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“La Salle Wilton” Pattern

Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
Rectangular black wool rug with grey double border and central wreath of grey lattice pattern with abstracted lilies, blossoms and shapes in gradients of rust, orange and yellow; corners boast additional lattice pattern punctuated by orange circles.

“I Think I Am Addicted”: The Human Tower Experience

Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage

People pressed close to the yellow caution tape that marked the area in which 200 castellers, or human tower makers, were building a tower seven people high. The public was quiet, having been instructed not to clap until the enxaneta, the child at the top of the tower, raised their hand. Those watching held their breath, observing the tower as it swayed with every person added. The noise of the gralla, a Catalan double-reed wind instrument, and the steady beat of the drums permeated the silence , signaling to the castellers how the tower was progressing. 

When the enxaneta finally reached the top and raised their hand, the tension broke as the gralla trilled triumphantly and the public cheered.

Castells are an emotional experience, both for the people doing it and for those watching. These demonstrations of community, balance, and strength are eye-catching and unforgettable, yet those who are unfamiliar with the tradition are often dumbfounded. “Why?” they ask. “What causes someone to want to be part of a human tower?”

Before the 2018 Smithsonian Folklife Festival, human towers seemed to me to be like Marmite on toast, something that you had to grow up experiencing to enjoy. After ten days of working closely with the two collas, or human tower teams, watching them build more than thirty-six castells, and helping with smaller hourly demonstrations, my opinion changed. I found myself texting a friend of mine, “I think I am addicted to human towers.”

Colla Vella
Colla Vella dels Xiquets de Valls builds a quatre de set amb agulla, a seven-person-high tower with four people per level and an inner pilar, or pillar of single people.
Photo by Sonya Pencheva, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives
Colla Joves
Colla Joves Xiquets de Valls builds a cinc de set, a seven-person-high tower with five people per level.
Photo by Caroline Diemer

On the last day of the Festival, a small number of staff, including Ashley Martinez, Katie Babbit, Sean Tomlinson, and myself, were given the opportunity to be part of a few human towers. While we were part of the pinya, the large group of people that make up the base of the tower, staff members Daniela Panetta and Pablo Molinero got to be the second person in a pilar, a tower that has only one person per level.

When first asked to participate, all of us were worried—not that the tower would fall, but that we would make a mistake and let the rest of the team down.

 “I really didn’t expect for them to let us join,” Tomlinson said. “I thought they would say, ‘No, please step back and let the professionals do it.’”

For those in the pilar, this pressure felt even more intense.

“I knew I wouldn’t fall because I had a bunch of people supporting me, but at the same time I felt a lot of responsibility for the person I was holding,” Molinero explained. “I didn’t want to mess it up.”

Not only did they let us try, but they also welcomed us with open arms.

“While I was being told what to do, I looked over and made eye contact with two kids who gave me two thumbs up,” Martinez described. “In that moment, I knew that it was going to be okay, that I wasn’t going to be an outsider intruding on their tradition.”

For those of us in the pinya, the task was simple: line up with the person in front of you, bring your arms up and grab their forearms, lean into their back, and keep your head down. While it may not sound thrilling, it was an intense experience, connecting to those around you.

“It’s their own little community that you are suddenly part of,” Babbit said.

Human towers
Catalonia program coordinator Pablo Molinero prepares to be part of the pilar by donning the red uniform of Colla Joves and the faixa, a sash that is used to support the back.
Photo by Caroline Diemer
Human towers
Festival participant assistant Daniela Panetta braces herself as the first child starts to climb up.
Photo by Chelsea Trujillo

While my head was down and my eyes closed, I could feel the rest of the tower: the subtle movements of the group shifting to provide the proper amount of pressure, the steadying body of the person behind me, the rush of joy when the gralla trilled, and the sensation of small feet as the children walked on my shoulders to get to their parents.

Everyone in the pinya was surprised by how they felt after being part of the human tower. Adrenaline coursed through our bodies and the nerves in our arms were alight.

“You need time to process what happened because it is so amazing and unfamiliar,” Tomlinson explained. “Someone came up to us right after to ask what it was like. I wanted to ask if I could paint an abstract picture of how I felt. It was indescribable.”

For those who were part of the pilar, the experience was even more intense. Panetta and Molinero stood on someone’s shoulders while eight pairs of hands held them in place. Two children climbed up them to make a four-person pilar.

“The team was so amazing and so comforting,” Panetta said. “You can feel that they have your back and that everything is going to be fine. I was not scared at all. I was just excited. My heart was racing in a good way. When you are doing it, you are concentrating so hard that nothing else matters. It was like an out-of-body experience”

Before the Festival, before that last day even, none of us had expected that we would be part of a human tower, nor that we would like it as much as we did. When asked if we would do it again, every one of us emphatically said yes.

“I am sure that if I were to live in Catalonia I would be part of a human tower team,” Molinero said.

We had all caught the human tower fever.

Colla Vella
Photo by Sonya Pencheva, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives

Caroline Diemer is a Catalonia program intern at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. She recently graduated from Wesleyan University where she majored in archaeology and the College of Letters, an interdisciplinary major of literature, history, and philosophy, with a concentration in Spanish.  She has a love for ancient structures and a newfound love for structures made out of humans.

‘Life’ Magazine’s Earliest Women Photojournalists Step Into Spotlight

Smithsonian Magazine

The debut cover of LIFE magazine is dominated by the monumental spillway of Montana’s Fort Peck Dam, then under construction and poised to become the world’s largest earth-filled dam. But the eye is drawn to two humans, dwarfed by their surroundings, standing at the bottom of the shot.

The cover image is typical of its creator’s work. Dedicated to revealing both the human side of stories and the settings in which they took place—including such far-flung locales as the Soviet Union, Korea, India and North Africa—Margaret Bourke-White quickly emerged as one of LIFE’s most talented photographers after editor Henry Luce’s photography-centric weekly launched in November 1936. But today, she and the other pioneering female photojournalists who worked for LIFE during the 1930s and onto the 1970s remain little known, their iconic snapshots rendered more recognizable than their own names and histories.

LIFE: Six Women Photographers, a new exhibition on view at the New-York Historical Society Museum & Library, aims to correct this imbalance, presenting more than 70 images taken by six early photojournalists: Marie Hansen, Martha Holmes, Lisa Larsen, Nina Leen, Hansel Mieth and Bourke-White.

Marie Hansen's photograph of Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps recruits at their Des Moines training center (© LIFE Picture Collection, Meredith Corporation)

“Many of these women are not known, they’re not even in photography history books,” co-curator Marilyn Kushner tells the Guardian’s Nadja Sayej. “These women have not gotten their due, and this is just the tip of the iceberg.”

According to Kushner, fewer than 10 women served on LIFE’s photography staff during the time period covered by the show. (As a 2015 study found, this gender imbalance persists today, with 85 percent of 1,556 photojournalists surveyed identifying as men.) Despite their small numbers, they covered a vast array of subjects, from Hollywood’s elite to the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) formed at the height of World War II, the House Un-American Activities Committee hearings, and rampant homelessness in San Francisco and Sacramento.

As Louise Mirrer, president and CEO of the New-York Historical Society, explains in a press release, “These pioneering women photographers captured events international and domestic, wide-ranging and intimate, serious and playful. At the forefront of history, [they] enabled the public ‘to see life; to see the world; to eyewitness great events,’ as LIFE founder and editor-in-chief, Henry Luce, described it.”

In addition to photographing the cover of LIFE’s first issue, Bourke-White became the first Western photographer accredited to enter the Soviet Union and the first female photographer to cover active World War II combat zones. Hansen, a Missouri native who joined LIFE in 1942, meanwhile, publicized women’s contributions to the war effort by producing a photo essay on WAAC recruits training for deployment. One image in particular, depicting a room full of gas mask-wearing trainees, is among those most widely associated with the initiative.

Image by © LIFE Picture Collection, Meredith Corporation. Lisa Larsen, photograph from “Tito As Soviet Hero, How Times Have Changed!” (original image)

Image by © LIFE Picture Collection, Meredith Corporation. Nina Leen, unpublished photograph from “American Woman’s Dilemma" (original image)

Image by © LIFE Picture Collection, Meredith Corporation. Margaret Bourke-White, photograph from “Franklin Roosevelt’s Wild West" (original image)

Three of the women featured in the exhibition—Larsen, Leen and Mieth—were born in Europe but moved to the U.S. at some point during the 1930s. Larsen, a German Jew who fled her home country after Kristallnacht, documented Yugoslavian President Josip Broz’s 1956 visit to the Soviet Union, capturing crowd shots of the hordes who flocked to the Kremlin while also managing to snap intimate portraits of the men and women who were likely in attendance under duress.

Mieth, another German-born photographer, arrived in America in the midst of the Great Depression; her “socially engaged” photo essays, in the words of the New-York Historical Society, generated sympathy for organized labor and exposed the harsh conditions prevalent across the nation. During the war, she photographed Japanese Americans incarcerated at Heart Mountain in Wyoming, and in the aftermath of the conflict, she returned to Germany to document the “psychological effects and physical damage” inflicted on her home country.

Leen, a Russian native who emigrated to New York in 1939, focused mainly on American domesticity. Her “American Woman’s Dilemma” series envisioned women as “empowered protagonists,” Timeline’s Rian Dundon writes, “emphasizing the distinct traits and desires of American teens, mothers, and busy professionals navigating the optimism and possibilities of a booming economy.” But domestic life wasn’t Leen’s only interest: Google Arts & Culture details that she was also a prolific animal photographer, often taking snapshots of her dog Lucky, and was additionally a talented group portraitist. Her photo of the so-called “Irascibles,” a group of Abstract Expressionists including Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning and Mark Rothko, aptly captured the tension existing between these avant-garde artists’ desire for career success and their disdain for the establishment.

Martha Holmes' photograph of a white woman embracing mixed-race singer Billy Eckstine (© LIFE Picture Collection, Meredith Corporation)

Holmes, the final journalist spotlighted in the exhibition, photographed celebrities including Pollock, Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Judy Garland, Eleanor Roosevelt, Salvador Dali and Joan Fontaine. But she is perhaps best known for her 1950 snapshot of a white woman embracing mixed-race singer Billy Eckstine.

“When that photo was taken, they weren’t sure if they should put it into the issue—a white woman embracing a black man,” Kushner tells the Guardian’s Sayej. “But Luce put it in there because he said: ‘This is what the future is going to be. Run it.’”

At the time, the photograph attracted widespread condemnation, and Eckstine’s career was permanently damaged by the fallout. Still, Bobbi Burrows, a longtime LIFE editor who spoke to The New York Times’ Dennis Hevesi upon Holmes’ death in 2006, said that the image remained the photographer’s favorite among the thousands she had taken throughout her career.

LIFE: Six Women Photographers is on view at the New-York Historical Society through October 6, 2019.

Électricité

Smithsonian American Art Museum

“Ignition Sequence,� by Vincent Cavallaro

Smithsonian Insider

“Ignition Sequence,” 1968, Vincent Cavallaro, oil on canvas. The power of the ignition and launch sequence of a NASA rocket is portrayed in an abstract […]

The post “Ignition Sequence,” by Vincent Cavallaro appeared first on Smithsonian Insider.

xkcd's "Frequency" Will Make You Feel How Fast the Earth Is Moving

Smithsonian Magazine

Randall Munroe, the man behind the webcomic xkcd, has a knack for putting big concepts (moneydepththe ocean bottomtime and space) into context. In his latest, "Frequency" (reproduced above), Munroe takes abstract-seeming ideas—like "five babies born every second”—puts these recurring frequencies side-by-side and manages to make those dry factoids visceral.

Look—babies are being born on this planet faster than your heart is beating.

Or, look, there's an earthquake. And there's another, the lurching motion of a slipping fault. Earthquakes are incredibly common, but most are too small and weak to feel. Every three beats of your heart, roughly, an earthquake is happening somewhere on the planet. (Which makes those tiny earthquakes induced by fracking or Seattle Seahawks fans seem slightly less impressive.)

But there's one entry on Monroe's chart that never seems to blip: “Earthquake (Magnitude 4).” That got us wondering: how long would you need to wait to see it flash?

According to the United States Geological Survey, there are roughly 13,000 earthquakes each year with a magnitude from 4.0 to 4.9. In fact, a magnitude 4.1 quake hit South Carolina just this past weekend. At 13,000 quakes and 525,960 minutes in a year, you'd need to sit around for around 40 minutes to see the Earthquake (Magnitude 4) box flash.

Monroe's chart does a couple of things really well: it puts events in relation to one another—heartbeats to marriages, births to deaths—but it also helps explain more esoteric events. Sharks are plucked from the ocean with surprising frequency. Earthquakes are incredibly common.

wine cooler

Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
Large, tall circular cooler wider at the bottom. Two bracing wing-like handles with cut-out shapes at top and impressed lines near the bottom. Copper hand-hammered polished surface. Two abstract brass appliquees surrounded by swirling and curving engraved lines sit across from each other between the handles.

teapot

National Museum of American History
Spherical teapot on circular foot ring; upper half of body has a flat-chased scrollwork band with two circular reserves, one engraved with the monogram "CEE", and is joined to the plain lower half by a denticulate-patterned midband. Low-domed, hinged lid topped by a large, cast raspberry finial has a flat-chased strap- and scrollwork medallion. Hollow, C-curve handle is pinned into ivory insulators with stylized palmate or anthemion sockets. High, almost vertical, spout with abstract anthemion on its belly. Body perforated at spout. Underside of slightly convex bottom struck around centerpoint, "TIFFANY & CO." and "550 BROADWAY" encircling "1516", "QUALITY / 9[25-]1000" flanked on both sides by a gothic or Old English "M", and "2749".

Made by John C. Moore & Son for Tiffany & Co., both of New York, NY; the above mark used, 1865-1870. Moore & Son (John Chandler Moore and Edward Chandler Moore) was in operation, 1849-1868; they produced exclusively for Tiffany, which purchased the company in 1868 (Edward C. Moore then became head of Tiffany's silver department, a position he held until his death in 1891.)

teapot

National Museum of American History

teapot

National Museum of American History

teacup; saucer

National Museum of American History

teacup; saucer

National Museum of American History

planter

Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
Circular form with inward curving lip. Interior glazed brown with central circular design of stylized blue-berry vines of green and black. Exterior glazed blue with abstract patterns consisting of circles, squiggly lines, and curling shapes all in white, green, tan, brown, black, and white.

painting

National Museum of American History
A black and white sumi-e painting of a tree by Chiura Obata (1885-1975) at Topaz Japanese American prison camp during World War II. The image is somewhat abstract with a gnarled tree with a single branch of foliage in front of rocks or mountains. The back of the image is labeled “Chiura Obata sensei.”

Born Zoroku Obata in Okayama-ken, Japan in 1885, Obata moved to California in 1903 and was one of the earliest Japanese artists to live and work in the United States. Obata was the first artist of Japanese descent to be a faculty member at UC Berkeley, where he started teaching in 1932. In 1942 he and his family were removed from Berkeley and imprisoned at the Tanforan temporary detention center and Topaz Japanese American incarceration camp under Executive Order 9066. At Tanforan, Obata started an art school with George Matsusaburo Hibi which he continued upon transfer to Topaz, teaching hundreds of students and creating a large body of artwork depicting everyday life in the camps and surrounding landscapes. Obata became a naturalized citizen in 1954, a year after retiring as Professor Emeritus from UC Berkeley. He spent the rest of his life traveling widely, lecturing and demonstrating Japanese brush painting. Obata is most well-known for his signature style of painting which blends Japanese and Western techniques and his large-scale landscapes. He also created an award-winning series of color woodblock prints at the Takamizawa Print Works in Japan inspired by his 1927 trip to Yosemite National Park and the Sierra Nevada. Chiura Obata died on October 6, 1975 at age 89.

p

Smithsonian American Art Museum

k

Smithsonian American Art Museum

hexagon motif

Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
Hexagons, formed by three various designs, creates this geometric motif. A series of x's and dashes alternates with an abstract wood pattern and the third grouping of maple leaves. The center point is decorated with a geometric six-petalled flower.

herman miller

Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
On white ground, abstract biomorphic form in yellow, pink, blue, and black. Above in black: [logo] herman miller.

d

Smithsonian American Art Museum

cup; saucer

National Museum of American History

cup; saucer

National Museum of American History

cup; saucer

National Museum of American History

cup; saucer

National Museum of American History

cup; saucer

National Museum of American History
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