The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Posts tagged with: Artist
With a hint of spring finally in the air, my thoughts turn to the sights, sounds and smells of trees in bloom and birds nesting. I look forward to a beautiful day in May when I can walk through a nearby nature preserve and see delicate blossoms hiding among the leaf litter. These wild flowers have not been bred to last in a vase; they appear and disappear quickly, attracting insect pollinators and fading away when that task is done. What does it take to paint a wild flower that blooms for a single day in a deep forest? For Mary Morris Vaux (1860-1940), a young Quaker woman who accompanied her family fossil hunting in the Rockies most summers, you pull out your paint box to sketch and paint with water colors for 17 hours to capture the shape, movement, and colors of the delicate petals and leaves. Back at camp, comfortably ensconced on a tree stump, she would produce a more final version. She also became quite skilled at photographing them as reference for her art work.
Mary Morris Vaux was born into a well-to-do Quaker family in Philadelphia and attended the Friends School. She planned to enroll in Bryn Mawr College, but when her mother died, she stayed home to care for her father and brothers, as was expected of 19th century young women. The family spent vacations in Canadian Rockies, so her father could pursue his amateur interest in geology. Mary brought her sketching pads and watercolors so she could capture the beautiful wild flowers she found along the trails. Botany and drawing were considered very appropriate avocations for educated young women, although most sat in their gardens rather than scale peaks and cross glaciers. Mary was far more adventurous – in 1913, she climbed Mount Robson, the highest peak in the British Columbia Rockies. Mount Mary Vaux, some 10,881 feet high, was named in her honor. Despite those adventures, her life was fairly circumscribed, centered around family and church.
That same year as she scaled Mount Robson, she embarked upon quite a different adventure. She told her father she planned to marry a paleontologist they had met in the Rockies. Her father rejected the notion summarily and refused to attend the wedding. He was very fond of his 53 year old unmarried daughter, who had cared for him lovingly since her mother died. He also did not much care for the fellow she intended to marry – Charles Doolittle Walcott (1850-1927) paleontologist and Secretary of the Smithsonian. He regarded Walcott as something of a gold-digger and he was not a Quaker. At 64 years, Walcott had been widowed twice and had four children. Walcott's family was no happier about the wedding. His daughter Helen had cared for her father and brothers after her mother died and did not want an interloper taking her place.
Despite the negative response of their families, Mary and Charles married and shared many happy years, based on their mutual love of natural history exploration. Mary Walcott quickly became part of the Smithsonian family and the Quaker community in Washington. In the 1920s, when her husband launched a fund-raising campaign, Mary Walcott found a way to contribute. She published a five volume set of her drawings of North American wild flowers, between 1925 and 1928, with proceeds going to the Smithsonian's endowment. Her beautiful and accurate drawings have been displayed in exhibits and republished several times since then. In 2014, the Smithsonian Institution Press with Smithsonian Institution Libraries reprinted a selection of them in a single volume. It is nice to know that I can browse through them in the chill of winter and look forward to that sunny spring day when they will reappear at a pond's edge or in a mountain glen.
- Mary Vaux Walcott, Artist, Smithsonian American Art Museum artist database
- Charles Doolittle Walcott, Smithsonian Secretary, Institutional History Division, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Mary M. Vaux, a picture journal, The Palaeontological Society and Royal Museum of Ontario
- Accession 92-006 - Mary Vaux Walcott, North American Wildflowers Prints, 1925, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Bring books to the people - A 1979 Ford Falcon is transformed into a weapon of mass instruction. [via Open Culture]
- A different kinds of library - A Materials Library at the University College London holds a collection of almost 3000 items from baby teeth to aerogel. [via Motherboard]
- The British Library has created some videos to help being attention to online privacy. [via InfoDocket]
- On exhibit at The Prado Museum is the first art exhibition created for the visually impaired using 3D printing. [via Open Culture]
- Catalog cards are turned into art by painter Vicki Moore. [via Minnesota Public Radio News]
- Amazing facts about about amazing women science pioneers and the books you can read about them from the New York Public Library. [via NYPL blog]
- Here's a look at how colorizer Dana Keller brings historical photos to life with colorization. [via PetaPixel]
- This week billions of people around the world celebrated the Lunar New Year on February 19. For the Chinese, 2015 is the year of the Ram and one of the traditions that go along with celebrating the New Year is the lion dance. Photographer Jason Lam's project, "Inside the Lion," captures the people behind the lion costume. [via Lens blog, NYT]
- Here is a list of children's books about Chinese New Year from the New York Public Library. [via New York Public Library blog]
- A peak at an interesting portrait of Dr. George Washington Carver at the National Museum of American History. [via O Say Can You See? blog, NMAH]
- Chicken wire, a seemingly common place material, is transformed by artist, Kendra Haste, into remarkably real sculptures of animals. [via Colossal]
- With 20 percent of entries disqualified from the World Press Photo competition for excessive post-processing, a debate about the rules and ethics in digital photojournalism. [via Lens blog, NYT]
- Technology and art meet in the attempt to identify a portrait as that of Anne Boleyn, queen to King Henry VIII, through the use of facial recognition software. [via The Guardian]
- The British Library's Endangered Archives Program released more than 500,000 additonal images online this week, adding to those already online for a total of more than 4 million images available from a variety of collections. [via InfoDocket]
- Archives, libraries, and museums are fighting to prevent the kinds of loss from the "Digital Dark Age" as discussed by internet pioneer, Vint Cerf, at the recent conference of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, by developing tools to preserve and make accessible our digital history. [via BBC News]
- Celebrate Black History Month at the Smithsonian! [via The Torch, SI]
- Two tragic fires destroyed records, one occured at a Brooklyn warehouse which held records from the state court system, and the city's Administration for Children's Services and the Health and Hospitals Corporation. The other at the library of the Academic Institute of Scientific Information on Social Sciences (INION) in Moscow where initial estimates say that 15 percent of the 10 million volumes and materials in the library were damaged. [via The New York Times and InfoDocket]
- All the way from Alaska - A rare skull of a Baird’s beaked whale arrived at the Smithsonian for study. [Unearthed blog, NMNH]
- This week the Smithsonian American Art Museum announced the creation of The American Art Collaborative (AAC), a consortium of fourteen American museums committed to building the next generation of digital searches and scholarly advancement. [via SAAM]
- More news coming out of the Smithsonian - Smithsonian Libraries presents the Smithsonian Libraries Artists’ Books Collection, which includes hundreds works of art in book form across numerous branches at the Smithsonian Libraries, spanning the 20th century through today. [via Unbound, Smithsonian Libraries]
- The Library of Congress published nine new file format descriptions. [via InfoDocket]
- A sneak peek at the first photo book from 1843. [via PetaPixel]
On December 5, 1961 the Smithsonian announced that Alice Pike Barney's Studio House was donated to the Smithsonian by her daughters Natalie and Laura Barney. Alice Pike Barney was an American painter born in 1857 in Ohio. During the late 1800s, she spent time in Paris where she studied painting and began a salon in the home she rented there. When Barney returned to her home in Washington, D.C., she put a lot of effort into turning the city into a center for the arts. She had solo shows at the Corcoran Gallery of Art and other major galleries. After her death in 1931, the Studio House became the property of her two daughters, who donated it to the Smithsonian in 1961. In 1976, the house was opened as part of the National Museum of American Art, now the Smithsonian American Art Museum. In April 1995 the Alice Pike Barney Studio House was placed on the National Registry of Historic Places. The house remained in the possession of the Smithsonian until 1999, and it now serves as the Embassy of Latvia in Washington, D.C.
- Barney House given to the Smithsonian, Chronology of Smithsonian History, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Summer Wind to Ban-y-Bryn, The Bigger Picture blog, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Accession 96-153 - Alice Pike Barney Papers, 1861-1965, Smithsonian Institution Archives
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