Clear the Tables! French, Cuban, Native American, and Bakehouse Appetizers


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Purchase

Over the course of the last couple of weeks, The WolfsonianFIU rare book and special collections library hosted a number of visits by very diverse groups, and selected rare tidbits for consumption at one of our public programming events. The librarians pulled, displayed, and then re-shelved materials for each group of visitors, only to repeat the procedure again and yet again. Today’s post provides our online visitors with a glimpse of some of the specialties laid out for our guests.


The first set of visitors were interested in some of our French appetizers. Led by Florida International University Professor Maria Antonieta Garcia, twelve students from her French literature, theater, and cinema classes—(some accompanied by their significant others)—arrived to feast their eyes on a variety of items spread out across the main reading room tables.


Some of the students had expressed in interested in sampling materials dealing with nineteenth century train travel, so we displayed some of those holdings.



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Others in the group were interested in the depiction and evolution of women’s roles from a French perspective. The visitors were able to peruse such diverse items as advertising materials, First World War postcards, programs, and rare illustrated books covering such diverse themes as domestic work, regional dress, changing social mores, sexual objectification, and prostitution.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection



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




The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Others at the table included a group interested in the French depictions of race and ethnicity, segregation and integration. Exhibition catalogs, original watercolors, and photographic portfolio plates from the Exposition coloniale internationale held in Paris 1931 provided some food for thought regarding the depiction—particularly of women—and treatment of indigenous peoples from France’s overseas empire in this era.




The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Loans

A calendar advertising tobacco—(recently on display in one of our library installations)—also provided the group with something to consider regarding its visual message.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Loan

A final group of students were interested in early French film, and had the opportunity to flip through a few rare items not yet digitized. After their departure I remembered some portfolio plates from the mid-1920s depicting the Art Deco façades of some Parisian cinemas.



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Almost as soon as we cleared the tables, we had to lay out a spread for a group of Getty Council members.



A couple dozen Getty VIP guests, led by conservator Rosa Lowinger, was planning to travel to Havana, and had stopped at our museum library to whet their appetite with a presentation of some items documenting the U.S.-Cuba tourist trade and cultural interaction during the first half of the twentieth century. As I am beginning to work on an installation about Cuban graphic designer, Conrado Walter Massaguer, and Rosa and I are currently collaborating on a book drawn from a promised gift of rare photographs and other ephemera collected by Vicki Gold Levi, the topic was fresh in our minds and we both talked at length on the subject.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Collection

I pointed out some items that documented the desire to eschew U.S. Prohibition as a driving force in drawing the first wave of wealthy North American tourists to the island in the 1920s, even as the Cuban government passed legislation promoting gambling and other attractions. The first wave of wealthy tourists arriving in Cuba is reflected in such Hollywood films as Havana Widows (1933) and Rumba (1935), and documented in an abundance of photos, periodicals, and memorabilia.








The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Collection & Promised Gifts

Even as free-flowing rum, carnival parades, and the sensual rumba dance enticed visitors, the group’s tour guide, Rosa Lowinger spoke about the American investors, builders, and architects who erected the luxurious hotels, casinos, country clubs, and other infrastructure designed to accommodate the rush of tourists.



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Promised Gifts

Rosa also described the incredible nightlife that Havana offered visitors returning in the 1950s, and about the impact that Cuban music and dance had on the mainland, as Cuban rhythms were adopted and adapted to suit American preferences. Clubs like the San Souci, Montmartre, and Tropicana lured in visitors with gambling casinos, music, and shows.






The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Collection & Promised Gifts

As Cuban performers came to the U.S., the rumba, mambo, cha- cha- cha-, and Afro-Cuban jazz fusions became all the rage in Latin-themed dance halls, and forever changed the American music scene. The visitors had the opportunity to see some of the sheet music and sound recording covers and nightclub programs from the period.





The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Promised Gifts

No sooner than the Cuban materials were retired from the tables, the library hosted a behind the scenes library tour for six staff member of the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Seminole Indian museum.


I had not long ago put together a library installation documenting the use of Native American portraits and other imagery as a means of promoting tourism to the Grand Canyon, Glacier, and Everglades national parks, and we pulled some of these items and others focusing on the Seminoles for the group to peruse.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Loan


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection




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




The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift made by Ideal Gladstone, in memory of her husband, John


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

The library also holds some rare books produced during Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s presidency. One oversized Work Projects Administration portfolio contains 18 silk screen color illustrated plates made by the Michigan Art and Craft Project in Detroit, reproducing movable masks and figures of the North Pacific coast Indians.



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Another book, an illustrated English-Navajo reader designed for Indian children and published by the government to encourage Native Americans to learn English, but to also retain their own language and cultural traditions.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Once the items laid out for the museum professionals had been reshelved, new materials were pulled and set on the tables for a visit by Chris Horn and Emily Barber of the U.S. Forest Service.


The visitors were most interested in some of the Civilian Conservation Corps items in our holdings, which including brochures, pictorial reviews, clippings, mimeographed CCC camp periodicals published by the enrollees, and even a forestry game board.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Christopher DeNoon Collection for the Study of New Deal Culture






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

Putting together this post, I was reminded of the old Grape Nuts cereal commercial in which Euell Gibbons addresses the consumer with the line, “Ever eat a pine tree? Many parts are edible.”


This leads to our last table settings and visitors, appropriately enough, being a group of professionals from the Bakehouse Art Complex, a former industrial art deco era bakery refashioned into an institution offering art studio residencies and programs who came to see some Italian and Dutch treats spread out on our table.




The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

In addition to some of the rare batik bindings and typographic masterpieces in the collection, the group were able to preview some of the menus, recipe books, and other food-related items in our collection selected for an Into the Stacks event planned for later that week, including some recently donated menus from Louis Miano, David Almeida, and Gina Wouters not yet digitized.



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

This last Friday marked Heather Cook’s last day as the Head of Education and Visitor Services at The Wolfsonian–FIU as she and her husband are relocating to Madison, Wisconsin. In her honor, a Wolfsonian Bake Off was organized, with staff members bringing in their special recipes.


Later that same evening, Heather and Miami’s Crypt Cracker, Nathaniel Sandler, hosted an Into the Stacks Event with some sample for the public followed by a presentation and tour highlighting some of the stranger recipes and interesting kitchen gadgets to be found in our collection. Some high fiber diet recipes from the Depression years, for example, were written by the Kellogg Company to help Americans combat constipation, declared “public enemy No. 1” in one of their recipe books!



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





And so we end this post with a bon voyage to Heather, and a bon appetite to our online visitors.

~ by "The Chief" on May 22, 2018.

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