From the United States, to the Philippines, to Tokyo, to Cuba: BAA & NEH Scholars Visit The Wolfsonian–FIU

Over the course of the last couple of weeks, The Wolfsonian–FIU hosted two groups of scholarly visitors. The first were American Studies doctoral and postdoctoral candidates participating in the Bayerische Amerika-Akademie (Bavarian American Academy) summer program jointly organized by the Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg and Florida International University. The second group included twenty-nine participants in a National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Summer Institute for College and University Teachers meeting focused on Tokyo: High City and Low City. Under the direction of FIU Professor of Religious Studies and History & Director of Asian Studies, Dr. Steven Heine, and Assistant Professor of Japanese Literature and Culture, Dr. Hitomi Yoshio, the latter group came to The Wolfsonian to review a series of woodblock prints by Koizumi  Kishio (Japanese, 1893-1945)Associate Librarian, Dr. Nicolae Harsanyi, Sharf Associate Librarian, Rochelle Pienn, and I made presentations of specific library materials of interest to the scholars, after which both groups were treated to a guided tour of the museum’s exhibition, Promising Paradise: Cuban Allure, American Seduction.

For the American Studies scholars participating in the Bavarian American Academy, Dr. Harsanyi and I talked about some materials in the library collection targeting or depicting African-Americans in the United States in the ’20s and ’30s. I had pulled some rare materials related to the infamous Scottsboro race trial of the 1930s in which nine boys were unjustly convicted of gang-rape in Alabama. Having assumed custody of the boys’ legal defense, the Communist Party of the United States of America (CPUSA) organized mass demonstrations and prepared a propaganda lino-cut block book for publication as a means of recruiting African-Americans into the Party.


The Wolfsonian holds an original manuscript copy of the book prototype, which includes block print images mounted on craft paper, with hand-written ideas for captions on the opposite page. The book was not published at the time of the trial.




The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Dr. Harsanyi focused on some other materials in the library collection. Here is his report:

I showed our visitors two covers decorated in Art Deco style which both feature African-American figures. On the cover of the June 1929 issue of “Musical Digest,” Mac Harshberger presents a two dimensional image of a dancer-like figure pictured in an upright position bending her knee while her arms twist ready to strike a pair of cymbals.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

The stylized plant to the right of the image is also bending in harmony with the movement of the body and the inner plant contained therein. This powerful movement of both the dancer and the stylized plant is stark contrast with the rigid, static, column-like image of the stylized plant at the left side of the page. The entire composition recalls the famous jazz age dancer Josephine Baker and her poses that electrified the audiences in Paris and all over Europe.



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

On the other hand, the cover designed by Hap Hadley for the 1931 sheet music score by Felix Lewis, “Quit Cryin’ The Blues” incorporates into an Art Deco composition (parallel, regular wavy bands, palms raised in a 90 degrees angle in extension of rectilinear forearms) a stereotypical representation of the head of a crying African-American young male to underline the message of the title of the song.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

This stereotypical image brings to mind the black-face make up worn by Al Jolson, the protagonist of the first sound film, “The Jazz Singer” (1927).


Sharf Associate Librarian Rochelle Pienn also made a presentation on some materials documenting American military participation in the Philippine-American War. Here is her report:

The Jean S. and Frederic Sharf Collection contains rare and unique materials documenting the Philippine-American War, which occurred at the end of the 19thcentury after the Spanish-American War. During that period, colonialism featured prominently in United States’ foreign relations. Bavarian scholars of American Studies had the opportunity to examine period books and original photograph albums produced during this era of nationalism and expansionism in the United States.


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

The 1902 view book, An illustrated and descriptive art collection of America’s New Possessions is possibly the first printed publication released about the Philippine-American War that featured colored photographic reproductions. Frank Tennyson Neely shot images of tanks, soldiers, harbors, villages and natives.


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

 Dramatic scenes depicted the American victory.


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

This shot behind the front lines inferred the proximity of the photographer to the action.


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

Other images captured American cavalry as they passed through a village after a major victory.


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

Natives were often characterized as behind in the advancements of the West, which were described as necessary to produce civilized society.

A hand-assembled original photograph album dated May 26, 1900 reinforced these prevalent racist attitudes. Frank H. Chapman, the album’s compiler, was an American soldier stationed in the Philippines. He identified original albumen prints with written captions.


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

Evidence of U.S. occupation was everywhere.


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

This haunting image shows the author’s edit.


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

The casualties of war were photographed out in the open.


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

In the aftermath of violence, the landscape still provided much beauty.


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

The second group of visitors were interested in our Far East holdings, and particularly in a portfolio of Japanese woodblock prints designed by Koizumi Kishio. I first introduced the scholars to some of the rare Japanese books, periodicals, and ephemera in our collection, including 版画集: 市街戦 (Street fighting), an exceedingly rare block book produced by Japanese Communists in 1930. This block book is intriguingly similar in design and format to that produced by the CPUSA for the Scottsboro trial of the same period.




The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

But the real item of interest for the visitors was a set of block prints from One Hundred Views of Great Tokyo, produced by Koizumi Kishio in the Shōwa Era.


Assistant Registrar Amy Silverman brought the items down to the library for viewing by our guests, which included FIU Assistant Professor of History and Asian Studies, Dr. Amy Bliss Marshall, and FIU Assistant Professor of Chinese Art History, Lidu Yi.

Steven Heine and Lidu Yi took the lead in initiating a dialog about the prints. Lidu Yi was intimately familiar with the artwork as some years earlier she had worked with us in organizing and curating an exhibition of a selection of Koizumi Koshio’s works at the Patrica and Philip Frost Art Museum on the FIU campus in 2014/15,. That exhibit had been titled: Remembering Tokyo, and had included thirty of Koshio’s prints.




During the tours of Promising Paradise, the visitors had the opportunity to see Josephine Baker once more, as she frequently visited Cuba before 1959. A close up of a couple of panels of vintage photographs from the exhibition reveals two photographs of the famous performer.



Those readers visiting or living in the vicinity of Miami can also see Josephine Baker, as well as Celia Cruz, Olga Guillot, Marlon Brando, Cab Calloway, Billy Daniels and a host of other Cuban and American celebrities pictured in vintage photographs on display in the exhibition about the U.S.-Cuba cultural exchange, 1919-1959.


~ by "The Chief" on June 18, 2016.

One Response to “From the United States, to the Philippines, to Tokyo, to Cuba: BAA & NEH Scholars Visit The Wolfsonian–FIU”

  1. Bravissimi!!! How vigorous And completly engaging. Micky

    EeeeSent from my iPad


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