Since this last January, nearly 200 first year students from Florida International University’s Honors College have come to the Wolfsonian museum and library to start them off on a semester-long project to investigate the social, political, and cultural context of a museum object of their choosing. In addition to guided tours of the gallery floors and the exhibit in the library foyer, these students also received an orientation of the Rare Book and Special Collections library. Afterwards, they were invited inside to see at close hand some of the rare materials laid out on the tables of the main reading room.
A number of these students have since made appointments to further investigate museum objects they selected for their final projects. Just this last week, for example, four Honors College students came to the library and used the object files from the registration department and reference books in the library to learn more about their pieces.
One student was interested in learning more about the Art Nouveau Interborough Subway sign from New York City (pictured below) and its British counterpart, a Modernist sign for the London’s underground.
The library collection includes numerous rare and reference titles and ephemera dealing with mass transit in general, and others specifically with subways, trolleys, and other light rail projects. The image below is of one of the children’s books in our collection.
Another FIU Honors College student chose to focus on Alexander Z. Kruse’s painting, Espanolaphone, a bitingly sarcastic portrait of Europe’s clownish devils, Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini. Kruse was one of many left-leaning artists who made politically charged art during the Popular Front period, 1936-1939. This original painting lampoons the two fascists by picturing them as dangerous “clowns” communicating through a phone in the shape of a green bull–(a reference to the military support and aid they provided to Francisco Franco during the Spanish Civil War). The result of their “conversation” can be seen in the window behind them—the Spanish republic has become a graveyard.
The Wolfsonian library has a wealth of material on popular front political agitation in the United States, including rare periodicals, pamphlets, and other radical, leftist, Communist, Socialist, and liberal progressive literature and persuasive art.
We also have dozens of original propaganda leaflets, rare periodicals, and several hundred vintage postcards produced and circulated during the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939.