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.


Timing is Everything, or, Rare Panama Canal Views at the Wolfsonian-FIU Library

•June 22, 2016 • Leave a Comment

As Panama prepares to open up its new locks built large enough to accommodate the latest leviathans of seas, our own Sharf Associate Librarian, Rochelle Pienn reflected on some of the historic Panama Canal materials in The Wolfsonian library collection. Here is her report:

This weekend, a newly expanded Panama Canal promises to admit the enormous ships characteristic of contemporary trade and travel. Adversely, other major ports that need to complete renovations in order for the market to benefit from Panama’s efforts will not be ready for larger vessels.


Photo credit: David Brancaccio for Marketplace

The original engineering of the Panama Canal was a colossal undertaking. Imperial nations saw the Isthmus of Panama as an inconvenient strip of land blocking a quick and profitable trade route between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.


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

First Spain and England imagined creating an alternative to the dreaded and deadly Cape Horn. Later, France’s efforts to build the Panama Canal resulted not only in financial failure but also in catastrophic losses of life. Finally, the United States employed American ingenuity—and with the full backing of President Theodore Roosevelt, the Panama Canal was born.


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

The Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection at the Wolfsonian-FIU Library contains unique and rare period materials documenting the initial surveying, building, and the eventual opening of the Panama Canal.

This remarkable album contains gold toned albumen antique photographs of Central America.


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

The album, compiled by an anonymous merchant, predates the turn of the 20th century.


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

It shows images of sparse and undeveloped Panama with initial progress toward the building of the Canal.


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

Progress was impeded by rampant sickness. Yellow fever and malaria patients filled the hospital. Disease was eradicated by the efforts of sanitation officer Colonel William Gorgas (and a million-dollar investment by Teddy Roosevelt towards eliminating infected mosquitos).


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

The author comments on seeing native women from the vantage point of the Panama Railway.


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

F. N. Otis’s book on the Panama Railroad and the Pacific Mail Steamship Company predates the above album by a decade. Without the infrastructure of the railroad, construction of the Canal could not have proceeded.


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

In this engraving, train tracks are visible within the thick jungle.


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

Wolfred Nelson’s work is an 1889 descriptive travelogue.


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

 Nelson acknowledges the railroad’s influence on the landscape.


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

 Once the Panama Canal opened for business, illustrated histories such as Ira Bennett’s 1914 History of the Panama Canal: its construction and builders, became popular publications.


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

The author reminds the reader that the genius of Canal locks and cuts began as imposing ditches.


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

Joseph Pennell’s series of lithographs also focused on the juxtaposition of humanity and gargantuan complex machinery during the engineering of the Canal.


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

Work conditions were dangerous.


The beauty of the unfinished Gatun Lock made for an elegant vista.


The steam shovel was used to clear terrain.


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

For more historic images of the original Panama Canal, The Wolfsonian-FIU Library invites you to peruse the Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection.

















From the United States, to the Philippines, to Tokyo, to Cuba: BAA & NEH Scholars Visit The Wolfsonian–FIU

•June 18, 2016 • 1 Comment

Over the course of the last couple of weeks, The Wolfsonian–FIU hosted two groups of scholarly visitors. The first were American Studies doctoral and postdoctoral candidates participating in the Bayerische Amerika-Akademie (Bavarian American Academy) summer program jointly organized by the Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg and Florida International University. The second group included twenty-nine participants in a National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Summer Institute for College and University Teachers meeting focused on Tokyo: High City and Low City. Under the direction of FIU Professor of Religious Studies and History & Director of Asian Studies, Dr. Steven Heine, and Assistant Professor of Japanese Literature and Culture, Dr. Hitomi Yoshio, the latter group came to The Wolfsonian to review a series of woodblock prints by Koizumi  Kishio (Japanese, 1893-1945)Associate Librarian, Dr. Nicolae Harsanyi, Sharf Associate Librarian, Rochelle Pienn, and I made presentations of specific library materials of interest to the scholars, after which both groups were treated to a guided tour of the museum’s exhibition, Promising Paradise: Cuban Allure, American Seduction.

For the American Studies scholars participating in the Bavarian American Academy, Dr. Harsanyi and I talked about some materials in the library collection targeting or depicting African-Americans in the United States in the ’20s and ’30s. I had pulled some rare materials related to the infamous Scottsboro race trial of the 1930s in which nine boys were unjustly convicted of gang-rape in Alabama. Having assumed custody of the boys’ legal defense, the Communist Party of the United States of America (CPUSA) organized mass demonstrations and prepared a propaganda lino-cut block book for publication as a means of recruiting African-Americans into the Party.


The Wolfsonian holds an original manuscript copy of the book prototype, which includes block print images mounted on craft paper, with hand-written ideas for captions on the opposite page. The book was not published at the time of the trial.




The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Dr. Harsanyi focused on some other materials in the library collection. Here is his report:

I showed our visitors two covers decorated in Art Deco style which both feature African-American figures. On the cover of the June 1929 issue of “Musical Digest,” Mac Harshberger presents a two dimensional image of a dancer-like figure pictured in an upright position bending her knee while her arms twist ready to strike a pair of cymbals.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

The stylized plant to the right of the image is also bending in harmony with the movement of the body and the inner plant contained therein. This powerful movement of both the dancer and the stylized plant is stark contrast with the rigid, static, column-like image of the stylized plant at the left side of the page. The entire composition recalls the famous jazz age dancer Josephine Baker and her poses that electrified the audiences in Paris and all over Europe.



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

On the other hand, the cover designed by Hap Hadley for the 1931 sheet music score by Felix Lewis, “Quit Cryin’ The Blues” incorporates into an Art Deco composition (parallel, regular wavy bands, palms raised in a 90 degrees angle in extension of rectilinear forearms) a stereotypical representation of the head of a crying African-American young male to underline the message of the title of the song.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

This stereotypical image brings to mind the black-face make up worn by Al Jolson, the protagonist of the first sound film, “The Jazz Singer” (1927).


Sharf Associate Librarian Rochelle Pienn also made a presentation on some materials documenting American military participation in the Philippine-American War. Here is her report:

The Jean S. and Frederic Sharf Collection contains rare and unique materials documenting the Philippine-American War, which occurred at the end of the 19thcentury after the Spanish-American War. During that period, colonialism featured prominently in United States’ foreign relations. Bavarian scholars of American Studies had the opportunity to examine period books and original photograph albums produced during this era of nationalism and expansionism in the United States.


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

The 1902 view book, An illustrated and descriptive art collection of America’s New Possessions is possibly the first printed publication released about the Philippine-American War that featured colored photographic reproductions. Frank Tennyson Neely shot images of tanks, soldiers, harbors, villages and natives.


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

 Dramatic scenes depicted the American victory.


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

This shot behind the front lines inferred the proximity of the photographer to the action.


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

Other images captured American cavalry as they passed through a village after a major victory.


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

Natives were often characterized as behind in the advancements of the West, which were described as necessary to produce civilized society.

A hand-assembled original photograph album dated May 26, 1900 reinforced these prevalent racist attitudes. Frank H. Chapman, the album’s compiler, was an American soldier stationed in the Philippines. He identified original albumen prints with written captions.


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

Evidence of U.S. occupation was everywhere.


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

This haunting image shows the author’s edit.


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

The casualties of war were photographed out in the open.


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

In the aftermath of violence, the landscape still provided much beauty.


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

The second group of visitors were interested in our Far East holdings, and particularly in a portfolio of Japanese woodblock prints designed by Koizumi Kishio. I first introduced the scholars to some of the rare Japanese books, periodicals, and ephemera in our collection, including 版画集: 市街戦 (Street fighting), an exceedingly rare block book produced by Japanese Communists in 1930. This block book is intriguingly similar in design and format to that produced by the CPUSA for the Scottsboro trial of the same period.




The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

But the real item of interest for the visitors was a set of block prints from One Hundred Views of Great Tokyo, produced by Koizumi Kishio in the Shōwa Era.


Assistant Registrar Amy Silverman brought the items down to the library for viewing by our guests, which included FIU Assistant Professor of History and Asian Studies, Dr. Amy Bliss Marshall, and FIU Assistant Professor of Chinese Art History, Lidu Yi.

Steven Heine and Lidu Yi took the lead in initiating a dialog about the prints. Lidu Yi was intimately familiar with the artwork as some years earlier she had worked with us in organizing and curating an exhibition of a selection of Koizumi Koshio’s works at the Patrica and Philip Frost Art Museum on the FIU campus in 2014/15,. That exhibit had been titled: Remembering Tokyo, and had included thirty of Koshio’s prints.




During the tours of Promising Paradise, the visitors had the opportunity to see Josephine Baker once more, as she frequently visited Cuba before 1959. A close up of a couple of panels of vintage photographs from the exhibition reveals two photographs of the famous performer.



Those readers visiting or living in the vicinity of Miami can also see Josephine Baker, as well as Celia Cruz, Olga Guillot, Marlon Brando, Cab Calloway, Billy Daniels and a host of other Cuban and American celebrities pictured in vintage photographs on display in the exhibition about the U.S.-Cuba cultural exchange, 1919-1959.


Muhammed Ali’s Passing and Reflections on Boxing and Race Relations

•June 5, 2016 • Leave a Comment


Michael J. Gallagher’s print, “End of the Round”

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

After a three decade bout with Parkinson’s, three-time World Heavyweight Boxing Champion, Muhammed Ali passed away this last Friday. Born in Louisville, Kentucky in 1942, Cassius Marcellus Clay first caught the world’s attention when he won a gold medal in the lightweight division at the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome. Soon afterwards, Clay turned professional, moving to Miami in order to train with Angelo Dundee at the 5th Street Gym in Miami Beach. Clay/Ali became infamous for his poetic and outrageous taunting of his opponents. In 1964, he justified his boastful claims by defeating Sonny Liston in an upset that won him the World Heavyweight Championship title.


Flip Schulke Photograph of Muhammed Ali and Angelo Dundee at the 5th Street Gym, 1961

But it was not only in the boxing ring that Ali won worldwide notoriety. Soon after the Liston fight, he changed his name to Muhammed Ali and publicly revealed his conversion to the Nation of Islam. The announcement generated considerable controversy given the sect’s advocacy of racial separation and rejection of nonviolence in the struggle for racial equality. Ali used his boxing celebrity and eloquence to become a pugnacious advocate for civil rights. In March of 1966, he refused induction into the Armed Forces, stating that he had “no quarrel with them Vietcong,” and maintaining that his conscience wouldn’t permit him to “go shoot my brother, or some darker people, or some poor hungry people in the mud” who had “never call me n****r…” After his conviction for draft evasion, Ali was stripped of his championship title and U.S. passport and denied a boxing license in every state. The Supreme Court finally overturned his conviction in a unanimous decision in 1971, after which he made an incredible comeback.

Ali’s passing had me thinking about the important role played by sports celebrities in confronting racism and in helping to forward the cause of Civil Rights in America—a subject which is explored tangentially in a new library installation, Boxeo y Béisbol: The Cuba-U.S. Sports Exchange.

Boxing & BAseball View4

If Ali was one of the more vocal civil rights advocates in the boxing world, he certainly was neither the first nor the most controversial. The child of former slaves in Texas, Jack Johnson (1878–1946) gained renown as the “Galveston Giant,” winning the heavyweight title in 1908. Many white Americans were bitterly upset that an African-American held the title, and Johnson’s open flouting of “Jim Crow” social conventions made him a target of racist law enforcement. Soon after the suicide of his white socialite wife in September, 1912, Johnson was arrested for violating the Mann Act. Because he supplied his new white fiancé, Lucille Cameron, with a train ticket to see him fight in another state, he was charged with “transporting women across state lines for immoral purposes.” Convicted by an all-white jury, and facing a year and a day prison sentence, Johnson skipped bail and fled the country with Lucille, living in Europe, South America, and Mexico. As Johnson could not return to the United States, a fight to defend his World Heavyweight championship title was arranged at the Oriental Park Racetrack in Havana, Cuba, outside the bounds of American law enforcement. A crowd of 25,000 attended the match on April 5, 1915, which pitted Johnson against Jess Willard. While Johnson won nearly all of the first twenty rounds, he began to tire and lost the match by a knock-out in the 26th. Many white Americans rejoiced in Johnson’s defeat at the hands of the white boxer.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Collection

Even as Adolf Hitler and the Nazis seized power in Germany in 1933, Franklin Roosevelt was inaugurated president in the United States, with his wife, Eleanor, becoming a vociferous advocate of a progressive civil rights agenda. When the German fighter, Max Schmeling defeated African-American boxer, Joe Louis in 1936, Nazi officials bragged that this was proof of their doctrine of Aryan superiority. The African-American athlete, Jesse Owens, helped repudiate the myth of the Aryan master race with his gold medal victories at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

But it was Joe Louis who delivered the knock-out to Hitler’s racist ideology during his rematch against Max Schmeling in 1938. A few weeks before the fight, Louis visited the White House where President Roosevelt met with him and told him, “Joe, we need muscles like yours to beat Germany.” With the Nazi press boasting that Schmeling’s prize money would be used to build tanks in Germany, and with the “whole damned country” depending on him, Louis took down Schmeling in just over two minutes. The match fought at Yankee Stadium was broadcast to millions of listeners worldwide.


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

After the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor brought the United States into the Second World War, Louis enlisted in the Army despite the military’s policy of racial segregation. When reporters questioned his decision, the “Brown Bomber” acknowledged that there were “Lots of things wrong with America, but Hitler ain’t going to fix them.”


1938 editorial cartoon by Vaughn Shoemaker, The Wolfsonian–FIU, anonymous donor

Joe Louis reigned as World Heavyweight Boxing Champion from 1937 until 1948. He was celebrated in this stone sculpture carved by Ruth Yates; the bust is on display in the Wolfsonian library foyer.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

These African-American heavyweight boxing champions pioneered a path and created opportunities for Afro-Cuban contenders such as Kid Chocolate and Kid Gavilán to make names for themselves in the American sports arena.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Collection

Eligio Sardiñas Montalvo (Cuban, 1926–2003), known as “Kid Chocolate,” won 136 of his 152 bouts, 51 by knockout. He traveled to the United States with his manager in 1928, where he became a notable figure in the New York boxing scene, winning the World Super Featherweight title in 1931. Kid Chocolate retired in 1938 and returned to Cuba, where he opened up a gym; he was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1994. The photograph below shows him praying to the Yoruba spirit, Shango.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Collection

Born in Camaguey, Cuba, Gerardo González (1926–2003) was known as “Kid Gavilán” and “The Cuban Hawk.” He is reputed to have created the Bolo punch, a wide circular movement that he acquired in his youth when using a machete to cut sugar cane. Kid Gavilán split his time between Havana and the U.S. East Coast until he took up indefinate residence in the U.S. in 1948; on May 18, 1951, he won the World Welterweight title. In 1952, Gavilán fought a match against Bobby Dykes in segregated Miami. “I got a few death threats,” Dykes told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel in 2000. “That was when blacks went to the back of the bus. Two whites could fight and two blacks could fight, but not a black and a white. They told me, ‘Bobby, you’re giving up your heritage by fighting a black.’ It was a big thing in those days.” Gavilán’s bout with Billy Graham in Philadelphia later the same year generated less controversy and racial tension.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Collection

Be sure to visit the Boxeo y Béisbol exhibit at The Wolfsonian museum library to learn more about sports and evolving race relations in the United States and Cuba.

Nostalgia for Cuba: an exhibition, an installation, school visits, a fair, vintage automobiles, a film-noir thriller, and more…

•May 31, 2016 • 1 Comment

All this month, I have had Cuba ever on my mind. Immediately on the heels of the opening of Promising Paradise: Cuban Allure, American Seduction in the seventh floor gallery of The Wolfsonian–FIU museum, I began working with our intern Barbara Bollini Roca. Barbara put together a complementary sports-themed exhibit from the gift of Vicki Gold Levi to be installed in the library foyer of our rare book and special collections library.


Boxeo y Béisbol: The Cuba-U.S. Sports Exchange examines how the experiences of such legendary athletes as Jack Johnson and Kid Gavilán, Jackie Robinson and Minnie Miñoso were shaped both by the close ties between the two nations, but also by evolving race relations in the United States.



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Collection

After a couple of rounds of reviewing and editing the interpretive and descriptive text, the art handlers arrived and began the installation, completed just in time to accommodate a succession of tours by more than 170 Miami-Dade high school students who came in to see the museum’s exhibitions.




CubaNostalgia held its eighteenth annual show this past May 20th through May 22nd, and the museum put up a booth to let the fair-goers know about our own exhibition.



Visitors to the Fair Expo Center like my wife and I had an opportunity to listen and dance to contemporary and nostalgic Cuban music, enjoy Cuban food and drinks, pose in front of vintage 1950s automobiles and a replica of the seawall overlooking Havana’s El Morro Castle, and peruse or buy Cuban art, postcards, photographs and other memorabilia on display.


I would have loved, for example, to have been able to include this Carteles magazine cover on display at Marco Ansia’s Havana Collectibles Booth at CubaNostalgia in our Boxeo y Béisbol installation!


My wife, like many other of the fair-goers, took time also to pose in front of the antique 1950s automobiles on view in the CubaNostalgia exposition.


I couldn’t help but reflect on the irony of the association of Cuba with these gorgeous and pristine vintage relics, with their fancy bumpers and fins. Most of their actual counterparts in Cuba, however, are not showroom beauties but working cars and cabs, kept running after more than fifty years of embargo by Cuban mechanical ingenuity and a creative splicing of spare parts for cars built in former-Soviet bloc countries. But if today we imagine a Cuban car culture as forever stuck in the fifties, these cars are also historical evidence of how the very newest and latest models of American automobiles once rolled off the Detroit assembly lines—(now mostly shutdown or relocated across the border in Mexico)—and were loaded into ferries and immediately sold in the “adjacent territory” of the island nation of Cuba.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Collection

Cubans have always loved American-made cars, and the visitor to the Promising Paradise exhibit can see evidence of this in a photograph in which the prideful owner of a brand new 1952 Kaiser sedan parked and posed for the camera in front of the landmark Hotel Nacional.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Collection

But there are many more photographs, postcards, advertisements, and other materials from Vicki Gold Levi’s gift in the collection that couldn’t be included in the show for want of space, but which also support this conceit.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection







The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Collection


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



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Collection

In conjunction with the Promising Paradise exhibition, The Wolfsonian partnered with the Miami Beach Cinematheque to offer a free tour of the show, followed by a Cuba-themed film shown just across the street in the old City Hall building.

This last Sunday night I had the pleasure of introducing Joseph Lewis’ A Lady Without Passport, a film-noir thriller released in 1950 about a human smuggling ring operating in Havana, Cuba. The film stars Hedy Lamarr as a concentration camp survivor desperate to enter the United States by any means, and John Hodiak as an INS investigator torn between duty and love.


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

The next free tour and film screening in the Havana Nights series will take place Sunday, June 19th, at 5:00 and 6:00 pm respectively. Our Man In Havana stars Alec Guinness as a vacuum cleaner salesman turned spy in an espionage thriller shot in Cuba just after the revolution in 1959, but before relations had soured between the United States and Castro’s government. The lobby card below is a colorized film still from the movie shot inside Tropicana night club’s “Crystal Arches”.


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

Stay tuned for further Cuba-themed Wolfsonian museum events, like book club readings and talks about the Havana Habit, a New Tropicana event, dominoes with abuelos, and more!

The Wide Far Eastern Sea, or, Russo-Japanese War materials from the Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection

•May 27, 2016 • Leave a Comment

On this day in 1904, the Baltic fleet of Czar Nicholas II engaged the Japanese navy in the Tsushima Strait. Over the course of a two day naval battle, Russian Admiral Zinovy Rozhestvensky would lose more than 30 of the 45 Russian warships to the Japanese naval force under the command of Admiral Heihachiro Togo. With the exception of one or two items in the Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection and a children’s propaganda book lauding the Japanese admiral, The Wolfsonian-FIU library held very few rare books on the subject of the Russo-Japanese war.



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Pamela K. Harer

That gap was rectified when long-term supporter Frederic A. Sharf donated a great deal of his private collection dealing with the rise of the Japanese Empire to the museum library. To provide our readers with a taste of that material, I have asked Sharf Associate Librarian Rochelle Pienn to contribute a post on the subject. Here is her report.

Here on Washington Avenue, the onset of Memorial Day becomes a mass of sidewalk obstacles and street closures implemented for Urban Beach Weekend.


Photograph by the author.

In fact, Americans all over the country honor their military servicemen with celebrations punctuated by food, drink, and music.


Photograph by the author

Our Chief Librarian took a peek back in time to see what war related historical milestones occurred on this Friday before the holiday. We discovered that around the globe, one hundred and eleven years ago today, an epic naval clash took place: The Battle of Tsushima Strait. The Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection at the Wolfsonian-FIU Library is rich in period Russo-Japanese War rare books concerning this and other pivotal naval campaigns, replete with images of strife at sea.


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

Imperial Russia wished to secure key strategic ports for trade and maneuverability in the Far East, but Japan made sure Russia’s battleships and naval officers suffered.


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

Bennett Burleigh, war correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph, authored Empire of the East, a 1905 British book about the war. This frontispiece shows the faces behind the action.


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

The renowned photojournalist James Hare edited this New York imprint, which includes maps, illustrations, commentary and photographs.




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

Reporter Lionel James, driven to hyperbole and writing using racist stereotypes, declared that his novel was inspired by events he witnessed (and thus needed to remain anonymous for his own protection).



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

Western fascination with the Russo-Japanese War even spawned novels of mystery and romance. Publishers’ bindings enticed with Eastern inspired motifs.



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

In this 1905 fictional sea adventure, the protagonist is an unflappable British man named Bob who is unwittingly thrust into the violent Japanese and Russian naval battles.


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

 Prolific American writer Willis Boyd Allen, whose pieces often appeared in Atlantic Monthly, Scribner’s, and Harper’s, put an American spin on fictional sea stories with his timely novel, The North Pacific.


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

Impressive historical texts also flooded the publishing market. Cassell’s History of the Russo-Japanese War was joint produced in London and New York in 1905.




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

With Togo describes the Russo-Japanese War from the perspective of a military man.


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

Admiral Togo’s torpedo boat destroyers effectively annihilated the Russian naval forces in the Battle of Tsushima Strait. For more exciting forays into the Russo-Japanese War, explore the Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection at The Wolfsonian-FIU Library.


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