In Memoriam: Dr. Marjan Groot

•June 17, 2019 • Leave a Comment

The staff at The Wolfsonian–Florida International University were saddened to learn this week of the recent and unexpected passing of Dr. Marjan Groot, a former Wolfsonian fellow, academic partner, and longtime friend of the institution. Marjan studied Cultural Anthropology and Art History in Amsterdam and Leiden, graduating from the Academy for Art and Design in Amsterdam and earning a doctorate in the Humanities from the University of Leiden. Most recently, she taught the history of Western design and decorative arts as an associate professor and senior lecturer at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.


I first had the pleasure of meeting Marjan when she came to The Wolfsonian as a research fellow in the summer months of June and July 2003. The Wolfsonian Library possesses the largest holdings of Nieuwe Kunst (or Dutch Art Nouveau) book bindings outside of The Netherlands, all published between 1880 and the 1920s and purchased by our museum founder, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. in the 1990s. While most of these books could be found in various libraries in her homeland, Marjan was eager to explore our collection where she could see all of the books together in one place. Our holdings also include the original cover art drawings—complete with publishing house comments and suggestions for changes—normally discarded after the books were produced. Elsewhere in the museum, the books and ephemera are complemented by decorative arts objects and furniture made by the same artists.



While the library staff had already catalogued most of the books in this collection, our bibliographic records only identified those bindings produced by famous Dutch artists like Jan Toorop (1858–1928), Theo Neuhuys (1878–1921), L. W. R. Wenckebach (1860–1937), Theo. W. Nieuwenhuis (1866–1951), Carel Adolph Lion Cachet (1864–1945), Gerrit Willem Dijsselhof (1866–1924), for which there is more than adequate documentation in Ernst Braches’ seminal study. Marjan’s particular area of interest was Dutch decorative arts and the Modernist movement during the period 1880–1940, and reclaiming the role played by marginalized and largely ignored women designers.


Book Cover Design by Wilhelmina Cornelia Drupsteen


Book cover design by Willemina Polenaar

When Marjan arrived to work on her own independent study project, we were delighted to find that she was more than generous in sharing her work and discoveries with us. Not only did she help us identify the many less-renowned but equally talented Dutch women artists represented in our collection, but showed us how to recognize their often subtle makers’ marks and initials. Because of her review of our materials and records, we were able to substantially improve our bibliographic records of our holdings.



Book cover designs by Anna Sipkema

Marjan was so enamored of our collection that she returned to The Wolfsonian many times over the course of her academic career. Between October and November 2004, and most of the month of May 2005, she visited our institution to review the collection, all the while helping us to provide English translations of titles and other information to make our holdings more accessible to the community of scholars around the world. As a direct result of her invaluable aid and assistance, we can acknowledge and share with the public the art of Dutch women designers such as Anna Sipkema (1877–1933), Cornelia van der Hart (1851–1940), Fabea Elisabeth Lydia Brandt (1853–1907), and Wilhelmina Cornelia Drupsteen (1880–1966).



Designs by Anna Sipkema



Book Designs by Cornelia van der Hart


Book Design by Elisabeth (Fabea Elisabeth Lydia) Brandt


Book Cover Design by Willemina Drupsteen

Marjan returned to Miami Beach in January 2012, where she was invited to participate to a multi-day curatorial research project partially sponsored by public funds from the Netherlands Cultural Services. Marjan collaborated with our own curators, Silvia Barisione and Marianne Lamonaca, and three other scholars: Frans Leidelmeijer, Dutch decorative arts expert; Mienke Simon Thomas, senior curator of decorative arts and design at the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen in Rotterdam; and Esther Cleven, curator at the Bauhaus Museum in Weimar and expert on Dutch graphic design. It was in the course of this workshop that the group considered possible themes for a future exhibition mainly drawn from own Dutch holdings.

Modern Dutch Design Gallery View 2_18A4210


Photographed by Lynton Gardiner

When the exhibition Modern Dutch Design came to fruition in November 2016, Marjan returned to Miami Beach for the opening, having played no small part in its preparation and success. Not only did she contribute an essay to the catalog, titled: “Another Perspective: Women in Dutch Decorative Art and Design,” but she also introduced the exhibition organizers to contemporary Dutch artist Christie van der Haak, who provided an amazing treatment of the museum’s façade and lobby, More Is More, to celebrate the show.

More Is More exterior_photo by Lynton Gardiner (2)

More Is More lobby_photo by Lynton Gardiner (2)

Marjan visited The Wolfsonian Library and Miami twice more because of her love of the museum and the city. She returned to Miami in May 2017 and again in November, where she read a paper, “Art Deco Design between the Netherlands and Belgium: the Case of the Kuijken Family, 1918–1940,” at the ICDAD Annual Meeting in Miami held at The Wolf in November 2017.

Marjan will be sorely missed by all of us who had the great privilege of getting to know her and admire her generosity of spirit. We can be sure, however, that her legacy of celebrating women artists and designers will live on in her academic and curatorial contributions to the field, in the lives of the students she taught and influenced, in the artwork she loved, and in the memories of her family and colleagues.


The Artwork and Caricatures of Conrado Walter Massaguer

•May 31, 2019 • Leave a Comment

This Thursday and Friday, The Wolfsonian–Florida International University will celebrate a promised gift by Vicki Gold Levi of artwork and ephemera with the opening of Cuban Caricature and Culture: The Art of Massaguer, an installation of works by the celebrated Cuban artist, caricaturist, and publisher, Conrado Walter Massaguer (1889–1965). In the process of organizing an installation, the curator begins with the widest range of works for possible inclusion, and slowly winnows down that selection to just those items that best support the central themes and the physical limitations of the exhibition space. Inevitably, many excellent works and much text gets culled. This post will include some items from the installation, but will also feature some items that deserved inclusion but did not make the final cut.


Loan, Leonard Finger, Private Collection

Born in Cárdenas, Cuba, Conrado spent his formative years freely moving between his homeland, Mexico, and the United States. To escape the hostilities of the Cuban Independence wars, the Massaguer family fled to Mérida, Yúcatan, México when Conrado was only seven and returned after the establishment of the Cuban Republic in 1902. Believing their son would benefit from an education in the United States, his parents sent him to the New York Military Academy.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Promised Gift

Throughout his life, Massaguer easily crossed national borders, internalizing and synthesizing the social trends and artistic movements of North America, Europe, and Latin America, and becoming a trendsetter and taste-maker in his native Cuba.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Loan

In the early 1900s, Massaguer’s artwork graced the covers of El Figaro magazine, where his illustrations first explored many of the themes that would interest him throughout his life: imaging the “new woman” (or flapper) ideal; promoting Cuba as a tourist destination; and satirizing and caricaturing public figures.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Promised Gift

As early as 1910, Massaguer turned his artistic talents to profit when he co-founded “Mercurio,” his first advertising agency. Six years later, he founded the Instituto de Artes Gráficas and another advertising firm, “Kesevén Anuncios.” Together with his brother, Oscar, Conrado co-founded the short-lived Grafico (1913–1918) and two of Cuba’s most influential magazines, Social (1916–1933, 1935–1937), catering to and shaping the cultural tastes of the island nation’s elites, and Carteles (1919–1960), aimed at a more popular audience.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Loan


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Promised Gift

Ads designed by Massaguer’s advertising firms often depicted nationally and internationally recognized politicians and celebrities (such as Charlie Chaplin and Cuban president Gerardo Machado) hawking Cuban products or promoting local establishments; these typically appeared in the many magazines he and his brother published.


Massaguer ad for chocolate using a caricature of Charlie Chaplin

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Promised Gift


Keseven ad with Massaguer caricature of Cuban President Machado

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Loan

Library Havana Mag Bk Cover

Loan, Emilio Cueto Private Collection

After the Great War ended and Cuban officials decided to promote the island as a tourist destination for North Americans, Massaguer represented Cuba at the World Convention of Advertisers meeting in New Orleans. In the decades that followed, he provided artwork for hotel brochures, advertisements, and posters promoting his homeland as an island paradise for the Cuban Tourist Commission.



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Collection

While the Great Depression and political strife under the Machado dictatorship dampened enthusiasm for tourism in the 1930s, Massaguer continued to keep the Cuba dream alive.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Massaguer painted a mural for one of the principal salons of the Cuban pavilion at the 1939 New York World’s Fair that depicted world leaders and celebrities ogling a Cuban rumba dancer. A scandal arose after someone in the Cuban government denounced it, claiming it had caused offense with the American public; Cuban President Laredo Bru preemptively ordered it painted over.


As art director and publisher, Massaguer mingled with local politicos, foreign dignitaries, and visiting celebrities, many of whom he parodied in his syndicated caricatures. In Cuba, he was responsible for disseminating modernist aesthetics and graphics and mentoring and promoting avant-garde artists such as Jaime Valls.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Collection

During Massaguer’s early stays in New York, he drew inspiration from the American artist Charles Dana Gibson’s popularization of late Victorian high society and debutantes with his “Gibson Girls.”


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Loan

As an unapologetic modernist, Massaguer made Social a vehicle for shaking up conservative Cuban society. In first year of the publication of Social, Massaguer introduced an illustrated feature, wryly captioned “Massa-Girls”—a play on the sound of his surname, but also having bawdy connotations since “masa” was the Cuban slang word for describing female flesh.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Loan

On its covers and within its pages, Massaguer promoted the “new woman”  in his portraits of beautiful, young Cuban women who dared to “bob their hair,” discard constraining Victorian corsets and values, and embrace social and sexual liberation.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Collection

Though Massaguer frequently produced idealized illustrations of beautiful women, he rarely caricatured the female sex in the same way that he regularly exaggerated the features of male celebrities and leaders.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Loan

In fact, after the noted American composer Mana-Zucca introduced Massaguer to members of the Miami Music Club in April 1926, The Miami News quoted him as modestly claiming to be a better husband than caricaturist. Having described himself as being on excellent terms with his mother-in-law, he admitted that he hadn’t “done her caricature—perhaps that’s the reason we get along.” When pressed, he told the reporter that “I don’t mind making a man’s caricature” but that he was “timid about making a woman’s.” There were some rare exceptions.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Promised Gift

Massaguer frequently traveled back and forth between his homeland, the U.S., and Europe, exhibiting his work in galleries, contributing to magazines, and establishing his reputation as one of the most celebrated caricaturists of world leaders and celebrities. He adopted a modernist approach to caricature, believing that a simple, fine line and a spontaneous, secretive hand better captured the essence of a subject than a studied and highly edited portrait made of a posed or posturing subject. As early as 1911, Massaguer had gained recognition for his popular caricatures with a solo exhibition of this work at the Havana Ateneo. In 1921 he founded La Primera Exposicíon de Humor and the following year published Guignol [Puppet Show], a collection of his most popular caricatures.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Promised Gift

Full-page color caricatures of Cuban politicians and world leaders and celebrities were a regular feature of the “Ellos” section of Social.




The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Loan

As an illustrator and publisher, Massaguer was directly involved in shaping the art scene in Cuba and in promoting avant-garde aesthetics. He was an active member of the Minoristas and provided a caricature portrait of the group for a spread in his Social.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Loan

Massaguer straddled the worlds of Havana and New York City during important moments of his career. Determined to make a name for himself in “populosa Manhattan,” Massaguer created a calling card to introduce himself to New York society, describing himself as “yet young, single and easy to look at.” When he disembarked in New York in November 1924, however, he arrived with his new bride, a niece of the former Cuban president Mario G. Menocal. After honeymooning at the Waldorf-Astoria, Massaguer established a studio in the city and contributed cover art and caricatures to many quintessential American magazines.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Collection

Some of Massaguer’s artwork celebrating Cuban life and culture was exhibited at the Delphic Studio in New York City.



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Promised Gifts

A page in his Social proudly noted that “The reviews in the newspapers and the art magazines have all had praise for Massaguer, whose New and Noisy triumph in the great Yankee metropolis so difficult for the foreign artist to conquer, fills those of us working for this magazine with intimate satisfaction and pride because it signifies triumph not only for our compatriot, but also for our publication and for Cuba.”


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Loan

Cuban president Gerardo Machado’s repudiation of a campaign promise not to seek a second term, coupled with economic chaos and ruthless repression of dissent, pushed many early supporters like Massaguer into the dissident camp.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Promised Gift

In 1929 Massaguer eschewed political strife at home by sailing for Paris. There he exhibited 40 color caricatures before traveling to the League of Nations conference in Geneva, Switzerland to make caricatures of the world leaders in attendance for the King Features Syndicate. News of the Stock Market Crash and violence and repression in Cuba convinced Massaguer to returned to New York City in 1931 as a political exile; he remained there for much of the decade in far more humble circumstances. Economic and political difficulties necessitated the suspension of Social and Carteles, and he concentrated on providing cover art and humorous portraits of celebrities for American magazines and books such as Cosmo Hamilton’s People Worth Talking About (1933).


Massaguer caricature of Rudyard Kipling

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Promised Gift

As political turmoil in Cuba and global economic depression forced him to suspend publication of Social, Massaguer provided American magazines and publications with cover art and illustrations.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Promised Gift

Once Franklin Delano Roosevelt came to office, Massaguer began supplying witty caricatures of his controversial National Recovery Administration (NRA) program aimed at reviving the economy.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Promised Gift

Massaguer was back in Cuba during the Second World War, where he put his caricature to use in the service of the Allies.

villaverde world leaders in car 1945

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Promised Gift

The U.S.-Cuba tourist trade flourished in the post-war 1950s, and Massaguer greeted and sketched visiting foreign dignitaries and celebrities in his capacity as public relations director of the Instituto Cubano de Turismo.


Massaguer painting Maurice Chevalier, Loan, Ramiro Fernández

Towards the end of his long career, Massaguer self-published an illustrated autobiography reproducing some of his most popular caricatures.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Promised Gift

Towards the close of the decade, Cuba’s thriving tourist trade was once again interrupted by political strife as revolutionaries sought to depose President Batista, who had assumed power by a coup. Following the overthrow of the Batista regime in 1959, Massaguer published a book providing the first caricatures of Castro and his triumphant revolutionaries.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Promised Gift

Ironically, many of the advertisements within depict the bearded revolutionaries enjoying and hawking classic American products, like Coca-Cola, Buick, Jell-o, and other brands soon to be taboo once Castro nationalized businesses and relations with the U.S. grew strained.



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Promised Gift

But Fidel Castro’s revolution would soon prove to be too radical for Massaguer and the social order he once knew, influenced, and celebrated with his long-defunct magazine, Social. The last of Massaguer’s popular magazines, Carteles, would stop being distributed in 1960 and the former publisher would finish out his remaining days quietly working in the Cuban National Archives.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Promised Gift

We hope to see you at the opening party (free to the public) one week from today. The event, co-presented by The New Tropic, features live music by Son Cubano, dancing, and Bacardi mojitos. RSVP here.


Memorial Day Reflections on the Spanish-American War and World War II

•May 27, 2019 • Leave a Comment

This month, the Wolfsonian librarians provided special access to two war-related collections in our holdings. Early in May, Judith Berson-Levinson, the daughter of a Second World War veteran, called to let us know that her long-awaited book, South Beach at War: Sun, Sand and Soldiers during WWII, had been published. As a local NBC affiliate contacted her about participating in a Memorial Day special, she asked us if we would host the interview so that she could include some of the “Sand in their Boots” memorabilia she had donated to our collection. Her timing could not have been better, as we had just de-installed an installation of some of her rare materials from a student-curated display at Florida International University.


Unconstrained by the limitations of cases, we laid out some of these same items and others that demonstrated Miami Beach’s importance as an Army Air Forces Technical Training Command center during the Second World War. Gleaned from WWII veterans and their families, the Judith Berson-Levinson Collection includes such diverse materials as photograph albums, matchcovers, membership cards, menus, magazines, postcards, pamphlets, and military graduation yearbooks.





The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gifts of Judith Berson-Levinson

This collection also includes a sound recording and numerous pillowcases made for the AAF servicemen stationed in Miami Beach to send home to relatives, sweethearts, and wives before being transferred to the combat zones.





As noted in an earlier post about the student installation, the materials in this collection document Miami Beach’s transformation from a winter vacation destination into an Army Air Corps training camp. Hundreds of Art Deco hotels had been converted into barracks, mess halls, and education centers.


he Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Judith Berson-Levinson

The transformation of Miami Beach did not end in 1945; having exposed so many GIs to the beauty and recreational opportunities of South Florida, many of these veterans returned with their families to vacation here at the war’s end, while many others decided to return to spend their golden years in the Sunshine State as retirees.



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gifts of Judith Berson-Levinson

After completing her interview, Judith was gracious and generous enough to donate several more items to be added to the “Sand in their Boots” archive, including a group photograph, photograph album, an AAF Officer Candidate and Officer Training School dinner program, and some additional decorated pillowcases and handkerchiefs (sent as mementos to loved ones by GI shipping out overseas).




The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gifts of Judith Berson-Levinson

Be sure to catch Judith’s interview on NBC or visit the website links to her interview.

Later on in May, we were contacted by Tania Caragol, a curator at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. Ms. Caragol had scheduled a research visit last November and had examined a number of historical bindings related to the Spanish-American War (1898) for possible inclusion in an exhibition about that conflict. She returned this month with Kim Sajet, the first woman to serve as the director of the National Portrait Gallery and eleven other Smithsonian enthusiasts touring South Florida. After a meet and greet with our own director, Tim Rodgers, the visitors were conducted up to the library to see a display of rare books and sheet music covers selected by Ms. Caragol documenting the three-month war.


Ms. Caragol led discussions about the materials on the tables and we jointly talked about some of the propaganda campaigns used to stir up animosity towards Spain to justify American intervention in Cuba’s war for independence.


In waging a newspaper circulation war to sell their papers, Joseph Pulitzer (publisher of the New York World) and William Randolph Hearst (publisher of the New York Journal, and Pulitzer’s competitor) greatly contributed to war hysteria by printing lurid, exaggerated, and sometimes fabricated Spanish atrocities committed against Cuban civilians. In fighting an insurgent population, the Spanish General Valeriano Weyler decided to separate the rebels from potential supporters. By 1897, General Weyler had forced more than 300,000 civilians from their homes into “reconcentration camps” where thousands died of disease and starvation. While such legitimate atrocities helped mobilize American opinion in favor of the rebels, the yellow press deployed sensationalized headlines and followed with dramatic and lurid stories to demonize Spain and to personalize the plight of the Cuban people.


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

William R. Hearst seized upon the case of eighteen-year-old Cuban girl, Evangelina Cisneros, the beautiful daughter of a Cuban revolutionary. Hearst’s New York Journal published a serial diary of her trials and tribulations as she fended off the lascivious advances of a Spanish official who alternated between promises of protection and prosecution and subjected her to an indefinite stay in a Havana prison. Not content to report the news, Hearst ordered his reporter, Karl Decker, to help organize a prison break, get her to the port in disguise, and smuggle her out of the country. After spiriting her to the United States, Hearst organized parades and a media blitz which culminated in a visit with the president. Afterwards, the serialized news stories and interviews describing her imprisonment and daring rescue and escape were published in book format.




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

In an anecdote disputed by some historians, the famous illustrator Frederick Remington (sent by Hearst to Cuba to document the battles) cabled the publisher to report that there was no war to cover. The publisher allegedly responded by telling him, “You furnish the pictures. I’ll furnish the war.” Whether or not the words attributed to Hearst were spoken or cabled, most historians agree that the “yellow press” certainly contributed to the call for U.S. intervention in the war. Ultimately, though, it was the mysterious explosion of the warship USS Maine while anchored in Havana’s harbor that provided the pivotal piece of pro-war propaganda. Just as “Remember the Alamo” became the rallying cry in the war for Texas independence in 1836, it found an echo in 1898 in the slogan “Remember the Maine.” With little or no evidence to back up their claims, irresponsible journalists and publishers reported that a Spanish mine or torpedo had killed the 260 sailors and sunk the American battleship. Popular patriotic sheet music covers combined the colors of the flag, with images of the Maine to rally and call Americans to arms.






The Wolfsonian–FIU, Joseph K. Albertson Collection, Gift of the Monroe County Public Library, Key West, Fla.

While an official American investigation at the time confirmed the claims of jingoistic journalists and their publicity-minded publishers, subsequent underwater investigations of the sinking by U.S. Navy experts made in 1976 concluded that an internal explosion was at fault and postulated that a coal bunker fire was the most likely culprit. Based on the contemporary evidence and the war hysteria raised by the yellow journalist press, Congress declared war on Spain on April 25, 1898.



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

The Wolfsonian Library holds a large collection of beautifully bound books published to promote and to celebrate the brief war with Spain, donated by the late collector and amateur historian Frederic A. Sharf. Many self-congratulatory titles praised the American people for extending the blessings of liberty and freedom to Spain’s oppressed colonies.




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

Other books and memorabilia celebrated Admiral Dewey’s spectacular naval successes at Manila Bay with the Asiatic Squadron and created a hero of Teddy Roosevelt, who had resigned his position as Assistant Secretary of the Navy to form his “Rough Riders” volunteer cavalry regiment that participated in the Battle of Kettle Hill.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Purchased with Founder’s Fund



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

Although there were influential anti-imperialists at work in the nation, other publications were designed to instill a sense of pride in America’s new colonial possessions. Americans were also “introduced” to the peoples of their new possessions in the Philippines at “human zoo” pavilions established at subsequent world’s fairs in the United States.


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


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Colleciton

Other items on display for the group included sheet music covers and ephemera covering similar propagandistic themes. Hundreds of these musical scores from the Joseph K. Albertson Collection were donated to our library by the Monroe County Public Library in Key West, Florida—a gift facilitated by Anne Layton Rice.




The Wolfsonian–FIU, Joseph K. Albertson Collection, Gift of the Monroe County Public Library, Key West, Fla.

Other ephemeral items came from Vicki Gold Levi as a promised gift to The Wolfsonian Library. One of our summer volunteer interns, Julia Ricks, has been helping us catalog these items.




The Wolfsonian–FIU, Promised gifts of Vicki Gold Levi

Be sure to visit our museum’s digital image catalog to see these and other items regularly being catalogued, digitized, and uploaded.

A Flurry of Wolfsonian Library Installations and Displays

•May 2, 2019 • 2 Comments

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.