The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Posts tagged with: Advertising
In light of the recent launch of the Smithsonian's new nationwide advertising campaign, Seriously Amazing, it is interesting to contextualize the campaign within the history of Smithsonian branding as a whole. Prior to Seriously Amazing, which has been in development for the past two years, the Smithsonian did not have an official branding outlet to represent itself to the nation and the world. There have, however, been events and initiatives which—while not labeled in particular as marketing strategies—have influenced public perception of the Smithsonian Institution.
One such event, the James Smithson Bicentennial Celebration "gave the Institution an opportunity at a natural turning point in its history to take stock of itself and advertise itself to the world" (Oesher, Paul. The Smithsonian Institution. Washington: Praeger Publishers, 1979). Held in 1965, the celebration marked 200 years since the birth of founder James Smithson. The three-day celebration included processions, addresses, banquets, concerts, lectures and more, all under the direction of the newly-appointed Secretary, S. Dillon Ripley. To Ripley, the Bicentennial Celebration was a chance for the Smithsonian to "advertise itself to the world." The processions of academics in their robes and addresses by the likes of Robert Oppenheimer and Claude Lévi-Strauss, to name a few, enforced the view that the Smithsonian was indeed a place of research and scholarship, while celebrations on the National Mall engendered the "nation’s backyard" feel that continues to this day.
Along with the preparations for the Bicentennial Celebration came redesigns of the Smithsonian seal and flag. The previous seal, done by artist Augustus Saint-Gaudens, was adopted in 1894 and used until Ripley called for a redesign to follow the Bicentennial festivities. The new logo featured—in heraldry terms— a "sun in splendor" image taken from the Smithson coat of arms. Compared to the 1894 seal, the sun logo is simpler, and instead of using ancient torches to symbolize truth and knowledge, the sun denotes a source of light which will long outlast any man-made source. The use of the sun harkened back to the Smithsonian's roots, but at the same time suggested that the Institution's influence would reach far into the future.
The first Smithsonian flag, adopted in 1955, featured the same torch imagery as the 1894 seal, accompanied simply by the words "SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION." This flag was flown only twice a year beginning in 1957—on August 10th, to mark the anniversary of the Smithsonian's chartering, and on July 4th for Independence Day. Along with the seal, the flag was also redesigned in 1965. Like the new logo, the new flag incorporated imagery from Smithson's coat of arms: a lion in the upper left corner holding the "sun in splendor." In the center of the flag, a globe image—adapted from the 1894 Saint-Gaudens seal—is surrounded by another sunburst. Coordinating banners for each Smithsonian bureau were also designed. Each banner featured the same globe-and-sun symbol, with the image of the lion replaced by a symbol specific to each bureau. Like the new seal, the flags showed the connection to the Institution's past while incorporating images that showed the potential for progress—for example, the National Air and Space Museum chose a plane in flight.
From a marketing standpoint, the Smithson Bicentennial Celebration successfully attracted attention to the Smithsonian. However, that attention needed to be guided so that the public got the "right idea" of the Smithsonian image. The academic processions with coat-of-arms inspired flags provided a foil for performances on the Mall and redesigned logos. The Institution appeared to be in touch with its tradition of garnering scholarship as laid out by the will of its founder, while creating an accessible, welcoming environment that promised to continue thriving for years to come.
- You Spin Me Right Round, The Bigger Picture Blog, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Happy Flag Day!, The Bigger Picture Blog, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Record Unit 7000 - James Smithson Collection, 1764-1983, Smithsonian Institution Archives
The first high resolution photo of NASA’s Curiosity rover landing on Mars, in case you haven’t seen it. Plus, how to follow every second of the Curiosity Mars Mission [via Retina blog].
- In honor of National Parks Month, our sister blog at the Field Book Project writes about parks-related collections from our Archives, including some beautiful drawings.
- 19th century graffiti found at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
- The New York Public Library has just released a series of free iBooks. The inaugural issue, Kenn Duncan’s Male Photography, features the photographer’s stunning portraits of male actors of the late 1960s–1980s.
- Have some tomatoes to can, or some pickles to put up from your bumper summer crops? Why not consult the Library of Congress’ new Science Reference Guides on Food Preservation, including canning,drying, fermenting, and smoking [via INFOdocket].
- An archive of deodorant print ads reveals how advertisers convinced Americans they smelled bad. Bonus feature? This commercial for Stopette spray deodorant from 1952:
- A Halloween treat from the National Archives: pumpkin carving templates. And if you use one of their templates and upload and tag (use “National Archives pumpkin”) an image of your pumpkin on Flickr, they’ll add it to their set [via Jennifer Wright, SIA].
- Why can’t I read this file? Check out a presentation by the Archives’ Digital Archivist, Lynda Schmitz Fuhrig, about the challenges of born-digital collections at the Archives, which she gave recently at this year’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference.
- The Balboa Park Online Collaborative talks about some of the open source software they’ve been developing for the museum community, including an image uploader that helps museums export metadata from their collections and add it automatically to uploads of their collection images on Flickr.
- The National Air and Space Museum archives holds many of former Smithsonian Secretary Samuel P. Langley's papers in their collections, since Langley was a pioneer in aeronautics. In honor of Archives Month, they blog about some of the interesting gems in this collection, including Langley's opinion on what it takes to make a good cup of coffee (a man after my own heart, it seems...).
- It seems like a lot of folks (including us!) are using crowdsourcing efforts lately for their collection images. In the most recent effort, the George Eastman House archive teams up with Clickworker, an international crowdsourcing company, to tag more than 400,000 images from their collections [via Jennifer Wright, SIA].
- @AdsofYore: “Charles Forde's Bile Beans for Biliousness. Cures headaches, indigestion, sallow complexions and female weaknesses.” The Birmingham Archives in the UK has a new Twitter feed featuring advertisements found in their collections for products that were offered in local newspapers in the past, illustrating how advertising has changed over the years.
- Mwahhahaa… and finally, some Halloween trivia: is the Smithsonian really haunted? Our historian, Pam Henson, tells all in an interview she did not too long ago with Federal News Radio:
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