A Flurry of Wolfsonian Library Installations and Displays

•May 2, 2019 • 1 Comment

This past month, the Wolfsonian librarians were particularly busy dealing with a flurry of installations and displays at the museum, and Florida International University campus. We closed one installation, All Roads Lead to Rome; opened another, Deco Designs; installed a student-curated installation, World War II and The Wolf, in the Green Library at the Modesto Maidique Campus; and put together and presented a temporary library display for the museum’s public program, PosterFest, on the theme of AIDS awareness and prevention.

All Roads Rome V2

World War II and The Wolf involved a collaborative project between the FIU Professor Terrence G. Peterson and the students taking his history class on the Second World War. Over the course of the semester, 45 students scheduled 17 research visits to The Wolfsonian Library to conduct research on specific historical archives documenting the war years. Althea (Vicki) Silvera, head, Special Collections & University Archivist, generously arranged for the student’s selections to be displayed at the Green Library.


These included photographs and memorabilia preserved in the Aristotle [Chakiris] Ares USS Yorktown Collection and the Mel Victor WWII Pacific Theater Photograph Collection.



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Aristotle Ares


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Donna Victor, in memory of her father, Mel Victor

In examining the materials from these two servicemen’s archives, some of the students were particularly struck by what they saw as attempts by the servicemen to entertain themselves and keep up morale during the many “hours of boredom” and other images that capture “moments of terror” and the devastation and horrors of combat.




The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Aristotle Ares



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Donna Victor, in memory of her father, Mel Victor

Other students in Dr. Peterson’s class were interested in the transformations that took place locally as the country geared up for war and Miami and Miami Beach were mobilized and placed on a war-footing.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Judith Berson-Levinson

Because of the threat posed by German submarines prowling the coastal waters, Miami Beach was transformed from a seasonal vacation resort into an Army Air Forces training base.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Judith Berson-Levinson

Carl Fisher’s grand hotels of the 1920s, the Nautilus and the Old King Cole, were converted into military hospitals while hundreds of the more modest Art Deco hotels on Miami Beach were converted into barracks, mess halls, and instruction centers.



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Judith Berson-Levinson

Some of Dr. Peterson’s students used the Judith Berson-Levinson “Sand in Their Boots” Collection to focus on the transformation of women’s lives on the mainland, as women were encouraged to work as riveters and welders at the Miami Air Depot.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Judith Berson-Levinson

Others looked at a series of Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps (WAAC) postcards that provide a humorous look at how war service radically affected gender roles and relations and changed American women’s lives.




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

A set of original postcards and correspondence between Dolores (“Lolly”) S. Lesseraux and her older brother and serviceman, Dick, provided more personal insights into the actual feelings and real-life experiences of a young woman growing up in America during the war years.



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Dolores Trenner

Finally, several students mined the Victory Gold Levi Collection, an assemblage of patriotic home-front propaganda and paraphernalia, for messages motivating adherence to rationing, making do, and otherwise promoting the “V for Victory” campaign in the United States.




The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Victory Gold Levi

This same month, the library closed its installation showcasing tourism to Italy during the dictatorship of Benito Mussolini, which included some colorful proofs designed by Futurist artist, Fortunato Depero, and opened a new one focused on vibrant pochoir (stencilwork) prints in the Art Deco style.



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

The new installation, Deco Designs, was curated by Wolfsonian library collections specialist Erin Heffron and features oversized portfolio plates, including some newly acquired pieces donated by Historical Design, New York that show how scientific studies of bugs and butterflies could be geometrized and made into decorative motifs and repetitive patterns for Deco-inspired wallpaper and textile designs.




The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Historical Design

The Wolfsonian’s digital collections curator, Yucef Merhi, created an interactive interface to allow our visitors to flip through the pages of some of these portfolios cover to cover.


In addition to editing and curating these installations, the library staff also organized a temporary display of library materials to complement our public programing participation in year two of Posterfest: Design for Good. The Wolf partnered with AIGA Miami and the Florida Department of Health in Miami-Dade County, inviting graphic design artists to create new HIV/AIDS awareness posters inspired by classics from the Wolfsonian collection that went on display in our lobby.


In the library, visitors were encouraged to peruse historical artifacts and public health propaganda aimed at preventing the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.

The materials on display ranged from 1930s sex advice pamphlets,



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

…Federal Arts Project and Second World War-era public health and propaganda posters,


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

…Second World War sex education pamphlets for G.I.s,


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

…popular Physical Culture magazines with articles on sex,




The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Robert Young

…to books, periodicals, and pulp paperbacks offering tantalizing glimpses into the taboo world of “social and asocial” sexual behaviors.



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Vicki Gold Levi


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

By far the most popular work on display was a recently donated copy of Madonna’s infamous 1992 Sex book, which began with a “safe sex saves lives” admonishment urging the “mandatory” use of condoms before it delved into a photographic essay on erotic fantasy.

Madonna's_Sex (2)

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Historical Design


Celebrating International Women’s Day 2019 with the Girls Scouts

•March 19, 2019 • Leave a Comment

This past March 8, in honor of International Women’s Day, Girl Scout Troop 1239 came to The Wolfsonian–FIU for a guided tour led by curator Shoshana Resnikoff. Following their walk through the galleries, the scouts and their troop leaders came down to the library to view some rare books and ephemera. As this year’s theme stressed the ideals of a gender-balanced world, we had pulled some materials related to female-oriented youth movements, the Suffragette movement, and the work of Arts and Crafts book designer and illuminator Violet Oakley.



Aside from a couple of vintage handbooks, The Wolfsonian Library does not hold an abundance of works specifically documenting the Girl Scouts or the scouting movement.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Joel Hoffman


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

We do, however, have a strong collection of Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and National Youth Administration (NYA) materials from the New Deal era. With an estimated half-million young men and couple hundred thousand young women hopping freight trains and hitchhiking across the country in a desperate and futile search for work during the Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt felt impelled to immediately address the problem of youth homelessness and delinquency.

As a long-term supporter of the Boy Scouts, Roosevelt created the CCC with the aim of taking these malnourished kids off the streets and training them to do forestry work and conservation in camps established throughout the nation’s state and national parks and forests.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Christopher DeNoon Collection for the Study of New Deal Culture

Within three month of taking office in March 1933 at the nadir of the Depression, FDR had enrolled 250,000 young men in the program. Under military oversight and discipline, Roosevelt’s “Tree Army” were planting billions of trees, fighting forest fires, and clearing paths and building roads and bridges and their own self-confidence as primary supporters of their families back home.



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

All but one of the camps, however, were exclusively set up for young men, and the one exception provided young women with gendered “home economics” training rather than forestry skills. At First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt’s insistence that the President not forget the ladies, the National Youth Administration was devised to provide a more diverse, gender-balanced vocational education and training for young men, women, and minorities.




The Wolfsonian–FIU, Christopher DeNoon Collection for the Study of New Deal Culture

Even as President Roosevelt launched his CCC and NYA programs, totalitarian regimes in Europe were fostering their own brand of youth movements tied to service to the state. Drawing on the mythical origins of the ancient founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus—supposedly suckled and raised by a she-wolf—Italian dictator Benito Mussolini created the Figli della Lupa (or children of the she-wolf) and the Opera Nazionale Balilla (ONB).




The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

In contrast to the rather benign English and American scouting motto: “Be prepared,” the Fascist indoctrinated their own youth groups with the mantra: “Believe, obey, fight” and had their uniformed children trained in military marching and drill with dummy rifles.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Mussolini and the Fascists were notoriously anti-feminist in their views, so while young women were encouraged to join youth groups and participate in athletic competition, their physical and educational training stressed healthy bodies and brainwashed minds designed to incubate and inculcate the future generation of Fascist soldiers.



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Similarly gender-sensitive youth organizations established themselves in Portugal and Spain under Fascist rule, and when Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany in 1933, the Fuhrer also fashioned his own Hitler Jugend after the Fascist Italian model.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Loan


The Wolfsonian–FIU, gift of Steve Heller

Although Communist propaganda stressed gender equality, the Soviet Union’s Young Pioneer groups seem to have both broken and reinforced stereotyped gender roles.





The Wolfsonian–FIU, gift of Steve Heller

In addition to the materials on scouting and youth movements, the visiting Girl Scout troop also learned a bit about the Woman’s Suffrage movement. While The Wolfsonian Library possesses a few works by the famous English suffragist Sylvia Pankhurst, the librarians have also recently catalogued and digitized a set of satirical pro-and anti-suffragette themed postcards from Great Britain.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Loan


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

As can be seen, women’s participation in the war effort during the Great War helped propel the suffrage cause forward, though many men were still clinging to sexist and chauvinistic views toward the “fairer sex.”





The Wolfsonian–FIU

We ended the Girl Scout group’s tour with a look at a work by the American artist Violet Oakley (1874–1961) that documents the important role played by women delegates to the 10th Assembly of the League of Nations meeting in Geneva in 1929. While that work has not yet been digitized, the library has other examples of her artwork that uncompromisingly celebrated the contributions of women to culture, religion, civilization, and the betterment of society.


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





The Wolfsonian–FIU, Purchased with funds provided by Florida International University’s Liberal Studies Program


The Harlem Renaissance Comes to The Wolfsonian

•February 22, 2019 • Leave a Comment

It seems only fitting that in the middle of Black History Month, twenty-seven students enrolled in my America and Movies: The Black Image in Hollywood and History course at Florida International University arrived at The Wolfsonian–FIU to look at some artwork in the galleries; to review a display of rare portfolios and books from the Harlem Renaissance; and to view the film The Emperor Jones (1933) in our auditorium.

While exploring the galleries, the undergraduate students stopped to examine several art objects on display, including Harlem, an oil painting by Elanor Colburn (1866–1939) depicting a cultured, middle-class, fashionably dressed African-American woman holding her child.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

After finishing our brief tour of the museum galleries, the students came down to the library to see and discuss a large number of materials documenting the Harlem Renaissance, including Alain LeRoy Locke’s The New Negro: An Interpretation (1925).



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

In an era characterized by a resurgent Ku Klux Klan and egregious stereotypes, this book sought to extoll contributions to American culture by black intellectuals, poets, literary critics, musicians, performers, and artists, even as Locke toned down and edited out the more radical writings of some Harlem political figures. The book includes “primitivist” designs by African-American illustrator Aaron Douglas (1899–1979), “modernist” illustrations by Mexican ethnologist and artist Miguel Covarrubias (1904–1957), and decorative, “realistic,” and culturally sensitive portraits of prominent Harlem Renaissance figures by the German-American artist Winold Reiss.





The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

We recently received a gift from Daniel Morris of Historical Design of a large number of books with dust jacket covers and illustrations by Aaron Douglas, including Langston Hughes’ Not Without Laughter, For Freedom by Arthur Huff Fauset, Banjo by Claude McKay, God’s Trombones: Seven Negro Sermons in Verse by James Weldon Johnson, and several issues of the Crisis, the organ of the N.A.A.C.P.







The Wolfsonian–FIU, gift of Historical Design

Having arrived in the United States a few years before the outbreak of the Great War, Winold Reiss experienced firsthand the backlash against “hyphenated” Americans and became sensitized to the plight and prejudice experienced by other minorities. Reiss’ frontispiece illustration, “The Brown Madonna,” foreshadows the subject matter of Colburn’s Harlem painting, while other portraits celebrate anonymous Harlem heroines.



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Thanks to Daniel Morris’ gift, we now have more Covarrubias images documenting the Harlem Renaissance, including book jacket covers and interior illustrations decorating W. C. Handy’s Blues: An Anthology, Taylor Gordon’s Born to Be, Zora Neale Hurston’s Mules and Men, René Maran’s Batouala, and his own published collection of Negro Drawings.







The recent gift by Daniel Morris also included anthologies of poetry by Countee Cullen with dust jacket designs and illustrations by Charles Cullen.





The Wolfsonian–FIU, gift of Historical Design

The poet was also pictured by Reiss in Locke’s The New Negro.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

As the class was examining images of African-American performers of the Jazz Age, we also looked at some materials about Josephine Baker and Paul Robeson, whose careers blossomed more in Europe than their native land. I have described in my last post Paul Colin’s color pochoir illustrated, Le Tumulte Noir, but it is worth including a few more plates from that portfolio.



The Wolfsonian–FIU, gift of Historical Design

Josphine Baker won international fame as a singer, dancer, and movie star in post-war France, which many African-American soldiers found to offer a far more racially tolerant atmosphere than the United States. Even as Baker stepped into French cabaret life and appeared as a headliner performing half-nude Charleston dance routines at the famous Folies Bergère, she also began starring in French films such as Princess Tam Tam (1935) that played upon colonial obsessions with African “primitivism” and “naturalism” while simultaneously showcasing French cosmopolitanism and “modernism.”


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Paul Robeson’s career as a dramatic actor and singer began in the United States, and the same year that his portrait appeared in Locke’s New Negro, he also appeared in black film director’s Oscar Micheaux’s Body and Soul. In the 1930s he spent much time performing and touring in England and Europe, and also became a star of the silver screen, with his lead in such films as The Emperor Jones.

The American artist, Mabel Dwight (1875–1955), also celebrated America’s imposing baritone.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

As internationally recognized celebrities, performers like Baker and Robeson continued to fashion positive images of African Americans in the 1930s, even as the Harlem Renaissance declined in the wake of the Great Depression. Even under such trying economic circumstances when approximately half of all black breadwinners were unemployed and joining the ever-lengthening breadlines, the philanthropic Harmon Foundation was determined to keep African-American art alive. The Harmon Foundation awarded medals, awards, and scholarships; organized art classes; and curated galleries and traveling exhibitions focusing on black life and encouraging the recognition of African-American artists.







The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection


Winter Visits and Gift Acknowledgements

•January 29, 2019 • Leave a Comment

The last two months have been extraordinarily busy for the Wolfsonian librarians. We’ve been inventorying and cataloging books, training interns, making archival enclosures to protect the rare and fragile items in our ever-growing collection, and curating installations. Simultaneously, we have hosted numerous VIP tours, made presentations to scores of Miami-Dade school groups, provided public access and programs to museum members and academic visitors, and reference assistance to university professors, students, and independent scholars. The end of the year is also the time when we prepare and send out gift letters to acknowledge the many donations that have come to the museum’s library over the course of the year. This post will briefly describe some of those visits and highlights of the treasures that have been added to our collection.


December and January are always a busy time here at The Wolfsonian, as Art Basel and Art Deco Weekend events in the city flood the building with enthusiastic visitors. We always try to layout displays that include not only the anticipated treasured highlights in our collection, but also some of the newly acquired rare books and ephemera. This year we had quite a lot to select from, with extraordinary works donated by Mitchell “Micky” Wolfson, Jr., Daniel Morris, Vicki Gold Levi, Leonard Finger, Jean Sharf and Lisa Green, and Francis Luca and Clara Palacio Luca, among others. Many of our guests at Art Basel had the opportunity to see a few of these new acquisitions, and now that we have been able to catalogue and digitize some, so can our virtual visitors.

Daniel Morris of Historical Design in New York City has recently sent us more than a dozen extremely rare and valuable items to add to our holdings, with more materials scheduled to arrive shortly. Many of our Art Basel patrons had the opportunity to catch a mere glimpse of a couple items from this most impressive gift, but now that we have had the chance to digitize many of them, our virtual visitors can vicariously have the same pleasure.

One of the hits of our Art Basel VIP Party was the 1926 exhibition catalog of the International Exhibition of Modern Art arranged by The Société Anonyme and Museum of Modern Art.



The Wolfsonian–FIU, gift of Historical Design

The exhibition introduced New York museum-goers to the avant-garde art, while its catalog used tabs along the right hand side to group the artists alphabetically by country of origin.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, gift of Historical Design

The guests marveled not only over the wonderfully designed catalog, but also over the complementary-decorated, leather-bound box used to preserve the item and keep it pristine.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, gift of Historical Design

Two other items popular with the Basel crowd were Plays of Negro Life and Le Tumulte Noir. The former item is a compilation of American drama edited by Alain Locke that celebrated the works by and about the “New Negro.” This wonderful product of the Harlem Renaissance is covered with a contemporary leather cover cut in patterns that imitate the original decorations in the book by Aaron Douglas that illustrated scenes from Eugene O’Neil’s The Emperor Jones and performances by African-American actors Charles Gilpin, Paul Robeson, and others.





The Wolfsonian–FIU, gift of Historical Design

Paul Colin’s Le Tumulte Noir is a large-format portfolio of color pochoir plates inspired by Josephine Baker and other African Americans whose jazz music, performances, and dance transformed nightclub life in Paris in the twenties and thirties.



The Wolfsonian–FIU, gift of Historical Design

The pochoir prints were created using a technique that required the production of copper, zinc, or aluminum stencils for each color on the page by a specialist known as a découpeur, which would be used by the colorists applying each layer of gouache paint pigments by brush. Popular in Paris in the “roaring twenties,” the expensive and labor-intensive technique ultimately fell victim to the economic ravages of the Great Depression. This portfolio, too, is also encased and preserved in a contemporary leather-bound box which similarly celebrates the exuberance of the “Charleston” and other “mad dances” of the era.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, gift of Historical Design

Mr. Morris’s gift also included a rare copy of Derniere letter persane, a portfolio published by the Maison de fourrures Max.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, gift of Historical Design

The portfolio includes twelve pochoir fashion plates of fur garments attributed to Paul Poiret and executed in the Persian style by the illustrator Eduardo García Benito.



The Wolfsonian–FIU, gift of Historical Design

Ironically, this work was viewed by visiting Miami-Dade high-school students participating in a zines project. Their interest was not in Art Deco fashion, but rather in the treatment of the minks, foxes, leopards, and other creatures used by the fur industry.

Students hailing from iPreparatory Academy also came to the museum for a tour of Wit As Weapon: Satire and the Great War, an installation curated by three FIU undergraduate students and displayed in our library foyer. The items on view included some promised gifts from Micky Wolfson, including several in a series of American First World War propaganda posters lampooning the German emperor, Wilhelm II, and some recently gifted vintage postcards.



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


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

Two sets of visitors came to see some of the Cuba-related materials, most of which came as earlier donations and others as a promised gift of Vicki Gold Levi, including works by the renowned Cuban graphic artist and caricaturist Conrado Walter Massaguer.

villaverde world leaders in car 1945


The Wolfsonian–FIU, gift of Vicki Gold Levi 

The first visit involved a group of University of Kansas students on a field trip to Miami Beach on route to Cuba led by former Wolfsonian art director Tim Hossler. Associate director of curatorial + education Jon Mogul was on hand to greet the visitors and introduce them to a display of rare library materials documenting U.S.-Cuba relations in the pre-Castro era. The following week, nine scholars came in a group organized by FIU’s Latin American and Caribbean Center (LACC) to see the same materials, to learn more about our Cuban holdings and digital collections, and to hear a presentation by the chief librarian about the organization of the 2016 exhibition Promising Paradise: Cuban Allure, American Seduction.


Other collectors whose donations were featured in these public and academic displays included Leonard Finger and Louis Miano. Mr. Finger has contributed significantly to our holdings of vintage photographs of Cuban performers, such as Miguelito Valdés (the original “Mr. Babalú”), and other ephemera documenting the U.S.-Cuba tourist trade.



The Wolfsonian–FIU, gift of Leonard Finger


The Wolfsonian–FIU, gift of Louis Miano

Some of Vicki Gold Levi’s promised gifts were also used in our latest Into the Stacks session hosted by “Crypt Cracker” Nathaniel Sandler and focused on U.S. Prohibition (19191933). Attendees were able to see and hear some popular anti-Prohibition tunes and to examine some amazing cocktail shakers, stirrers, and a “bottoms-up” shot glass used by those flouting the “dry” laws.


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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

The guests also learned how well-to-do Americans eschewed the “dry” laws by traveling to Cuba, the land of rum, rumba, and roulette.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, promised gift of Vicki Gold Levi

A group of local Miami veterans led by FIU Assistant Professor of History and Health Policy and Management, Dr. Jessica Adler also attended a “War and Healing” program funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities Dialogue on the Experience of War initiative held at The Wolfsonian.



After looking at specific works of art on display in our galleries, the group spent some time in our library deconstructing, critically analyzing, and historically contextualizing some posters and other artwork, photographs, and ephemera dating from the First World War.


Among the materials on display were some posters dating from the First World War recently donated to The Wolfsonian by Jean S. Sharf. The veterans looked at similarities and differences in the approach used by U.S. government recruiters targeting white and African-American men.



The Wolfsonian–FIU, gifts of Jean S. Sharf

While these items constitute a small proportion of the wealth of materials recently gifted to The Wolfsonian–FIU Library, these events demonstrate how such gifts are frequently called into service and seen by a wide variety of museum visitors, scholars, and academic groups rather than sitting around on shelves collecting dust.

Holiday Gifts

•December 14, 2018 • Leave a Comment


As the winter holiday season of 2018 rapidly approaches, in addition to hosting visits by FIU classes and Art Basel visitors, the librarians of The Wolfsonian–FIU Library have been preparing gift letters to acknowledge the many gifts we have received throughout the year. This post will be the first of several to be published through the year’s end recognizing the many generous donations received that have helped us build on strengths and fill in gaps in our rapidly growing collection of rare books, periodicals, and ephemera.

Not long ago, Modern Languages Professor Maria Antonieta Garcia arrived with a group of FIU students and Francophiles at The Wolfsonian for a presentation of French-language materials in the library, and a brief tour of the galleries.


On this particular occasion, Professor Garcia asked us to lay out some rare materials dealing with the topic of France’s overseas possessions and colonies and Francophone countries and cultures.

Wolfsonian founder Mitchell “Micky” Wolfson, Jr. spends much of the year traveling the world on the hunt for materials to add to our holdings, but also has an apartment in Paris and regularly frequents the many fine antiquarian bookshops of France. He recently packed up and sent to us the contents of his apartment there, a gift that included many items on the subject of France’s colonies. In preparing for the student’s visit, I prioritized accessioning, cataloguing, and having these new materials digitized so that the students would have the opportunity to see them during their visit, but also so that our online visitors might also have the chance to see something new.

The French-language materials donated by Mr. Wolfson included items from the international and colonial expositions organized in France to show off new technologies and inventions, new artistic and architectural styles, and to introduce Parisians and fair visitors to the peoples of foreign lands and French colonial possession.



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Colonial pavilions and midways like the famous “Streets of Cairo” were designed to entertain and well as educate fair-goers through interaction with exotic architecture and the inhabitants of “human zoos.”



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Another recent gift from Mr. Wolfson’s Paris apartment was a children’s book celebrating the martyrdom of “Le Père de Foucauld,” a French Catholic member of the Poor Clares missionary order who established a religious retreat among the Tuareg people in the Saharan region of southern Algeria.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Foucauld lived among the Berbers, learned their language, and was working on a manuscript dictionary and grammar rich with descriptions of their culture and traditions when he was kidnapped and killed by armed bandits connected with the Senussi Bedouin. The juvenile history of Foucault’s life and martyrdom was intended to inspire young French Catholics with missionary zeal and fervor for converting the peoples of North Africa.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Two more recent gifts from Mr. Wolfson focused on French expeditions from coastal Morocco and Algiers down and across the Sahara desert.



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Unlike earlier explorations employing native guides and camel caravans, the French expeditions of the late 1920s and early 1930s described in these books had crossed the great desert in automobiles to demonstrate the superiority of European technology.






The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Finally, a portfolio also donated by Mr. Wolfson highlighted France’s metropole and colonies in a collection of photographic plates. This particular item was published just a year prior to the 1937 Paris Exposition, the last to prominently feature France’s overseas empire before the outbreak of the Second World War.





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

As the professor and her students were also interested in the impact of the colonial peoples on French culture, I also pulled some plates from Le Tumulte Noir, a portfolio of color pochoir prints by Paul Colin, recently donated to The Wolfsonian by Daniel Morris. The plates celebrate the influence of African “primitivism” in the dance culture and nightlife of 1930s Paris, paying particular tribute to the famous African-American performer, Josephine Baker. Capitalizing on the French fascination with African “naturalism” and “primitivism,” Baker created exotic and erotic personae for the French revues (such as the Folies Bergère) and film industry (as in such movies as Princess Tam Tam).


Following that class visit, more than two hundred Art Basel visitors descended on the library during our Friday night open house to peruse a selection of highlights from the collection. In addition to the “usual suspects,” we added an entire table of recent acquisitions that included donations from Louis Miano, Leonard Finger, Jim and Martha Sweeny, Daniel Morris, Lisa Green and Jean Sharf.


Stay tuned for further posts this December providing more information and images of these recent gifts to The Wolfsonian–FIU Library.

William H. Helfand: A Tribute

•November 28, 2018 • Leave a Comment

In commemoration of the recent passing of William H. Helfand (1926–2018), I thought that I would take this occasion to present to my readers a few of the vast collection of display cards, prints, and other ephemeral items he collected, some of which were generously donated to The Wolfsonian–FIU library.



Mr. Helfand received a degree in pharmacy from the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science in 1952.


Over the course of his long life, he demonstrated a keen interest in pills, potions, and medical quackery; the manner in which pharmaceuticals were peddled to the public; and even how the imagery of inoculation and vaccination were deployed in nineteenth century editorial cartoons and other political parodies.




Not only did Mr. Helfand collect and preserve such materials; he became an internationally-recognized authority on the subject. For decades he served as a member of the American Institute of the History of Pharmacy, and as that body’s secretary and president for several years. He penned nearly seventy articles for Pharmacy in History, and published five well-illustrated books, including Pharmacy: An Illustrated History (1990), The Picture of Health (1991), and Quack, Quack, Quack: The Sellers of Nostrums in Prints, Posters, Ephemera, & Books (2002).


We, here at The Wolfsonian, mourn his passing, but celebrate his life’s passion and legacy.




War and Remembrance

•October 30, 2018 • 2 Comments

Earlier this month, approximately twenty Miami-area veterans came to The Wolfsonian–Florida International University in the company of FIU Assistant Professor of History and Health Policy and Management Jessica L. Adler. The group visit to the museum galleries and library was a part of a War and Healing program funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities’ Dialogues on the Experience of War initiative. The program aims to explore the process of post-service reintegration into civilian society through an examination of texts, primary sources, and visual arts dating from the First World War to the present. Museum educator Zoe Welch led the veterans on a guided tour of the museum galleries, stopping at various war-related museum pieces on display to initiate dialogue and discussion by the visitors. Harold Engman’s Human Pyramid, a painting with subtle jabs at the Nazi-occupation of his native Denmark and an implicit call for U.S. intervention, proved popular with the group.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

The veterans also spent considerable time debating the meaning and message of Italian artist Egeo Venturi’s untitled work from 1932 depicting two Italian cherub-like youths wearing military hat and playing with guns. Some of the male veterans saw nothing sinister in the painting as playing with guns and emulating their fathers is often typical behavior for young boys. Some of the female veterans, however, were disturbed by the image, noting that the boys appeared to be leveling their toy guns directly at the viewer—a subtle criticism, perhaps, by the artist of the consequences of the militarization of youth in Mussolini’s Fascist dictatorship.



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

The group also paused in the portrait gallery to ponder the significance of an oil painting by Otto Beyer created in 1919, and titled Revolution. The painting depicts a soldier in the foreground armed with a handgun, with looters and the flames of arson in the background. While Professor Adler and I focused on the historical context of the work of art—i.e. the political and social upheaval and unrest that the German soldiers returning from the front lines confronted on their homecoming—the veterans were moved more by the facial expression of the soldier in the foreground. Most commented on the soldier’s mask of war-weariness, and another thought he betrayed a shocking realization of impending death, as they pointed out what appeared to be a bullet hole in his helmet.



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection
Revolution (1919) detail

After concluding the tour of the galleries, the group came up to the library to view Wit as Weapon: Satire and the Great War, an installation curated by three FIU undergraduate students, one of whom is a veteran of war.

Wit as Weapon_Pan2

After talking about the nature of war propaganda and the use of satire to villainize and ridicule the enemy, the group entered the main reading room, where the tables were laid out with a variety of materials.


The items on display ranged from First World War recruitment posters, war art by servicemen and photographic depictions of the front taken by Austrian soldiers, graphic social critiques by anti-war activists in the immediate wake of the war, view books picturing war memorials and other commemorative objects, to representations of veterans in the post-First World War period. The veterans were asked to deconstruct and critically analyze the artifacts on the tables, after which we provided some more information about the historical context of the items.

The veterans were invited to closely examine a set of First World War recruiting posters and to ponder the similarities and differences in the imagery and approaches between those targeting prospective white and African-American recruits.


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


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

The Wolfsonian’s library possesses a number of books, periodicals, and portfolios of plates illustrated by artists or photographers at the front. C. R. W. Nevinson, for example, published several books reproducing the Vorticist-influenced paintings he made of the front lines. While many capture the camaraderie and heroism of the common soldiers on the march and their experiences in the trenches, several also depict the horrors of war with images of wounded and “shell-shocked” soldiers.






The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Italian, German, and Austro-Hungarian troopers also produced images of the war with charcoals, paints, and cameras that were reproduced as postcards, portfolio plates, and periodical illustrations intended to bolster morale on the home front, but which sometimes also hinted at the horrors of war.







The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection


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

Most every nation participating in the war found it necessary to establish institutions intended to help seriously wounded veterans find therapeutic work to ease their transition from war to peace and make them feel like productive members of society once more.



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

A poster by the French artist Jean Carlu was not shy about reminding his countrymen of “the debt” they owed to the seriously disfigured victims of the industrial war.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, purchased with Curatorial discretionary funds

Other artwork produced during and in the immediate aftermath of the Great War by German artists focused on the loss experienced by bereft mothers and widows, as in the work of Käthe Kollwitz, or George Grosz, who was openly critical of a society that could ignore the burdens borne by veterans maimed and horribly disfigured by the horrors of industrialized warfare.


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



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Other items on display for the veterans date from the 1930s, as anti-war movements were active, as ascendant Fascist and Nazi leaders rattled their sabers and preached the benefits of war as “nature’s hygiene,” and as democratic countries struggled with issues of compensating the services of the First World War veterans under the constraints of the Great Depression. In the United States, 40,000 or so veterans and their families marched on Washington as members of a “Bonus Expeditionary Force” determined to lobby Congress and press them for much-needed war service compensation promised but deferred. The Senate ultimately voted down the bonus bill, and the Army was dispatched to disperse the protesters and burn down the “Hooverville” they had established on the Anacostia Flats outside the capital.



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



The Wolfsonian–FIU, purchase

A lithographic print by Irving Marantz captures the sense of anger and frustration felt by many wounded warriors in America that were disregarded and disrespected after the war.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

In the same decade, the Italian government erected monuments and inaugurated the Largo dei Mutilati and Invalidi di Guerra in Rome and the Australians erected a magnificent memorial to commemorate the sacrifices of the soldiers of the Great War with Art Deco architecture, bas relief, mural paintings, and sculpture.






The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Our thanks go out to our partners at Florida International University, the Combat Hippies, the Florida State University Institute for World War II and the Human Experience, the Miami Vet Center of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), and to the NAH for their support of this program.