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

•May 27, 2016 • Leave a Comment

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



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Pamela K. Harer

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

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


Photograph by the author.

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


Photograph by the author

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


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

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


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

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


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

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




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

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



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

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



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

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


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

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


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

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




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

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


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

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

The Promise of Paradise: Wolfsonian Exhibition on Cuba Opens

•May 16, 2016 • 1 Comment

Gift of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca

The exhibition Promising Paradise: Cuban Allure, American Seduction opened first to VIP guests and museum members on Thursday, and then to the general public this past Friday.

Vicki Gold Levi Speaking

Curator Frank Luca

Lauren Horgan & Roberto Siam Dancing14

Photographs courtesy of World Red Eye

Drawn primarily from a gift made by Vicki Gold Levi, and curated by Rosa Lowinger and myself, the exhibition deals with U.S.-Cuba interaction between 1919 and 1959—a time of cordial relations and significant cultural exchange between our countries. It was during this period that the first two major waves of American tourists flooded into Cuba in the 1920s and 1950s, and music and dance originating in the island infiltrated and “Cubanized” the American music scene.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Collection

I thought that for today’s post I would provide a glimpse into the installation process, a “teaser” of a few items from the exhibit, and a look at other materials we would have liked to have included had space permitted.

Although I have been curating installations in the foyer of The Wolfsonian’s rare book and special collections library for well over a decade, this was my first major exhibition in the galleries. It was humbling to realize just how much teamwork is involved in organizing and assembling an exhibition. Our donor, Vicki Gold Levi provided a wealth of background information on the hundreds of vintage photographs included in her donation. All of these items (ranging from sheet music, to advertisements, posters, lobby cards, booklets, menus, record album covers) had to be rapidly accessioned by a number of interns working under the supervision of assistant registrar, Amy Silverman, and then digitally documented by museum photographer, Lynton Gardiner. With well over a thousand newly donated items to review, the next task was to begin to see what kind of story these artifacts told, and to start culling and making the initial selection of those items that would best illustrate that narrative.

As I began to work on the exhibit, I began vetting my ideas in meetings with the curatorial staff, the Exhibition Manager, Lisa Li Celorio, and the Exhibition Designer, Richard Miltner. Assistant Curator, Exhibitions and Loans, Whitney Richardson also tirelessly pinned images to the constantly evolving storyboards, and wrote up and sent out loan agreements to private collectors and galleries from whom we wished to borrow some artwork.


After many meetings and revisions, and more culling, we emerged with the basic narrative structure, storyboard, and layout for the show, and my co-curator, Rosa Lowinger and I began writing the descriptive and interpretative text panels. After another round of revisions, the finalized versions were sent out to Spanish language translators, and then back to our Art Director, Marlene Tosca for font selection and design. Ms. Tosca also came up with the design of the exhibition invitations, brochures, and banners.


Photograph courtesy of World Red Eye


As I intended the exhibit to include several clips from Hollywood films in the show, I also worked with our intern, Barbara Bollini, and our Digital Assets Manager, Derek Merleaux to prepare the clips for projection in the galleries. Lisa Li identified a large number of home movies Americans had taken of their trips to Cuba from 1920s through the 1950s preserved and digitized by the Wolfson Media Center from which we selected a few to serve as a reintroduction to the Havana of this earlier era.



As the exhibition included a treasure-trove of smaller ephemeral materials, the Senior Preparator, William Kramer, and Art Handlers Steve Forero-Paz, Carlos Alejandro were especially busy in the weeks immediately prior to the opening creating hundreds of Melinex backings for the brochures, postcards, vintage photographs, and other items to be mounted in specially-designed cases.


Our Chief Exhibition Designer, Richard Miltner came up with the ivory and black wall backgrounds and vaulted ceiling color schemes, and deciding which images from the collection ought to be enlarged, produced on vinyl, and mounted on the gallery walls. He also worked with the museum’s Deputy Director, Collections & Curatorial Affairs, Sharon Aponte Misdea, who took on the responsibility of enlivening the lobby space with a selection of enlarged reproductions of vintage album covers, Arthur Murray dance step instructions, and music of the period.


Rosie Ramos & Yeney Ramos1

Photograph courtesy of World Red Eye

So as not to “steal thunder” from the show—and after all, images on line are fine, but there’s nothing like the real thing—I thought that I would include in this post images of materials representing some of the important themes of the exhibition that for reasons of space, did not make the cut. With more than 1,500 items in the Vicki Gold Levi Collection donated over the course of a decade, we had an embarrassment of riches from which to choose, and from which we will continue to mine for other exhibitions.

No consideration of Cuban national identity would be complete without referencing the importance of the sugar and tobacco crops which dominated the island’s economy from the early colonial period through the mid-twentieth century, when tourism gained a foothold in Cuba’s economic and social life.


Gift of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection





The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Collection


Gift of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca

If sugar (and byproducts, such as soft drinks, rum, and chocolate) and tobacco were the “king” and “queen” of the Cuban economy, it was the hawkers and street vendors who captured the imagination of Cuban and American photographers, graphic artists, and musical composers.



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Collection

Equally important to Cuba’s sense of national identity in this period was the image of La República; the island’s Spanish, Afro-Cuban, and Caribbean heritage; Cuban music and dance; sports and other pastimes; and modernist architecture.



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Collection


Gift of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca







The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Collection

The first wave of Americans traveling to Cuba in the era of Prohibition (1920-1933), were largely socialites looking to spend the winter season under the tropical sun.





The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Collection

They did so in part to indulge in the forbidden fruits of drinking rum, playing roulette, and dancing the scandalously sensual rumba in the hassle-free Havana, much like the character portrayed by actress Carole Lombard in the Hollywood hit, Rumba (1935).



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Collection

The second wave of American tourists to flood into Cuba came in the 1950s, drawn especially by the incredible musical talent, cabarets, and legendary nightlife that Havana had to offer as the “Paris of the Antilles” and the “Las Vegas of the Tropics.” Largely funded by casino money, the Montmartre, Sans Souci, and Tropicana were the three venues most popular with the tourists.



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Collection

As my co-curator’s book, Tropicana Nights makes clear, it was the latter venue that set the standard for the nightclub experience in Havana. The Tropicana evolved out of the Eden Concert, an outdoor cabaret in downtown Havana organized by Victor de Correa.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Collection

In 1939, the club was relocated to the tropical gardens of an estate on the outskirts of Havana, where the mansion of Villa Mina was converted into a casino. There in the early 1950s the modernist masterpiece “crystal arch room” and “under the stars” stage were added, and the club’s glamourous showgirls, and two nightly floorshows organized by the great choreographer, Roderico (“Rodney”) Neyra won it worldwide fame.










Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Collection

Of course, there were a myriad of smaller clubs and dance venues in Havana as popular with the locals and Cuban performers as they were with the tourists.




The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Collection

Much of the mania for Cuba was fueled by Hollywood movies and celebrities filmed and photographed in recognizable haunts in Havana.




Gifts of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca


Loan, Vicki Gold Levi Private Collection


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Collection

Even in the dark days of the Great Depression, when travel to Cuba became an unattainable dream for most Americans, movies like Warner Brothers’ Out of the Fog continued to reflect the American desire for escape to “exotic” Cuba, or at very least, the rumba dance halls in major U.S. cities.


Gift of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca

Cuba-themed Hollywood films and movie stars not only encouraged tourists to vacation in Havana, they also brought Cuban music and dance into the American consciousness. The popularity of Cuban music in the United States spawned a proliferation of Latin-inspired nightclubs and Latin-North American musical fusions, from rumbas, to Afro-Cuban jazz, mambos, and cha-cha-chas.




The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Collection


Gift of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca





(And, yes, that is Mary Taylor Moore!)


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Collection

Promising Paradise will be on view in our seventh floor gallery through August 21, 2016. Throughout the summer, Miami Beach visitors and residents can also enjoy watching a series of Cuba-themed films, courtesy of The Wolfsonian and the Miami Beach Cinematheque.

A smaller installation about sports and race in Cuba and the United States organized by Barbara Bollini Roca in the museum library foyer will open to the public later this week, so stay tuned!



•April 30, 2016 • 1 Comment

Today’s post comes to you courtesy of Associate Librarian Dr. Nicolae Harsanyi, and concerns a recent visit to The Wolfsonian museum and library by a group of Chinese museum professionals. The library has a decent collection of rare books, periodicals, and ephemeral items documenting the Yihequan Movement (a nationalist uprising against foreigners and Christian proselytizing, popularly known in the West as the Boxer Rebellion, 1899-1901 ). The uprising was put down by an international expeditionary force under the Eight-Nation Alliance, and although the German forces arrived too late to participate in the fighting, they took part in the subsequent occupation of cities in Northern China, and in punitive expeditions into the countryside in which atrocities committed by the invading troops. Thanks largely to gifts made by Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf, the library also holds materials documenting the first and second Sino-Japanese conflicts (1894-1895 and 1937-1945) and gifts by Steve Heller and former Wolfsonian fellow Eric Dluhosch provided the library with some graphic propaganda from the post-World War II rise to power of Chairman Mao Zedong. Here is Dr. Harsanyi’s report:

This week, the library received a visit by a group of Chinese museum administrators and curators representing the Private Museums Association of Jiang Su Province. We, the librarians, prepared a small display of library holdings relating to China which were very much appreciated by our enthusiastic visitors:

Photo 1

Our guests had the privilege of being the first visitors to view a recently acquired memorial photograph album commissioned by a German marine gunner as a memento of his service years (1910-1913) in China. Its richly embroidered cover in silk thread features the symbols of both China and Germany, the dragon and the eagle, engaged in an uneasy stand-off that reflected the relationship between the two countries in the decade following the Boxer Rebellion:


Photo 3

The same symbolic motif of the dragon and the eagle appears prominently on a silk memorial banner complementing the photograph album. Also recently acquired, this remarkable artifact belonged to the same German soldier and will be transferred to the museum’s registrars for storage in the objects collection.

Photo 4

Next to the banner and photograph album we displayed a rare book published in 1910 in Berlin that dealt with Germany’s military engagement in East Asia at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries:


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

In order to illustrate that China continued to be the target of imperialist endeavors until the end of the Second World War, we showed our visitors a war strategy board game dating from 1938. Published by the Tokyo Youth Club, it was meant to indoctrinate Japanese children about how to occupy Manchuria.  While the recto maintains the graphic design discernible in board games, the verso shows actual front lines superimposed on a physical map of the region:



Political propaganda from the 1950’s and 1960’s in the People’s Republic of China is quite well represented in our library holdings, ranging from children’s books to various English language periodicals. They are chiefly centered around the figure of Mao Zedong, the totalitarian leader who ruled the country with an iron fist from 1949 to his death in 1976.  The illustrations in a series of children’s books meant for English-speaking audiences deliver their propagandistic message through impressive imagery:





Gifts of Steve Heller

A clipboard style notebook cover features a young female member of the Red Guards enthusiastically waving Mao’s little red book.


Gift of Steve Heller

Copies of this almost iconic propaganda tool, both in Chinese and in English, are held in our library:



Gifts of Steve Heller

Our visitors were surprised that our library even had two sound recordings from the period of the Cultural Revolution:


Gifts of Eric Dluhosch

The accompanying booklet of the latter record uses an original form of musical notation different from traditional Western styles of musical scores:


Gift of Eric Dluhosch

War and Remembrance: Afghanistan Album at the Wolfsonian-FIU Library

•April 19, 2016 • Leave a Comment

Today’s blog post comes to you courtesy of Sharf Associate Librarian, Rochelle Pienn. Ms. Pienn has been cataloging and preparing for digitization hundreds of original journals, scrapbooks, and photograph albums donated to The Wolfsonian–FIU rare book and special collections library by Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf. These materials provide an intimate look at some of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century conflicts that raged in parts of the world where conflict  continues to brew. Seen from the perspective of current events, these albums appear both timeless and relevant. Here is Rochelle’s report.

The Afghan Defense Ministry confirmed capture of a Taliban leader this morning.


Afghan National Army (ANA) officers march during a training exercise at the Kabul Military Training Centre in Afghanistan in this October 7, 2015 file photo. REUTERS/Ahmad Masood/Files TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY – RTSE3V1


World news sources cover ongoing fighting in the Middle East, as U.S. Coalition forces and the Afghan Army attempt to defeat the constant barrage of anti-democratic insurgents. Almost one hundred years ago, Great Britain and Russia jostled for imperial power in the Northwest Frontier Province of India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, where local tribes already clashed over their regional differences. The Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection at the Wolfsonian-FIU Library, a treasure trove of rare and original archival materials, contains this one-of-a-kind photograph album documenting British activity in Balochistan during the Third Afghan War in 1919.


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

Lieutenant J. D. Harding of the British Army’s Kent Regiment points himself out in this snapshot.


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

Images such as these of a burning fort and recovery efforts by the frontier forces indicate a familiar sight of destruction.



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

Much of the harsh environment remains unchanged for nearly a century, making foreign military success a challenge.


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

Troops set up camp at the foothills.


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

The Pakistan Lancers marched with the camel caravan not far behind.



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

A Jirga, or a group of Islamic tribal leaders meeting to officiate decision making, discuss the possibility of peace. Baloch people, Pashtuns and British look for an easement.


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

Pathan (Pashtun) prisoners were escorted away from contested territories by British troops.



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

Harding also captured scenes of daily life in the Northwest Frontier natives.


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

The undeniable beauty of the local people made for striking group portraits.


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

This stark scenery still symbolizes the forbidding landscape where desert and war do not seem to end.


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

Harding’s album is one of several original photograph albums documenting the Afghan wars that are featured in the Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection. To explore this album further or to see more of our collection, please contact the Wolfsonian-FIU Library.

A Wolfsonian Perspective on Two U.S. Presidential Visits to Cuba

•March 20, 2016 • Leave a Comment


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Collection

Less than a week after announcing an ease on travel restrictions to the Communist-ruled island of Cuba, Barack Obama will make history tonight by flying to Havana, becoming the first U.S. president to visit the island nation since Calvin Coolidge. There are both interesting parallels and differences between the state visits separated by eighty-eight years.

Calvin Coolidge visited Cuba in January 1928 in order to attend and deliver a speech at the 6th Inter-American Conference held in Havana. At the time, Cuba was under the rule of President Gerardo Machado (1871-1939). The Machado family raised cattle and tobacco in Las Villas, though his father left to join the rebels during Cuba’s Ten Years’ War against Spain (1868-1878). Gerardo followed his father’s example when he joined the rebels in the struggle for independence in 1895, becoming one of the youngest to rise to the rank of brigadier general. Running on an anti-American imperialist and nationalist platform, Machado was elected president of Cuba and took office in May 1925, though once in office he cultivated close ties to Washington and Wall Street.


Mayor James Walker of New York confers with President Machado, February 1927

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Collection

Machado inaugurated a large number of infrastructure and public works projects, which included the construction of the Carretera Central (or Central Highway), and el Capitolio, the neo-classical Capitol building bearing an uncanny resemblance to the one in Washington, D.C.!


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

Whatever goodwill Machado’s ambitious building and modernization policies generated early in his presidency, his tinkering with the Constitution to allow for a second (and extended) term in office, his violent crackdown on dissidents, and the murder of labor leaders and political opponents negated his popularity and transformed his presidency into a dictatorship until his overthrow in 1933.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Collection

When Calvin Coolidge traveled to Havana to attend the Inter-American Conference, it was amid much anti-imperialist sentiment and skepticism among Latin Americans accustomed to U.S. “Gunboat Diplomacy.” At the time of the conference in Havana, the hated Platt Amendment (limiting Cuban sovereignty) was still in force, and U.S. troops were still occupying Haiti and battling against the populist Nicaraguan rebel leader, Augusto Sandino. It did not help the U.S. image that Coolidge arrived in Havana Harbor aboard the warship U.S.S. Texas and amid a flotilla of destroyers intended to project American strength.



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Collection

In spite of the show of force, huge crowds gathered to cheer the arrival of Coolidge as his naval escort passed El Morro Castle at the entrance of Havana harbor. News reports described the spectators collectively as the “greatest crowd ever assembled together in the history of Cuba….”


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Collection

On January 16, 1928, Coolidge addressed the attendees of the conference, and praised the “progress” made by the “sovereign” Cuban Republic, exaggeratedly describing the Cuban people as “independent, free, prosperous, peaceful, and enjoying the advantages of self-government.”

As Miami and Miami Beach had been devastated by hurricane in 1926, Cuba had already become popular with American investors and wealthy tourists interested in booking a cruise to escape Northern winter weather and evade the U.S. Prohibition against drinking “intoxicating spirits.”



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Collection

Ironically, on the same day that Coolidge delivered his speech before the Pan-American conference, a Pan-American Fokker F-7 flew seven passengers from Key West, Florida to Havana, Cuba. This marked the inauguration of the first U.S.-flag scheduled passenger service between the U.S. and Cuba, and further augmented the flow of American tourists to the island republic.




The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Collection

 President Barack Obama will travel to Cuba tonight with his family aboard Airforce One, with only the regular security detail that accompanies foreign state visits. Over the course of his brief visit, Obama is scheduled to confer with President Raul Castro, meet with Cuban dissidents, and to deliver an address to the Cuban people. But after his duties as a visiting head of state are concluded, it is expected that Obama and his family will also do some more typically tourist sightseeing, and to attend and watch an exhibition baseball game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cuban National Team. Perhaps it is these more mundane and down-to-earth activities that signal a new era in the normalization of relations between Cuba and the U.S.



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Collection

A small exhibit in The Wolfsonian–FIU library titled Cuba: From Gunboat Diplomacy to Good Neighbor Policy can be seen by museum visitors at our location on Tenth and Washington in South Beach. The installation was curated by two Florida International University undergraduate students, Famirka Then and Francisco Salas, and examines the early period of U.S.-Cuba relations.


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

This coming May 6th, The Wolfsonian–FIU museum will open to the public a new and larger exhibit titled Promising Paradise: Cuban Allure, American Seduction. Curated by myself in collaboration with Rosa Lowinger, author of Tropicana Nights, this exhibition is drawn primarily from a gift of more than 1,500 vintage photographs, pamphlets, posters, periodicals, postcards, and other rare ephemeral items donated by Vicki Gold Levi. While it will examine U.S.-Cuba relations between 1919 and 1959, the exhibit will not be focused on politicians and politics, but rather on the cultural communication and exchange that took place during this period of relatively warm and cordial relations.



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Collection


Out With the Old, In With the New: FDR’s Inauguration and a New Wolfsonian Library Installation

•March 4, 2016 • Leave a Comment

On this date in 1933, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was sworn in as the 32nd president of the United States. In delivering his inaugural address, he pledged to “dedicate this Nation to the policy of the good neighbor—the neighbor who resolutely respects himself and, because he does so, respects the rights of others—the neighbor who respects his obligations and respects the sanctity of his agreements in and with a world of neighbors.”


The Wolfsonian-FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Franklin Roosevelt’s Good Neighbor Policy was a significant departure from the Gunboat Diplomacy of his distant cousin, Theodore Roosevelt. As Assistant Secretary of the Navy, as commander of the Rough Riding volunteer cavalry fighting the Spanish in Cuba, and as Commander-in-Chief, “Teddy” Roosevelt lived by the motto “speak softly and carry a big stick.” Not surprisingly, Teddy was far more prone to bullying his Latin American neighbors rather than dealing with them.


The Wolfsonian-FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Collection

The Wolfsonian Library has just recently taken down its exhibit on the early history of Miami Beach, From Mangrove to Tourist Mecca, and replaced it with a timely exhibit examining U.S.-Cuba relations titled, Cuba: From Gunboat Diplomacy to Good Neighbor Policy.



The Wolfsonian-FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Collection

Put together by two Florida International University students, Famirka Then and Francisco Salas, and edited by Sharf Associate Librarian, Rochelle Pienn and myself, the exhibition makes use of several generous gifts to the collection. Famirka has been working in our rare book library as a volunteer for some time, accessioning and cataloguing hundreds of sheet music covers from the era of the Spanish-American War of 1898. These items were originally collected and preserved by Joseph K. Albertson and donated to The Wolfsonian by the Monroe County Public Library in Key West. Famirka made the initial selection of those to be included in the exhibit and worked with Rochelle on the descriptive and interpretive label text for these items.


Sheet music was an important medium for building popular support for the American intervention in Cuba’s independence struggle. In the wake of the explosion and sinking of the USS Maine in Havana’s harbor, propagandistic sheet music cover illustrations and martial or sentimental music constantly reminded Americans to “Remember the Maine.”




The Wolfsonian-FIU, Joseph K. Albertson Collection, Gift of Monroe County Public Library,         Key West, Florida

Francisco Salas, an FIU student enrolled in my America and Movies: Cuba and the United States, 1898-2016 history class selected photographs, labels, envelopes, magazine covers and other rare artifacts donated by Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf and Vicki Gold Levi. He used these in cases and a Powerpoint slideshow to illustrate changes in policy and relations from the days of Teddy and the “Rough Riders” to the era of Franklin and the “New Dealers.”



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


The Wolfsonian-FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Collection


The Wolfsonian-FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Collection

This final image, an original photographic print dating from February, 1933, captures a ceremony held at the Monument to the Victims of the USS Maine in Havana, Cuba. It seems only fitting that the joint Cuban-American ceremony commemorating the 35th anniversary of event that triggered American intervention in Cuba’s independence struggle was held just weeks before FDR’s inauguration. Fitting also that this installation on U.S.-Cuba relations opens at this auspicious moment, when another U.S. President has adopted a more conciliatory policy of engagement with the island nation.

Zines for Progress

•March 2, 2016 • Leave a Comment

While I have temporarily assumed the hat of curator and have been busy preparing an exhibition about the U.S.-Cuba relationship between 1919 and 1959, my colleagues in The Wolfsonian-FIU library, Dr. Nicolae Harsanyi and Rochelle Pienn have been attending to visiting high school students working on a Zines project with the museum’s education staff. Here is Dr. Harsanyi’s report:

In December 2015, and January 2016, the first groups of teachers and students participating in the museum education department’s “Zines for Progress” program visited the Wolfsonian-FIU library.*  Using a variety of periodicals displayed for this purpose on the large reading room table, our Chief Librarian, Dr. Francis Luca, explained a multiplicity of meaningful features exhibited by the publications on view.



The most common form of binding used in the production of periodicals is to staple together the pages and the cover. This requires, however, a more industrial approach to binding. Instead, the students can resort to a more readily available method, that of sewing together the folded leaves:


Also some magazine designers resorted to metal or plastic spiral binding. This allows the reader to hold the periodical in one hand while reading:


ter es forma

Alphabet and Image3

As a rule, periodicals are printed so that they can reach a large number of readers. A variant to printing is the multiplication of pages by mimeography, a method suited to publications with a small print run.  Our library has several newsletters published in the camps of Civilian Conservation Corps (or CCC), all mimeographed:





As it was evident in the cases above, the design of titles for the periodicals may involve hand lettering, instead of using regular typefaces:


In his presentation, Dr. Luca also talked about the importance of the typography and art that go into the design of the front covers of periodicals. He emphasized the unity between content and form in the design of propaganda magazines published by totalitarian regimes.  The military invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany in 1939, the event that started World War II, is epitomized on the cover of the magazine “Die Pause”:


The cult of personality of Mao Zedong is propagated on and through the cover of an English language magazine intended for readers outside China:


Magazine covers often feature artwork that is meant to attract the would-be buyer through shocking images: the covers of pulp fiction periodicals testify to this marketing device:



*Other groups of students from Miami area schools involved within the same project visited the library in 2016, according to the following schedule: December 15, 2015 – Law Enforcement High School ; January 14, 2016 – South Miami Senior High; January 26, 2016 – Arthur and Polly Mays Conservatory of the Arts; January 28, 2016 – G.H. Braddock Senior High; January 29, 2016 – I Prepatory Academy; February 25, 2016 – Miami Beach Senior High; March 15, 2016 – Miami Beach Senior High.


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