Counting Cars: New acquisitions to the Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection at the Wolfsonian-FIU Library

•February 17, 2017 • 2 Comments

For several years now, one of our long-time supporters, Frederic A. Sharf has been donating large swaths of his private library to The Wolfsonian-FIU rare book and special collections library. Fred’s generosity has greatly enriched our holdings of rare propaganda books and photograph albums documenting: the conflicts of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries; the rise of the Japanese Empire; and colonial expeditions and projects the world over. Mr. Sharf’s most recent donations to the museum have included airplane, truck, and automobile models, as well as rare books and substantial runs of illustrated automotive magazines. Today’s post dealing with one of those rare periodicals comes to you courtesy of Sharf Associate Librarian Rochelle Pienn. Here is her report:

In New York over half a century ago, my father’s father owned a gas station in Queens while my mother’s father worked as a mechanic in Brooklyn. These professional parallels between my grandfathers were random, as it relates to my parents’ romance. But that is a story for another day.


The author’s beloved father as a young man in Queens, NY.

The common denominator for Grandpa Morris and Grandpa Angelo, of course, was the car. In the West after World War II, cars symbolized technological triumph, economic progress, and freedom. Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf recently donated more than one hundred issues of The Autocar from this period to the Wolfsonian-FIU Library. The British magazine, first published in 1895 (making it the oldest automobile periodical on record) and still available today, includes in-depth pieces on car companies, reviews of new models, and mechanical insights.

This cover from September 10, 1954 lauds the benefits of buying a Ford. Part of the “Big Three” American car manufacturers in the 1950s, Ford was only second to Chevrolet in automobile sales. Note the wheel in the illustration is on the right, for English drivers.


The Wolfsonian-FIU, Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection

Nine years earlier (and five months after D-Day), the caption on this cover waxes hopeful and poetic over the upcoming Christmas holidays for the Ford owner. The illustration is unusual in that it shows what the lucky driver would see through the windshield, rather than promoting the car itself.


The Wolfsonian-FIU, Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection

The back cover of the same issue is devoted to an advertisement expressing cautious optimism about beginning post-war business.


The Wolfsonian-FIU, Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection

The juxtaposition of the quintessential British beagling and the American Ford parked nearby displays a picturesque post war amity in which the commercial manufacturer can barely keep up with customer demand.


The Wolfsonian-FIU, Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection

A 1950 ad on the back cover of The Autocar proves that America needs British automobile equipment, too.


The Wolfsonian-FIU, Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection

In 1945, car (and car magazine) purchasers were predominately male. The Nuffield Organization, the British umbrella company for both Morris and Austin cars, emphasizes this point by featuring what might visually represent a potential buyer’s wife and daughters (and beloved pup).


The Wolfsonian-FIU, Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection

In another cover illustration, the gentlemanly Morris owner impresses an attractive woman with his spending savvy.


The Wolfsonian-FIU, Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection

Price was (and remains) an important consideration for car-buyers. What would this beauty cost today?


The Wolfsonian-FIU, Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection

In 1954, Lockhead encouraged the consumer to imagine what a car would be like a century into the future. This 2054 model “becomes airborne with the flick of a finger.”


The Wolfsonian-FIU, Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection

Only thirty-seven more years to go.

Recent Florida International University Class Visits to The Wolfsonian Library

•February 10, 2017 • 1 Comment

As the spring semester at Florida International University got underway, several professors brought their students to The Wolfsonian museum and research library for presentations on subjects related to their courses.

The first of the university student visits included thirty-two students taking my own history course, America & Movies: The Underbelly of America, 1900s to 1950s. The early arrivals were treated to a brief tour of the fifth floor galleries and a perusal of Hugo Gellert’s mural study, Us Fellas Gotta Stick Together, or, The Last Defenses of Capitalism. 


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Afterwards, the entire class sat down in our auditorium to watch Dangerous Hours (1920), a silent film about the first “Red Scare.”


Courtesy: httpswww.zazzle.comdangerous_hours_1920_vintage_movie_ad_poster-228328546414566102

After critically analyzing the message and film techniques of the movie, the students were taken up to our library to view a display of primary source materials dealing with social problems in the United States in the first half of the twentieth century.


We began with an examination of a memorial book published soon after President McKinley’s assassination at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York in 1901. Inspired by the fiery speeches of Emma Goldman, a radicalized anarchist by the name of Leon Czolgosz drew out a concealed revolver and shot the president twice while he was shaking hands with the public inside the Temple of Music.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

McKinley died a week later and his body was ceremoniously taken from Buffalo to Washington, and to Canton, Ohio during five days of national mourning. Nine days after the president’s death, his assassin was quickly tried, sentenced to death in the electric chair, and his remains interred in a prison graveyard.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

McKinley’s assassination, the rise of militant unions such as the Wobblies (IWW, or Industrial Workers of the World), and the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia in 1917 triggered a Red Scare panic in America.


The Wolfsonian–FIU


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

At the height of the first Red Scare (1919-1920), Emma Goldman was among 500 radical aliens and “undesirables” rounded up and deported from the country.


Portrait of Emma Goldman by Alexander Kruse, The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Richard Enkelis, Palo Alto, in memory of Martin Alexander Kruse

While the 1920s are most often referred to as the “Roaring Twenties,” they were also a time of serious social strife. The trial of Italian immigrant anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti began in 1920, and after seven years of retrials and mass demonstrations, ended with their execution on August 23rd, 1927.



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

This was also a decade witnessing harsh Jim Crow laws, extreme racial prejudice, and a resurgent Ku Klux Klan carrying out cross-burnings and lynchings to cow “troublesome” Black WWI veterans in the South, and Catholic and Jewish immigrants in northern urban centers. In the Midwest, another white supremacist splinter group known as the Black Legion formed and thrived on growing nativist and anti-immigrant sentiment.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection


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

The passage of Prohibition was intended as another Progressive Era check on the culture and influence of what white Anglo-Saxon Protestants perceived as an influx of “hard drinking” Irish and Italian immigrants. Ironically, attempts at enforcement of the ban on alcohol had the unintended consequences of turning millions of Americans into lawbreakers and encouraging the rise of political graft, corruption, and violent gangsters.


The Wolfsonian–FIU library collection


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

The Wolfsonian collection is especially strong in materials documenting the Great Depression and New Deal era, and items displayed for the students covered everything from mass unemployment and urban breadlines to the farming crisis and ecological disaster of the dustbowl.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection


The Wolfsonian–FIU library collection


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Purchased with funds donated by Mitchell Wolfson, Jr.


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


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

The “Dirty Thirties” became the “heyday” of the Communist Party of the United States of America (CPUSA), as leftist radicals redoubled their recruitment efforts by pointing to the decade-long depression as proof of the inevitable collapse of the Capitalist system.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection




The Wolfsonian–FIU library collection


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

While President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal policies put millions of Americans back to work, it was the Second World War that ended the depression by stimulating American production and employment in war industries.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Leonard A. Lauder

Social and racial tensions persisted, however, with African-Americans, immigrants, and women clamoring for better opportunities and respect, even as immigrants were viewed with suspicion and Japanese-Americans on the West Coast were uprooted and sent to internment camps.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection


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


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

While America and the Soviet Union became allies in the common struggle against fascist, Nazi, and Japanese aggression, as soon as the war was won, the old ideological antagonisms reasserted themselves in the Cold War, the Korean conflict, and a second Red Scare.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection



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

Not long after my own class visit, FIU Assistant Professor Dan Royles brought the graduate students in his History, Memory, and the Public class to The Wolfsonian library to review some materials on the theme of race and memory. The professor and his students had the opportunity to peruse several primary resource materials regarding the African-American experience in the 1920s; some promoting racist stereotypes, others celebrating the cultural contributions of the “New Negro” and the achievements of the Harlem Renaissance.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection



The Wolfsonian–FIU Library Collection

The students were also quizzed about their knowledge of the Scottsboro Boys, nine African-American youths unjustly accused of raping two white girls and subjected to a sham trial in Alabama. The CPUSA took up their legal defense, secured them a retrial, took their case to the Supreme Court, and also organized mass demonstrations across the globe on their behalf in a manner reminiscent of the Sacco and Vanzetti trial of the 1920s. The plight of the Scottsboro Boys was memorialized in pamphlets, magazines, and an unpublished linocut manuscript produced by the CPUSA.


The Wolfsonian–FIU Library Collection


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. loan




The Wolfsonian–FIU Library Collection


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

The Scottsboro propaganda materials were part of the CPUSA’s larger strategy for recruiting African-Americans to the Communist cause.


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

The Party’s best-known artist, Hugo Gellert designed illustrated covers and artwork calling attention to the mistreatment and lynching of Blacks in Capitalist America.


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


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Gellert also illustrated the dust jacket of a booklet of “Negro Songs of Protest”—plantation, lumber camp, and chain gang music collected by his brother Lawrence and arranged for voice and piano by Elie Siegmaister.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Other left-leaning and socially-conscious artists of the period also used their artwork to push for civil rights and an anti-lynching law. Lynd Ward, an American Socialist, used the wood-engraving technique to produce numerous graphic novels in the 1930s, one of which captured the horrors of a lynching.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

In the same period, the famous designer John Vassos also attacked lynching in his art deco illustrated book, Humanities.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Our last set of university student visitors came to The Wolfsonian library earlier this month with Professor Ebru Ozer. Her class is interested in the US1 and Miami Metrorail and are studying themes such as mobility, highway construction, speed, railways, transportation technology, etc.



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Naturally, Professor Ozer was interested in having her students see what we had relating to the construction of roadways and railways both in the United States and abroad.



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

Road-building and other labor-intensive infrastructure projects were particularly popular in democratic and totalitarian countries as a means of employing engineers and construction workers during the depression decade. At the same time that President Roosevelt was spending tax dollars on U.S. One and other road and highway projects, Adolf Hitler was promoting the building of the Autobahn in Nazi Germany.







The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

A number of the students participating in these visits have already scheduled appointments to return to do further research, and we look forward to their and other student visits this semester.

All Aboard! Recent Visit to The Wolfsonian by the SSHSA Board Members

•February 1, 2017 • 1 Comment

On January 21, The Wolfsonian museum hosted a board meeting of the Steamship Historical Society of America. 


The event was initiated by SSHSA board members Laurence Miller and Thomas Ragan—both long-term supporters of the museum and donors of significant collections in our rare book and special collections library. The Wolfsonian holds approximately 35,000 brochures, deck plans, menus, and other printed matter promoting ocean liner and cruise ship travel from the mid-nineteenth through the twentieth centuries. After completing their business in our conference room, the members were invited to view a display of promotional materials in our library, followed by a guided tour of the galleries. On the fifth floor, our guests had the chance to see Jean Dunand’s La Chasse [The Hunt], two bas-relief copies of the original panels that decorated the men’s smoking room of the great art deco ocean liner, the Normandie.



The WolfsonianFIU, Gift of The Frederick and Patricia Supper Foundation, Palm Beach, Florida

Today’s post comes to you courtesy of Dr. Laurence Miller—(who has generously donated his time as well as his collection to the museum)—and from our FIU Graduate Research Assistant, Crystal Garcia.


Thanks to  the generosity of Thomas Ragan, Ms. Garcia has been able to focus exclusively on researching, processing, cataloguing, and updating our bibliographic records for the institution’s steamship and cruise line materials. Here is their report:

Dr. Laurence Miller’s extensive collection at The Wolfsonian consists of ship-related printed materials from the post-World War II period—a perfect complement to the Mitchell Wolfson Jr. collection, which primarily consists of promotional materials from the interwar period.


The WolfsonianFIU, Gift of Laurence Miller

Dr. Miller is seen in this photograph alongside ship’s Master Captain Vittorio Fabietti taken on board Tropicale during a brief pre-inaugural cruise from the port of Miami in 1981. The Tropicale  was the first ship built by Carnival for the line, and in later years, Captain Fabietti (formerly of the Italian Line) took charge of all new Carnival construction.  The photograph is part of the Carnival Cruise collection which includes brochures, deck plans, and menus ranging from 1972 to 2010.


The WolfsonianFIU, Gift of Laurence Miller

The Laurence Miller Collection also includes material from the Compagnie Générale Transatlantique, (or French Line). Founded in 1861 by the Péreire Brothers, this line became France’s national flag carrier in the North Atlantic. The Ile de France was one of the line’s most famous ship, and in her final years she was used in cruises sailing from New York to the West Indies. In spite of the ship’s lack of air conditioning and deep draft, her cruises remained popular. The vessel once ran aground in Martinique and had to be towed to Norfolk for repairs.


The WolfsonianFIU, Gift of Laurence Miller

In the post-World War II period, the Liberte became the new flagship of the French Line. The ship was a war prize, having originally been commissioned as the German Europa. The Wolfsonian has deck plans printed for first, cabin, and tourist classes.


The WolfsonianFIU, Gift of Laurence Miller

Messageries Maritimes was France’s link to its colonies in the Far East and Indian Ocean. The Felix Roussel sailed from Marseilles to the Orient from 1930 to 1955 and served as an Allied troopship from 1940-47. Large fold-out deck plans were known as “bedsheet” plans because of their size. Obviously, the larger the plan, the more spacious the cabins appeared to be!


The Laurence Miller Collection at The Wolfsonian is far too comprehensive to describe in full detail in this brief post, so we will finish here with just one more fleet brochure from that collection published for the Union-Castle Line.


Thanks to the generosity of Thomas Ragan, The Wolfsonian-FIU now has an extensive collection of materials from the Moore-McCormack Lines. Some of these materials from the era of FDR’s “Good Neighbor” policy were displayed in a library installation a few years ago.


The WolfsonianFIU, Gift of Thomas Ragan

Menu covers for Moore-McCormack’s “Good Neighbor Fleet” featured artwork of the native peoples of the Caribbean and South America by Ada Peacock. This 1950 menu for the S.S. Argentina  offered such interesting breakfast options as deerfoot sausages and finnan haddie.


The WolfsonianFIU, Gift of Thomas Ragan

Ragan’s contributions to our cruise line holdings also include materials from other steamship companies as well, such as this brochure for the M.S. Victoria. Originally owned by the Union-Castle Line and called the Dunnottar Castle, Incres Lines purchased the ship in 1958 and turned her into one of the finest postwar cruise ships.


The WolfsonianFIU, Gift of Thomas Ragan

John Henry, a journalist and free-lance author based in New York City, has also donated some of his steamship materials, though the bulk of his collection will come later as a bequest. The brochure for the Royal Mail Lines below provides beautiful color illustrations of the interiors of the R.M.S. Alcantara, which served as a troop ship and armed merchant cruiser during the Second World War before returning to civilian service in 1948.




The WolfsonianFIU, Gift of John Henry

Ultimately, the Alcantara was sold to Japanese shipbreakers and was scrapped in 1958.

Much of Mr. Henry’s focus was on ships and passenger steamers operating on the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River Valley.


The WolfsonianFIU, Gift of John Henry

Mr. Henry also collected Union-Castle Line materials, such as this ca. 1949 brochure for the R.M.S. Pretoria Castle and the R.M.S. Edinburgh Castle, two of the larger ships in the Union-Castle fleet.


The WolfsonianFIU, Gift of John Henry

In 1958 the Pretoria was renamed the S.A. Oranje where she served with Safmarine until 1975 though in the same mail service to South Africa in coordination with the Union Castle Line.

It is also worth noting that Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf have over the years donated some wonderful ship materials as well, including some hand-illustrated logbooks from the ships that helped Britannia rule the waves in the glory days of empire in the 1880s.




The WolfsonianFIU, Gifts of Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf

Other Sharf gifts include some “Round the World” cruise materials, including a logbook for the Red Star Line’s S.S. Belgenland world cruise in 1927/1928 and a 1930s brochure for the Cunard Line’s R.M.S. Franconia.




The WolfsonianFIU, Gifts of Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf

The Franconia was the second of three Cunard liners bearing this name. With the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, she became a troop ship and took part in the Norwegian campaign. She also served as a communications ship for the Yalta Conference.

All of these promotional materials and logbooks complement without duplicating the rich selection of ship-related materials originally amassed by our museum founder, Mitchell Wolfson Jr,, who concentrated his own collecting efforts primarily on the interwar years. Mr. Wolfson collected objects and artifacts, such as this barometer for the Norddeutscher Lloyd shipping company’s Bremen (1933) and this pitcher inspired by the prow of the French Line’s fast and luxurious S.S. Normandie.



The WolfsonianFIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Mr. Wolfson continues to add to the collection as well, as is attested to by following promotional materials for various steamship lines.




The WolfsonianFIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Promised Gifts


Introducing A Very Wolfsonian Excursion to Havana

•January 27, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Last evening I had the great pleasure of attending a Wolfsonian Director’s Circle exclusive “Prelude to a Night in Havana.” It was an evening of Cuban art appreciation, live music and dance, topped off with tapas, rum tasting, and hand-rolled cigars hosted by the Cubaocho Museum and Performing Arts Center in Little Havana.



The night’s festivities were designed to celebrate an upcoming 5-day tour of Old Havana, April 5-9, 2017, to be conducted by Rosa Lowinger, conservator, author of Tropicana Nights, and co-curator of The Wolfsonian exhibition, Promising Paradise: Cuban Allure, American Seduction. Last evening’s tour party kick off was co-hosted by Wolfsonian board members Louise Levin and Jill Otto, with the generous support of Cubaocho founders Yeney and Roberto Ramos.


It would have been difficult to find a better venue than Cubaocho for the celebrations and a preview of Old Havana’s offerings. Guests had the privilege of perusing the great Cuban art hanging on the walls, ceilings—(and framed tables!)—while sipping free mojitos, downing tapas, listening to live music, and watching even livelier dance performances!


While The Wolfsonian is renowned for its collection of European art, architecture, and design, the museum has always been interested in the art and culture of the Americas as well. Just one year after opening to the public in November, 1995, The Wolfsonian published a Cuba theme issue of the Journal of Decorative and Propaganda Arts.  This 291 page tome celebrated Havana’s modern architecture and public works, and highlighted the work of modern magazine illustrators like Conrado W. Massaguer (art director of Social), and internationally-celebrated artists like Enríque Riverón and Amelia Peláez.



               Brochure by and photograph of Conrado W. Massaguer


Habana Hilton with mural by Amelia Peláez

The Wolfsonian-FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Promised Gifts

Following the publication with Steve Heller of Cuba Style: Graphics from the Golden Age of Design in 2002, Cuban ephemera hunter extraordinaire Vicki Gold Levi gifted more than 500 rare periodicals, advertisements, and other items related to the U.S.-Cuba tourist trade to our museum library.




The WolfsonianFIU, Vicki Gold Levi Collection

Vicki has since made a promised gift of another 1,300 Cuba-themed promotional materials and vintage photographs—items that Rosa Lowinger and I tapped in jointly curating the exhibition Promising Paradisewhich opened last May and closed in late August, 2016.








Mary Tyler Moore (19362017)



The WolfsonianFIU, Vicki Gold Levi Promised Gifts

Those interested in learning more about the up-and-coming five-day tour of Havana are encouraged to contact Andrew Nelson at:





•December 30, 2016 • Leave a Comment

As the United States prepares to inaugurate a new chief executive, relations with Russia made news this week as outgoing U.S. President Barrack Obama imposed new sanctions and expelled thirty-five Russian intelligence operatives after C.I.A. and other U.S. intelligence agencies accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of orchestrating cyberattacks aimed at deliberately interfering in U.S. presidential elections this past November. Even as Russian Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov recommended a retaliatory expulsion of U.S. diplomats, President Putin surprised almost everyone this morning when he decided not to pursue what he called “irresponsible diplomacy.” Instead, a statement from the Kremlin called for patience and restraint in responding to the new U.S. sanctions, placing their hopes for a “restoration of Russian-American relation” on the “policies carried out by the administration of President Trump.”


Courtesy of Her Telden Paylasimlar

It is in this context of revived tensions in U.S.-Russian foreign relations that I thought I would reflect on past strained relations this day in history, 1922, when the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) was officially established in the wake of the Russian revolution of 1917 and the subsequent Civil war.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Purchased with funds donated by Mitchell Wolfson, Jr.

Ironically, problems in U.S.-Russian relations first arose with the advent to power of another Vladimir. The abdication of the autocratic Czar in March 1917 and the establishment of the Provisional Government under Alexander Kerensky was originally viewed by most American officials as a welcomed regime change. Relations between Russian and the Western powers became strained rather quickly once Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov (Lenin) and his Bolshevik revolutionaries engineered a new revolution.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Steven Heller


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Purchased with funds donated by Mitchell Wolfson, Jr.

Having joined the Allies in the war against Germany in 1917, American officials were distressed to learn that Lenin had been deliberately sent back to his homeland by the Germans in order to destabilize Kerensky’s Provisional Government and to bring an end to the conflict on the Eastern Front.


Cartoon by Louis Raemaekers (1869-1956)

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

The fact that Lenin accepted financial support from, and was sent back to Russia aboard a sealed railroad car provided by the Germans, led credence to Allied fears that Lenin was a puppet of the German High Command. On his first day in office, Lenin’s regime began truce negotiations with the Germans in which the Bolsheviks agreed to surrender large swaths of territory in the Ukraine, Finland, and three Baltic states—though they subsequently annulled the deal after Germany’s capitulation to the Allies in November, 1918.


Cartoon by Louis Raemaekers (1869-1956)

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

If German interference in Russia’s post-revolutionary succession prompted the first strain in U.S.-Russian relations in the 20th century, further tensions developed after the U.S. militarily intervened on behalf of the anti-Bolshevik forces fighting in the Russian Civil War that followed.

Posters and propaganda art created after the establishment of the Soviet Union in 1922 reflects some of the East-West animosity that had developed.



Poster artwork by Vlacheslav Polonskii (1886-1932)

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Much as Vladimir Putin has played to fears in his country against a Western conspiracy to meddle in Russian domestic affairs as a means of building support for his own belligerent policies, the early Soviet state stressed in these patriotic appeals the need for domestic solidarity in the fight against foreign enemies and domestic saboteurs supposedly eager to bring down the Red regime.



Poster artwork by Vlacheslav Polonskii (1886-1932)

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Given the poor literacy rates in Russia in 1922, these propaganda appeals used cartoonish or Constructivist imagery on poster art to get the message out to the people.



Poster artwork by Vlacheslav Polonskii (1886-1932)




Placards by Vladimir Ivanovich Lebedev (1894-1966) for the show windows of ROSTA

(Russian Telegraph Agency) in St. Petersburg for agitation purposes, 1917-1922

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Today’s equivalent of these early “interference” and propaganda campaigns still occur, but now the players increasingly resort to stealth cyber hacking attacks and public cartoon commentary delivered over the internet rather than on paper posters.


Courtesy of Dana Summers, Tribune Content Agency

Reflections on the Passing of Fidel Castro and the U.S.-Cuba Relationship by Wolfsonian–FIU Chief Librarian Francis Luca

•December 1, 2016 • 1 Comment

This past Friday evening, President Raul Castro announced on Cuban television the death of his older brother, Fidel. The date was not without historical significance, being the sixtieth anniversary of their setting out aboard Granma, the leaky yacht that carried the two brothers and 80 other revolutionaries from Mexican exile back to Cuba to continue the fight against the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista. After years of fighting a guerrilla campaign in the Sierra Madre mountains, Fidel’s forces were able to push back Batista’s army, forcing him to resign and take flight in the middle of the night of January 1, 1959. Within days, Fidel Castro triumphantly rode into Havana, inaugurating his own monopolistic half-century long rule over Cuba. Ultimately Fidel managed to survive more than 600 assassination attempts and remain in power through ten U.S. presidencies before ill-health forced him to step down in 2008 and hand power over to his brother, Raul.


Author’s photograph, Santiago de Cuba, July, 2016

Although greeted by many in the Cuban exile community here in South Florida with street celebrations, Fidel’s death at age ninety—years after relinquishing power and battling health issues in relative seclusion, felt anti-climactic to me. Born one year after the Cuban missile crisis, and having lived here in Miami Beach for more than twenty-five years, I had heard so many prognostications of Castro’s death and/or the fall of his despotic regime. After teaching a film and history undergraduate course on the U.S-Cuba relationship last spring semester at Florida International University and organizing an exhibition on the U.S.-Cuba encounter in the pre-Castro era at The WolfsonianFIU museum, I flew to Cuba this past July and spent two and a half weeks in the country. While there, I had even heard open speculation by some younger Cubans who believed that the older of the “two dinosaurs” had already passed, and that Raul had suppressed the news. If Fidel was rarely seen in person as he wrestled with health problems in his final months, in the lead up to the anniversary of the holiday commemorating the 26th of July Movement, one could hardly avoid seeing his image on signs and billboards from one end of the island to the other.




Author’s photographs, Havana and Santiago, Cuba, July, 2016

Not unlike José Martí—(the “Apostle of Cuban Independence” who spent some time as an exile raising support for his revolutionary movement in New York, Ybor City, Tampa, and Key West, Florida)—Fidel also found temporary refuge in the United States.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Promised Gift

Fidel’s first U.S. engagement, ironically enough, was in 1948 when he and his new bride honeymooned in Miami Beach, and afterwards visited relatives in New York City. When the U.S. honeymoon was over, Fidel drove a newly purchased Lincoln Continental down to Florida, and took it home via the Key West ferry.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Promised Gift


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Collection

In November, 1949, Castro received death threats after publicly denouncing President Carlos Prio Socarrás’ coddling of violent gang members at the University of Havana, and went into hiding in Miami for a few weeks. After returning home to Cuba, Castro began campaigning to represent Havana’s poorest districts in the 1952 congressional elections to see Fulgencio Batista seize power in a coup d’etat in March and declare himself president. Joining an underground resistance movement, Fidel planned and took part in a disastrous attack on the Moncada barracks and armory on July 25th, was arrested, tried, and given a 15-year sentence.


Author’s photograph, Santiago de Cuba, July, 2016

Released after serving just two years because of an amnesty deal, in 1955 Fidel again fled to the U.S. There he organized rallies and demonstrations, made radio and newspaper interviews and speeches, and tried to drum up financial support from among the 26,000 Cuban exiles then living in Miami, Tampa, and Key West. Moving to Mexico City, he recruited an invasion force that returned to Cuba aboard the Granma. The fiery young revolutionary won over much of the Cuban population and Americans reading about his struggle in the Sierra Madre mountains and his determination to force the corrupt Batista “cleptocracy” from power. Batista’s New Year’s flight and Castro’s subsequent assent to power in the political vacuum was widely heralded to be a positive development in early 1959.


Courtesy of Vicki Gold Levi, Private Collection

Famed graphic artist and caricaturist, Conrado Walter Massaguer captured the hopeful mood of many of his fellow Cubans.



Courtesy of Leonard Finger, Private Collection

Many Americans first welcomed the change from Batista’s cronies to Castro’s bearded revolutionaries, as is evident from a couple of Hollywood “B” movies released in 1959. As a fervent supporter of Fidel and the insurrection, American actor Errol Flynn funded and starred in a campy docudrama homage to the revolutionaries titled, Cuban Rebel Girls.


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

A better low-budget Hollywood film noir, Pier Five, Havana was filmed in Cuba in the immediate aftermath of the rebel victory, with the villains pictured as mobsters and Batista-sympathizers plotting to take back power.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Promised Gift

Although the movie attests to popular American support for the revolution that overthrew Batista, the film would be consigned to historical obscurity for years to come as relations quickly deteriorated between the Castro regime and the United States government. The vast majority of films about Cuba produced for an American audience from the 1960s forward presented Castro and the revolutionaries in a far more ambivalent, if not wholly unsympathetic, light.





Francis Xavier Luca, Private Collection

As Castro revealed himself to be less interested in holding democratic elections and more interested in retaining the reins of power, establishing a Communist state, and courting a Soviet alliance, U.S.-Cuba relations quickly soured, leading to the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion, Missile Crisis, and an economic embargo that has persisted to this day.

Now, more than a half-century later, only the older generation of Americans and Cuban exiles remember how relatively cordial relations were before the 1959 revolution. At that time, the island nation had been an American playground for honeymooners and pleasure-seekers, and Cuban musicians and performers had revolutionized and transformed the American music scene from the 1920s through the 1950s.




The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Promised Gift

Following the passage of U.S. Prohibition in 1919, thirsty American socialites and “snow birds” began making annual winter migrations to the island in ever increasing flocks to the tropical “paradise” where rum and rumba held sway.





(“Let’s Go to Cuba” subtitle: “Before They Drink the Darn’d Town Dry”!)

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Promised Gifts

Hollywood films such as Havana Widows (1933) and Rumba (1935) helped to popularize Havana as a tourist destination and to create an American craze for the scandalously sensual Afro-Cuban music and dance.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Promised Gift

Advertisements, photographs, and magazine cover art from The Wolfsonian library also document and caricature the encounters between Cubans and Americans, both real and imagined, comical and commercial.







The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Promised Gifts

After a travel hiatus during the Great Depression and Second World War, American tourists returned to the casinos, nightclubs, and cabarets of Havana by the droves in the 1950s.



In its mid-century heyday, Havana had the repute of being the “Monte Carlo of the Americas,” and the “Las Vegas of the tropics,” offering visitors a rich nightlife and incredible array of talented Cuban musicians and dancers, showgirls and striptease performers.





The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Promised Gifts


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Promised Gifts

Much like today, the American tourists flying down to Cuba simply were following the lead of glamorous celebrities photographed in the Cuban capital, or featured in numerous Hollywood movies and musicals hyping up Havana.


Rita Hayworth at La Bodeguita del Medio, Havana


Liberace photographed in Havana, 1954


Ed Sullivan photographed at the Gran Casino Nacional in Havana

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Promised Gifts


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


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Collection

With Fidel’s passing, I believe that we have an opportunity to continue President Obama’s diplomatic overtures to the Cuban government and to more fully reestablish political, social, and economic relations between our countries. As close neighbors, Cuba and the United States have much to offer one another. Cuba needn’t regress into an American playground for tipplers, gamblers, and hedonists, nor become a virtual economic colony or appendage of the United States. If both our countries can learn from the mistakes and missteps of the past, we might now have the chance to forge new “ties of singular intimacy” and to invest in a future promising mutually-beneficial exchanges such as those that had formerly enriched the cultural heritage of both nations.



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Promised Gifts

In Praise of Folies: A Wolfsonian Homage to the Folies Bergère

•November 30, 2016 • Leave a Comment

Although the Folies Bergère first opened to the Parisian public as a theatrical venue for light opera and music, pantomime and vaudeville acts in 1869, it was on this date in history that the music hall experimented with a new kind of revue that established it as the city’s most popular nightclub. Having undergone a change in management, in 1886 the Folies Bergère opened a spectacular musical revue, the “Place aux Jeunes.” The new revue featured sensational sets and a troupe of chorus girls sporting shockingly revealing costumes, and helped establish the Folies as the premier Parisian nightspot.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

In the 1890s, the Folies Bergère followed up on its reputation for showcasing the carnal pleasures by adding burlesque, striptease, and nude revues, and was immortalized in the artwork of such famous French painters as Édouard Manet and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

In the “roaring twenties,” when American jazz was all the rage and the sensual aspects of African culture were celebrated in performance and film, Josephine Baker made her spectacular Folies debut. In 1926, the famous African-American singer and dancer emerged from a flower-strewn sphere lowered onto the stage wearing only a G-string decorated with bananas!


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

The Folies Bergère remained so popular and successful well into the twentieth century, that the revue was exported to other cities around the world. Havana, Cuba, another city synonymous with sensuality in the pre-Castro era, staged a Folies Bergère revue.





The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Collection