The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
- Dumbarton Oaks presents the Nicholas V. Artamonoff Collection—an incredible online visual archive of 543 photographs taken in Istanbul and five archaeological sites in Western Turkey by an amateur photographer from Istanbul. Many of the buildings, sites, and objects no longer exist today [via Aly DesRocher, SIA].
- Tweets of old: “Real one-line brevities from old newspapers, as they appeared—or close” [via Lynda Schmitz Fuhrig, SIA].
- For the first time, the National Archives has launched online videos of its most popular genealogy “how to” workshops.
- A Raiders of the Lost Ark fanatic combs through film archives to recreate the first 15 minutes of the introduction to this movie favorite from stitched together clips of adventure films [via Marguerite Roby, SIA].
- Crowdsourcing History—a blog I’d never come across, which is a companion piece to the project, Crowdsourcing History: Collaborative Online Transcription and Archives [via @cjceglio].
- How does the ubiquitious pith helmet of yore figure into the visual culture of museum and scientific collecting? Learn more (and check out some great images) at our sister blog—the Field Book Project.
- Via the Library of Congress’ digital preservation blog: “Digital Antiquities is a 15-minute science-fiction film that considers the social impact of data recovery in the not-too-distant future.”
Digital Antiquities: part of Future States and the Independent Television Service, created with support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
Artist Ruel Pardee Tolman (1878-1954) served the Smithsonian for thirty-six years in a variety of positions. He came to the Smithsonian in 1912 after studying at Pomona College Prep School; Mark Hopkins Institute of Art, San Francisco; Los Angeles School of Art and Design; University of California, Berkeley; Corcoran School of Art; and the National Academy of Design, New York City. Tolman’s experience as a free lance artist, illustrator, and portrait painter, helped him acquire a job as a preparator of graphic arts for the United States National Museum (USNM).
After a year, Tolman became an Aide in the department. By 1920, Tolman earned the title of Assistant Curator of Graphic Arts. He then served as Acting Director of the Smithsonian’s National Collection of Fine Arts (now the Smithsonian American Art Museum) from 1932-1946, when he became Director. Tolman retired in 1948 and was succeeded by Thomas M. Beggs.
In addition to his Smithsonian duties, Tolman took an active role in the Washington, DC, art scene. He worked as a drawing instructor at the Corcoran Gallery of Art from 1906-1919. Tolman also served as a founder and the President of the Miniature Painters, Sculptors, and Gravers Society of Washington. Though most noted for his work as a painter of miniatures, Tolman worked in a variety of disciplines including graphic arts, lithography, etching, mezzotint, drypoint, oil, and watercolor.
A multitalented artist, Tolman also dabbled in photography. His stylish photographs of Smithsonian staff, the city of Washington, and an assortment of cities he traveled to, capture the style of post World War I America. The Smithsonian holds many of Tolman’s papers. His collection at the Archives (Record Unit 7433) contains scrapbooks of these images, which allow us to get to know the people who helped shape the Institution as we know it today.
We are excited to present a set of these images on the Smithsonian Flickr Commons. However, there is one snag: some of the individuals are not fully identified, so we ask that you take a look through a sample of these unidentified images (also in the slideshow below) and let us know if you happen to recognize any of the men and women Tolman photographed.
Over the holidays, many of us receive cards and letters from relatives and friends with updates on their families and activities. This is also a common theme in correspondence found in the Archives, and it's always fun to read these stories to get a glimpse into the personal lives of Smithsonian staff throughout the Institution's history.
Several weeks ago, we received a letter from Frances Eller Holichek Escherich. During World War II, Escherich worked for the FBI and lived in a boarding house in Chevy Chase, Maryland. Her neighbor was Charles G. Abbot (1872-1973), the fifth Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution.
Abbot came to the Institution in 1895 as an assistant to Secretary Samuel P. Langley in the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO). In 1906 he was named Director of the Astrophysical Observatory, a position which he held until his retirement in 1944. He became an Assistant Secretary of the Institution in 1918, and served as Secretary from 1928 to 1944. Most of Dr. Abbot's research centered around studies of solar radiation and attempts to determine the relationship between solar variations and the earth's weather.
Abbot befriended Escherich and a number of other women who lived in the house, and many of the women drove to work with him. Escherich recalls, "Dr. Abbot was an inattentive driver and we convinced him it was better for one of us to drive and for him to tell us of his adventures in foreign countries and other accomplishments. He was a great story teller. I remember when he did drive through Rock Creek Park traffic officers stopped traffic for him to proceed, hence our suggestion."
Years after Escherich lived next door to Abbot, she read an article about him and decided to write. With her note to the Archives, Escherich enclosed several letters she received in return from Abbot. They are filled with reminiscences of those years during the War, as well as updates on his activities. In August 1963 (when he was 91 years old), Abbot wrote, "About the time you girls rode to work with me I made a toy solar oven and a model solar boiler shown in the photo. One day I invited 8 little girls among friends of those days. Each one mixed a cake of gingerbread about 4 inches square and baked it in the toy oven....Nothing has come of these patented inventions. Younger men in many countries have now far surpassed me in these lines."
The next year he again wrote Frances with updates on some of the other women from the boarding house, speaking mostly of their whereabouts and children. Abbot remained active in his research until his death in 1973. He writes of himself, "I still work on radiation and weather as many hours a day at home between 8:30 a.m. and 10 p.m. with several naps as I please. I go to the Smithsonian 2 hours on Mondays. I've been connected there 68 years!" And in his last letter to Escherich in 1972, he wrote, "My two wives of 47 and 19 years have loved and fed me to be over 100 years old!"
Thanks, Frances! Your donation has added to our Archives wonderful new tales about Dr. Abbot.