The Smithsonian's Archives of American Art commemorates the centennial of the International Exhibition of Modern Art, known as the 1913 Armory Show--the first major exhibition of European modern art in the U.S.
On April 6, 1917, the U.S. declared war on Germany, entering the First World War in order that the world would “be made safe for democracy.” The fight for woman's suffrage continued with protests and arrests at the White House as well as increased public sympathy. The Russian Revolutions overthrew Tsarist autocracy and ultimately led to the formation of the Soviet Union. Construction of the Smithsonian's Freer Gallery of Art began.
1918 was a difficult and transitional year with the world deep in World War I and a deadly flu pandemic at home. Armistice came in November, "the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month," and the horrors of the "war to end all wars" began to abate. A new creative spirit flourished as modernism swept into art and design. For more stories about this time, including home front efforts to rally support with music, art from soldier artists, related exhibitions, and more, visit our World War I Centennial pages.
May 20–21, 1927, Charles Lindbergh made his famous solo, non-stop transatlantic flight in the Spirit of St. Louis. Philo T. Farnsworth transmitted the first electronic TV image, physicist Heisenberg developed the Uncertainty Principle, and the Harlem Globetrotters took to the road for the first time. The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 was the largest river flood in American history. Anarchists Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were executed despite public outcry, Joseph Stalin consolidated power, and the US Food, Drug and Insecticide Administration was formed. There was no doubt that Clara Bow was the “It” Girl, and the film The Jazz Singer wowed with synchronized sound.
Turn back the clock to the Jazz Age and explore objects and images from collections across the Smithsonian.
The year that Amelia Earheart and her navigator Fred Noonan disappeared while attempting to fly around the world was a tumultuous one. The Hindenburg airship went down in flames in New Jersey. Pablo Picasso completed his tragic masterpiece Guernica in the midst of the Spanish Civil War, with Ernest Hemingway reporting from Spain. 1937 also saw the publication of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men and plenty of hot jazz. The Federal Art Project WPA programs supported murals, photography, and theater during a time of high employment, documenting rural and urban life in America.
Jackie Robinson made history on April 15, 1947, when he broke baseball’s color barrier to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbets Field. While winning Rookie of the Year honors and helping the Dodgers win the National League pennant, Robinson faced close scrutiny. As he later recalled, "I had to fight hard against loneliness, abuse, and the knowledge that any mistake I made would be magnified because I was the only black man out there." On October 14, 1947, Charles "Chuck" Yeager was the first to break the sound barrier. The rocket-engine powered Bell X-1, piloted by Yeager, reached a speed of 1,127 kilometers (700 miles) per hour, Mach 1.06, at an altitude of 13,000 meters (43,000 feet).
In 1957, the post-World War II baby boom peaked. President Eisenhower sent federal troops to Arkansas to uphold the court-ordered integration of public schools, and the Little Rock Nine bravely integrated Little Rock’s Central High School on September 25, 1957. In October, the Soviet Union launched the first space satellite, Sputnik I. It was followed in November by the spacecraft Sputnik 2, which carried Laika, the first animal to orbit the Earth. In December, the first U.S. satellite launch effort failed spectacularly when its Vanguard rocket exploded during liftoff. In reaction, American interest in space-related toys and science education soared.
It was a banner year for music. Elvis bought Graceland in Memphis, and he made his third and final appearance on "Ed Sullivan's Toast of the Town Show," where he was seen only from the waist up. Folk singer Pete Seeger was indicted for contempt of Congress in March for refusing to name personal and political associations before the House Un-American Activities Committee. Lennon and McCartney met for the first time, and great jazz, such as Miles Davis' model jazz, contintued to develop.
Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, one of the first record labels to document “world music,” released an astounding number of recordings in 1957, including children’s songs, poetry, ambient sound, stories, experimental music, and landmark recordings like anthropologist Colin Turnbull’s Music of the Ituri Forest. These influential sounds helped fuel the American folk music revival (including Woody Guthrie, Seeger, and Lead Belly) and the protest music explosion of the '60s.
1967 was a landmark year bridging early ’60s pop sensibility with an emerging hippie culture. The "Summer of Love" brought young people and wannabes to San Francisco with their shared interest in Eastern religions, communal living, and immersive light shows. It was a banner year for music with Jimi Hendrix performing at the first Monterey Pop Festival, The Doors releasing their first album, and Aretha Franklin releasing the enduring hit “Respect.” To see more art of the ’60s music scene, go to Smithsonian Insider’s Snapshot featuring posters from the "Summer of Love" in the Smithsonian collections.
1967 was the first year of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. Coming together on the National Mall from all over the U.S., 58 traditional craftspeople demonstrated their artistry and 32 musical and dance groups performed at the open-air event. Mountain banjo-pickers and ballad singers, Chinese lion dancers, Indian sand painters, basket and rug weavers, New Orleans jazz bands, and a Bohemian hammer dulcimer band from Texas combined with a host of participants from rural and urban areas of the country.
The summer of 1967 was also known as the "Long Hot Summer," witnessing racial unrest in American cities such as Detroit, Newark, and Cincinnati. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech “Beyond Vietnam” brought awareness to the volatile subject of the U.S. military involvement in Vietnam.
1968 was a tumultuous, pivotal year marked by political and cultural change. In January, the largest offensive in the Vietnam War was launched by the North Vietnamese, catching the U.S.-led forces unaware. It was a turning point that saw more Americans withdraw their support for the war—and brought more intense anti-war protests.
On April 4, civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. Riots erupted in Washington, Chicago, Baltimore, and many other cities. On April 11, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the landmark Civil Rights Act. In May, the Beatles announced the creation of Apple Records; later in the year they released the White Album.
In an effort to gain economic justice for poor people in the U.S., the Poor People’s Campaign was launched, including a march and an extended occupation, called Resurrection City, that began in May near the Reflecting Pool in Washington, D.C. In June, presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles.
On December 24, Apollo 8 entered the moon’s orbit. It was the first time humans saw the far side of the moon and the entirety of Earth, ending a chaotic year on a hopeful note.
Released in April 1977, the Apple II started the boom in personal computer sales. President Jimmy Carter warned of the need to conserve energy. Americans gathered around their televisions for the miniseries Roots, a dramatic portrayal of slavery, which was watched by more than 100 million people. The space probe Voyager sent "Sounds of Earth" into space with an eclectic 90-minute musical program including Chuck Berry’s "Johnny B. Goode" and Mozart’s "Magic Flute." The Disco era took off with the release of the film Saturday Night Fever. Star Wars: A New Hope became a pop phenomenon while kids took to the streets with their new skateboards.
Nearly 40 examples of prints from three government survey expeditions to the American West: the U.S. and Mexico Boundary Survey, the U.S. Naval Astronomical Expedition to the Southern Hemisphere, and the U.S. Pacific Railroad Surveys.
The musical and visual arts have always gone hand in hand, particularly in the way that each medium inspires the other. Chopin wrote nocturnes; Whistler painted them. Kandinsky created symphonies with color, and Debussy used notes to create two sets of tone pictures for the piano, appropriately titled Images. Both music and the visual arts have a dual nature: there are technical and theoretical aspects to both, but at the same time, they can be evocative and emotional.
It is no wonder then that visual artists take inspiration from music, or that they might try their hands at the musical arts—particularly the piano, which provides challenge and delight to both the novice and the professional.
As the 300th anniversary of its invention is celebrated, the piano still remains one of the most popular instruments today. This exhibition was prepared to compliment the Smithsonian Institution’s exhibition Piano 300: Celebrating Three Centuries of People and Pianos, at the International Gallery of the S. Dillon Ripley Center.
More than a simple border between land and sea, our coastal areas and beaches form a special ecosystem teaming with life. They are also a subject of human contemplation and activity as reflected in our collections and archives.
A day at a museum might involve a whirlwind tour through a maze of galleries or hours looking at a single work of art. The experience is as varied as the museum visitor. The sight of a Renaissance masterpiece, the sounds echoing off vaulted ceilings, or a carefully orchestrated exhibition can trigger our imaginations, foster ideas, or spur memories—often at the same time.
Artists may gain inspiration and a sense of community from museums. Some travel long distances, meticulously plotting a tour of museums along their route. Others make repeat visits to their local museums. Some artists even work in museums as guards all day and then head home to focus on their own work.
This selection of documents reveals the role of museums in the everyday lives of American artists.
Reading an artist's diary is the next best thing to being there. Direct and private, diaries provide firsthand accounts of appointments made and met, places seen, and work in progress — all laced with personal ruminations, name-dropping, and the occasional sketch or doodle. Whether recording historic events or simple day-to-day moments, these diary entries evoke the humanity of these artists and their moment in time.
This Guide to Provenance Research is the result of a project funded by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation to enhance access to the Archives’ World War II era provenance research collections.
The study of provenance—the history of ownership of a work of art—has a long tradition as a methodology of art history. Scholars and curators undertake provenance research to gain deeper understanding of objects and their ownership paths, and to better comprehend the historical, social, and economic context in which artworks were created, collected, and through which they changed hands over time. Provenance research can be a means to establish the pedigree of an artwork, or to securely establish the identity and authenticity of a specific work.
Provenance research relies upon documentary and archival resources, and the extensive and multi-dimensional collections of the Archives of American Art of the Smithsonian Institution provide some of the most fruitful resources anywhere for documenting the history of European art collecting and for American and international provenance studies. The breadth and extraordinary depth of detail found in the Archives’ holdings of dealer, art historian, artist, collector, and gallery correspondence, stock inventories, estate records, oral histories, sales ledgers, photographic images, as well as exhibition and bibliographic materials, offers remarkable opportunities for provenance research and scholarship. The Archives holds the largest collection of art gallery records anywhere in the world, currently nearly 200 individual archival collections, and offers researchers a unique opportunity to consult multiple resources at one repository.
Researchers can use the Archives’ collections to analyze shifts in collecting tastes and market variations over many decades of the 20th century, as well as compare European and American viewpoints. The Archives’ resources reveal who owned what artwork, who put an artwork on the market, when that happened, and where it happened. Moreover, these rich paths of discovery are found and validated in interconnected and related collections.
Laurie A. Stein, Senior Advisor, Provenance Research Initiative, Smithsonian Institution
With Barbara Aikens, Head of Collections Processing, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution and Jane Milosch, Director of the Provenance Research Initiative, Smithsonian Institution.
NAA INV 00168100 - Alfred Kiyana, Age 45, Owner of Owl Sacred Pack, Standing with Truman Michelson, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution.
Truman Michelson was a linguist and ethnographer who spent his nearly 40-year career with the Bureau of American Ethnology (BAE) in the field gathering culture information and linguistic data, primarily working with Algonquian tribes. He made over 100 contributions to the study of Native American languages, and at the time of his death was considered the leading expert in the world on Algonquian languages and culture.
Michelson was born in New Rochelle, New York on August 11, 1879, and attended Harvard University for his Bachelor and Master of Arts degrees, as well as receiving his PhD in 1904. He continued his work at the universities of Bonn and Leipzig from 1904 to 1905, as well as working privately with Franz Boas from 1909 to 1910. Upon his death, Franz Boas said that Michelson's comparative studies of Algonquian dialects "brought a rich harvest of knowledge regarding the history of this important group."
Following his appointment to the BAE in 1910, he spent part of nearly every year in the field, principally in Iowa with the Sauk and Fox tribes, but also in Montana, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Wisconsin, working with various other tribes. His linguistic work included field research on Arapaho, Shawnee, Peoria, Kickapoo, and Cheyenne, among other languages. His success can be attributed to collaborations with Native speakers, such as Alfred Kiyana, Horace and Ida Poweshiek, Bill Leaf, and Harry Lincoln, with whom he worked for with over many years. Some of Michelson's most significant work included the first scientific classification of the Algonquian languages published in 1913, and an impressive series of monographs on Fox ethnology, that began in 1921.
In addition to be a meticulous and dedicated researcher, Michelson was known to be a willing mentor to younger linguists and ethnographers, to whom he readily offered advice and knowledge. He served as chair of ethnology at the George Washington University from 1917 to 1932, as well as the president of the Anthropological Society of Washington from 1923 to 1925. By the time of his death in 1938, he had over 140 published works, including contributions to the first volume of the Handbook of North American Indians.
Support for preparation and digitization of the collections for online access has been provided by the Arcadia Fund.
NAA INV 02855600, Portrait (Front) of Rev James Owen Dorsey, undated, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution.
Reverend James Owen Dorsey (1848-1895) was a missionary and Bureau of American Ethnology ethnologist who conducted extensive research on Siouan tribes and languages. He exhibited a talent for languages at an early age. At age 6 he learned the Hebrew alphabet and was able to read the language at age 10. In 1867 Dorsey attended the Theological Seminary of Virginia and was ordained a deacon of the Protestant Episcopal Church in 1871. In May of that year, Dorsey traveled to the Dakota Territory to serve as a missionary among the Ponca. Plagued by ill health, Dorsey was forced to end his missionary work in August 1873. By that time, however, he had learned the Ponca language well enough to converse with members of the tribe without an interpreter.
Dorsey returned to Maryland and engaged in parish work while continuing his studies of Siouan languages. His linguistic talents and knowledge of these languages attracted the attention of Major John Wesley Powell. Powell arranged for Dorsey to work among the Omaha in Nebraska from 1878 to 1880 to collect linguistic and ethnological notes. When the Bureau of American Ethnology (BAE) was established in 1879, Powell recruited Dorsey to join the staff. As an ethnologist for the BAE, Dorsey continued his research on Siouan tribes. His studies focused on languages but also included Siouan personal names, folklore, social organization, religion, beliefs, and customs. He conducted fieldwork among the Tutelo at Six Nations on Grand River in Upper Canada (1882); the Kansa, Osage, and Quapaw in Indian Territory (1883-1884); the Biloxi at Lecompte, Rapides Parish, Louisiana (1892); and again with the Quapaw at the Quapaw Mission (1894). He also worked with Native Americans that visited DC, including George Bushotter (Teton), Philip Longtail (Winnebago), Samuel Fremont (Omaha), and Little Standing Buffalo (Ponca). He also spent time at Siletz Reservation in 1884 to collect linguistic notes on the Athapascan, Kusan, Takilman, and Yakonan stocks. At the age of 47, Dorsey died of typhoid fever on February 4, 1895.
Support for preparation and digitization of the collections for online access has been provided by the Arcadia Fund.
Love letters bring out the voyeur in most of us. These deeply personal communications have the power to make us blush or, at the very least, to let us observe a tender moment in the complex lives of others.
This selection of affectionate communiqués to and from American artists gives us insight into the lives of painters, sculptors, illustrators, and others—their relationships, perceptions, and creative energies—from the mid-19th century to the late 20th. They also allow us to empathize with artists through the most universal of human emotions: love in all its permutations.
Drawn from the collections of the Archives of American Art, the letters presented here cover a range of intensity, from sexual passion to the devotion of a parent, and from the durable bonds of friendship to the enthusiasm of fans.
Many of the exhibited letters also appear in the book With Love: Artists' Letters and Illustrated Notes by Liza Kirwin and Joan Lord.
Sixteenth President, 1861–1865
By the spring of 1860, Lincoln was running against a deeply divided Democratic Party, positioning the nation on the brink of fundamental change. A Republican win would end the South’s political dominance of the Union. Ultimately, Lincoln carried all northern states but New Jersey. Lincoln’s win in the heavily populated North achieved victory in the Electoral College. Four years later, in 1864—in the midst of civil war—the United States held another presidential election, a feat that no other democratic nation had ever accomplished. Even when Lincoln felt he had no hope to win, he never seriously considered postponing the election. Despite his doubts, Lincoln accomplished a huge Electoral College victory, with a considerable margin of 55 percent of the popular vote as well. Thousands of Lincoln votes by soldier-citizens were one key to his victory.
When Lincoln left Illinois and headed east for his inauguration, he told the crowd at the Springfield railroad station that he confronted challenges equal only to those that had faced the nation’s first president: Washington had had to create a nation; Lincoln now had to preserve it. Lincoln’s election was itself evidence of the sectional discord that had ripped the United States apart during the 1850s, as slavery became a critical political and a moral issue. As Lincoln had remarked, “A house divided against itself [over slavery] cannot stand.” This proved prophetic with the collapse of the national party systems (the Whigs disappeared altogether) as North and South evolved into separate societies—one based on free labor, the other on slavery. The election of Lincoln prompted the South to begin to withdraw, or secede, from the Union. In his first inaugural address, Lincoln delivered a final plea to the South to remain, but to no avail. War broke out in April 1861 with the attempt by the Federal government to resupply South Carolina’s Fort Sumter. Despite the optimism of partisans on both sides that the war would be over quickly, it became a long, desperate, and exceptionally bloody conflict that would fundamentally reshape the nation.
The poet Steve Scafidi has characterized the challenges that faced Lincoln as like those confronted by a doctor trying to perform brain surgery while a dog gnaws at his leg. Lincoln’s tasks were staggering, both in detail and scope. Politically, he had to navigate between the many demanding factions and interests of the North. He also had the unprecedented task of organizing and prosecuting what would become the first industrial war, a conflict that ranged across the whole country, involved all of its resources, and was fought by an army not always up to the task. Finally, constitutionally and politically, Lincoln had to grapple with the evolving meaning of the Civil War. Initially, Lincoln espoused only the cause of Unionism. But as the war continued, he saw that saving the Union was inseparable from the cause of African-American freedom. In his 1863 Gettysburg Address, he argued that the war must lead to “a new birth of freedom” or it would have been fought in vain.
In practical terms, the achievements of Abraham Lincoln are mammoth, yet simple to describe: he confronted the secession of the South and the dissolution of the Union with all the political and practical tools at his command to defeat the Confederacy and restore the United States. His skills as a practical politician were extraordinary as he juggled the contending interests of his constituencies, which included the army, Congress, foreign countries, and the ordinary Americans he was conscious of representing. It must be remembered that Lincoln was, above all, an extremely skillful politician, one frequently underestimated by both friends and foes. His use of the levers of power in pursuing his evolving war aims greatly expanded the power of the executive in American politics, setting a precedent that later presidents would build on. His suspension of habeas corpus was controversial both then and now; the military draft caused violent riots; and through government contracting and the expansion of state activity, such as the approval of a transcontinental railway and the Morrill Act to settle western lands, he laid the foundations of the modern state.
Lincoln’s legacy is based on his momentous achievements: he successfully waged a political struggle and civil war that preserved the Union, ended slavery, and created the possibility of civil and social freedom for African-Americans. However, his assassination prevented him from overseeing the reconstruction of the Union he had helped save. The assassination also had the effect of turning Lincoln into a martyr of almost mythological dimensions. As Edwin Stanton remarked when Lincoln died, “Now he belongs to the ages,” and Lincoln has not lacked for idolaters who view him as an almost supernatural representation of American genius. It is much more realistic to see Lincoln as a practical genius. Temperamentally, he was humane, tolerant, and patient. But he also had an extraordinary ability see events clearly and adapt to them, responding decisively when necessary. Above all, there is his evolution on civil rights. He began the Civil War with thoughts only of restoring the Union, but ended up committing the nation to freedom for African-Americans. One of the great unanswerable questions in American history centers on how our nation’s social trajectory might have changed had Lincoln lived to serve out his second term.
From the mid-19th century, Americans have used simple instruments to assist them in doing arithmetic. Some of these did not actually add and subtract, but made it easier for users to do so. These included not only the abacus, but also devices called adders.
For most of human history arithmetic has been an act of human intelligence, aided only occasionally by devices like counters, the abacus, or the slide rule. The collections of the National Museum of American History document the development of adding machines, from stylus-operated models to increasingly compact, light and powerful key driven instruments. The corporate collections of the pioneering firms of Felt & Tarrant and Burroughs are especially well represented.
Advertising is meant to persuade, and the themes and techniques of that persuasion reveal a part of the nation's history.
The National Air and Space Museum’s aerial cameras have photographed or filmed birds, cold war secrets, the atomic bomb test at Bikini Atoll, Indian ruins in the American Southwest, and scenes from Top Gun and The Great Waldo Pepper.
See aerial photographs of Smithsonian buildings, exhibits and facilities.
Smithsonian collections document the patriotic service of African Americans throughout our Nation's history, from the American Revolution up to today. At the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the exhibition "Double Victory: The African American Military Experience" provides visitors a valuable overview. You can read the story from the American History Museum of a member of the storied 92nd Division "Buffalo Soldiers" who survived the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, the ultimate battle of the War, which claimed 26,000 American lives.
Islam has been a piece of the American religious fabric since the first settlers arrived in North America. While we do not know exactly how many African Muslims were enslaved and transported to the New World, there are clues in legal doctrines, slaveholders’ documents, and existing cultural and religious traditions. African Muslims were caught in the middle of complicated social and legal attitudes from the very moment they landed on our Eastern shores, and collections at the Museum help provide insight into their lives.
From butter churns to diesel tractors, the Museum's agricultural artifacts trace the story of Americans who work the land.
Aircraft of the National Air and Space Museum.
In 1978, Time magazine donated approximately 800 works of original cover art to the National Portrait Gallery. Since this initial gift, Time has continued to donate cover art, growing the Portrait Gallery's Time Collection to over 2,000 pieces. Time's collection of cover art—featuring portraits of newsworthy, influential individuals—helps tell the stories of the men and women who have built America.
Here you can explore select Time covers and other news related collection objects from across the Smithsonian.
“Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” —William Morris
This distinctive type of ceramic face vessel first appeared in the American South in the mid-1800s. Jugs such as these are attributed to a small number of black slaves working as potters in the Edgefield District of South Carolina. None of these skilled potters have been identified by name and their inspiration for making face vessels is unknown. Scholars speculate that the vessels may have had religious or burial significance, or that they reflect the complex responses of people attempting to live and maintain their personal identities under harsh conditions.
The Anthology of American Folk Music, edited by Harry Smith (1923–1991), is one of the most influential releases in the history of recorded sound. Originally issued by Folkways Records in 1952, the Anthology brought virtually unknown parts of America's musical landscape recorded in the late 1920s and early 1930s to the public's attention. For more than half a century, the collection has profoundly influenced fans, ethnomusicologists, music historians, and cultural critics; it has inspired generations of popular musicians, including Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Jerry Garcia, and countless others. - Smithsonian Folkways
The Smithsonian Institution is a rich source of information and historic collections related to American folk music. Smithsonian Folkways is home to both a significant collection of folk music recordings and also a rich history as a participant in documenting and supporting the growth of American folk. Visit the Albums page to explore a selection of the Smithsonian Folkways collections, or visit Smithsonian Folkways Recordings directly to browse on your own.
To see portraits of many of the key figures in the American folk music movement, visit the Musicians page. Most of these portraits are held at the National Portrait Gallery, and may be available to view there. Currently only the Russell Hoban portrait of Joan Baez is on view.
Some of these musicians also appear on the African Americans and Folk Music page. African American music is a vital part of the American folk genre. Although many of the key figures best known to represent the movement, such as Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, Alan Lomax, and Moses Asch, have been white, the music traditions on which they drew were frequently African American. Lead Belly is perhaps the best known name of the African Americans that helped define the genre, but in the collections here you'll also find portraits of Mississippi John Hurt, Odetta, and Joshua Daniel White, and music by Sonny White, Bill McAdoo, and Bernice Reagon, among others.
As the civil rights movement gained attention, folk music came to be associated with it and other political efforts. "We Shall Overcome" is particularly well-known as a civil rights anthem, and the title and song feature prominently in National Museum of African American History and Culture collections. Folk music also played an influential role in environmental political efforts and anti-war protests during the United States' engagement in Vietnam.
A number of instruments played by the artists mentioned above, along with those of less-known and unknown artists, are also housed in the Institution, primarily in the collections of the National Museum of American History.
Excerpt from America's Smithsonian, Celebration 150 years
Musical instruments, original sheet music, and portraiture preserved in the Smithsonian remind us that American music flourishes within a wide variety of traditions drawn from our multi-cultural heritage. From our country's urban centers to rural landscapes, the sounds of many musical sounds and styles fill our lives.
The patriotic marches of John Philip Sousa come the exacting structures of classical music, the power and emotion of the blues, the swinging tones of the big band era, the seductive rhythms of jazz, the joys and sorrows expressed in country music, and the hard charging of rock-n-roll all serve to unite us. Their rich variety communicates across generations, races, and languages, and serves to breakdown cultural barriers.
By the 1700s, samplers were being worked by young women to learn basic needlework skills. Samplers are important representations of early American female education and this group features 50 of the 137 American samplers in the Textile Collection.
The definition of American folk art is notoriously difficult to pin down. In the twentieth century “folk art” has embraced everything from Pennsylvania German frakturs to eccentric architectural environments.
Holger Cahill in his landmark 1932 exhibition American Folk Art: The Art of the Common Man in America, for the Museum of Modern Art, looked to the pre-industrial past for “the simple and unaffected childlike expression of men and women who had little or no school training in art, and who did not even know that they were producing art.” In the 1940s, art critic and collector Jean Lipman pointed to folk art as the product of a great democracy. It was spontaneous, home-grown, non-derivative, and non-academic. Three decades later, Herbert Waide Hemphill, Jr., and Julia Weissman in their book Twentieth Century American Folk Art and Artists, expanded the scope to include living artists, and asserted that &ldqou;the vision of the folk artist is a private one, a personal universe, a world of his own making,” unaffected by the mainstream art world.
The Archives of American Art has collected a wealth of primary sources documenting the contested terrain of American folk art. In celebration of the opening of the American Folk Art Museum’s new building at 45 West 53rd Street, the Archives presents selected documents from the papers of the tastemakers who advanced the aesthetic appreciation of these individual expressions.
This is a small sampling of the representation of women in the vast visual arts collections at the Smithsonian. The Smithsonian works to tell the stories of women within our museums and beyond our walls, critically examining the past and highlighting the art and artists who may have been overlooked historically. American women photographers have also made their mark.
Women working as photographic documentarians and artists continue to be creative forces in our contemporary culture.
Discover women writers who have made a mark on American culture. Learn about Phillis Wheatly, who in 1773 was the first African American to have a book published. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852), brought widespread attention to the issue of slavery. Rachel Carson's Silent Spring (1962) helped launch the environmental movement, while Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique (1963) helped launch a new wave of feminism.
Literary giant Zora Neale Hurston captured the rich voices and mythos of the African American oral storytelling tradition. Sandra Cisneros is regarded as a key Latina voice in American literature. Louise Erdrich, whose many works explore the psychology and world of Native Americans is considered a major voice in the American Indian renaissance. Women continue to expand literary forms and reveal issues of identity in the private and public spheres, adding to the rich tapestry of American identity and touching on our shared humanity.
Describing the African-American influence on American music in all of its glory and variety is an intimidating—if not impossible—task. African-American influences are so fundamental to American music that there would be no American music without them. People of African descent were among the earliest non-indigenous settlers of what would become the United States, and the rich African musical heritage that they carried with them was part of the foundation of a new American musical culture that mixed African traditions with those of Europe and the Americas. Their work songs, dance tunes, and religious music—and the syncopated, swung, remixed, rocked, and rapped music of their descendants—would become the lingua franca of American music, eventually influencing Americans of all racial and ethnic backgrounds. The music of African Americans is one of the most poetic and inescapable examples of the importance of the African American experience to the cultural heritage of all Americans, regardless of race or origin.
The pages listed in the sidebar offer a chance to explore a selection of the Smithsonian's wide range of collections preserving the material history of African American musical history.
The Smithsonian’s Anacostia Community Museum commemorates 50 years of service (1967-2017) to communities in the Washington, D.C., area with a yearlong celebration “Your Community. Your Story." The museum renews its mission to convene conversations about community life in a contemporary society, with timely topics like politics, economic livelihood, urban ecology, religion, immigration, and cultural and spiritual fulfillment. Through exhibitions and programming, it continues to inspire civic engagement, promote mutual understanding, and strengthen community bonds. The celebration begins with an Open House on September 15, 2017, and follows with activities throughout the coming year.
Around 1943, artist Honoré Sharrer first conceived of the painting now known as Tribute to the American Working People. The resulting polyptych consists of five panels, each meticulously painted in oil on composition board.
The Archives of American Art acquired Honoré Sharrer's personal papers in May 2006. The collection is rich with correspondence, lively sketches, and copious amounts of photographs used by the artist to create her work. Much of this material relates directly to Tribute to the American Working People, revealing the artist’s process. This website also includes an in-depth interview of the artist’s husband, Perez Zagorin, with exhibition organizer Laura Orgon MacCarthy.
The Archives of American Art wishes to thank the Smithsonian American Art Museum for their generous loan of Tribute to the American Working People for this exhibition.
Ancient Egyptians believed death marked the beginning of a journey to eternal life. Learn more at Eternal Life in Ancient Egypt at the National Museum of Natural History, and explore related collections from across the Smithsonian.
For almost 50 years, the André Emmerich Gallery was one of New York's most influential contemporary galleries. It was the focal point for Color-Field painting and a leading venue for color abstraction and monumental sculpture.
Born in Germany in 1924 and raised in Holland, André Emmerich emigrated to the United States in 1940. After graduating from Oberlin College and working as a writer, he opened his gallery in 1954.
During its early years, the firm specialized in classical antiquities and Pre-Columbian art, but by the 1960s Emmerich began concentrating on the artists who defined Color-Field painting: Helen Frankenthaler, Morris Louis, Kenneth Noland, and Jules Olitski. To this roster he added such artists as Pierre Alechinsky, William Bailey, Piero Dorazio, Sam Francis, Al Held, David Hockney, Dorothea Rockburne, Anne Truitt, and Esteban Vicente. A strong advocate of abstract sculpture, Emmerich featured it in his gallery and at Top Gallant Farm, his 140-acre estate in upstate New York where he installed monumentally scaled works by Anthony Caro, Alexander Liberman, Beverly Pepper, Michael Steiner, and Bernar Venet.
The gallery closed in 1998, and André Emmerich subsequently donated his personal and professional records to the Archives of American Art. His generous gift, the largest collection of papers ever received by the organization, was the catalyst for this exhibition.
To learn more, see the collection description: Andre Emmerich Gallery records and Andre Emmerich papers, 1930-2008
Seventh President, 1829–1837
The 1828 presidential campaign was brutal for Jackson, as supporters of Adams accused him of being a tyrant who would use his position to achieve Napoleonic ambitions. Though Jackson had a political advantage, his campaign aimed mostly to defend him, and promoting his programs for governmental reform and the economy were a secondary effort. Jackson called Adams an elitist who wanted to increase government in order to benefit the so-called “aristocracy,” Americans of enormous wealth. In the fall of 1828, Jackson won the vote, revealing that the American public preferred him because he stood for the “common man.”
Jackson never shied away from a challenge, and as president he wrestled with many. Whigs in Congress proved to be major opponents in their attempts to pass legislation which Jackson believed favored the elite, including a bill to renew the charter for the Second Bank of the United States. Consequently, Jackson exercised his veto power more than all his predecessors combined, and he was the first president to use the pocket veto. That he wielded such power so frequently troubled many of his critics. As Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story observed, “Though we live under the form of a republic we are in fact under the absolute rule of a single man.”
Yet in 1836, there was one challenge that genuinely perplexed Jackson: a budget surplus of approximately twenty million dollars. It was not the government’s function to accumulate funds at the expense of taxpayers. It would also have been deemed irresponsible to refund the money to the states or the people with instructions on how it should be spent; doing so would be seen as government interference in the lives of citizens, a practice Jackson detested more than any other. Ultimately, Jackson signed a surplus bill which would distribute the money among the states. In an election year, Jackson understood the political clout this could give his hand-picked successor, Martin Van Buren.
The only major piece of legislation passed during Jackson’s eight years as president was the Indian Removal Act of 1830. At that time, the Cherokees, Chickasaws, Choctaws, and Creeks occupied large portions of Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee. Jackson’s Indian Removal Act facilitated the forced displacement of these Native Americans from their tribal lands. In what is today known as the Trail of Tears, members of the Cherokee Nation were rounded up and transplanted westward by military force in 1838 under Jackson’s successor Martin Van Buren.
In the genre of presidential portraiture, Andrew Jackson has been one of the most portrayed chief executives in history, reflecting his stature as a military hero and an authoritative leader. Political cartoons of his administration survive as a critical gauge of Jackson’s use of power and sense of national purpose. Caricaturists in particular have satirized every facet of his political agenda, including his promise to cleanse government of corruption, his fight to kill the National Bank, his Indian Removal Bill, his “Kitchen Cabinet” of advisors, and the grooming of his successor, Martin Van Buren. In retirement, Jackson would continue to inspire commentary; an 1840 article on the occasion of the Silver Jubilee of the Battle of New Orleans opined, “What a wonderful man is Andrew Jackson!... the iron man of his age—the incarnation of American courage.”
On July 20, 1969, astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed in the Lunar Module Eagle and became the first humans to step foot on the lunar surface while astronaut Michael Collins orbited above inside the Command Module, Columbia. Here is a collection of objects from that historic mission.
Objects for math instruction reveal the changing role of arithmetic in American education. From the 1820s, teachers in public schools encouraged mental discipline by using textbooks and blackboards, while the teaching abacus and special geometric models utilized tactile learning. In the early 1900s, psychologists and math teachers used new educational theories to develop special flash cards, standardized tests, and educational games. During the 1950s and 1960s, more abstract approaches gained prominence. Recently, inexpensive electronic calculators have been used to teach— as well as perform —arithmetic.
The National Museum of American History is not an art museum. But works of art fill its collections and testify to the vital place of art in everyday American life.
The Park Place Group coalesced in New York in 1963. The original members—Anthony Magar, Mark di Suvero, Forrest Myers, Tamara Melcher, Robert Grosvenor, Leo Valledor, Dean Fleming, Peter Forakis, and Edwin Ruda—were mostly from the West Coast, only Grosvenor and Ruda were Easterners. The name, Park Place, came from a location. Dean Fleming found cheap studios at 79 Park Place, in downtown Manhattan on the west side. Valledor explained the arrangement, “I took the third floor and Frosty [Forrest Myers] took the bottom floor and Dean took the floor in between. And I had the lease on the top floor and we decided to turn that into a gallery space or a place to show.”
It was informal. No schedules. No openings. As Ruda recalled, “Whenever someone had finished a piece, or a few of us had finished a piece, we would borrow a truck from a mutual friend, help each other very cooperatively...So we had an ongoing little show there, so you could see the mutual influence just grows.”
While there was no common denominator for every member of the group, the work was non-figurative and geometric, with smooth surfaces and hard edges. They also shared a passion for large-scale sculpture and paintings, a kind of mind-blowing bigness that had never been seen before. Robert Grosvenor’s gravity-defying sculpture—painted steel and fiberglass structures suspended from the —ceilings were twenty to thirty feet long.
Fleming spoke about the dislocating, disorienting and ultimately transformative power of these big pieces; it made humans realize that there was “a transcendent nature and a multiplicity, and that they themselves are capable of this change inside their own psyches.” For Ruda, the works were “not illustrations of ideas,” they were “part of the emotional content of the 60s”—new technology and materials, “far-out” optical play, and the science-fiction-like investigation of new spatial dimensions in the cosmos. Clearly the tiny interiors of the uptown galleries could not accommodate this work.
When the lease at Park Place expired in the spring of 1964, Dean Fleming, with the help of di Suvero and Myers, spearheaded a plan to underwrite a new space for the group. They asked five collectors—Vera and Albert List, John D. Murchison, Allen Guiberson, Virginia Dwan Kondratief, and the J. Patrick Lannan Foundation—to pay a set sum each year to the new Park Place Gallery in exchange for one work by each of the artists each year. They made a two-year agreement. The works were chosen through mutual agreement. Because sculpture materials and fabrication was so expensive, the collectors were also asked to pay these costs.
The new gallery at 542 West Broadway was incorporated on October 10, 1965, as Park Place, The Gallery of Art Research, Inc., a name that underscored a spirit of experimentation and discovery. John Gibson was the first director, Paula Cooper served as the president of the corporation, and Jane Umanoff was vice president. Then in May 1966, when Gibson’s services were terminated, Cooper became the director and president. The gallery closed on July 31, 1967. Though it was a good plan, the backers’ money never fully covered the costs of running the gallery, and in the end, as Ruda observed, the artists “all grew reluctant to give away five pieces annually in exchange for gallery expenses.”
Despite the financial shortfall, Park Place succeeded on other levels. The exhibitions were ground-breaking, the artists got big commissions, and were invited to show as a group at MIT, the Lannan Foundation in Palm Beach, and elsewhere. As a non-profit co-op, the gallery also sponsored invitational shows with Carl Andre, Robert Smithson, Sol LeWitt and others, held musical performances, and screened experimental films. But the artists had bigger dreams. They wanted a four or five-story building that was a communal center—a studio space where artists could pool materials, share expensive equipment, organize exhibitions, have meetings, poetry readings, and other performances. For instance, Leo Valledor envisioned a place that had a paint shop, complete with a color lab, spray booth and baking oven; a film shop for experimental filmmaking; a sound studio for recording sessions; as well as an electronics shop, a tool shop, a plastic shop, and a centrally located room, “in which total environmental conditions could be controlled and projected upon.” Others wanted “idea exchange seminars” with architects, engineers, builders, mathematicians, and physicists; or to explore the possibilities of public art, including “visual events” in parks, artist-designed billboards for cities and highways, and non-objective posters in the subways.
Park Place could not be all things to all artists. When it closed, Paula Cooper took some of the best ideas from the co-op and opened the Paula Cooper Gallery at 96 Prince Street. It was the first gallery in SoHo, then an industrial slum so foreign to the art trade that it was known as “Hell’s Hundred Acres.” Her spacious 5,000-square-ft. loft allowed for art with a public orientation to be shown in a gallery context. Like Park Place, exhibits evolved with the changing of individual works, not on a strict monthly basis, and she also opened her space to special events by artists in other media, such as new music, poetry, and film.
Many in the original Park Place group came to the Paula Cooper Gallery including Forrest Myers and Ed Ruda, as well as Robert Grosvenor and Mark di Suvero (who are both currently represented by Paula Cooper). The opening of her gallery marked a new space for art and a new kind of art dealer, who lived and worked with artists. In 1969, Peter Schjeldahl noted, “The Cooper is, if you will, an “activist’gallery, aiming to reflect and influence the actual production of new art as much as its acceptance by critics and collectors. It makes available a fuller experience of art as it is evolving than do any number of gleaming uptown emporiums.”
In 2007, Paula Cooper turned over to the Archives of American Art the extant records of Park Place Gallery, dating from 1966 to 1967, and the early records of the Paula Cooper Gallery in its first location at 96 Prince Street, from 1968 to 1973.
The records document the Park Place enterprise and the early years of the Paula Cooper Gallery. They illuminate some of the ideas that are central to the history of art in the 1960s?unconventional materials, new ways of experiencing art, and the space-age embrace of science and technology. We honor Paula Cooper for her contributions to the American art world and for her gift to the Archives.
The author wishes to thank Ona Nowina-Sapinski, William McNaught, Joan Lord, Laura MacCarthy, and Emily Taub for their assistance with this essay.
The Art of Frank Gasparro consists of 115 drawings, plaster models, photographs, newspaper clippings and ephemera collected by, and related to, Frank Gasparro, the 10th United States Chief Engraver. Christina Hansen, Gasparro's daughter, donated the collection in 2009 to the National Numismatic Collection (NNC).
Enjoy a selection of cat-themed art from across the Smithsonian. Not a cat person? Check out Dog: Museum’s Best Friend.
March 30, 2015–July 10, 2015
In 1906, when Yasuo Kuniyoshi (1889–1952) was just 16, he emigrated by himself from Japan to the United States with two hundred dollars in his pocket. Kuniyoshi eventually made his way to New York City and the center of the art world. When he died in 1953, he was considered one of the most brilliant painters of his era.
His personal papers, in the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art, reveal the many facets of Kuniyoshi. He was a passionate and principled painter, printmaker, and photographer; an immigrant excluded from citizenship and classified an “enemy alien” during World War II; and an influential teacher and an able organizer of artists’ causes. He was also a keen observer of everyday life and endeared himself to a wide circle of friends and colleagues.
Included in this exhibition are letters, photographs, writings, and rare printed materials documenting Yasuo Kuniyoshi’s life and work. This exhibition is organized in conjunction with “The Artistic Journey of Yasuo Kuniyoshi” exhibition at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
The model has long been essential to the work of the artist. They often serve as artists’ muses—mortals who can sometimes be almost otherworldly in their ability to inspire creativity—yet a talent for holding still is often more important than beauty. Models are too often given short shrift in art history, their names and stories left unknown unless their fame came by way of scandal.
From reminiscences of artists to tales of rambunctious animal models and children who posed for their parents, these letters, photographs, and objects from the Archives of American Art illuminate the stories of artists and their models.
From the sumptuously furnished studios of the late 19th century to the austere workrooms of the present day, studio spaces have played a dynamic role in the history of American art-not simply reflecting aesthetic visions, but informing them.
This look at artists in their studios, through photographs and documents from the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art, offers a behind-the-scenes view into the life of American artists and their unique work spaces.
Don’t miss the companion book, Artists in Their Studios: Images from the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art.
Contemporary American artists of Asian heritage bring a combined legacy to their work, and varieties of Asian thought and spiritual practice have had a profound and lasting influence on a surprising number of Western artists. Influence has been a two-way street between contemporary American art practice and Asian cultures, past and present.
Asian Pacific Americans have been central to the American story. The Smithsonian's Asia Pacific American Center is a migratory museum that shares Asian Pacific American history, art, and culture through innovative museum experiences online and throughout the U.S.
The Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery is home to portraits of distinguished Asian Pacific Americans among them statesman Norman Mineta, civil rights activist Fred Korematsu, architects George Nakashima and Maya Lin, best-selling author Julie Otsuka, actor and social media activist George Takei, Japanese film star Sessue Hayakawa, movie star Anna May Wong, and experimental physicist Chien-Shiung Wu. Artists of Asian Pacific American descent and their art are featured throughout our museums.
Here you can explore additional collection items related to Asian Pacific American heritage.
Whenever autumn arrives, whether in a blaze of brilliant leaves or with subtle changes in the life cycles of flora and fauna, the season holds a special beauty. Natural-science illustrations combine art and science in the close observation of nature, and artwork from around the world and across time can capture the mood, color, and light of the fall season.
Awards, medals, pins, and accessories from the Museum's collections.
Selected objects from the Museum’s significant collection of patent medicines. Begun in 1930, the collection has grown to over 4,000 products dating from the 19th century to the present day.
Each of the collection object groups can include a narrative (e.g., the curator can provide content to put the objects in context).
There are many examples across the institution, here is an example from American History:
Long before cats clawed their way onto the Internet, they made themselves at home in the Archives of American Art. This exhibition explores the myriad ways in which cats are represented in rare documents like sketches and drawings, letters, and photographs from the nineteenth century through early 2000s. Whether expressive or aloof, the contradictory attitudes of cats make them compelling artists’ muses. They are often the playful subjects of artworks, humorous topics of conversation, independent studio companions, and beloved members of the family. The records on view reflect our enduring fascination with felines.
While cats are certainly among the more adorable findings in our collections, they represent just a fraction of our vast resources. With more than twenty million items, the Archives of American Art is the world’s largest research center dedicated to documenting the history of the visual arts in the United States. The Archives’ holdings preserve the nation’s artistic heritage and also chronicle the personal stories of American artists over the past two hundred years.
How to Explore this Exhibition
In-person: Before Internet Cats: Feline Finds from the Archives of American Art is on view at the Lawrence A. Fleischman Gallery in Washington, D.C. April 28–October 29, 2017
Online: To explore collection items in this exhibition, use the navigation options in the sidebar under the "Contents of Exhibition" heading.
Thousands of years ago, Chinese musicians worked with foundry technicians to cast matched sets of bronze bells of different sizes to produce a range of tones. They developed oval-shaped bells that, depending on where they were struck, produced two distinct pitches with an intentional interval between them. Resound investigates this advancement with displays of early instruments, including a graduated set of matched bells discovered together in a Chinese tomb, videos of ancient bells being played, and chances for visitors to compose their own music on virtual bronze bells.
Here you will find additional bells in the collections of the Freer|Sackler.
From the 1880s to the 1910s, Americans took to the wheel, sparking a nationwide bicycle craze. In the era before automobiles, bicycles were a means of affordable personal mobility. Americans awheel went to new places and felt differently about themselves. Learn more about bicycles and their impact on American culture at the National Museum of American History.
From folk troubadour channeling the spirit of Woody Guthrie to rock icon and Nobel Prize–winning poet, Bob Dylan has been an influential American voice practiced in the American art of reinvention. Widely recognized as one of the greatest songwriters of the 20th century, Dylan continued to grow as a musician and artist exploring and adding to the American songbook. Dylan participated in early 1960s recordings of folk and protest music for Broadside magazine under the pseudonym Blind Boy Grunt, reissued by Smithsonian Folkways Recordings. In the recordings, Dylan can be heard crediting co-founder of the annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival and Folkways champion Ralph Rinzler for the idea for a version of "Roll On, John." The Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections contains digitized photographic contact sheets from Dylan's controversial foray into electrified rock and roll music at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival.
During World War I, the British blockade of German ports prevented American manufacturers from importing dyes for textiles, paper, and leather. See how one American silk company made a virtue of necessity by starting a fashion for dressing in black and white.
Beginning in the 14th century, a small number of European businesses kept careful written records of receipts and expenditures. These bookkeeping methods gradually diffused throughout Europe and the United States. With the advent of typewriters and adding machines, many large retail firms, government offices, and banks invested in custom-made, expensive bookkeeping machines. The bookkeeping machines in the collection of the National Museum of American History come from a variety of makers, including adding machine manufacturer Burroughs, cash register maker NCR, and typewriter firms Remington and Underwood.
The first retrospective exhibition of Bradley Walker Tomlin's works of art. Included with painting by Tomlin will be photographs of Tomlin and other artists from the Archives of American Art's collection.
The Bristol-Myers Squibb European Apothecary is an eclectic collection of more than 1300 pharmaceutical artifacts assembled over a period of forty years by Dr. Jo Mayer, a German Jewish pharmacist.
Encountering the Buddha: Art and Practice Across Asia is on view at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery through November 29, 2020.
Drawing on the Freer|Sackler’s collections from across Asia, the exhibition expands the understanding of Buddhism in Asian art through both beautiful objects and immersive spaces. Visitors can step into a Tibetan Buddhist shrine, travel the Buddhist world with an eighth-century Korean monk, visit a Sri Lankan stupa, meet teachers and guardians, and discover multiple Buddhas and bodhisattvas. Encountering the Buddha illuminates the ways in which art and place embody and express the teachings of Buddhism.
Explore the Buddha in art contained in the Freer|Sackler's online collections below, or view all collection images related to Buddhism at the Smithsonian.
Fun Facts About Bugs
- Houseflies find sugar with their feet, which are 10 million times more sensitive than human tongues.
- Ticks can grow from the size of a grain of rice to the size of a marble.
- Approximately 2,000 silkworm cocoons are needed to produce one pound of silk.
- While gathering food, a bee may fly up to 60 miles in one day.
- Ants can lift and carry more than fifty times their own weight.
- Mexican Jumping Beans, sometimes sold commercially, actually have a caterpillar of a bean moth inside.
- It takes about one hundred Monarch Butterflies to weigh an ounce.
- When the droppings of millions of cattle started ruining the land in Australia, dung beetles were imported to reduce the problem.
- Wasps feeding on fermenting juice have been known to get "drunk' and pass out.
- The queen of a certain termite species can lay 40,000 eggs per day.
- Honeybees have to make about ten million trips to collect enough nectar for production of one pound of honey.
- Insects have been present for about 350 million years, and humans for only 130,000 years.
- Beetles account for one quarter of all known species of plants and animals. There are more kinds of beetles than all plants.
- Blow flies are the first kind of insect attracted to an animal carcass following death.
- The term "honeymoon" comes from the Middle Ages, when a newly married couple was provided with enough honey wine to last for the first month of their married life.
- To survive the cold of winter months, many insects replace their body water with a chemical called glycerol, which acts as an "antifreeze" against the temperatures.
- There are nearly as many species of ants (8,800) as there are species of birds (9,000) in the world.
- The male silk moth is estimated to "smell" chemicals of female silk moths in the air at the ratio of a few hundred molecules among 25 quintillion (25,000,000,000,000,000,000) molecules in a cubic centimeter of air.
- True flies have only one pair of wings, and sometimes, none at all. A hind pair of "wings" is reduced to balancing organs called halteres.
- There are about 91,000 different kinds (species) of insects in the United States. In the world, some 1.5 million different kinds (species) have been named.
- Vladimir Nabokov, a famous Russian author, collected butterflies and actually named as a new subspecies the Kamer Blue Butterfly from the pine barrens of the Northeast United States.
- A particular Hawk Moth caterpillar from Brazil, when alarmed, raises its head and inflates its thorax, causing it to look like the head of a snake.
- About one-third of all insect species are carnivorous, and most hunt for their food rather than eating decaying meat or dung.
- The oldest known fossil of an insect dates back 400 million years and is a springtail.
Prepared by the Department of Systematic Biology, Entomology Section,
National Museum of Natural History, in cooperation with Public Inquiry Services,
Information Sheet Number 177
This group contains the calculating machine collection from the Division of Medicine & Science at the National Museum of American History. During the late 19th and early 20th century, calculating machines served as common tools of scientists, engineers, statisticians, actuaries, government officials, and payroll clerks. Around 1970, calculating machines began to be replaced by cheap electronic calculators and the devices became hefty reminders of a bygone era.
The following group of California mission postcards includes views associated with the twenty-one missions established between 1769 and 1823 by Spanish Franciscan missionaries along the California coast from San Diego to San Francisco.
Explore the nation's capital city as viewed through the collections.
During the 1980s and 90s, one Olympic athlete stood above the rest ? Carl Lewis. Learn more about NMAAHC's collection of Carl Lewis awards and memorabilia.
As American business and cash purchases expanded in the second half of the 19th century, shopkeepers bought recorders and registers to secure their money and track transactions. This object group traces the development of the register from its invention in 1878, suggests the dominance of the market by National Cash Register Company during much of the 20th century, and shows the introduction of electronic point of sale terminals and the rise of the Universal Product Code.
The Asian continent is home to more species of cat than any other. Explore Asian cats at the Smithsonian's National Zoo and as pictured in our collections from across the Smithsonian. The Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History is home to cat mummies as part of our anthropology collections. And not to be left out, domestic cats are featured at our art museums along with their canine companions.
Fifty years ago, in Detroit, the Archives of American Art was founded by E. P. Richardson, then director of the Detroit Institute of Arts, and Lawrence A. Fleischman, a young collector and patron of the arts. Richardson, author of a pioneering work on American art, realized that there were few places a researcher could go to find primary source material on the subject and that scholars often had to travel great distances to find original documents to support their work.
The Archives was founded to facilitate their research by microfilming papers housed in repositories across the country and depositing the films at their offices. This proved such a success that it was suggested that the Archives should itself become a repository for the original documents that obviously needed a home. From those early gifts in the 1950s, the Archives, since 1970 a bureau of the Smithsonian Institution, has grown into a manuscript repository that is the single most important resource in the world for the study of the visual arts in America.
Celebrating Fifty Years: The Archives of American Art, 1954-2004 honors the vision of the Archives' founders by displaying fifty extraordinary documents from our rich collections.
Thomas McKenney, United States superintendent of Indian trade in Georgetown, then port of entry for the District of Columbia, conceived the idea of developing a government collection of portraits of prominent Indians who visited Washington. McKenney engaged the services of Charles Bird King (1785-1862), a well known Washington portraitist, who had studied under the great Benjamin West and others, to paint this series of portraits. King painted from life Indian leaders of at least twenty tribes. These portraits were later handsomely reproduced as hand colored lithographs in Thomas McKenney and James Hall’s three-volume classic, History of the Indian Tribes of North America, published in 1837.
McKenney and Hall’s endeavor was an artistic and technological achievement. The first edition, begun in February 1837, was the culmination of eight years of effort. The last volume of this edition appeared in January 1844, some fifteen years after the project began. (Text adapted from the Introduction by John Ewers to The Indian Legacy of Charles Bird King, by Herman Viola, co-published by Smithsonian Press and Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1976.)
Charles Bird King’s Indian Portraits were transferred to the Smithsonian Institution in 1858 when the National Institute was formally disbanded and its collections dispersed. Joseph Henry, the first secretary of the Smithsonian, placed the portraits in the Art Gallery on the second floor of the Smithsonian Building. Also on display in this gallery was the collection of American Indian portraits and scenes by New York artist John Mix Stanley. This combined collection of 291 paintings was considered the largest and most valuable one of its kind. On the afternoon of January 24, 1865 fire consumed the entire gallery (fig.5). Fireproof walls and floors saved the rest of the building from complete destruction but the loss was tragic. A few of the King paintings were carried out of the building during the first few minutes of the fire, however, the rest could not be saved. The original oil portraits by King which served as models for the twenty McKenney & Hall lithographs chosen for this exhibit were among those destroyed in the fire of 1865.
Each year Washingtonians eagerly await the "peak bloom date" of the cherry blossom trees that line the Tidal Basin in West Potomac Park.
Even if you aren't in Washington, D.C., for the annual celebration of spring, you can browse our cherry blossom related collections and listen to a Cherry Blossom Playlist from Smithsonian Folkways. These blooms don't fade.
Celebrate more of Asia at the Smithsonian with artifacts from the Freer|Sackler and more.
The Archives of American Art holds rich resources documenting important Chicago artists, art institutions, and organizations, and we have selected some rare and unique materials from those resources to highlight here.