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Star Wars

National Museum of American History

Star Wars

National Portrait Gallery

Trade Wars

National Portrait Gallery

Napoleonic Wars

Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
Large medallion of Napoleon on horseback alternates vertically with large medallion of brown eagle grasping branch, the leaves of which are labelled with the names of Napoleon's great battles. The match is to be dropped at the sides, and where the join occurs half a laurel wreath or half a trophy of helmets is shown, printed on white ground sown with small blue polka dots.

Electronic Wars

National Portrait Gallery

End the Wars

National Museum of American History

Seeing Star Wars

Smithsonian American Art Museum
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away...some museum nerds kept seeing Star Wars connections in the artworks.

Between the Wars

Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
On white ground, a vertically-oriented design composed of two helmets surrounding a gentleman's black hat. In red text between the hats: BETWEEN / THE WARS; white block letters outlined in blue at upper center: Mobil Showcase presents

Stop Star Wars

National Museum of American History

Express Wars '83

National Air and Space Museum
Offset Photolithograph: Multicolor satirical print. Painting of imaginary space fighters labeled with various express shipping company names (Emery, Fed Ex, Airborne Overnight, Purolater) in space - "Star Wars" imagery.

Fly Now: The National Air and Space Museum Poster Collection

Throughout their history, posters have been a significant means of mass communication, often with striking visual effect. Wendy Wick Reaves, the Smithsonian Portrait Gallery Curator of Prints and Drawings, comments that "sometimes a pictorial poster is a decorative masterpiece-something I can't walk by without a jolt of aesthetic pleasure. Another might strike me as extremely clever advertising … But collectively, these 'pictures of persuasion,' as we might call them, offer a wealth of art, history, design, and popular culture for us to understand. The poster is a familiar part of our world, and we intuitively understand its role as propaganda, promotion, announcement, or advertisement."

Reaves' observations are especially relevant for the impressive array of aviation posters in the National Air and Space Museum's 1300+ artifact collection. Quite possibly the largest publicly-held collection of its kind in the United States, the National Air and Space Museum's posters focus primarily on advertising for aviation-related products and activities. Among other areas, the collection includes 19th-century ballooning exhibition posters, early 20th-century airplane exhibition and meet posters, and twentieth-century airline advertisements.

The posters in the collection represent printing technologies that include original lithography, silkscreen, photolithography, and computer-generated imagery. The collection is significant both for its aesthetic value and because it is a unique representation of the cultural, commercial and military history of aviation. The collection represents an intense interest in flight, both public and private, during a significant period of its technological and social development.

The Piano Wars

Smithsonian Magazine

A couple of years ago, in Brussels on assignment for Smithsonian, I took a stroll along the rue de la Régence from the Royal Palace and the Royal Museums, and within a couple of minutes I came upon the Royal Conservatory of Music, a typically imposing Bruxellois edifice of cumbrously unidentifiable (but presumably royal) style. Smithsonian had asked me to pull together a story on concert pianists—it eventually appeared as "In Praise of Pianos and the Artists Who Play Them" (March 2000)—and I wanted to get a close-up look at some of the best young talent then struggling to break free of their church benefits and other such local triumphs in order to burst into the international big time, that most elusive and frustrating of all goals.

I could hardly have come to a better place than this, because placing in the eponymous Queen Elisabeth International Music Competition, founded 50 years ago by Belgium's gracious, music-loving sovereign of the moment, skyrockets the careers of talented young soloists in four disciplines: piano, violin, singing and composition. Every four years one of the disciplines comes around again, and hopeful talents from all over the world flock to Brussels to try their luck. While most competitors are in their mid-20s, at least one, the Romanian pianist Radu Lupu, got in at 16, and the guillotine of the selection committee falls at age 30. The focus is on youth, then, but not babies. Lupu was an exception, explained Cécile Ferrière, then secretary-general of the competition.

"We don't want prodigies," she told me in her sunny office opposite the great music barn. "This is the most grueling of competitions, and we demand artists who have reached a certain maturity. We look for more than the circus act of pure technique alone. We're not impressed by Liszts. We get plenty of them in the first elimination round."

Casually eliminating Liszts is high-handed stuff, but the Queen Elisabeth is one of the world's toughest tests of musical talent and application, and only the strongest have a chance of surviving the three-week obstacle course that every year dominates the month of May in Brussels. The hundred or so applicants accepted for a first audition are mercilessly weeded out in less than half an hour apiece before a jury of top-level performers and professors. All but 24 semifinalists go home with a pat on the back, and then the torture begins for the last two-dozen, judged at this stage by formal, individual recitals of 45 minutes, in which competitors play not only classics they have prepared but also a common benchmark piece of a Belgian composer by which their interpretations may be compared.

It is a pitiless little world there in the recital hall of the Royal Conservatory, and music lovers from all over Belgium flock in to take advantage of the chance to hear possible future superstars against tickets priced (at this stage, anyway) at near giveaway rates. As the ancient and uncontested cultural event of springtime in Brussels, the Queen Elisabeth has its unwritten rules and decorum, and woe unto him who transgresses them. I discovered how far the degree of woefulness can go when I repaired for the first time to the tiny box on the left side of the theater to which the event's press office had assigned me. Since the four chairs squeezed into the exiguous space bore no numbers or other signs of priority, and since the box was otherwise empty, I insouciantly plopped myself into one of the two seats up front and waited for the performances to begin. Very bad idea. Only seconds before the first piano note was struck, my little domain was invaded by a pair of ogresses, two Brussels grandes dames who clearly were veteran Queen Elisabeth groupies and even more clearly were scandalized at my presumption of placement. "Monsieur," the elder one hissed through clenched teeth, "you are occupying our place."

Chastised, I retreated to the back of the box where I belonged, to enjoy the rest of the recital over their hats. Then I made a second mistake: I opened my little notebook to write down a few observations. With the perfect timing of a choreography that the Rockettes could not have bettered, the two powdered faces turned as one and glared at the guilty instruments in my hand. Nor did they fail, after the first composition had been played, to lecture me in colorful detail about the thunderous din of my notebook's pages turning and my ball pen writing.

Continuing through two days of the second round under the steely discipline of my septuagenarian proctors, I could appreciate the near-tragic dilemma facing young musicians today: there are so many of them, and they are so good. In spite of all their years of work and dedication, the awful fact of life is that there is simply not enough room in the world of the performing arts for any more than a handful of them to make a living as soloists. At the Queen Elisabeth 1999, each pianist I heard seemed better than the last, and I was successively convinced that the latest one to play must surely win the grand prize. Alas, none of my choices even came close, and the eventual winner proved to be a 25-year-old Ukrainian named Vitaly Samoshko.

This year the violin's turn has come around, and members of the selection committee are making ready to eliminate a few dozen Paganinis, in quest of the much rarer Oistrakh, Stern or Heifetz. Most of those who fall by the wayside will behave themselves, of course, but so much labor, time and passion is invested in creating a world-level musician that there is always the chance that a few of them will rebel, because the make-or-break pressure can cause some very curious behavior.

Cécile Ferrière told me of the time she watched a young Belgian pianist backstage with his coach, huffing and puffing and psyching himself up for the moment of his recital. The coach was feeding her protégé what appeared to be strawberries, which struck Mme. Ferrière as an odd but still rather sympathetic musical preparation—until she looked closer and saw that the strawberries were in reality chunks of raw meat.

You do what you have to do to win, then, and if tiger food works, you go for it. If cosmic justice is not served and you get eliminated, well, then your artistic temperament takes over and perhaps you indulge in some creative protest. A memorable example occurred some years ago when a (mercifully anonymous) pianist was eliminated in the very first round, and didn't think that was fair.

Come opening day of the second round, a sudden, unseemly commotion interrupted the decorous ceremony as the jury trooped in to take places for the first performance. From the back of the hall, the eliminated pianist had turned himself into a human trench mortar, and was lobbing eggs and rotten tomatoes upon the august heads of those who had done him wrong. It was, apparently, the best performance he had ever given, but he was eliminated from the hall all the same. I don't think he had much of a concert hall career after that.

Star Wars or Security?

National Museum of American History

Star Wars Imperial Fighter

National Museum of American History

Star Wars, Wampa figure

National Museum of American History

Star Wars, Jawa figure

National Museum of American History

The Sauropods of Star Wars

Smithsonian Magazine

Bone Wars in the Blogosphere

Smithsonian Magazine

Star Wars on the Mall

Smithsonian Magazine

"A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away..." so begins the epic Star Wars saga--the timeless tale of the struggle between light and dark, good and evil. George Lucas' film trilogy and the world he created have become part of the collective consciousness of our times. Videos, books, toys, calendars, comics and other spin-offs continue to perpetuate the saga, which has assumed mythic proportions since it was first launched 20 years ago. The key to the trilogy's enduring magic, according to a new exhibition at the National Air and Space Museum, was its success in fashioning a modern-day myth a story that inspires and instructs, that reflects contemporary concerns, yet embodies a universal and timeless wisdom. "Star Wars: The Magic of Myth," on view from October 31, 1997, through November 1, 1998, showcases 200 original props, models, costumes, characters and artworks used in making the films. The artifacts are on loan from the archives of Lucasfilm Ltd., whose Star Wars universe captured the imaginations of millions of viewers by juxtaposing elements of classic myth aprinces and ogres, enchantment and chivalry awith a galaxy of androids and starships to create a space-age "hero's journey." The show, which was made possible by Bantam Books, examines these mythological roots and celebrates the trilogy as a cultural artifact. Admission is free, but timed tickets are required. A companion book by exhibition curator Mary Henderson, with images by Smithsonian photographers Eric Long and Mark Avino, is also due out from Bantam. "Underneath the flash and dazzle of special effects," writes Henderson, "is the magic of myth, a shape-shifting realm where heroes, monsters, wizards and magic talismans dwell in labyrinths of discovery. It is a story that will endure into the next millennium."

Peace Voters Against Star Wars

National Museum of American History

Star Wars figure, Darth Vader

National Museum of American History

Chemist Hazel Bishop's Lipstick Wars

Smithsonian Magazine

Gone were the days of cheek-prints and constant reapplications when Hazel Bishop came up with the first kissproof lipstick.

Early lipsticks  tended to leave less-than-desirable smudges on cups, cigarettes and teeth, wrote Mary Tannen in Bishop’s 1998  New York Times obituary. But the industrial chemist’s new formula didn’t leave marks–and didn’t have to be reapplied throughout the day. It made Hazel Bishop into a wealthy and successful businesswoman–but Bishop’s innovation didn’t remain hers for very long.

Bishop, who was born on this day in 1906, was set on the path to makeup moguldom when she got a job assisting a Columbia University dermatologist, writes Columbia. Already armed with an undergraduate degree in chemistry,  “she was able to take graduate courses in biochemistry while working on [the dermatologist]’s ‘Almay’ line of hypoallergenic cosmetics,” the school writes.

“Women have an insight and understanding of cosmetology a male chemist can never have,” she once said. “Does a man, for instance, know what happens to makeup under the hot beach sun?”

After her lawsuit with the new owners of Hazel Bishop Ltd. was settled, the chemist's name rights stayed with the company–meaning the lipstick was still marketed under her name. (Flickr)

Bishop was right that she had an unusual angle on the cosmetics business, which enabled her to see problems that other chemists who didn’t wear makeup could not. After the war, she was still working on gasoline formulations, writes Columbia–but in her own time she came up with long-lasting lipstick, reportedly in her own kitchen.

“By 1949 she found the solution–a stick of bromo acids that stained skin rather than coating it,” writes Columbia. The lipstick wasn’t irritating, it didn’t make lips dry or cracked-looking and it stuck, wrote Tannen. In 1950, with the help of an investor, she was able to form her own company, Hazel Bishop Inc., which manufactured her lipstick.

“When it was introduced that summer at $1 a tube, Lord & Taylor sold out its stock on the first day,” wrote Tannen. (That’s about $10.50 in today’s money.) This rampant popularity sparked the “lipstick wars,” wherein established cosmetic companies such as Revlon, which helped pioneer nail polish, tried to replicate Bishop’s success.    

In 1951, the Madera Tribune ran a profile of Bishop and her new lipstick, which prevented “‘tattle-tale red’ on a man’s shirt collar.” At the time, Bishop’s lipstick was reported to be the second-most popular in the nation, and had inspired many imitators.

“It pleases me to see every other cosmetics maker following my lead,” the “modest, soft-spoken” chemist said, according to the Tribune. Later that year, she appeared solo on the cover of Business Week–the first woman to do so.

But trouble was on the way for Bishop in the form of another kind of lipstick war. She was pushed out of her own company by shareholders, even as it blossomed. Raymond Spector, the "advertising pro" who had helped her launch her company, had been paid in company stock. "He helped her form the idea of calling it 'kissable' lipstick," writes Lemelson-MIT, but he also took her valuable company. "An unfortunate dispute between her and Spector resulted in a lawsuit and the loss of her position [in late 1951]," Lemelson-MIT writes. By 1954, when the lawsuit was finally settled, she'd moved on. Bishop, she went on to have a long and successful career, first in chemistry, then in other pursuits. In the 1960s, she even became a stockbroker herself–specializing in cosmetics stocks.

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