Havana, Cuba: America’s Former Premier Tourist Destination

•January 15, 2020 • Leave a Comment

Earlier this month and week, the Wolfsonian museum was visited by two groups making a stop-over in Miami on route to Havana, Cuba. The first was a handful of university students led by Tim Hossler, former Wolfsonian art director and present-day assistant professor in the School of Architecture & Design at the University of Kansas.

The second were members of the Art Deco Society of New York led by Roberta Nusim.

Although the current administration in Washington has been making holiday travel by Americans to the island nation ever more difficult, exceptions are still made for educational and cultural activities. Both group leaders were interested in visiting our museum before crossing over to Cuba to experience a guided tour of our Cuban Caricature and Culture: The Art of Massaguer and Caricaturas installations, and to peruse some items from our library collection related to architecture, tourism, hotels, casinos, nightlife and attractions, and Hollywood depictions of Cuba during the golden age of tourism.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Collection

I guided both groups through the fifth floor galleries to the installation celebrating a recent gift by Vicki Gold Levi of a host of materials documenting the caricatures, artwork, and influence of Conrado Walter Massaguer, Cuba’s premier publisher and tastemaker in the era of the Republic.

Long before other Cubans championed the idea of enticing wealthy Americans to visit and vacation in Havana, Conrado was providing cover artwork for El Figaro caricaturing American tourists.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Promised gift

Soon after, he and his brother Oscar launched their own set of Cuban magazines, including the short-lived Grafico, Pulgarcito, before hitting a responsive chord with the highly influential Social (1916–1933, 1935–1937) and Carteles (1919–1960). As its name suggests, Social was published for an elite audience, and contained articles on the arts, culture and high society events, provided caricatures of politicos and socialites in its “Ellos” [Them] section, and promoted modernist artists and aesthetics in Cuba.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Loans

Conrado also served as the art director of Carteles and frequently contributed his own and his protégés’ artwork to the covers of this more popular magazine.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Promised gift

Conrado Massaguer became an early, active, and tireless promotor of his island homeland as a tourist destination for Americans immediately after the First World War and up until relations soured soon after the Castro-led revolutionaries took power in 1959. Towards that end, Massaguer printed advertisements and even published an English-language magazine for American visitors printed exclusively during the winter season of the 1920s.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Collection

Loan, Emilio Cueto, private collection

Even as the Great Depression and internal political unrest on the island in 1933 choked off tourism considerably, the ever optimistic Massaguer continued to provide posters and other promotional artwork for the Cuban Tourist Commission, and even created a brochure for distribution and a short-lived mural at the Cuban pavilion at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. After assuming power by coup, President Fulgencio Batista decided to diversify the economy and to encourage tourism by promoting Havana as the Monte Carlo of the Western Hemisphere. Conrado Massaguer was named director of public relations for the Cuban Institute of Tourism and served as a goodwill ambassador, greeting and making instantaneous caricatures of VIP celebrities and Hollywood stars visiting the island, even as he continued to contribute artwork for promotional materials.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Promised gift

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Collection

Although Massaguer published the first book of sympathetic caricatures of the bearded revolutionaries after Batista fled the country and Castro’s forces assumed power, Conrado’s influence soon waned.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Promised gift

As relations between Castro and the U.S. government grew strained, the American tourist industry Massaguer had done so much to promote dried up and by 1960 even his most popular publication, distribution of Carteles ceased.

Following the guided tour of Cuban Caricature and Culture, the groups were taken to see the complementary Caricaturas library installation to view some more of Massaguer’s work, as well as the satirical artwork of some of his contemporaries. Cuban politicos were notoriously thin-skinned, and all of the caricaturists who dared lampoon political figures found themselves arrested, jailed, or forced into temporary exile at one point or other during their careers. After penning both signed and anonymous caricatures of President Gerardo Machado, Massaguer had to flee the island, spending months in Europe before living in New York City for several years in the 1930s as a political refugee.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Promised gift

Similarly, the political lampoons of another Cuban caricaturist, Arroyito (Ramon Arroyo Cisernos) earned him the displeasure and ire of both Cuban Army Commander and President Fugencio Batista and the Castro-led revolutionaries who overthrew him.

Loan, DiazCasas Collection, New York City

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Promised gift

Finally, both groups entered the main reading room of our library to see a display of materials drawn primarily from the Vicki Gold Levi Collection covering the themes they had expressed interest in. The first significant surge of American tourists to Cuba arrived in the period between 1919 and 1933. In the aftermath of the devastation wrought by the Great War, wealthy Americans accustomed to taking a grand European tour needed to look elsewhere for vacation venues. At the same time, the Cuban government desperately needed to diversify their economy as sugar prices fell precipitously after the war’s end, and passed a tourist bill designed to entice well-to-do Americans to the island by promoting gambling and reminding their Northern neighbors that while the United States had passed Prohibition, rum would always flow like water in the island republic.

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

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Collection

There were relatively few hotels ready to accommodate the earliest tourists to the island, though in anticipation of Prohibition’s effects on the profitability of the Biltmore Hotel chain, John McEntee Bowman and Charles Francis Flynn purchased the Moorish-revival Sevilla Hotel on Calle Trocadero on the Paseo del Prado. The New York architects Schultz & Weaver were hired to renovate the new Sevilla-Biltmore, adding a ten-story tower addition complete with a rooftop ballroom in 1924.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Collection

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

The massive Hotel Nacional de Cuba, designed by another New York firm, McKim, Mead and White, was built to accommodate the growing number of American tourists visiting the island, opening to the public in the winter season of 1930. So many Americans stayed at this hotel that it earned the nickname “la embajada americana” (the American embassy).

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Collection

Ironically, just three years after opening, the Hotel Nacional de Cuba served as the focal point of the political strife gripping the island nation that choked off the first wave of tourism. In the aftermath of the overthrow of President Gerardo Machado by officers of the Cuban Army, Sergeant-stenographer Fulgencio Batista led a coup of non-commissioned soldiers against the transitional government in September 1933. When the high-ranking officers took refuge in the hotel, Batista’s forces first laid siege to, and then shelled and attacked them, causing extensive damage to the building.

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

Coupled with the repeal of Prohibition and the worsening of the Great Depression in the United States, the news of revolution in Cuba reduced American tourism to the island to a trickle. Ironically enough, the tourist trade was revived decades later by Fulgencio Batista after he took the presidency by coup in 1952. Looking to promote Havana as the premier American vacation destination again, Batista offered his friend Meyer Lansky and other gangsters an offer they couldn’t refuse—gambling concessions for anyone spending a million or more in new hotel construction or renovation. Batista’s strategy bore fruit with such iconic glamorous hotels as the Comodoro (1955), the Riviera (1957), the Capri (1957), and the Habana Hilton (1958).

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

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Promised gifts

Hollywood movies and musicals set in Havana and featuring Cuban musicians and performers lured American honeymooners and tourists back to Cuba, as did highly publicized visits to the island by celebrities and stars.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Promised gift

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

Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner Honeymoon in Havana

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Promised gift

Cuba’s capital city became a mecca for American tourists and honeymooners—a place where they could let loose and dance to popular Cuban rhythm and percussion, beat the heat drinking frozen daiquiris, and try their luck at the slot machines, roulette wheels, and card tables in the casinos, and catch a spectacular cabaret show.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Collection

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Promised gifts

Few imagined that the Castro-led revolution in 1959 would bring a dramatic end to Havana’s famous nightlife. Two movies filmed in Havana in the immediate aftermath of the revolution and foreshadow the fate of the tourist trade. Our Man in Havana, was a major British production starring Alec Guinness as a comedic vacuum-cleaner salesman-turned-spy and includes scenes in some of Havana’s quintessential tourist haunts, including the Tropicana nightclub’s Arcos de Cristal.

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

A low budget, gritty film noir, Pier 5 Havana, was set in Havana and starred Cameron Mitchell as an American determined to find his friend who had gone missing and ends up thwarting a sinister plot by Batista counterrevolutionaries to overthrow the “newly-freed Cuba!”

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Promised gift

As relations between the United States and Cuba quickly disintegrated, this movie, with its pro-Castro regime plot line, was consigned to the shelves to collect dust for nearly fifty years. It suffered the same fate as Massaguer’s book of caricatures in Cuba since images of the “bearded” revolutionaries hawking American products like Coca-cola made it taboo after diplomatic ties and trade between the countries were severed.

From Birthday Bash to Art Basel

•December 21, 2019 • Leave a Comment

These last two months of 2019 have been busy at The Wolfsonian–FIU, with an exhibition opening and other events set to mark our founder’s 80th birthday, followed by an open house party for VIP visitors here in Miami Beach for Art Basel. Museum founder, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. arrived in town in mid-November in time for the opening of A Universe of Things: Micky Wolfson Collects, an exhibition celebrating his decades-long obsession with collecting the rare books, paintings, posters, printed ephemera, furniture, stained glass, sculpture, and decorative art objects that form the basis of the museum’s holdings.


Organized by Micky’s long-time collections development person, Lea Nickless, and curator Shoshana Resnikoff, A Universe of Things was designed to highlight the founder’s life-long quest to find and preserve objects and artifacts that tell us something about the times and people who made, used, and were influenced by them.


To heighten public awareness, images of some of the objects selected for the exhibition were printed on vinyl and adhered to the vertical architectural elements of our historic building’s façade.


In order to convey a sense of the depth and breadth of the museum’s collection and to accommodate a large selection of objects in the galleries, Wolfsonian exhibition designer, Richard Miltner included wall-sized photographic images of our annex storage facility and also specially built casework reminiscent of the original shelving used in our historic building in its former incarnation as the old Washington Storage Company. The exhibit also includes a digital component designed to permit patrons to learn more about the objects on display and their historical timeline.


On the evening of the exhibition opening, VIPs and the public had the opportunity to tour the exhibits before participating in a block party tribute to the founder. Festivities included food truck concessions, music by FIU’s marching band and the Nu Deco Ensemble, lighting displays by Lutron Electronics, Inc. in an air-stream trailer and the museum’s bridge tender’s house, and speeches by city officials, FIU President Mark B. Rosenberg, and, of course, Micky himself.


Art Basel followed quickly on the heels of Micky’s birthday celebrations, and The Wolfsonian Library created a display in our cases celebrating some of the recent acquisitions to our holdings, including a number of items gifted in honor of Micky’s 80th birthday.


Some of the items showcased included materials donated by Jean S. Sharf from the private library of her late husband and long-time Wolfsonian supporter, Fred. While some pieces highlighted the rise of the Japanese Empire in the early twentieth century, others documented the twilight of the British Empire in the wake of the two world wars.


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

Recent gifts made by Leonard Finger and Lou Miano added to and complemented our holdings related to U.S.-Cuba travel and tourism. In addition to many rare photographs and ephemera donated by Mr. Finger over the years, the Art Basel VIPs had the opportunity to see two rare printed items from his gifts: a 1920s-era guidebook with a cover illustration of the Malecon in Havana, and a bound copy of the Havana Chronicle for the fateful years 1958-1959.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Leonard Finger

Originally published in the Cuban capital, the magazine devoted to leisure travel to the island nation was moved to Miami in the wake of the Castro-led revolution, but continued to promote the tourist trade until relations between the countries further deteriorated.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Leonard Finger

Lou Miano added to our Cuba theme two souvenirs he collected in his travels: one, a program from the Follies Bergere, a burlesque theatre, and the other, a souvenir viewbook from the Tropicana, the most famous nightclub venue in Havana in the 1950s.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Louis Miano

Also on display was a Miami yearbook published for members of the 36th Street Army Air Base in Miami, Florida gifted by Judith Berson-Levinson. This book, documenting the transition of Miami and Miami Beach from a seasonal vacation destination to an Army Air Forces training center and base during the Second World War, is one of more than a dozen items added to our “Sand In Their Boots” archive given to us year’s ago by that same donor.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Judith Berson-Levinson

Another entire display case was devoted solely to exhibiting some stunning illustrated books and periodicals dating from the Harlem Renaissance.


The case included books of poetry of Countee Cullen illustrated with dust jacket designs and decorations by Charles Cullen.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gifts of Historical Design

The cover designs and illustrations of Aaron Douglas were also available for visitors to see.


The display also featured some dust jacket designs by Miguel Covarrubias, the Mexican ethnographer, muralist, illustrator, and caricaturist whose artwork captured the spirit and provided portraits of important African American figures associated with the movement.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gifts of Historical Design

These items were part of the most substantial gift made this year to our library by Daniel Morris of Historical Design gallery in New York City. Our librarians are just now finishing up the process of accessioning and starting to catalog the thousands of rare books from this donation.

The final case on display for our Basel visitors included gifts made to The Wolfsonian Library in honor of Mitchell Wolfson, Jr.’s 80th birthday. These items included a rare invitation gifted by Roger Arvid Anderson to a preview of the buildings and grounds being erected and landscaped in Chicago in anticipation of the opening of the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Roger Arvid Anderson

From our former curator, Marianne Lamonaca, who presently serves as the chief curator and associate director of the Gallery at the Bard Graduate Center in New York, we received and displayed a playful handbook titled: Kritters of the Kitchen Kingdom and How to Make Them, open to a page of a militant suffragette made from an ear of corn!


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Marianne Lamonaca

Another close friend of the founder, Saville Ryan, donated a book to our library in honor of Micky’s birthday, titled Manhattan Oases: New York’s 1932 Speak-Easies.


Always on the hunt for materials about the era (error?) of Prohibition, this book features by caricatures by Al Hirschfeld of the bars, barmen, and patrons of the Big Apple’s secret drinking establishments published a year before the repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Saville Ryan

Another Micky friend, Jame Garmey, gifted several rare issues of Stroitel’stvo Moskvy to The Wolfsonian Library in honor of Micky’s birthday as well, helping us to fill in gaps in our run of this important Soviet architectural periodical.


Lastly, there were a few gifts in the case made in honor of Micky’s birthday that highlight the artwork of American illustrators, such as Hugo Gellert, his wife, Livia Cinquegrana, and Rockwell Kent, who put their talents to use in the service of their leftist political causes.


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

Many of the items on display for Art Basel have been loaded into our digital catalog where they are made globally accessible to those unable to visit our museum library in person.

France’s Overseas Empire on Display

•November 27, 2019 • Leave a Comment

This past Saturday, eighteen French conversation and grammar students from Florida International University arrived at The Wolfsonian for a guided tour of the galleries and a special presentation of French-language materials in the library. The group of Francophiles, organized by Professor Maria Antonieta Garcia, was led by Gaby Ibanez and Saniya Pradhan, the presidents of the FIU French Club and the French Honor Society.

Once the group gathered, we first deconstructed, critically analyzed, and historicized some artifacts representing French colonialism in the fifth and seventh floor galleries. These works of art included a painted plaster maquette for a sculpture created by Arthur Dupagne to adorn the Belgian Congo Pavilion at the Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques held in Paris in 1937. The scale model, La barre à mine (Mining bar) depicts an African wearing only a loincloth as he is using a primitive iron bar to break rock. While the mock up celebrates the musculature and physical strength of the native miner (whose hands and feet were deliberately enlarged to emphasize his role as manual laborer), the artist shrunk the head of his subject ever so slightly so as to imply that while the colonial peoples supplied the brawn, the colonizers would need to supply the brain power.


A painting from the same fair hangs on the wall behind this figure depicting colonial pavilions built along the Seine to represent France’s overseas empire. These modern architectural interpretations drew upon the vernacular vocabulary of the indigenous colonial peoples to demonstrate and celebrate France’s super-national dominions. Hundreds of thousands of visitors to the fair would have been exposed to these and other artifacts of colonial propaganda created to justify European colonialism and cloak their political and economic designs under the guise of humanitarian “civilizing” missions.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

A painting from another gallery also generated lots of excitement and discussion, as the students examined a Parisian portrait painted by Anja Decker in 1934. Many colonial troops from Africa were brought to Europe to fight alongside the French in the First World War, and some of them—along with a number of African-Americans remained in France after the war. The student visitors pondered the significance of the title and the depiction of the Strange Couple, and debated whether the artist was sympathetic towards the interracial pair, or was implying something more ambivalent or sinister about the power dynamics of their relationship.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

The group made a quick foray into the Art Deco exhibition on our seventh floor gallery to look at a poster designed for the 1925 Exposition internationale des arts decoratifs et industriels modernes in Paris that represented a beautiful nude indigenous woman lifting a curtain to reveal herself and the backdrop of a North African city.


After discussing the colonial and gender implications of this poster, the students regrouped in our rare book and special collections library to view a display and presentation of rare materials related to France’s overseas possessions and colonies. Thanks to the generosity of our founder, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr., who resides in Paris for much of the year, the Wolfsonian Library possesses an extraordinarily rich collection of rare books, periodicals, portfolios, pamphlets, postcards, and other printed materials. Many of them document France’s 19th and 20th colonial adventures or relate to the representation of their colonies at various world’s fairs.


The library, for example, holds a bound edition of supplements published by Petit Journal during the Exposition universelle celebrations in Paris in 1900. Many of the issues have color chromolithographic illustrations depicting some of the indigenous peoples who were transported to the fair. These natives populated “human zoo” exhibits designed to educate Parisians and other fair-goers of the races, cultural traditions, handicrafts, and natural products brought under France’s global sphere of influence.



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

The collection holds some important items from the Exposition coloniale de Marseille in 1922, including this poster picturing indigenous women from across the globe intended to represent France’s far-flung colonial empire.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

The vast majority of our French colonial collections, however, were published and printed to document the 1931 Exposition coloniale internationale de Paris. The library holds numerous books, portfolios, postcards, pamphlets, souvenir viewbooks, and even a children’s coloring book describing the fair and the importance to the metropole of her far-flung colonies.

Several of the portfolios provided images of a pavilion designed by architects Albert Laprade and Jaussely, and decorated with bas relief designs by Alfred Janniot.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Loan

Details of the bas relief sculpture on the side of the building presented the millions of visitors to the fair with images of the flora, fauna, and natural resources of French colonies around the world, as well as exoticized and eroticized images of the native inhabitants.




The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Loan

The Musée Permanent des Colonies still remains, though it has since been rechristened, Palais de la Porte Dorée. Other buildings representing the indigenous architecture of French colonies were built and positioned in the fairgrounds to reinforce the contrast between native “primitivism” and metropole “modernism.”


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection


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

The temporary and ephemeral examples of native buildings were always intended to give way to the more durable “sophisticated” structures of the Parisians.


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

 Perhaps the most interesting image published in a portfolio for the 1931 colonial exposition is a photographic image of a group of indigenous women, presumably brought to the fair to show off their native dress and customs to the visitors. A photographer captured an image of three such women wearing an innovative and beautiful blend of African and Parisian haute culture perhaps as they prepared to leave the fairgrounds for a night on the town.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

We hope our virtual visitors enjoyed their tour as much as our FIU francophile visitors did.

Radicals and Reactionaries: Extremism in America

•October 30, 2019 • Leave a Comment

Earlier this month, twenty-four students enrolled in my America & Movies course focusing on radicalism in America came to The Wolfsonian–Florida International University museum for a presentation of primary source materials about some of the extremists we have been learning about in class. This particular class session was focused on left- and right- wing extremist groups and individuals in the early decades of the 20th century. The Wolfsonian Library holds an important collection of materials produced by and about the Communist Party U.S.A., the Ku Klux Klan and its splinter group, the Black Legion, as well as works celebrating figures, such as African-American poet, Langston Hughes, or lampooning others, such as publishing magnate, William Randolph Hearst and the “Radio Priest” Father Charles Coughlin.


Several of the students had elected to participate in a curatorial project on the topic and had the opportunity to talk to their fellow classmates about how they had formulated their ideas for the installation and made their selection of materials to be exhibited.


In focusing on the ideological battles waged between the left and the right, the students looked at how extremist groups used politically loaded imagery and caricature to recruit new members, to demonize their enemies, and to promote their “cause.” The library holds several books and pamphlets produced by the Ku Klux Klan attacking minorities, immigrants, and Catholics, even as they presented themselves as chivalrous white-robe knights and “guardians of liberty.”


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Long-term Loan

While Ku Klux Klan membership peaked in the 1920s and was in serious decline in the 1930s, a splinter group known as the Black Legion emerged in the Midwest to carry on the WASPish struggle against immigrants until the secret society’s political corruption and criminal activities came to light. Actor Humphrey Bogart’s Hollywood exposé, Black Legion helped topple the sinister organization.


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

The class also examined some materials that provided evidence of the Communist Party’s strategies for indoctrinating youth and courting African Americans in their membership drives. In focusing their propaganda efforts on the young, the CPUSA were heeding the advice of their late comrade and leader of the failed Spartacus uprising in Germany in 1919, Karl Liebknecht, who wrote: “He who has the youth has the future.”


The Wolfsonian–FIU, purchase

The American Communist Party leadership published pamphlets, books, and periodicals aimed at children and young adults with stories they could relate to and also encouraged socially-conscious parents to send them to “young pioneer” summer camps.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, purchase


The Wolfsonian–FIU, gift of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca in honor of Mitchell Wolfson, Jr.’s Eightieth Birthday


The Wolfsonian–FIU, purchase

The CPUSA also worked hard to recruit African Americans to the cause during the 1930s. Between 1910 and 1930, two million African Americans had migrated North in search of a better life, but in the wake of the 1929 Stock Market Crash and onset of the Great Depression, racist attitudes had flared up so that Blacks tended to be the “first fired and last rehired.” By 1932, half of the African American population was unemployed, and in New York City many of the achievements of the “Harlem Renaissance” had been erased and property gains by the black middle class had been lost. To demonstrate their sincerity and solidarity with the African American community, the Communists organized the “Upper Harlem Council of the Unemployed” and staged integrated demonstrations and marches aimed at stopping evictions. They were also actively involved in fighting “Jim Crowism,” promoting “Negro” civil rights, and championing Federal anti-lynching legislation; and highlighting the exploitation and plight of poor sharecroppers and tenant farmers facing Ku Klux Klan terror and their own push for “Negro self-determination” in the South.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, gift of the August Mecklem Estate

The Party was also the first to nominate an African-American Vice Presidential candidate, James W. Ford.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, gift of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca in honor of Mitchell Wolfson, Jr.’s Eightieth Birthday

Attacking the National Association for the Advancement of Colored Peoples (NAACP) leadership as both elitist and subservient to white interests, the CPUSA competed with them for the hearts and minds of the Black intelligentsia as well as the oppressed African American “underclass” of the “Blackbelt.”


The Wolfsonian–FIU, gift of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca in honor of Mitchell Wolfson, Jr.’s Eightieth Birthday


The Wolfsonian–FIU, purchase

Prominent Black intellectuals such as W. E. B. DuBois and the poet Langston Hughes were recruited to the cause. In a collection of works by Hughes published by the Party in 1933, the editor made much of the fact that even as a famous bard and promoter of American poetry was reciting several of Hughes’ poems at a gathering of political elites in the dining room of the Wardman Park Hotel in Washington, D.C. in 1925, the distinguished poet was in the room, not as a celebrant in that segregated venue, but invisibly clearing tables as a busboy.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, gift of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca in honor of Mitchell Wolfson, Jr.’s Eightieth Birthday

In an attempt to court conservative Blacks to the cause in the South, the International Labor Defense, the legal arm of the Party, took up the defense of the Scottsboro Boys, nine African American youths being “railroaded” in the Alabama courts. In their quest for work, the nine boys had hopped a freight train, only to be hauled off in Scottsboro, Alabama in March 1931, after having gotten into a scuffle with some white hobos. To avoid being charged with vagrancy, two white girls also discovered on the train concocted a story that they had been gang raped by the “brutes.” After narrowly avoiding a lynching, the boys, whose legal defense was a real estate lawyer who encouraged them to plead guilty, were convicted by an all-white jury and all but the youngest sentenced to death. The ILD secured the permission of the parents of the defendants to represent the boys and to demand a retrial, and the Party also organized demonstrations in cities across the globe in support of their clients. As part of their propaganda media campaign, the Party also prepared for publication a lino-block book providing the historical context for the trial lampooning KKK justice in the South.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

The Great Depression decade became the Party’s “We told you so” moment for their argument that capitalism was on its last legs and Socialism on the ascendancy. It was also a period of unprecedented popularity for the Party and its Popular Front organizations.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, gift of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca in honor of Mitchell Wolfson, Jr.’s Eightieth Birthday

The unforeseen rise of Fascist and Nazi totalitarian regimes presented the CPUSA with a new challenge and opportunity. Organizing Communist Front organizations like the American League Against War and Fascsim, the Party presented themselves as the most progressive organization in America arrayed against the forces of “social fascism” at home, and fascist dictatorship and military aggression abroad.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, gift of the August Mecklem Estate

William Randolph Hearst, whose media empire controlled a third of the nation’s news outlets, became a target of the labor groups and the left.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, purchase

Hearst was particularly despised for visiting Adolf Hitler soon after his seizure of power, at which meeting he negotiated a lucrative deal in which he agreed to print Nazi propaganda in his newspapers and help rehabilitate the dictator’s reputation in America. The CPUSA artist Hugo Gellert produced several scathing caricatures of the media mogul.


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

Other leftist pamphlets attacked Hearst as a Nazi sympathizer, variously depicting him hiding behind the flag and his 100 percent Americanism slogans, as a Nazi rat enemy of labor, and as a vampire bat in league with Hitler.



The Wolfsonian–FIU, purchases


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

The American League Against War and Fascism even organized a mock trial of Hearst before a packed house at the Hippodrome in New York City in October 1936.

Other targets of the left included Father Charles Coughlin, the “Radio Priest” who used his national broadcast to 30,000,000 listeners to rake in $50,000 a week during the depression as he attacked the Godless Communists, preached Anti-Semitism, and lauded the fascist regimes of Europe. Gellert published several caricatures of the priest.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection


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

These are but a few examples of the holdings of extremist materials in The Wolfsonian Library and a small sampling of some of the items that will go on display in our next library installation which will open on January 30, 2020.

Caricaturist Conrado W. Massaguer and His Contemporaries

•August 20, 2019 • Leave a Comment

In little more than a week, a Wolfsonian Library installation titled Caricaturas will open to complement an exhibition in our fifth-floor gallery dedicated to Cuban art director, publisher, illustrator, and caricaturist, Conrado Walter Massaguer (1889–1965).



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Promised gifts of Vicki Gold Levi

This new installation will include works by the world-renowned Cuban caricaturist but will also feature the satirical portraits made by other Latin American artists.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Promised gift of Vicki Gold Levi

In tandem with the proliferation of popular magazines and periodicals in the early twentieth century, the caricature provided something better than an “objective” or photographic image of politicians and celebrities; by exaggerating easily recognizable facial features, mannerisms, or physiques of popular figures, the caricature combined portraiture with pictorial wit. Caricature rose to prominence both as a byproduct of mass media and celebrity culture, and as an important shaper of public opinion.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Promised gift of Vicki Gold Levi

The modern caricature in Latin America developed in the aftermath of independence from Spanish rule, which tolerated no political dissent, humorous or otherwise. As the liberated colonies became nations, caricaturists emerged to celebrate their new cultural identities, but also to wage ideological war and to lampoon the incompetence and corruption of new political elites. Even during the era of the Cuban Republic, caricaturists frequently found themselves in trouble with disgruntled political leaders, angered by their satires. Conrado Massaguer despised Cuban president Alfredo de Zayas y Alfonso and his Conservative Party vice-president, General Francisco Carrillo, as his caricatures made clear.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Loan

Although originally supportive of their successor, Gerardo Machado, once the latter broke his campaign promise and extended his term of office, caricaturists Massaguer, José Cecilio Hernández Cárdenas (Hercar), Ramon Arroyo Cisneros (Arroyito), and Juan Eduardo David Posada (David) all used their satirical wit to embarrass the Cuban President and all were subjected to arrest or fled the island into temporary exile.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Promised gift of Vicki Gold Levi

Caricatures circulated widely either on or between the covers of popular magazines published in the Caribbean, and the South and North American continents. Massaguer’s caricatures of Cuban politicos, world leaders, artists, celebrities, and stars of the silver screen regularly appeared in the “Ellos” and “Cine” sections of his flagship magazine, Social (Havana).






The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Loan





 The Wolfsonian–FIU, Promised gifts of Vicki Gold Levi

His popular illustrations also graced the covers of Carteles (Havana) and Cosmopolitan (New York), and could also be found within the pages of Vanity Fair (New York), and numerous syndicated newspapers.


Contemporary Cuban caricaturists, such as David (Juan Eduardo David Posada, 1911–1981), Hercar (José Cecilio Hernández Cárdenas, 1904–1957), Arroyito (Ramon Arroyo Cisneros, Cuban, 1901–?) also achieved real popularity in that island nation. Their caricatures were reproduced both in Massaguer’s publications, and in the pages of his chief rival, Bohemia (Havana), though only a few of these artists achieved the international acclaim that Massaguer received.

David made his public debut with a solo exhibition in Santa Clara, Cuba in 1931, and was arrested soon after for his political opposition to the regime of President Gerardo Machado. Following Machado’s fall from power, David moved to Havana in 1935 exhibiting and winning awards for works exhibited at the Salón de Humoristas, and publishing his caricatures in the popular Cuban periodicals Social, Patria, Grafos, and Bohemia.


David caricatured a wide variety of world figures, including a scowling portrait of the Duke of Windsor, whom the artist despised as a Nazi sympathizer; a beaming Queen Elizabeth II on her ascension to the British throne; and the troubled former Venezuelan president and exiled opposition leader, Rómulo Betancourt, following a failed attempt on his life ordered by that nation’s military dictatorship.


 Loan, DiazCasas Collection, New York, N.Y


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Promised gift of Vicki Gold Levi


Loan, Yucef Merhi

Born and raised in the Santa Amalia barrio of Havana, the Afro-Cuban boxer José Hernández Cárdenas also won renown as a graphic humorist. His first illustrations were featured in the periodical El País under the pseudonym “Juvenal” in 1923; the following year he participated in the Fourth Salón de Humorismo under his penname, Hercar, a contraction of his two surnames. As early as 1934, he was jailed for lampooning Fulgencio Batista, the army leader who overthrew President Machado the year before. Hercar continued to pen portraits critical of many Cuban politicos, and he was arrested numerous times after Batista returned to power in a 1952 coup.


Loan, DiazCasas Collection, New York, N.Y

Arroyito was born in Havana in 1901, and began publishing caricatures in La Semana, his own periodical, Karikato, and later in Bohemia. Cuban President Machado’s anger over his satires forced him into temporary exile. In this humorous drawing of Ramón Grau San Martin, the artist has the Cuban president demonstrating his keen grasp of the obvious as he exclaims “It appears that it is going to rain!”


Loan, DiazCasas Collection, New York, N.Y

An Arroyito portrait of Fulgencio Batista has him looking like the cat that swallowed the proverbial mouse. The description on the back of the drawing notes Batista’s rise from modest sergeant stenographer to leader of a military coup that ousted President Machado in 1933 and effectively (and often capriciously) ruled the country from behind the scenes for the next eleven years.


Loan, DiazCasas Collection, New York, N.Y

As he had during the Machado regime, Arroyito again left the country after Fidel Castro’s revolutionaries took power. He continued to produce political satires, many of them appearing in Bohemia Libre published by Cuban exiles in Venezuela.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Promised gifts of Vicki Gold Levi

Famed bandleader Xavier Cugat (1900–1990) also earned a reputation as a splendid caricaturist, though he eschewed the biting satires of Cuban politicians that embroiled his fellow Cuban illustrators in controversy. Instead his illustrations parodied other celebrities and promoted Cuban music and culture. He is pictured here working on one of six full-page color illustrations of Latin-American musicians and dancers that appeared in The American Weekly, and in self-portraits that decorated his autobiography and one of his record jackets.




The Wolfsonian–FIU, Promised gifts of Vicki Gold Levi

Of Massaguer’s contemporaries, only Mexican artist and ethnographer Miguel Covarrubias (1904–1957) rivaled his reputation for caricature in the United States of America. Covarrubias moved to New York City in 1924 where he famously documented the Harlem Renaissance, published his first book of celebrity caricatures the following year, and regularly provided illustrations for the covers of The New Yorker and Vanity Fair.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Historical Design

Covarrubias was not afraid of using his pictorial wit to puncture the inflated egos of world leaders and rising dictators. When Italian officials complained about Covarrubias’ depiction of Mussolini on the cover of Vanity Fair, Condé Nast editors diplomatically replied that unlike the photograph, a “conspicuous caricature” provided “vivid interpretation” of the personalities, and ought to be regarded as “an acknowledgement of world importance, rather than an insult.”

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Covarrubia’s wit and humor are in evidence in his satirically titled book of caricatures, The Prince of Wales and Other Famous Americans, published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1925.



 The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Historical Design

Within its pages, Covarrubias lampooned all sorts of famous Americans and international celebrities, ranging from U.S. president Calvin Coolidge, silent film star Charlie Chaplin, industrialist John D. Rockefeller, and baseball player Babe Ruth.





 The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Historical Design

Caricaturists not only contributed to the concept of modern “celebrity”; their witty renderings sometimes made celebrities of their irreverent illustrators. Many caricaturists produced self-deprecating self-portraits or were satirized by other sketch artists.


Covarrubias self-portrait, The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Historical Design


Covarrubias caricature by Massaguer, The Wolfsonian–FIU, Promised gift of Vicki G. Levi

Conrado Massaguer included in his autobiography a 1916 portrait of Italian operatic tenor, Enrico Caruso, as well as one of himself made by that famous singer.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Promised gift of Vicki Gold Levi

Another caricaturist who achieved notoriety in the United States was the Mexican illustrator, Antonio Arias Bernal (1914–1960), who was described on his death in The New York Times as “the most strident voice in Latin America against the dictators of the Second World War.” His caricatures regularly adorned the covers of Hoy [Today] and Siempre! [Always], two of the most popular weeklies of their kind in Mexico. He also made the covers of American magazines as Colliers.


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

When U. S. President Franklin Roosevelt wanted to encourage neutral Latin American countries to join the Allied war effort, Arias Bernal was commissioned by the Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs (CIAA) to create anti-Axis posters and an illustrated deck of cards to spread that message. The posters for the project were completed eight months before the peace was signed, but the playing cards project was discontinued as the war’s end was in sight.



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

Massaguer contributed some of the most memorable anti-Axis propaganda in Cuba, reproduced as magazine and cookbook illustrations and advertisements.


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



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Promised gifts of Vicki Gold Levi

Such humorous and irreverent wartime illustrations not only poked fun at enemy leaders; they were instrumental in raising and maintaining morale on the home front. We hope that those of you living in or planning a visit to South Florida will take advantage of the opportunity to see some of these caricatures in person.

Italian Ethiopia at The Wolfsonian Library

•August 6, 2019 • 1 Comment

This past month, The Wolfsonian Library hosted a three-week visit by James De Lorenzi, hailing from John Jay College (CUNY) and enjoying one of our Wolfsonian fellowships. Dr. De Lorenzi is currently working on a project about the Italian Orientalist scholar, Enrico Cerulli (1898–1988), and the ways in which his knowledge of East African anthropology, folklore, linguistics, and history was placed in the service of the Italian propaganda campaign and colonization project undertaken by Benito Mussolini’s Fascist state. While a simple search of our library catalog did not bring up any books penned by Cerulli, the fellow was impressed with how much primary source literature and visual propaganda we have concerning the Italo-Ethiopian War, 1935–1936. Many of these materials were originally purchased from History Revealed or donated by some of our long-term supporters such as Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf.



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Purchased with Founder Funds

Mussolini’s invasion of Ethiopia in 1935 was not the first time that the Italians attempted participate in the “scramble for Africa” or to turn Ethiopia into a colonial possession. Between 1887 to 1889, the Italian monarchy fought a war with the Ethiopian Empire that resulted in the Italian annexation of Eritrea and a treaty of peace that the Italian victors interpreted as effectively establishing an Italian protectorate over the region disputed by the Ethiopian Emperor, Menelik II. As early as 1893, Italian colonial troops in Italian Eritrea invaded Ethiopia, with a full-scale war being fought between 1895 and 1896. The 100,000 strong indigenous army inflicted a decisive defeat of the 20,000 Italian troops led by General Baratieri at the Battle of Adwa, killing 7,000 and capturing 3,000 more, with another 2,000 of their Eritrean Ascari allies dying in battle or being slaughtered after surrendering. The surviving colonial troops retreated back to Eritrea. The Wolfsonian Library holds a rare collecting card produced by the Compagnia Italiana Liebig in Milano that commemorates the battle.



The Wolfsonian–FIU, purchase

In the wake of Benito Mussolini’s march on Rome in 1922 and the subsequent assumption of dictatorial power by his National Fascist Party (PNF), Il Duce would begin to clamor for Italy’s “place in the sun.” Although Libya was colonized in the 1910s, the Fascist state would turn its attention back to Ethiopia in the mid-1930s, first embarking on a propaganda campaign to “educate” the Italian people about the region, and afterwards to publicize supposed Ethiopian barbarism, savagery, and atrocities committed against Italian nationals to court public opinion, curry favor at the League of Nations, and ultimately, to justify their military invasion.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Purchased with Founder Funds

Once the invasion and colonization began in earnest in 1935, the Fascist regime produced a barrage of visual material for domestic consumption. Perhaps most disturbing of these materials are those that targeted the young and that perverted educational materials into manipulative propaganda. One game taught young Italians about the geography, history, and natural resources of Ethiopia, while another game board produced by a patriotic baby food company encouraged them to crisscross the country to be the first to capture the capital of Addis Abeba.




XB1992_1787_3_000  XB1992_1787_4_000

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

The Wolfsonian Library also holds numerous school notebooks with color illustrated front covers depicting Italian troops not as invaders, but as heroic and triumphant “liberators” welcomed by the Ethiopian populous for abolishing slavery.



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gifts of Lucia Stafanelli Torossi


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Other mass-produced items included a series of postcards illustrated by Aurelio Bertiglia (1891–1973). The artist used images of children in colonial military uniform fraternizing with friendly natives to imply that comraderie and friendly relations rather than animosity and violence were the norm during the colonization of Ethiopia.



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

As an enticement to colonial military service, the regime printed pamphlets, posters, and display cards depicting heroic Italian soldiers winning honor and glory in battle.



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

Popular Italian periodicals used caricature and pictorial wit and humor to ridicule Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie and the supposed temerity of their Ethiopian adversaries. One cover of Il Travaso delle Idee depicts Ethiopian technology as rudimentary and primitive; another depicts an Ethiopian male rousting his wife from bed in order to wave the sheet as a white flag of surrender at the approach of the Italians.


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


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

While musical scores and razor packages reminded Italian men of the triumphal reversal of fortunes in Adwa in the Second Italo-Ethiopian War of 1935–1936, pocket-sized calendar booklets reminded these same clean-shaven conscripts that every Italian woman adored a man in a uniform.






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

Other materials aimed at young Italian males offered up images of the “Black Venus” on everything from hygiene pamphlets, fans, to calendar leaves to invite them to equate military and sexual conquest.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection



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

While Italians were being encouraged to celebrate and take pride in the establishment of their new empire, British colonial boosters and anti-imperialists alike published maps of the region and tracts critical of Italian interlopers.




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

The British consular corps and concerned American citizens groups and anti-Fascists also published pamphlets that reproduced abstracts of testimony at the League of Nations questioning the claims and motives of the Fascist invaders.


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


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Purchase

Other nations produced scathing critiques of the Italian invasion of the last autonomous nation in Africa. The Turks were particularly strong in visually lambasting Mussolini’s invasion of Ethiopia with biting caricatures printed on the covers of the popular magazine, Akbaba, ridiculing Mussolini’s pretensions to empire, and the savagery of his use of poison gas and bloody reprisals to subdue the country.





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

When the League of Nations imposed economic sanctions and trade restrictions on Italy for its invasion of Ethiopia, Mussolini ignored the protestations and his government continued to produce all sorts of publications documenting their road-building efforts and “civilizing” mission in Africa.







The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection


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

By May 1936, the Italians formally annexed the country, though Ethiopian rebels continued to resist, with many killed in Marshal Graziani’s cruel and bloody reprisals. As neither Great Britain nor France recognized the legitimacy of Italian Ethiopia and the League of Nations had imposed punitive economic sanctions, the Fascist state embarked upon a policy of Autarky (economic self-sufficiency) with the aim of replacing lost trade with goods and new materials that could be produced within the confines of their new Empire.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

The Fascist regime also encouraged Italians emigration to their new colony by celebrating their efforts in elaborately decorated, large-format books.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Historical Design

Once the Second World War began, Italy would find their imperial possessions in Africa under attack. To encourage neutral Latin American countries to join the Allied war effort, the U.S. government commissioned Mexican artist Antonio Arias Bernal to create an illustrated deck of anti-Axis caricature playing cards to spread that message. The posters for the project were completed and printed in portfolio format eight months before the peace was signed. But as the war’s end was in sight, the project was discontinued, though the artist privately printed and distributed a small number of the playing cards. Two of Arias Bernal’s images questioned the legitimacy of Italian East Africa: one print depicts Mussolini as a modern Nero, playing the fiddle while Africa burns while the next pictures exiled Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie heading for Geneva and London to lodge a complaint with the League of Nations and seek aid as the dictator presents his crown to King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy.



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

While Italian colonial troops invaded British Somaliland in 1940, by the spring of 1941 British forces counterattacked deep into Ethiopian territory, restoring Haile Selassie to the throne by early May. The Italian army surrendered after their defeat at Gondor, and while a few Italian Black-shirted guerrillas continued to resist, arrangements were made with the British to repatriate Italian civilians back to Italy under the auspices of the International Red Cross. The Vulcania, an Italian passenger ship commandeered and converted into a troopship during the Second Italo-Ethiopian War and again during the Second World War, was among the vessels dispatched on such missions. The Wolfsonian Library holds a rare photograph album produced by the Ministero Africa Italiana in 1942 documenting that evacuation and the end of Italian imperial ambitions in East Africa.





The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Maria Paola Maino

Oblivious to the realities of their military situation in Africa, as late as 1942 Fascist propaganda continued to promise that the Italians would return.


Ironically, in the twenty-first century, many thousands of North Africans have been crossing the Mediterranean by way of Italy’s former colony in Libya to begin new lives in Southern Europe.


June 30, 2017. Refugees arrive at Augusta, Sicily. Rescue boats have brought more than 10,000 migrants to Italy this week. EMILIO MORENATTI/AP
Image courtesy of Tom thetimes.co.uk