TOURISM IN THE TROPICS: EXPLORING THE VICKI GOLD LEVI COLLECTION

I’ve decided to hand over today’s blog post to our visiting intern, Alfredo Rivera, who has been coming in all summer long to work with the Vicki Gold Levi Collection of U.S.-Cuba tourist trade materials in our rare book and special collections library. Here is his report:

 

This summer I had the privilege to intern at the Wolfsonian Museum, specifically working with the Vicki Gold Levi Collection. Comprised primarily of material relating to tourism and Cuba prior to the 1959 Cuban Revolution, the collection speaks not only to the visual culture of tourism on the island but also to broader questions regarding Cuban culture. This collection was particularly exciting for me as a graduate student engaged in dissertation research on 1960s Cuban art and architecture. During the entirety of 2010 I was hosted as a Research Affiliate at the School of Architecture at the University of Miami, where I conducted extensive research in their various collections and presented a public lecture on tourism and hotels in Republican era Havana. At that time, I had visited the Wolfsonian to explore their fantastic architectural plans of Havana’s Sevilla Biltmore Hotel and Gran Casino designed by the Schultze and Weaver architectural firm. Little did I know of the gem that is the Vicki Gold Levi collection.

During the last two months, I had been responsible for reviewing the entire collection to make sure that all of the items were properly catalogued and digitized, exploring the materials item by item. The artifacts ranged from guidebooks published by the Cuban Tourist Commission, advertising cards, to major Cuban magazines.

Among my favorite items is a handkerchief promoting Cuba as “the holiday isle of the tropics.” One of several scarves included in Vicki Gold Levi and Steven Heller’s book Cuba Style, the handkerchief has a blue trim and features festive images of beach goers, rumba dancers and significant landmarks. It marks a style evident through much of the material—one of tropical splendor and touristic consumption. An image of this item will soon be made available via the library’s OPAC. While some of the tourism-related objects border on the kitsch, other materials in the collection tie these ephemeral items to their broader cultural and literary contexts. This is especially evident in the collection of important popular magazines in Cuba, particularly Bohemia, Social, and Carteles.

These popular magazines are rich in articles about life in Cuba, international and national affairs, as well as literary works. They also feature the work of many great graphic designers in the island who often also worked within the tourism industry. The founder of Social, Conrado W. Massaguer, is a prime example of a graphic designer who moved from advertising into the realm of publishing. Perhaps most famous for his iconic “Visit Cuba” illustration (reproduced in postcard format), the collection also includes many illustrations he made for Social and other magazines.

I particularly enjoyed his caricatures of important politicians, dignitaries, socialites, and celebrities featured monthly in that journal under the title “Ellos.”

Working this summer on the Vicki Gold Levi collection was very enjoyable. While it doesn’t directly pertain to my current research, it does inform it. I was also able to interact with other scholars engaging with the material. One doctoral candidate from the University of Illinois, Chicago, passed through last month to explore the collection for her dissertation on tourism and hotel architecture in the Spanish Caribbean. We had great discussions about the material and how it relates to tourism and visual culture in Miami. It was great to be contributing to rendering that collection more accessible to scholars and the public by creating links to digital images available in the library’s web catalog. This collection contributes greatly to the Wolfsonian’s broader holdings of decorative and propaganda art as it speaks to the various political, economic, and social contexts in which representations of place are created. Furthermore, it has great significance within the regional context of South Florida and the Caribbean, speaking to the museum’s various publics.

~ by "The Chief" on June 24, 2011.

4 Responses to “TOURISM IN THE TROPICS: EXPLORING THE VICKI GOLD LEVI COLLECTION”

  1. In a strange course of events I sailed to Marina Hemingway in Havana a short time ago. I couldn’t bring myself to leave till the end of the summer and the hurricanes scared me out. I have been unable to wrestle Havana from my imagination since. Since returning I decided to finish my degree and low and behold I’m majoring in Latin American Economics ( Focus on Cuba ). Your pictures and blogs struck a cord with me this morning. They so well represent the dreams that float in the air down there, but never seem to land and become reality. I envy you getting to do this research and compliment you on doing an impressive unbiased job. Thanks for your work.

  2. do you know where I might purchase Vicki Gold Levi’s work?

    • Vicki’s Cuba Style: Graphics from the Golden Age of Design is readily available via Amazon.com and Abebooks.com

      • I saw some of her posters at Havana Central in NYC. Do you know if any of her posters are for sale?

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