Winter Visits and Gift Acknowledgements

The last two months have been extraordinarily busy for the Wolfsonian librarians. We’ve been inventorying and cataloging books, training interns, making archival enclosures to protect the rare and fragile items in our ever-growing collection, and curating installations. Simultaneously, we have hosted numerous VIP tours, made presentations to scores of Miami-Dade school groups, provided public access and programs to museum members and academic visitors, and reference assistance to university professors, students, and independent scholars. The end of the year is also the time when we prepare and send out gift letters to acknowledge the many donations that have come to the museum’s library over the course of the year. This post will briefly describe some of those visits and highlights of the treasures that have been added to our collection.

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December and January are always a busy time here at The Wolfsonian, as Art Basel and Art Deco Weekend events in the city flood the building with enthusiastic visitors. We always try to layout displays that include not only the anticipated treasured highlights in our collection, but also some of the newly acquired rare books and ephemera. This year we had quite a lot to select from, with extraordinary works donated by Mitchell “Micky” Wolfson, Jr., Daniel Morris, Vicki Gold Levi, Leonard Finger, Jean Sharf and Lisa Green, and Francis Luca and Clara Palacio Luca, among others. Many of our guests at Art Basel had the opportunity to see a few of these new acquisitions, and now that we have been able to catalogue and digitize some, so can our virtual visitors.

Daniel Morris of Historical Design in New York City has recently sent us more than a dozen extremely rare and valuable items to add to our holdings, with more materials scheduled to arrive shortly. Many of our Art Basel patrons had the opportunity to catch a mere glimpse of a couple items from this most impressive gift, but now that we have had the chance to digitize many of them, our virtual visitors can vicariously have the same pleasure.

One of the hits of our Art Basel VIP Party was the 1926 exhibition catalog of the International Exhibition of Modern Art arranged by The Société Anonyme and Museum of Modern Art.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, gift of Historical Design

The exhibition introduced New York museum-goers to the avant-garde art, while its catalog used tabs along the right hand side to group the artists alphabetically by country of origin.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, gift of Historical Design

The guests marveled not only over the wonderfully designed catalog, but also over the complementary-decorated, leather-bound box used to preserve the item and keep it pristine.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, gift of Historical Design

Two other items popular with the Basel crowd were Plays of Negro Life and Le Tumulte Noir. The former item is a compilation of American drama edited by Alain Locke that celebrated the works by and about the “New Negro.” This wonderful product of the Harlem Renaissance is covered with a contemporary leather cover cut in patterns that imitate the original decorations in the book by Aaron Douglas that illustrated scenes from Eugene O’Neil’s The Emperor Jones and performances by African-American actors Charles Gilpin, Paul Robeson, and others.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, gift of Historical Design

Paul Colin’s Le Tumulte Noir is a large-format portfolio of color pochoir plates inspired by Josephine Baker and other African Americans whose jazz music, performances, and dance transformed nightclub life in Paris in the twenties and thirties.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, gift of Historical Design

The pochoir prints were created using a technique that required the production of copper, zinc, or aluminum stencils for each color on the page by a specialist known as a découpeur, which would be used by the colorists applying each layer of gouache paint pigments by brush. Popular in Paris in the “roaring twenties,” the expensive and labor-intensive technique ultimately fell victim to the economic ravages of the Great Depression. This portfolio, too, is also encased and preserved in a contemporary leather-bound box which similarly celebrates the exuberance of the “Charleston” and other “mad dances” of the era.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, gift of Historical Design

Mr. Morris’s gift also included a rare copy of Derniere letter persane, a portfolio published by the Maison de fourrures Max.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, gift of Historical Design

The portfolio includes twelve pochoir fashion plates of fur garments attributed to Paul Poiret and executed in the Persian style by the illustrator Eduardo García Benito.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, gift of Historical Design

Ironically, this work was viewed by visiting Miami-Dade high-school students participating in a zines project. Their interest was not in Art Deco fashion, but rather in the treatment of the minks, foxes, leopards, and other creatures used by the fur industry.

Students hailing from iPreparatory Academy also came to the museum for a tour of Wit As Weapon: Satire and the Great War, an installation curated by three FIU undergraduate students and displayed in our library foyer. The items on view included some promised gifts from Micky Wolfson, including several in a series of American First World War propaganda posters lampooning the German emperor, Wilhelm II, and some recently gifted vintage postcards.

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

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

Two sets of visitors came to see some of the Cuba-related materials, most of which came as earlier donations and others as a promised gift of Vicki Gold Levi, including works by the renowned Cuban graphic artist and caricaturist Conrado Walter Massaguer.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, gift of Vicki Gold Levi 

The first visit involved a group of University of Kansas students on a field trip to Miami Beach on route to Cuba led by former Wolfsonian art director Tim Hossler. Associate director of curatorial + education Jon Mogul was on hand to greet the visitors and introduce them to a display of rare library materials documenting U.S.-Cuba relations in the pre-Castro era. The following week, nine scholars came in a group organized by FIU’s Latin American and Caribbean Center (LACC) to see the same materials, to learn more about our Cuban holdings and digital collections, and to hear a presentation by the chief librarian about the organization of the 2016 exhibition Promising Paradise: Cuban Allure, American Seduction.

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Other collectors whose donations were featured in these public and academic displays included Leonard Finger and Louis Miano. Mr. Finger has contributed significantly to our holdings of vintage photographs of Cuban performers, such as Miguelito Valdés (the original “Mr. Babalú”), and other ephemera documenting the U.S.-Cuba tourist trade.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, gift of Leonard Finger

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, gift of Louis Miano

Some of Vicki Gold Levi’s promised gifts were also used in our latest Into the Stacks session hosted by “Crypt Cracker” Nathaniel Sandler and focused on U.S. Prohibition (19191933). Attendees were able to see and hear some popular anti-Prohibition tunes and to examine some amazing cocktail shakers, stirrers, and a “bottoms-up” shot glass used by those flouting the “dry” laws.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

The guests also learned how well-to-do Americans eschewed the “dry” laws by traveling to Cuba, the land of rum, rumba, and roulette.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, promised gift of Vicki Gold Levi

A group of local Miami veterans led by FIU Assistant Professor of History and Health Policy and Management, Dr. Jessica Adler also attended a “War and Healing” program funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities Dialogue on the Experience of War initiative held at The Wolfsonian.

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After looking at specific works of art on display in our galleries, the group spent some time in our library deconstructing, critically analyzing, and historically contextualizing some posters and other artwork, photographs, and ephemera dating from the First World War.

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Among the materials on display were some posters dating from the First World War recently donated to The Wolfsonian by Jean S. Sharf. The veterans looked at similarities and differences in the approach used by U.S. government recruiters targeting white and African-American men.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, gifts of Jean S. Sharf

While these items constitute a small proportion of the wealth of materials recently gifted to The Wolfsonian–FIU Library, these events demonstrate how such gifts are frequently called into service and seen by a wide variety of museum visitors, scholars, and academic groups rather than sitting around on shelves collecting dust.

~ by "The Chief" on January 29, 2019.

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