Einstein to know that smoking wasn’t good for his health, though. “He enjoyed smoking,” Sherman says. “But at one point his doctor told him to give it up, so he did. But he didn’t give up on the pipes themselves and he would fairly often stick an empty one in his mouth and just chew on it.

“And in fact we have evidence of that,” he says, “because the pipe that we have is partly chewed through. He definitely used it in one way or another.”

The pipe came from the collection of Gina Plunguian, a sculptor from Newark, Delaware.

Sculptor Gina Plunguian (the donor of the pipe) with Albert Einstein (a pipe in hand, lower right) and the bust she made of him. (Courtesy of the Archives of American Art)

“She had been a friend of Einstein’s and also worked for him and helped him with his paper work in his office,” Sherman says. “She was a sculptor, so she made a bust of Einstein. At one point he gave her one of the pipes that he had.”

The Smithsonian acquired the artifact in 1979, from her widower. The Smithsonian Archives of American Art also has a photograph from 1947 of Plunguian working on her bust of Einstein as the artists holds what may well be the pipe in question.  

Part of the popularity of the pipe is due to the fact that it humanizes him, Sherman says. Smart as he was, it was hard for him to give up on smoking.

Einstein died in Princeton on April 18, 1955, at age 76 after a ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm.

Photographer Cristian Movilă’s Eyewitness Photos of the Attack on Paris and its Aftermath

Smithsonian Magazine

Cristian Movilă has been working as a photojournalist, often in areas of conflict, for over a decade. He is based in Bucharest, Romania, and was in Paris last week for Paris Photo, an international photography festival. Last Friday night, he was passing through the Bataclan Theatre neighborhood, when the terrorist attacks in Paris started, the most deadly of which occurred at the theatre. When Movilă tried to flee the area, he found himself outside of an emergency exit of the Bataclan, and began documenting the scene on his iPhone and on his Sony RX1R. He has been posting images from the attacks and the aftermath on his Instagram and Facebook pages. This week, he spoke to about his experience.

You’re an experienced conflict and documentary photographer, and you work with major publications, including Smithsonian magazine. How did you get to where you are today, and how has your work evolved?

I started working for the New York Times and Time magazine back in 2005, 2006, with a story on Gaza. Since then I’ve been working as a freelancer, but mainly with them. I’m not comfortable with the phrase “conflict photographer,” but I cover a lot of conflicts. I’m trying to portray myself more as more of a visual artist. Lately, I’m focused on portraying my work as art, even if it’s documentary.

You were near the Bataclan during the terrorist attacks in Paris last week. Can you talk about what happened?

When I visit Paris, I stay in that area, near La Republic. I was near the Bataclan with friends, passing through the area.

I believe the first attack was in another café, and I got the news on my phone – that there are some clashes or somebody started shooting near the stadium or something like this. And then they started to send the other [notifications] and the news came in.

By mistake I went down a very small street that lead to one of the exits of the Bataclan Theatre. I don’t exactly how I arrived there, I was running and I arrived there, and I saw people on the streets, crying and screaming. It was horrible. What I saw there in the beginning was really, really hard. Then I started to shoot a little bit. You can tell in some of the pictures, I didn’t even take my camera from my pocket, I just used my phone.

In my images, you can see people coming out of the exit of the theater. By then the police were already there, but you could still hear the sound of the shootings inside. I saw terrified people running for their lives, their screams intermittently drowned out by the sound of gunfire.

By then, I was texting close friends, fellow photographers, and the editors I was with most of the day. I wrote that I had gone home because I did not want them to worry. When I received a message from a very good close photographer friend that there were more than 20 people confirmed dead, I started crying.

There were a lot of police running around heavily armed with masks on their faces, a lot of ambulances, and many people in civil clothing but with police judiciaire armbands. These policemen were trying to talk with people who had managed to escape from inside the Bataclan, writing down their names, details, whatever they could. The injured were dragged along the small alleyway by others, leaving behind bloody trails on the pavement. An injured woman was screaming in agony outside an emergency exit.

I want to avoid going into any more detail. What I saw was terrifying. I’ve been a witness to conflict for many years. I’ve seen people dying near me. I’ve seen explosions, all kinds of things. When you go in conflict, you assume that you will hear, that you will see, that it is possible that different things will happen to you. When you are in Paris and you experience such a thing, you are totally unprepared.

Here’s an analogy: When you are an athlete, like for example a boxer, when you tense your muscles, as a boxer, and somebody hits you in the stomach, you won’t have a problem because your stomach is a rock. But when you walk around Paris, and you’re looking around, absorbing the energy of the people, the beauty, the really good weather, and then something happens like that, and you’re unprepared... It’s exactly like a boxer, if he isn’t tensing his muscles, of course he’ll be hit like a normal person.

When did you stop taking photographs? At what point does a conflict photographer’s job end?

I was not even thinking, I was just shooting. I was just on automatic mode in a way. I was scared for everyone, for my friends, for my colleagues, for my editors because over the weekend was Paris Photo and everyone was there. Imagine that everyone who you work with and for is in town. You are scared for everyone, not just for you.

I remained in that area until really late, until 3 am, until everyone was taken to the hospital. I couldn’t sleep after I saw what I saw there. The second day, I went back, of course. I was photographing people coming with flowers and candles. At one point, I saw two girls. One girl was trying to tell another one: your two friends died inside. She was finding out in the moment, when I was near. She was totally devastated.

But here’s a side note about the power of Facebook: I put her picture online, and a big account of photography on Facebook shared my photograph. After 30 minutes I received a private message, “Cristian, I am the girl in the picture.” I wrote back, “Thank you for writing me. Can I call you?”

I called her and she started to cry and to explain exactly what had happened. It was really, really intense. What an example of how technology and social media can help [people connect in a time of chaos]. We were two complete strangers, united by a tragedy. That gives me hope. For the first time, I really understood the greatness of social media and how important it is to share something.

You’ve continued taking photos around Paris since the attacks. How has the national reaction unfolded over the last few days?

Every day until I left on Tuesday, I took photographs. There’s a lot of compassion, thousands of people gathering, even in this kind of situation, when you know [the terrorists] can hit again. They were like, “We are not afraid, we are one.” On Sunday night, I went to the Notre Dame Cathedral. In front was a big number, a few thousand people gathering together for the memorial service. It was really packed with police and so on, but people of ages, young, old, they were there without any fear. This for me was like, “Wow.” Two days after a terrorist attack they were not afraid, and they went to the memorial in such a big number. It was an act of love, an act of compassion. They love each other in this kind of moment. I really believe that in this kind of situation, it’s normal and it’s the right thing to be together, to be one.

After such a moment, we are more united, sharing love with each other. But unfortunately this happens only for a few days. We all go back to normal, back to our interests. And, I’m scared [of what could happen next] of course.

Have you photographed specific people whose stories stuck with you through the last few days?

The girl I told you about, of course. I was struck by the powerful message she sent to me. There was also a woman, she was out of Paris, as I understand it. She went to Plaza de La Republic to meet with a friend two days after the attacks. She found out that her boys had died. You can see in the photo, she is really screaming, not just crying. A friend asked her to come to Paris and she told her there, and she was really devastated, really screaming.

What parts of the national response to the attacks have you sought to document besides crowds? Were there specific locations or memorials?

In all of the locations, there were people every day, in the morning, in the afternoon, in the evening, paying respect, paying tribute, in a way, by staying there. In front of the Plaza de la Republic, people are gathering everyday. They are paying condolence to the families and to the victims through at least a moment of silence, flowers, candles, these kinds of things. In the last days, a lot of young people have gone there to try to celebrate, not the death, but celebrate love, probably. This for me was strange, in a way, but beautiful.

You recently photographed a tragedy at a music venue in Romania -- the fire at Colectiv Club that happened last month. How are you feeling after documenting both of these serious tragedies, ones you were “unprepared for” in such a short period of time?

This was rare – one after another. I was not going to the concert in Bucharest; I was going exactly in front of this club, to a van where they cook burgers during festivals. I went and I saw no van, so I entered Colectiv, the club, I saw a few friends, took one picture, and I left. After an hour or less, somebody called me and said, “Go there, there’s a big fire, people are dying.” I went there on my scooter and I saw what I saw.

That timing is unbelievable.

It’s been really shocking. I have friends who are still in the hospital. A few people that I knew, not very close, but I knew them, they are dead. Of course, that really affects me. We are so fragile. 

Piece Of Tapa

NMNH - Anthropology Dept.

Originally catalogued as just Polynesian, but it has been stored/attributed as Hawaiian.

Material of the object comes from the inner bark of the paper mulberry (broussonetia papyrifera). After the inner bark was removed from the plant, and left to soak in water, it would have been beaten by a wooden mallet on an anvil, to become a sheet of kapa. Each of the five sheets has different beater marks which suggests that each sheet was beaten with a different patterned beater. The top sheet has a beater pattern of asymmetrical diamonds, each with a circle in the middle. The second sheet has beater patterns with alternating wavy and straight horizontal lines, with vertical lines as a backdrop. The third sheet has alternating horizontal and vertical lines. The beater marks of the fourth sheet also has alternating horizontal and vertical lines, however they are much more defined on the fourth sheet. The same pattern appears on the fifth sheet, however it has a faded appearance and is difficult to see. The sheets are also dyed different colors. The first sheet is a maroon-reddish color, the second sheet is plain, the third sheet is a greyish-black and the fourth and fifth sheets are plain. The sheets also appear to have been cut along the vertical edges, as they are crisp, however the horizontal edges do not have the same crispness and appear more worn-like. These five sheets were then sewn together with a twinned piece of kapa, twisted in the 's' direction. The second sheet was folded along the top edge of the first sheet and the fourth and fifth sheets were folded in the opposite direction along the sewn edge. This may have been to give the sewn edge more strength, by being bulked out by the folded edges. Adrienne Kaeppler, Curator for Oceania Ethnology, has verified the tapa is from Hawaii. The first sheet appears to have yellow stains. These resemble the same yellow stains on a Samoan tapa (E13732), which in July 2013 was identified by Community Scholar and American Samoan tapa artist Regina Meredith as the decayed remnants of the outer bark of the paper mulberry plant. Several long black hairs were also found within the sheets of the tapa. These may have been hairs from the maker or one of the users of the tapa. However, aside from storage creases the fibers of the tapa are in good condition and very strong, which suggests that this tapa may have never been used.

One of the First Female Rock Critics Battled Sexism and Obscurity To Document the 1970s

Smithsonian Magazine

Ellen Willis saw it all, and wrote about it too.

Willis, born on this day in 1941, was, among other things, The New Yorker’s first pop music critic and a leading light of the women’s movement, writes Suzy Hansen in Observer. In a field that former Village Voice editor Robert Goldstein said was "more macho than the sports page," Willis made a name for herself with her clear critical tone that cut across the fanboy air of rock writing.

But unlike some of her male peers, Hansen writes, Willis moved on from rock writing and that part of her legacy has largely been forgotten. It helps that her career is in one sense hard to pin down: she was a rock writer, a passionate feminist, a journalism teacher and even a TV writer. In another sense, it's very easy: Ellen Willis was a cultural critic, and a deeply feminist one. Rock was just a lens.

In a piece for Guernica, Willis wrote about her path to criticism. After an unsuccessful first marriage, in 1966 she made the break for New York. No jobs are forthcoming "above the secretarial level." Then, in the Times help wanted section for men (there was a separate help wanted section for women), she found an ad for a staff writer at a small magazine. The publisher hires her for a different editorial job. "I ask why he doesn't list the staff writer in the help female section," she writes. "'It never occurred to me,' he says. The pay is terrible, but I get a prestigious title and a pep talk about my potential." 

After a year of navigating the sexist world of writing ("No man would put up with his total intolerance of self-assertion. I stay twice as long as any of my male predecessors.") Willis began her career as a critic in 1968, aged 26, writing about Bob Dylan for Cheetah, a now-defunct magazine. The New Yorker quickly picked her up. In the 56 pieces she did for the “Rock, Etc.” column over seven years, Willis wrote about many of the artists we still know today, writes Judy Berman for Slate: Dylan, of course, but also the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, Janis Joplin, among others.

She loved the musicians of the 1970s, but she challenged them, Berman writes: she skewered Dylan and Mick Jagger’s misogyny, Joplin’s just-one-of-the-guys bravado and the utopian myth of Woodstock before abandoning rock criticism in the 1980s. She had a serious belief, Berman writes, “in rock’n’roll as a force to be taken seriously, both as a tool for building a better society and for giving ourselves pleasure.”  

“For Willis, rock was sex, which was Freud, which was Marx, which was labor, which was politics and therefore a reason to vote or protest,” writes Emily Greenhouse for Dissent Magazine. “She was at her best when writing about the shifting locus of freedom, in those early years viewed through the lens of American music.”

She also kept writing elsewhere, on topics not related to rock. In “The Trial of Arline Hunt,” written for Rolling Stone, she examined the trial of a man accused of raping Hunt. She wrote about abortion, also for Rolling Stone.

Disillusioned by ‘80s pop and music criticism in general, writing “There can’t be a revolutionary culture until there is a revolution,” Willis moved on to writing essays about feminism and politics, writes Ken Tucker for NPR. She also founded New York University’s cultural reporting and criticism program in 1995, writes Fox, and was its first director. She kept writing—about Monica Lewinsky, O.J. Simpson and Tony Soprano.

Several years after her 2006 death of lung cancer, her daughter Nona Willis Aronowitz put together a collection of Willis’s “Rock, Etc.” columns, followed by a second book of her other critical essays.

"Ask most music nerds of my generation who they think the top rock and roll scribes of the 1960s and '70s were and they'll likely—rightly—offer the names of a handful of brilliant men," writes Julianne Escobedo Shepherd for Alternet. In the field of professional music criticism, "women tend to remain opaque, if not invisible," she writes: in spite of her talent and her ability to "convincingly" call out the likes of Bob Dylan, Willis has found the same fate.

Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road Ensemble Celebrates Our Differences Through Song

Smithsonian Magazine

Sing Me Home, the latest album produced by Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble, is a veritable smorgasbord of sounds – a feast for the ears. The record, released in April, runs an unprecedented cultural gamut, drawing from a host of ethnic and regional traditions to create novel, multivalent melodies. On the album, reimagined American standards, including “St. James Infirmary Blues,” complement West African tribal music, and ethereal Chinese song is juxtaposed with frenetic Irish fiddling.

This profound diversity is characteristic not only of the album, but also of those responsible for its creation, artists who take great pride in their ability to find unity among their mutual differences, and to humbly open themselves up to cultures outside their own.

Indeed, despite the disparate composition of the Silk Road Ensemble, which Yo-Yo Ma founded in 1998 as a way to connect talented musicians from all walks of life, one finds in their work overwhelming kindred warmth, a sense of collaborative oneness.

As virtuoso violinist Johnny Gandelsman, who co-produced Sing Me Home, puts it, “We feel that we are a family, and when we get together, it’s like a great family reunion.”

Nowhere is this familial bond more evident than in this newest album; each member of the Ensemble shares aspects of their personal, ancestral histories, integrating these defining traits with those of their fellow musicians to create a vibrant and beautiful whole.

“There’s so much joy,” Gandelsman says. “And through joy, there’s a lot of respect for individual experience, individual stories.” He emphasizes the role of learning in the group’s creative process: “learning [what’s important] to individuals in the group… strengthens us as a collective.”

The best illustration of this jocund atmosphere is perhaps the Ensemble’s music video for “Heart and Soul,” premiering exclusively on, a classic American pop tune that the group reimagined for a 21st-century audience, and elected to use as the closing track on “Sing Me Home.”

Image by Todd Rosenberg Photography. Johnny Gandelsman (violin), Colin Jacobsen (violin), and Nicholas Cords (viola) performing with fellow Silk Road Ensemble musicians (original image)

Image by Photograph by Max Whittaker. The Silk Road Ensemble with Yo-Yo Ma performing at the Mondavi Center in California (original image)

Image by Photograph by Taeuck Kang. The Silk Road Ensemble With Yo-Yo Ma (original image)

Image by Photograph by Khalid Al Busaidi, Royal Opera House Muscat, Oman. The Silk Road Ensemble with Yo-Yo Ma performing in Oman in 2014 (original image)

Throughout the video, musicians and vocalists alike sport broad, sincere smiles, and sway breezily to the beat. As the two lead singers, guest performers Lisa Fischer and Gregory Porter, deliver their dulcet, romantic harmonies, they peer deeply into each other’s eyes. Core members of the ensemble are encouraged to invite their colleagues in their respective genres.

As Yo-Yo Ma, the visionary cellist at the heart of the ensemble, says via e-mail, “Part of what I love about this album is the way that, in a number of cases, collaborations are extensions of existing relationships.” Witness Martin Hayes, an Irish musician recruited by Silk Road veterans of the string quartet Brooklyn Rider to play on “O’Neill’s Cavalry March.” “They brought their beloved friend into our family,” Ma says.

Given the album’s lengthy list of contributors, what is perhaps most impressive about its production is the fact that each individual involved was encouraged at all stages of the process to voice suggestions and concerns. “The ensemble operates basically on democratic principles,” Johnny Gandelsman says.  “We take every opinion as very valuable.”

This notion of inclusivity extends beyond the group’s internal structure; a key facet of the Silk Road Ensemble’s mission is national and global outreach. The group is currently gearing up for a transcontinental summer tour of the United States, and is looking into the possibility of a Middle East engagement in the coming year. “There’s so much fear out there in the world,” Gandelsman says, “and we can address that through music.”

Yo-Yo Ma’s deepest hope is that the Silk Road Ensemble will inspire the creation of other, similar groups, each wholeheartedly committed to the celebration of world music. Eventually, far down the road, Ma’s original collective might gracefully fade away, no longer needed. That day – the day of the Silk Road Ensemble’s dissolution – will be, for its members, one of triumph.

In the meantime, the ensemble will continue to produce vital, compelling music, and to remind listeners everywhere that the beauty of human experience is shared among all of us, and is contributed to, uniquely, by each of us.

In the words of Yo-Yo Ma, speaking on the ensemble’s latest record, “We always focus on what unites rather than what divides, and I think that’s a lot of what you hear.”


Sing Me Home

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Yes, We’re Still Talking About Email

Smithsonian Institution Archives

When I last wrote about email in 2011, there were rumblings that the electronic communication tool was dying. Claims about email being on its last leg still continue. Texting and social media tools are presenting additional options depending on the message content and who it is intended for. A business contract is not being sent via Facebook Messenger. Also consider that many online forms still require an email address from the person seeking a service, newsletter, etc.

Alexander Calder's 'Mailbox', 1963 Apr. / Pedro E. Guerrero, photographer. Howard W. and Jean Lipman papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Email helps (contacting multiple parties at once) and hinders (messages that get buried) us. It was 10 years ago that the Smithsonian Institution Archives and the Rockefeller Archive Center launched its Collaborative Electronic Records Project (CERP)  that evolved into an email preservation project. At that the time, the largest email account we worked with was 1.5 GB or 28,000 messages. Today, our collections include individual email accounts that are nearly 30 GB or more than 250,000 messages and attachments. These email collections come from accounts that are no longer active at the Smithsonian, dating from the late 1990s through 2015.

Even if email is obsolete in five years, memory institutions will continue to receive email accounts from previous years that need to be accessible to researchers.

Other archives, libraries, museums, universities, and various organizations also are exploring email preservation challenges within their collections. These messages and attachments come from artists, authors, professors, and government officials, to name a few. Researchers, scholars, and journalists have always had an interest in the correspondence from the past. Previously this information was in the printed form of letters, memos, cards, etc.  

In June the Library of Congress and the National Archives and Records Administration hosted the Archiving Email Symposium. There were about 150 attendees, which included archivists, librarians, technology specialists, curators, and others. The event included presentations by the Smithsonian Institution Archives, the Library of Virginia, Stanford University, and various federal agencies. Topics included toolsets, appraisal, legal and records management issues, and processing workflows. A workshop on the second day focused on challenges and next steps for the interested parties to address through additional collaboration.

More tools and approaches are being developed across the preservation community to provide access and to help preserve email collections. This is just a sampling of some projects:

  • Library of Virginia's Kaine Email Project makes the emails from Governor Tim Kaine’s administration searchable online in full-text PDFs.
  • Stanford University’s ePADD or email: Process, Accession, Discovery processes an email account and allows for searching, browsing, and restricting messages, as well as applying user-created lexicons to help in finding confidential information. Some visualization features also are available (Note: The Smithsonian Institution Archives assisted in testing the software and providing feedback).

Screenshot of the Smithsonian Institution Archives’ DArcMail email processing software. The database allows searching of sender, attachment name, date, and more of an email account, as well as providing dates of the account and number of messages within directory folders.

The Archives also has been busy improving its in-house tools for email preservation work. Since the Smithsonian email accounts have grown in size, our original preservation processing software was showing its limitations. We have been testing an in-house program called DArcMail (Digital Archive Mail System) written in Python that still gives us the XML preservation output we adopted during CERP, as well as a database for searching email messages and attachments within accounts. So far the results have been promising with faster output, multiple options for searching, and viewing related emails within a chain.

The various options that are being tested and implemented demonstrate that many institutions and organizations understand the importance of preserving email communications from the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

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Love of Life as Survival: Malini Srinivasan and Bharatanatyam Dance

Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage

When I was twelve, every Tuesday night at 7 p.m. I would stand in ballet shoes on cracked wooden floorboards. Ms. Connie would pull her arms in and push them out from her chest, her back curving and straightening like a stretching cat, and tell me to make my body like a rubber band. I couldn’t quite grasp the concept.

At twenty-two, the idea of turning my body into a rubber band still eluded me, until I saw Malini Srinivasan dance at the 2017 Folklife Festival. Finally, I understood what Ms. Connie had meant.

I watched Malini cross her arms, then burst into a series of dynamic poses, her ankle bells jingling as she pounded across the stage. She bent her knees, then stamped out a phrase of Morse code with the heels and balls of her feet. I saw energy build up, rest suspended, then empower each movement. It was as if the July heat had set the stage on fire and she was stamping out the flames.

A professional Bharatanatyam dancer and teacher, Malini participated in On the Move for a presentation called “What We Bring,” sharing the cultural contributions her immigrant family has made to her community here. The session was presented by City Lore, a New York-based organization that is working with several artists to develop a performance and exhibition on the topic of immigration.

I was initially apprehensive about talking with her (my understanding of traditional Indian dance is limited to the “Bollywood Homicide” episode of Psych), but watching her put on her ankle bells I was reminded of wrapping the ribbons of my ballet shoes. I felt connected.

Malini Srinivasan
Malini Srinivasan attaches her ankle bells on stage at the 2017 Folklife Festival.
Photo by JB Weilepp, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives

Malini walks in the footsteps of her grandmother, Kolima, who danced on clay in India “and every time she struck her feet, they would make holes in the floor,” she said. The grace and power with which Malini moves embodies the persistent joy her grandmother carried through life, and now Malini carries through hers.

The art of Bharatanatyam was passed down from her grandmother to her mother to her. In this way, its history is one of matrilineal tradition—and one that greatly changed in the twentieth century. Women who performed Bharatanatyam in public were equated to prostitutes, because it was seen as immoral for a woman to publicly display her body. The tradition struggled to survive. Kolima learned the dance from male teachers who emphasized strict rules and discipline. She continued as a student until she married at the age of fourteen and moved to Bombay. While in Bombay, she taught Bharatanatyam, but her husband forbade her from ever seeing or participating in performances.

When her husband died, Kolima was expected to dress simply and withdraw from life. In spite of these cultural expectations, she wore silk saris and her best jewelry. Malini believes this reflects the “love of life” that helped her survive poverty and the struggles of being a single mother in India.

She opened a dance school in Bombay where she trained hundreds of students. Malini said she was “the most gentle dance teacher you’ll ever come across,” running her classroom with kindness and the joy. “Dance class was like playtime,” Malini continued, explaining that Bharatanatyam and other forms of traditional dance can be challenging to teach because students “hate the rigidity, the structure, the discipline, the coldness of it.” Children who only experience these elements of dance class won’t continue because they don’t associate dance with happy memories.

Malini Srinivasan
Malini Srinivasan at the 2017 Folklife Festival.
Photo by JB Weilepp, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives
Malini Srinivasan
Malini Srinivasan at the 2017 Folklife Festival.
Photo by JB Weilepp, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives

Malini takes inspiration from her grandmother as a teacher, saying that when she teaches she gives students “space to move and to sweat and to focus, a vibrant experience in their bodies.” Even if students don’t become professional dancers, they grow up active and engaged people.

“That doesn’t come out of thin air. That comes through engaging.”

Traditionally Bharatanatyam teachers don’t share information or exchange ideas, but Kolima wasn’t afraid to bring in other teachers when she felt she wasn’t knowledgeable enough on a subject. Acknowledging her strengths and weaknesses “made her perfect to carry on the art.” According to Malini, the art of Bharatanatyam is “an ocean,” and it’s impossible for one person to know everything.

Malini too works to knock down barriers. She invites her students and audience into the creative process, giving them a behind-the-scenes look into the form. Listening to her talk about breaking down the image of the prima donna dancer reminded me of watching mothers cake makeup onto their daughters’ faces at dance recitals. It can be challenging to prove the importance and the accessibility of dance as an art form when dancers are so often pushed into the bubble of perfection.

The value of creating community is something Malini’s family has passed down for generations. In her grandmother’s home, “if you wanted any privacy you had to lock yourself in the bathroom.” The two-bedroom apartment housed nine people and served as an afternoon dance studio for thirty students. Kolima hosted benefit concerts and performances with her students in Bombay.

After moving to D.C., Malini’s family carried on the communal tradition. They chose their house because the basement was perfectly suited for Malini’s mother’s Bharatanatyam class, and for her father’s impromptu concerts with visiting Carnatic musicians. Malini teaches classes at home as well and expects that her children will see being part of a large community as a norm.

Malini Srinivasan
Malini Srinivasan at the 2017 Folklife Festival.
Photo by JB Weilepp, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives

Watching her now—with each jump, Malini makes it clear she wishes to go through life with as light a heart as her grandmother. When I asked about her sense of responsibility for Bharatanatyam, she responded, “If I thought about it too much, it would seem like a burden.” She sees her role as a dancer and teacher as a unique privilege.

“I get to interact every day with these ideas and these movements, and it makes me feel good,” she said. “That has to do with being connected to the past and being able to carry something to the future.”

It’s also a unique way for her to connect with her family history.

“I don’t have to always engage with the past in a sad way. I think they taught me to lighten up a little—enjoy. That really is the best gift a parent could give a child.”

Malini dances to stay connected to her community, her culture, and herself. By dancing and teaching Bharatanatyam, she keeps her family history alive.

“In this way, I bring back the spirits and struggles of my mom and grandmom, and somehow it feels like I’m continuing what Kolima started many years ago in a different time and place.”

Emma Cregan is a media intern at the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage and a recent graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University, where she studied kinetic imaging. 

Nest Of 4 Baskets

NMNH - Anthropology Dept.
From card: "1 [basket exchanged] Trocadero [Museum, France] July 1885. 1 [basket exchanged] Salem, May [18]86. One basket Illus.: Hndbk. N. Amer. Ind., Vol. 7, Northwest Coast, Fig. 11 right, pg. 249." Handbook caption describes this object as a "Plain close-twined basket with grown-dyed bands on the natural buff background, a characteristic Haida basketry decoration. height 41 cm." As of 2012, only one basket with this number has been located in the collections.

One basket is on loan to the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center, from 2010 through 2022.

Source of the information below: Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center Alaska Native Collections: Sharing Knowledge website, by Aron Crowell, entry on basket lent to Anchorage Museum, retrieved 5-19-2012: Basket, Haida. Raspberries, salmonberries, currants, blueberries, huckleberries, and salalberries ripen during summer in southeast Alaska and Haida Gwaii. Haida artist Delores Churchill identified this large spruce-root basket as a collection vessel into which berry pickers emptied their loads. The dark bands are a traditional Haida design, woven from roots dyed with hemlock and iron soaked in urine. Extracts from Elders' discussions of the basket in 2005 (see web page cited above for the full entries): Delores Churchill: This one is definitely Haida. If you could see that they started here [vertical line on outside], and as I said they go counterclockwise, so it would be going around in that direction. Some of these baskets when— Suzie Jones: You moved clockwise though when you did that though so- Delores Churchill: That's because we hold it upside down. Clarence Jackson: Oh, start it from the bottom. Delores Churchill: Right. And we're going counterclockwise. . . . I'm going to turn it on its side, because I want to look at the bottom. There was one woman and her descendants still do that, Charles Edenshaw's wife's family. And you could see all the way that they added every five or six rows, and that way they went from finer to coarser, and they didn’t have to keep adding. Her family did it that way, so it kind of signifies some of those families, because they did it in that way. Delores Churchill: And these baskets, when I was a child, we used this sized baskets. And we had small ones that we picked [berries] with. Everybody picked with the smaller ones [about a six inch diameter]. . . . You didnt carry this, but there was a small one you carried on your back. And you had a smaller one [in hands] and then you took from the front one to put in the back [over the shoulder]. And when I was a child . . . when we collected berries, we put the skunk cabbage leaves on the bottom, because it acted like wax paper and that way it caught the juice too. We didn’t want the juice to drip down our back, but we also saved the juice to use when putting the berries away. But I noticed some of the children in the Haskell Institute-some of the Haida children that went from Hydaburg and Kassan to some of these schools-they had these as their suitcases. You could see the children arriving, and there’s a picture of them and their baskets are lined up in the back where they kept it. When I was a child they were still using these kinds of baskets. . . . Delores Churchill: Another thing that we did, we did go harvest spruce roots with our Elders. And it was really interesting because we would go to Toe Hill to harvest razor clams commercially, then we would walk to the area where we would harvest the spruce roots. But when we harvested, the elders they didn't allow us to do it. Just the elders gathered the spruce roots. But when they were ready to quit-it was really interesting-they sang a song. They were all scattered around, and the first one that started the song would go down and start the fire for the spruce root-the cooking of the spruce root, because they would put it in the fire. Then the next group would sing, and they would be the ones that would help get the kindling, the beach wood. And it would go clear around. And when it reached the last ones, then they all went down the beach then and started the cooking. And we did it the same way as the Tlingit. We put it [cooked root] through a stick that was forked and took the outer skin off right at that time. The Haidas really worked on it right away. But Tlingits stored it when they got that far. When they cooked it, they would bundle it up and put it away. But the Haidas didn't do that. They'd immediately start splitting and continue to split it until it was down to where it was workable. And I don't know if the Tlingits did it earlier, but from what Jennie told me, they never worked on it. We gave her some that we had harvested, and she just put it away, so I think that was a common Tlingit [practice] because they had so many things happening right at that time. "Delores Churchill: This is quite typical of the Haida weaving where you have the black bands. And I don't know if they have any meaning or not, except that in Klukwan-what they told me, when they were feasting with the Mother Basket-low caste people would get the bottom just up to there [first horizontal line from bottom]. High class people as you go higher, then the chiefs got the ones that were full. So I don’t know if that’s why the lines were on there, because they didn't know in the village anymore. But when we were looking at the Mother Basket, and I saw the lines on the Mother Basket, I asked Mrs. Willard. I said, "Why do you have the lines on the Mother basket?" And she said that was the reason that different caste people got different amounts of goods from when they were having a feast.

Delores Churchill: But this is beautifully made. I know that we all admire real fine baskets, but this is so even, the weaving, the roots. Everything is so even. Every time we see baskets in a museum, I’m always pushed back to kindergarten, because these are so even and so nice. And you'll notice that the inside is the shiny part, because that's the water resistant part. And now when you see people weaving, that part will be on the bottom, because they're not made for use. And one of the things that people don't understand is that they all thought we wove really tight. But I watched Ida Kadashaan. When she's weaving, she takes her bear tooth, her grizzly bear tooth, rub, rub, rub. And that rubbing spreads the fibers. So you can weave it as tight as you can, but the rubbing also spreads the fibers so it's water resistant. Suzi Jones: What’s used to make the color? Delores Churchill: That's iron oxide, and that's why it's fading already. It fades pretty fast. They would use hemlock and iron oxide on the black. But this kind of a basket was used in Klukwan too, because there are many in many different collections that I've seen that look just like this. That's why I had to turn it around again to look at the beginning when she mentioned that, because I have seen some at the Field Museum that I thought were Haida. But the Klukwan people used them with the lines on them too, and same top and so you have to really watch these baskets. Because if they're red, I always look, because most of the time the Klukwan liked to use the red. And I don't know if they had easier access to red and we didn't for the early ones." [From discussion with Delores Churchill (Haida), Peter Jack, Sr. (Tlingit), Clarence Jackson, Sr. (Tlingit), Anna Katzeek (Tlingit), George Ramos (Tlingit), and Donald Gregory (Tlingit) and Rosita Worl (Tlingit) of the Sealaska Heritage Institute at the National Museum of Natural History and National Museum of the American Indian, 4/18/2005-4/22/2005. Also participating: Aron Crowell and Bill Fitzhugh (NMNH) and Suzi Jones (AMHA).]

Our brewing historian hits the road—and you can follow along on Twitter

National Museum of American History

Embarking on a research trip is always an exciting time for a historian, but this trip is especially important to me because it's the first one I'm making as brewing historian for the Smithsonian's Brewing History Initiative. I'll be on the road in northern California conducting oral histories with brewers, touring their operations, and delving into storage rooms to identify objects for possible future collection. And you can come along with me! Follow my tweets (I'm @theresamccu) from the road and learn about the #BeerHistory I'm uncovering. I'll also share my tweets in this blog post for those who aren't on Twitter, so bookmark this page if you're thirsty for some as-it-happens brewing history.  

Wooden panel of a crate with a hole where you put your hand to lift it. "ACME" is painted in red and black.

Traveling to breweries—or wineries—in northern California probably sounds like a great idea for a vacation, but we're there for research and won't have much time to relax. Curator Paula Johnson and I will be visiting three breweries, a historic brew pub, and a university-based brewing studies program and will be conducting hours of oral history interviews. I'll be asking questions such as: What was the culture of early home brewing like? What factors helped some home brewers become the first professional craft brewers? How did brewers access new kinds of ingredients, like West Coast hops? What’s unique about California’s brewing history? And how have beer consumers' tastes changed over time?  

Exploring brewers' answers to these questions is important because they helped begin what is now commonly called the craft beer revolution. What started in northern California in the 1960s and 1970s was not just a new era in the history of business and technological innovation, but a true change in the American palate when it came to beer. While I'm on the road, it might be hard to find the time to answer all of your questions via Twitter, so I thought I'd answer a few frequently asked questions here.

Beer bug with a chubby middle and large handle. It is brown/tan in color. In white, an Aztec head illustration/cartoon and block letters K C O R.

Will you be sampling beer while on the road?

I can assure you that there will be no drinking during research hours. We need clear heads to focus on the work at hand. Our assignment is to return with research notes—not tasting notes! And yet . . . tasting beer is one way to experience California's rich brewing history and respect the work of the brew masters we'll meet, so we'll be sure to enjoy some samples when the work day is done. In short: history first, happy hour second.

Why start out in California? Is that the only place you'll visit on research trips?

As historians, it seemed natural to us to begin our research at the source. Northern California is crucial to the early histories of home brewing and craft brewing. The same region that produced California cuisine and the high-tech innovations of Silicon Valley was also home to the most creative experimentations in American brewing in decades. This will be far from our last stop, though. Our research is just beginning. We look forward to crisscrossing the country to assemble a comprehensive history of American beer.

Will there be an exhibition on beer at the museum soon?

Developing exhibitions is just one reason curators and historians do research and collect objects, but it's not the only reason. Instead, my primary task is to build an archive from the ground up—assembling objects, documents, and stories that will benefit researchers and the public well into the future. As I do that, you'll be happy to hear that we are planning public programs, highlighting the new collections online, publishing blog posts, and continuing to share America's brewing history with the public.

Look for my next updates from the road!

Theresa McCulla is brewing historian in the museum's Division of Work and Industry.

The American Brewing History Initiative is made possible through generous support from The Brewers Association, the not-for-profit trade association dedicated to small and independent American brewers.

Posted Date: 
Sunday, March 26, 2017 - 08:45
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The Proliferation of Happiness

Smithsonian Magazine

It took only ten minutes for Harvey Ball to create the Smiley face. In 1963, the State Mutual Life Assurance Company in Worcester, Massachusetts, hired him to come up with a design that would help raise the morale of its employees. Ball was an artist formally educated at the Worcester Art Museum School and a trained sign painter. After he presented the Smiley face, the company paid him $45 for his work. Neither Ball nor the insurance company took out a trademark. Before too long, tens of millions of buttons with the iconic image (two black marks for eyes and a black grin on a bright yellow background) were in circulation.

In the early 1970s, the brothers Murray and Bernard Spain secured a trademark for a combination of the face with the phrase “Have a Happy Day,” later changed to “Have a Nice Day.” The rest is history—images and sayings that we are all familiar with. Finally, in 1999, Ball created the World Smile Corporation to license one version of the image. He used the proceeds to help improve the lives of children, and his son Charles said that his father was not sorry that he made so little money off what he wrought. "He was not a money-driven guy, he used to say, 'Hey, I can only eat one steak at a time, drive one car at a time.'"

Ball died in 2001 at age 79, too soon to witness the full flowering on positive psychology and happiness studies, scholarly fields that combine Eastern religions, neuroscience, evolutionary biology, and behavioral economics—but above all represent a shift of focus among some psychologists from mental illness to mental health, from depression and anxiety to subjective well-being.

His own commitments underscore two key findings of positive psychology, insights based on science. Although some of these insights were available before he died, it is unlikely he knew about them—and yet, he lived them. If there was a moment when positive psychology emerged on the American scene with organizational heft, it was in 1998, when University of Pennsylvania psychology professor Martin Seligman delivered the presidential address at the American Psychological Association, in which he defined positive psychology as “a reoriented science that emphasizes the understanding and building of the most positive qualities of an individual: optimism, courage, work ethic, future-mindedness, interpersonal skill, the capacity for pleasure and insight, and social responsibility.”

Harvey Ball didn’t need psychologists to tell him of their discovery of the Helper’s High, the pleasure that a person gets from giving, the basis of the link between altruism and a sense of well-being. Nor did he need to read the research that demonstrated that above a certain level of income ($70,000 is the one most commonly mentioned), additional income provides only marginally meaningful increments of happiness.

As with almost any finding in a new and burgeoning scientific field, claims about the impact of greater income are contested. However, they led to important consequences. The caution that more income above a certain level did not necessarily enhance positivity caused some political activists to call for a more egalitarian distribution of income; studies of the relationship between a nation’s Gross Domestic Product and its citizens’ well-being seem to reinforce that push. The World Happiness Report—an annual survey conducted since 2012—determined that citizens of Finland, the Netherlands, and Denmark report more life satisfaction than do those living in the United States, which has a higher GDP per capita.

Ball would no doubt have evidenced a grin on his own face when in 2015, Dan Price, the head of Gravity Payments, a Seattle credit-card-processing firm, having learned that incomes over $70,000 do not make people appreciably happier, decided to reduce his own salary from $1 million to $70,000 and increase those of his employees to at least $70,000. The move is still paying dividends. Of course, just as international comparisons are controversial, so too was Price’s decision. His brother, who had co-founded Gravity Payments, unsuccessfully sued him.

Rarely have academic findings so quickly influenced a culture. Some of this is coincidence, representative of how experimental findings and cultural change occur simultaneously but independently. In the mid-1990s, Oprah Winfrey reconfigured her show to shift from a focus on personal problems to opportunities for personal growth. Positive psychology might have gained significant traction under different conditions, but television evangelism, TED talks, and the proliferation of apps and websites devoted to aspects of positive psychology and self-improvement, along with Oprah’s enterprises, greatly accelerated and amplified the field’s reach. Support from private foundations and government agencies also helped launch, build, and define their presence, inside and more notably outside university walls. So, too, did opportunities to spread happiness via positive coaching and positive institution building.

While some assertions of positive psychology can be questioned—there are those who say its practitioners has moved too quickly from experimental findings to bold assertions, as well as those, relying on the works of Marx and Foucault, questioning its politics—certain insights are indeed significant. Investigations underscore the connection between physical health and mental well-being, the importance of social relationships, what we can (our perspectives) and cannot (our genetic composition) control, and the benefits of character strengths such as grit and compassion.

Ball’s influence, too, has been pervasive. In January 2005, Time Magazine placed multiple Smiley faces on its cover and announced that inside readers could learn of “The Science of Happiness”—and answers to why optimists live longer, whether God wants us to be happy, and if joy is in our genes. In January 2009, Psychology Today put a Smiley face on its cover, and announced that with the number of books on happiness growing from 50 published in 2000 to 4,000 published 8 years later, a “happiness frenzy” had arrived. “Herein,” the cover story promised, “we report the surest ways to find well-being.” Then in July 2016 Time offered a special edition, on “The Science of Happiness” with no less than 15 smiley faces—one with a halo, one with two hearts, and one with a blinking eye. Inside were “NEW DISCOVERIES FOR A MORE JOYFUL LIFE,” including an emphasis on relationships, meditation, and exercise.

Had Harvey Ball lived to see these covers, he likely would have smiled.

Canada - Landmarks and Points of Interest

Smithsonian Magazine

The name alone makes people curious about Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump and a visit to this United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site outside of Fort Macleod teaches visitors about the ingenuity of local hunters, who used the site as a hunting ground for thousands of years.

Not too far from Fort Macleod is the Waterton Lakes National Park. Home to the oldest rock in the Canadian Rocky Mountains (at 1.5 billion years old), Cameron Falls in Waterton Village is a draw for both its geological interest and sheer beauty.

Alberta has a number of wildlife conservation and rehabilitation facilities, such as the Birds of Prey Centre, which houses the hawks, falcons, eagles and owls of the province on a 70-acre portion of wetlands. Open May to September, the centre offers flying demonstrations, allows visitors to handle the birds and builds back populations through captive breeding of species like the endangered burrowing owl. Other options include the Calgary or Valley Zoos, Sea Life Caverns, Reptile World, Discovery Wildlife Park, Ellis Bird Farm and the Medicine River Wildlife Centre.

If your tastes tend toward the more peculiar, Alberta is home to a surprising assortment of the world's "largest," including: The World's Largest Badminton Racket, Beaver, Bee, Chuckwagon, Dinosaur, Easter Egg, Mushroom, Oil Lamp, Piggy Bank, Putter, Sundial, and Western Boot.

British Columbia
One of the most striking buildings in Vancouver is Canada Place, with its sail-like structures stretched toward the sky. Canada Place is a mixed-use building on the waterfront that serves as the home of the Vancouver Convention and Exhibition Centre, The Pan Pacific Hotel, the cruise ship terminal, the CN IMAX Theatre, and various offices. As Vancouver prepares to host the 2010 Olympic Winter Games, it is not only sprucing up existing amenities, but building new facilities in the area, like the recently opened Whistler Olympic Park, so keep an eye out for new points of interest.

In Victoria, the late 19th century Legislative Buildings sit on the Inner Harbour and illuminate the area every evening with 3,333 lights. Tours of the Francis Rattenbury-designed buildings are available at no cost, offering visitors a closer look at the murals, plaster work, stained glass, architectural details and the grounds surrounding the buildings.

In downtown Winnipeg sits Dalnavert, the home of Sir Hugh John Macdonald, the son of Canada's first Prime Minister. The Queen Anne-style house was built in 1895 and narrowly escaped demolition in 1970 when it was saved, then carefully restored, by the Manitoba Historical Society.

The Forks, where the Assiniboine River meets the Red River, has been a Winnipeg gathering spot for six thousand years and today it takes the form of a commercial, recreational and educational destination with a market, restaurants, attractions, an amphitheater, garden and riverwalk. The Johnston Terminal, also at The Forks, served as a cold storage railway warehouse in its former life and now houses specialty shops, offices and dining options.

New Brunswick
Visitors may be surprised to learn that New Brunswick has quite a few wineries scattered around the province. Belliveau Orchards and Bourgeois Farms outside of Moncton give visitors a literal taste of the area's bounty—icewine, flat wine, sparkling wine, juices and specialty wines are made at Bourgeois Farms and other area producers include the Magnetic Hill Winery, Belleisle Vineyards Inc., the Gagetown Cider Company and Waterside Farms Cottage Winery.

Newfoundland and Labrador
The Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN) Botanical Garden showcases native and naturalized plant species. Five nature trails onsite allow guests to wander through a 110 acre managed preserve and nearby gardens include a cottage garden, rock gardens, shade garden, medicinal garden and compost demonstration garden.

Wandering around the towns of the province, visitors will be struck by the cheerful, candy colored saltbox houses lining the streets. Beautifully built churches display the talents of craftsman; St. John the Baptist Basilica in particular serves as a lasting example of early 19th century design. Built over a period of 21 years, the cathedral was consecrated in 1855.

Northwest Territories
Following the discovery of diamonds in Canada in 1991, diamond mines have sprouted in the Northwest Territories—the Diavik Diamond Mine, the EKATI Diamond Mine and the Snap Lake Diamond Project, which is owned by De Beers. Although percentage-wise, Canada is not a large-scale source of diamonds at this time, some predict that the area could produce 12 to 15 percent of the world's diamonds once all area mines are up and running—which would make Canada the third largest source worldwide.

Nova Scotia
Primarily known for his accomplishments while living in America, Alexander Graham Bell spent many years living on Baddeck Bay in Nova Scotia. Now home to the Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site of Canada, the complex features photographs, displays, artifacts, replicas and films tracing the life and work of the famed inventor.

In Upper Economy, Nova Scotia, sits That Duchman's Farm, where owners Maja and Willem van den Hoek produce farmstead gouda, tend heritage animals, and maintain extensive grounds, walking trails and waterways for visitors to explore.

Cape Dorset, the Capital of Inuit Art, sits in eastern Nunavut and local artists are revered for their skill with ancient arts. Napatchie Pootoogookwas, who focuses on prints and drawings, Pudlalik Shaa, who works on stone carvings, and Alasua Sharky, whose preferred medium for carving is stone, but also works with antler and whalebone, are a few of the town's more prominent artisans.

Inukshuk, which can be found throughout much of Canada, are directional markers built of large stones and abstractly human-like. The largest of these structures can be found in Shomberg, Ontario, but they are primarily located in the Arctic regions where they were historically used by the Inuit to convey information about the best routes, places to camp, dangerous waterways and other vital details. On a more spiritual level, inukshuks protect travelers on their journey.

Toronto's offerings are nearly endless, with a well-developed waterfront, the St. Lawrence market with more than 60 specialty food vendors, and—of course—the CN Tower, which is likely Canada's most recognized man-made attraction. The Tower has four levels of viewing stations—the lowest (at 1,122 feet) with a glass floor and outdoor observation deck, the next (1,136 feet) with a café and indoor observation deck, the third (1,150 feet) with a fine dining restaurant featuring 360 degree views of the city and a floor that rotates once every 72 minutes and the SkyPod deck at 1,465 feet.

Prince Edward Island
The smallest of Canada's provinces played a fundamental role in the creation of the country, as Province House in Charlottetown hosted the 1864 Charlottetown Conference, where the idea for a united Canada was developed. Visitors can explore the house, watch a film on the conference, and enjoy historical reenactments.

Prince Edward Island also has quite a few scenic drives that take guests on a picturesque tour of the island; visitors should also consider driving through some of PEI's heritage red clay roads—but be aware that you are sharing the roads with farmers and their large equipment and that these roads are quick to become muddy and difficult to navigate in the spring when the snow melts.

Montréal is bursting with spectacular examples of architecture such as Olympic Stadium, Place Ville Marie, Environment Canada's Biosphère and, perhaps most famous, the Notre-Dame Basilica, a Gothic revival masterwork built between 1824 and 1829. Other worthwhile stops and views include the Mount Royal Park, the Jacques-Cartier Bridge and Saint Joseph's Oratory

In Quebec City, La Citadelle of Quebec provides visitors a glimpse into the military past of the area. La Citadelle remains an active military facility, so all tours are guided, and visitors will learn about the fortress and its history; guests may also explore the Governor General's residence, which overlooks the Saint Lawrence River and has served as the second home to every Governor General of Canada since 1872. During the summer months, the morning Changing of the Guard can be viewed, as well as the evening Retreat.

This one might not be visible from space, but the Great Wall of Saskatchewan near Smiley is quite a feat in its own right. The Wall was started by Albert Johnson in 1962 and continued to grow over the years as rocks from neighboring farms were added to the project. Completed in 1991, it was built without any cement or mortar.

Moose Jaw, where dozens of murals adorn the fronts and sides of buildings in the downtown corridor, is also home to two fascinating, multimedia tunnel tours. The town used to have an extensive underground system used for various purposes—both mundane and nefarious—and visitors can now participate in the "Passage to Fortune" tour, which gives guests an idea of the life of a Chinese immigrant in the late 19th century, and "The Chicago Connection," which looks as Moose Jaw's role in supplying liquor to the United States during Prohibition.

Don't miss the views from the Top of the World Highway, which runs from Dawson City to Alaska—a narrow, meandering road that takes drivers on a spectacular journey through unspoiled Canada.

And while most travelers buy souvenirs, for those more inclined to leave something behind, there is the Sign Post Forest in Watson Lake. The forest began simply enough, by Carl Lindley, an American Army man working on the Alaska highway; Lindley missed his home in Danville, IL, so he posted a sign in 1942, pointing in the direction of Danville and listing the mileage to make it there. In the decades since, more than 10,000 signs have been posted—pointing toward the hometowns of so many visitors.

Description de l'Égypte, ou, Recueil des observations et des recherches qui ont été faites en Égypte pendant l'éxpédition de l'armée française / publié par les ordres de Sa Majesté l'empereur Napoléon le Grand

Smithsonian Libraries
For collation of the work see London institution, Library, A bibl. account and a collation of La description de l'Égypte, London, 1833.

Edited by E.F. Jomard; historical preface by J.B.J. Fourier--See the British Museum Catalogue under Egypt.

Volumes published 1817-1828, have imprint: de l'Imprimerie Royale.

Four versions of the first edition were issued: one with a single colored plate; one with sixteen colored plates; one on "papier velin"; and one on "papier velin", "wherein were inserted the earliest impressions of the plates, and those printed in colours were retouched by the pencil. The latter copies for the most part were presented as national gifts."--See London Institution, page 19.

Illustrated with engravings, etchings, col. aquatints; some plates are folded, some hand-colored.

The principal artist of the "Carte topographique" was Blondeau, assisted by eighteen others.

"Mémoire sur la construction de la carte de l'Égypte" by Pierre Jacotin (État moderne [text], volume 2, part 2).

"De l'état actuel de l'art musical en Égypte" by Guillaume André Villoteau (État moderne [text], volume 1, pages 607-846); "Description historique, technique et littéraire, des instrumens de musique des Orientaux" (volume 1, pages 847-1012).

"Préface historique" by M. Fourier is the same size as the ten vols. of ordinary plates--See London Institution.

Histoire naturelle, volume 2 (bis), issued without a title page. Histoire topographique has own title page.

The text was issued in livraisons as 11 volumes (including the plate-sized Préface historique. Explication des planches); the plates in 10 volumes in several formats (71 x 54 cm., 107 x 69 cm., 127 x 70 cm.) totaling 894 plates, with 36 additional prepared to be bound into the text volume. The Carte topographique is in the "grand monde" or large format.

Catalogue of the books, manuscripts, maps and drawings in the British Museum (Natural History), volume 2, pages 606-607

Also available online.

SCNHRB copy 1 is incomplete: lacks "Etat moderne" text tome 1.


SCNHRB copy 2 has planche 3 ("L'Aspic") of Zoologie. Reptiles (Supplément) from Histoire naturelle atlas 1, only (39088017216649), engraved by Tresca.

SCNHRB copy 2 of planche 3 ("L'Aspic") has been disbound and is housed in an acid-free folder. The plate is inscribed in pencil on the recto: U.S.N.M. accession no. 204502, from Jacob Kainen, State. Dept. rec. Feb. 1955; there is also a partially legible handwritten note in ink dated août 1812, possibly by someone involved in the production of the atlas.

SCNHRB copy 2 has mounted on the verso: a carbon copy of an unclassified typescript memo completed by hand. The memo is addressed to the Department of State, Washington from the AM[erican?] Consulate, Nice France, dated January 6, 1955, with subject line: Publications: engraving for use of government. The body of the memo says, "There is enclosed, for such use as may be made of it, possibly by the Smithsonian Institute, a single zoological engraving of considerable antiquity found in the Villa Warden, the official consular residence at Nice. The engraving was presumably acquired with the building. It was concealed behind books in the library which were also acquired when the property was purchased." The memo is signed by A.E. Clattenburg, Jr. A handwritten note appears at the bottom of the memo: "Forwarded from Jacob Kainen of the State Dept. on Feb. 4, 1955."

SCNHRB copy 3 has a partial copy of Histoire naturelle atlas 2, only, with the following plates bound together in 1 v.: Arachnides, plates 1-8; Myriapodes, plate 1; Orthoptères, plates 1-7; Névroptères, plates 1-3; Hymenoptères, plates 1-20. In addition, several folded plates of Crustacés are laid in at the back of the volume: 1, 3-7, 9-13.

SCNHRB copy 3 has bookplate: Harry Hoogstraal, Library of Ticks and Tickborne Diseases. There are numerous handwritten annotations on the plates, probably in Hoogstraal's hand. Each plate also has a faint blind-embossed circular impression, probably an ownership stamp that has not been identified.

SCNHRB copy 3 has laid in: a carbon copy of a typescript letter from H. Hoogstraal, Head, Medical Zoology Dept., to Dr. Herbert G. Stoenner, Director, Rocky Mountain Laboratory, Hamilton, Montana, dated June 10, 1976. The letter states that Hoogstraal is donating this volume from his personal library to the Rocky Mountain Laboratory library.

SCNHRB copy 3 has a later blind-tooled half-leather binding with marbled paper boards, gilt-lettered spine, and decorated endpapers. A binder's label is mounted on the front paste-down endpaper: Bookbinder V. Wachter, Cairo. Housed in a modern green cloth slipcase with black spine label. Some of the plates have been torn and repaired.

SCNHRB copy: for more complete documentation of holdings see Cullman Library files. Catalogued with this set is a 22 cm. reprint of volume 2 of text of Hist. nat. pages 99-144: Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, E. Desc. des mammiferes. [Paris, 1818].

SCNHRB copy atlases (39088016461535, -1576, -1618, -1659, -1691, -1773, -1774, -1816, -1857, -1543, -1584, -1626, -1667, -1709, -1741, -1782, -1824, -1865) with early Smithsonian Institution property stamps.

The first comprehensive description of ancient and modern Egypt, compiled by the 165 members of the Institut de l'Égypte established by Napoleon to accompany his expedition to Egypt in 1798-1801. This exhaustive survey of all aspects of ancient and modern life in Egypt was carried out under the supervision of the mathematician Gaspard Monge, the appointed President of the new Institute (of which Napoleon was Vice-President).

Meissen figure of a stag

National Museum of American History
TITLE: Meissen figure of a stag

MAKER: Meissen Manufactory

PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: ceramic, porcelain, hard paste (overall material)

MEASUREMENTS: 7⅝" 19.4 cm

OBJECT NAME: Animal figure

PLACE MADE: Meissen, Saxony, Germany


SUBJECT: The Hans Syz Collection


Domestic Furnishing

Industry and Manufacturing

CREDIT LINE: Hans C. Syz Collection

ID NUMBER: 76.373



(DATA SOURCE: National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center)

MARK: Crossed swords in underglaze blue.

PURCHASED FROM: Arthur S. Vernay Inc., New York, 1943.

This animal figure is from the Smithsonian’s Hans Syz Collection of Meissen Porcelain. Dr. Syz (1894-1991) began his collection in the early years of World War II, when he purchased eighteenth-century Meissen table wares from the Art Exchange run by the New York dealer Adolf Beckhardt (1889-1962). Dr. Syz, a Swiss immigrant to the United States, collected Meissen porcelain while engaged in a professional career in psychiatry and the research of human behavior. He believed that cultural artifacts have an important role to play in enhancing our awareness and understanding of human creativity and its communication among peoples. His collection grew to represent this conviction.

The invention of Meissen porcelain, declared over three hundred years ago early in 1709, was a collective achievement that represents an early modern precursor to industrial chemistry and materials science. The porcelains we see in our museum collections, made in the small town of Meissen in Germany, were the result of an intense period of empirical research. Generally associated with artistic achievement of a high order, Meissen porcelain was also a technological achievement in the development of inorganic, non-metallic materials

One of master modeler Johann Joachim Kaendler’s (1706-1775) great strengths was his skill for modeling animals. He made life studies of animals and birds in the menagerie and aviary of the Dresden court, but one abiding eighteenth-century passion was the hunt, and deer hunting especially so. The stag represented here, and probably modeled by Kaendler, is a ‘royal’ stag marked by the twelve points or tines on the antlers. The stag is possibly modeled on a print by Johann Elias Ridinger (1698-1767), one of four images titled Deer in the Wild. Ridinger was a painter, draughtsman, etcher and engraver, and a publisher of prints specializing in animal subjects. It is also known that Kaendler drew animals from life, probably using for his sources the Elector of Saxony’s stock of wild game corralled for hunting.

Deer were high status game in the extravagant hunts conducted by the royal and princely courts in eighteenth-century Europe. A hunt was obligatory during the many court festivities held to mark betrothals, marriages, peace treaties, and feast days, but hunting inflicted a heavy toll on the environment. Game like red deer and wild boar were kept in hunting preserves that enclosed large tracts of woodland, and their presence in large numbers degraded the new growth of the forest. It was common practice to shoot game driven in herds across the line of fire, and in order to maintain sufficient numbers of animals many were caught in the wild and transported to the hunting preserves. Eighteenth-century Enlightenment thinkers criticized the royal and princely hunting administrations for the damage caused to the environment, especially the shortage of wood caused by degradation of the forests.

These small figures of animals were used for decorating the dessert table for festive banquets associated with the hunt. They formed part of the design in conjunction with decorations sculpted in sugar and other materials to create an elaborate display for the final course of the meal. The practice of sculpting in sugar, marzipan, butter, and ice for the festive table goes back for many centuries, and porcelain figures were a late addition to the tradition.

Meissen figures and figure groups are usually sculpted in special modeling clay and then carefully cut into separate pieces from which individual molds are made. Porcelain clay is then pressed into the molds and the whole figure or group reassembled to its original form, a process requiring great care and skill. The piece is then dried thoroughly before firing in the kiln. In the production of complex figure groups the work is arduous and requires the making of many molds from the original model.

The animal is painted in overglaze enamel colors.

On the modeling and molding process still practiced today at Meissen see Alfred Ziffer, “‘…skillfully made ready for moulding…’ The Work of Johann Joachim Kaendler” in Pietsch, U., Banz, C., 2010, Triumph of the Blue Swords: Meissen Porcelain for Aristocracy and Bourgeoisie 1710-1815, pp.61-67.

On the hunt see Kroll, M., 2004, ‘Hunting in the Eighteenth Century: An Environmental Perspective’ in Historical Social Research/Historische Sozialforschung Vol. 9, No. 3, pp.9-36

On decorating the dessert table see Cassidy-Geiger, M. "The Hof-Conditorey in Dresden: Traditions and Innovations in Sugar and Porcelain", in Pietsch, U., Banz, C., 2010, Triumph of the Blue Swords: Meissen Porcelain for Aristocracy and Bourgeoisie 1710-1815, pp. 121-131.

Hans Syz, J. Jefferson Miller II, Rainer Rückert, 1979, Catalogue of the Hans Syz Collection: Meissen Porcelain and Hausmalerei, pp. 480-481.

How Indigenous Australians Are Still Fighting for Their Lands 25 Years After a Landmark Court Case

Smithsonian Magazine

Eddie Koiki Mabo couldn’t believe his ears. It was 1982, and two professors at Townsville, Australia’s James Cook University, where Mabo worked as a gardener, had just told him he had no right to his native land. Though he’d lived on the mainland for years, his deep connection to Mer Island, one of the Torres Strait Islands off Australia’s northeast coast, never waned. But as Mabo talked about his home, professors Henry Reynolds and Noel Loos realized that Mabo thought Mer still belonged to him and his native community.

No, they haltingly told him—under Australian law, it’s government land. When Captain Cook planted a British flag on the continent’s east coast in 1770, he claimed the lands as if no one was there. The entire country was declared terra nullius: “belonging to no one.”

Mabo was shocked. Thousands of years living on these lands and indigenous people have no rights to them? He joined with four other plaintiffs to challenge the terra nullius doctrine in court. After a ten-year battle, on June 3, 1992, the High Court of Australia recognized what had always been obvious to the First Australians: They were there first, and they have the right to reclaim the lands they had occupied for 50,000 years. Those rights were cemented in the Native Title Act the following year.

The landmark decision—issued 25 years ago this month—changed the lives of Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people. (While both are indigenous to Australia, they have different ancestry.) For cultures so deeply intertwined with the land and sea, reclaiming traditional turf—including hunting areas, rock art sites, fishing grounds and ceremonial lands—meant becoming whole again.

“Having that recognition is very dear to my heart,” says Benton Creed of the Wulgurukaba indigenous group, who recently registered a native title claim for lands near Townsville, Queensland on behalf of his family and community. “We can make sure the land is looked after.”

That concept of stewardship is central in Torres Strait and Aboriginal law, says Torres Strait Islander hip-hop artist and activist Mau Power. “We are custodians and caretakers of the land. We don’t own the land, the land owns us.”

In the years since the decision, more than 300 claims have been granted across Australia, comprising some 927,000 square miles — 25 percent of the continent. They range from the massive 39,000 square mile Wajarri Yamatji claim in remote Western Australia -- about the size of Kentucky — to the Kaurareg people’s claim on a group of small islands in the Torres Strait that include the spot where Captain Cook claimed Australia for the Crown in 1770. When native title claims overlap cities or other developed areas, a compromise is often struck to maintain existing uses of certain lands. (These lands aren’t reservations—unlike Australian “missions” where some indigenous Australians were forced to live, the claims apply to those lands traditionally occupied by first Australians.)

“When we look across this great land, we know that we hold at least 40 percent of this continent, and we hold the beauty of this country,” Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social justice commissioner June Oscar, of the Bunuba people, told a crowd at the recent National Native Title Conference in Townsville. “And we hold the aspirations for our future.”

Mabo never enjoyed the rights his case secured; he died of cancer five months before the High Court handed down his victory. His daughter, Gail Mabo, delivered an emotional tribute to her father at the gathering. “Mabo is the strength of what native title is, and you can never forget what my father did, because it’s not just what my father did but how he did it — how he rallied all those people and brought them together as one.”

Today, a quarter-century after the Mabo decision, almost every public event, from academic talks to concerts to political protests, begins with a “Welcome to Country”—an Aboriginal hospitality ritual that invites guests in and pays respects to traditional owners of the land through the ages. (When delivered by a non-indigenous Australian, it’s called an “Acknowledgement of Country.”)

“It is a living culture, and just reminding people of that history and culture is part of that acknowledgement of country,” says Justin Mohamed, chief executive officer of the nonprofit group Reconciliation Australia. While it’s not required by law, it’s become increasingly common throughout Australia over the years, he adds.

Yet laying claim to that country has proven far more fraught than anyone expected.

“The whole process is very draining,” says Creed. Applicants have to provide detailed documentation proving their historic connection to, or occupation of, the lands they’re claiming to the courts. That means hiring archaeologists and lawyers to track down historical records and verify claims.

For the “Stolen Generations”—those taken from their families and homelands as children to be “acclimated” into Australian society—the documentation requirements effectively shut them out of the very homelands they were taken from.

“The native title process requires us to prove our ongoing connection to the land, despite the forcible removal of generations of children,” says Mick Dodson, a central figure in the long struggle for indigenous rights, at the conference. “This causes a unique form of trauma and pain.” 

And while native title rights are enshrined in Australian law, they’re not always upheld. A court decision in the early 2000s held that the rights of ranchers and farmers leasing lands in the state of Western Australia prevailed over the native title rights of the Miriuwung and Gajerrong peoples. The court agreed with the plaintiffs that certain "existing interests," like grazing, can “extinguish” native title claims.

Indigenous groups with strong ties to the sea have had special difficulty in securing and defending their customary rights. While the Native Title Act was later amended to specifically confer sea rights, those claims can put indigenous groups at odds with the commercial fishing industry.

“The struggle for sea country has been just as hard as the original battle,” acknowledged Nigel Scullion, Australia’s minister of indigenous affairs, during a speech at the conference. “The artificial distinction between land and saltwater country should not exist.” The Commonwealth government, he announced at the meeting, will dedicate $20 million to help detangle those rights and support indigenous fishing businesses and other economic opportunities.

But it will take more than funding to fully right the wrongs of the past, Dodson says.

“The human suffering of the indigenous people in this country cannot be assuaged by the opening of the purse,” he told a crowded auditorium. “It can only be assuaged by the opening of their hearts.”

That's what many had in mind at a different First Nations conference near Uluru. There, indigenous groups and officials came together to propose a number of reforms, including enshrining Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander rights in the Australian Constitution and establishing an indigenous advisory group to weigh in on government decisions. The groups issued a "statement of the heart" that calls for "a fair and truthful relationship with the people of Australia and a better future for our children based on justice and self-determination.”

“It was probably one of the most empowering meetings I’ve been involved in in my 26 years working in Aboriginal affairs,” Mohamed says. “We’ve got some strong agreement and support. I walked away really inspired.”

Power, for his part, is betting on Australia's youth. He sees signs that over the next 25 years, the next generation will make sure the promise of Mabo’s unlikely victory will be realized.

“Just going around traveling, I’ve seen that the young children are more engaged, and even people of all walks and cultures are expressing interest,” said Power after his performance at the Mabo Day Festival on the anniversary of the High Court’s decision.

Indigenous youth leaders carrying the Mabo torch are finding encouragement in high places. In late May, during Australia's Reconciliation Week, 50 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth leaders -- Indigenous Youth Parliamentarians -- spent a week in Canberra, the Australian capital, getting schooled in the ways of politics. 

"Our future is bright and I can see how we can quickly grow from five indigenous members of our parliament to many more, given the talent, the passion and the energy of the people here today," Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told them. "We look forward to one day soon to the first Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander Prime Minister. What a great moment that would be." Since Mabo’s victory, eight indigenous people have served in Parliament—up from just two in the years leading up to the landmark case.

On June 3, the anniversary of the Mabo decision, Power released a tribute to Eddie Mabo. “Koiki" —Power’s reimagining of a tune co-written by Gail Mabo several years ago — tells the story of Mabo’s journey from local activist to national hero and his enduring legacy. 

As the deep sea tones of the Bu shell fade, he raps:

His story was one about birthright

History will remember this great fight

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