The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Posts tagged with: American History
Whenever March 24th rolls around, I stop to fondly recall Frank A. Taylor, the founding director of the National Museum of American History. Long after his retirement, his Smithsonian family would throw an annual birthday party for him, from the time he turned 90 until his death at 104! His 100th birthday party was especially memorable with former colleagues traveling to Chevy Chase, Maryland, from around the world. And for the next two years after he passed away in 2007, we continued to gather and offer a toast to Frank.
A tall, distinguished-looking man with a very deep voice, Taylor commanded respect and affection. I was privileged to conduct a series of oral history interviews with him and began to understand his exceptional management skills. Frank Taylor was a great listener, who could hear both sides of an argument, even when he passionately held an opposite point of view. With that respectful understanding of each person’s point of view, he was able to negotiate compromise and find solutions to thorny disputes.
Nicknamed “Mr. Museum,” Taylor did not start out interested in the Smithsonian. During his youth in Washington, DC, he would ride his bike right past the imposing museum buildings on the Mall, down to the Tidal Basin to fish or while away a summer’s day. He never visited the Smithsonian until he received a call about a job opening after he had graduated from high school.
Having passed the Civil Service draftsman exam, in 1922 he was appointed a Laboratory Apprentice in the Division of Mechanical Technology in the Arts and Industries Building and the rest was . . . history. He pursued advanced degrees, including a law degree, and when he retired in 1971, he held the title of Director-General of Museums. Lost without his steady guidance, Secretary S. Dillon Ripley convinced him to come back to work as a consultant for another twelve years.
Of his many achievements, Taylor is most known for building the National Museum of American History (first known as the Museum of History and Technology) to replace the crowded collections in corners of the Arts and Industries and Natural History Buildings. Taylor served in Europe during World War II, and when he returned he found the Smithsonian’s National Museum looking very shabby. He created an “Exhibits Modernization Committee” and that group oversaw a systematic renovation of all the exhibits in the museums. Festive exhibit openings for Capitol Hill staffers and Washington elite convinced these funders that the Smithsonian could effectively use money for a new building. And in January of 1964, Taylor’s lifetime dream came true when the first architecturally modern building on the National Mall opened to house the nation’s history collections.
Audio Clips from the Frank A. Taylor Oral History Interviews:
Interview 6, March 27, 1974, in which he describes the opening held for staff the day before the formal opening of the museum – “one of the happiest evenings of my life.” Record Unit 9512 - Oral history interviews with Frank A. Taylor, 1974, 1979-1980, 1982, 2005, Smithsonian Institution Archives.
Interview 14, November 26, 1980, where he talks about staff excitement when he was invited to visit European museums – very unusual for a Smithsonian historian! Record Unit 9512 - Oral history interviews with Frank A. Taylor, 1974, 1979-1980, 1982, 2005, Smithsonian Institution Archives.
From 1922 to 1984, Taylor devoted 62 years to the Institution he had so come to love. His dry humor and steady temperament defused many a contentious meeting. He shared his long experience and wisdom with generations of younger colleagues, serving as a role model and setting standards for all who followed him.
- Record Unit 9512 - Oral history interviews with Frank A. Taylor, 1974, 1979-1980, 1982, 2005, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Frank A. Taylor Oral History Interviews, Capitol Hill Historical Society
- Happy Birthday World Wide Web! You are 25 years old today. Here's a look back at what websites used to look like. [via Jennifer Wright, SIA]
- The Smithsonian announced this week the selection of its 13th Secretary, Dr. David J. Skorton, president of Cornell University, who will officially start in July 2015.
- Libraries continue to redefine their physical spaces in response to the changing needs of their users. [via The New York Times]
- A look inside what goes on behind the scenes at the Library of Congress' Veteran's History Project. [via The Signal: Digital Preservation, LOC]
- A personal experience of a researcher at the Archives. [via Effie Kapsalis, SIA]
- In February, we lost Dr. Martin E. Sullivan, the National Portrait Gallery's fifth director. [via facetoface blog, NPG]
- Coming up at the beginning of April is the 50th anniversary of Jerrie Mock becoming the first woman to fly around the world. [via AirSpace, NASM]
- Want to make a difference? Consider becoming a Presidential Innovation Fellow. [via AOTUS: Collector in Chief, NARA]
- Strike a pose - Portraits of vintage photography gear by photographer Julian Calverley. [via PetaPixel]
- Awesome sauce! The Getty Research Institute releases Art and Architecture Thesaurus as Linked Open Data. [via InfoDocket]
- In more Linked Open Data news, OCLC released 194 million bibliographic work descriptions. [via semanticweb.com]
- Rewritable CDs - Insights on how to transfer their data to a more stable format from WNYC's John Passmore. [via The Signal: Digital Preservation, LOC]
- Its going to be a banner year at the National Museum of American History as it celebrates its 50th Anniversary and the 200th anniversary of our national anthem. [via Smithsonian Magazine]
- These beautiful panoramas capture how Glacier National Park and Yellowstone changed from 80 years ago to today. [via PetaPixel]
- In honor of a colleague who just came back from visiting Vermont that included a trip to the Snowflake Bentley Museum, here is filmmaker Vyacheslav Ivanov's short of individual snowflakes forming. [via Colossal]
This weekend marks the U. S. Hockey's annual Hockey Weekend Across America, an event designed to help spread appreciation for the sport throughout the United States. It spans three days, February 28 – March 2, and each day has it's own theme including "Wear Your Jersey Day," "Try Hockey Day" and "Celebrate Local Hockey Heroes Day." In honor of the weekend, I'd like to share some items with you to help get you in the shinny mood.
First off, in order to play ice hockey, you need both ice and skates. In 1905, a photographer captured some candid shots of folks enjoying a nice winter's day on a frozen Rock Creek within the grounds of the National Zoological Park. The group in the center of the photo looks ready to play. They’ve got their sheet of ice, skates, the child to the left is even wearing a pair of heavy gloves that should protect him from an errant slash. But there’s something they’re missing that every good hockey player needs.
An image from 1944 in the Smithsonian Flickr Commons should be able to help our would-be hockey players. The image features U.S. troops who are attempting to sort through holiday mail. Some items being sent are a damaged box that clearly states "Glass with care," a spare tire, and a hockey stick. Now we’re ready to play!
There is one last, quick story I wanted to share. As I vaguely mentioned in a previous blog post, I often use bears as subjects when testing our collection searches. When I check finding aids, I often use the key word "Hockey." My favorite finding aid that get's returned is for Accession 09-066 - National Portrait Gallery, Dept. of Exhibitions and Collections Management, Exhibition Records, 1979-1983, 1988, 2008. The finding aid contains records of the exhibition Champions of American Sports. Box 7 contains records involving Bobby Hull (One of my all-time favorite Chicago Blackhawks and who's portrait is currently on view in the National Portrait Gallery's Champions exhibit.), Bobby Orr, and Gordon "Gordie" Howe.
It's Gordie Howe that is the subject of my favorite hockey story. Howe, who is best known for his 25 years with the Detroit Redwings, was in the twilight of his career and had moved on to the Hartford Whalers. One day, during warm-ups, he spied a young, 7-year-old boy poking his head over the glass (at that time the glass on top of the boards was much lower than it is now). Howe scooped up some of the snow that accumulates on the ice with his stick, skated over, and dumped it on the boy's head. Skating off, Howe looked back to the boy and gave him a wink.
The boy, Jeremy Roenick, would go on and become a legendary player in the NHL in his own right. When he announced his retirement from the NHL, Roenick recalled that memory. While Roenick was a player, he attempted to reach out to fans as much as he possibly could, and he cited his moment with Howe as a reason for that. "For those three seconds, it was me and Gordie Howe and no one else," Roenick said. "That moment stuck in me, for years, and years, and years, because I know what that made me feel like. It was little, it was small, it took nothing out of his power or his time, but it resonated my whole life."
- Accession 09-066 - National Portrait Gallery, Dept. of Exhibitions and Collections Management, Exhibition Records, 1979-1983, 1988, 2008, Smithsonian Institution Archives