Cruising the French Caribbean aboard the S.S. Wolfsonian

The Wolfsonian’s rare book and special collections library opened its doors to the public and provided tours all day Friday and Saturday, March 2 and 3 as part of the Tout-Monde Festival, the first Caribbean contemporary arts festival in the United States. The event was organized by Vanessa Selk, attachée culturelle et éducative, and sponsored by the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in the USA, in close partnership with the France Florida Foundation for the Arts.

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The Tout-Monde (or “Whole World”) concept was originally introduced by Edouard Glissant (1928–2011), a Martinique-born philosopher and poet who dedicated his life and art to recognizing and celebrating the diversity of peoples and cultures, and who believed that “opening up to the Caribbean is opening up to the world.”

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As part of the Tout-Monde celebrations, the Wolfsonian librarians organized a display in the main reading room of Caribbean materials pulled from our extensive collections of printed cruise line and tourism literature.

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The public was invited and encouraged to explore rare children’s books with colorful pochoir illustrations depicting Columbus’ landfall in the Caribbean;

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

…rare aluminum-foil embossed books, brochures, cutaways, and deck plans of the great French luxury liners: the Normandie, L’Atlantique, and the Ile de France;

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

…children’s coloring books, original watercolors, and postcards depicting Martinique, Guadalupe, and French Guiana, published in tandem with various colonial and international exhibitions in Paris;

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Purchased with funds donated by Mitchell Wolfson, Jr.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Loan

…and portfolio plates with photographic images of the bas-relief façades of buildings and pavilions representing the French Caribbean at the Exposition Coloniale Internationale held in Paris in 1931.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Purchased with funds donated by Vicki Gold Levi

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Loan

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Promised gift

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Loan

The display and tours drew 114 visitors into the library over the two-day open house, including visits by the French Consul General Clément Leclerc and Cultural Ambassador of the festival and former Minister of Justice of France Christiane Taubira, who took particular interest in the materials depicting French Giuana.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Promised gift

Cruise ship aficionados and library donors Thomas Ragan and Elise Grace Holloway also stopped by for the festivities, the latter bearing gifts of some Grace Line stamped silverware.

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The majority of interwar and post-Second World War, Caribbean-related items spread out on the tables were brochures and advertisements drawn from the Mitchell Wolfson, Jr., Laurence Miller, Thomas Ragan, Elise Grace Holloway, Andrew and Roni Smulian, and John Henry collections of ocean liner and cruise industry promotional materials.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Loan

The display included brochures that packaged first-class accommodations aboard freighters and cargo ships, before the advent of container ships made them commercially obsolete.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Laurence Miller Collection

Many brochures focused on the ships themselves, emphasizing their size, amenities, and the comforts of first-class travel.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Thomas C. Ragan Collection

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Laurence Miller Collection

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Bill and Elise Grace Holloway Collection

Others sold passengers on travel to the Caribbean by emphasizing encounters with the “exotic,” employing the tropes of tropical palms and images of beautiful island women on brochure and menu covers.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Laurence Miller Collection

Some employed stereotypes of smiling, dark-skinned islanders, racist caricatures all too common to the era.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Laurence Miller Collection

Still other brochures played with the Caribbean’s history of corsairs and pirates to attract tourists to the West Indies.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Marco Island Historical Society

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Laurence Miller Collection

But whatever the strategy deployed to encourage tourists to book passage to the region, more often than not it was the balmy climate, aqua-blue waters, natural beauty, and diversity of the Caribbean community noted by Edouard Glissant that kept them coming and that continues to generate interest today.

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~ by "The Chief" on March 7, 2018.

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