Found 182 Resources containing: Philadelphia Ten (Group of artists)
An interview of Bernard Braddon and Sidney Schectman conducted 1981 October 9, by Avis Berman, for the Archives of American Art's Mark Rothko and His Times oral history project.
Braddon and Schectman recall the origins of the Mercury Gallery and their involvement with the artists group The Ten, in which Rothko participated.
Transcript: 23 p.
An interview of Esther Gottlieb conducted 1981 Oct. 22, by Phyllis Tuchman, for the Archives of American Art's Mark Rothko and His Times oral history project.
Gottlieb recalls the art scene of the 1930s and 1940s as it touched Mark Rothko, speaking of The Ten and the Artists' Union and, in particular, Adolph Gottlieb, Milton Avery, Barnett Newman, and John Graham; Nahum Tschacbasov is mentioned briefly. She discusses the activities of various galleries and talks about the work of the Rothko, Gottlieb, and Longview Foundations.
An interview of Jack Kufeld conducted 1981 Oct. 5, by Avis Berman, for the Archives of American Art's Mark Rothko and His Times oral history project.
Kufeld discusses his acquaintance with Mark Rothko and the artists of The Ten. He speaks briefly about Gallery Secession and its owner, Robert Godsoe, and the Gallery's role in the formation of The Ten. Kufeld and Rothko lived together for a short time after Rothko's separation from his first wife, Edith. Kufeld remembers Edith, with whom he remained friends for many years even though he stopped associating with painters when he abruptly stopped painting in the late 1930s. He talks about the Design Laboratory, where he was a teacher. Kufeld recalls Robert Godsoe, Milton Avery, Max Yavno, J.B. Neumann, Adolf Gottlieb, Lou Harris, Max Weber, I. Rice Pereira, Chaim Gross, Vladimir Jaffe, and many others.
An interview of Joseph Solman conducted 1981 May 6-8, by Avis Berman, for the Archives of American Art's Mark Rothko and His Times oral history project.
Solman recalls his youth in Jamaica, Long Island, and his studies at the National Academy of Design. He talks about the art world of the 1930s and 1940s, including the camaraderies formed by participating in the WPA and the activities of various galleries, including Gallery Secession. Solmon remembers Mark Rothko and the members, meetings and exhibitions of The Ten. He speaks of his work on Art Front magazine, his own art work and teaching, and his personal art collection. He recalls Byron Browne, Ilya Bolotowsky, Herman Rose, Milton Avery, Adolf Gottlieb, Arshile Gorky, De Hirsch Margules, Eugene Atget, Elizabeth McCausland, Berenice Abbott, John Graham, Earl Kerkam, Ralph Rosenborg, Yankel Kufeld, Ben Zion, Hans Mueller, Eric Esenberger, Boris Aronson, Lou Harris, Karl Knaths, Lou Schanker, Stuart Davis, Alice Neel, Dorothy Koppelman, Joan Miro, Pat Codyre, Joseph Brummer, Jacob Kainen, Jack Tworkov, and many others.
An interview of Ben-Zion conducted 1982 August 3-1982 September 21, by Barbara Shikler, for the Archives of American Art's Mark Rothko and His Times oral history project.
Ben-Zion speaks of his family's background in Ukraine and Poland and their arrival in the United States after the death of his father. He remembers working as a writer for a Hebrew newspaper in the Bronx, the writing block he suffered in reaction to Nazi atrocities in Europe, and his turn to art with the patronage of J. B. Neumann. He recalls exhibiting with The Ten, meeting Mark Rothko through the Gallery Secession, and the rift that developed among members of The Ten. He describes his own commercial success, the influence of Jewish tradition upon his choices of subject matter, and his relationship with the Jewish Museum in New York. He discusses a period in which he stopped painting and returned to writing, and his later interest in sculpture. He speaks of his writings and his work habits.
When Leon Huff and Kenneth Gamble would huddle to write songs, they’d each bring a long, yellow legal pad of potential titles, sometimes 200 or 300 each. Huff would sit at the upright piano in his office with a tape recorder rolling. He would start playing and Gamble would riff lyrics. “Sometimes [the songs] would take 15 minutes to write and sometimes they’d take all day,” Gamble recalls. “The best ones came in ten, fifteen minutes.”
The two first ran into each other in an elevator in Philadelphia’s Schubert Building, where they were working as songwriters on separate floors. Soon after, they met at Huff’s Camden, New Jersey home on a Saturday and wrote six or seven songs the first day. “It was an easy, easy fit,” Gamble recalls.
During the 60s, they had moderate success with hits like “Expressway to Your Heart” by the Soul Survivors, “Cowboys to Girls” by the Intruders and “Only the Strong Survive” by Jerry Butler.
But they wanted to be more than writers and producers of regional hits who occasionally made a national mark. The opportunity came 40 years ago in 1971 when Columbia Records, hoping to finally break into the black music market, gave them a $75,000 advance to record singles and another $25,000 for a small number of albums. With the money, Gamble and Huff opened their own label, Philadelphia International Records (PIR).
As they sat down to compose following the deal, the Vietnam War raged on, conflicts over desegregation spread across the country and civil war ravaged Pakistan. “We were talking about the world and why people really can’t work together. All this confusion going on in the world,” Gamble says. “So we were talking about how you need something to bring people together.”
One of the titles on a legal pad had promise: “Love Train.” Huff fingered the piano. Gamble, the words guy, began singing, “People all over the world, join hands, form a love train.”
Within 15 minutes, he recalls, they had a song for the O’Jays, a group from Canton, Ohio, that had considered calling it quits after a couple of minor chart successes. Gamble and Huff had spotted them three years earlier opening a show at Harlem’s Apollo Theater. While Eddie Levert had been singing lead for the trio, they liked the interplay between Levert and Walter Williams they saw onstage. So for the first singles on PIR, they wrote songs featuring the two trading vocals. “I knew once we put our leads on Back Stabbers it had the potential to be something special, but I didn’t know to what magnitude,” Williams says.
“Love Train” was the third single released from their album Back Stabbers, issued in August 1972. By January 1973, the song was number one on the Pop and R&B charts and on the way to selling a million singles, just the kind of crossover hit Columbia envisioned when it invested in Gamble and Huff.
A little more than a year after forming PIR, they also had produced hits with Billy Paul’s “Me and Mrs. Jones,” the Spinners’ “I’ll Be Around” and Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes’ “If You Don’t Know Me By Now.” Clive Davis, then chief operating officer of Columbia, wrote in his memoir that Gamble and Huff sold ten million singles. Just as important, they were Columbia’s foray into the market for albums by black artists. Back Stabbers sold more than 700,000 copies that first year.
They’d created the Sound of Philadelphia. The City of Brotherly Love joined Detroit, the home of Motown, and Memphis, the home of Stax Records, as sanctuaries of soul.
Their sound bridged sixties soul and the arrival of funk and disco. Gamble once said someone told him they’d “put the bow tie on funk.” During the 1970s, they arguably dethroned Motown as the kings of R&B, selling millions of records, and in 2005, they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
“They found a way to marry the Motown machine with the Stax grit,” says Mark Anthony Neal, a professor of African and African-American Studies at Duke University. “So you get this sound on one level that is glossy and smooth, but at the same time it kind of burns the way we think about Stax.”
Image by Redferns / Getty Images. Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff first met in an elevator in Philadelphia's Schubert Building, where they were working as songwriters on separate floors. (original image)
Image by Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images. Gamble and Huff's record label, Philadelphia International Records, produced Billy Paul's hit, "Me and Mrs. Jones." (original image)
Image by Fotos International / Getty Images. PIR also produced the Spinners' "I'll be Around." (original image)
Image by Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images. "If You Don't Know Me By Now" by Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes was produced by PIR as well. (original image)
Image by Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images. Gamble and Huff set up a house studio band, MFSB (Mother, Father, Sister, Brother), like Motown's Funk Brothers. (original image)
Gamble admired Motown, which he calls “the greatest record company that’s ever been in the business.” He and Huff set up a house studio band, MFSB (Mother, Father, Sister, Brother), like Motown’s Funk Brothers. The band featured the rhythm section from the Romeos, a band Huff, Gamble and producer and writer Thom Bell played with on weekends, a group of horns they saw playing a local theater, and a string section composed of retirees from the Philadelphia Orchestra. MFSB’s palette was broader, more ambitious. Mono sound and a focus on hit singles had given way to stereo and the album format. “Stereo was worlds away,” Gamble says. “The music sounds so much better.”
They found seasoned artists and transformed them into national acts. The O’Jays had been around for a decade. Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes had been singing for 15 years. Billy Paul was a star only in the Philadelphia-New York corridor. “They knew how to package certain kinds of artists in certain ways,” Neal says. “One of their really big early hits was Billy Paul’s ‘Me and Mrs. Jones.’ What’s more mainstream than a tale about infidelity?”
Like Berry Gordy at Motown, Gamble and Huff set up competing teams of writers. Walter Williams of the O’Jays recalls going to Philadelphia to record (two albums per year in those days) and listening to 40 or 50 songs auditioning for an album. They’d narrow them to 15 or 20 to rehearse extensively and cut in the studio, and then 8, 9 or 10 would make the record.
How involved were Gamble and Huff? “Like they might have been the fourth and fifth member of the group,” Williams recalls. “If Kenny wanted it sung a certain way, he would actually sing it for you. I would always try to outdo him. I’d sing it better and put more into it.”
There was a formula to the albums, Gamble says. “We would pick three or four songs with social messages and three or four songs that were nothing but dance, party songs, then we’d have three or four that were lush ballads, love songs. We tried to write songs that people would relate to for years to come.”
While the business model was based on Motown, the message was different. “This is a black-owned company, but unlike Motown this is a black-owned company that is going to put its politics into the music,” Neal says.
The songs had titles like “For the Love of Money,” “Only the Strong Survive,” “Am I Black Enough for You,” “Wake Up Everybody” and “Love Is the Message.” Neal is partial to “Be for Real,” a Harold Melvin cut that opens with singer Teddy Pendergrass lecturing a girlfriend about her desire for empty possessions. Gamble likes “Ship Ahoy,” a tune about African captives being transported during the slave trade that opens with the sound of whips cracking. Neal says PIR’s songs and artists endure because Gamble and Huff focused on making timeless music, not just making money.
“You cannot explain how you write a song,” Gamble says. “It comes from within your soul. You just pour out your feelings, whether it’s something you personally have gone through or a friend of yours has gone through or someone you didn’t even know.”
The duo still occasionally gets together to write. And advertisers keep knocking to use their songs, as exemplified by the ubiquitous Coors Light spots using “Love Train”. Hip-hop artists are fond of sampling PIR tunes, keeping the royalties flowing. (Sony Legacy and PIR released a four-disc boxed set, Love Train: The Sound of Philadelphia in 2008).
Gamble notes there’s still conflict raging in some of the countries listed in “Love Train” nearly 40 years ago. “I think it’s even more relevant today than it was then,” he says. “Those songs turned out to be anthems. We were talking about our feelings, but evidently they were the feelings of millions of people all over the world.”
When the Museum of the American Revolution opens its doors in Philadelphia in the spring of 2017, it will feature plenty of artifacts from the original 13 colonies. It will also feature some history from under the building itself. That’s because archaeologists excavating the site of the museum discovered a dozen brick-lined privy pits clogged with more than 82,000 artifacts, as Nina Golgwoski at The Huffington Post reports.
Many of the outhouses or privies in an area known as Carter’s Alley were associated with businesses or private households and stretch from the first decades of the 1700s to the end of that century. The privies didn't just serve as human waste depositories, they were also used to dispose of household waste, like broken pottery and animal bones. Golgowski says one privy was full of pieces of seashells and land records link it to a button shop. The archaeologists from Commonwealth Heritage Group found 750 pieces of type in another privy near a printer’s establishment.
One of the most interesting privy pits was likely dug in 1776 by Benjamin and Mary Humphreys, Kristin Romey at National Geographic reports. The privy yielded dozens of drinking vessels, beer, wine and liquor bottles, broken tobacco pipes, serving dishes and broken punch bowls. It’s the detritus of a tavern, but there were no licensed taverns in that area. However, researchers found that in 1783, Mary Humphreys had been arrested for running a “disorderly house,” or an illegal tavern that often included prostitution. She was sent to the workhouse, and the privy was closed up soon after, perhaps to hide the evidence, a report on the excavation by the Commonwealth Heritage Group suggests.
The report also highlights a windowpane excavated from the Humphreys' privy. Etched on the windowpane are the words “We admire riches, And are in love with i[dleness],” a line translated from a speech Cato the Younger gave the Roman senate in 63 B.C. condemning a group of conspirators plotting to overthrow the Republic. The line later appears in Joseph Addison’s play “Cato. A Tragedy” which was popular among colonial republicans. George Washington even had it performed for his troops at Valley Forge. Its meaning at the Humphreys' tavern depends on the intended audience. “Was it a rebuke of British tyranny, a barb aimed at local republicans, or just a joke made at the expense of fellow tavern goers?” the researchers ask in the report.
“This quote would have been known to people who were thinking politically in 18th-century Philadelphia,” principal archaeologist Rebecca Yamin tells Romey. “This man was writing a political message, which is so consistent with what we know was going on in the taverns at the time.”
Other artifacts found in the privies include wig curlers, sets of dishes and silverware, drinking tankards and tanning supplies. Animal bones from past meals were also very common in the privies.
Some of the artifacts will go on display in the new museum, including one of the Humphreys' punchbowls. It depicts the Triphena, the ship that the colonists sent to Britain in 1765 carrying a demand for the repeal of the hated Stamp Act.
For more than 500 years, the whereabouts of King Richard III of England, who was killed in the one of the last battles of the War of the Roses, were unknown. A skeleton was dug up in a parking lot in Leicester late last year, and last month, archeologists confirmed the centuries-old corpse belonged to the king. Death wasn’t the end for Richard, as experts study his remains and historians argue where they should finally be put to rest.
It wasn’t over for these historical figures either, as told in great detail by Bess Lovejoy in “Rest in Pieces: The Curious Fates of Famous Corpses,” out March 12. These men’s unfortunate corpses were hacked, stolen, transported across oceans and even stuffed into a trunk and used as a chair.
Ludwig van Beethoven
Twenty-five years before his death in 1827, in a letter lamenting his failing health, Ludwig van Beethoven requested that when he died, the cause would be publicly revealed to his fans. An autopsy revealed the cause of death as dropsy, a type of swelling in the blood known today as edema, but then it went a step too far. The doctor, Johann Wagner, cut apart the composer’s skull so unskillfully that the pieces wouldn’t fit neatly back together, a fact only discovered after an exhumation in 1863. He had also removed the ear bones, presumably to study the composer’s hearing loss, and they’ve never been found. The body was placed in a new vault, but several bone fragments remained above ground, showing up in a late anthropologist’s personal effects in 1945. They arrived in California in 1990, and in 2005, researchers matched them to a lock of Beethoven’s hair using DNA analysis.
When the poet died in present-day Greece in 1824, English officials suggested he be buried at the summit of the Parthenon, but his embalmed body eventually returned to his native England. Prior to that, an autopsy was performed for unknown reasons, despite Byron’s antemortem wishes, and five doctors removed his brain, heart, lungs and intestines, placing them in spirit-filled vases before stitching the body back up and embalming it. The literary Casanova was denied burial in the Poet’s Corner in London’s Westminster Abbey because of his reputation with women, and taken to the Byron family vault in the English town of Hucknall. In 1938, rumors that his body was not the one interred in the vault resulted in its exhumation. A group of 40, including a historian, a doctor and church officials, confirmed it was indeed Byron.
After his assassination, the 16th president was embalmed and placed in an elaborate marble tomb in Springfield, Illinois. On election night, 1876, a group of counterfeiters attempted to steal the corpse, planning to hold it for ransom to force the release of famous engraver Benjamin Boyd, who had been pinched for forging $50 bills. Their scheme was interrupted by the Secret Service, which coincidentally Lincoln had created the day he was shot. The late president’s coffin was moved underneath the tomb, resurfacing once more in 1901, when workers sealed it in a steel cage and block of concrete. According to a young boy who, along with a small group of Illinois officials, snuck a peek at the politician one last time, Lincoln was perfectly preserved.
After just two months spent six feet under, the corpse of the comedic actor was stolen from a cemetery in Switzerland in 1978, sparking a five-week police investigation. The body snatchers demanded a $600,000 ransom from his widow. Authorities arrested two mechanics in the crime, who led them to the body they’d buried in a cornfield one mile from the Chaplins’ home (the actor relocated to Europe in 1953 to escape McCarthyism-era accusations.) The men were convicted of grave robbing, and the actor’s corpse was re-interred in a concrete grave.
After his death in 1809, the “Common Sense” author was denied a Quaker burial in America because of his outspoken challenges to organized religion. A group of mourners, including a rebellious Quaker minister, buried Paine at his farm in New York. A decade later, William Cobbett, a former critic who’d had a change of heart, dug up Paine’s grave and took it to Liverpool, England, but he couldn’t garner support for a proper funeral. Paine’s remains rested in a trunk until after Cobbett’s death, at one point serving as a stool in a tailor shop, before it was auctioned off. In 1864, an American abolitionist tracked down a London minister who’d bragged about having Paine’s skull and hand, but it turned out the minister’s son had thrown them out. An American abolitionist returned a chunk of the author’s brain to America at the turn of the century and buried it on the grounds of Paine’s New York farm, but the rest of him remains lost.
The fascination with Albert Einstein’s high-achieving mind didn’t cease after his death in 1955. When the theoretical physicist died at age 76, Thomas Harvey, a Princeton University pathologist conducted an autopsy and, without permission, removed Einstein’s brain for further study, hoping to solve the mystery of his genius. The organ was dissected into more than 200 pieces, several of which were examined by multiple neurologists over the years, leading to studies about the great thinker’s abundance of glial cells and wider-than-normal parietal lobes. In 2011, 46 slides of Einstein’s brain went on display at the Mütter Museum in Philadelphia.
Alexander the Great
Historians agree that Alexander the Great, a Macedonian king and an Aristotle-tutored commander famous for his undefeated record in battle, rests eternally somewhere in Alexandria, Egypt, but they’re still not sure where. When Alexander died in 323 B.C. in Babylon at age 32, his body was moved to the ancient Egyptian city of Memphis, where it remained for two decades until it was reburied in Alexandria, the city the young king had founded. At the end of the third century, it was moved back to Alexandria to another tomb, where it was visited by Julius Caesar, Caligula and Augustus, who accidentally knocked off Alexander’s nose when he bent down to kiss the corpse.
The final resting place of the Bolshevik leader, however, is no mystery, because it’s on display inside a glass coffin in Moscow, where visitors can gaze on Lenin for five minutes at a time. His embalmed body was meant to only be on display before his funeral, after which the government planned to bury him, but public outcry led to its extended stay aboveground. The wax-like corpse undergoes routine cleaning, and Lenin is changed into a new suit every three years. In a 2011 poll, Russians voted in favor of lowering Lenin into the ground, but he remains in Red Square for now.
After the former French emperor died in exile 1821 in Great Britain, 20 years would pass before his body returned to its home country. What happened next is the result of an autopsy that took one too many liberties. The doctor had allegedly removed the emperor’s genitals, and they joined some of Napoleon’s other belongings in a collection that was later auctioned in London in 1916. In 1927, the organ went on display at the Museum of French Art in New York City. It changed several collectors’ hands until the 1970s, when it was purchased by an American urologist, who kept it in a suitcase underneath his bed until he died in 2007 and his daughter inherited it.
Deemed a heretic for his heliocentric beliefs, Galileo did not receive a proper burial after he died in 1642. Almost a century later, members of the scientific community unearthed his remains, moving them into a marble tomb in Santa Croce Basilica in Florence—but not before taking a few souvenirs: several fingers, a tooth and a vertebra. The backbone eventually appeared at the University of Padua, his middle finger in a collection that spawned the Galileo Museum. The rest disappeared in 1905, but was recovered at a Florence auction three years ago, and now resides in the eponymous museum.
A dozen or so are known in copper, a few others in other metals. They are called Bickford patterns after Dana Bickford, who proposed the convertibility idea.
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The New England Patriots may not have gained their name until 1960, or their mascot until shortly thereafter (thanks to Phil Bissell’s cartoon for the Boston Globe, earning him the sobriquet “Pat’s Pa”), but the history of their mascot stretches hundreds of years back into American history. Whether you’re more history buff than sports fan or you just want to revisit the Revolutionary War, we’ve got 10 fun facts about patriots to get you ready for the big game.
Ben Franklin popularized the label “patriot”
The term “patriot” was first used regularly by Benjamin Franklin in the years leading up to the war, and came to refer to those colonial soldiers fighting against the British Army for their independence (Franklin himself was a patriot as well, and he also championed American foods like cranberries, maple syrup and Indian corn).
Though the romantic version of the Revolutionary War would have us believe that the Patriots—those fighting against Loyalists or Tories for independence from Britain—were ideological soldier-farmers, General George Washington actually relied on poor laborers motivated to join the army because they were offered money and land for their service. By 1778, half the men in the Continental Army weren’t even of English descent. But the pay soldiers were promised often wasn’t forthcoming, and even Continental officers went months without being paid.
Taking sides could tear families apart
Patriot Timothy Pickering Jr. was an adjutant general in Washington’s Continental Army, while his father remained a staunch Tory till the end of his life. When the younger Pickering learned of his father’s imminent death, he wrote a letter to his father to thank him for his example, even when their opinions differed. “When I look back on past time, I regret our difference of sentiment in great as well as (sometimes) in little politics; as it was a deduction from the happiness otherwise to have been enjoyed.”
Even in war, pets were important to patriots
After the 1777 Battle of Brandywine, in which the Patriots were defeated by the British, Washington found a dog sniffing around the camp. It wore tags identifying it as the property of British General William Howe and was returned to him with a note likely penned by Alexander Hamilton: “General Washington’s compliments to General Howe. He does himself the pleasure to return him dog, which accidentally fell into his hands.”
Some patriots were pirates
Although Britain had the most powerful navy in the world in 1776, patriot forces managed to recruit privateers—armed ships commissioned by the government to attack foreign powers—to fight for the fledgling country. Nearly 800 vessels were commissioned, and they ultimately captured or destroyed approximately 600 British ships. Though an American navy could’ve never defeated their British counterpart, it’s estimated that the privateers caused about $18 million in damage to British shipping by the end of the war—over $302 million in today’s dollars.
Theatre Was a Topic of Controversy
When they weren’t busy fighting patriots, the British army found some unusual methods for staving off boredom—including turning to the dramatic arts. As the British army spread across New York City, Boston and Philadelphia, three men were charged with overseeing military theatrical companies: General John Burgoyne, General William Howe and General Henry Clinton. The plays staged by the army were inevitably politically charged, with soldiers portraying George Washington as a bumbling, uncouth figure and offering flattery for the British soldiers. Plenty of people at the time found the soldiers’ involvement in theater unusual, or even offensive, since they didn’t seem to be taking the war seriously. The soldiers were aware of the criticism, as proved by British fighter Thomas Stanley: “I hear a great many people blame us for acting, and think we might have found something better to do.”
Ironically, the First Continental Congress actually discouraged “exhibitions of shows, plays and other expensive diversions and entertainments” in 1774, which could be related to the colonies’ injunctions against theatrical performances for reasons of religious morality or for economic reasons. But not everyone agreed with the article, and in May 1778 George Washington actually approved performances by officers in the Continental Army.
George Washington had a network of spies
Washington has a reputation as a great general and exemplary first president, but he was also heralded for his work as a spymaster known as Agent 711 in the Culper Spy Ring. The undercover patriots included farmers, tailors, merchants and other ordinary men as well as military officials. The ring was directed by Benjamin Tallmadge or “John Bolton,” who created a complex system of coded messages for the operatives.
The spies listened in on British conversations in locations all over the colonies, and in 1780 uncovered the British soldiers’ plan to ambush French troops. Washington also encouraged members of the ring to spread misinformation about the size of his army among British supporters. Agent 711’s work was so successful that one British officer said, “Washington did not really outfight the British. He simply out-spied us.”
One patriot survived 500 lashings at the hands of the British
Daniel Morgan was an infamous guerrilla fighter during the Revolutionary War, disguising himself and his men as Native Americans and attacking British units then fleeing throughout 1777. But it was before the Revolutionary War that Morgan’s fiery reputation truly proved itself. While serving the British Army as a wagoner during the French and Indian War, Morgan was struck by a British Lieutenant and responded by knocking the man out. Morgan was court-martialed and received 500 lashes, enough to kill a man. He survived, and liked to tell people that the British had miscounted and only given him 499, and they owed him one more lashing.
There were women patriots, too
There may not be any women playing for the New England Patriots, but there were plenty of female patriots who assisted the Continental Army.
When Margaret Cochran married John Corbin in 1772, little did she anticipate that in the next four years she’d be joining her husband in the Revolutionary War. When John left, she followed, joining other women who cooked, did laundry and took care of the sick and wounded soldiers. In November 1776, Margaret dressed as a man to join her husband at the Battle of Fort Washington, assisting him with loading the cannon. He was killed, leaving her to take over firing the cannon. But Margaret, too, was hit, her left arm nearly severed and her jaw severely wounded. She survived the battle, which the British eventually won, and on July 6, 1779, was awarded a lifelong pension equivalent to half that received by male soldiers, becoming the first female combat veteran of the war to receive a military pension.
One of the most critical battles was fought in the South, not New England
In January 1781, South Carolina became the site of a major turning point in the Revolutionary War. Cowpens referred to South Carolina’s pastureland and young cattle industry, and the land meant there was plenty of forage for horses. Some of the troops in the Continental Army were familiar with the terrain and made use of it for setting up their camps. On January 17, the Battle of Cowpens began—and was a major success for the patriots, thanks to help from spy and messenger Catherine Moore Barry. Barry knew the trails well and notified the militia of the approaching British Army, which helped General Morgan lay a trap for Cornwallis and the British troops.
Native Americans largely supported the British
The Revolutionary War wasn’t a battle for an unoccupied stretch of land; Native Americans had been negotiating the politics of the competing European powers for centuries by the time the colonists fought for independence from the British. But the Native Americans were far from being monolithic when it came to where they stood in the war. Mohawks and other members of the Iroquois Confederacy fought for the British in the northeast, while tribes in the Ohio country tried to remain neutral. In 1778 at the Treaty of Fort Pitt, the Delawares and Americans agreed to “perpetual peace and friendship.” But when the patriots killed noncombatant Moravian Delawares, the Ohio Native Americans joined the British, and continued to fight American westward expansion long after the war.
Compendium florae Philadelphicae : containing a description of the indigenous and naturalized plants found within a circuit of ten miles around Philadelphia / by William P.C. Barton, M.D. ... ; in two volumes
Autograph in ink on t.p.: William Tully's.
Guest blogger Sarah Weatherwax, a photography curator at the Library Company of Philadelphia, brings her expertise to bear on several daguerreotypes (an old type of photograph that was made on a piece of silver or a piece of copper covered in silver) from the Photographic History Collection at the National Museum of American History. Her collaboration and shared research provide deeper knowledge and historical understanding of the Smithsonian's collections. Read part one of her post.
By examining both the National Museum of American History's and the Library Company of Philadelphia's daguerreotype collections, a fuller understanding emerges of the earliest days of American photography. Philadelphian Walter R. Johnson (1794–1852) did not leave behind a large number of daguerreotypes, but his legacy illustrates the challenges and rewards faced by the earliest experimenters.
By spring of 1840, University of Pennsylvania chemistry professor Walter R. Johnson had several months' experience taking daguerreotypes. As one of America's earliest experimenters, he had given public lectures and demonstrations about the exciting invention and had mixed success in creating daguerreotypes himself. His daguerreotype of Philadelphia's Merchants' Exchange building taken in February 1840 is a masterpiece (see my previous post), and the National Museum of American History's collection includes two other daguerreotypes of buildings by Johnson. Leaving the confines of a laboratory or a studio posed challenges to daguerreotypists, but Johnson successfully overcame these obstacles as can be seen in the clarity of his extant images.
In March 1840 Walter Johnson traveled approximately ten miles from Philadelphia to Germantown to take a daguerreotype of Wyck, the Haines family residence. Embarking on a photographic excursion required careful planning. Johnson needed to bring with him not only a camera, but also chemicals, metal plates, and the additional equipment necessary to take and develop the image on site. The whereabouts of his daguerreotype of Wyck are not known, but the image lives on in an early 20th century lantern slide in the Library Company of Philadelphia's collection. Photographer John G. Bullock took the lantern slide about 1913 for possible inclusion in Charles F. Jenkins's The Guide Book to Historic Germantown.
Given the difficulties in traveling around making daguerreotypes, it is interesting to speculate that the National Museum of American History's whole-plate daguerreotype by Johnson of Cliveden was taken during the same photography excursion.
Cataloging information filed with the Cliveden daguerreotype records that this daguerreotype was made in 1840, and the lack of foliage makes March 1840 seem like a reasonable assumption. Located only about a half mile from the Wyck residence, Cliveden was home to the Chew family. The Cliveden daguerreotype, however, seems less personal than Johnson's view of Wyck. No family members can be seen and the house is shot from a greater distance. While Walter Johnson may have known the Chew family like he did the Haines family, and took the daguerreotype for personal reasons, he may also have wanted to record the house because of its historical significance as a site of a Revolutionary War battle.
Johnson, however, did not confine his daguerreotype experimentation to recording buildings. Two Philadelphia area brothers, Robert B. and John S. Haines, corresponded with one another about Johnson's failed attempts at making a daguerreotype of his sister-in-law Mary Donaldson. In a letter among the Wyck Papers at the American Philosophical Society, Robert Haines wrote on December 7, 1839 to his older brother John:
"The other day I went to town with Cousin Mary to see the Daguerreotype which was at Mr. Johnson's. The instrument belongs to the Medical branch of the Pennsylvania College at Philadelphia but Mr. Johnson had it at his house to make some experiments. He was going to try to take a portrait which had never succeeded on account of the difficulty of keeping features still as the slightest motion spoils the operation and Cousin Mary was to sit. It always requires ten or fifteen minutes to take a picture and Cousin Mary had sat but eight when a kitten came into the room and was going to jump into Cousin Mary's lap and she could not help laughing and there was no impression."
Although Johnson did not succeed in obtaining a daguerreotype of Cousin Mary, other early experimenters successfully took portraits. Philadelphian Robert Cornelius, who opened the city's first daguerreotype studio in May 1840, took an outdoor self-portrait in October or November 1839. That portrait is now in the collection of the Library of Congress. Robert Haines's letter, however, underscores the difficulties experienced by both the daguerreotypist and the sitter in creating a portrait when such long exposure times were necessary to create an unblurred image.
Like the other Walter Johnson daguerreotypes in the National Museum of American History's collection, Mary Stroud, Johnson's daughter, donated the Cliveden daguerreotype to the Smithsonian in the late 19th century.
Sarah J. Weatherwax is curator of Prints and Photographs at the Library Company of Philadelphia.
A whimsical snail brooch slithers across a swath of sweater. The slug’s orange shell adds a pop of color to its dark silver base. But its glossy coat of paint also serves another purpose: it disguises the whorl’s true origins as a reclaimed cello part, taken from a broken instrument and transformed into a work of wearable art.
Meet jewelry makers Scott and Lisa Cylinder, whose line of one-of-a-kind studio originals use retooled or found objects (musical instrument parts, board game pieces, ancient tools) to fashion their delicate creations. The result? Clever statement pieces that are routinely displayed at the country's most prestigious juried shows, and will be highlighted among other handmade items in this week's Smithsonian Craft Show.
“It’s a soul thing,” explains Lisa Cylinder. “ The things we use were touched by somebody. Once you see those pieces, you identify a moment in your life with that particular object. The tool that someone used in making something—there’s sweat on it, there’s toil on it. A musical instrument—someone played it. The human contact is part of what we do, and the reason we select the objects.”
The Cylinders met while studying at the Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia. They decided to forge jewelry—and a life—together shortly after. “I just knew we’d be simpatico,” says Lisa Cylinder. After several years of work experience (and a master’s degree for Scott), the duo decided to start their own jewelry production line, Chickenscratch, which was founded in 1988 and features playful studio pieces made from base metals and wire. Their larger ambition? To eventually stop making multiples, and instead focus on crafting singular works. But this aspiration dimmed a bit between mortgages, raising kids and the day-to-day dealings of managing a business.
Ten years later, the Cylinders woke up and realized they were “losing their souls.” This awakening, combined with a gallery’s suggestion that they start making one-of-a-kind pieces, spurred them to form Lisa and Scott Cylinder, a new line of fine contemporary jewelry. "It exploded from there," says Lisa Cylinder.
Today, Lisa and Scott Cylinder spend their days making jewelry in their home studio in Virginville, Pennsylvania, and scouring flea markets, Ebay and antique fairs, in search of discarded "trash" they can turn into treasure. They always re-tool or disguise their finds; for example, eraser nubs become pink posies in a floral brooch, and a saxophone key is cut into a guitar shape used in a music-themed object d'arte.
"Our goal isn’t to present or frame the found object," says Scott Cylinder. "It is to disguise it, and make it integral to the piece so that you don’t know where it ends and what we’ve made begins."
The Cylinders' booth at the Smithsonian Craft Show will feature some 70 items—musical instrument-themed pieces, cameos, Cubist still lifes and necklaces that can be worn or hung as wall art, among others. Each piece is made of varying materials, but there's one constant: they're not perfect. "There’s something [flawed] about them, just like every single human being," says Lisa Cylinder. "They're all unconventional. I think that's what makes our work unique."
The Smithsonian Craft Show opens at the National Building Museum on Thursday, April 10, and will run until Sunday, April 13. Tickets are available for purchase online. Admission is $15 a day, $25 for a two-day pass. Proceeds support the Smithsonian Women's Committee Grants Fund.
Image by Courtesy Lisa and Scott Cylinder . Tile Epoxy Cameo Brooches (original image)
Image by Courtesy Lisa and Scott Cylinder. Large Cello Brooch (original image)
Image by Courtesy Lisa and Scott Cylinder. Blues Singer Brooch/Pendant (In and Out of Box) (original image)
Image by jewelry5. Trio (original image)
Image by Courtesy Lisa and Scott Cylinder. Unfolding Movement Still Life Necklace (original image)
Image by Courtesy Lisa and Scott Cylinder. Speckled Orange Elgin Timeflyer Brooch (original image)
One day in the late 1980s, a homeless man in a red cap walked through a park in New York City, pushing a strange, wheeled object. The thing looked like a cross between a shopping cart and a rocket ship, with an arc of safety-orange fabric stretched over the top. The man paused to pick up a discarded beer can and tossed it in the cart’s basket.
A camera followed him, and a small crowd gathered as the man parked the vehicle and began to demonstrate its functions. He tugged on one end, and the object expanded to three times its original length. He pulled at another spot, and a retractable seat slid out. “It’s like a mobile home,” he said. The cart had a storage area for personal belongings, a washbasin that doubled as support for a table, a bin to hold cans and bottles, and, beneath its orange roof, just enough space for a desperate homeless man to sleep.
The cart’s creator, Krzysztof Wodiczko, was not on camera that day. He is a Polish-born artist who in the late 1980s began making several of these houses-on-wheels, which he called Homeless Vehicles. One of them, Homeless Vehicle, Variant 5, from 1988-1989, is now among the collections of the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.
Wodiczko, who had begun his career as an industrial designer, spent hours consulting with homeless people who collected bottles and cans for a living, asking about their needs and seeking feedback on his designs. By presenting an idea of emergency housing both elegant and disturbing, he hoped to raise awareness of the homeless and their concerns. The Homeless Vehicles helped launch a renewed interest in social activism among artists, an interest that can be seen today in forms that range from the neighborhood development projects of Rick Lowe to Yoko Ono’s Twitter feed. “The question is,” Wodiczko said in a recent interview, “What can we do as artists to be useful in our work?”
Born in Warsaw in 1943, Wodiczko lived in Communist Poland until moving to Canada in the 1970s and later to the U.S. Arriving in New York in the 1980s, the artist was shocked by a “catastrophic situation”: tens of thousands of people living without homes in that wealthy city. The can and bottle collectors stood out, pushing shopping carts wherever they went. Though they were dismissed by the public “much as every other homeless person, faceless, seemingly using stolen consumer equipment,” he says, he saw them as working people doing tough jobs that benefited the city, day and night, for very little money in return. In the Homeless Vehicles, he tried to “create a legitimate vehicle for collecting bottles and cans, so these people will be recognized as legitimate members of the urban community.”
It one sense Homeless Vehicle is exquisitely functional, almost charming in the way it squeezes so many useful features into one neat, rolling package. Artists have created functional objects forever, usually for the wealthiest stratum of society, whether ancient Chinese incense burners or opulent Art Deco doors. Some artists, in the Bauhaus of the 1920s, for example, designed mass-produced goods for a broader public. But it was something new, says Stéphane Aquin, chief curator of the Hirshhorn, for an artist to create a beautifully functional tool for the poorest of the poor. “It was designed for the use of those who need it the most,” he says.
Looked at another way, though, Homeless Vehicle isn’t functional at all. As either a real home or a long-term solution to the shortage of affordable housing, it’s absurdly, even horribly, inadequate. Wodiczko says he didn’t intend for the vehicles to be mass-produced, and he didn‘t give away even the few that were made (partly because he feared they would be so desirable that people would get hurt fighting over them).
Instead, Homeless Vehicle can be understood as a critique of economic inequality. Among the places where one of the artworks was photographed was in front of Trump Tower. Aquin sees the absurdity of the vehicle as Wodiczko’s metaphor for “the absurdity…of the extreme capitalist society of the late 1980s: the trickle-down economics of the Reagan years, the rise of Trump Tower, a dramatic rise in homelessness in New York City.” Even with all its homey amenities, Homeless Vehicle looks a lot like a missile. One of its intended functions was as a weapon of social disruption.Homeless Vehicle in New York City by Krzysztof Wodiczko, 1988-1989 (Hirshhorn © Krzysztof Wodiczko; Courtesy Galerie Lelong & Co., New York)
They may not have known it, but the people in the park gawking at it were part of the artwork, too. Wodiczko says that the vehicles were addressing two different emergencies: a need to make homeless people’s existence a little less harsh, and an equally urgent need to give this mostly ignored group of people a chance to be heard, to “speak of their lives to nonhomeless people.” In this sense, he says, the can and bottle collectors who worked with him turned out to be performers. As they wheeled his strange vehicles around the city, they attracted questions from passersby, which led sometimes to friendly conversations between homeless people and their neighbors or, sometimes, to outrage (“We can’t have 100,000 vehicles like this!”). Either way, the discussion was part of the point. It was, Wodiczko says, “on one hand, emergency help; on the other hand, a situation for thinking.”
Looking back on it as a piece of art history, Aquin says that Homeless Vehicle “raised awareness in the art world about social issues” and about the ways artists could apply their creativity to solving social problems.
If Wodiczko’s social activism was unusual among artists in the 1980s, in the decades since it has rippled into many parts of the art world. Nato Thompson, artistic director of the cultural organization Philadelphia Contemporary and author of Seeing Power: Art and Activism in the Twenty-First Century, has seen a significant rise in what he calls “socially engaged art” in the last decade or so, of “artists interested in using their skills to better their communities.“ He adds, “Even the conversation of community as a part of art has grown tremendously. It’s not only artists, but there are more institutions supporting it, and more foundations.”Wodiczko’s work has continued to give marginalized people—from immigrants to abused women to military veterans—a platform to speak publicly, now often in large-scale audio and video projections. (Ewa Harabasz)
Activism has influenced a range of art made since the Homeless Vehicles’ era. Aquin sees their humor and absurdism as an older sibling of “ludicrously satirical” work like the Yes Men’s Survivaball from the early 2000s, a bloblike suit supposed to protect the wearer from climate change. Wodiczko’s own work has continued to give marginalized people—from immigrants to abused women to military veterans—a platform to speak publicly, now often in large-scale audio and video projections. (His 1988 projection Hirshhorn Museum, Washington, D.C. was recently restaged at the museum.) Meanwhile, as Thompson points out, other artists have gone on to address problems of homelessness and affordable housing, such as Michael Rakowitz with paraSITE, a series of inflatable plastic shelters, or Rick Lowe and Project Row Houses, an artists’ urban renewal project in Houston.
The Danish artists’ group Superflex has focused on functional art addressing social issues, from a series of projects with biofuels in the 1990s to a recent work exhibiting and then donating medical equipment for a hospital in Syria. Mark Beasley, curator of media and performance art at the Hirshhorn, says the group continually grapples with the question of “how you create an active space for discussion”—in much the same way that Wodiczko hoped to provoke that discussion in a public park.
Thirty years after Homeless Vehicle, the Internet and social media have become natural places for public discussion. “Artists are very adept and very promiscuous in taking to new media,” Beasley says, as “another platform for discussion or dispersion of ideas.”
An 18th-century artist might have used history painting to comment on events, he says, but “rather than 10 people clustered around a painting,” an artist on social media can reach millions in a matter of seconds. “Artists are engaging in that in the same way that any corporate brand is engaging in that.” Beasley says that since much of Yoko Ono’s work is text-based, for example, it is a natural fit for social media. Jenny Holzer’s aphorisms, he says, are a form of discussion, whether they’re projected onto the side of a building or posted on Twitter.
The discussion continues. Thompson says he hasn’t seen a dramatic change in artists’ work since the election of Donald Trump as president, but it may be coming. “The arts take a while to recalibrate themselves,” he says. “The shift to dealing with the new political atmosphere I don’t think has happened yet.” At the moment, he says “we don’t have a large protest movement going on in serial way,” with regularly repeated protests like those around the Vietnam War, AIDS or civil rights, which often galvanized political art in the past.
For now, Wodiczko’s Homeless Vehicles tell us something about what art can accomplish, and what it can’t. Innovative as they were, the vehicles didn’t shift public opinion enough to replace homes-on-wheels with real housing for those in need. More than half a million people were homeless in the U.S. on a single night last year. And so Homeless Vehicle, Variant 5 serves to remind us, Aquin says, “that solutions still need to be found.”
Homeless Vehicle, Variant 5 is on view at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden as part of the exhibition “Brand New: Art and Commodity in the 1980s” through May 13.
Think you’ve got a firm handle on the presidents? The Smithsonian Book of Presidential Trivia from Smithsonian Books just might make you question how comprehensive your head-of-state knowledge actually is. To commemorate the Presidents' Day holiday, we offer some nuggets excerpted from the book that reveal a few unexpected facts about the sartorial habits, social practices and defining characteristics of our commanders-in-chief.
1. George Washington owned a profitable whiskey distillery.
Whiskey was one of Washington’s most important business ventures at Mount Vernon. At peak production in 1799, the distillery used five stills and a boiler and produced eleven thousand gallons of whiskey. With sales of $7,500 that year, it was perhaps the country’s largest distillery.
Washington’s plantation manager James Anderson, a Scottish man with distilling experience, urged him to start the venture, which was also an efficient way to use unsold ground wheat, corn and rye.
2. James Madison held the first Inaugural Ball.
Although there was a ball in 1789 to honor the election of George Washington, the first official inaugural ball did not occur until 1809, when Madison took office. Madison was sworn in at the U.S. Capitol.
That evening his wife, Dolley Madison, hosted a gala at Long’s Hotel. The price of admissions was four dollars per ticket. Four hundred tickets were sold, and so began a Washington tradition. Today the Presidential Inaugural Committee plans all the official inaugural balls.
3. Gerald Ford was a fashion model in his youth (even appearing on the cover of Cosmopolitan).
Ford’s first love was a woman named Phyllis Brown, a gorgeous blonde who became a fashion model. Brown persuaded Ford to invest in a modeling agency and to do some modeling himself.
Together they appeared in ski resort spread of Look magazine (1940) and on a cover of Cosmopolitan (1942). Ultimately, the pair broke up. She wanted to continue modeling in New York and he decided to forego the runway and begin his law career.
4. Warren Harding had the largest shoe size.
Harding wore a size 14. Unfortunately, those big feet did not ensure that his administration would be on firm footing. It turned out that Harding’s trusted advisors were not so trustworthy, and his presidency was riddled with scandal.
He died before his term was complete, and his wife burned his potentially incriminating correspondence. However, his stately slippers and sporty golf shoes survive at the Smithsonian.
5. Four presidents have received the Nobel Peace Prize including Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama.
Roosevelt received his in 1906 for his many efforts toward international peace, including his role in formulating the 1905 peace treaty between Russia and Japan. Wilson was awarded the Nobel in 1919 for founding the League of Nations after World War I.
Carter was long retired from the presidency when he won the prize in 2002 for his efforts to advance human rights and advance peaceful solutions to international conflicts. Obama was honored with a Nobel in 2009 for his work toward strengthening international diplomacy and cooperation.
6. William Howard Taft became a Supreme Court Justice after his retirement.
A graduate of Yale and Cincinnati Law School, Taft loved law but was unsure about politics. At the urging of his wife, Nellie, and mentor, Theodore Roosevelt, he reluctantly accepted his party’s nomination for the presidency, calling the presidential campaign “one of the most uncomfortable four months of my life.”
After losing the 1912 election to Woodrow Wilson, Taft served as a professor of law at Yale and was later appointed by Warren Harding as chief justice of the United States, a pose he considered his greatest honor.
7. Theodore Roosevelt wore a lock of Lincoln’s hair during his inauguration.
Roosevelt wore a ring with a lock of Lincoln’s hair in it on March 14, 1905, at his second inauguration. Roosevelt had been a long-time admirer of Lincoln, and as a child had watched Lincoln’s funeral procession pass by his house in New York.
Roosevelt’s admiration for Lincoln was reinforced later, when he met John Hay, who had worked for Lincoln in the White House. Hay and Roosevelt talked about Lincoln often, and Hay gave Roosevelt the ring, knowing that Roosevelt would treasure it.
8. Franklin D. Roosevelt was the first president to name a woman to his cabinet.
FDR named Frances Perkins as secretary of labor in 1933. The Mount Holyoke College graduate was a trained social worker who had worked in settlement houses in Chicago and Philadelphia. Her efforts on behalf of labor reform took on an added urgency after the tragic Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in 1911.
She served as industrial commissioner under Roosevelt when he was governor of New York. As labor secretary, Perkins established the Labor Standards Bureau and was a principal architect of the Social Security Act.
9. John Tyler had 15 children.
Tyler was married twice. He had eight children with his first wife, Letitia. After she died, the 54-year-old president married the 24-year-old Julia Gardiner, with whom he had seven more children.
Tyler wins the prize for being the most prolific of all American presidents.
10. Abraham Lincoln attended séances at the White House.
Lincoln’s wife, Mary Lincoln, became interested in séances after their young son Willie died in 1862. At the White House, she engaged mediums, who conducted “spirit circles” or ceremonies during which those who attended could communicate with their loved ones who had crossed over into the next world.
Mary was eager to believe in these mediums as it made her loss somewhat bearable, and she encouraged the president to attend a few séances, which he did. It is not clear if Lincoln participated to appease his wife or out of real interest and belief.
March is that month of meteorological madness that blows in like a lion only to tease with the warmth of a gentle lamb. But it also marks the annual opening of a springtime extravaganza, the Philadelphia Flower Show—the nation’s largest and oldest horticulture exhibition, with spectacular displays of floral abundance.
Beginning this weekend, thousands of amateur and expert gardeners, seed collectors, floral arrangers, botanical artists and ordinary thrill seekers will head like supplicants to their mecca. This year’s show, running from March 5 to 13 and encompassing some ten acres inside the cavernous Pennsylvania Convention Center, celebrates the 100th anniversary of the nation’s National Parks.
With landscape designs honoring Muir Woods, Olympic National Park, Hawa’i Volcanoes National Park, Arches National Park, the Great Smoky Mountains, Grand Teton, Saguaro, Yellowstone, Valley Forge, Acadia, Cape Cod, as well as the Appalachian and Pacific Coast Trails, the show is expected to attract thousands of enthusiasts.
Other highlights include a miniature railroad display, a climbing wall, a live butterfly experience, ranger stations, a food court, a beer garden, a hands-on craft workshop and a robust wine and liquor tasting. (How else to ease the aches and pains that come of a gardener’s digging, hauling, weeding and other toil.)
The show is best known for its over-the-top opening display, always a breathtaking experience. This year the architecture of the historic lodges inside the National Parks will be recreated in a wood and stone structure called Big Timber Lodge. The display includes evergreens, hyacinths and crocuses, cosmos and Echinacea and other woodland species. Giant overhead screens featuring the animals of the nation’s parks in video, featuring a rumbling herd of bison on the move and the chatter of songbirds will compliment a reconstruction of giant California redwoods and a 12-foot waterfall.
The juried show awards its coveted Pennsylvania Horticulture Society Gold and Blue Medals based on criteria such as “cultural perfection,” meaning that flowers, foliage and fruit are in the height of vigor and health; or “distinctiveness,” meaning that the aesthetics are of the utmost merit; as well as notable “rarity,” “bloom,” “fruit,” “maturity” and “difficulty.” A host of other prestigious awards are offered based on the rigorous standards that have evolved over the show’s 187-year history and upheld by a team of nearly 200 discerning judges.
One such judge is the Smithsonian Institution’s Cindy Brown, manager of the Smithsonian Gardens horticulture collections and education. We caught up with Brown just before her departure for the City of Brotherly Love. Brown, who says she’s been going to the show and leading tours for more than a decade, offered a number of tips for navigating the displays and making the most of the experience.
What’s your best advice for fighting the crowds?
Bring your patience. Look on the website ahead of time and make a plan. Know what they have to offer because they feature lectures and presentations, so know when to be there for those instead of just walking around.
What’s your favorite out-of-the-way exhibit?
The Hamilton Horticourt. That is where everyone can bring in their own prized plants—their kalanchos and jades, or crassulas—and be judged by experts in the field. I like it because there, everyone can be a part of the flower show.
What do you look for in the exhibits?
I’m always looking for new ideas on what to be able to grow? And what combinations of plants grow well together. In years past the designers haven’t always had the best combinations. They look beautiful. But if you were a gardener, you would know that they had mixed shade and sun plants. But they are doing much better in encouraging exhibitors to do combinations that actually work. So that the amateur gardener can get really good ideas for what to grow and how to display them for plant combinations. For hardscaping, I always look at what they are using for the paths. We always need good ideas for creating pathways in a garden.
Do new things turn up?
Yes. I always like to look at what the universities and the high school tech groups are doing for their exhibits because they are educational as well. Last year they did one about how to use recyclables in your yard and they had created these rain chains—they were beautiful and made out of bells—so you were learning how to both recycle the water and to spark up your garden. I also saw this fascinating wind chime that was hand-constructed using pennies and old keys. So creative.
What stands out in terms of must-see designers?
I would say give all of them a chance because each year they do something unique. I like to walk through and then turn around, and go through again—using a different route because I always find something else intriguing.
So what would you say is the plant to have in your garden this year?
I don’t know. A Redwood (laughs)? But if you don’t have the space for a 300-foot tree, I’d say they’ll probably do a good job highlighting some of the evergreen trees that you would see in some of the National Parks and that you could incorporate into your garden, as well as some of the cactuses and succulents. I’m big into trough gardens because I’m always looking for those little succulents to put in my small townhouse garden.
So gardeners are dealing with the nuances of climate change even in their backyard gardens. California gardeners are being asked not to water. Any helpful suggestions?
Sustainable gardening. Look at water-wise gardening and plant things that don’t need so much moisture, things that are growing naturally and natively in the climate and in your zone. Many of us have zone denial and grow things that just don’t work in our areas, but we have to know what zone we’re in, what is the climate, the weather conditions and then we have to pick appropriate plants so that we don’t have to go out of our way to take care of them. Even if it is a native plant, make sure that it’s a plant that can grow in native conditions. I would never try to grow a willow tree in a place that is really dry because a willow needs lots of water and likes a lot of moisture. We have to be careful that we are protecting our resources.
How do you keep track of all that you’re learning at the show, all of your ideas for your garden?
I always like to take pictures and I tell everyone on my tour groups to take pictures, especially if you want a horticulturalist to identify a plant for you. I can’t ID a plant if you tell me it’s green on the bottom and blue on the top; but if you show me a picture. And if you bring back pictures, you can take them to your nursery and ask for them to identify the flowers.
So at the end of the day after you’ve seen everything at the show and you have that last moment of gardener’s zen. What’s the final thing you do before you leave?
I usually go back to the entrance just to revisit. The Big Timber Lodge, I’m looking forward to seeing that. I also go to my favorite shops in the marketplace and pick out a pair of earrings, a favorite plant, a cool tool to add to my shed. Or I might go and sample some of the wines at the tasting. I might also linger at the cool little exhibits. Some people are completely overwhelmed by the complexity of the large displays, but the ones that are created by the local clubs are full of ideas for backyards and small homes.