The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Posts tagged with: Architecture
- Ask Skorton Anything - Smithsonian Secretary David Skorton took questions from Smithsonian.com readers last week. [via Smithsonian Magazine]
- Congratulations to the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage as their Moses and Frances Asch Collection has been inscribed to UNESCO’s Memory of the World International Register. [via SI Newsdesk]
- This past Wednesday was National Fossil Day and this is what some Smithsonian scientists had to say about the importance of fossils. [via Smithsonian Science News]
- Close call at The New York Times photo morgue where a broken water pipe sent water rushing into their collection space. [via The New York Times]
- Stay tuned - DRM (digital rights management) may be coming to the JPEG image format. [via PetaPixel]
- Please welcome SOVA! - the Smithsonian Online Virtual Archive - which provides access to some 137,000 cubic feet of archival materials held across fourteen repositories at the Smithsonian. [via Smithsonian Collections Blog]
- Now open to visitors in Los Angeles is The Broad Museum. Designed by the architecture firm Diller Scofidio + Renfro, it houses the 2,000-piece collection of Eli and Edythe Broad of postwar and contemporary art, featuring works by Jeff Koons, Barbara Kruger, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Roy Lichtentstein and Cindy Sherman amongst others. [via Cool Hunting]
- Prepare to be wowed as the National Museum of Natural History prepares the Nation's T. Rex for the new National Fossil Hall. [via Washington Post]
- RIP library catalog cards, you will be missed - After nearly 2 billion printed, OCLC printed its last library catalog card. [via InfoDocket]
- List of digitization priorities at NARA. [via NARAtions blog, NARA]
- Congratulations to the Archives own Pamela Henson, Historian, who was awarded the Herbert Feis Award for distinguished contributions to public history from the American Historical Association. [via AHA Today blog, AHA]
- In acquisition news, the National Air and Space Museum acquired the Sally K. Ride Collection which is comprised of 182 items and 40 cubic feet of papers. [via SI Newsdesk]
- More images are available online this week: 170,000 Depression-era photos from Yale University, 226 Ansel Adams photos of American National Parks, and over 8400 photos from Apollo astronauts. [via Gizmodo, OpenCulture, and PetaPixel]
- The Archives' Lynda Schmitz Fuhrig, Electronic Records Archivist, answers questions about web archiving at the Smithsonian. [via The Signal: Digital Preservation, LOC]
- Planned for opening in Fall 2016, architect Phil Freelon, who is the leading the design team for the National Museum of African American History and Culture, talks about the design of the museum in the video below. [via NBC News]
Tom Rall, from Arlington, Virginia, is an avid collector of vintage photos, daguerreotypes and glass lantern slides. When he mentioned to his old friend Paula Richardson Fleming, a retired Smithsonian photo archivist, that he had among his collection a glass slide that might depict the Smithsonian Institution Building, she at first didn’t think much about it. After all, the Smithsonian “Castle” is an iconic building that has always been a favorite subject for photographers. It wasn’t until she got a close look at the undated glass plate at the annual D.C. Antique Photo and Postcard Show this past spring that she realized Rall might have something very special - a photo of the Smithsonian Castle taken while it was still under construction. They took the plate to Richard Stamm, curator of the Smithsonian Castle Collection.
“I was able to pin-point the year the photo was taken based on the progress of the building’s construction as reported yearly by the Building Committee in our early SI Annual Reports,” said Stamm. He and Fleming conducted more research at the Library of Congress and through other sources and were able to confirm the picture was taken in June or July of 1850 - the earliest known photograph of the Smithsonian Castle.
After President James K. Polk signed the legislation creating the Smithsonian on August 10, 1846, one of the first tasks facing its governing body, the Board of Regents, was to erect a building to house the new Institution. Architect James Renwick designed the Smithsonian Institution Building in an imposing Norman style meant to identify it immediately as an important educational institution. The day construction began was declared a holiday and on May 1, 1847, a mile-long parade made its way from City Hall to the White House, where President Polk joined the procession as it continued to the Smithsonian grounds. Once there, more than 6,000 people watched as the cornerstone was laid.
The photograph in Rall’s collection, taken three years later, shows the building’s two completed wings - the east wing housed the lecture hall, laboratories and apartments for the Secretary of the Smithsonian; the west wing contained the library and reading room. The central portion of the building, now called the Great Hall, was still empty and would remain so until 1855 when it began to be used as exhibition and collection space. At the time of this photograph, only two of the Castle’s nine towers were completed. The crane in the image rises over the North Tower, which would eventually rise 140 feet above the National Mall. The carriage porch at the front of the building would not be completed until late 1851.
The photograph also shows a small workman’s shed in front of the Castle, which was likely used by the stonemasons. The small trees and bushes in front of the Castle were planted by the Smithsonian and anticipated Andrew Jackson Downing’s landscaping plan.
“The Smithsonian has hundreds of photographs in its collections of the Castle, but none of the building under construction, which makes this image quite remarkable,” said Stamm. “The photograph is important because it verifies much of the written history we have about the odd way in which the Castle was built - the wings first and the main central section last. It greatly adds to the historical record we have for this national historic landmark.”
William and Frank Langenheim of Philadelphia took the photograph using a new process they developed in 1849 and called hyalotype (from the Greek hyalos, meaning glass and typos meaning image or impression). This process produced a highly detailed and accurate glass negative that could then be used to print either paper photographs or glass lantern slides. Since the exposure time for hyalotypes was about one minute, the process was well suited for architectural studies, but impractical for portraiture.
The image of the Castle was part of a set of 126 views of Washington, D.C. published by the Langenheim brothers in 1850, several of which were later exhibited at the 1851 Crystal Palace Exposition in London.
Tom Rall has made this rare hyalotype a gift to the Smithsonian Castle Collection. It will go on display in the Castle’s Great Hall today, August 10, on the 169th anniversary of the Smithsonian’s founding.
- Smithsonian Institution Building, The Castle, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Historic Pictures of the Smithsonian Institution Building, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- The Castle, A Tour of the Smithsonian Building in the 19th Century, Architectural History and Historic Preservation Division, Smithsonian Institution
- Stereoviews of the Smithsonian Institution Building, Richard E. Stamm, Curator, Smithsonian Institution Castle Collection