Saturday, February 26, 2011
Great Mosque records from the Ernst Herzfeld papers.
Great Mosque records from across the Smithsonian Institution: Search Results Slideshow - Smithsonian Institution Collections Search Center.
At the same time the excavation of the Great Mosque completed, work began on al-Quraina, an archaeological site located to the southwest of the modern city between the city walls and the Tigris. "Here, Houses I-X were excavated mainly during March and the first week of April 1911 (page, 11)."
There are 124 records in this collection that document: stucco, pottery, decoration and ornaments, mural painting and decoration, and architecture of the al-Quraina area. The documentation formats include: photographs, drawings, sketches, and journals.
For example, from House IV we have images of the interior and exterior ornamentation, as well as architectural depictions of the ground plans, seen below.
That's all for now on Ernst Herzfeld's 1911 adventures in Samarra. The next time we'll see you is in early April 1911!
Rachael Cristine Woody
Samarra Resource Page
Friday, February 25, 2011
Over the last several months I’ve been cataloging the photographs of Charles Freer’s 1910 expedition to the Chinese cave temples in Longmen, an important site for early Buddhist sculpture. In addition to the 160 photographic negatives taken by his photographer Yü Tai, Freer himself took a handful of snapshots. The photograph to the right is Freer’s own photograph of the small temple compound in which he stayed, directly in front of the Bingyang cave complex.
As I read through Freer’s travel journals, I discovered that in addition to the photographs and rubbings , he also brought back a load of stone objects from the site. This concerned me, considering the appalling history of pillaging of Chinese cave sites in the 20th century. Fortunately, Tim Kirk in Collections showed me Freer Gallery accessions F1911.551 through F1911.589, image left; 40 smooth stones that Charles Freer apparently selected from the riverbed in front of the caves. Not shown are the 40 custom wooden stands Freer ordered made in Beijing.
Why would Freer, a level-headed, no-nonsense businessman attach such importance to a box of nondescript river stones from such a remote location? Reading through his journals, one is struck by how emotionally affected he was by his two weeks of isolation in the presence of the magnificent caves:
“Wild flowers and grasses sprout in crevices, water trickles down through the rock ceilings. The fascination of being alone is ever present - no lying guides, no nosey tourists, no guide books, no legends, but the spirit of asceticism everywhere.”
“The strange stillness and peace of Buddha makes itself felt. Here there is no ostentation, there are no iron railings, no fences, no interference, not even a priest, for the one who belongs here is away on some personal business. ”
I have to assume that Freer was so moved by his two weeks of quiet tranquility at Longmen that he felt compelled to gather the stones as mementos of the experience. Thanks to the folks in Freer|Sackler Collections Management for showing me these humble treasures.
David Hogge | Head of Archives
To see more materials in the collection, please view the below introduction to the Charles Lang Freer papers. Watch the video for collection highlights, including news clippings on the Peacock Room, photographs of Freer's travels, and correspondence with President Theodore Roosevelt.
Rachael Cristine Woody | Archivist
Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
|Mount Vernon in 1807. |
First published in "The Stranger in America,"
by Charles. W. Janson.
Courtesy of New York Historical Society
Washington inherited Mount Vernon, located along the Potomac River in Virginia, in 1754 and landscaped 500 acres of the 8,000 acre estate. His diaries and letters reveal how he planned the grounds which included kitchen, flower and parterre gardens, an orangery or greenhouse and a small botanical garden that was used for experimenting with various plants.
|Vegetable garden at Monticello.|
Garden Club of America Collection
Archives of American Gardens
If you are wondering about America’s second President, John Adams, he too was a gardener and farmer -- just not on the same scale as Washington and Jefferson.
The Garden Club of America Collection at the Archives of American Gardens includes historic glass lantern slide images of both Mount Vernon and Monticello that underscore the role that garden clubs played in the historic preservation of these properties. Many of the Mount Vernon images included in the Smithsonian's online catalog were published in the Gardens of Colony and State by Alice G. B. Lockwood.
For archival material on Mount Vernon and Monticello, see the Mount Vernon's Library and Special Collections and Thomas Jefferson's Papers at the Massachusetts Historical Society.
-Kelly Crawford, Museum Specialist
Archives of American Gardens
Monday, February 21, 2011
We have an entire clipping book with dozens of news articles pasted to the pages documenting the sale and purchase of the Peacock Room. At this time there were so many rumors as to who would purchase this already legendary and world renowned art work; this article provides a brief glimpse into the fervent speculation of its possible acquirement by an American corporate tycoon. However you will notice that it is not Charles Lang Freer's name on the article but instead a fellow peer in industry - J.P. Morgan who had also made himself famous with his transition from a corporate king to a fanatic art collector. There are several theories as to why Freer chose to keep secret his acquiring of the Peacock Room, but all agree he did seem to enjoy the frantic reporting and incorrect attributions.
Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives
Friday, February 18, 2011
"People sort of seem to be more non-directive now. But actually, it's kind of encouraging...you find more and more of these young people, college kids mainly, who seem to want to go back to that, or at least they're trying to in some way...they're starting a little hootenanny night...and they're singing songs and talking about...traveling the way us guys used to, Woody and the Almanac singers and you and they mention this and they all say, 'Gee think I should hitch hike or hit the trains or get an old car and do it'...there seems to be a movement. It's not a big thing, but there are enough of these kids who sort of want to identify with this sort of thing. You know, the ones who are smart enough to know that there's something more to life than rock and roll and all this damn nonsense, this is the whole beauty of this folk thing which gives their lives a little more meaning.
"There's so much that they can identify with it and, of course, when they identify with the music itself...they identify with the personalities involved...such as Woody and Pete and you and the rest of them and they want to...sort of duplicate it in some way...[but] my advice has always been along these lines that you know, there really isn't anything to be gained in life...by just quitting school and bumming around the country just for the sake of doing it, for any romantic idea because others have done it and you think it will enrich your life...we did it because we had to do it...people don't go out and just ride these old freight trains and freeze their ass off all night and hunt for jobs here and there because it's the romantic thing to do. We did it because there wasn't anything else you could do, and nothing we would have liked better than the old story, the good honest job and honest pay and one spot where you could raise a family and people trying to get ahead and trying to go up in the world and not just have a nation of train riders...fine, keep this activity on campuses and appreciate the songs, sing them, have a respect for the music you're handling, when summer time comes, fine, if you get two or three guys together and you want to spend it romping around the country, I say this is a wonderful idea. There's a lot to be learned...from this that you could never gain in any other way...[don't] quit school and romp around the same saloons just because we had to do it years ago. That doesn't make sense. [Lee Hays pipes in] These lines--believe it or not, you wont find it so hot [Houston laughs and finishes] if you ain't got the do-re-mi."
|Spring (1890) by Thomas Wilmer Dewing, American Art Museum|
--Nicole Semenchuk, Research and Scholars Center, American Art Museum
Thursday, February 17, 2011
history. By choosing February, Dr. Woodson was honoring Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, both of whom were born in that month and influenced the history of black people. In recognition of Black History Month, the Image of the Day is from a Frederick Douglass collection in the Anacostia Community Museum Archives. This image while not as sharp and focused as we would like, provides us a rare glimpse of the social life of a great American statesman.
|Frederick Douglass at banquet table, center, undated albumen print.|
Monday, February 14, 2011
"Do you make money honey? Ah, I hope you darling.”
-Devi Dja to Acee Blue Eagle, 1948
In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, we want to highlight a lipstick kiss-covered letter from Balinese dancer and movie star, Devi Dja to Pawnee-Creek artist, Acee Blue Eagle. A prolific painter, Blue Eagle became recognized as one of the outstanding American Indian artists of the 1930s-1950s. During the 1930s and 1940s, he traveled the world, lecturing and promoting Indian art, while his work was displayed in exhibits around the country. Simultaneously, Devi Dja was receiving accolades and world recognition for her own artistry.
“Devi Dja attracts the gaze of the audience like a cobra unwinding from a basket.” Spokesman Reviewer
“Riot of beauty, Nothing has been more fun in this town in a long time. It was, at times a riot. It was also very beautiful. Whether the spectator was most interested in dancing, music, costumes, humor, or even, anthropology, he got what he came for and liked it.” Evabeth Miller, Peoria, Ill. “Star.”
“Devi Dja is a bright star. Her Art was most distinguished and persuasive.” The New York Sun
“Unusual program presented by Bali Dancers constitute art exhibit, the most elaborately mounted and excitingly animated Ballet presentation ever to come to the West from the East. No dull moments! Real Art! Well Staged! The Bali and Java Dancers are something to get exited about.” The San Francisco News
Devi Dja was born in 1914 on the Indonesian island of Java. As a young girl, Dja danced the Legong, a ceremonial Balinese dance in which young girls enact mythical Hindu stories. At twelve years of age Dja was reaching the end of her career as a dancer because traditionally, Legong temple-dancers are prepubescent. Inspired by the dance career of prominent ballerina, Anna Pavlowa, Dja began dancing and touring the world with a troupe of Indonesian dancers and musicians. On this tour, Dja entranced and captured many audiences with her dances. Don Bernardo Gomez wrote of Devi Dja’s “exquisite hands: her finger nails are from an inch and a half to two inches in length, usually painted a beautiful coral color, with strikes of gold.” As she became more popular, Dja even appeared in Hollywood-made movies, including the 1945 film, The Picture of Dorian Gray. [Photo: Marie Hansen./Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images]
After marrying in 1946, Blue Eagle and Dja spent much of their married life apart while their work kept them busy traveling the world. This particular letter was written and sent by Dja to Blue Eagle in January of 1948. At this time Devi Dja was living in Hollywood pursuing her movie career.
-Jessie Cohen, Reference Intern and Leanda Gahegan, Reference Archivist
Sunday, February 13, 2011
This exhibition reminds me of one of the Smithsonian Institution Libraries' most beautiful set of books, Lindenia: Iconographie des Orchidées, published at Ghent, Belgium, between 1885 and 1906. The publication's name refers to Jean Jules Linden, a Belgian botanist, horticulturalist, scientific explorer, and entrepreneur who revolutionized the cultivation of orchids in temperature-controlled greenhouses. Linden's lavishly illustrated books highlight an amazing variety of orchids (for example, Lindenia has 813 chromolithographed plates). His business acumen in marketing orchids to wealthy collectors stoked public enthusiasm for these exotic and unusual plants. Artists and interior decorators were inspired by Linden to incorporate orchids in their designs.
Those of you familiar with the various branches of the Smithsonian Libraries may be wondering why this book of plant illustrations belongs to the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum Library, rather than to the Joseph F. Cullman 3rd Library of Natural History. Lindenia was donated to the Cooper-Hewitt from the bequest of Robert Winthrop Chanler (1872-1930), an American artist renowned for creating beautiful murals featuring fantastic animals and plants. Some of Chanler's murals can still be seen at Planting Fields Arboretum State Historic Park and Coe Hall in Oyster Bay, New York. To Chanler, Lindenia served as an inspiration for his art and design work, and he wanted the volumes to become part of the Cooper-Hewitt's renowned collection of rare books on the decorative arts.
Additional books, paintings, and other items at the Smithsonian relating to Robert W. Chanler (portrait at left, from the Juley Collection) can be found in the collections of the Smithsonian Institution Libraries; the Peter A. Juley & Son Collection of the Photograph Archives, Smithsonian American Art Museum; the Archives of American Art; and the National Portrait Gallery. Just browse through this selection of Chanler material in the SI Collections Search Center.
Lindenia: Iconographie des Orchidées. Directeur, J. Linden; rédacteurs en chef, Lucien Linden & Emile Rodigas. Call number f QK495 .O64L56 1885 CHMRB, Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum Library.
Shown above is plate XLIX from Lindenia: Epindendrum atropurpureum var. Randi L. Lind. & Rod.
A selection of additional images from Lindenia can be seen on the Smithsonian Institution Libraries' Galaxy of Images website.
Friday, February 11, 2011
|The Scurlock photographers in their studio, 1951. Addison N. Scurlock|
stands between his sons, George and Robert.
Scurlock Studio Records, ca. 1911-1994, Archives Center.
For example, while re-housing a group of 8” x 10” black-and-white negatives, I noticed a particular aberration on the base side of the negatives. One negative, a portrait of Mr. Jos. E. Snowden, appeared to have interesting patterns in locations that enhanced the appearance of the portrait. I was sure it was not the common “vinegar syndrome” that corrodes vintage acetate negatives because it did not have the distinctive odor. David thought it was reticulation. I disagreed, pointing out that reticulation was usually caused by rapid changes in the temperature of solutions during development, which would have affected the entire negative surface, not just a portion. He suggested that I look for another explanation by performing a scan test.
At first glance it appeared that the base of the film was shrinking, causing the affected area of the emulsion to resemble scrambled eggs. Upon closer study of this group of negatives, I thought it was be some sort of patterned diffusion technique that Addison Scurlock may have used to retouch the negatives before printing. I surmised that he may have been using a patterned roller to make these impressions in the areas that needed retouching. The patterns were in the areas where he would have retouched his negatives anyway, so I thought I had discovered one of his secret techniques. However, when I scanned the negative at a high resolution (450 dpi), I realized that the image was not improved by this technique and perhaps this phenomenon was reticulation after all--a chemically-based reticulation possibly caused by a reaction to the retouching agent that was used to add “tooth” to the smooth surface of the negative emulsion, which was required to make the retouching pencil adhere to the film. These marks of the retouching pencil modify the light passing through the negatives and help to smooth out the crows’ feet, laugh lines, and forehead creases that were seldom seen in the Scurlock Studio work, prompting me to use the phrase “The Scurlock Look” to describe the resultiant smooth skin of their portrait subjects.
This freedom to examine the collection and make observations, to prove or disprove theories about techniques, led to many exciting days of learning and discovery. I felt as if I were being given a second chance to apprentice in their studio. The first opportunity was never afforded to me although I sought it several times while Robert Scurlock was still alive. David also enjoyed our discoveries and encouraged me to dig deeper whenever I had theories or concerns. This free flow of ideas led to an invitation to contribute my findings to a chapter on the technical aspects of the “Scurlock Look” as part of David’s book on the Scurlock collection.
While researching the “Scurlock Look,” David and I took a field trip to Highland Beach to meet Herbert Scurlock, the nephew of Addison, the last surviving member of his generation, and quite a likeable gentleman. We had a marvelous time as he recalled little-known facts about the Scurlock Studio. For example, Addison did not approve of his sons George and Robert opening The Capitol School of Photography, a photography school which operated out of the studio from 1948 to 1952. Addison felt that training other photographers would have a detrimental effect on the family business. They enjoyed a lack of competition in the early days of the studio and Addison wanted to keep it that way! He was certain that these newly trained photographers would become competitors one day, and his concerns caused friction in the family.
Addison was probably right about his competition concerns because some Capitol School of Photography students became very good photographers. One of the most famous students was Jacqueline Bouvier, who later became the first lady, Jacqueline Kennedy. As a result of her training, she was able to work for the Washington-Times Herald as a photographer/reporter in 1952. Her column was the “Inquiring Camera Girl.”
Another photographer who studied at the school was Ellsworth Davis. Mr. Davis attended the Capitol School of Photography while working as a darkroom technician at the U.S. State Department. Between 1954 and 1961 he worked as a photographer for Jet and Ebony magazines, covering not only events within the Black community, but also Capitol Hill and the White House. Mr. Davis retired from The Washington Post in 1991 after 30 years, and was the second black photographer admitted into the White House News Photographer's Association during that time.
Other alumni of the school had promising careers, notably William Scott, Head Photographer at the State Department; Fred Harris, owner of Fred Harris Photography; and Dwight Keith, another State Department photographer/darkroom-technician-turned-freelancer. According to Theodore Gaffney, a freelance photographer in the Washington area who remembered these photographers and was interviewed for this blog, “All of these guys did weddings, portraits of friends and family members, and took on freelance assignments and surely their activities must have impacted the potential sales figures of the Scurlock Studio.”
During our visit to Herbert Scurlock’s home he also shared with us the tremendous sense of pride he felt when his Uncle Addison photographed the graduating senior class at Dunbar High School, where he was a member of the JROTC. He recalled that his popularity skyrocketed because all the girls were trying to get free pictures and suddenly “I was the coolest cat in the whole school and the girls really went for my uniform too.”
He also shared how he operated the process camera that belonged to the Murray Brothers Printing Company next door to the studio on U Street. Murray owned the camera, but it was set up in the basement of the liquor store across the street from the studio. I could not help thinking that the presence of a high-quality copy camera in the basement of a liquor store in the heart of a black neighborhood might suggest stereotypes about counterfeiters. Herbert joked about it but reassured us: “It was all on the up and up; back in those days black businesses worked closely with each other to cut expenses”.
I loved meeting Herbert and listening to his recollections about the good old days in Washington. He enjoyed having visitors and a reason to recall the past. On that particular day I was the bearer of the sad news that Dr. Burke (Mickey) Syphax had died the evening before at Howard University Hospital. Herbert remembered Mickey from the old neighborhood at 5th and T Streets. He recalled that he played tennis and was on Howard University’s basketball team when they won a divisional championship in 1932. He said Dr. Syphax and his family were regular customers at the studio and he must have been about a hundred years old. He was in fact ninety-nine when he died. I was amazed by Herbert’s recollections and was honored to have been the recipient of such a rich oral history lesson.
I shared some of my own family connections and that I remembered Dr. Syphax as the “Black Father Knows Best” because he was everybody’s ideal black father figure. “Father Knows Best” and “My Three Sons” were popular television shows from the 1950s and 1960s which conveyed positive concepts of fathers as role models, but with all-white casts. Dr. Syphax had three sons too, Michael, Gregory, and Steve. The Syphax family was the quintessential African American family, long before the days of Bill Cosby’s “Dr. Huxtable”.
While we were all undergraduates at the University of Michigan in the 1970s, I shared an apartment with Gregory, Steve, and their girlfriends, Vicky and Marilyn--who are each a Mrs. Syphax today! Steve and my brother Robert were classmates at Woodrow Wilson High School and my younger brother Rodger married Michael’s sister-in-law. My own father recalled Mickey from their boyhood back in the old neighborhood. My dad had three sons too, and because of that, I always felt we had a close family bond. In fact, one of the Syphax women married a Richard Green in the early 1800s. Perhaps that helps explain why I have always looked upon them all as my brothers.
Every day when I entered the office this summer at the Smithsonian, I came face to face with “Mickey’s” portrait on a poster of the Howard University Chiefs of Surgeons. The Scurlock Studio produced that portrait. It was hanging on the wall on my first day at the Archives Center. When I saw “Mickey” smiling back at me, I felt like I was embarking on my internship with his blessings. Little did I know that his time on earth was close to the end. He was a great man and so was Addison Scurlock, and their lives have left a proud legacy for Black Americans to emulate. Because of Dr. Syphax, hundreds of black surgeons and thousands of doctors were trained at Howard University, and thanks to Addison Scurlock we have thousands of photographs to document the multitude of black accomplishments at Howard University, in the classrooms, on the sports fields, and elsewhere. I am extremely proud to be a part of the legacy of Howard University and the Black Community within the nation’s capital.
Richard Green, Archives Center, National Museum of American History
Richard Green is a photographer who received a Master of Fine Arts degree from Howard University in 2010 and was the recipient of the George H. Scurlock Memorial Scholarship for Commercial Photography. He is currently a volunteer at the Archives Center. He teaches Computers in the Arts in the Electronic Studio Department within the Fine Arts Division of the College of Arts and Sciences at Howard University.
Tuesday, February 8, 2011
Click here to see other Smithsonian collections related to Queen Savang Vadhana.
If you want to see previous job related posts check out our "What It's Like to Be a Cataloger", and "How Can I Get a Job? (Library, Archives, and Special Collections)." Also make sure to check out Sister Smithsonian Blog: Smithsonian Institution Libraries' "Advice to a Librarian" (part 1 and 2).
And don't forget that Smithsonian internship deadlines for Summer 2011 are right around the corner!
Rachael Cristine Woody
Friday, February 4, 2011
|Touchdown Tommy Brown|
This Super Bowl Sunday many of us will be eating delicious greasy food, laughing at commercials and cheering for the team of our choice. In honor of this fun event, I thought I would pay homage to the Smithsonian’s very own Touch football team. So while you are cheering on the Steelers or the Packers, or picking a team randomly because your beloved Giants are playing golf, you could add a little historical fact about the Smithsonian when the advertisement you are watching is not that entertaining.
Courtesy of Smithsonian Institution Archives
Thursday, February 3, 2011
|Provided by Herbert Freer Low, 1991.|
I started with looking through the genealogical and biographical files that had been compiled by previous curators and archivists of the Freer Gallery of Art. In the files resided a thick folder dated 1991-1992 that shows back-and-forth correspondence among the heavy weight scholars of the American Art world, the Freer Gallery staff, and related New York and Detroit historical societies. At that time, the Archives was trying to ascertain Freer's birth year for the publication of Freer: Legacy of Art and the Freer Gallery's reopening to the public. It appears that after a yearlong effort of fact-finding, the scholars and archivists of the Freer Gallery of Art decided 1854. (From what I gather, we are the only art entity to take a stand on when his birth year occurred). For a brief moment I thought my journey was over, mystery solved, my predecessors had done the work for me - until I glanced down the list of evidence. My inner historian cringed when I realized how weakly the few documents they could locate pointed to 1854, with similar evidence pointing towards 1856.
Luckily, today I can access most of the government documents online, making the research quick and snappy, as opposed to the snail mail my 1991 colleagues had to contend with. So let me present you the facts and evidence as I know them, and let me also add the disclaimer: I am not a scholar of American Art, merely someone who loves history's mysteries.
For 1854, the evidence we have are as follows:
Tombstone (above), located in the Wiltwyck Cemetery, created in 1922 (3 years after Freer's death) by Watson Freer the same year he, himself, passed. The note that comes from Mr. Herbert Freer Low (who provided the picture) warns in his 1991 letter to our former archivist, "I hasten to add that Ruth P. Heidgerd, who compiled The Freer Family genealogy, published in 1968, recently told me that she has known of gravestones that have borne errors."
The Freer Family Bible, located in the vault of the Huguenot Historical Society, New Paltz, New York. In a 1978 letter, the society writes to our former American Art curator, "Charles Lang Freer was born 2/25/1854, and died 9/25/1919." Unfortunately the F|S Archives does not have a copy of the bible on file; nor do I have any knowledge of how the bible was added to and maintained. However, it is important to note that at this time Kingston County (Freer's birth place) was not creating official county records, like birth certificates, and in this instance a family bible that recorded and maintained births as they happened, can be just as credible as a birth certificate.
Census Record from 1860, listing Charles [Chas] Freer as age 6. (I will spare you from the really bad copy image I have).
Passport Application, located in the Passport Division of the US Archives, passport no. 276 and signed by Freer when he was in Paris, November 22, 1894. I am currently waiting on a copy of the passport application. In lieu of an image I was provided this statement from the document: "I solemnly swear that I was born at Kingston in the State of New York on or about the 25th day of February 1854, that my father is a native citizen of the United States; that I am domiciled in the United States, my permanent residence being Detroit in the State of Michigan..." *Added to evidence.
Letter to Dr. George Draper, February 11th, 1918; where Freer states that he will be turning 64. Located in the Charles Lang Freer papers, Freer|Sackler Archives. It is important to note that Dr. George Draper is the same doctor that signs Freer's death certificate stating 1854 as Freer's Birthday. Is this letter the only evidence that Dr. Draper had of Freer's birth year?
Census Record from 1900, listing Charles Lang Freer, Head of House, born February 1856.
As located using HeritageQuest Online, access provided by my Arlington County Library card! *Added to evidence.
Passport Application filed in 1899 (5 years after previous one in Paris listing 1854), provided by the National Archives via footnote.com. *Added to evidence.
Letter to close friend Thomas Jerome in 1906, congratulating his friend on his Birthday and stating he will soon pass his half century mark. Located in the Charles Lang Freer papers, Freer|Sackler Archives.
There are numerous obituaries, including the New York Times that state Freer's birth year as 1856. And Freer's assistant in many things for the last years of his life, Katherine Rhoades states in letters and in her 1923 type publication, that Freer's birth year was 1856. (The 1923 type publication can be located in the Freer|Sackler Library).
Conclusiveness in addition to when his birth year was is up for argument! In speaking with several of the Charles Lang Freer experts I can tell you that they all favor 1854. Which is not surprising as they and their peers had a hand in deciding the 1854 vs 1856 fate back in 1992. I think they lend historical credence to the early 1860 census and Freer Family Bible, as is historical research practice. Conversely, 1991 evidence suggests the my former archivist peers preferred the 1856 date as more recent federal documents, and the writings of a woman who knew him better than the rest (at least in later life), all claimed 1856. It is interesting to note that in 1957, the Freer Gallery also validated 1856 when it held a 100th Birthday celebration with "An Appreciation of Charles Lang Freer."
And my own conclusion? I find the evidence on both sides to be compelling, and inconclusive. But more importantly, I think we need to answer: why the confusion? Why would Freer provide two different years in both federal documentation and personal notes to friends? Is it simply a matter of vanity, where it's customary to shave two years off your age when you reach mid-life? (Would you really go as far as submitting false testimony on federal documents?) The bulk of the 1856 evidence does occur between 1899-1906 when Freer would have (roughly) been 43-50. I think if you're going to go with that theory you should also note that 1899-1906 was a very transformative time in Freer's life. He succeeded in consolidating his railroad car building companies, he retired from stressful business work and started traveling the world, he bought a villa in Capri (mid-life crisis anyone?), and the Smithsonian formally accepts his gift to the nation.
I think another possibility is that given the historical context of the years he grew up in, and that we know he came from a poor, large family; it may be possible he just didn't know his real birth year, or had reason to doubt it mid-life. Either reason is thought-provoking, but I don't think quite fills in the whole puzzle. I am also certain there are probably 100 more plausible reasons as to why Freer would use both birth years.
The only concrete knowledge that comes out of my amateur investigation is that there is one more layer of mystery surrounding Charles Lang Freer. Perhaps in the future I can write to you the accounts of why Freer never married, why he decided not to leave Detroit with his art treasures, and why he kept his Peacock Room purchase a mystery. Nothing confirming or condemning, but as you see here, there is a lot that can be read between the lines.
Rachael Cristine Woody
Tuesday, February 1, 2011
So there I was, staring at at least 200 red plastic clips that had been removed from a collection because the papers had been lovingly cared for and segregated into their respective folders - no longer needing the blasted red clips. The clips were bent out of shape and hardly reusable, but they had been returned to the container in a sincere effort of frugality. I was on my knees sorting through the offending clips when I felt my anxiety rise. Why was I getting so worked up about these clips? What horrific stress event had I endured that would cause such an adverse reaction? Oh yea, I was an intern.
Intern: A student or a recent graduate undergoing supervised practical training. Read: free labor, willing to do anything with a cheerful attitude in order to achieve career experience and contacts.
Those were the days, right? Sitting down at oak tables sifting through documents that proceeded your birth by decades if not a century or two? I do fondly recall my slow, romantic acquaintance with the archives. Archives get a bad wrap for being musty, basement dwelling, second-class to objects - collections When in reality for anyone in the know the archives is a mecca of history, passion, knowledge, discovery, laughter, tragedy, you name it. I still vividly remember the exact day I knew the archives was the right profession for me. I was interning at the National Archives in Seattle when my supervisor took me to the back corner of the warehouse to "the vault." Through a series of complicated maneuvers, he unlocked it and tenderly pulled out a single half sheet of paper enveloped in mylar. He handed it to me to view, and as I read the words my knees began to tremble and my heart dropped into my stomach.
"AIR RAID ON PEARL HARBOR X THIS IS NO DRILL" (As taken from the National Archives and Records Administration: http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/american_originals/fdr.html)
That was it. What most people feel when they know they are in love are the same symptoms I felt when I fell in love with the Archives. The immensity of the telegram's message compounded with my deeply committed love of history, and an archivist was born.
Not everything in the Archives is so glamorous though. And to make your way up the ranks you must pay your dues. In this case, internships - for free - and lots of them! I have removed many an offending paper clip, rubber bands, decrepit envelopes, and other unusual things that typically don't belong and can endanger paper collections. Internships were exciting in their new experiences, and the hands on projects; however they could also be extremely repetitive and a waste of the many other skills I could have given to the repository.
Don't get me wrong, ensuring the physical integrity of a collection is very important and a wonderful "go-to" for free-labor job descriptions. However, I advocate that intern supervisors take an additional moment to really think about your Archives' needs. Yes, we will always need more labor in order to care for our collections to a level they deserve; and as history is always being made, our job in that is perpetual. But we have other needs to. Needs that I believe are being overlooked when it comes to really utilizing our interns to their full potential.
Think about what else your Archives is most likely going through. We're always in the middle of grant preparations, digitizing, outreach program coordinating, and web and social media content creating. I argue that the interns you are getting today are far better suited to these tasks than paper clip duty. Not only will you end up getting more productivity from the interns, you are also fulfilling a need, and will have a more visually appealing and dynamic product from the internship. Interns will in turn receive a golden resume line on something they can truly be proud of, and that will help establish their advanced skill sets in a career atmosphere.
This last summer I had a rock star of an intern. Her resume mentioned several attractive skills that I knew I needed for more projects than the traditional collection re-house. I brought her in, and although she did get a bite-sized collection to process, I quickly turned her over to other projects that were much more attractive for everyone involved. She got the Freer|Sackler Archives started on youtube. She taught Me how to film, edit, and publish videos online; so that even as I lost her to the start of school I am now empowered to create and publish my own video content!
The thing about interns is that as much as they're here to learn something from us, we can also learn something from them.
It's so simple, but so easy to forget or overlook. Archives are inherently always behind due to the production rate of history. As a result, we are always looking for interns, yet we don't have a whole lot of time to craft non-traditional projects. I encourage intern supervisors to find the time. An intern's skills can be so valuable and essential to the other projects you are working on, and perhaps the skills are not even ones that you or your staff posses! Take the time and effort to identify some more dynamic opportunities, and then sit back and enjoy the pride both you and your intern will feel in the end.
Internship applications for Summer 2011 are now being accepted across the Smithsonian. The deadlines are various, but a majority start to occur in February and March so get on it! See the Smithsonian intern page for more details on the opportunities and how to apply.
Interns. I <3 you. I feel like there should be an intern appreciation day because without your enthusiastic, professional, and free labor - we would all be sunk. My advice to you? Do the required paper clip removal, but any chance you get, take an opportunity to shine. Observe the other activities happening in the Archives and see where your skills might be able to help out. From my experience as an intern, and now as a supervisor, I know that the majority of the time your supervisor will be grateful you spoke up and appreciative of the skills and solutions you can lend.
Best of luck!
Rachael Cristine Woody