Out From The Shadows: Pulp Periodicals And Paperbacks

•May 10, 2017 • Leave a Comment

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Vicki Gold Levi

Earlier this month, four Florida International University undergraduate students taking my America & Movies course elected to curate a library installation, In the Shadows: American Pulp Cover Art, for their final class project. The class viewed and critically analyzed twelve films that focused on social problems in America from 1900 to the 1950s. The students were invited to search through and make selections from the library’s “pulp” magazine and paperback collection to investigate some of those same issues. These magazines, published using cheap pulp paper and glossy covers with lurid and salacious cover art, were marketed to male audiences interested in exotic adventure and “true-crime” detective stories.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca

Provoked by the current controversies surrounding the “demonization” of Muslims, Joseph Perez looked for historical antecedents in pulp literature. In The Wolfsonian’s library collection, he discovered a number of young men’s adventure magazines from the 1930s with cover art stereotyping Middle Easterners and North Africans as menacing Muslims.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gifts of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca

Another of the students, Erica Melamed, was interested in the increasingly sexualized depictions of women used to sell periodicals and paperback novels in the 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gifts of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gifts of Vicki Gold Levi

Tiffany Breslawski focused her energies on periodical covers with gangsters, kidnappers, femme fatales, and damsels in distress.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gifts of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca

Finally, Mauriel (“Junior”) Fernandez set his sights on the pulps in which Nazi thugs and Japanese warmongers and saboteurs muscled out the criminal competition on wartime adventure and true-crime detective magazine covers.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gifts of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca

This coming Tuesday, The Wolfsonian will be hosting a members-only library salon event celebrating the library installation. The reception will include a tour of the installation and a lecture presentation on the interplay between pre-code and film noir movies and pulp magazine cover art. Join us for an evening of gun-wielding gangsters, hard-boiled detectives, femme fatales, and damsels in distress!

RSVP to anelson@thewolf.fiu.edu / 305.535.2656 if you’d like to attend.

Making Progress, Work: FDR’s Executive Order Creates the Works Progress Administration

•May 6, 2017 • Leave a Comment

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Having taught a number of classes on the Great Depression and New Deal era for the History Department at Florida International University over the last ten years, I have often encountered students who assume that President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the American welfare state. On this anniversary of the signing of the executive order creating the Works Progress Administration, I thought that I would take this opportunity to provide some clarity as to the intentions and goals of the WPA. While it is true that most of the federal social security programs we continue to enjoy today were implemented by the Roosevelt Administration, it is worth noting that FDR was very much opposed to doling out welfare checks.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Christopher DeNoon

Even while recovering from a crippling bout of polio, Roosevelt ran for and was elected governor of New York as a reform candidate for the Democratic Party in 1928, and was reelected in January 1931 as the crisis of the Great Depression crippled the state and national economies.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca

In October, 1931, Governor Roosevelt secured an appropriation of $20 million dollars for his Temporary Emergency Relief Administration (TERA), hiring New York City social worker, Harry Hopkins to serve as executive director. Roosevelt was ideologically opposed to handing out relief checks, essentially paying able-bodied people not to work; instead, his program was designed to provide more than 160,000 unemployed New Yorkers with temporary financial assistance in return for their labor on conservation and other work projects.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Within two months of being sworn in as President of the United States in March, 1933, Roosevelt replicated the success of TERA by steering the Federal Emergency Relief Act (FERA) through both houses of Congress. Under the auspices of the Emergency Relief Appropriations Act, on May 6, 1933, FDR signed into existence the Works Progress Administration and appointed Hopkins its director.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Loan

By 1935, 3 million unemployed men and women were working on WPA projects, building roads and highways, public schools, hospitals, airports, and recreational facilities across the nation.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Francis Xavier Luca

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

In addition to creating new infrastructure, the WPA also put “starving artists” to work designing posters and painting murals for federal post offices and courthouses;

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Purchase

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Photograph, WPA mural in Post Office in Chicago, Illinois

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…writers to work on state guides designed to encourage domestic tourism;

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

…theatrical performers back on stage performing in Federal Theatre plays and productions;

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Christopher DeNoon

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

…and unemployed musicians to work playing symphonies in orchestra pits and outdoor band shells to entertain a depression-weary public.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

FDR’s New Deal did not ultimately defeat the depression and many of its projects were rolled back and suspended once the outbreak of the Second World War kick-started the economy with production for the defense-industry. Programs like the WPA had, however, provided much-needed relief for millions of unemployed persons desperate to get “back to work.” It also provided the nation  with needed infrastructure improvements and socially-useful projects.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Christopher DeNoon

The Rolls-Royce “Art Drive” Makes a Stop at The Wolfsonian

•April 21, 2017 • Leave a Comment

On April 22, 1933, the co-founder of the most famous British luxury automobile company, Frederick Henry Royce, passed away. It was soon after purchasing his first car in the early 1900s that Royce determined that he could design a better vehicle. Joining up with an automotive dealer named, Charles Rolls, the two men form the Rolls-Royce Limited company, with Royce serving as the engineer. In 1906, they produced the six-cylinder Silver Ghost, which was almost immediately acclaimed the “best car in the world.”

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Earlier this month, the ultimate luxury automobile brand, Rolls-Royce, and the real estate brokerage firm One Sotheby’s organized a Miami “Art Drive” program for their exclusive clients, driving new Rolls-Royce models to some special art and real estate destinations.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

The Thursday before last, about twenty of their guests stopped in at The Wolfsonian for a guided tour of the galleries and a viewing of vintage luxury automotive promotional materials in our rare book and special collections library.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

The Wolfsonian–FIU Library has a sizable collection of printed brochures and advertisements for horseless carriages, Locomobiles, Hupmobiles, and a wide variety of automobiles dating from the 1900s.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Founded in 1899, the New England-based Locomobile Company of America was one of the earliest manufacturers of a steam-powered vehicle—the name combining “locomotive” and “automobile.” Approximately 4,000 of these “buggies” were built between 1899 and 1902; beginning in 1904, the company began shifting production over to steel-framed automobile powered by a 16-horsepower internal combustion engine.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Acquired by Durant Motors in 1922, the Locomobile continued to produce very well-made vehicles, though Henry Ford’s assembly-line production allowed their competitor to churn out a more affordable automobile at 1/30th of the price of the Locomobile Model 48. The Stock Market Crash of 1929 spelled doom for the Locomobile and its parent company.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

The Hupp Motor Car Company (1909–1939) introduced their first Hupmobile at the 1909 Detroit automobile show, and increased production tenfold, from 500 that year to 5,000 in 1910. That same year, vice president and general manager Bobby Hupp founded the Hupp-Yeats Electric Car Company; when other investors in the company bought him out, he immediately purchased and took over the RDH Motorcar Company. The Hupp Motor Car Company’s all-steel body Hupmobile successfully competed with its Ford and Chevrolet competitors until the corporation’s fortunes declined during the Great Depression.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Purchased with Faculty Development Funds

Ransom E. Olds founded the Olds Motor Vehicle Company in Lansing, Michigan in 1897 to build gasoline-powered Oldsmobiles. Between 1901 and 1904, the company produced the first automobiles built on an assembly line. It was purchased by General Motors in 1908 and remained a popular luxury brand.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of T. W. Pietsch III, facilitated by Frederic A. Sharf

In the 1950s, the Oldsmobile Rocket V8 engine made it one of the fastest cars on the market, and its styling reflected the country’s new obsession with rockets and jet propulsion.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of T. W. Pietsch III, facilitated by Frederic A. Sharf

Founded in 1899, Buick was one of the oldest American brand of internal combustion automobiles; in 1908, it became the basis of the General Motors Corporation.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Buick continued to dominate the market for upscale automobiles just below the Cadillac division.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Named for the French colonial explorer and founder of Detroit, the Cadillac Motor Car was founded in 1902, but was bought out and became a division of General Motors in 1909. The Cadillac won acclaim for its fine precision engineering, luxury style, and finishes built for an upper-class customer base.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of T. W. Pietsch III, facilitated by Frederic A. Sharf

Though sales suffered during the depression years, it rebounded in 1940 and continued to do well after the Second World War.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of T. W. Pietsch III, facilitated by Frederic A. Sharf

Even the Ford Motor Company that Henry Ford was determined to produce for a mass market began selling a luxurious Lincoln brand beginning in 1917 for an elite clientele.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

In the interwar years, the Ford Motor Car Company produced a line of automobiles for the luxury market in Europe and even adopted sexually suggestive advertising geared for the French market.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

In addition to a wealth of automotive promotional literature, The Wolfsonian’s library also holds an archive of original automobile design sketches by Theodore “Ted” Pietsch II, a donation made by his son and namesake and facilitated by long-term supporter Frederic A. Sharf.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gifts of T. W. Pietsch III, facilitated by Frederic A. Sharf

Ted Pietsch was a prolific designer and submitted sketches for many of the major American automobile companies in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s. Even as domestic automobiles took a backseat to wartime production, Pietsch was sketching out some experimental designs for aerodynamic cars in anticipation of the war’s successful conclusion.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gifts of T. W. Pietsch III, facilitated by Frederic A. Sharf

Over the course of his career, Pietsch made sketches for car exteriors, bumpers, grilles, consoles, and even submitted plans for hood ornaments.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of T. W. Pietsch III, facilitated by Frederic A. Sharf

Some of Pietsch’s futuristic designs were adapted and adopted by automotive companies; others seem more likely to appear in some sci-fi thriller or Woody Allen’s comedy Sleeper than on the roads and highways of America anytime soon.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gifts of T. W. Pietsch III, facilitated by Frederic A. Sharf

 

Unhappy Anniversary: The Sinking of the Unsinkable Titanic

•April 15, 2017 • Leave a Comment

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ANew CGI of How Titanic Sank / Titanc 100, courtesy of National Geographic

At 2:20am on this date in 1912, the unthinkable happened. The “unsinkable” British ocean liner Titanic collided with an iceberg on its maiden voyage and sank to the bottom of the icy North Atlantic within 2½ hours, with enormous loss of life. Only some 700 of the 2,200 passengers and crew aboard the ship were rescued.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Thomas C. Ragan

The massive ship (882 feet long from stem to stern, and weighing 46,000 tons), was designed to be unsinkable since 4 of its 6 “watertight” compartments could be flooded without the ship losing its buoyancy. Because of this, a fateful decision had left the ship with only enough lifeboats to accommodate 1,178 souls.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Thomas C. Ragan

While The Wolfsonian–FIU Library holds one of the largest collections of ocean liner and cruise ship promotional materials in a public institution, there was virtually nothing in our collection dealing specifically with the Titanic disaster. A generous donation of materials by Wolfsonian supporter and ocean liner aficionado Thomas Ragan has since remedied that lacunae, and our library can now boast more than 260 rare and reference books, plus ephemera, relating to the great ship.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Thomas C. Ragan

Several of the rare books he donated were featured in a recent Wolfsonian exhibition, Margin of Error, which looked at the unintended disastrous consequences resulting from the adoption of new technologies.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Thomas C. Ragan

Mr. Ragan’s gift even includes an inflatable, motorized ship and iceberg, a children’s book from the point of view of a stuffed bear, and a book about the disaster written from the perspective of the iceberg!

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Thomas C. Ragan

 

Back to Work with the New Deal

•April 14, 2017 • 1 Comment

A couple weeks ago, more than forty students from F. S. Tucker Elementary visited The Wolfsonian and our rare book and special collections library as part of a field trip organized by their instructor, Iris Sanchez-Ruiz.

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Ms. Sanchez-Ruiz had been one of twenty Miami-Dade County schoolteachers enrolled in Florida International University’s Teaching American History Masters Degree Program some years back. She and another MA candidate, Rosita Maria Sosa, had taken my class on The Great Depression, New Deal, and Good War, and, for their final project assignment, had elected to curate a library installation in 2012 on the subject of Franklin Roosevelt and the labor movement.

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http://librarydisplays.wolfsonian.org/Back%20to%20work/Back%20to%20work.htm

Remembering the strength of our museum’s holdings of New Deal artifacts, Ms. Sanchez-Ruiz arranged a tour with our museum educators for her students of the New Deal era mural studies on view in the museum’s fifth-floor gallery.

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I also provided a presentation of primary source materials documenting the Roosevelt Administration’s “alphabet soup” solutions to the crises brought on by the Great Depression.

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Vaughn Shoemaker cartoon for 1938 A.D., The Wolfsonian–FIU, Anonymous donor

Historians generally speak of two New Deals—the first projects enacted in a flurry of activity during FDR’s first 100 days in office, and a second wave of programs coming in response to ideas, programs, and platforms pushed by other political contenders in the lead-up to the 1936 presidential election.

The National Recovery Administration (NRA) and the Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA) were early “trickle down” approaches to jump-starting the economy’s industrial and farming sectors.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca

Neither of these approaches proved to be particularly successful, and both proved to be more than a little controversial, attacked by conservatives as “stumbling into socialism” and by leftists as a boon to big business interests.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Purchase

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Ultimately, the conservative members of the Supreme Court “did in” the NRA by ruling it unconstitutional. Although the Roosevelt Administration’s “Triple-A” program fared better in the courts, the policy of killing millions of piglets, plowing under crops to raise food prices, and paying farmers subsidies not to grow crops stuck many critics as crazy in a time of want and hunger.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca

Other early New Deal programs rolled out more smoothly and successfully, including FDR’s Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and the Public Works Administration (PWA).

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Purchase

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Loan

The PWA put tens of thousands of engineers, architects, and construction workers back to work on government-funded infrastructure projects.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Christopher DeNoon

While organized labor and the Communist Party of the United States of America (CPUSA) railed the CCC for its poor pay and its military-style organization, it became one of the most popular programs of the first New Deal.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Purchased with Founder’s funds

Within months of Roosevelt’s inauguration, some 250,000 youths living in urban squalor and poverty, loitering in makeshift hobo camps, or restlessly “riding the rails” in search of work were enrolled in, housed in, and working out of CCC camps and barracks on conservation and reforestation projects established in state and national parks and forest reserves across the nation. Not only did the camps stimulate local economies by creating a demand for food and uniforms, but young enlistees benefited physically and emotionally as they put on pounds and muscle working in natural settings, learned valuable vocational skills, and took pride in knowing that $25 of their $30-per-month paychecks supported their families back home.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Promised Gift

By 1935, the Democratic incumbent was being challenged by various political contenders, each peddling their own personal program for ending the Depression. These included the “snake-oil salesman,” Dr. Francis Townsend, touring the country promoting his own Old Age pension “pyramid” scheme;

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Cartoon by Will H. Chandler, for Mother Goose in Washington, The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca

the charismatic, populist Governor of Louisiana, Huey Pierce Long, who campaigned to make “Every Man a King” with his “Share the Wealth” program before his candidacy was ended by an assassin’s bullet;

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Loan

and Father Charles Coughlin (the “radio Priest”), who preferred right-wing politics to preaching the Gospel.

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Cartoon by Will H. Chandler, for Mother Goose in Washington, The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca

In the run-up to the 1936 presidential election, President Roosevelt introduced new New Deal programs, including the Social Security Administration and the Works Progress Administration. The former created a safety net for elderly and incapacitated Americans; the latter was designed to provide work for millions more able-bodied men and women in ever-wider fields of employment.

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“Social Security,” a wood-engraving by Federal Art Project artist Stefan Hirsch, The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

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“W.P.A.” print by Duard Marshall, The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Though both programs helped millions of Americans in their most desperate time of need, a backlash against the WPA set in during the last years of the Depression decade against government-funded jobs and projects for “shovel-leaners.”

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca

Congressional budgetary attacks on the New Deal began in earnest in late 1938 and early 1939, with conservative Southern (“Dixiecrat”) Democrats siding with Republicans in calling for the defunding of the WPA, beginning with the Federal Theatre Project.

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Illustration by Victor Candell for 12 Cartoons Defending WPA, The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

With the dark clouds of militant Fascism and Nazism gathering over Europe and American factories reopened as the country geared up for war, the New Dealer reinvented himself and campaigned on the foreign policy platform of making America the “arsenal of democracy.”

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Color lithograph by Hugo Gellert, for Century of the Common Man, The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

UNSEEN WILLIAM H. BRADLEY WORKS IN THE COLLECTIONS OF THE WOLFSONIAN-FIU LIBRARY

•April 6, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Wolfsonian associate librarian Nicolae Harsanyi curated the library’s latest installation featuring the graphic artwork of William (“Bill”) Bradley, who has been credited with popularizing Art Nouveau in the United States. The materials are a perfect complement to Modern Dutch Design, a major exhibition in our sixth-floor galleries that highlight the distinctive “Nieuwe Kunst” aesthetic of the Netherlands and the Dutch East Indies. Here is Dr. Harsanyi’s report:

The library installation focusing on William H. Bradley’s Art Nouveau decorative designs has been open to the public for two months now.

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Selecting the items to be displayed was demanding because the decorated materials by Bradley held by our library are numerous. In this blog post, I will present other items that could just as well have gone on public display had there been more space available.

The wall display case of the installation contains a sampling of several poster designs Bill Bradley created for the Ault & Wiborg printing ink company based in Cincinnati, Ohio. One of them presents a couple dressed in carnival costumes against a background of trees with visible roots, blue being the dominant color in contrast with the whiteness of the paper on which it had been printed. Our library has two other variants of the self-same design, also bearing Bradley’s signature, which advertise two other hues of ink:

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

As the posters commissioned by Ault & Wiborg Co. became popular, in 1901 the company put together a catalog of the posters advertising its typographic inks so the public could order individual copies of the selected posters. This catalog also contained the following poster that Bradley designed in 1895:

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

The flourish of the ribbons lends dynamism to the two static figures, and suggests all the movement and slapstick implied by the popular eighteenth-century Italian genre of commedia dell’ arte, from which these characters (Colombina and Pantalone) are drawn.

In 1894, Herbert Stuart Stone commissioned Will Bradley to create seven posters to advertise his new literary magazine The Chap Book. The first poster, often referred to as The Twins, is seen below. Critics complained that if you squinted, Bradley’s design looked like an oddly-shaped red turkey. Nowadays, it is credited as the first American Art Nouveau poster.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

The design of two identically drawn women was used on another poster advertising the 1895 Thanksgiving issue of the same magazine. The repetition of the figure in a smaller size overlapping the larger figure gave depth to an image made up of two bi-dimensionally treated elements.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Another poster for The Chap Book was conceived mostly as an interplay between dark colors: blue and black. Bradley situated the female character in a wooded surroundings—the irregular lines of the young trees contrast with the angular and curvilinear treatment of the woman’s dress:

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

As much of Bradley’s work is done in strong black-and-white images, our library holds many depictions which show his mastery of blending Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau features. Usually the thick frames of vegetal motives recall William Morris’s illustrations, while the fluid, organic and undulating lines of the image placed within the center of such frames are characteristic of Art Nouveau. This mixture can be seen in many designs for a variety of works on paper: posters, advertisements, brochures, and periodical covers.

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Finally, the additional instances of designs Bradley employed in decorating publishers’ bindings cannot be left out of this blog post (even if they were not selected for the installation):

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Tuned In: RadioFest at The Wolfsonian

•March 17, 2017 • Leave a Comment

This past weekend, The Wolfsonian–FIU partnered with public radio station WLRN Public Media in hosting a festival celebrating the impact of radio in transforming the world. The festivities included a WLRN VoxPop recording booth set up in our historic Bridge Tender House; a speaker-making workshop with Moonlighter Markerspace; a selection of radio-related videos courtesy of the Lynn and Louis Wolfson II Florida Moving Image Archives; an internet radio panel discussion moderated by The New Tropic; a guided tour of vintage radios by collector Harvey Mattel; and live radio plays organized by WLRN.

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Of the hundreds in attendance, more than eighty museum visitors also came up to the library to peruse a display of advertisements, rare books and manuals, posters, sound recordings, and other ephemera laid out on our main reading room tables.

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A large-screen television in the library provided a viewing of Back of the Mike, a 1938 film short providing a “behind the scenes” view of the production of sound effects for a radio program.

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The library materials on display included rare brochures and a couple of posters promoting radios from a host of countries.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Other items on view for our guests included popular magazines, cartoons, brochures, and children’s books attesting to the centrality of radio in the first half of the twentieth century.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Anonymous donor

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Dolores Trenner

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Politicians and demagogues alike recognized the vital role that radio played in moving the masses and swaying public opinion in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s. After winning the presidency in 1932, Franklin D. Roosevelt directly addressed the nation with “fireside chats”; his wife, Eleanor also hosted a popular radio show; and Father Charles Coughlin (the “Radio Priest”) captivated millions of listeners with his fiery weekly speeches.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gifts of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca

During the Great Depression, the President’s Federal Music Project funded free orchestra and chamber music concerts and provided free sound recordings of the same for distribution to the nation’s radio stations.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Europeans also harnessed radio’s power to reach and persuade millions of listeners, whether in support of republican Spain or the Fascist dictatorship in Italy.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Benito Mussolini and the Fascists organized “educational” radio programs in support of the regime and its imperial ambitions. Patriotic Italians were strongly encouraged to listen to the broadcasts bellowing out from loudspeakers in city squares and rural town centers, where the walls would be plastered with posters providing visuals in support of each theme.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Adolf Hitler and the Nazis were particularly adept at monopolizing domestic radio waves in Germany. Under the auspices of Joseph Goebbels and his Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda, the Nazis produced two types of cheap radios, known as “People’s Receivers,” that were incapable of receiving foreign shortwave broadcasts.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

During the Second World War, Axis dictators and militarists used radio broadcasts to tighten their control over their own nationals and subjugated neighbors.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

The Allies devised creative means to reach and amplify the resistance movements in the occupied territories, with broadcasts of Churchill’s speeches via Radio London and translations of President Roosevelt’s “Four Freedoms” declaration stamped onto lightweight cardboard and vinyl sound-recording discs dropped from airplanes behind enemy lines.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Loan

Finally, we had a few items on display related to the Red Scare of the postwar period, when Americans were conditioned to fear Communist infiltration of the media.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Promised Gift