Red and Black: Revolution in Soviet Propaganda Graphics

•May 2, 2018 • Leave a Comment

Today’s post comes to you courtesy of associate librarian, Nicolae Harsanyi, our resident expert on Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. Dr. Harsanyi put together an installation showcasing the red and black experimental Constructivist graphics deployed by the new Socialist state before Stalin imposed Socialist Realism as the only legitimate style. Here is his report:

On Saturday, May 5, curator Jon Mogul will conduct a tour for museum members of Constructing Revolution: Soviet Propaganda Posters from Between the World Wars, the most recent exhibition opened at The Wolfsonian–FIU. A complementary installation about Soviet graphics in the 1920s and early 1930s can be viewed in the library foyer.

Among the most significant movements to emerge in post-revolutionary Russia was Constructivism, which enlisted artists in the project of building a new classless society. The concept of “artist-constructor” defined the relationship between the artist’s work and society. Constructivists applied key principles of the artistic avant-garde—abstraction, the machine aesthetic, and mass production, for example—to the practical design of living and working environments and everyday objects. Since it reflected the social and political purposes of the government, Constructivism became emblematic of Soviet propaganda art. The agitational experience the artists gained through their involvement in the formulation and construction of a new socialist culture transpires in the graphic arts of the 1920s and early 1930s.

Published in 1925, Iskusstvo v bytu [Art in everyday life], a portfolio of 36 plates, provided instructions on how to “construct” various public environments (decorations for communal reading rooms, theater sets, signs for street demonstrations, clothing) as a way to engage directly with the people and convey the symbols defining the new Communist society. Well-known artists and designers, such as Vera Mukhina, Vladimit Akhmet’ev, Anton Lavinskii, and Nadezhda Lamonova, contributed to this portfolio.







Artists were enlisted to illustrate publications dealing with official initiatives to decorate public spaces on various festive events. This booklet provided suggestions for ornamentation occasioned by the 10th anniversary of the October revolution:



One of the prominent Constructivist artists was El Lissitzky [Lazar Markovich Lissitzky, 1890–1941].  He had the unusual distinction of being a key member of both the Russian and Western European avant-gardes. His designs incorporated basic geometrical figures and a limited color palette. Published in 1922, Pro dva kvadrata [About two squares] is a children’s book about a black square and a red square that fly to earth. For Lissitzky they symbolized the superiority of the new Soviet order (the red square) over the old (the black square).



Lissitzky’s innovations in graphic and book design are strikingly visible in Dlia golosa [For the voice], a 1923 project which comprised 13 poems by Russian Futurist poet Mayakovsky. These poems were meant to be read aloud, and Lissitzky designed a thumb index with titles to help the reader locate a desired verse. He also designed title pages for each of the poems, constructing images by combining typefaces of various sizes printed in red and black.




Stage sets and costume design remained principal domains the Constructivist artists strove to innovate. Adopting the angularity of Cubism, they reconfigured the stage along geometric designs. A good sense of this is conveyed by the illustrations included in the album published in 1929, Anatol’ Petryts’kyi : teatral’ni stroi [Anatol Petrytskyi : theater costume]:






Satire was an important tool employed by the official propaganda that aimed to persuade the population to embrace the tenets of Bolshevik ideology. One of main targets of the party line was religion, associated with the old capitalist and tsarist order that needed to be uprooted, destroyed, and replaced by a new society based on the values derived from labor. Caricatures and cartoons by famous poster artists, like Dimitri Moor and Viktor Deni, were published in the satirical magazine Bezbozhnik u stanka [Atheist at the lathe].





The drive to transform public spaces by way of new architectural projects or ideologically charged messages found echoes in the efforts of the Constructivists to fuse the technical and the artistic. Because of the scarcity of material means that characterized the Soviet economy in the 1920s, however, daring architectural designs survive today only as small-scale models or sketches. Vladimir Tatlin (1885–1953) is mainly known for his design of the Monument to the Third International. Projected as a structure of iron, glass, and steel, taller than the Eiffel Tower, it consisted of twin spirals within which three building blocks would revolve at different speeds (yearly, monthly, daily). The tower was never built.



Iakov Chernikhov (1889–1951) was a Constructivist architect and graphic designer whose books situate him among the most innovative artists and craftsmen of his time. He elaborated various Constructivist situations that evolve from simple geometrical forms to complex architectural combinations, with the machine form as the embodiment of Constructivist principles in their purest form. He is also known as “the Russian Piranesi” for his fantasy drawings. The color plates at the back of the volume published in 1933, Arkhitekturnye fantazii : 101 kompozitsiia v kraskakh, 101 arkhitekturnaia miniatiura [Arhitectural fictions : 101 coloured prints, 101 architectural miniatures], capture the interplay of architecture, painting, and interior and graphic design. The seeds of his fantasies, however, never had a chance of germinate in the Soviet Union: Stalin’s repressive regime, which effectively put an end to Constructivism in the 1930s, favored a banal architecture based on monumental classicism and Socialist Realism.





There will be a Library Salon on July 10th in which participants will be given supplementary explanations on the items included in the installation, and will also have the opportunity to view other library holdings that are relevant to the theme of Constructivism and which could not be exhibited because of limited exhibition space.  Please come and see the works discussed in this post, on view through August 5.


A Transatlantic Voyage to the “Ocean State”

•April 18, 2018 • Leave a Comment


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

At the generous behest of our board member, Thomas Ragan, Wolfsonian curator Silvia Barisione and I traveled to Providence, Rhode Island this past weekend to attend a lecture by ocean liner aficionado Stephen Lash, to tour and explore the collections of the Ship History Center in Warwick, and to enjoy an ocean liner-themed dinner event. Stepping off the plane and out of the terminal, we were greeted by snowflakes and freezing temperatures.


If the outside air was more than chilly on this spring day in New England, our reception inside the Ship History Center could not have been more warm and cordial.


Framed posters of Grace Line and other steamship companies line the walls of the museum, and there are impressive models of ships and liners, including one of Robert Fulton’s North River Steamboat, later christened the Clarmont.



Fulton’s first commercially successful steamboat carried passengers from New York City 150 miles upstream to the state capital of Albany in 1807. The Wolfsonian–FIU museum has a number of artifacts documenting the 1909 Hudson-Fulton Celebrations.



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection




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

Before the guest lecture scheduled for later that Friday evening, Silvia and I had the privilege of being guided through the library and archives and invited to open boxes and drawers to get a sense of the depth of the collection amassed over many decades by the contributions of SSHSA members and subscribers. Afterwards, we listened to an informative and entertaining presentation delivered by Stephen Lash on the art and design of the French Line.


Mary Payne (Past president, SSHSA board), Stephen Lash, and Captain Dave Pickering (SSHSA board member)

Photograph courtesy of Aimee Bachari, Education Coordinator, Web Developer SSHSA

Many of his projected images highlighted the beautiful Art Deco interiors of the great French passenger ship, the Normandie, also documented in brochures, plans, and books in our own collection.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection








The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Thomas C. Ragan

On view in The Wolfsonian’s permanent galleries are two colored laquer, gold-leaf, and plaster bas relief panels designed by Jean Dunand. Titled, La Chasse [The Hunt], our pair are duplicates of those which adorned the men’s smoking room aboard the Normandie.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of The Frederick and Patricia Supper Foundation, Palm Beach, FL

The following evening, we had the chance to mix and mingle with more than a hundred ocean liner aficionados, board members, VIP guests, archivists, curators, conservators, and other professionals from other maritime museums at the SSHSA’s Third Annual Ocean Liner Dinner and fundraising auction honoring the SS Normandie and the French Line.


Appropriately enough, the dinner menu for the event was patterned on that served aboard the luxurious French Line’s Normandie, and SSHSA president Don Leavitt and executive director, Matthew Schulte provided a presentation using historic footage and images of the ship projected onto a large screen in the ballroom.


In describing the inaugural transatlantic voyage of the ship whose prow and hull had been specially designed to minimize drag and a powerful steam quadruple-screw turbo-electric engine to maximize speed, the presenters updated regularly updated the guests with average speed estimates as the ship raced to successfully break the crossing record.



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Dinner was followed by a live auction hosted by Lite Rock 105 radio personality Steve Donovan. Though outbid by the “high rollers” in the room, Silvia and I contentedly returned to Miami with fond memories, contacts information, our photographs and copies of the wonderful reproduction dinner menus and passenger lists produced for the event.

Normandie Menu Cover

Normandie Menu Page1

Normandie Menu Page2

Normandie SSHSA Cover

Silvia & Frank Dinner Photo

Our thanks again to our gracious hosts at the Steamship Historical Society of America, the staff and board members of the Ship History Center, and to Thomas C. Ragan for encouraging this trip. We hope that the contacts we have made will result in further collaborations as we look toward organizing our own exhibition on ocean liner design.

An Equestrian Gallop on Miami Beach

•April 3, 2018 • Leave a Comment

While bicycling to work today, I stopped for a few minutes as a couple of stunning horses emerged from a gigantic tent just before the 22nd Street entrance to Miami Beach. The horses and riders are preparing for the Longines Global Champions Tour, the world’s premier show-jumping series. This is actually the fourth year in which the city of Miami Beach has hosted the Olympic-level equestrian sport.


When I arrived at the museum library after my own (far more mundane) bicycle ride along the boardwalk, I discovered that today also marked the anniversary of the initiation of the Pony Express mail service in 1860. A year and a half before the telegraph and nine years before the first transcontinental railroad connected California to the Mid-West, Pony Express riders carried news and provided mail service between the Missouri and the West Coast, an effort especially critical as the threat of civil war loomed on the horizon. The Pony Express established a string of 100 relay stations covering the 1,800-mile stretch between St. Joseph, Missouri and Sacramento, California, had a stable of nearly 500 horses, and employed 80 riders to deliver the mail. The first Westbound rider to pioneer the route arrived with his mail packet on April 13, 10 days after having set out; his Eastbound counterpart finished his journey two days later. While the Pony Express became one of the iconic legends of the American West and the subject of many Western movies, it ultimately proved unprofitable and short-lived, and was made obsolete and supplanted only nineteen months after it began by the Pacific Telegraph line. Even as the railroads took over transcontinental travel and mail service, as late as the 1939 New York World’s Fair, even that industry paid tribute to the pioneer spirit of the express riders.


Honoring Women and Heckling Hitler

•March 27, 2018 • Leave a Comment

What do a Florida International University history class, a Miami Beach Crypt Cracking event, and Women’s History month all have in common? Each of these have a connection to The Wolfsonian–FIU, where student researchers, museum members and visitors, and our online blog fans can juxtapose and make curious connections between such seemingly disparate things as objects and artifacts lampooning der Führer and others hailing the contributions of women to victory over the Axis.


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

In February and March, The Wolfsonian–FIU Library hosted forty Florida International University students enrolled in Professor Terrence G. Peterson’s European History courses on “Nazism and the Holocaust” and “World War II.” Groups of students were assigned to specific archives or topics, including historical artifacts investigating gender roles in the Second World War.


Some of the students made use of Second World War veterans’ memorabilia documenting the days when the beach served as an Army Air Forces training camp and Miami’s version of “Rosie the Riveter” helped keep ’em healthy and “Keep ’em Flying.”




The Wolfsonian–FIU, Judith Berson-Levinson Collection

These materials were collected by the veteran celebration organizer, Judith Berson-Levinson for an exhibition titled Sand in their Boots, which she later organized as an archive and donated to our museum.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Judith Berson-Levinson Collection

Other students focused on photographs taken by Mel Victor of the campaigns in the Pacific Theater;




The Wolfsonian–FIU, The Mel Victor WWII Pacific Theater Collection, gift of Donna Victor

…materials preserved and donated by Aristotle Ares documenting his service aboard the USS Yorktown carrier stationed in the Pacific;





…morale-boosting items from the Victory Gold Levi Collection of home-front ephemera;




The Wolfsonian–FIU, Victory Gold Levi Collection

…photographs, maps, and documents from the Thomas Barrett Archive documenting the air war over North Africa and Italy;



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Thomas Barrett Archive, gift of Susannah Troner

…a large collection of broadsides printed by the German military and Italian Fascists, as well as by the Allied Army forces liberating and occupying the Italian peninsula;




The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

…anti-Axis propaganda leaflets and novelty works designed by the U.S. Government for use in neutral and occupied territories, and envelopes stamped with humorous anti-Axis messages for the home front;




The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Loan

…anti-Allied propaganda produced by the Nazis and Fascists in support of Mussolini’s Republic of Salò;…



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

…children’s propaganda books (many donated by Pamela K. Harer) targeting younger audiences on all sides of the conflict;




The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gifts of Pamela K. Harer

…and a variety of historical artifacts (including broadsides, posters, booklets, portfolio plates, postcards, and personal correspondences) dealing with women and the war.



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gifts of Leonard A. Lauder


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Purchase


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Martijn F. Le Coultre


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf

Some of the students homed in on a set of personalized illustrated postcards and letters written by a young schoolgirl to her brother in the service. These notes not only reveal the attitudes of young persons on the home front, but are probably an example of how patriotic children were encouraged to correspond with servicemen to keep up their morale.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Dolores Trenner

No sooner had the librarians re-shelved these materials than we received a request for items ridiculing the Nazi leader, Adolf Hitler, for our Into the Stacks public program headed by Crypt Cracker Nathaniel Sandler. Wolfsonian curator Shoshana Resnikoff pulled out a couple of satirical paintings by Alexander Z. Kruse: the first depicting Kaiser Wilhelm II and Adolf Hitler as a kangaroo and joey; the second depicting der Führer and Il Duce as clowns who conversations over the Espanolaphone were turning Spain into a graveyard during the civil war, 1936–39.



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gifts of Mrs. Kathreen Kruse, in memory of Martin Alexander Kruse

She also found such comical objects as the “Hotzi Notzi,” a ceramic Hitler pincushion for patriotic women’s sewing needs on the home front.


To complement these objects, the librarians pulled a number of paper items from the ephemera collection also caricaturing Herr Hitler, including a cardboard version of a Hitler pincushion, a calendar with boot strings to hang Hitler and Mussolini in effigy, a matchbook requiring the user to pull out der Führer’s “hair” to strike a match.





The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Sandler and Resnikoff came up to the library to make a selection of materials satirizing Hitler to be presented to the program’s participants. While Sandler was amazed by some of humor making Hitler the “butt” of the joke, Shoshana was especially drawn to a set of humorous postcards focusing on the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (or WAACs).


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Jeffrey G. Fischer and Michael Smith

While one might suppose that focusing on Hitler could be a downer or a drag, who wouldn’t be uplifted by seeing caricatures of the brunette leader of the blonde master race in drag!


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Martijn F. Le Coultre

If such images weren’t enough to bring on the giggles, there were also sheet music covers depicting Donald Duck pelting der Führer in the face with a tomato, and postcards which showed him literally getting his butt kicked by an Aryan-looking American woman in uniform!


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Charles L. McCarney, Jr.


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


As Shoshana noted in her presentation, there was some contemporary criticism leveled against the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) playing on the fear that donning a military uniform threatened to make women more masculine (or to emasculate men). To allay and counter such concerns, many of the series of comical WAAC postcards illustrated by Max Halverson (1924–2006) emphasized the women’s short skirts and shapely legs, poked fun at female drivers, or depicted them doing non-threatening domestic chores or using domestic objects like a rolling pin to take down Hitler.





The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gifts of Jeffrey G. Fischer and Michael Smith

And in keeping with the Women’s history theme for March, I thought I’d end today’s post with the message printed on the following WAAC postcard.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Jeffrey G. Fischer and Michael Smith


Cruising the French Caribbean aboard the S.S. Wolfsonian

•March 7, 2018 • Leave a Comment

The Wolfsonian’s rare book and special collections library opened its doors to the public and provided tours all day Friday and Saturday, March 2 and 3 as part of the Tout-Monde Festival, the first Caribbean contemporary arts festival in the United States. The event was organized by Vanessa Selk, attachée culturelle et éducative, and sponsored by the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in the USA, in close partnership with the France Florida Foundation for the Arts.


The Tout-Monde (or “Whole World”) concept was originally introduced by Edouard Glissant (1928–2011), a Martinique-born philosopher and poet who dedicated his life and art to recognizing and celebrating the diversity of peoples and cultures, and who believed that “opening up to the Caribbean is opening up to the world.”


As part of the Tout-Monde celebrations, the Wolfsonian librarians organized a display in the main reading room of Caribbean materials pulled from our extensive collections of printed cruise line and tourism literature.


The public was invited and encouraged to explore rare children’s books with colorful pochoir illustrations depicting Columbus’ landfall in the Caribbean;


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

…rare aluminum-foil embossed books, brochures, cutaways, and deck plans of the great French luxury liners: the Normandie, L’Atlantique, and the Ile de France;





The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

…children’s coloring books, original watercolors, and postcards depicting Martinique, Guadalupe, and French Guiana, published in tandem with various colonial and international exhibitions in Paris;



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


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Loan

…and portfolio plates with photographic images of the bas-relief façades of buildings and pavilions representing the French Caribbean at the Exposition Coloniale Internationale held in Paris in 1931.



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Purchased with funds donated by Vicki Gold Levi


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Loan


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection


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


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Loan

The display and tours drew 114 visitors into the library over the two-day open house, including visits by the French Consul General Clément Leclerc and Cultural Ambassador of the festival and former Minister of Justice of France Christiane Taubira, who took particular interest in the materials depicting French Giuana.


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

Cruise ship aficionados and library donors Thomas Ragan and Elise Grace Holloway also stopped by for the festivities, the latter bearing gifts of some Grace Line stamped silverware.


The majority of interwar and post-Second World War, Caribbean-related items spread out on the tables were brochures and advertisements drawn from the Mitchell Wolfson, Jr., Laurence Miller, Thomas Ragan, Elise Grace Holloway, Andrew and Roni Smulian, and John Henry collections of ocean liner and cruise industry promotional materials.





The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Loan

The display included brochures that packaged first-class accommodations aboard freighters and cargo ships, before the advent of container ships made them commercially obsolete.



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Laurence Miller Collection

Many brochures focused on the ships themselves, emphasizing their size, amenities, and the comforts of first-class travel.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Thomas C. Ragan Collection


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Laurence Miller Collection


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Bill and Elise Grace Holloway Collection

Others sold passengers on travel to the Caribbean by emphasizing encounters with the “exotic,” employing the tropes of tropical palms and images of beautiful island women on brochure and menu covers.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Laurence Miller Collection

Some employed stereotypes of smiling, dark-skinned islanders, racist caricatures all too common to the era.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Laurence Miller Collection

Still other brochures played with the Caribbean’s history of corsairs and pirates to attract tourists to the West Indies.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Marco Island Historical Society


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Laurence Miller Collection

But whatever the strategy deployed to encourage tourists to book passage to the region, more often than not it was the balmy climate, aqua-blue waters, natural beauty, and diversity of the Caribbean community noted by Edouard Glissant that kept them coming and that continues to generate interest today.


Celebrating Black History Month

•February 28, 2018 • Leave a Comment

As we mark off the final days of Black History Month, this week’s blog post will focus on a related Wolfsonian event and new acquisitions dealing with African-American history.

On January 26, The Wolfsonian–FIU Library teamed up with Miami writer, bibliophile, and Bookleggers director Nathaniel Sandler for an all-new Into the Stacks program organized in conjunction with Sandler’s Knight Foundation-funded project, Crypt Cracking. To kick off the inaugural session, Nathaniel and I agreed to focus on the work of a single, lesser-known artist, Lynd Ward (1905–1985).


Ward, who realized as a young boy that he was destined to be an artist because his last name spelled backwards reads “draw,” rose to prominence during the Great Depression as a pioneer of the American graphic novel. Having traveled to Germany in the aftermath of the First World War, Ward was influenced by German Expressionism, silent film, and woodcut printing. His own first wordless novel, a Faustian tale titled God’s Man, included 139 captionless woodblock prints, and was so popular that in spite of being released a week before the Stock Market Crash in October 1929, it was reprinted three times by January 1930, and sold more than 20,000 copies over the next four years.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

As a committed Socialist reformer, the five additional wordless novels he published during the dark years of the Depression all drew attention to issues of economic inequity and social injustice. Ward also illustrated hundreds of children’s books—many written by his wife, May McNeer, and other works written to call attention to racial prejudice and to promote civil rights.


In 1933, for example, Lynd Ward provided the frontispiece and dust jacket illustration for Robert Gessner’s Upsurge, a collection of revolutionary and protest poetry focusing on African-Americans.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Lynd Ward also put his artistic talent to work in the service of progressive left causes such as the American League Against War and Fascism. His illustrations for that popular front organization’s annual artistic calendar depict blacks and whites united in the fight for economic and social equality.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Patricia Frisella


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of the August Mecklem Estate

Ward also provided all of the illustrations for Hildegarde Hoyt Swift’s North Star Shining, a book for young adults that sought to describe the “sometimes tragic, often heroic” role played by African-Americans too often omitted in the histories of this era.


The book’s title pays tribute to a reference to Harriet Tubman and her efforts to lead hundreds of runaway slaves to freedom guided solely by the “North Star,” as well as to the title of Frederick Douglass’ anti-slavery newspaper.



Ward’s dramatic paintings illustrate renown and anonymous African-American heroes on each page of verse.



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift made by Francis Xavier Luca, in honor of Wolfsonian museum founder Micky Wolfson, Jr.’s birthday, September 30, 2011

To celebrate Black History Month, I found, purchased, and donated three rare books to The Wolfsonian’s library collection. The first item was a rare study titled The Negro Family in the United States, written by Edward Franklin Frazier, a professor of Sociology at Howard University, originally published by the University of Chicago Press in 1939.


Frazier’s study is considered to be the first comprehensive sociological study of black family life beginning in the colonial era and ending in the Depression decade. In addition to an extensive appendix chock-full of statistical graphs, maps, and charts, the book includes several wonderful—though sadly unattributed—wood or linocut illustrations.






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

The second gift was a novel titled The Darker Brother, written by Bucklin Moon and published by Doubleday, Doran & Company in 1943. The author relates a fictional story of contemporary African-American struggles that touched on the Great Migration of Southern blacks to Northern cities in their search for a better life during the Depression, and their continued encounters with segregation and racism.


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

Similar themes of migration and persistent racial discrimination abound in the third work, Chester B. Himes’ novel, The Third Generation, published more than a decade later.


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

In the wake of serious race riots in Los Angeles, Chicago, Newark, and Detroit, President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed a commission to determine the causes and to propose solutions. After seven months of investigation, a 426-page Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders (or Kerner Report) was released on February 29, 1968, reaching the pessimistic conclusion that the country was “moving toward two societies, on black, one white—separate and unequal.” The report called for desegregation and serious efforts to address institutional racism as it contributed to poverty and unemployment. Amazingly, it became an instant bestseller, purchased by more than two million Americans. On the fiftieth anniversary of the report’s release, it is clear we have a long way to go towards truly solving the issues championed the Civil Rights movement’s pioneers.

Amazing Grace

•February 15, 2018 • Leave a Comment

Today’s blog post comes to you courtesy of Genevieve Rossin, a Florida International University History department graduate student researcher here at The Wolfsonian whose position has been funded through the generosity of museum library supporter and cruise ship line aficionado, Thomas C. Ragan. Ms. Rossin has been processing various cruise-related items to the collection, including a substantial donation of Grace Line materials recently gifted by Elise Grace Holloway and her late brother, William Grace Holloway III. Here is her report: 


As an intern working at The Wolfsonian–FIU, each day seems to present a unique and exciting glimpse into the past as I process everything from advertisements clipped from Time Magazine to cruise line industry brochures, deck plans, and souvenirs. Each artifact plays a role in providing scholars with a more complete historical narrative. Having the opportunity to process, catalogue, and prepare for digitization a substantial new collection of ocean liner materials donated to the museum by Elise Grace Holloway and her brother, William Grace Holloway III, I have come away with a greater understanding of luxury passenger travel in the 20th century. Heir to one of America’s most prominent merchant lines, Elise Grace Holloway gifted enough Grace Line printed ephemera, porcelain, glass, and silverware to The Wolfsonian as to make any ship enthusiast giddy!




The most revealing item in the collection is a 16-page document produced by Grace Line’s Public Relations Department tracing its history back to the 1850s. It is from this newsletter, dated March 20, 1956, that I gained an understanding of Grace Line’s values and the integral role they played in shaping transportation in the Americas. Grace Line’s story begins with the W. R. Grace and the M. P. Grace. These Down Easter ships were known for their speed—outpacing the competition by completing the route from New York to San Francisco in less than the standard four-month time span.


Grace Line built their business through transporting both people and goods between the Americas, and doing it with speed. Although many cruise-line enthusiasts remember Grace Line’s luxurious “Santa” cruise ships, passenger travel only made up 30% of their revenue prior to the 1930s. In their early years, imports and exports dominated Grace Line’s business model, as the company made sizable investments in the textile, lumber, and coffee industries. In fact, the company claimed to have carried most of the lumber to the New York harbor used in the construction of the city’s subway system. To improve their routes and travel times, Grace Line, along with other merchant shipping companies, were early advocates for the United States’ completion of the Panama Canal. With the completion of the canal in 1914,  Grace Line’s very own Santa Clara became one of the first commercial ships to pass through, months before its official opening. The canal remained integral to the success of Grace Line’s routes and was proudly advertised on their brochures and pamphlets well into the 1950s and 1960s.


Although Grace Line ships did carry passengers on many of their early merchant vessels, it was not until 1928—with the passage of the Jones-White Act—that Grace Line shifted their attention to passenger accommodations. The Jones-White Act allowed American merchant companies to obtain ship-construction loans, marine insurance, and long-term mail contracts that helped support domestic shipbuilding and the shipping industry.


With funds acquired through this act, four new Santa ships were built to serve as Grace Line’s earliest fleet of passenger liners. Once again, Grace Line ships were lauded for their speed. The new Santa Clara received plenty of praise from the New York Times after reaching the Panama Canal in less than 5 days after her departure from New York. These new “Santa” ships held upwards of 200 passengers and offered the finest in accommodations. During their voyages in the Western Hemisphere, guests enjoyed deluxe suites with living rooms and private baths; dined and danced in luxurious dining rooms and dance halls; drank cocktails and smoked tobacco products in swank bars and lounges; and swam in outdoor pools.







It was also during this period that Grace Line found it in its best interest to join its newest competitors from the air. In 1928, Grace Line partnered with Pan American Airways to create Pan-American Grace Airways, or Panagra. As part of this agreement, New York-based Grace Line and Miami-based Pan American Airways entered a non-competition clause, which limited Grace Line’s opportunities for growth in South Florida. Panagra flights were coordinated with the arrival and departures of Grace Line’s cruise ships and linked New York to the great coastal cities of South America.



It was not always smooth sailing for Grace Line. In September, 1935, the Santa Barbara collided with the lightship Ambrose off the coast of Staten Island. Despite sustaining three holes in her hull, the Santa Barbara made it safely to the pier in the Hudson River, with none of her passengers hurt.


Perhaps the most intriguing part of Grace Line’s history is its involvement in the Second World War. Even before the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Santa Paula sailed to Dakar on secret orders to transport equipment and able technicians. Grace Line’s ships played crucial roles in the invasion of North Africa and the Normandy landings. Assisting in an Allied victory in Egypt, the Santa Rosa helped deliver tanks while Santa Paula carried troops and equipment to the battlefront. Their efforts were not without loss. The Santa Elena was hit by torpedoes off the coast of Algeria, the Santa Lucia sank off the coast of Morocco, and the Santa Clara was struck by mines on the coast of Normandy. Following the conclusion of the war, Grace Line was applauded for its faithful service and the Santa Rosa and the Santa Paula returned in heroic form.


In the postwar period, Grace Line returned to the world of luxurious cruise line travel. The company remained prominent players in transportation and communication between the Americas until its acquisition by Prudential Line in 1970. Still today, admirers reminisce about the days when the green, white, and black funnels of Grace’s “Santa” ships sailed the sea.