The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Posts tagged with: Artist
A protégé of Secretary Spencer Fullerton Baird (scientist and second Secretary of the Smithsonian), Robert Ridgway was Curator of Birds at the United States National Museum (USNM) from 1869 to 1929. The eldest of ten children, Ridgway had a fondness for the natural world that was nurtured at an early date by his parents. Ridgway's interest in birds began at an early age. When the problem of not being able to determine the name of a paticular bird arrose, it was the mother of a boyhood friend, Lucien Turner, who suggested that Ridgway write to the Commissioner of Patents in Washington, DC. The letter along with a drawing of the bird found its way to Baird, then the Assistant Secretary of the Smithsonian, who identified the bird as a purple finch. The letter was dated June 23, 1864, and in subsequent correspondence, Baird encouraged the young Ridgway to draw birds and mammals, to record his observations, and to prepare specimens.
Showing such fervor and skill, Baird appointed the then sixteen year old Ridgway as zoologist under Clarence King at the Geological Survey of the Fortieth Parallel. After a brief two weeks at the Smithsonian, Ridgway joined the party that he was to accompany for the next two years in New York. Starting his field work in Sacramento, California, Ridgway would continue on to Salt Lake City and the Uinta Mountains.
Upon the completion of his field experience, Ridgway began work under Baird to prepare the description and do some of the drawings for Baird and Dr. Thomas M. Brewer's A History of North American Birds. Ridgway's work primarily focused on American birds, and he would go on to publish eight volumes on the Birds of North and Middle America as Bulletin 50 of the USNM between 1901 and 1919.
The Archives holds some of the personal papers of Ridgway, as well as some of his drawings and field books. On Thursday, Kira, will talk about the rapid capture method used to digitize some of the Ridgway material in our collections.
- Record Unit 7167 - Robert Ridgway Papers, circa 1850s-1919, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Accession 12-048 - Robert Ridgway Field Books, 1864-1908, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Ridgway Family Papers, 1864-1950, Utah State University, Special Collections and Archives Manuscript Collection
- Biographical Memoir of Robert Ridgway, 1850-1929, by Alexander Wetmore, National Academy of Sciences
- Conservator Sharon Norquest talks about the conservation treatment of the antenna drive of the Ranger VIII, an unmanned spacecraft that traveled to the Moon in 1965 to take pictures of the lunar surface. [via AirSpace, NASM]
- At Dartmouth University, Metadata Games allows users to tag photos in archives. [via InfoDocket]
- Reach for the stars . . . An online image archive of high resolution film scans from every Apollo space mission. [via PetaPixel]
- Leslie Johnston at the Library of Congress shares about her path to a career in digital preservation. [via The Signal; Digital Presevation, LOC]
- The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library recently announced that five scrapbooks documenting the childhood of the Nobel Prize-winning author, Ernest Hemingway, have been digitized and are now available online. [via InfoDocket]
- Proving that one is never too old to be creative, 97-year-old Hal Lasko uses Microsoft Paint from Windows 95 to create artwork. [via Colossal]
It is currently the "dog days of summer" here in Washington, DC; hot, humid, and sticky. Last week (July 14-20) the daily temperatures were in the upper 90’s, with humidity regularly hovering over 70%. The streets and Smithsonian museums are filled with tourists, many of whom are surprised at how unforgiving the weather can be during July and August; sunrise temperatures rarely fall below 80, and the humidity is even higher before the scorching sun emerges to burn off the lingering malaise. While many are drawn to the city during summer vacation to explore the seemingly unlimited national sites and monuments, (a friendly tip; many of the Smithsonian museums hold extended summer hours, admission is free, and the museums are air conditioned!) those who live in DC and surrounding suburbs often flee to regions with more moderate temperatures and open spaces, a tradition that began far before swampland along the Potomac River was transformed into our nation’s capital.
Alice Pike Barney (1857-1931) was an artist, actor, playwright, and socialite. The daughter of Cincinnati millionaire and patron of the arts Samuel Napthali Pike, Alice was born into a life of privilege. She married Albert Clifford Barney, son of a wealthy manufacturer of railway cars, prior to her twentieth birthday. The Barney's had two daughters, Natalie Clifford Barney (1876-1972) and Laura Clifford Barney (1879-1974). The family split their time between New York City and Paris, France, until 1900, when they purchased a home in Washington, DC. Well aware of the steamy summers of the eastern United States, the Barney's would vacation in Bar Harbor, Maine, and in 1888, commissioned a "summer cottage" in Bar Harbor they named "Ban-y-Bryn." Designed by Architect S. V. Stratton, Ban-y-Bryn was built on a steep bluff, with the front of the cottage facing the rustic Maine landscape. The rear of the home, with its prominent turret and several grand porches, overlooked Frenchman's Bay. Rising to four stories, the home consisted of 27 rooms, including seven bedrooms, five bathrooms, five fireplaces, a large stable, seven servants' bedrooms, and additional servants' facilities. The top floor was reserved as studio space for Ms. Barney and her artistic pursuits. Ban-y-Bryn's exterior was constructed of granite. The interior featured exotic hardwoods and materials, and was furnished with antiques acquired by the Barney’s during their global travels.
The Barney Studio House (the Washington, DC residence of Alice Pike Barney) and its contents were given to the Smithsonian in 1960 by Natalie Pike Barney and Laura Clifford Dreyfuss-Barney for use as a cultural arts center. There are three individual Alice Pike Barney collections in the Archives. Accession 96-153 - Alice Pike Barney Papers, 1861-1965, includes a significant collection of photographs, including a few which feature Ban-y-Bryn's interior and exterior, as well as the social and artistic scene the Barney's enjoyed. The images personify the Victorian Era in America, and it appears that the Barney's spared little expense. The Barney women adorned themselves lavishly; long dresses and fashionable hats were commonplace. The facial expressions and poses captured in the photographs convey a heightened level of elegance. The interior images are equally impressive, and lead one to ponder where one would have found time to acquire such remarkable possessions while maintaining a highly active social schedule; such plights of the wealthy must have indeed been tiresome and required daily respites on the veranda, drawing in deep breaths of the sea air.
Record Unit 7473 - Alice Pike Barney Papers, circa 1889-1995, is the largest of the three collections, and features several of Ms. Barney’s original plays, mime dramas, ballets, short stories, and novel-length works. This collection also includes architectural drawings of Ban-y-Bryn. Accession 96-154 - Alice Pike Barney Papers, circa 1890-1994, focuses on records related to the Barney Studio House. Alice Pike Barney and her daughters, Natalie and Laura, immersed themselves in art, and indulged in the world of the social elite during America's Gilded Age. Ban-y-Bryn was one of their many luxuries; interest in the home began to fade as their respective pursuits and tastes evolved over time. The Barney's sold their marvelous summer dwelling in 1930. Sadly, Ban-y-Bryn was one of 67 summer cottages incinerated in the Bar Harbor fire of October 1947. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, the images of Ban-y-Bryn in Accession 96-163 breathe new life into this remarkable home, and permit viewers to fantasize of the high times that once occurred within its walls and among its landscape. A brief walk, just moments ago, on the streets of Washington, DC, where it is currently 93 degrees and hazy, quickly dispatch such daydreams, and leave me longing for a cool breeze along the shores of Bar Harbor.
- Accession 96-153 - Alice Pike Barney Papers, 1861-1965, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Accession 96-154 - Alice Pike Barney Papers, circa 1890-1994, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Record Unit 7473 - Alice Pike Barney Papers, circa 1889-1995, Smithsonian Institution Archives
I have a special spot in my heart for oddball items in the archives. When a colleague approaches me with a question such as: "Nora, we have artists' matchbooks! Should we remove them? Will they spontaneously ignite? Will someone try to light them and set fire to the archives accidentally, or worse, on purpose?!," I delight in putting my creative problem-solving mind to work. Also, I get to learn new words, such as phillumeny (the hobby of collecting matchbox labels, printed matchbox outers, matchboxes, matchbook covers, matchbooks, and other forms of match packaging).
There are various references available on professional list-serves about this particular topic, with intervention suggestions ranging from the more mild "put them in a steel box," to the A-for-effort but less scientifically solid "dip the heads in wax to make them inert/discourage striking" (wax is flammable, and probably already a component of some matches) to the commandingly drastic and familiar to fans of Lewis Carroll's Queen of Hearts: "Off with their heads!" (i.e. cut off the offending flammable tips).
The archivists’ and librarians’ concerns are certainly valid. The chemicals in the flammable tip may suffer natural degradation through natural aging, but it is probably unlikely that a match of this mid-twentieth century vintage may spontaneously combust. Where loose early matches of the pre-safety match era may rattle around and cause friction enough to ignite the flammable head, it is unlikely that a set of twentieth century wooden or paperboard strip matches would move enough to spark an ignition.
In fact, the safety match (including the separation of the flammable chemicals and by design moving the striker plate to the outside of containers) was designed in the mid-19th century specifically to prevent this sort of accident. If a curious person were to attempt to strike a match, I would say there are perhaps other security and access issues to be considered.
While all of proposed solutions discussed above may have their merit, in our case the last option is unacceptable or at least never the first choice without due consideration. Of two sets of matchbooks from the Archives of American Art’s Leo Castelli Gallery collection, the dyed pink wooden match strip with bright yellow heads was possibly chosen for its aesthetic properties. This earlier set of matchbooks appears to be a unique, amateur production, as the cover is actually a folded silver gelatin photograph printed two-up side-by-side on Leica paper that can be dated to circa 1965-1967, based on the archivist Sarah Haug's identification of the people (Leo Castelli, Mrs. Castelli and Roy Lichtenstein at their table; the image may record a celebratory dinner at table in Paris or Venice. A catalog on the table may be from a contemporary exhibition featuring Lichtenstein’s work.) The more recently printed set was assembled by a professional matchbook company in Mexico, so there must be more, but these are the only ones that we know of and hold in our collection. If more c. 1965-1967 Castelli Gallery matchbooks came to light (. . . apologies to the editor), it might be considered feasible to retain the example in best condition, while sacrificing the heads of the rest to promote safety culture. However, having learned all I have about safety matches as of this writing, I would not recommend it for matches after 1911.
In conservation literature, there is not much discussion of matches or matchbooks in archives and libraries, being perhaps overlooked as not hugely important among the more critical "hazardous holdings in collections." Of more concern is the the storing of matchsticks in match-safes, many early models of which are made from the flammable product celluloid (cast cellulose nitrate or Bakelite) perhaps have more due attention. Those, however, come under my object conservator colleagues' jurisdiction, and are less likely to be handled by non-staff and more likely to be separated for collections safety.
The greatest risk to the Castelli matches and matchbooks is that as small, pocket-size objects, they are subject to damage from sliding around in their folder. At least one of the matchheads is compromised from prior incident or incautious handling, causing the friable tip of one to crumble and shed the flammable tip. A conservator's consolidant material might be used here to retain the rest of that tip, but a preventative housing would do just as well, and protect the overall structures too.
This set presents the challenge and a solution for rehousing sets of matchbooks in the Leo Castelli Gallery Records.
As an interventive yet not too radical solution, I came up with the double-sided sink mat shown in the Flickr set, which accomodates the matchbooks' uneven thickness, restricts movement, and allows ease of handling. With two examples of each matchbook, I was able to mount them in two ways, one open to show the full image on one side, and also the intended intial view, closed, appearing as a normal matchbook would, to approximate the user’s experience of being handed a small personal item. The two matchbook covers from the sixties differ in exposure and density, so the one in better condition was chosen as the one to display open in the sink mat. Alternately, one could use corner or strip mounts intended for thicker artworks on board, or simply slip them into appropriately sized polyethylene or Mylar pocket/print sleeves for small objects. I think the polyethylene might have a little more forgiveness and grip than the Mylar. Do you have any other solutions? Conservators, collections managers, archivists, lend me your ideas!
- Eleanor Wolpe Matchbook Collection, 1950-1990, Archives Center, National Museum of American History
- Elion-Weingarten Matchbook Collection, 1930-1983, Archives Center, National Museum of American History
- Leo Castelli Gallery records, circa 1880-2000, bulk 1957-1999, Archives of American Art