May 17, 2013
Fifty years ago on May 17, 1963, TIME magazine put James Baldwin on the cover with the story “Birmingham and Beyond: The Negro’s Push for Equality.” And to create his portrait, the weekly called on artist Boris Chaliapan. Baldwin’s intense eyes and pensive expression stared out from newsstands across the country.
“Chaliapan,” explains National Portrait Gallery curator Jim Barber, “tried to capture the essence of a person and their personality.” Though the magazine had contracts with a dozen or so other cover artists, Chaliapan was part of the prominent threesome dubbed the “ABC’s” with artists Boris Artzybasheff and Ernest Hamlin Baker. Known for his spot-on likenesses, Chaliapan could also be counted on for a quick turnaround. “Unlike the other cover artists that needed a week or two, Chaliapan…if pressed, he could crank out covers in two or three days,” says Barber.
Over his nearly 30 year career with TIME, Chaliapan produced more than 400 covers and earned the nickname “Mr. TIME.” He portrayed the day’s biggest stars and helped illustrate each week’s cover story with a fresh portrait.
Born in Russia, Chaliapan trained as an artist there before journeying to Paris, France to continue his education. Eventually making his way to the United States, he found work with TIME magazine and in 1942 produced his first cover for them of a WWII general. Chaliapan often worked from photographs to create his covers, made with watercolors, tempera, pencil and other materials. Other than his speed and technical skill, Chaliapan was known for his portraits of beguiling starlets like Marilyn Monroe and Grace Kelly.
From the National Portrait Gallery’s more than 300 Chaliapan covers, Barber selected 26 for a new exhibit, “Mr. TIME: Portraits by Boris Chaliapan,” opening Friday, May 17. “I wanted to show Chaliapan’s entire career,” says Barber.
By the end of that career, painted portraits were on their way out for magazine covers. Photographs and more thematic illustrations were being used more frequently. Chaliapan’s covers capture a snapshot of the news from days gone by, but also of the news industry itself. His final cover was of President Nixon in 1970.
“Mr. TIME: Portraits by Boris Chaliapan” is on view at the National Portrait Gallery through January 5, 2014.
“Nature” is probably the last word that comes to mind when most people think about urban design. That’s not the case for landscape designer Margie Ruddick, though. For the past 25 years, she has created parks, gardens and waterfronts that blend ecology with city planning.
In New York City, home to many of her works, Ruddick has transformed Queens Plaza by merging plants, water, wind and sun with the city’s infrastructure, and designed a 2.5-acre park along the Hudson River in Battery Park City out of materials recycled from other parks in the area. Her most recent project took nature indoors at Manhattan’s Bank of America Tower, where she created a winter garden with four tall sculptures made of thousands of ferns, mosses and vines. This “Urban Garden Room” was the first ever permanent installation of a living sculpture.
Last week, Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum announced that Ruddick would be one of this year’s ten recipients of a 2013 National Design Award, hers for landscape architecture. We caught up with her via e-mail after the announcement to ask her about her work. Below, she tells us more about her award-winning “green” approach to design, why it is important and what it will mean for the future of architecture.
What is the idea behind living sculptures in urban design? What effect do they have?
The idea for this space was to allow visitors to feel immersed in nature in a small interior space with severe natural light limitations. A traditional atrium planting (like the bamboo in the 590 Madison Ave Atrium, formerly the IBM building) would have had little impact, given the small space, plus traditional plantings would have leaned toward the light. (Keep in mind that a fascination with over-sized, topiary sculptures has emerged in the past decade. Jeff Koons‘ “Puppy” is one of his most popular pieces, constantly traveling to enliven public spaces around the world.) The effect I wanted to have in the Urban Garden Room was to feel as if you have stepped out of the city and into a fern canyon. Visitors report that there is something about the air quality—the humidity and the smell of earth—that automatically makes them feel more relaxed and able to breathe deeply and calmly.
Why are urban green environments important in a city?
OMG! From ancient Chinese gardens to Vitruvius to Olmsted (and to the present era of urban greening) people have recognized the health impact of green spaces—cleaning air, cooling the earth, etc.—but also the psychological impact. There are numerous studies finding that parks and green spaces improve mood, focus, and even intelligence. I think a city without green environments can hardly survive .
How did you get involved in creating these types of environments?
I joined the horticulture work crew of Central Park in 1983 and two years later went to graduate school in landscape architecture. I was bitten by the bug!
What role do you see green projects playing in architecture in the next 10 years?
More and more architectural proposals integrate “a green element” into buildings and built environments. Green roofs, wild green terraces – the vision in a lot of architecture journals these days is of nature completely integrated as part of the city and part of architecture, rather than distinguishing between nature and building. But, a lot of the images look like the architecture has been colonized by wild plantings, and not conceived from the same idea or the same pen. I do think right now it is something of a fad, and that in ten years the reality of how you actually do this and keep buildings standing up and water-tight will have led to an architecture that doesn’t look as much like something that was left to go to seed, but a tighter and more rigorous integration of green into structure.
What obstacles do you have to overcome when creating a living sculpture or an “urban green machine” in the middle of New York City?
The obstacles are huge, for both public streetscapes and private buildings. At Queens Plaza [where "Urban Green Machine" was installed], the design team and client had to navigate between numerous city and state agencies. Bureaucratic coordination is probably the biggest challenge, as well as staging construction in order never to close streets, and then the question of who is going to maintain the landscape and with what funds. In the case of the Urban Garden Room, the construction and maintenance costs were and are prohibitive, but The Durst Organization decided that they would invest in a signature green space in the city’s first LEED platinum building. The structural issues, staging issues (to get the sculpture in 13 pieces shipped to New York from Montreal and installed in the building over one weekend), and maintenance issues were enormous. There were also a lot of plant losses. The bulk of the sculpture planting is now the two or three most vigorous plants, as a number of plant species did not adjust through a chaotic first season.
What projects are you working on now?
I never know very far ahead what is coming down the pike—I work on a small number of projects at a time, collaborating closely with architects, artists and landscape architects on everything from concept through details. I am currently working on a housing project in Taiwan, a marine ecology project on Long Island and a water garden for a private residence in Miami—he gamut from planning to finely honed design. I also have written a book, Wild By Design [forthcoming] that I hope will raise consciousness about landscape, how important it is and how we actually go about working in the field.
What does it mean to you to win a National Design Award?
It has a professional meaning as well as a profound personal relevance. Professionally, I am really gratified to see that this year’s winners are mostly individuals, doing work that is very particular, in addition to being pioneering. I think it reflects the rising value the culture gives to creativity, and the art of what we do. Personally, I grew up visiting the Cooper-Hewitt often, to the galleries and lectures, and there is no telling what I would be without these visits. There is no institution in America that has done more for designers and design education, so receiving this award is seriously humbling.
May 16, 2013
In high heels and flawless fashions, Sheila E. has been rocking the drums since she was a teenager growing up in Oakland, California. At 55, she’s still not slowing down. She’s collaborated with artists like Michael Jackson and Prince, toured the country and is currently working on a new album and autobiography, From Pain to Purpose, due out next year. In town for a show at the Howard Theater Thursday, May 16, she stopped by the African Art Museum for a performance with the Farafina Kan Youth Ensemble drummers. “I slowed down for a couple hours this morning,” she jokes about her hectic life.
It’s a pace and spirit that have become her signature no matter what genre she’s performing in. But those high energy concerts come with a cost. “It’s very demanding,” says the star who regularly ices her hands and feet after shows. “I just had a procedure done on my arm, my elbow and my wrist so it’s still painful to play,” she says. “It’s just things that happen from playing all of these years for so long but I love what I do.”
Sheila E. was born Sheila Escovedo, daughter of percussionist Peter Escovedo. Surrounded by a whole host of musical uncles and godfather Tito Puente, she picked up the drums at a young age. But, she says, “I didn’t know that music was going to be my career.” Instead, she had plans to be either the first little girl on the moon or an Olympic sprinter. Interrupting her training, she took to the stage to perform with her dad when she was 15. “And that changed my whole life.”
Her family and her hometown of Oakland provided precisely the kind of creative fertile ground she needed to experience all kinds of music. “My dad is totally the foundation of who I am,” says Escovedo. “He’s a Latin jazz musician, but he also brought different kinds of music into the house,” she says, adding that it’s this sort of artistic range that has helped her have such longevity in her career. Oakland also provided its own mix of music for the young artist. “I’ll tell you, it’s the best place to be born. I love D.C. but the Bay Area, oh my gosh.” Calling it a mecca for music with a rich variety of ethnicities, Escovedo cited the many bands that came from the area, including her uncle’s band, Azteca.
Though her father tried to persuade her at first to take up violin, he never let her think she couldn’t play the drums. “I grew up in a home where my parents never said that it was wrong to play because I was a girl,” says Escovedo. She remembers going to her friends’ houses and asking where all the percussion instruments were, thinking it was typical of all homes.
Once she got in the industry and began working with everyone from Marvin Gaye to Lionel Richie, she says she encountered some resistance as a female musician. But her parents told her, “Just do what you do, play from the heart, be on time, be early, learn your craft and when you get in there…be prepared so when you walk in you walk in with confidence.”
Anyone who’s seen her perform or watched her delight audiences during Drum Solo Week on the “Late Show with David Letterman” knows that she’s not wanting for confidence. She’s also not wanting for inspiration. The artist says she’s tried almost every genre of music, including polka, though she’s most well-known for her songs “The Glamorous Life” and “A Love Bizarre,” collaborations with Prince. With one country song under her belt, she says she’s now trying to encourage her friend Garth Brooks to record with her.
When she’s not writing books or in the studio, she likes to search YouTube for up and coming female percussionists. “There are more women percussionists, young girls playing now than ever,” says Escovedo, and that includes girls from her own Elevate Hope Foundation, which seeks to bring music and art to children who have been abused or abandoned to help them heal and communicate.
Contemplating what item she would donate to the Smithsonian if given the chance, she says it’s almost impossible to decide, despite a garage full of instruments. “The thing is, everywhere I go, if I pick something up, you know, that tube over there or this water bottle, I can play it as an instrument.” In fact, she says, “On Michael Jackson’s album, the first one that he did, “Off the Wall,” he wanted me to come in and play this sound and to emulate it the only thing that I could think of was to get two water bottles, like two Perrier water bottles. I poured water in them to tune to the actual track, ‘Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough.’” With two pieces of metal, she hit the glass. “So that’s me playing the bottles.”
After her show in D.C., Escovedo says it’s back to the studio to record a track for her album with Chaka Khan. “I say yeah, I’m going to slow down,” she says, but, “I get on stage and I get crazy. It’s in me. I’ve got to do it.”
Friday May 17: Modern art conservation: palimpsest
What does it take museums to conserve art projects that go beyond a painted picture? Ann Hamilton‘s palimpsest is an installation in the exhibition “Over, Under, Next: Experiments in Mixed Media, 1913-present” that takes up a small room, whose walls are covered in loosely hanging newsprint sheets with handwritten scrawls across them. In the middle is a glass case that contains two heads of cabbage being eaten by 20 snails. This afternoon, Conservator Gwynne Ryan discusses the conservation issues surrounding this challenging artwork. Free. 12:30 p.m. Hirshhorn Museum.
Saturday, May 18: The art of Japanese pouch-books
The Japanese “pouch-book” was a common format used for novels, romances and comedies during the Edo period (1603-1868)—but you can still make one today! Artists from Pyramid Atlantic Art Center are in the Sackler Gallery this afternoon to show you how, with plenty of supplies. You get to take your masterpiece home when you’re done. $15 materials fee. 1 p.m. Sackler Gallery.
Sunday, May 19: The Wind
Two good Sunday afternoon activities: watching movies, listening to music. One great Sunday afternoon activity: both at the same time! This afternoon, in a very special “cineconcert,” composer and pianist Andrew E. Simpson performs a new, original score for The Wind, a silent film classic form 1928. In the movie, Lillian Gish plays an innocent girl who moves to the western prairies and is haunted by the ever-present wind. Free tickets distributed 30 minutes before the film in the G Street Lobby. 3 p.m. American Art Museum.
Also, check out our Visitors Guide App. Get the most out of your trip to Washington, D.C. and the National Mall with this selection of custom-built tours, based on your available time and passions. From the editors of Smithsonian magazine, the app is packed with handy navigational tools, maps, museum floor plans and museum information including ‘Greatest Hits’ for each Smithsonian museum.
For a complete listing of Smithsonian events and exhibitions visit the goSmithsonian Visitors Guide. Additional reporting by Michelle Strange.
May 15, 2013
On the eve of the release of the latest feature-film from the “Star Trek” mega-brand, scholar and curator Margaret Weitekamp argues that the fictional series of space exploration helped define and inspire real world parallels. From advancing diversity in NASA to anticipating new technologies, “Star Trek” left its mark on American culture. Weitekamp, the Air and Space Museum’s curator of space science fiction materials, including a 14-foot model of the Enterprise, says, it will continue to do so.
Since the original series aired in the 1960s, “Star Trek” has grown to include five different series, 12 movies and a vibrant fan culture that supports a multi-billion dollar industry.
Many of the people working in the spaceflight industry, says Weitekamp, are also huge fans of the franchise. That includes Mike Gold, chief counsel at Bigelow Aerospace, who is currently working on the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM), an inflatable module for the International Space Station. Gold and Weitekamp will be joined by two more Trek fans for a panel Thursday May 16, “Star Trek’s Continuing Relevance,” at the Air and Space Museum.
We spoke with Weitekamp over the phone about her career, why “Star Trek” matters and her own spaceflight ambitions.
How did you turn “Star Trek” into a scholarly pursuit?
I have a Ph.D. in history from Cornell and while there, Cornell has a rather innovative program of writing in the discipline, where for their freshman composition classes, you can create a course about anything you want because the content is not what is graded, it’s the teaching of writing in sociology, or history, or philosophy.
So I created a space history and science fiction class that I taught a few times while at Cornell.
How does “Star Trek” inspire industry?
The original ‘Star Trek’ series, from 1966 to 1969, had a very diverse cast as the command crew of the Starship Enterprise. When NASA was recruiting astronauts in the 1970s, they weren’t getting the diversity of female and minority applicants that they had hoped that they would. So they actually hired Nichelle Nichols, who is the actress who played Lieutenant Uhura, an African American actress who was part of that command crew, to do a public relations campaign in the 1970s with the theme that “there’s space for everyone.” They saw the number of women and people of color applying go up after her campaign in 1977 and 1978. So there have been some instances of a very direct relationship. And then also just the broader sense of being interested in what’s possible in terms of space flight and thinking about the ways in which who we are gets translated when you go into space.
How close are we to the future “Star Trek” envisions?
Not as close as people would like. The lack of a transporter and the lack of a warp drive has kept humanity a lot closer to home than I think people had hoped we would be being this far into the 21st century.
On the other hand, there are a lot of ways in which, in terms of global communication, people are much farther in ways ‘Star Trek’ didn’t necessarily anticipate.
People had hoped that some day they would be able to walk around with a thin tablet or with a communicator on their belts and, in fact, we now have moved passed flip phones to having a kind of mini-computer in your hands when you’re on your smart phone.
There are some ways in which I think we’re living the dream but the physical transportation of people out between star systems is still hundreds if not thousands of years out.
Would you consider going into space?
If there’s some need to send a historian mother of three into space, I think that would be tremendously exciting.
What do you like about “Star Trek?”
I personally, as a scholar, am really intrigued by the ways that it can be both a driver for social change but also a commentary on the political and social situation at the time. The original ‘Star Trek’ series, for example, had a lot of discussion about racial integration and gender roles and was very self-consciously a social commentator. As someone who is interested in American culture and society as a historian, it’s a really rich source for looking at the ways in which people have engaged with those issues.
And as a fan, what do you like about it?
I am more of a Next Generation fan and was also a kind of closet Trek fan and a ‘Star Wars’ fan. I am always interested in gender roles and ‘Star Trek’ has had some very innovative plot lines where they talked about women’s roles in society. Despite the mini-skirts of the original series, they have done some very innovative gender stuff.
Which is better, “Star Trek” or “Star Wars?”
Actually, I’m very ecumenical on this. I really like both. I grew up more as a ‘Star Wars’ fan but I have really come to like how rich ‘Star Trek’ is in terms of the scholarly analysis and that’s something that’s a lot of fun for me personally and professionally. I’m going to have to come down solidly on the fence of saying I like both.
‘Star Trek’ has more self-consciously, commented on its social and political context…Although the ‘Star War’ universe has all of those six movies kind of working to tell one continual arc of a story, the ‘Star Trek’ universe has really worked to knit together many disparate pieces: TV shows, movies, fan culture, novels, merchandise, into one, what has been called by scholars, megatext.
“Star Trek Into Darkness” will be showing at the Udvar-Hazy Center’s IMAX theater.