Paris Liberated on This Day in History: A Wolfsonian Library Reflection

•August 25, 2016 • Leave a Comment

This brief post commemorates the liberation of Paris from German occupation on August 25th, 1944, an event celebrated in a couple of French children’s propaganda books in The Wolfsonian library collection.

XC1991_884_000The WolfsonianFIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

In the days leading up to the liberation, members of the French Resistance had entered the city, freed some civilian prisoners, and taken over the Grand Palais. German snipers, however, continued to contest the advance of an armored division entering Paris from the South.


The WolfsonianFIU, Gift of Pamela K. Harer

More than 625 Resistance fighters and civilians perished during the battle to liberate the French capital, and in retaliation, some German prisoners and French collaborators were summarily killed upon capture. But after two days of fighting, Allied forces of the 2nd Armored Division swept into Paris virtually unopposed.


Portfolio plate from Album historico la II Guerra Mundial illustrated by Antonio Arias Bernal

The WolfsonianFIU, Gift of Martijn F. Le Coultre

Sacco and Vanzetti Executed on This Day in History: A Wolfsonian Reflection

•August 23, 2016 • Leave a Comment

It only seems fitting to mark the anniversary of the execution of Italian-born anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti this day in 1927, as the library has just opened a new installation on Socialism, Communism, and other political “Isms.”

Politics of Isms Installation View04

So entwined have the names (and fate) of Sacco and Vanzetti become in legend, song, art, and history, that it would be difficult to imagine referring to either of the anarchists executed on this day without mentioning the other as well, as they were tried and died together. Although both men had been born in Italy and immigrated to the United States in 1908, neither the shoemaker and night watchman (Sacco) nor the fish peddler (Vanzetti) had known the other before meeting during a strike in 1917.

Both men opposed American intervention in the First World War, fled to Mexico, and upon their return at the war’s end, became committed followers of Luigi Galleani, an Italian anarchist who advocated bombings, assassination, and violent revolution to end the deplorable working conditions endured by immigrant factory workers in America. After their leader and eight associates were rounded up and deported in June, 1919, the remaining sixty or so Galleanists either went into hiding or participated in retaliatory acts of terrorism, including a botched bomb attempt against U.S. Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer. Several Italian anarchists were arrested and interrogated, and one Galleanist, Andrea Salsedo fell to his death from the 14th floor of the Bureau of Investigation offices in New York. Two days later, Sacco and Vanzetti were arrested for an unrelated crime, tried, and condemned to death.


Painting by Peppino Mangravite

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

On April 15, 1920, the paymaster, Frederick Parmenter, and a guard, Alessandro Beradelli of the Slater and Morrill Shoe Company in South Braintree, Massachusetts were shot and killed by robbers who seized the company’s payroll boxes and sped away in a stolen Buick.

Speculating that the robbery—(and another several months earlier)—had been planned to finance the anarchists’ agenda, the police arrested Sacco and Vanzetti on May 5, 1920 when they and a couple of other Italian associates attempted to pick up a car presumed to be one of the getaway vehicles. Sacco and Vanzetti were both armed at the time of their arrest and lied about having any anarchist affiliations; they were charged with armed robbery and murder.

On September 16, 1920, a bomb exploded on Wall Street, killing 38 and seriously injuring 143. The explosion was the deadliest act of terrorism in U.S. history, and was presumed to have been a retaliatory strike by other Galleanists. It created an atmosphere of hysteria that undoubtedly prejudiced the judge and jury in the Sacco and Vanzetti case.


Getty Images

The prosecution made much of the defendants’ anarchist affiliations, and in the anti-anarchist hysteria of the period it is not surprising that the jury deliberated for no more than a few hours before finding both men guilty of first degree murder on July 14, 1921.


The Wolfsonian–FIU purchase with Founder’s fund

Before, during, and after the trial, the presiding judge, Webster Thayer made numerous public statements condemning Bolshevism and anarchism as grave dangers to America’s institutions, and he denied all of the defendants’ post-trial motions for a new trial.


Portrait of Judge Thayer by American Communist artist, Hugo Gellert

The Wolfsonian–FIU purchase with Founder’s fund

By 1925, the case had attracted worldwide notice, with rallies organized on their behalf in nearly every major city in North and South America, Europe, and the Far East.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift made by Ideal Gladstone, in memory of her husband, John.

While their April 1927 death sentence provoked worldwide demonstrations in support of their clemency or pardon, a three-man commission appointed by Massachusetts Governor Alvan Fuller upheld the verdict, and on August 23, 1927, Bartolomeo Vanzetti and Nicola Sacco died in the electric chair.


Design by Rockwell Kent commemorating the Execution of Sacco and Vanzetti

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Political Isms: A New Wolfsonian Library Installation Opens To the Public

•August 18, 2016 • Leave a Comment


The Wolfsonian–FIU


As Americans prepare for the inevitable barrage of political propaganda we know we can expect as we approach the November presidential election season, The Wolfsonian–FIU library has opened this afternoon a timely installation titled, The Politics of –Isms.


This installation is part of the museum’s three month long election-themed programming, Thoughts on Democracy: Freedom to Vote 2016, in which four contemporary designers—(Mirko Ilić, Oliver Munday, Paul Sahre, and Bonnie Siegler)—have been commissioned to re-envision Norman Rockwell’s Second World War Four Freedoms posters. Their Freedom to Vote-themed posters will be on view in The Wolfsonian–FIU museum’s lobby, with large-scale reproductions at the Aventura Mall; the program will also include pop-up art installations, nighttime projections, and other events.


The library installation examines the use (and abuse) of “isms” by politically-motivated artists and caricaturists to label and deride politicians on the left or right in the 1930s. The depression decade was a time when some Americans questioned the nation’s commitment to the economic status quo, and were confronted politically by a host of Fascist, Socialist, and Communist demagogues vying for their votes and allegiances.



The Wolfsonian–FIU


Today’s post will provide a teaser of some of the materials on exhibit, but will also include other materials from The Wolfsonian–FIU library collection not represented in the installation.


Depression-era artists caricatured influential figures such as William Randolph Hearst, Father Charles Coughlin, and Huey Long, portraying them as extremists whose ideological commitments endangered American freedoms.



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


The son of a millionaire and senator from California, William R. Hearst spent much of his inheritance buying and building a media empire with “yellow journalism” newspapers that catered to the working class and German and Irish immigrants—even as they hysterically warned of the dangers of the “yellow peril” of Asian immigration.


The Wolfsonian–FIU


Hearst was twice elected to the House of Representatives and garnered 40 percent of the votes for the presidential nomination on one ballot at the Democratic National Convention in 1904. In the 1920s and 1930s, Hearst squandered his political and financial capital on real estate and art, was hit hard by the Great Depression, and became an ultra-conservative nationalist, critic of FDR’s New Deal, and a vitriolic anti-Communist crusader.



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


In 1934, Hearst visited Berlin, interviewed Adolf Hitler, and negotiated an arrangement whereby he agreed to publish columns by the Nazis without rebuttal. Progressive liberals, socialists, and communists all penned caricatures of Hearst using a visual vocabulary that questioned his professed patriotism and commitment to democracy as disingenuous and established his ties to Nazism by making it appear as though Hearst and Hitler shared the same barber and tailor!


The Wolfsonian–FIU

Charles Edward Coughlin (1891-1979) was better known to his thirty million faithful listeners as “Father Coughlin”—the Roman Catholic priest who made weekly radio broadcasts from his National Shrine of the Little Flower church in Royal Oak, Michigan in the 1930s. While both Hearst and the “radio priest” originally supported the Democratic challenger Franklin D. Roosevelt over incumbent President Herbert Hoover in the 1932 presidential election, both became vehement opponents of his New Deal policies. In 1934 Coughlin organized the National Union for Social Justice with a platform demanding radical monetary reforms, calling for the nationalization of major industries and railroads, and advocating on behalf of the working class. His radio broadcasts regularly excoriated banking interests using anti-Semitic rhetoric, attacked Socialism and Communism as unchristian, and even expressed support for some of the policies of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini and German dictator Adolf Hitler.



The Wolfsonian–FIU



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

While Hearst, Coughlin, and other right wing demagogues used their considerable influence in the print and radio media to attack President Roosevelt as dangerously left of center, the Democratic politician and populist crusader Huey Long challenged FDR for not going far enough. Huey Long had assumed near dictatorial power in Louisiana as that state’s governor and senator, but after campaigning for FDR in the southern states during the 1932 election, he founded a “Share the Wealth” movement as he turned his attention towards the next cycle of presidential elections.



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Loan



While an assassin’s bullet put an early end to Huey Long’s life and presidential ambitions in 1935, Father Coughlin, Reverend Gerald L. K. Smith, and Dr. Francis Townsend—an advocate of an old age pension scheme—took up Huey’s mantle and collectively campaigned against the Democratic incumbent.






Conservatives and right wing critics recognized the power of red-baiting, and in the 1930s sought to paint President Roosevelt as a “Red Fascist” and to depict his New Deal as “creeping Socialism.”




The Wolfsonian–FIU

A political flyer produced by the Republican National Committee in the lead up to the 1936 elections used a photographic illustration of a baby to imply that the Democratic president aspired to no less than dictatorship.


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


Thankfully, such hysterical claims and hyperbolic rhetoric as was typical of the 1930s has since fallen out of favor and ceased to play a role in 21st century American presidential electioneering!

The Subtle Beast, or, Views of Pakistan Past from the Wolfsonian-FIU Library

•August 10, 2016 • Leave a Comment

Today’s post comes to you courtesy of Sharf Associate Librarian, Rochelle Pienn. Ms. Pienn has been cataloging and preparing a large number of original photograph albums in the Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection for digitization. Here is her report on one such recently catalogued photograph album. 

Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing at a hospital in Quetta, Pakistan this week. According to The Washington Post, the terrorist group emerged from the historically dangerous border between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

First responders and volunteers transport an injured man away from the scene of a bomb blast outside a hospital in Quetta

First responders and volunteers transport an injured man away from the scene of a bomb blast outside a hospital in Quetta, Pakistan August 8, 2016. REUTERS/Naseer Ahmed

This contentious region, replete with tribal wars, sires contemporary strife that captures the world’s attention. Its past, evident in original photograph albums in the Jean S. and Frederic Sharf Collection at the Wolfsonian-FIU Library, reveals long-ago events equally characterized by military conflict. The haunting black and white silver gelatin prints contain elements of precognition on today’s state of affairs.


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

In the 1930s a “T. Fuller,” member of the Royal Signal Corps attached to the Peshawar Brigade and in the British 1st Indian Division Signals, compiled this album documenting the Mohmand Operations.


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

The British fought the Afghan Wars against various insurrections in Waziristan, Balochistan, and Afghanistan, and now sought to maintain dominance along the Khyber Pass to protect key roads.


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

The military encountered death and destruction through an unexpected enemy: Mother Nature. The 1935 Quetta earthquake came swiftly and annihilated infrastructure.


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

 It was the deadliest earthquake in the region on record until the 21st century, with approximately 50,000 casualties. Soon more casualties were to be had, however.


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

With not atypical gallows humor of a young soldier, Fuller shows the virtual uncontested victory of his unit. Advanced artillery included tanks and guns, which drove Pashtun warriors out of the unchanging stark mountains.


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

A broad range of official personnel took part in the mission.




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

 The unofficial mascot cuddled with comrades.


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

The camera immortalized the beauty of the local people.



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


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

Fuller closes the album with a satirical and war-weary ditty. For more close-ups of historical Pakistan, you’re invited to peruse the visual stories provided by original photograph albums in the Jean S. and Frederic Sharf Collection at the Wolfsonian-FIU Library. On the fictional account of a Pakistani American in the urban nightmare of contemporary New York City, enjoy this quick but compelling clip from HBO’s The Night Of.

Havana, Cuba, Yesterday and Today

•August 8, 2016 • 1 Comment

I recently returned from a two and one half week trip to Cuba, after having spent the last nine months immersed in the island’s past as I taught an undergraduate course on the U.S-Cuba relationship in film and history at Florida International University and curated with Rosa Lowinger a Cuba-themed exhibition at The WolfsonianFIU. Having spent so much time researching and selecting items for Promising Paradise: Cuban Allure, American Seduction, I was excited about having the opportunity to actually travel to Cuba and to see and experience some of those things I had only read about or seen in film. Today’s blog post will provide a brief look at things as they were in the period 1919 to 1959, and things as they are in 2016, starting first with Havana’s iconic seaside drive, the Malecón and El Prado street.


The WolfsonianFIU, Vicki Gold Levi Collection


Photographed and recorded by the author


The WolfsonianFIU, Gift of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca


Photographed by the author

Nineteen-nineteen was an important date in the history of U.S.-Cuba relations. Sugar, which dominated the Cuban economy since the earliest colonial times well into the mid-twentieth century, experienced such a hike in prices during the First World War, that it is referred to as the “Dance of the Millions.” In 1919, sugar prices fell precipitously, so that wartime fortunes were lost overnight. Consequently, the Cuban government sought to diversify the economy by passing a tourist bill legalizing gambling to encourage wealthy American tourists—no longer taking their vacations in war-ravaged Europe—to spend their money in Cuba instead. The passage of Prohibition in the United States that same year also encouraged thirsty Americans to visit the island of rumba, rum, and roulette.


The WolfsonianFIU, Vicki Gold Levi Collection


The WolfsonianFIU, Gift of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca

The Gran Casino Nacional reopened in the exclusive Marianao neighborhood in 1928, with extensive renovations provided by New York architects Schultz and Weaver and interior decorator Renee Lewis. The palatial casino, which featured a first class restaurant, a spacious dance hall, and beautiful terraces, was frequented by Havana high society and the “best class of tourists,” and it helped establish Havana’s reputation as the Monte Carlo of the Caribbean. A fountain set in front of the elegant building was carved by Italian sculptor Aldo Gamba (1881-1944?)—supposedly while serving time in prison for shooting an English woman whom he later married. It was described by Consul Carlton Hurst as having been illuminated by “colored lights playing on the marble figures of the dancing nymphs.” When the Gran Casino closed, Tropicana’s owner, Martín Fox purchased Gamba’s famous Muses’ Fountain and moved it moved to the Tropicana cabaret in 1952, where it still stands, bathed in colored lights.


Photographed by the author

The Tropicana cabaret, originally established in the Havana suburb of Marianao in 1939, went on to become the premier entertainment venue in Havana. It reached its pinnacle of fame in the 1950s largely because of its famous choreographer, Roderico (“Rodney”) Neyra. Rodney, who had cut his teeth choreographing striptease shows at the infamous Shanghai burlesque theater later worked at Club San Souci until lured away by Alberto Ardura with a high-paying, exclusive contract at the Tropicana.


The WolfsonianFIU, Vicki Gold Levi Collection





The WolfsonianFIU, Vicki Gold Levi Collection

The modernist outdoor structures designed by Cuban-born, American-educated architect Max Borges, Jr. also elevated the reputation of the nightclub.


The WolfsonianFIU, Gift of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca

Borges’ glorious glass and concrete Arcos de Cristal (Crystal Arches) and Bajo las Estellas (Under the Stars)—an abstract outdoor structure where showgirls sashay down catwalks among the trees—remain intact. Presently under the direction of Ibrahim González Baldoquín, the club’s outstanding revues deservingly continue to attract tourists to the cabaret.




Photographed by the author

If Cuban musicians, performers, and rhythms were—and remain—important attractions drawing Americans to the island, Cuban rum was an especially important lure in the period of U.S. Prohibition (1919-1933). In the pre-Castro era, the BacardÍ family’s rum business was the biggest home-grown industrial enterprise on the island. Rodríguez, R. Fernández and J. Menéndez designed an Art Deco office tower in Old Havana to house the company’s headquarters. Constructed of reinforced concrete with a glazed terracotta exterior, the Edificio Bacardí was erected in only three hundred days in 1930. Its belfry tower, topped by an ornamental bat—the company’s logo—made it Cuba’s tallest building at that time.


The WolfsonianFIU, Vicki Gold Levi Collection

Today, despite the need for some serious conservation treatment, the building still affords some of the best views of old Havana.




Photographed by the author


The WolfsonianFIU, Gift of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca

Although my wife and I stayed with relatives, with family friends, and in casas particulares during our trip to Cuba, we did frequent the beautiful old hotels that once attracted American socialites to the island in the 1920s and 1930s. Our favorite was the historic Hotel Inglaterra, which is beautifully restored and gorgeously decorated inside.


The WolfsonianFIU, Gift of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca




Photographed by the author

From its rooftop bar, the Inglaterra also offers spectacular views of the parapets of the Alicia Alonso Grand Theater,  El Capitolio (the capitol building presently under reconstruction), the tree-line Prado, and glimpses of the Hotel Sevilla-Biltmore, and El Morro Castle in the distance.



Photographed by the author

Another hotel that caught our attention was the Hotel Plaza, pictured here in a vintage luggage label and postcard.



The WolfsonianFIU, Vicki Gold Levi Collection

During our visit, the hotel was draped with a flag to mark the upcoming July 26 anniversary.


Photographed by the author

Originally designed by the American architectural firm, McKim, Mead, and White and opening to visitors in 1930, the Hotel Nacional de Cuba has also been restored to its former glory.



The WolfsonianFIU, Vicki Gold Levi Collection

Its beautiful lobby and grounds are open to Cuban residents and tourists alike.


Photographed by the author

While staying at a casa particular in Vedado, we visited the nearby Hotel Habana Libre. The hotel had been jointly designed by the Los Angeles firm Welton Becket & Associates and the Cuban firm Arroyo-Menendez, with the construction work funded with the pension plan of the Cuban Catering Workers’ Union. When it originally opened in March, 1958, it was operated by American Hilton Hotels group and was known as the Habana Hilton—the tallest hotel in all of Latin America.


The WolfsonianFIU, Vicki Gold Levi Collection

I was particularly pleased to see the original exterior mural by the artist Amelia Pelaez in tact. The beautiful mural had been hidden away for years until the hotel’s renovation in the late 1990s.


The WolfsonianFIU, Vicki Gold Levi Collection

I was also eager to see how the infamous Mafioso Meyer Lansky’s Hotel Riveria had fared, so I dragged my poor wife from the Maine monument down the Malecón in the mid-summer sun to the hotel just to be able to compare it to postcards and other historic images of the same.


The WolfsonianFIU, Gift of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca

While the first floor lobby, restaurant, and pool area had been restored, the remainder of the building was still undergoing major renovation and was virtually deserted.


Photographed by the author

In addition to visiting the hotels frequented by American tourists in the 1920s, ’30s, and ’50s, we also spent time at the city’s great landmarks. No stay in Havana would be complete without a stop at the Cemetery of Colon—featured in one of my favorite Cuban films, La Muerte de un Burocrata.


The WolfsonianFIU, Vicki Gold Levi Collection


Photographed by the author

As one would probably expect, not much has changed in the cemetery, except that at the exits the police were stopping cars and looking in the trunks. I assume that they were doing so to ensure that none of the white marble slabs or ornamental ironwork were being stolen, but perhaps they were fans of another film set in Cuba, Juan of the Dead and were making sure none of the inhabitants of the necropolis were trying to escape!


Photographed by the author

We were unable to enter El Capitolio as the capitol building is currently being renovated, but we did get some nice photos of it and the buildings directly across the street from it.


Photographed by the author


The WolfsonianFIU, Vicki Gold Levi Collection


Photographed by the author

Statues of José Martí—the poet and revolutionary inspiration of Cuba’s independence movement—abound in Havana, from the city center of Old Havana to Revolutionary Square.


The WolfsonianFIU, Vicki Gold Levi Collection

With the dome of El Capitolio shrouded in scaffolding as it undergoes conservation, it almost appeared as if Martí were imprisoned within, whereas his giant statue in Revolutionary Square appears dwarfed by the obelisk behind it.



Photographed by the author

But by far the strangest assemblage of statuary we saw was a menagerie of busts resting on the porch of a house in Vedado!


Photographed by the author

As my father worked for many years as a union representative for “Ma Bell”—in the days when there was only one telephone company—my wife and I paid a visit to the Cuban Telephone Company building which has been turned into a museum.





Throughout the trip, I was impressed by the number of American cars built in the 1950s that were still on the roads today. Cubans have always prided themselves on their automobiles and as soon as the latest models rolled off the assembly lines in Detroit, they appeared on the streets and highways of Cuba.


The WolfsonianFIU, Vicki Gold Levi Collection


The WolfsonianFIU, Gift of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca

 Despite having no access to spare parts for more than fifty years, Cubans have creatively and resourcefully managed to keep many of these antiques running. Many collectives look like they’ve been in service for as long as they have; others used for personal transportation or as taxis for tourists look pristine and new.



Photographed by the author

We mostly drove around in a “Mosquito”—our host’s affectionate nickname for the hat-shaped cars manufactured in Moscow and exported to Cuba.


Photographed by the author

Our host regularly spent between an hour and an entire day making major repairs on the vehicle before, during, and after each road trip.


Photographed by the author

For much of our time in Cuba, I was determined to see and experience the island like a native. Every so often, however, we gave in to the urge to make the pilgrimage to such touristy spots as Sloppy Joe’s bar and the Hemingway haunt, El Floridita. After walking the streets of Habana Vieja at the height of the summer sun, it was a relief to sip down a cool and refreshing mojito or frozen daiquiri.





The WolfsonianFIU, Vicki Gold Levi Collection


Right next door to Sloppy Joe’s in old Havana was a wonderful shop named Memorias where I was able to purchase an issue of Conrado Walter Massaguer’s Social magazine from 1937 and few other ephemeral items to donate to The Wolfsonian museum.


Photographed by the author


What will stick in my memory the most from this trip, however, is the music of the streets: the “alarm-clock” roosters rousing me from my sleep and the songs of the street vendors.


Photographed by the author

I will also remember fondly the music of contemporary  Cuban performers who continue to provide live entertainment in the restaurants, bars, and public squares of Cuba as their predecessors did in the pre-Castro era.

SONY DSCPainting of the Cuban all-girl group, Anacaona by Oscar Garcia Rivera (1915-1971), on loan to   The Wolfsonian-FIU for the exhibition, Promising Paradise. Image courtesy of

We also  had the great pleasure of meeting in Matanzas, Cuba with the last surviving member of the all-girl orchestra, Anacaona, originally founded by Chuchito Castro and her sisters in the 1930s.


Adneris Canova not only reminisced with us about her experiences performing with the group but she even graced us with two songs!


Photograph by author

Back in Havana, we had met with Georgia Aguirre, group bassist and leader of reconstituted Anacaona orchestra, a fourteen-woman group playing popular contemporary music. They are known in Cuba as ‘Las Mulatisimas del Sabor.’


 Photograph by author

We also had the pleasure of listening to a host of musicians performing live in restaurants and in the streets of Havana, and watching Afro-Cuban dancers at the Museum of Carnaval before flying out of Santiago de Cuba.




Videos and photograph by author

Anyone living in or passing through Miami Beach between now and August 21st can see more materials concerning Cuban music and culture at the exhibit, Promising Paradise: Cuban Allure, American Seduction at The Wolfsonian museum.

The Heyday for Hydroelectric Dams: A Wolfsonian Reflection on the Anniversary of the Construction of the Hoover Dam

•July 7, 2016 • Leave a Comment


On this day in 1930, construction began on the Boulder (later renamed Hoover) Dam. The idea for a great dam originated as early as 1902 with an engineer working for the Bureau of Reclamation. Plans based on his report called for construction to begin in 1922 on a colossal dam that would control flooding and soil erosion, generate electricity, and create a reservoir of water for use by numerous cities and communities.


The Boulder Dam’s biggest political advocate, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover, had to work tirelessly to build consensus and negotiate interstate water rights and claims on the Colorado River, and then to patiently build support for enacting bills in the House and Senate. Congressional approval for the project finally came in 1928, and then President Hoover helped forged the Colorado River Compact in 1929. Construction began the following year on a project that would employ 21,000 men working ceaselessly for five years to construct the world’s largest dam of its day. Amazingly enough, the dam contractors not only completed construction two years ahead of schedule, but also millions of dollars under the projected budget.


Dam construction served the additional boon of employing tens of thousands of men at the height of the Great Depression. Ironically, when Senator George Norris won passage of a bill in Congress aiming to dam the Tennessee River Valley along the model of the federal dam at Muscle Shoals, Alabama, President Hoover vetoed it as “socialistic.”

After Franklin Roosevelt defeated Hoover in the presidential election of 1932, he happily signed the Tennessee Valley Authority congressional charter into action. The TVA was responsible for building dozens of federally-funded and operated hydroelectric dams in the Tennessee Valley, including the Douglas, Cherokee, and Norris dams.





xx1990_2486_000- Cherokee-TVA

Another New Deal agency, the Public Works Administration was also responsible for the creation of other hydroelectric dam projects such as the Bonneville Power and Navigation Dam in Oregon, the Fort Peck Dam in Montana, the Grand Coulee Dam in Washington state, and the Pensacola Dam in Oklahoma across the country.



So Rare as a Day in June, or, an RBMS Reception at the Wolfsonian-FIU

•July 5, 2016 • Leave a Comment

This past June 24th, The Wolfsonian-FIU held a reception for Rare Book and Manuscript Section attendees of the Association of College and Research Libraries, whose preconference met in Coral Gables. Guests were invited to a guided tour of our current exhibition, Promising Paradise: Cuban Allure, American Seduction, and a chance to see a display of highlights from our rare book and special collections library selected by Sharf Associate Librarian Rochelle Pienn and Associate Librarian Nicolae Harsanyi. Here are their respective reports on a representative item from the display:

The Rare Book and Manuscript Section (RBMS) of the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL), a division of the America Library Association (ALA), annually organizes a Preconference to ALA’s main conference. This year the RBMS Preconference took place in historic Coral Gables, hosted by the University of Miami and anchored at the Biltmore Hotel. Approximately four hundred rare book librarians and archivists from prestigious universities, research institutions, and top museums around the country (along with established rare book and manuscript dealers) attended. With a theme of “Opening Doors to Collaboration, Outreach and Diversity,” programming and presentations reflected the multi-cultural aspects of local special collections materials.


Historic Washington Storage Company. Photo credit: Walter Smalling Jr., Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, HABS, Reproduction number HABS FLA,13-MIAM,5–80

For RBMS participants enjoying an extra day in the Florida sunshine post-preconference, The Wolfsonian-FIU held a happy hour reception and extended courtesy admission to the galleries. Chief Librarian and exhibition curator Francis Luca provided free guided tours of Promising Paradise: Cuban Allure, American Seduction, while Associate Librarian Nicolae Harsanyi and Sharf Associate Librarian Rochelle T. Pienn arranged special library materials displays. Visitors included Lee Viverette of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Kevin Repp of the Beinecke at Yale, Cherry Williams of the Lilly Library in Indiana, Daria Wingreen-Mason of the Smithsonian Libraries, Michael Weintraub of Michael R Weintraub Inc. in New York, along with other accomplished rare book professionals.

 TC778.P44 1885_000Cover

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

This 1885 original photograph album of Panama was reviewed with great interest by RBMS guests. This past weekend, the newly expanded Panama Canal opened to commercial trade, allowing for monolithic modern ships to pass through. The antique albumen photographs from this gem in the Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection at The Wolfsonian-FIU library show a rudimentary landscape from the past.

 TC778.P44 1885_009SanPab

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

At this stage of construction, the water seemed more fitting for kayaks and canoes than cruise ships.

 TC778.P44 1885_013Canoe

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

Workers on the Canal construction were largely natives or poor laborers recruited from the Bahamas, Jamaica, and other Caribbean islands.

 TC778.P44 1885_015FirstWorkers

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

TC778.P44 1885_008Rudim

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

The French efforts to build the Canal would be overwhelmed by engineering challenges presented by the nearly impassable jungle, disease that brought pain and death, a large labor turnover (for those who survived), and out of control spending.

TC778.P44 1885_022Arbit

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

In the end, workers and managers both suffered during France’s unsuccessful attempt to build the Panama Canal.

 TC778.P44 1885_026LAST

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

Our visitors also viewed a copy of Owen Jones’s Grammar of Ornament (1856), a monumental folio work and a remarkable tour de force of chromolithography.



Jones opens the review of ornamental motifs with a chapter on the ornament of “Savage Tribes.”  In spite of the demeaning stereotyping evident in the wording, Jones recognized the merit of the designs developed by these peoples, and emphasized that such designs were the result of instincts and aims common to all people of the world.




The plates for the “Savage Tribes” chapter were also important in that it was the first time that such images had been published at a time when “primitive” art and ornament were still regarded as backward and uncivilized.



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