The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
July is birthday celebration month for my family. There is at least one birthday every week, mine so happens to be today, my son’s next week, my daughters the following week, and of course we can’t forget Americas birthday on the 4th of July. So to say the least I have been making check lists non-stop making sure everything is in place. While doing this I thought I would draw on some inspiration through some of our photos we have at the Archives. Below is my part of my “To Do” party checklist, accompanied with photos I found in our collections.
1. Theme of the Party: I personally don’t do a theme type party because with my kids being so close in birthdays we have joint parties, and getting a boy and girl to agree on something at their age is about pointless. However here at the Smithsonian the birthday parties’ range from Smithsonian wide birthday parties to parties for exhibits and right on down to personal birthday parties for employees. To say the least the Smithsonian loves to celebrate birthdays.
2. Guest List: Having a soon to be 6 and 7 year old I find this one of the hardest parts for planning a party because I never know how small or big to have it. If you are like my daughter a small simple tea party birthday party would be perfectly fine. However if you are like my son, inviting everyone under the sun like the Smithsonian did during its 150th Birthday Celebration is more the way to go.
3. Cards: This is always one of my kid’s favorite things to do when it comes to birthdays. Standing in the card aisle playing every singing birthday card they can put their hands on is almost like Christmas for my kids. But I don’t think there is anything more personal and fun then creating your own card like the one that was presented to Helena Weiss for her birthday.
4. Cake: In my opinion, my kids would argue otherwise, the birthday cake is what makes or breaks a birthday party. I would have to say the cake from the Smithsonian’s 150th birthday and the cake from Mickey Mouse’s 60th birthday celebration are definitely crowd pleasers.
5. Activities: My kid’s favorite part of a party. Simple games such as pin the tail on the donkey or water balloon toss is sufficient enough for my kids now, but at the Smithsonian, we really like to throw a celebration. Native American ritual dancing and fireworks were just a few of the many activities that happened during the Smithsonian 150th birthday celebration.
Last insight on birthday parties, no matter how big or small the best thing to remember when celebrating a birthday is to have fun!
- Images from the Smithsonian's 150th birthday celebration, Smithsonian Institution Archives
There is a remarkable figure in the Smithsonian’s history that doesn’t get much of the spotlight; Thomas W. Smillie. He served as the Smithsonian’s first official photographer from 1870 until his death in 1917, and additionally became the Smithsonian’s first photography curator in 1896. Smillie amassed a collection of photographic equipment starting with the purchase of the daguerreotype camera and photographic apparatus used by Samuel Morse for $23. He documented the Smithsonian’s collections and activities ranging from art to history to science. He was a skilled experimenter, and a successful one at that. In the spring of 1900, Smillie accompanied a team of scientists to document a solar eclipse in Wadesboro, North Carolina. The goal was to document the solar corona, so he mounted cameras to several telescopes and successfully took eight stunning glass plate negatives.
In a series of cyanotypes, he documented the Smithsonian’s collections, many still in the collection today (see slideshow below). Currently, Smillie's work is in the Cold Vault at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History. Today, we are still documenting the incredible collection that Smillie created.
- The Smithsonian’s First Photographer, The Bigger Picture
- Smillie and the 1900 Solar Eclipse, The Bigger Picture